Botswana has lifted a ban on elephant hunting, citing growing conflict between humans and the animals, which at times destroy crops.
Critics of the ban, imposed in 2014, say the restriction was causing problems to small farmers and to those who previously benefited from hunting.
Botswana has some 130,000 elephants, the world’s largest population. The decision is likely to trigger an angry reaction from conservationists, who believe the move is political.
It could also damage the country’s international reputation for conservation and affect its revenues from tourism, the second largest source of foreign income after diamond mining.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi set up a committee last June to review the ban imposed by his predecessor Ian Khama in 2014. In February, the committee recommended allowing hunting again.
“The number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing,” the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement.
“Predators appear to have increased and were causing a lot of damage as they kill livestock in large numbers,” it added, saying it would ensure that the “re-instatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner”.
Surveys have shown that the elephant “range” – how far the animals travel – has been expanding. Experts say this is down to many factors, including climate change.
Elephants can be very destructive when they encroach onto farmland and move though villages. destroying crops and sometimes killing people.
Most of the country’s elephants live in the country’s northern region, roaming across borders into Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The latest survey of wildlife suggests their numbers are not increasing as many rural people suspect, and conservationists are likely to say the decision aims to boost the president’s popularity among rural voters ahead of elections in October.
There are some 415,000 elephants in Africa, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with the population having been decimated largely due to poaching for ivory.
International campaigns to ban all ivory sales as a way to prevent illegal poaching have gained huge momentum, but there is disagreement over how to manage large, destructive elephant populations encroaching on human settlements.