Botswana has overturned a ban on elephant hunting, a move criticised by conservationists who say such bans protect the animals from being killed for their ivory.

Botswana is home to the world's largest elephant population, with about 130,000 living in the southern African country.

The Botswanan government suspended hunting elephants in 2014 at the direction of then-President Ian Khama, a conservationist.

But when Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi became president last year, he set up a committee tasked with assessing whether the ban should be overturned.


In a statement on Wednesday, Botswana's Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said the committee determined that with the hunting suspension in place, "human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing."

The committee's "general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted," the ministry said.

Last year, lawmaker Konstantinos Markus told Reuters that constituents in his home region have been negatively affected by the ban. The growing elephant population meant the animals were increasingly coming into contact with farms, he said, where they trampled crops and damaged locals' livelihoods.

"This harvest loss leaves the community with fewer options to take care of their households while perceptions of local communities towards wildlife conservation have changed since the hunting ban," he told the news agency.

Masisi has stirred some controversy over his approach. Last month, when leaders from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia visited Botswana, Masisi gifted them stools made out of elephant feet.

There has been disagreement among African leaders over the best course to take when it comes to elephant hunting and ivory sales. A number of southern African countries are more open to loosening restrictions. Countries such as Gabon, where elephants have been targeted by poachers, and Nigeria, where the elephant population has declined sharply in recent years, are eager to maintain strict regulations.

Government leaders in some southern African countries, including Botswana, have argued that loosening the restriction on ivory sales could allow them to use those profits to fund further conservation efforts.

But some wildlife conservation organizations have expressed concern over Botswana's lifting of the ban.


Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect, tweeted that the ban was lifted under the "guise of helping communities as Masisi destroys Khama's globally respected legacy of policies that saw elephants protected."

"Expect mass culling next," she wrote.