Botswana, which has the world’s biggest elephant population, is to this week hold its first major auctions for the right to hunt the animals since lifting a ban last year.
The government is offering seven packages of 10 elephants each, according to Auction It Ltd., which is operating the sales on behalf of the government. The auction will take place at 3 p.m. local time in the capital, Gaborone, on Feb. 7 and interested bidders will need to put down a refundable deposit of 200,000 pula ($18,300). It can be followed online.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi put elephants at the center of Botswana’s politics last year as he campaigned for October elections that the ruling party won. By lifting the hunting ban in May, Masisi broke ranks with his predecessor Ian Khama, who had garnered international praise for Botswana’s wildlife policies.
Botswana has about 130,000 of the animals nationwide. Farmers have complained of a growing number of incidents with elephants, which at times destroy crops and trample villagers to death. While hunting won’t meaningfully reduce the size of the elephant population, income from the sport can benefit local communities, according to the government.
Conservationists worldwide have opposed the changes, warning that tourists may go elsewhere. Tourism accounts for a fifth of Botswana’s economy.
Professional hunters are likely to bid for the hunting packages and then on-sell them at a profit. Hunts have to be carried out in the presence of a professional hunter and an additional fee is charged for that service.
The government issued a quota for the killing of 272 of the animals in 2020, of which foreign hunters will be allowed to shoot 202 elephants and export trophies.
The hunting season will last from April to September, spanning the dry winter when the African bush is thinner and animals are easier to find.
While the government said it would allow the killing of 158 elephants by foreign tourists in the 2019 season, auctions for hunting licenses never took place.
By lifting the hunting ban, Botswana has brought itself in line with its neighbors. The number of hunting licenses are below the 400 cap it set itself, and compares with 500 licenses in Zimbabwe and 90 in Namibia. Zimbabwe has the world’s second-largest elephant population.
The all-in cost of an elephant hunt typically involves several hundred dollars a day for the professional hunters who accompany the tourists, as well as accommodation and taxidermy fees. Hunts can last 10 to 18 days on average. Most trophy hunters in southern Africa come from the U.S.