BOTSWANA GOVERNMENT QUESTIONS ELEPHANT SURVEY BY DR MIKE CHASE
Post series: Botswana elephants – to hunt or not?
The international furore over the Botswana government decision to recommence the hunting of elephant (and other species) necessitates an understanding of the entire picture. This post is one of eight posts from various sources looking at this issue from different angles. The other seven posts you should read to get the full picture:
• Botswana government announcement – hunting ban should be lifted
• Botswana 2018 aerial survey – of elephants, baobabs and cattle
• Personal statement from Dr Mike Chase, Elephants Without Borders
• Opinion post from Dereck Joubert – conservation spokesperson, filmmaker and lodge owner
• Opinion post from Gail Potgieter – human-wildlife conflict specialist
• Opinion post from Clare Doolan – tourism industry product and sales manager
• Opinion post from Erik Verreynne – livestock and wildlife veterinary surgeon in Botswana
BOTSWANA GOVERNMENT QUESTIONS ELEPHANT SURVEY BY DR MIKE CHASE
Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has questioned a new report by Elephants Without Borders (EWB), the organisation contracted in 2018 to conduct an aerial survey of elephants in northern Botswana. In a recent press release, the ministry’s permanent secretary Thato Raphaka said the government was not satisfied with the report by Dr Mike Chase – director of Elephants Without Borders.
Raphaka said that there were concerns about the methods used to count the elephants and that it was “regrettable that Dr Chase, in a report purporting to be scientific, includes an astonishing number of pictures of dead elephants, 63 pages to be precise. This is definitely not standard practice in aerial survey report writing.”
He went on to question why the authors of the report did not “sound the alarm” in 2014 when the survey results showed a significant difference in elephant carcass ratio from 2010: 2% in 2010, 7% in 2014, and a slightly higher ratio of 8.1% in 2018.
“Surely, greater concerns should have been expressed after their 2014 survey than now when the ratio is only slightly higher,” said Raphaka. “In fact, independent reviewers have raised concern around the authors’ interpretation of carcass ratios to conclude that mortality rate has recently increased in northern Botswana.”
He did acknowledge that the government was “under no illusion that poaching has become a threat to Botswana with her large elephant population”, and concluded by asking that the report’s authors “immediately submit their raw data to IUCN AESP for further independent review in the interest of transparency.”
See below for full press release
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that we have received a report of the 2018 aerial survey of elephants and other wildlife species in northern Botswana undertaken by Elephants Without Borders. Although the Department of Wildlife and National Parks participated in the conduct of the survey through secondment of one officer, it was not involved in the analysis and report writing.
A review of the methodology used in the survey indicates that it is sound and was based on the established methodology for flying aerial surveys using transects. We, however, have concerns about the blending of several different techniques, i.e. sample counts, total counts and reconnaissance flights.
The rationale for this is not well explained, and we would have expected the authors to provide the raw data as is standard practice to the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AESG), the foremost authority on continental elephant numbers so that it can be independently assessed.
The figure reported by the authors in the report on the number of elephants in their survey area is not statistically different from the 2014 survey. The only reasonable conclusion that can be inferred from the authors’ statistical analysis is that the population has remained stable between the two surveys. The results of the survey are at odds with statements attributed to Dr Mike Chase in an interview with BBC (see https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45396394).
It is regrettable that Dr Chase, in a report purporting to be scientific, includes an astonishing number of pictures of dead elephants, 63 pages to be precise. This is definitely not standard practice in aerial survey report writing.
By their own admission, only a portion of all carcasses observed during the aerial survey were verified by helicopter. The authors report that only 33 out of a total of 128 suspected poaching events were actually confirmed by ground verification.
Another interesting point is that the authors reported a carcass ratio of 2% in 2010 and 7% in 2014, with 8.1% reported for 2018. The 2014 figure is almost four times higher than the 2010 figure, but the authors did not sound the alarm at the time. Instead, at that time, the authors considered Botswana an elephant safe haven. Surely, more significant concerns should have been expressed after their 2014 survey than now when the ratio is only slightly higher. Results from the survey also indicate that sex ratios are not as skewed as one would expect from a population under heavy poaching pressure since large bulls usually are targeted first, an admission made by the authors on pages 17 and 18 of their report.
In fact, independent reviewers have raised concern around the authors’ interpretation of carcass ratios to conclude that mortality rate has recently increased in northern Botswana. We are under no illusion that poaching remains a threat to Botswana with her large elephant population. Our own statistics and regional trends in recent years bear testimony to this fact. We have always reported transparently on these conservation efforts to the international community.
Our elephant population is the largest on the continent, a testimony of the great lengths that we have gone to protect this iconic species. We stand ready to work with the international community to ensure that we continue to secure our natural heritage for the nation’s posterity.
In conclusion, we call upon the authors of the report to immediately submit their raw data to IUCN AESP for further independent review in the interest of transparency.
Thato Y. Raphaka
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