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"is the hunting ban .. a strategy aimed at reducing access to land and wildlife resources for rural people, many of them extremely poor, and allowing wealthier individuals to get access to those lands and resources?"

This article by Professor Robert Hitchcock provides an in-depth review of some of the key issues that are important in understanding the difficulties faced by the Bushmen in reasserting their rights not just to land but to their use of it.

From 1979-2002, Botswana was the only state in Africa that had a national-level subsistence hunting law.  This was made possible through the granting of Special Game Licenses (SGLs) to people dependent to a significant degree on hunting and gathering for their livelihoods. 

Questions were raised in the 1920s and 1930s by the Bechuanaland Protectorate Administrators about the hunting rights of a specific group of Botswana’s population, the San (known in Botswana as the Basarwa).  Some administrators held that the San did not have the same rights as other Tswana since they lacked a chief and a tribal territory of their own.  Indeed, in 1935, the Resident Magistrate in Gantsi District said that Basarwa were subject to prosecution under existing wildlife legislation because they had no recognized chief (letter from Resident Magistrate, Ghanzi to the Government Secretary, Mafeking, 5 September, 1935, Botswana National Archives [BNA] file S.47/9).  In 1978, the hunting rights of Bushmen were confirmed in a ruling by the Attorney General’s Chambers on the issue of government allocations of leases for commercial ranches under the country’s Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP) (Ng’ong’ola 1997). 

Under the Fauna Conservation Proclamation of 1961 subsistence foragers were to be allowed the right to continue to hunt without fear of penalty.  Subsistence hunters, defined in the proclamation (Section 4[3]) as those groups completely or primarily dependent on hunting and gathering of veld produce, were recognized as a special case, and they were not required to purchase a license.  As the Fauna Conservation Proclamation (Bechuanaland Protectorate 1961:9-10) noted, the crucial factor was whether "the animal is hunted for the reasonable food requirements of the hunter or of the members of the community to which he belongs." The Fauna Conservation Proclamation also stipulated that the types of weaponry to be used in hunting. 

The Fauna Conservation Proclamation set aside protected areas, parks and game reserves, including the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, then the largest game reserve in Botswana and the second largest in Africa. George Silberbauer, a district administrator who pushed for a reserve in the Central Kalahari, said that his purpose was (1) to set aside an area in which people could continue to hunt and gatherer for a living, and (b) to protect the wildlife and habitats of the Central Kalahari (George Silberbauer, personal communication, 2011).  Silberbauer later worked on a set of regulations for the Central Kalahari (Bechuanaland Protectorate Administration 1963).  These regulations stipulated that (1) no guns were to be allowed in the Central Kalahari, and (2) domestic animals including cattle were not to be allowed in the Central Kalahari. In 1966, when Botswana became independent, the Constitution included a section on Bushmen, Section 14.3.c. which mentioned the rights of Bushmen in the Central Kalahari (Ng’ong’ola 1997).

In the 1970s, the Botswana Government established a Bushman Development Program (BDP), later to be called the Remote Area Development Program (RADP) (Wily 1979, 1981). Some of the issues raised by people who defined themselves as Bushmen (as well as others, including Bakgalagadi) were the frequency of arrests of people for violation of the Fauna Conservation Proclamation.  The argument was made that people who depended heavily on natural resources should have the right to hunt without being arrested. Some of the support data on hunting was obtained through surveys in the Central Kalahari Game Reseerve (Murray 1976) and in Kgalagadi District (Murray 1978). Discussions with wildlife officers revealed that one of the criteria used in making an arrest was whether or not the individual detained was wearing trousers. 

In the late 1970s, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, with the help of the Remote Area Development Program of the Ministry of Local Government and Lands, researchers, and government officers compiled information on hunting activities and rural peoples’ livelihoods, social organization, and nutrition, a goal of which was to design a subsistence hunting license.  This was a controversial effort, and there were numerous debates both inside and outside of government as to whether or not subsistence hunting should be legalized officially and a specialized licensing system established.  Eventually a Special Game License (SGL) was introduced in 1979 as part of the Unified Hunting Regulations (Republic of Botswana 1979a, b).  For the first time, licenses would be issued to people who were highly dependent on wildlife for their subsistence.  

The purpose of the Special Game License was several-fold.  First, it was aimed at legitimizing hunting activity by the poorest members of the population, those people who depended heavily on natural resources (i.e. wild foods) for a living. Second, it was seen as a means of assuring a measure of food security for poor rural people.  Third, it was aimed at promoting better management of natural resources. There was also the hope that by getting information from what was obtained by subsistence hunters using the licenses, they would be able to get better information on the impacts subsistence hunting had on wildlife populations (Mark Murray, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, personal communication, 1979).

The Fauna Conservation (Amendment) Act (1979) (No. 1 of 1979) (the Unified Hunting Regulations) (Republic of Botswana 1979a, b) stipulated that the Minister of Commerce and Industry (now the Minister of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism) could institute regulations that allowed the "hunting of any animal, other than a conserved animal, in any area by persons resident in that area who are principally dependent for their living on hunting and gathering veld produce." 

The Fauna Conservation (Unified Hunting) Regulations of 1979 (Section 7[1]) provided for the issuing of the Special Game License:

(1).  A special game license in a form prescribed in the Second Schedule shall be issued only to any person of the class of persons described in Section 4(2) and shall entitle the holder to hunt the animals specified in the Fifth Schedule throughout the year.

2) A special game license shall not entitle the holder thereof to be issued with a single game license or a small game license.

The problem with these stipulations were several:  Section 4(2) did not, in fact, describe a class of persons.  Apparently, there was a mistake in the drafting of legislation which was not caught either by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or by the Attorney General's Chambers.  The result was that the "class of persons" that was supposed to be defined in the Unified Hunting Regulations was not, in fact, defined. 

The licensing process was structured in such a way that decisions about who was to receive the licenses would be made by the regional offices of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks with advice from Remote Area Development Officers (RADOs) in the District Councils.  The Remote Area Development Officer was charged with identifying those people in rural localities who were considered to be dependent to a significant degree on wild resources and who lacked other sources of subsistence and income (this is, they were not supposed to have jobs).  The RADO would then compile a list of those who qualified for give it to the regional office of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.  Once that list was received and reviewed, DWNP licensing officers from the Regional Wildlife Offices (RWOs) would then go out to the remote area communities and issue people with Special Game Licenses. This was done generally at the end of the calendar year or early in the new year.

The subsistence hunting license system was rationalized, to some extent, by a new piece of legislation in Botswana, the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act. An effort was made in the drafting of the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act  by personnel of the DWNP to establish clearer regulations for Special Game Licenses.  A section of the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act dealt briefly with Special Game Licenses.  As Section 30 (1) states: 

Regulations made under this Act may provide for the issue of Special Game Licenses in respect of any animals other than protected game animals to itizens ofBotswana who are principally dependent on hunting and gathering veld produce for their food (Republic of Botswana 1992:A138).

The Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act went on to note that such regulations would provide for the types of Special Game Licenses which may be issued, the animals which can be hunted, the categories of persons to whom such licenses may be issued, the periods of time for which such licenses may be issued, the maximum numbers of animals of each species which may be hunted, and the area or areas within which animals may be hunted. 

One of the problems with the Act, as noted by the Principal Wildlife Biologist in a Memorandum dated 25 February, 1994, was that the Special Game Licenses allow for the hunting of protected species (in fact, this was not true at the time, as none of the animals on the license were protected under Botswana government legislation.  The Principal Wildlife Biologist also said that many of the species of game animals included on the Special Game License were declining in Botswana.  It was recommended that the individual species and numbers of those species that could be hunted on any SGL "be determined annually in conjunction with the determination of allowable offtake as indicated by wildlife census data" (Memorandum from PWB to Principal Game Warden, Management and Utilization, 25 February, 1994, DWNP File WP/LIC 1/1, Vol. II). 

A response to the Memorandum from the Principal Game Warden (Management and Utilization-Extension) dated 28 February, 1994 (ref. WPLIC 1/1) indicated that the issue of Special Game Licenses had been a cause of concern within DWNP for some time.  It was noted by the Principal Game Warden that one of the problems was that the special licenses were issued only from district offices, not from headquarters.  It was also noted that the conditions for the issuing of the licenses were set out in the Fauna Conservation Act  which in fact was not the case. While this Act was now superseded by the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992, the regulations relating to Special Game Licenses as outlined in the Unified Hunting Regulations of 1979 were still valid since no new regulations were contained in the 1992 Act (see Republic of Botswana 1979, 1992; DWNP file WP/LIC 1/1, Vol. II).  What this meant was that the DWNP was in a legal quandary since SGL holders were allowed under previous legislation to hunt specified species whereas the Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992 designated certain species as being protected.  Clearly, the Special License issue was a complex one both from a legal as well as an administrative standpoint.

Over time, a number of problems arose relating to the use of Special Game Licenses.  There allegedly were abuses of the Special Game Licenses, with individuals shooting more animals than are allowed for on the license and failing to cross off those animals that they killed.  People who had received Special Game Licenses sometimes transferred them to individuals (many of them non-subsistence hunters) who carried out hunts in exchange for a portion of the meat obtained. The meat and skins that they obtained were kept for domestic use or sold.  There were also cases where individuals (both citizens and non-citizens) or hunting companies made arrangements with SGL holders for use of their licenses. In the latter case, the companies brought in non-citizen safari hunters who made substantial case payments for the privilege of hunting. Some people were reported to have sold meat obtained through the use of SGLs, an act which is considered illegal under the terms of the license (Republic of Botswana 1979a, b, 1992a, 1992b; Spinage 1991).  

Investigations of the Special Game License system were conducted in 1995 for the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (see Hitchcock and Masilo 1995; Hitchcock 1996), but no changes were made on the Special Game License until it was suspended formally in 2002. Some districts, such as Ngamiland (North West District), stopped issuing SGLs in 1996. There were also modifications made in the species that could be exploited by SGL holders by Regional Wildlife Offices such as Ghanzi.  In 2004, a special allocation of SGLs was by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks was made to people in the Central Kalahari and in the resettlement sites (New Xade and Kaudwane), allegedly in anticipation of a visit to the reserve by diplomatic missions from the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The problem that many people in the remote areas of Botswana face today is that they can no longer hunt unless they get a regular citizen hunting license through the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.  This was mandated under the National Parks and Game Regulations (S.I. No. 28 of 2000, March 27, 2000) (Republic of Botswana 2000).  In order to hunt under the new regulations, individuals have to submit a formal request to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism or, alternatively, enter into a raffle system for s citizen’s hunting license. 

The only other way that people were able to hunt for subsistence purposes was to be in a community-controlled hunting area (CCHA) where a community trust has been formed under Botswana’s community-based natural resource management legislation (Republic of Botswana 2007).  Thus far, approximately 150 community trusts have been established in Botswana.  In the case of the community trusts, the members of the trust had to opt for allowing part of the wildlife quota to be used for subsistence hunting purposes. There were no guarantees that those people outside of community trust areas who were subsistence-oriented producers would be able to get a license and to continue to obtain wild fauna as they were able to do in the past. 

Hunting Ban in Botswana

In 2011 and formally in 2012 the government of Botswana announced a hunting ban, which is scheduled to begin in 2013 (Gaotlhobogwe 2011a, 2011b; Ntakhwana  2012). There is quite a bit of confusion and uncertainty in Botswana regarding the proposed ban. There has been considerable variation in the responses of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks on the implications of the hunting ban for various categories of persons. Some DWNP people say that the hunting ban is total.  There are also those in DWNP who say that the hunting ban will allow for the continuation of Special Game Licenses, ensuring that poor people will still have access to wildlife. 

It appears that these assertions are not supported in reality, as no Special Game Licenses have been issued since 2004. Based on data collected at regional wildlife offices in various parts of the country over the past two years, there is not a single instance that can be documented where an individual in Botswana has been given a Special Game License. This includes the districts of Central, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng, and North West(Ngamiland). No SGLs have been granted to individuals in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in spite of the fact that this was one of the rulings of the High Court judges in the 2006 case (Central Kalahari Case 2006; Sapignoli 2012).  

Arrests continue in the CKGR, some as recently as this past month in Gope and in Metsiamonong in May, 2012. Again, unfortunately there are charges of mistreatment – beatings and torture – of people suspected of violating fauna conservation laws. This alleged mistreatment is reminiscent of events in the early 1990s (Mogwe 1992) that raised serious questions in the international community about Botswana’s commitment to human rights and social justice. (See:

The Botswana High Commission in London has denied the charges that people were mistreated in the Central Kalahari. Some Botswana government officers say that hunting will continue to be allowed in the Central Kalahari as long as people have valid Special Game Licenses, which are supposed to be issued by the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. So far, however, no such licenses have been issued.

Analyses of the hunting situation in theCentral Kalahariover the past several years have revealed the following:

  • Local people (i.e. residents of the reserve) are using traditional weapons for hunting (bows, arrows, spears)
  • There is no evidence of hunting with the aid of guns and vehicles by people residing inside of the CKGR
  • There is no evidence of hunting of endangered species of animals
  • There is no evidence of systematic hunting of wild animals for commercial purposes (that is, to obtain meat for sale) by residents of the reserve
  • Hunting by CKGR residents is not being done at night
  • Given the lack of wildlife census data on the reserve, it is not possible to tell if the hunting in the reserve is sustainable

The Special Support Group (SSG) of the Botswana Police, which has been in the Central Kalahari since May, 2012, has tended to focus its attention on residents of the reserve, both men and women, rather than on others who may, in fact, be more responsible for the wildlife losses in the Central Kalahari. At least some if not most of the killing of large numbers of animals in the reserve has been done by outsiders who have entered the reserve illegally, people who enter as tourists, or individuals working for government, mining companies, or tourism companies in the reserve. It appears that the residents of the reserve, many of whom returned to the Central Kalahari after the 2006 CKGR High Court case ruling, are the ones who are being targeted in the search for people responsible for illegal wildlife activities in theCentral Kalahari.   

Botswana Land Use Classification

Another issue regarding the hunting ban is whether those people who own private (that is, freehold) land will be able to continue to hunt or to bring safari clients in to hunt on private property.  If this is still the case, it would mean that hunting farms such Bokamoso in northern Ghanzi District, just south of the Kuke Fence and adjacent to the western boundary of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, would still be able to bring safari clients in.  However, since there is no freehold land in Ngamiland, no safari operators would be allowed to have hunting operations in the district that has generated the most income from safari hunting in Botswana. Some of the Hainaveld leasehold ranches in North West District have been turned into conservancies, incorporating 4 or 5 different leasehold farms.  These are being advertised on the worldwide web for between US$3,000,0000 and US$4,000,000. It is open to question whether hunting will be allowed in these conservancies. 

In western Ngamiland, in NG 3, a community-controlled hunting area which includes the villages of Dobe and Qangwa, some of the citizens who get leasehold farms from the Tawana Land Board are turning around and selling their leases to foreigners, who then turn the ranches into wildlife hunting enterprises. The new farm owners are putting up game fences, which are impeding game movements in western Ngamiland.  Government officials claim no knowledge of this situation. It would be useful, therefore, if investigations were undertaken on this matter since it has implications not only for wildlife conservation but also the efficacy of the community-controlled hunting areas of NG 3 (5,760 km2), NG 4 (9,293 km2), and NG 5 (7,623 km2), a CCHA which operates as a unit covering an area of 16,966 km2 stretching down to the Kuke Fence that separates North West District from Ghanzi District. 

Some people in Botswana believe that the hunting ban will not necessarily achieve the results that the government is hoping for, i.e. reduced poaching and increases in wildlife numbers. The ban, according to some people both inside and outside of government, will have significant effects on the safari tourism industry. It will also have impacts on the poor, especially those in community-controlled hunting areas who have joint venture agreements with safari operators who will lose jobs and sources of income (Morula 2012).

Already, some of these CCHAs, including Khwaai and Mababe, which made millions of Pula over a number of years and are San-managed, have been told that they have to give up their joint venture partnerships and leave the areas. Similar statements have been made by government officials to the San in Xaxanaga in the Okavango Delta and to people in communities in in Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, and Central Districts. 

Residents of some of the communities in the region between the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (which are in the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor, WKCC) that is being developed by Conservation International and the government of Botswana with funding from the French Global Environmental Fund and other sources have also been told they will have to move away from their current settlements. When they asked why they had to move, they were told that it was in the interests of conservation. 

The uncertainty surrounding the land, hunting, conservation, resettlement, and development policies in Botswana have left rural people with the feeling that they are not being consulted fully. There is also a concern there is a possibility that they will lose access to land and resources as the new policies are implemented. A question being asked by some people in Botswana is this: is the hunting ban a legitimate effort to protect wildlife and help the Botswana economy, or is it a strategy aimed at reducing access to land and wildlife resources for rural people, many of them extremely poor, and allowing wealthier individuals to get access to those lands and resources?

Restrictions on the rights to hunt and collect wildlife-related products have serious implications for subsistence producers in southern Africa.  Some of the impacts of these policy decisions include: (1) reduction in access to sources of protein; (2) reduction of materials that can be used in reciprocal exchange systems crucial to the survival of local people; (3) a decline in income from crafts which utilize wild animal products, such as ostrich eggs (Republic of Botswana 1994), and (4) rising dissatisfaction on the part of local people with government policies.  If Botswana is truly committed to human rights and social justice, it should examine carefully its current wildlife conservation policies and programs to ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and within the bounds of the law.


Bechuanaland Protectorate. 1961. The Fauna Conservation Proclamation of 1961.Mafeking: Bechuanaland Protectorate Administration. 

Bechuanaland Protectorate. 1963. Central Kalahari Game Reserve - Control of Entry Regulations.  Government Notice No. 38 of 1963.  Mafikeng: Bechuanaland Protectorate Administration. 

Central KalahariLegal Case. 2006. Case No. MISCA 52/2002 In the Matter Between Roy Sesana, First Applicant, Keiwa Setlhobogwa and 241 others, Second and Further Applicants, and the Attorney General (in his capacity as the recognized agent of the Government of the Republic of Botswana). Lobatse: High Court ofBotswana. 

Gaotlhobogwe, M. 2011a, “Trophy Hunters’ Paradise.” Mmegi Wa Dikgang, Vol . 13, no. 24, 25 June, 2012. 

Gaotlhobogwe, M. 2011b. “Wildlife Hunting to Cease in Botswana.” Mmegi wa Dikang, Vol. 28, no. 4, 15 July 2011. 

Hitchcock, Robert K. 1996. ‘Subsistence Hunting and Special Game Licenses in Botswana.’  Botswana Notes and Records 28:55-64.

Hitchcock, Robert K. and Rosinah Rose B. Masilo. 1995. Subsistence Hunting and Resource Rights in Botswana:  An Assessment of Special Game Licenses and Their Impacts on Remote Area Dwellers and Wildlife Populations. Gaborone, Botswana:  Department of Wildlife and National Parks and Natural Resources Management Project.

Mogwe, Alice 1992. Who Was (T)here First?  An Assessment of the Human Rights Situation of Basarwa in Selected Communities in the Gantsi District, Botswana. Gaborone, Botswana: Botswana Christian Council. 

Morula, Morula. 2012. ‘Hunting Ban Will Lead to Job Losses.’ Sunday Standard, December 6, 2012, p. 2. 

Murray, M. 1976. Present Wildlife Utilization in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana: A Report on the C.K.G.R. Reconnaissance Survey.  Report to the Department of Wildlife, National Parks and Tourism, Gaborone, Botswana. 

Murray, M. 1978. Wildlife Utilization Investigation and Planning in Western Botswana. Gaborone, Botswana:  Government Printer. 

Ng’ong’ola, C. 1997. ‘Land Rights for Marginalized Ethnic Groups in Botswana, with Special Reference to the Basarwa.’ Journal of African Law 41:1-26. 

Ntakhwana, Omphile. 2012. “No More Hunting; Next Year Will Be Last Time.” Daily News, Monday, October 29, 2012, no. 204, pp. 1, 2.

Republic of Botswana. 1979a. Fauna Conservation (Amendment) Act (1979).Gaborone, Botswana: Government Printer. 

Republic of Botswana. 1979b. Unified Hunting Regulations, under the Revision of the Fauna Conservation Act (Laws of Botswana, Chap 38:01).Gaborone: Government Printer.

Republic of Botswana. 1992a. Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act, 1992.  Act No. 28 of 1992. Gaborone, Botswana, Government Printer. 

Republic of Botswana. 1992b. The National Park and Game Reserve Regulations. Gaborone, Botswana:  Government Printer. 

Republic of Botswana. 2000. National Parks and Game Reserves Regulations. Gaborone, Botswana:  Government Printer. 

Republic of Botswana. 2001. Wildlife Conservation (Hunting and Licensing) Regulations, 2001. Gaborone, Botswana:  Government Printer.

Republic of Botswana. 2005. Environmental Impact Assessment Act 2005.  Government White Paper No. 6 of 2005. Gaborone,Botswana:  Government Printer. 

Republic of Botswana. 2007. Community-Based Natural Resources Management Policy. Gaborone, Botswana: Government of Botswana. 

Sapignoli, Maria. 2012. Local Power through Globalized Indigenous Identities: The San, the State, and the International Community. Ph.D Dissertation, Essex University, Colchester, United Kingdom.

Spinage, Clive (1991) History and Evolution of the Fauna Conservation Laws of Botswana.  The Botswana Society, Gaborone. 

Wily, Elizabeth A. (1979) Official Policy Towards San (Bushmen) Hunter‑ Gatherers in Modern Botswana:  1966‑1978. Gaborone, Botswana: National Institute of Development and Cultural Research. 

Wily, Elizabeth A. (1981) Land Allocation and Hunter‑Gatherer Land Rights in Botswana:  The Impact of the Tribal Grazing Land Policy.  Human Rights and Development Working Papers No. 4. London: Anti‑Slavery Society.


Table 1. The species and numbers of animals that can be hunted per calendar year, as stated in the Special Game License


Name of Animal

Local Name and Scientific Name

Number Allowed on Special Game License (SGL)

Bat-eared Fox

Otocyon megalotis



Caracal caracal



Phuti Cephalophus monticola



Phofu (dun) Taurotragus  oryx



Oryx gazella



(tologwani) Geneta geneta



Alcelaphus buselaphus



Phala (Aepyceros melampus)


Jackal (black backed)

(Phokoje) Canis mesomelas


Jackal (side striped)

Canis adustus



Tragelaphus strepsiceros


Monitor Lizard

(Leguaan) Varanus niloticus



(//garoo) Struthio camelus


Silver fox

Vulpes chama



Antidorcus marsupialis



Raphicerus campestris



Phacochoerus aethiopicus


Wild cat

Felis silvestris lybica



Connachaetus taurinus



20 species

365 individual animals




.Contributed by Professor Robert Hitchcock. 24th December, 2012.



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