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Botswana

In Botswana, bushmeat, a key source of protein, is predominantly harvested for subsistence use. Although some trade in bushmeat exists, it forms a small part of the utilization of bushmeat and is largely localized due to a number of legal and logistical issues.

Under the Conservation and National Parks Act, trade in bushmeat requires a permit and trading without one is an offense punishable by a fine and custodial sentence. Buying from a person who does not have a permit to trade in bushmeat is also an offense. Evidentiary rules in the Act make it easy to prosecute offenders. For instance, a person apprehended in possession of bushmeat in any place of business is presumed to be there to trade, unless he or she can prove otherwise. Wildlife officers, who enforce the Act, are accorded broad inspection, search, and seizure authority.

The Food Control Act and the Public Health Act, both of which adopt a broad definition of the term food, criminalize the sale of food that is contaminated, unhygienic, or unfit for human consumption.

The enforcement of laws relating to bushmeat appears to be lax, largely due to lack of resources, enthusiasm, and the prioritization of crimes related to trophy hunting.

I. Introduction

Bushmeat is an integral part of people’s diet in Botswana. According to one source, in the 1970s, although the level may have varied from one locality to another, “[m]ost meat eaten in Botswana [was,] in fact, game [meat].”[1] Another source makes a similar point, noting that

[t]he majority of animal protein comes from wild animals of every kind and size including not only what is traditionally considered as game but meat of all mammal including predators, birds and their eggs, bats and insects virtually every animal is edible . . . Over 50 species of wild animals are hunted for food, providing 90.7 kg [about 200 pounds]  per annum per person in some areas, equivalent to 40% of the diet.[2]

While the trade of bushmeat with permits does take place, it makes relatively a small part of the utilization of wildlife resources in the country.[3] It appears that the majority of bushmeat harvested in the country is not traded. One reason for this is the fact that use of game meat in Botswana is predominantly subsistence-based “for maintaining the nutritional, food security and economic status of rural communities.”[4] A 1997 survey in the Kweneng District and the Kgalagadi District of western Botswana found that monthly wild meat consumption accounted for 4.6 pounds of meat per person in the former and about 5 pounds per person in the latter.[5] Trading was a small part of the utilization of game meat in both districts; in Kweneng, 96% of game meat collected was used for subsistence purposes and only 4% was traded, while in Kgalagadi 85% of game meat was used for subsistence and 15% was traded.[6] Bushmeat represents “the only viable meat protein source, with domestic meat being prohibitively expensive and largely unavailable.”[7] In addition, restrictions placed on transporting bushmeat and the distance between hunting areas and potential markets make trading in bushmeat challenging. According to the 1997 survey,

[t]he movement of game meat from hunting areas to more populated market areas is severely hampered by veterinary movement restrictions. Only dried game meat (biltong) can be transported through control fences and a Movement Permit is required. A review of 1997 Movement Permits indicates that in general hunters only transported small quantities (between 2-10 kg). Hunters were found to predominantly (82%) transport game meat biltong as gifts for friends and relatives when travelling home for holidays . . .  Large distances between wildlife supply areas and potential markets, together with movement restrictions, have resulted in any legal trade from licensed hunting being localized and generally limited.[8]

Furthermore, from 2014 through 2019, Botswana had instituted a temporary ban on hunting and stopped issuing hunting licenses with only narrow exceptions.[9]

II. Licensing

A. Substantive Law

The Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992 bars trading in “any game animal or non-designated animal, or the meat, eggs or trophy of any such animal” without a permit.[10] The Director of Wildlife and National Parks may, under the direction of the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, issue a permit for “the selling of animals killed or captured under the authority of a licence or permit and the selling of any meat, trophy or eggs from such animals, where the Director is satisfied that such selling is in the interest of wildlife conservation and the proper regulation of commercial development connected with wildlife.”[11] The Director may, per the instructions of the Minister, delegate the authority to issue permits to a licensing officer.[12]

A bushmeat trading permit is subject to all the terms and conditions imposed by the Minister, the Director, and the licensing officer and endorsed on the permit.[13] A violation of any such terms and conditions is a crime, on conviction, punishable by a fine Botswana Pula BWP1,000 (about US$87) and to imprisonment for one year.[14] A person who trades in bushmeat without a permit also commits an offense that is subject to the same punishment.[15]

Buying bushmeat from an unlicensed person is also an offense and is subject to a harsher penalty. The Act states that

[n]o person shall purchase from another person any game animal or non-designated animal or the meat, eggs or trophy thereof without satisfying himself, by reasonable evidence, that such other person is the holder of a valid permit . . .  authorizing him to sell such animal, meat, eggs or trophy, or that he is entitled to do so in accordance with [all applicable rules and regulations] . . ., and any person who contravenes the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of P2 000 [about US$174] and to imprisonment for 2 years.[16]

However, such person is not considered to have committed an offense if he or she purchased the bushmeat

(a)    from a stall at any fete, bazaar or other like function which is open to the public;

(b)    from any person who lawfully exhibits his goods for sale in any road, street or other public place; or

(c)    in the ordinary course of business from a person who carries on business in a shop, store or other fixed place of business.[17]

B. Evidentiary Rules

The possession of bushmeat without a permit in any place of business creates a legal presumption of violation of the Act. The Act states that

[a]ny game animal or non-designated animal, or the meat, eggs or trophy of any such animal found in any shop, store or other place of business, shall be presumed to have been acquired for the purpose of sale, and the person in whose possession it is found shall be presumed to have dealt therewith in contravention of the provisions of this section unless he is the holder of a valid permit.[18]

Similarly, a person accused of having committed an act that would amount to a contravention of the Act unless done with a proper license, permit, authority, or permission (for instance, trading in bushmeat without a permit), “shall be presumed to have done such act without such licence, permit, authority or permission, as the case may be, unless the contrary is proved.”[19]

In addition, “[t]he burden of proving any fact which would be a defence to a charge of contravening or failing to comply with any provision of this Act shall lie on the person charged with such contravention or failure.”[20]

Further, if a person being prosecuted for selling bushmeat illegally disputes that a particular piece of meat came from the alleged animal, the person has the burden of proving such claim. The Act states that “[i]n any prosecution for an offence under this Act, whenever . . . the question whether any fresh, dried, unprocessed or partly processed meat is or was the meat of any animal, is relevant to the issue before the court, such meat shall be presumed to be or to have been the meat of such animal, unless the contrary is proved.”[21]

C. Enforcement Powers

If a wildlife officer has reason to believe that a person committed any offense under the Act, the officer may

(a)    stop and search such person or require him, or enter upon any land and there search or require him, to produce for inspection any animal, meat, trophy or weapon in his possession, or any licence, permit or other document issued to him or required to be kept by him under this Act or the Arms and Ammunition Act;

(b)    enter and search any land, building (including a dwelling house), tent, vehicle, boat or aircraft in the possession of or being used by such person, and open and search any baggage or thing in his possession;

(c)    stop, seize and search any vehicle, boat or aircraft which he believes to have been used in the commission of the offence, or to contain anything which might provide evidence of the offence;

(d)   require such person, or the driver of such vehicle, or the pilot of such aircraft, or the person in charge of such boat, or any passenger in such vehicle, boat or aircraft to furnish his full name and address and the details of any licence, permit, authority or permission issued to him under this Act.

(e)    seize any animal, meat, trophy or weapon in the possession of any person, which he believes, on reasonable grounds, to constitute evidence of the offence and, unless he is satisfied that such person will appear and answer any charge that may be preferred against him, arrest and detain him;

(f)      undertake any inspection which he may deem necessary to determine whether the provisions of this Act and any other written law relating to the hunting, capture, acquisition, game farming, keeping in captivity, destruction or disposal of animals in Botswana are being complied with; and

(g)    destroy any pitfall or trap suspected of being used for the unlawful hunting or capture of any animal, and which cannot be removed from the place where it is found, or the removal of which is difficult.[22]

III. Hygiene Rules

A. Food Control Act

The Food Control Act of 1993 criminalizes the selling of “any food that has in or upon it any poisonous or harmful substance, or consists in whole or in part of any filthy, dirty, tainted, putrid, rotten, decomposed, or diseased substance or foreign matter, or is in any way adulterated or otherwise unfit for human consumption.”[23] The Act also criminalizes the “the sale of any food under unhygienic conditions.”[24] The term “food” is defined as

any animal product, fish, fruit, vegetable, condiment, beverage and any other substance whatever, in any form, state or stage of preparation which is intended or ordinarily used for human consumption, and includes any article produced, manufactured, sold or presented for use as food or drink for human consumption, including chewing gum, and any ingredient of such food, drink or chewing gum.[25]

A person who violates any of the above provisions is, upon conviction, subject to a fine of BWP1,000 and three months of imprisonment.[26] If the offense is an ongoing one, the person is liable to additional fine of BWP500 (about US$43) and one month of imprisonment “for each day on which the offence continues.”[27] Recidivism is subject to a fine of BWP5,000 (about US$432) and six months of imprisonment; if the offense is ongoing, the person is subject to a fine of BWP2000 and two months of imprisonment for each day of the offense.[28] In addition to the applicable financial and custodial penalties, the court may suspend or revoke the person’s license and may order the offender to forfeit any item relevant to the crime in question.[29]

The Act accords an authorized officer certain powers to enforce its provisions, including search and seizure authority, stating as follows:

(1.)  An authorised officer may, in the proper execution of his duties under this Act, and at any time which is, in all the circumstances, reasonable-

(a)    enter any premises where he believes any food is sold, prepared, preserved, packaged, stored or conveyed, examine such food and take samples thereof and examine anything that he believes is used or capable of being used for such preparation, packaging, storing, or conveying;

(b)     stop or search or detain any aircraft or vehicle in which he believes, on reasonable grounds, that any food intended for consumption by or sale to members of the public is being conveyed, and may take samples of such food;

(c)    open and examine any receptacle or package which he believes, on reasonable grounds, to contain any food intended for consumption by or sale to members of the public;

(d)   examine any books, documents or records found in any premises that he believes, on reasonable grounds, to contain any information relevant to the enforcement of the provisions of this Act, and may make copies of such books or documents;

(e)    seize and detain for such time as may be necessary any food or article in respect of which, or by means of which he believes, on reasonable grounds, that any provision of this Act has been or is being contravened.[30]

An authorized officer includes “any health officer, or any suitably qualified person authorised in writing by the Permanent Secretary, or by a council [a city council, a town council, a township authority of a district authority] with the approval of the Permanent Secretary, a police officer of or above the rank of sergeant, or a customs and excise officer.”[31]

B. Public Health Act

The Public Health Act of 1971 bars the sale of tainted food and requires all persons engaged in the sale of food to take steps to prevent contamination, stating as follows: 

(1)    No person shall sell or expose for sale or bring into Botswana or into any market or have in his possession without reasonable excuse any food for human consumption in a tainted, adulterated, diseased or unwholesome state, or which is unfit for human consumption, or any food for any animal which is in an unwholesome state or unfit for its use, and any health officer, veterinary officer or police officer of or above the rank of sergeant may seize any such food, and any magistrate or a health officer or approved veterinary officer may order it to be destroyed, or to be so disposed of as to prevent it from being used as food for humans or animals, as the case may be.

(2)    No person shall collect, prepare, manufacture, keep, transmit or expose for sale any foodstuffs without taking adequate measures to guard against or prevent any infection or contamination thereof.[32]

Food in this context includes “any animal product, fish, fruit, vegetables, condiments, confectionery, beverages and any other substance whatsoever (other than drugs or water) in any form, state or stage of preparation which is intended or ordinarily used for human consumption.”[33]

A health officer or a person authorized by a health officer has search and seizure powers and may “enter any shop or premises used for the sale or preparation for sale, or for the storage of food, to inspect and examine any food found therein which he has reason to believe is intended for human consumption, and should such food appear to such officer to be unfit for such use, he may seize the same.”[34] Anyone who is found in possession of food that is unfit for consumption commits a crime and is liable on conviction to a fine of BWP200 (about US$17), a maximum of six months of imprisonment, or both.[35] The person charged with the offense has the burden of proving that such food was not for sale or intended for human consumption.[36]

The Act accords health officers and other authorized government agents entry and inspection powers, stating that

[a]ny health officer, veterinary officer, or any police officer of or above the rank of sergeant or any other person generally or specially authorized in writing by the Minister may, at any reasonable hour for the proper performance of his duty, enter any land or premises to make any inspection or to perform any work or to do anything which is required or authorized by this Act or any other law to be done, if such inspection, work or thing is necessary for or incidental to the performance of his duties or the exercise of his powers.[37]

IV. Enforcement

Enforcement of the laws relating to bushmeat appears to be lax, largely due to lack of resources, enthusiasm, and the prioritization of crimes related to trophy hunting. A 2015 survey found that, while the temporary hunting ban was in place, 30% of hunters who were interviewed reported selling bushmeat illegally.[38] Illegal trade in bushmeat, which is largely localized, is said to be mostly immune from legal scrutiny. According to one source, “factors such as limited law enforcement capacity, a tendency to focus on trophy related offences, and reluctance by many wildlife authority personnel to implement bush meat related legislation to the full extent of the law, have resulted in very few people in Botswana being convicted for bush meat offences.”[39]

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Prepared by Hanibal Goitom
Chief, FCIL I
August 2020


[1] Thomas M Butynski & Woldgang von Richter, In Botswana Most of the Meat is Wild, 26(106) Unasylva (1974), https://perma.cc/MU9F-YQZC.

[2] Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu, Wildlife and Food Security in Africa (FAO Conservation Guide 33, 1997), https://perma.cc/H65E-JQCB.

[3] Food for Thought: The Utilization of Wildmeat in Eastern and Southern Africa 51 (Rob Barnet ed., 1997), https://perma.cc/LJ4Q-8Y99.

[4] Barnet, supra note 3, at 48.

[5] Id. at 49.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at vi & 21.

[8] Id. at 51.

[9] Botswana Hunting Ban Takes Effect, AfricaGeographic (Jan. 27, 2014), https://perma.cc/4G6F-ZXCM; The People of Botswana Have Decided Suspension on Hunting Lifted, International Wildlife Management Consortium (May 24, 2019), https://perma.cc/V5AB-ZXY3

[10] Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992, § 60, VI Laws of Botswana Cap. 38:01 (rev. ed. 2016), https://perma.cc/33WG-Q2LM.

[11] Id § 39(1)(c).

[12] Id. § 39(3).

[13] Id. § 41.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. § 60(3).

[16] Id. § 61.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. § 60(2).

[19] Id. § 72(4).

[20] Id. § 72(5)

[21] Id. § 72(6)

[22] Id. § 73.

[23] Food Control Act (Act 11, 1993), § 12(1), https://perma.cc/5E7D-RTES.

[24] Id. § 12(5).

[25] Id. § 2.

[26] Id. § 12(8).

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. §§ 12(9) & 12(10).

[30] Id. § 6.

[31] Id. § 2

[32] Public Health Act (Act 44, 1971), § 58, https://perma.cc/77Z9-7JNL.

[33] Id. § 2.

[34] Id. § 59.

[35] Id. § 60.

[36] Id. § 59.

[37] Id. § 86.

[38] Mathew S. Rogan et al., Illegal Bushmeat Hunting in the Okavango Delta, Botswana: Drivers, Impacts and Potential Solutions 6 (FAO, 2015), https://perma.cc/SP8N-MBC7.

[39] Barnet, supra note 3, at 56.

Last Updated: 12/31/2020