Botswana, where two-fifths of the world’s African elephants live, sought to allay the concerns of photographic tour guides and conservationists a day after lifting a ban on hunting the animals.

Kitso Mokaila, the country’s environment minister, said while elephant hunting quotas will soon be decided on, they will be allocated to areas where elephants are coming into contact with farmers and wont be in areas currently used for photographic safaris. Cyril Taolo, deputy director of the wildlife department, said that when hunting had been allowed prior to 2014, less than 400 elephants had been killed a year.

The decision, which was preceded by months of national debate, has caused a backlash from conservationists and Ian Khama, the nation’s former president. He said that the change in policy will harm tourism and is designed to win rural votes for the ruling party in an election this year.

“This is a political move and not in the best interests of conservation in Botswana,” said Jason Bell, vice president for conservation and animal rescue at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a statement. “Elephants are being used as political scapegoats, but at a huge cost. Further, local communities are not been told the truth. Hunting will do nothing to alleviate human-elephant conflict.”

Tourism accounts for a fifth of the economy and relies heavily on the country’s 160,000 elephants.

“It will not be ad hoc and it is not about reducing numbers,” Mokaila told reporters in Gaborone, the capital. “We are also not going to turn any photographic tourism concessions into hunting concessions because we believe photographic is the more sustainable for revenue in communities, just that it is slow to pay.”

Some of the income from elephant hunts, which cost about $45,000 each in neighboring countries, will be distributed to communities affected by elephants that sometimes destroy crops and occasionally kill people, the government has said previously.

“Botswana’s decision to open hunting again is sad for us and many in Botswana,” Dereck Joubert, a filmmaker and conservationist who works with National Geographic, said on Twitter. “Tourism is the lifeline for our people in northern Botswana. More than 40 percent of jobs are in tourism. The negative impact and reputation damage is real.”

— With assistance from Antony Sguazzin.

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Photo Credit: Tourists view an elephant while boating on the Chobe River in Botswana Chobe National Park. Photo safaris are becoming more popular, but a return to elephant hunting might hurt the trend's momentum. Chris Jek / AFP/Bloomberg