Animal Ambassadors: 21st Century Conservation — Doc Antle’s Tiger Tales

I attribute the perfect safety record here at TIGERS/RSF to the fact that we have evolved our zoological model to focus on socialization, training and rigorous enrichment opportunities. — Doc Antle, October 2017

Read more via Animal Ambassadors: 21st Century Conservation — Doc Antle’s Tiger Tales

The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part III

elephant-poaching-sms1

By guest writer Ron Thomson

THE GREAT ELEPHANT CENSUS (GEC) (Part One): Its faults and its foibles
The elephant population figures produced by Africa’s Great Elephant Census (2016) were just a list of numbers. The report did not record anything about the ecological management status of the elephant populations that were counted. For example, there was no information at all about the elephant carrying capacities of the habitats in which each population lived. So we have no idea which populations were SAFE, UNSAFE and/or EXCESSIVE.

This is a pity because a lot of people expended a lot of energy to produce the figures. But – whichever way you look at them – they are still just a bunch of numbers. And I lament the fact that “numbers” are seemingly all that matters in the present day and age! Certainly, whenever elephant numbers are up from previous counts – everybody rejoices. And they produce long faces when the numbers are “down”; and “poaching”- without any substantiation – is always blamed for any and all declines.

The census results indicate there were 352 271 elephants, ranging over 18 countries across Africa, in 2016. Nineteen countries were omitted from the census.  But, the scientists say that, statistically, the numbers counted represent 93 percent of Africa’s savannah elephants.  If that is so, then the total number of elephants in Africa now stands at 380 000. (An extra 28 000?)

The authors concluded that Africa’s savannah elephants had declined by 30 percent (equal to 144 000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014.  If these figures are true, this reflects an average annual net loss during that period of 20 571 per year; 56 per day; 2,3 per hour; or one every 26 minutes. The declines, the report concluded – without any substantiation – were “primarily due to poaching”. These facts paint a dismal picture at the start of the 21st Century, but let’s have a look at the whole story before we go ballistic.

“Poaching” was not defined in the report, and “the poachers” were not identified. To make any sense of what the report claimed, therefore, requires that we examine the history of Africa’s commercial elephant poaching pandemic.

During the 1970s and 1980s “the political elite” in Kenya were said to have been responsible for the reduction of elephant numbers in that country, from an estimated 275 000 (1970) to 20 000 (1989); the killing of ten thousand black rhinos; and the killing of thousands of several other species, such as zebra and colobus monkeys, for their skins.  Two village hunters, on one occasion, were arrested for having 26 000 colobus monkey skins in their possession. The day after their arrest they were released from prison when “official papers” (from the highest office in the land) were produced to indicate the hunters were in legal possession of the skins.

All the contraband was exported from Kenya’s east coast seaports directly to illegal markets in the Far East without any kind of CITES documentation; but with tacit presidential approval.

A similar tale emerges from Tanzania.  Between 1976 and 1986 the elephants of Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve were reduced from 110 000 to 55 000 (ref. Dr Rolf Baldus; confirmed pers.com. 2017). And over a much longer period of time (1977 – 1993) Baldus claims that Tanzania’s elephant “poachers” reduced the overall elephant numbers, throughout Tanzania, from 365 000 to 53 000.   Baldus further reported:

The poaching had its roots in political and business circles in Tanzania, the villages bordering the SGR (Selous Game Reserve) and partly within the conservation system itself (i.e. government game rangers).

He goes on to say:

Village poachers and game scouts did the shooting, but ‘big people’ – politicians, civil servants, businessmen and even hunting operators – masterminded the slaughter.

In Zimbabwe and Zambia in the 1990s – similarly – the political elites of those countries were also involved in the slaughter of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and their horns.

I make mention of all these incidents to indicate a seemingly “politically acceptable” trend of massive elephant and rhino poaching events in East Africa, and south-central Africa, that were all orchestrated by the political elites and their cronies, during the latter three decades of the 20th Century.

All these events are “elephants in the room” that nobody, who values his life, talks about in Africa. Whistleblowers in Africa have a very short life expectancy! Yet everybody knows about these terrible events. And a great deal of this information, at the time, was reported in local and overseas newspapers. The involvement of the Kenyan president and his family – especially the First Lady Ngina Kenyatta – in the country’s poaching pandemic (1970s and 1980s) – was often, apparently, mentioned in the Kenyan parliament; and one individual who threatened to “expose it all” was murdered. And the British government knew all about what was happening.

Then, in the new millennium, the poaching started up all over again. Between 2008 and 2014 – 44 000 elephants were poached inside the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania under circumstances that were entirely orchestrated by (as before) members of that country’s political, social and business elite; including the army and police. There was no serious attempt by the government to stop the poaching; and a lot of the poachers – the people who pulled the triggers – were reported (by Tanzanian residents “in the know”) to have been given immunity from prosecution.

As happened in Kenya, all the contraband was exported from Tanzania’s seaports directly to illegal markets in the Far East without any kind of CITES documentation; but also, it would appear, with tacit presidential approval.

At about the same time as the Selous slaughter, “tens of thousands” of elephants were reportedly also removed from northern Mozambique under the auspices of this same government-elite class of people in that country.

These latter two sets of poached elephants – the 44 000 (in the Selous) and “several tens of thousands” in the Niassa Province of Mozambique, are included in the 144 000 elephants that were recorded as having been killed “by poachers” (between 2007 and 2014) in the Great Elephant Census (GEC) Report.

The term “poacher” is not defined in the GEC, so it is left to the reader’s imagination to believe just what he wants to believe. The massive weight of continuous animal rights propaganda over the years, however, has seemingly convinced the whole world that elephant poaching in Africa is all controlled and organised by a mysterious “Chinese Mafia”; and the killing is carried out by “greedy” village poachers. So, I must suppose that that is what most people believe – because it is a statement that has been repeated many, many times since CITES 1989, and rarely refuted.

It is a huge, mischievous and criminal distortion of the truth to attribute the 144 000 “poached” elephants that were recorded in the GEC report, to Africa’s “greedy” village hunters; to the so-called Far Eastern poaching “mafia”; and/or to any other criminal elements in general African society – unless you include within this group those members of the political elite who orchestrated the really BIG poaching events in Africa’s recent history. So, the inferences made in the GEC report – that the poaching must come to a stop if Africa’s elephants have any chance of being saved – is VERY and, in my opinion purposefully, misleading. I believe that if you want to point fingers at the culprits in Africa, several of the continent’s political elites should be named, shamed and held accountable. They are the ones who are most responsible for the great losses of elephants and rhinos that Africa has suffered during the last fifty years. The big question that comes out of the GEC report is: WHO do we have to pressure to stop the poaching?

THE whole world needs to be told who we should be fighting, if it is truly everybody’s intention to stop commercial elephant poaching in Africa! In my book, Africa’s political elite are more to blame for the decline in elephant and rhino numbers in Africa, than any other single group of people. And the biggest link to the demise of Africa’s elephants is bad governance.


Ron Thomson, CEO – TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE
http://www.mahohboh.org
http://www.ronthomsonshuntingbooks.co.za
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTrueGreenAlliance/
Cell: 072 587 1111
Phone: 046 648 1243
TGA logo email


Andrew Wyatt, of Vitello Consulting, is a government affairs and policy consultant dedicated exclusively to the wildlife sector.

WyattP1“The debate regarding trade in antique ivory in the U.S. is highly charged and contentious. I specialize in articulating clear policy ideas and getting them in front of key decision makers. Please follow ‘The Last Word on Wildlife’ for insight and analysis particular to the 21st century wildlife sector. If you would like to discuss the potential advantages of creating a comprehensive business/government affairs strategy, or a more targeted issue campaign, please call or email me.” — Andrew Wyatt


©Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Wyatt and The Last Word on Wildlife with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Material posted from guest writers is the sole intellectual property of the author. Please seek permission directly from the author prior to reproducing in whole or in part.

The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part II

top-bg-2By guest writer— Ron Thomson

I am going to jump in at the deep end and say that if world society carries on the way it is going at the moment, it is going to cause the extinction of the African elephant before the end of the current century. And the poachers are not the ones who are going to kill the species off. The supposed “do-gooders” in the Western World will achieve that milestone long before the poachers could ever do. Practically every elephant conservation proposal the developed world is trying to force on Africa will only exacerbate the elephant’s dire predicament. So – please – let’s consider the issues involved with an open mind and with some good common sense!

First of all, let me assure you that the elephant is NOT a so-called “endangered species” and it is NOT facing extinction. So don’t listen to the propaganda put out by the animal rights NGOs. They broadcast such emotional diatribe purely for the purpose of making money out of a gullible public. You must understand that the animal rights movement is a confidence industry which we will discuss in a later blog. Just remember, however, if you believe animal rights propaganda you have allowed yourself to be duped.

The so-called “endangered species” concept is a fallacy. Wild animals don’t organise themselves at the species level so the endangered “species” ideal has no application anywhere in the science of wildlife management.

A species can be defined as group of animals that share the same physical and behavioural characteristics (they look alike and they act alike) and which, when they breed, produce fertile offspring with the same physical and behavioural characteristic.

The common African Bush elephant – which is the main species we are concerned about – has 150 different populations in 37 countries across Africa. Each population – totally separate from any and all other populations – lives in its own unique habitat; and the environmental conditions that apply to each such population are unique to that population. Some populations live in montane forests; others in grasslands; others in grassland savannahs; others in various kinds of woodlands; others in thick bush; others in swamps; and yet others in deserts. Some occur in areas of high rainfall. Others live in areas of very low rainfall.

A population can be defined as a group of animals of the same species, the individuals of which interact with each other, in continuum, on a daily basis; and which breed only with other animals in the same group.

Some elephant populations in Africa are “SAFE”. This means they occur in good numbers, consistent with the carrying capacities of their habitats. Safe populations are healthy; their habitats are healthy; and they breed well. Such populations require “conservation” management which means they are able to sustain a high level of sustainable utilisation. They should be culled every year in numbers equivalent to the rate of their respective annual increments. This is necessary to make sure SAFE populations do not become “EXCESSIVE”. (See below).

Some populations are “UNSAFE”. They are low in number and not breeding well. Their numbers are declining and the reasons for these bad situations cannot be ascertained or reversed. These animals face possible local extinction. They require “preservation” management – protection from all harm.

Other populations are “EXCESSIVE”. This means their numbers are above (often grossly above) the carrying capacities of their habitats. Most excessive populations are breeding well – adding to the problem of over-population. Their habitats, however, have been trashed over the years and they continue to be degraded annually. Many such habitats are unrecognisable compared to what they looked like 50 years ago. The biological diversities of such habitats are deteriorating all the time; many have suffered the local extinction of both plant and animal species; and a lot more species are seriously threatened. If the numbers of elephants in such populations are not reduced in number – drastically and quickly – the game reserves that support them will become deserts. In many, desertification is already well advanced. Excessive populations require immediate population reduction management.

What I am trying to convey here is that the environmental pressures being exerted on Africa’s 150 different elephant populations are unique to each population. No two are the same; and they are sometimes chalk-and-cheese different. There is no “one size fits all” management application. So Africa’s 150 elephant populations need 150 different management strategies, each one custom-designed to fit the needs of each specific population.

Now we can discuss the “endangered species” concept. Just where, within this conundrum, can this idea fit into the elephant management equation? It can’t – anywhere. The very title – “endangered” – conveys the idea that each and every elephant population in Africa is UNSAFE; that it is declining; that it is not breeding well; and that it should be managed according to the “preservation management” principle ONLY. And preservation management requires that every single elephant should be protected from all harm. And that is clearly not what is required at all.

When the elephant was declared to be an “endangered species” at CITES 1979 – a decision which was pushed through with brutal force by every animal rights organisation in creation – the world actually imposed MIS-management on every SAFE and EXCESSIVE elephant population in Africa. And demanding the MIS-management of an animal species population, under any circumstances, is NOT in the best interests of the species concerned; nor of the habitats that support them; and also not in the interests of maintaining species diversity in their sanctuaries.

It is necessary to record here that most of the “elephant range states” at CITES in 1979 voted against having the elephant placed on the endangered species list (Appendix 1) that year, but their opinions were ignored. Surely the opinions of the elephant management experts who live in the range states in Africa – who know more about elephants and their management needs than anybody else – should have held more water than the opinions of the animal rights organisations that are based in Washington DC, London or Paris? But the animal rightists won the day on that occasion – and they have continued to push their luck at every CITES meeting ever since.

It is because of incidents like this that the animal rightist NGOs – and their fellow travellers in the powerful governments of the First World – are going to cause the demise of the African elephant in Africa.

Ron Thomson, CEO – TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE
http://www.mahohboh.org
http://www.ronthomsonshuntingbooks.co.za
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheTrueGreenAlliance/
Cell: 072 587 1111
Phone: 046 648 1243
TGA logo email


Question and answer with Ron Thomson and Andrew Wyatt

AW: Your article implies that African elephants are designated as “endangered species.” They are actually designated “vulnerable” by IUCN. Why is there so much confusion about the designation?
RT: Many in the public domain call elephants an “endangered species”, so that is the preception the public has and the public cannot understand how ANYONE can kill an “endangered species”.  Surely when a species is declared to be “endangered” its needs 100 protection? And governments don’t like opposing public perceptions!

AW: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates African elephants as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but not “endangered.” Why is there so much incongruity in the discussion?
RT: Discussion in the public domain with FWS officials, reveals they often speak of species (many species – including the African elephant) as being “endangered” – and they never deny any statement by anyone who proclaims ANY species to be “endangered” when it is not. Officials – including Barack Obama in the USA – regularly referred to elephants as being “endangered.”  I suspect they actually welcome the public’s mis-interpretation because it is easier for the officials to drive home their insistence that “their” extra-protection purpose needs radical acceptance.

AW: Why are some populations of elephants listed CITES Appendix I, implying endangered status?
RT: Every animal rights NGO delegate that attends CITES meetings – when talking about the elephant – infers that the convention is dealing with an “endangered species”.  And within the CITES debates (which are TOTALLY swamped by animal rightist delegates) they purposefully use no other term than “endangered” – which the media picks up and disseminates into the public domain . And that is, perhaps, understandable.  CITES, after all, is an acronym for “Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species“.   And when the elephant was placed on the Appendix 1 list of CITES, the media – all over the world – referred to the elephant as being “an endangered species” (which they picked up from the animal rights propaganda).  Furthermore, NOBODY corrected that interpretation – not the IUCN; not WWF; & not FWS.  That perception cannot now be shaken..  In the public mind – constantly reinforced in all animal rights propaganda – and by the media world-wide – the elephant IS “an endangered species.”

AW: Would you care to continue your clarification regarding the non-uniformity across NGO’s and government entities in referring to elephants as “endangered?”
RT: Sure, I will clarify – but understand that the media’s, the public’s and general governmental perceptions are now so heavily skewed that even my explanation may not be acceptable – even to you!  Many people/ organisations have different (their own) interpretations of what constitutes an “endangered species” – which adds to the confusion.  In the public mind, however, the term “endangered species” denotes or implies “facing extinction“.   And the media’s projection of “endangered species” in wildlife has a lot to with that.  So has the animal rightists’ propaganda – which uses the endangered species concept as its main means of stirring up public emotions (and makes them more fraudulently-acquired money than anything else).  If you take the trouble to examine every piece of animal rights propaganda that you are exposed to, you will quickly see that “EVERY LIVING THING” is classified by them as being “endangered”.

All this renders public acceptance of “REALITY” almost impossible – and the REALITY is that no species is “threatened with extinction” until its VERY LAST POPULATION is declining and the reasons for the decline cannot be arrested.  The northern white rhino is a good candidate for what represents a REAL endangered species – with only four individuals still alive (three females and one male – and the male is beyond breeding).  REALITY is that even official and august bodies like the IUCN, WWF and USF&WS TALKabout “endangered species”.  The USF&WS even enacts a law called the “Endangered Species Act” (ESA) – when, in fact, the concept of “endangered species” has no application at all within the general principles and practices of Wildlife Management (a.k.a. {eroneously} “CONSERVATION”) – except in those very rare examples such as the current sad status of the Northern White Rhino. So the USF&WS is guilty of perpetuating the myth, too.

All these official “acceptances” of the endangered species concept leads the public away for REALITY.  And this is NOT just a game of semantics.  I wish it were!  With respect to Africa’s elephants we are actually talking about the practical survival management of the species – the elephant; the survival of whole ecosystems (Africa’s national parks); and the survival of the bulk of Africa’ s current wildlife species diversity (plants AND animals).  The survival of all these things – depends not only on stopping the poaching, but ALSO (perhaps more-so, in the case of southern Africa) upon Africa’s EXCESSIVE elephant populations being drastically REDUCED in number. In southern Africa every single one of the elephant populations – HALF of today’s entire extant elephant numbers – fall into the category of being EXCESSIVE.  And they need to be urgently reduced in number (for the sake of the elephant; for the sake of Africa’s National Parks; and for the sake of the maintenance of Africa’s wildlife species diversity).  THIS is REALITY.

Now how is such a “best practice” management programme going to be possible when everybody in creation believes in the concept of “endangered species”.  If only people would start believing in the fact that wildlife cannot be “managed” at the species level; only at the population level; and that a species’ (ANY species) many populations comprise those that are SAFE, UNSAFE and EXCESSIVE, would the general public begin to understand the wisdom and principles of wildlife management.  And they have to understand that every single one of Africa’s elephant populations need to managed separately according to their individual environmental circumstances.  When the “endangered species” ideal is applied to the elephant in Africa it results in MIS-management – which is the last thing Africa needs.  It is the last thing that the elephant needs – the total protection of ALL populations of elephants on the entire continent irrespective of what their true population status is.

Everyone needs to be led into the very serious understanding that Africa’s national parks were set aside to preserve the integrity of the national parks’ biological diversities.  THAT is the parks’ Number ONE wildlife management objective.  And THAT should be everybody’s priority consideration! As much as I love Africa’s elephants, I love Africa’s biological diversity more.  The parks were NOT set aside for the uncontrolled proliferation of elephants – and the whole world needs to understand this.  In many of Africa’s national parks (especially in southern Africa) too many elephants are destroying the very reason why the national parks were set aside in the first place.   And explaining all THIS is the whole purpose of me sending those blogs to you in the first place.

It is very clear to me that the whole world is demanding of Africa that it maintains elephants in numbers that its national parks simply CANNOT sustainably support.  Excessive elephant populations cannot be maintained indefinitely.  Sooner rather than later, the park ecosystems will collapse.  And when they do crash the massive elephant herds we see in these game reserves today, will crash with them. And in one drought year, the world will lose tens of thousands of elephants – BECAUSE they have been “over-protected”.   And they will lose billions of plant and animal species BECAUSE world society has not allowed Africa’s national parks to be properly managed. The reality is that southern Africa is carrying far too many elephants already – and the effects of what amounts to terrible and prolonged mis-management are already becoming manifest.  South Africa’s Kruger National Park, for example, has lost MORE THAN 95 percent of its vitally important top canopy trees because it has been carrying far too many elephants for far too long; and the damage continues unabated. Even if you are not a biologist; not an ecologist; and not a qualified wildlife manager – but just an ordinary intelligent member of society – the ultimate disaster that looms must be obvious.

So, if the public really wants to save Africa’s elephants, I propose that – instead of creating a huge furore every time an elephant is killed by a hunter – or culled by a game ranger –  that the general public start petitions to raise funds for the purchase of extra land in Africa where elephants can be maintained in symbiotic harmony with Africa’s rural people.  Symbiotic harmony means the elephants will be “used” sustainably for the benefit of Africa’s rural communities – because THAT is the ONLY way to secure a future for elephant in Africa into posterity.


The Elephant’s Armageddon: Part I

elephants sunset

By guest writer— Ron Thomson

This an eleventh-hour appeal for common sense to prevail in the ongoing and controversial international debate surrounding what management strategy is deemed best for the African elephant. Just as the Christian bible or the Islamic Qur’an cannot be written on the back of a postage stamp, however, so the details of elephant conservation cannot be expounded in a single short article. This, therefore, is the first of a series of blogs that will reveal the facts surrounding this – for Africa – vitally important topic. I promise you only one thing – I will tell you the truth. I intend to tell you “what is” without fear or favour.

What credentials do I have to qualify me to write such an important series? That is an important question so let’s get its answer out of the way at the outset.

I am a 78 year old white African who has spent his entire life in the service of Africa’s wildlife. I began my career, age 20, in 1959 when I attested into the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. I served in that department for 24 years, rising through the ranks to become the Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park – the country’s premier tourism destination and big game sanctuary. I qualified as an ecologist; became a member of the Institute of Biology (London); and was registered as a Chartered Biologist for the European Union for 20 years.

Throughout my career I was deeply involved with the hands-on management of all Africa’s big game animals and I worked closely with some of the continent’s greatest and most accomplished full-time wildlife scientists. I pioneered and perfected the capture of black rhinos in the Zambezi Valley (1964 – 1970) – hunting on foot; approaching every rhino that I darted, alone, with only a capture gun in my hands; and I successfully translocated 140 of these pugnacious beasts, releasing them into the relative safety of the country’s national parks. For those of you who know about such things, you may be interested to know that my average darting range, in the heavy Zambezi valley thickets, was between 6 and 13 yards.

Throughout my service, I hunted elephants extensively – crop-raiders; man-killers; veterinary fence breakers; agricultural installation nuisances; to stop the advance of the tsetse fly into the country’s commercial farming areas; and to variously help feed the Batonka people after they had been forcibly evacuated from their ancestral homes on the banks of the Zambezi river following the creation of Lake Kariba. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed my dangerous big game hunting adventures but I never hunted for trophies. I hunted elephant because it was my job, as a government game ranger, to do so.

I was the officer-in-charge – and chief hunter – of the elephant population reduction programme in the Gonarezhou National Park (1971 & 1972) when, for urgent management reasons, we reduced the numbers of elephants in that park from 5000 to 2500; during which operation I perfected new, humane and more efficient elephant culling techniques.

I left Zimbabwe in 1983 under duress, when Mr Mugabe replaced all the colonial civil servants with veterans of his recent War-of-Liberation. I was prepared to stay and help the new Zimbabwe develop; but I was not wanted!

I emigrated to South Africa in 1983 where I served as Chief Nature Conservation Officer for Ciskei (one year); and then Director of the National Parks and Wildlife Management Board of Bophuthatswana (three years). And I operated as a professional hunter for three years. Soon, thereafter, I began writing books (x 14 now) about Africa’s wildlife management issues – and articles in outdoor magazines about such controversial issues as the need to cull, or not to cull, elephants. For the last 28 years I have earned a living as an investigative wildlife journalist.

I explain all these things to emphasize my point that I have vast hands-on experience in the management of Africa’s elephants – and other big game animals; that I have biological/ecological training and experience; and that I am amply qualified to write this blog and the ones that follow. And I have been actively engaged in all these matters for the last 58 years.

I love Africa’s wildlife, particularly its elephants and black rhinos, and I am distraught in the knowledge that the fate of all these wonderful animals now rests, de facto, in the hands of uninformed and incompetent NGOs, and interfering governments in the First World – who see only what they want to see of the complex wildlife management and humanitarian issues involved. And they, more often than not, miss the point by a mile; the NGOs fabricate untruths in their propaganda; and thereby, they make hundreds of millions of US dollars out of their gullible publics.  These people – from Prince William in Buckingham Palace to the supporters of the planet’s most pernicious animal rightist NGOs – are now making demands on Africa (through organisations like the US Fish & Wildlife Service, CITES and the European Parliament ) to apply solutions to Africa’s elephant poaching problems that are only going to make matters worse.

The elephants of Africa need common sense to prevail. They will not survive without it. My next several blogs will reveal to you a great many realities about Africa and its elephants – information that you have never heard nor believed possible. Nobody can make a rational decision about anything unless and until they are in possession of all the facts about it. Considering the needs of Africa’s elephants and their management is no exception. I intend to provide you, therefore, with all the pertinent facts in the next several blogs. So look forward to the next blog that will be coming soon.