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.
With this lead-in, I can’t wait to read the next chapter . . .
Silvio Calabi 207-592-2619
A breath of fresh air. The NGOs and FWS have convinced people that no elephant dies from natural causes, none are killed for the reasons you cite, and none are poached for food. In their distorted view, an elephant dies only at the hands of an ivory poacher.
I look forward to reading the upcoming articles concerning Africa’s dilemma in controlling the elephant and rhino populations. Hopefully, experience and measurable results will prevail in the decisions which have to be made. The pessimistic side of me is wary, because the armchair, feel-good crowd believes in a hands-off approach to “management.” Unfortunately for the animals’ survival, “hands-off” does not apply to poachers. As for the education of the naive animal rights activists, one cannot reason an individual out of an opinion which he did not attain by reason. Feelings seem to be a wild card whenever the activists show their cards. Thanks, Ron Thomson, for your years of service. You have made a difference.
All the armchair “experts” and animal rights idiots should get out of the argument and let Ron Thomson and other real experts get on with the job of saving and conserving elephant and other wildlife.
John Coleman – one of the real experts.
I, too, will be anxious to read further installments by Ron. However, unless evidence to the contrary is presented, elephants /are/ being decimated by poaching to satisfy demand in Asia for ivory and ivory products – a condition that has to be brought to a halt.
David, I believe the elephant is as much endangered by its own habitat destruction as it is for ivory. They make no friends with the locals when they tear up cropland and push down trees to get to the leaves. There is only so much habitat, so non-hunters should realize that letting the elephants have free rein and unlimited numbers will directly affect the locals’ ability to produce food. That can lead to poaching, whether it’s in retaliation for destruction or avarice for the ivory money. You can thank hunters and safari professionals for the money and meat for locals generated by well managed hunting.
I agree with Dale to a certain extent. What should be said, however, is that hunting safari operators operating in remote hunting areas are a great deterrent to poaching because they help police these otherwise unpopulated areas and create a presence. When hunting is banned poaching flourishes. Safari operators only take adult male animals – poachers are not selective.
Elephants don’t understand or recognise international boundaries. You will find that where elephant are poached and otherwise stressed, they will move to an area where they are not. Often, when an area or country develops a shortage of elephant it means they have moved across borders. This creates an impression that the animals are being decimated. However, in total, over adjoining countries, this is not so.
However, in certain central African countries the blame for decimation of elephant can be can be directly put on the political leaders of those countries, who are responsible for organising poaching for their own enrichment.
Let’s have some suggestions on how to stop these unscrupulous politicians??
very insightful and well organized article. I really enjoyed the read but the photo you chose was absolutely breath taking. Thank you for caring and not being afraid to use your voice in a world of judgement when people do speak out of the main stream box.
From John Coleman again
It is a fact that elephant need to be culled in Southern African countries, but in African countries further North they are being poached out of existence. Therefore, elephant must be culled where the numbers are excessive. BUT the method of shooting whole herds in heaps is extremely distasteful and upsetting to the general public. A different method of culling should be implemented. Surely in this day and age there must be a way to do this. Come on guys, let’s have some practical suggestions.
John Coleman, I have never heard of any plan which advocated shooting “whole herds” of anything. If you would just do a little research, you would find that game management, including hunting, is the key. The meat goes to locals and the hunters’ money funds it all. It is the best avenue to thin the populations which are overrunning their habitat.
Dale, if you knew anything about elephant culling in Rhodesia in the 1960s and 1970s, you would know that the culling teams took out whole herds (family groups) of elephant. The theory was that, if they did that, there would be no remaining ones to “tell the tale”. Unfortunately all the other elephant in the area seemed to know what had happened and were very touchy for quite a long time after culls. Ask Ron Thomson for photos of “heaps of shot elephant” and his reason for taking out whole family groups. It is a matter of record. Culling is a different matter from managed sport hunting. Managed sport hunting cannot possibly remove all the vast numbers of surplus (overpopulated) elephant in places like Botswana and Zimbabwe. You are the one who needs to do some research and learn what the experts say. I have been “in the business” most of my working life. Al;so, someone needs to work out an alternative practical way of reducing elephant numbers where there is overpopulation and severe environmental damage.
John Coleman, the last time I checked my calendar, this is not the ’60s or the ’70s and entire herds of elephants are not being shot. The wildlife in Africa is healthiest where controlled hunting pays for anti-poaching law enforcement and meat goes to indigenous populations instead of a local meat market. Your argument falls through by using anecdotal evidence from 50 years ago.
Dale, elephant haven’t been culled for many years. Do you imagine that the huge numbers of elephant that have to be reduced in Botswana and Zimbabwe and Kruger Park can be taken by sport hunting and sharing with the locals? They have to be culled in big numbers, same as 40 years ago. I am just saying that there should be a better way of doing it than the old system (operated then and advocated now by Ron Thomson, by the way). Please don’t try and teach your grandma how to suck eggs. I know Ron personally and was in National Parks with him at one time. We are agreed on the fact that elephant are grossly over-populated in these areas and that drastic culling has to be carried out to save the environment and, ultimately, the elephant. I am still waiting for you to give a practical solution on how to “humanely” cull big numbers.