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.