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.

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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.

Scimitar-horned oryx study aims to bolster reintroduction

“A radio collar behavioral study is underway at Fossil Rim as a precursor to an unprecedented reintroduction of the ‘extinct’ Scimitar Horned Oryx to Republic of Chad in Central Africa. This is how captive breeding projects really can act as a conservation safety net.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Words On Wildlife

With a species currently extinct in the wild ramping up for reintroduction to its native Chad next summer, there’s a lot on the line for the human parties involved.

Several groups of scimitar-horned oryx (SHO) will be released over time and monitored by GPS radio collars. But first, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) among others need to know how the animals react to these collars regarding behavior, grazing activity and time under collar habituation.

Hence the study extending from November 2015 to February 2016 at Fossil Rim involving nine SHO females and one male. Supported by Fossil Rim team members and offsite collaborators, Stephanie Cunningham, Fossil Rim hoofstock behavior research and husbandry intern, is the project investigator.

Justin and Stephanie Justin Smith, Fossil Rim senior animal care specialist – hoofstock, holds a scimitar-horned oryx stationary as a GPS…

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Endangered Species Act lost sight of its mission

Reblogged from Desert News.

“A NEW report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group has characterized the Endangered Species Act recovery rate as ‘unacceptable.’ The ESA should be a dynamic tool of conservation, not a tool to advance the policies of special interests that FWS is beholden to.” ~Andrew Wyatt

Deseret News editorial
Published: Friday, March 7 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

A male greater sage grouse struts at a lek near Henefer, Sunday, April 16, 2006. Christopher Watkins, Deseret News archives


A report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group found the ESA has produced an “unacceptable” recovery rate of 2 percent, and less than 5 percent of the species on the list are actually improving. That’s just not good

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, it did so with the intent of preserving animal populations that were facing the possibility of extinction. That’s a noble goal, but the reality of its implementation has been very different from its intent.

A recently released report from the Endangered Species Act Congressional Working Group, which evaluated the effects of the ESA and recommended improvements to the 40-year-old law, found that the ESA has produced an “unacceptable” recovery rate of only 2 percent, and that less than 5 percent of the species still on the list are actually improving. That’s just not good enough.

Read more at Desert News…

Alaska wants the humpback whale off the Endangered Species list

Reblogged from the Washington Post.

“After teetering on the brink of extinction in the 1970’s, has the humpback whale recovered to the point they should be removed from the Endangered Species list?” ~ Andrew Wyatt

BY REID WILSON | March 1 at 6:00 am

File: Icy Bay, Alaska. Credit: Jon TigarFile:  Alaska. Credit: Jon Tigar

The state of Alaska wants the federal government to remove endangered species protections for humpback whales that migrate seasonally between Alaska and Hawaii, a step that would remove a hurdle for companies that want to explore the Arctic Coast for oil.

On Wednesday, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service seeking to designate the specific subspecies of humpback that travels between the two states, and to take it off the endangered species list  because its population has rebounded from dangerously low levels just a few decades ago.

Read more at The Washington Post…

Will Hunting Save Lions From Extinction?

african_lion_king-wideAfrican lions are one of the most charismatic species on the planet. Images of the King of the Jungle are etched deeply into our collective conscience. The debate on how best to conserve lions has been stirred anew with a recent Twitter post by TV hostess Melissa Bachman who killed a “trophy” lion while on safari in Africa. The image of a rifle-toting Bachman posing over the carcass of a dead lion offended activists and animal lovers alike. However, Twitter hype aside, the hunting/conservation of African lions is a controversial topic that begs a thorough understanding of the facts.

In 2011 US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) was petitioned by animal rights activists  to add African lions to the Endangered Species list, sharpening the divide of an already philosophically polarized conservation community. Contradicting the underlying premise of the petition, at a recent lion workshop hosted by FWS, three experts on African lions agreed that the lion, in their opinion, is not currently in danger of extinction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the central body in conservation for the African lion, currently lists lions as “vulnerable” on their Red List of Threatened Species.

All agree that populations of lions have declined significantly. According to a study authored by Professor Stuart Pimm of Duke University in 2012, about 75 percent of Africa’s savannahs and more than two-thirds of the lion population once estimated to live there have disappeared in the last 50 years. There are likely between 32,00 and 35,000 free ranging lions on the African continent today. According to professor Pimm, “massive land-use change and deforestation, driven by rapid human population growth” is the primary reason for the decline of the lion.

lions-550Sixty percent of all lions harvested in Africa are destined for trophy rooms in the United States. Proponents of an Endangered Species listing claim the issue is a “no brainer.” Allowing hunters to harvest lions and export trophies back to the US sends the wrong conservation message. They say lions would be best conserved by blocking access to American hunters, thereby reducing pressure on lion populations. Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the group spearheading the petition to list lions on the Endangered Species Act (ESA), wrote, “Why should anyone spend money to protect an animal that a wealthy American can then pay to go kill?” Mr Flocken characterizes his argument as common sense, but acknowledges that, habitat loss and human-lion conflict, not hunting, are the primary causes of the lions’ disappearance from Africa.

“As human-lion contact increases, so does human-lion conflict, resulting in reductions in lion numbers (through poisoning, trapping and shooting) and lack of support for lion conservation among local communities.” ~ IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group

It is absolutely essential that local communities identify the presence of lions as a direct benefit to them. Reducing human-lion conflict is critical to conservation success. According to Dennis Ikanda, of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute’s Kingupira Research Centre, his country generated $75 million in lion hunting from 2008 to 2011. Opponents of an Endangered Species listing assert that trophy hunting is the only thing standing between the lions and extinction. Although those claims may seem counter intuitive, the money generated by hunting is being plowed back into the local economy, into conservation measures and into protecting lions from poaching. Hunting advocates say the only chance for survival of the lions is management as a valuable and sustainable natural resource.

Melissa Simpson of Safari Club International Foundation wrote in an opinion piece for the National Geographic Society, “If the (FWS) were to take regulatory action and put the African lion on the Endangered Species list, it would be in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Such an overreaching decision would deprive the countries that grapple with lion management the resources they need the most. And the most essential resource is money.”  Hunting advocates believe that more closely monitored hunting and the millions of dollars injected into management, conservation and the local economy is the best way to conserve lions.

photo: Hilton

photo: Hilton

Additionally, proponents of listing insist that adult male lions being harvested are in fact dominant pride males in their breeding prime. They assert that harvesting pride males destroys pride stability by instigating less dominant males to cull the former pride male’s cubs in order to establish themselves, thereby disrupting the natural pride dynamic and throwing breeding cycles into chaos. If this were true, and management practices didn’t focus on males who have passed their prime, then damage to pride stability would be a serious problem.

Hunting advocates have argued that it is irresponsible and unsustainable to harvest pride males in their prime. Responsible game management practices dictate only aging males that have passed their prime and are often alienated from the pride should be harvested. These are males that were possibly once dominant, but have become too old (6+ years) to maintain status within the pride structure.

Although the idea of trophy hunting does not enjoy wide popularity, its value as a pragmatic conservation tool has proven to have merit. The questions are, will an Endangered Species listing relieve pressure on lion populations? Or will blocking American hunters from harvesting lions remove economic incentives necessary to protect a valuable resource?


photo: Elana Castle

Animal rights advocates dismiss the conservation benefits of hunting. However, a study of trophy hunting by the University of Zimbabwe supports claims of conservation success tied to responsible hunting practices. Peter Lindsey, the lead author of the study, wrote,  “trophy hunting is sustainable and low risk if well managed.” Lindsey continued, “Trophy hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, in Tanzania during 1973–1978, and in Zambia from 2000 through 2003. Each of these bans resulted in an accelerated loss of wildlife due to the removal of incentives for conservation.  Avoiding future bans is thus vital for conservation.” When local communities are not incentivized to protect lions they are subsequently killed.

To date there appears to be no clear evidence that would support the premise that listing lions as endangered in the USA would inure conservation benefit to lions in Africa; to the contrary, listing could undermine real conservation efforts by diminishing the value of lions to local African communities.

Admittedly, oversight of hunting practices in Africa is not likely to be commensurate to standards in the west anytime soon. Trophy hunting is by no means a perfect solution, but the IUCN Cat Specialists Group says, “Properly managed trophy hunting was viewed as an important solution to long-term lion conservation.” There will always be some abuse from unscrupulous individuals. But the monetary incentive to mange sustainable lion populations for hunting is the only protection lions currently have. Removing economic incentive for Africans to conserve lions has been demonstrated to be counterproductive. Working to improve oversight and lion management should be a priority. Until a better conservation model proves it’s mettle, responsibly managed hunts are the best chance for lions to survive in Africa.

photo: Philip Briggs

photo: Philip Briggs

“Well, we all worked together. Worthy deeds were accomplished.” ~ The Ghost and the Darkness


WyattP2The position of FWS on listing African lions as Endangered Species under ESA is transitioning. The initial 90 day finding following the petition was concluded in November 2012 with a finding of “Substantial.” The subsequent 12 month finding prior to potentially posting a proposed rule in the federal register is due later this week. Expect FWS to fail to meet that deadline.

Because of the charismatic nature of the African lion this promises to be a politically charged process. Please follow The Last Word for important news and insight on this critical issue. If you would like to discuss the potential implications for you, and/or the advantages of a comprehensive government affairs strategy, please call or email me. ~ Andrew Wyatt