A TGA ‘Observation Statement’ Subject:Botswana Plans for Elephant Management

A TGA ‘observation statement’

Subject: Derived from information coming out of Botswana about the government’s plans for elephant management in that country

Readers wishing to evaluate this statement must first acknowledge and accept certain scientific facts about wildlife and its management needs:

Wildlife management (aka ‘conservation’) is the action that man takes to achieve man-desired objectives in the natural world.
The most important ‘man-desired’ ‘conservation’ objective in nature is the maintenance of biological diversity.    
Wild animal species (including elephants) live in states of symbiotic harmony, with each other, in natural ecosystems.
Ecosystems are complex biological communities of interacting living organisms (plants and animals) and their physical environment.
Man’s ‘priority conservation considerations’ are:
a. FIRST for the SOIL – because without soil no plants can grow.
b. SECOND for PLANTS – because without plants there would be no animals.  
c. THIRD for the ANIMALS.  Animal come last on this hierarchical list of priorities not because they are    UN-important, but because they are LESS-important than the soil and plants.
It is the wildlife managers responsibility to make sure that there always exists a state of dynamic equilibrium between the soil, the plants and the animals in his game reserve.
Plant communities in an ecosystem constantly strive to reach a state of climax – which is the biggest and the best state that they can achieve.
Plants can live without animals but animals can’t live without plants.
All herbivorous animals (including elephants) eat plants.
Ecosystems, however, can (on average) produce only ‘so much’ biomass (overall mass or weight) of plants per year – and no more.
This finite plant mass is required (by both man and nature) to sustainably feed – for each and every year – for ever – the whole spectrum of animal species populations that live in the same game reserve (i.e. in the same ecosystem).
A game reserve’s “elephant carrying capacity” is the maximum number of elephants that the game reserve can carry without causing irreparable damage to the habitat. (NOTE: this latter provision! It is important.)

Plant communities (and their local environments) create many different habitattypes which attract different animal species. Indeed, an animal species will only occupy the habitat to which it is especially adapted. And, if an animal species is extant in a game reserve, it will become locally extinct if its special habitat disappears (e.g. if it is destroyed). It is one of the wildlife managers most important tasks, therefore, to maintain ALL habitats in a game reserve in a healthy and vigorous state. It is probably true to say that, if the habitat is the right one for a particular animal species, and if it is healthy and vigorous, the animal species concerned will be able to look after itself, in that habitat, without management intervention by man.

It would behove the wildlife manager, therefore, to make sure that each and every habitat, in his game reserve, remains in a healthy and vigorous state. It is the only way he can be assured of maintaining his game reserve’s species diversity.

When an elephant population becomes excessive (i.e. if it exceeds the elephant carrying capacity of its habitat) it will eat more plant material than the game reserve’s ecosystem is capable of producing. If the elephant numbers are not reduced, therefore, the game reserve’s habitats will beconstantly degraded every year.  And the damage done will get worse and worse with every passing year – as has been happening in Botswana for the last 60 years.

This is truly the state of affairs that exists in Botswana today. Records as far back as 1960 – when the riverine forest at Chobe was being demolished by ‘too many elephants’ – tell us that, for the last 60 years, Botswana’s elephant numbers have been excessive and they have been destroying the habitats in all of Botswana’s elephant sanctuaries during all that time.  And many of those lost habitats are no longer redeemable. And others are going fast!

Records show that:

There used to be giant trees of many species growing all along the Chobe River banks in 1960; and that there was once a thick understorey growing beneath those trees.  Today they are all gone; (So, is the famous Chobe Bushbuck).
That there was once a forest of camel thorn trees (Acacia erioloba) 600 strong and 400 years old, growing in the Chobe Game Reserve away from the river. Today they are all gone.
Throughout Botswana’s Ngamiland elephant sanctuaries there were hundreds of different tree species growing here and there, everywhere, throughout: African Mahoganies; African Ebonies; Several species of Acacias (A. erioloba; A. nigrescens; A. tortillis; A. fleckii; and more); several species of Commiphoras existed in the Chobe, too; and there were many, many more – too numerous to mention by name. They are all gone – right down to the last specimen.
There were once many groves of baobab trees in all the elephant sanctuaries in Botswana; and many individual baobab specimens, too some said to be 5000 years old which have all been rendered individually extinct.  
And the carnage is not yet finished.

Conclusion: Elephant count figures in Botswana have been periodically ‘cooked’ – as is the case at present.  In 1990 there were said to be 60 000 elephants in Botswana; in the year 2000 the count was 120 604; and in the year 2013 the number was said to be over 207 000.  Today the ‘experts’ (Chase et al) say there are only 135 000 elephants left.  I don’t believe it. For that to have happened there must be 100 000 poached elephant carcasses all over the Botswana game sanctuaries (killed since 2013). At that rate, even baby tourists would have seen (and noticed and talked about) the tens of thousands of elephant carcasses that they had seen lying around the gameviewing roads in all the Botswana game reserves.That has not happened.

So, the elephants of Botswana remain an ‘unknown quantity’.  And until that number is confirmed, no definitive elephant management plans can be made. The Botswana elephant population, however, is a mega-populationwhich means it is a single biological population that is shared by Botswana, Northern Namibia, southern Angola; south-eastern Zambia and the Hwange and Victoria Falls National Parks in Zimbabwe.  My guess is that the mega-elephant- population numbers well in excess of 200 000.

I had great hopes for Botswana’s President Masisi when he first came to power. He expressed ideas about ‘using’ the country’s elephants for the benefit of Botswana’s rural people; and he is, seemingly, sticking to his plans to place 400 bull elephants on hunting license this year.  This is good news, if just because it signifies a definitive change in policy direction.

I am disappointed, however, by other utterances he has made (probably to placate the international animal rights opposition) to the effect that he was not going to carry out any elephant population-culls (using words to that effect).  If that is true, that tells me he has not yet ‘grasped the nettle’ – or he doesn’t understand the wildlife management implications because the removal of 400 bull elephants wont make one iota of difference to the truly astronomical over-populationofelephants problem that he and his country faces.

If President Masisi wishes to save his country’s biological diversity; if he wishes to restore the habitats that have been all but universally destroyed throughout his treasured wildlife sanctuaries; if he wishes to ensure thatecotourism in his country will continue into posterity – then he needs to start thinking about the prospect of taking-off something in the region of 100 000 elephants (to begin with).

I will stand by this wildlife management philosophy no matter what. I am totally confident that I am right.  And the TGA will stand by President Masisi, too, if his elephant management programme ventures in thedirection I here recommend.  

It is time for the TGA – and southern African society – to tell our animal rightist opposition to go jump in the sea.  Wildlife management is a science.  It deals with facts – with the truth. And we are not about to join those idiots on their emotional merry-go-round on this issue.

Botswana needs to cull elephants.  Lots of elephants. And the TGA will stand by President Masisi if his government has a change of heart.  And, if he doesn’t want to start managing his country’s elephants properly, and to start a programme of really good wildlife governance, I have to ask him the question: Why, Sir, did you elect to become Botswana’s president?

Don’t misconstrue this email, Sir. Both I, and TGA, are truly ‘with you’!

Thank Goodness I am not a politician!

Ron Thomson – CEO – TGA

26 March 2020

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