Africa Speaks – The Endangered Species Concept is a Fallacy

Coming out of the current “Ban Trophy Hunting” controversy in Great Britain at this time, there are a great many misconceptions that need to be exposed and explained. And within the general ‘conservation’ field as a whole, there are a great many other so-called “statements of fact” that are nothing of the kind. The British people owe it to themselves, therefore, to learn the truth; and I would like to be the conveyor of that truth.

The First World’s armchair ‘conservationists’ – the animal rights brigade extremists –  for example, have been at pains to tell the world that the African elephant is an ‘endangered species’ and that it is ‘facing extinction’. With regards to both these statements nothing could be further from the truth.  Furthermore, the concept of “endangered species” is, itself, a fallacy.

A “species” can be defined as a group of animals (or plants) that share the same physical (and, in the case of animals, bevahioural) characteristics and which, when they breed, produce fertile offspring with the same physical (and behavioral) characteristics.

A “population” is quite different.  A population can be defined as a group of animals of the same species that interact with each other on a daily basis; and which breed only with others in the same group.

According to organizations like the IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the African elephant has 150 distinct populations that occur from Ethiopia in the North to the Cape of Good Hope in the South; and from the Atlantic Ocean on the West to the Indian Ocean in the East. They live in a wide variety of habitat types that range from high, evergreen, mountain forests to salt grasslands at the coast; and from savannahs (treed-grasslands) to dense thorn bush.  Some live in deserts whilst others live in swamps. Some populations live in close proximity to man, others far removed from humans. Their habitats, therefore, are as diverse as anybody can imagine.

All these different populations, living in different habitat types, have very different and very habitat-specific ‘management needs’, which is why the African elephant cannot be managed “as a species”.

Each elephant population has to be managed exactly according to the kind of habitat that they live in.  That is why it is impossible to ‘manage’ the African elephant (or any other wild animal species) as a “species”.

There is no such thing, therefore, as “an endangered species” because that terminology fits nowhere into the science of wildlife management. The concept, therefore, is an emotion-charged fallacy.

Think about it!  When somebody speaks or writes about the elephant (or any other wild animal) being “an endangered species” what does he (or she) mean? Does he/she imply that the elephant, as a species, requires some kind of special and uniform “conservation” treatment?  If so WHAT?  What kind of “special elephant management treatment” can be legitimately applied to every elephant in Africa?

An elephant population that lives in a dry desert, for example, would probably benefit if a bore-holed game water supply was introduced to its sanctuary. YES!  But introducing more water to an elephant population that is located on the banks of a perennial river, in a swamp, or in a high rainfall area high-up on a mountain, would not benefit from extra water at all. So, what is the point in even talking about an “endangered species” when that concept has no application whatsoever in science-based wildlife management?

Management is, essentially, applied ONLY to an individual population according to its specific ecological status in its own environment – a status that is actually determined by the sustainable elephant carrying capacity of its specific habitat. If the elephant population’s habitat carrying capacity is (say) 5 000, and if that is what it numbers, that population is considered to be SAFE. All SAFE populations should be managed according to the principles of “conservation (wise-use) management”. In this case the population should be annually stabilised at the number 5000 – by culling the annually-produced excess.

If that population numbered 2 000, however, and if it was declining, then the population would be classified as being UNSAFE and it would need “preservation management” applied to it (protection from all harm). And THAT management strategy should continue until the population reached the 5000 mark again. Once it reached that greater strength in numbers, however, it should then have “conservation management” (wise-use management) applied to it.

If that population numbered 20 000, however, it would be classified as being “Grossly Excessive” and it would be subjected to “population-reduction-management”. That means a reduction in number by 50 percent every year – year after year – until the population number was reduced to the optimum number, 5 000.

And in southern Africa, today, ALL elephant populations are grossly excessive. They are certainly NOT “endangered” and they are NOT “facing extinction”.

Article no 2 written for Country Squire Magazine by Ron Thomson


Ron Thomson

I am NOT a ‘trophy hunter’ - and never have been. I am not involved in the trophy hunting safari business. I am also not a game rancher. But I have ‘administratively controlled’ professional hunters and safari outfitters in my capacity as a government game warden. I am an 80 year old ex-game warden with 60 years of continuous experience in hands-on wildlife management, and national park management, in Africa (1959 to 2019). In breakdown, I have 24 years experience in the management of national parks in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe - and in the management of the wild animal populations that lived inside those national parks; one year as the Chief Nature Conservation of the Ciskei in South Africa; three years as Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board in South Africa; and I worked for three years as a professional hunter in the South African Great Karoo (taking foreign hunters on quests for plains game trophies). I discovered, however, that professional hunting was not my forte. I worked as an investigative wildlife journalist for 30 years in South Africa. I have written fifteen books and hundreds of magazine articles on the subject of wildlife management and big game hunting in Africa. Five of my books are university-level text books on wildlife management. I am a university-trained ecologist; was a member of the Institute of Biology (London) for 20 years; and was a registered chartered biologist for the European Union for 20 years. I have VAST experience in the “management hunting” of elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards and hippos (as part of my official national park work in the control of problem animals); and I pioneered the capture of black rhino in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley (1964 - 1970). My university thesis was entitled: “The Factors Affecting the Survival and Distribution of Black Rhinos in Rhodesia”. Look at my personal website if you want any further details about my experience:

Ron Thomson has 261 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

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