ELEPHANT MANAGEMENT IN AFRICA. The reasons WHY I was
required to shoot so many elephants
You will know of me from the “Good Morning Britain” television show that you aired on Monday, 29th of April, 2019.
I was seemingly hung out to dry by your presenter, Piers Morgan, because I admitted to having killed several thousand elephants (for legitimate and necessary management purposes) some 50-odd years ago (between 1955 -1983); and because I have shown no remorse for doing so. I continue to harbour no shame.
I was a very good elephant hunter and I excelled in my elephant management work. In actual fact, the shame is on Mr Morgan for not allowing me to air “The Truth” behind this unfortunate management necessity.
He was far too keen to tell the British public what he thought about my elephant hunting escapes – not realising that his ideas on the subject were not relevant to the reasons why I had been asked to appear on the show. I am now an 80-year-old ex-game warden; an ex-national park manager; a university-trained ecologist; a highly experienced wildlife manager; a one-time Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park; a highly experienced African big-game (management) hunter; and, for 20 years, I was a member of the British Institute of Biology and a Chartered Biologist for the European Union. Later in life, in South Africa, I was appointed to the post of Chief Nature Conservation Officer for the Republic of Ciskei; and then Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board.
I worked as a professional hunter for three years, taking foreign hunters out on hunting safaris to collect plains-game trophies – but I discovered that was not my forte. For some 30 years, I also worked in the field of investigative journalism (in matters concerned with wildlife management) and I have written countless wildlife articles for South African, British and American magazines.
I am still writing voluminously for South African magazines. I have also written fifteen wildlife-related books; five of which are wildlife management text books that have been used extensively in South African Universities over the last 30 years.
For a great many years I have been exposed to severe criticism from the animal rightist NGOs and their foot-soldiers – both South African and international – who fanatically disapprove of my support for the sustainable-use of our wild living resources (for the benefit of Africa’s people). It is the animal rightists’ purpose in life to abolish all such uses! So, my relationship with these kinds of people has been constantly abrasive.
I was not at all surprised, therefore, when Mr Morgan told me during this interview, that he had met many people in South Africa who vehemently disagree with my wildlife management philosophies. I don’t dispute his comment at all – except to explain that those people who disagree with me are all animal rightist in orientation.
Against this reality have been many hundreds (thousands) of people who, upon, seeing your show, have commented very negatively against Mr Morgan’s unconstructive approach to his involvement in this programme; and there have been many others who have lamented the fact that ITV (Good Morning Britain) lost out on a magnificent opportunity to have Africa’s elephant management dilemma spelt out for the British public, by one of only a handful of people alive today who saw and worked in colonial Africa BEFORE the continent’s elephant populations exploded; and before the elephant populations destroyed their own habitats, and the habitats of all the other animals which live side-by-side with elephants in Africa’s national parks.
What Mr Morgan exposed to the world, however, was the fact that he is a fellow-traveller of the animal rights brigade.
And I agree with those who are critical of ITV’s (and Mr Morgan’s) handling of this interview.
It was very obvious to me – AND to the greater audience – that Mr Morgan had done little or no research into:
- The status of elephants in Africa;
- The principles and practices of wildlife (particularly elephant) management; and
- My own history and capabilities as a highly experienced game warden. And without that underlying knowledge, in my opinion, Mr Morgan was completely out of his depth. He did not understand the subject matter so he was unable to ask me pertinent questions!
I had been asked (by ITV) to explain to the British public why it had been necessary for me to kill so many elephants; and I was looking forward to giving your viewers some idea about the true status of elephants in Africa – especially in southern Africa – and about their management needs. But that did not happen.
Mr Morgan – over and over again – kept black-marking me for having shot 5000 elephants when (SO, HE KEPT SAYING) the African elephant is “facing extinction”. THAT, seemingly, is all he could think about.
And he totally ignored my statements that the African elephant is NOT facing extinction.
THAT ASSERTION IS PURE ANIMAL RIGHTS PROPAGANDA.
Mr Morgan totally ignored my statements that elephants occur in three distinction population categories: UNSAFE; SAFE and EXCESSIVE. Yet, if people really wish to know how Africa’s elephants should be managed, they HAVE to understand, and they HAVE to consider, these three elephant population categories – because THEY determine what KIND of ‘management’ each and every elephant population in Africa – individually – needs.
NB: UNSAFE populations require “Preservation management” (protection from all harm);
SAFE populations require “Conservation management” (Sustainable-use management); and
EXCESSIVE populations require “Population Reduction management” (to obviate the destruction of the biological diversities caused by too many elephants).
He also glossed over my statement that “There is no such thing as an “endangered species”.
The most important wildlife management issue to come out of Africa over the last 100 years is the question surrounding HOW to manage the continent’s elephants.
Nothing is more significant. And I have passed through 60 of those 100 years “managing elephants” FIRST HAND.
I know, therefore, what I am talking about. I know what to do and what not to do; who to listen to and who NOT to listen to, and it has been my life-time endeavour to create a responsible public that understands and supports “BEST ELEPHANT MANAGEMENT PRACTICE.”
I have lived and worked all my life within the elephant management milieus of Botswana; Namibia; Zambia; Hwange National Park (in Zimbabwe); Middle Zambezi Valley (in Zimbabwe); Gonarezhou National Park (in Zimbabwe): and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Today, all these national parks are carrying between ten and twenty-times too many elephants; their habitats have been trashed by too many elephants; and they are all losing their biological diversities hand-over-fist.
Yet, what I am advocating for the elephants of southern Africa is the application of the self-same ecological principles of living resource management that every other country in the world implements; and that farmers, all over the world, use too.
Every wildlife sanctuary (or farm) contains just so much soil; and that soil can only produce so much edible vegetation every year; and that vegetation can only support so many herbivores on a sustainable basis (and no more). Plants perform several roles in nature besides providing food for animals to eat; the most important of which is to protect the soil from erosion (especially by the rain).
NB: Our FIRST conservation priority is to protect the SOIL – because without soil no plants can grow; and without plants there would be no animals.
Our SECOND conservation priority is to protect PLANTS – because (again) without plants there would be no animals.
Our THIRD and LAST conservation priority is to protect the ANIMALS (and to ‘use’ animals sustainably and wisely for the benefit of mankind).
This does not mean that animals are UNIMPORTANT, it means that animals are LESS-important that the soil and plants.
When animals (including elephants/especially elephants) become “EXCESSIVE” – that is, when they exceed the sustainable carrying capacity of their habitats, they (perforce) eat more vegetation each year than the soil can produce; and the soil (because there are fewer plants) will, annually, be ever more exposed to erosion – which means that in every successive year there will be less and less soil, so fewer plants CAN and WILL be produced.
The plants which elephants find most palatable, are preferentially eaten – more and more every year – until there are no ‘favourite elephant foods’ left.
The elephants then set about eating their next favourite plant food. And so a cycle of destruction begins where, to begin with, the most edible plants are eliminated, followed by the extinction of less and less palatable plant species, too – ad infinitum – until there is no edible food left for the elephants to eat AT ALL.
Another tragedy is that all the other wild animal species that share the game reserve habitats with the elephants, will be starved too – because THEY eat the same palatable foods that the elephants eat (and which the elephants eliminate). Ultimately – if no remedial management action is taken – wherever (and everywhere) excessive elephant populations exist, the game reserves will continuously degrade every year; tons of soil will be washed away by the rain every year – and dumped in the far away sea; thousands of plant species will become extinct; and many species of animals, one by one, will die out, too. And, in the end, the game reserves WILL become deserts. THIS is NOT what humanity wants to see happen.
The solution is actually quite simple. The solution is to maintain elephant populations at a number that is below (or within) within the carrying capacity of their habitats.
NB: The elephant carrying capacity of a game reserve is the MAXIMUM number of elephants that the game reserve can carry – without the elephants causing progressive and irreparable damage to the vegetation.
I think that every intelligent person will understand that if there are too many elephants in a game reserve, they WILL cause “progressive and irreparable damage to the habitats”; and that the habitats will then continuously degrade – a little bit more every year – until the game reserve becomes a desert. And the game reserves of southern Africa have been sliding down this slippery slope for the last 60 years and more. So the damage is very greatly advanced.
Britain’s much lauded and internationally popular chef – Jamie Oliver – in one of his books (Jamie at Home) – had this to say about managing the rabbit in the U.K:
“Most (rabbits) come via game dealers from gamekeepers who look after large farming estates. I’ve met very few gamekeepers who just want to kill all their game and get rid of them (even if that were possible). However, they do need to control the numbers, otherwise they (the rabbits) will destroy any new forests that are being planted by responsible landowners, as well as eat all the vegetables and cereals being grown for human consumption. If the numbers of game were not controlled, there would be a serious impact on farmers which would affect their products and their livelihood.
“So, the role of the gamekeeper is an incredibly important one. It might seem heartless to shoot animals to eat them, but it’s actually instrumental in maintaining the countryside and making sure there is enough food for us. When the numbers of animals, particularly rabbits, grow, they run out of natural food and go looking for something else. They’ll eat any new planting – I’ve seen trees completely stripped of bark round the base.
“Also, firing bullets round the countryside is bloody dangerous and is a highly controlled and responsible job. I hold a shotgun licence and various rifle licenses myself, and in all my years of growing up in the country and mixing with gamekeepers or locals who are out controlling pests, I’ve never come across anyone with a gung-ho attitude towards shooting game. The whole process is perfectly aligned and is about controlling numbers and maintaining a balance of the countryside. And, if there is a food source at the end of it, great.”
The similarities between managing elephants in Africa and rabbits in the United Kingdom, therefore, are uncanny. When populations of both species exceed the carrying capacities of their habitats they eat every kind of available edible plant – wholesale – anything and everything – disrupting natural ecosystem balances (biological diversities); eliminating grass swards, trees (re-afforestation plantings); shrubs and forbs (anything green); before moving on to agricultural crops that supply food for us humans to eat.
The solution to excessive elephant or rabbit populations is exactly the same. And it is the ONLY solution. The solution is “to reduce the population numbers”. What most people erroneously call culling.
I am STILL very keen to fulfil my obligation to ITV – by making myself available for further TV shows (of whatever type you prefer) in order to inform the British public regarding the TRUTH about the African elephant and its management needs.
I have learned over the years that telling the truth – no matter how distasteful the truth sometime is – and no matter however many people don’t want to hear the truth – telling the truth is always the best policy. I have a lifetime of experience in the field of elephant management and – after writing many books and articles on this subject over the years – all the facts are at my fingertips.
I will make myself available to ITV (if necessary) for no recompense provided all my expenses are paid. I hope this will be an offer that “you cannot refuse”. And I am even prepared to come to your home studio in England.
And, please understand, I have become quite expert at transforming scientific fact into layman’s language!
I am VERY keen to tell the British people “The Truth” – the truth about this very important yet much- distorted subject. I would suggest that getting the truth about elephants and their management needs into the public domain in the U.K., would be a huge media scoop!
I hope that you will understand, now, why I am so disappointed with the result of the ITV “Good Morning Britain” show, discussed above. It was a golden opportunity to get the ball rolling in the British mind and conscience – to get honest Britons to start understanding the facts about the elephants of Africa, rather than being fed, and being required to absorb, the animal rightists self-serving fabrications. Theirs is truly a Confidence Industry of immense proportions.
Please send me the name and postal address of the most senior officer amongst you so that I can post you a book or two to read.
With Kind regards,
Ron Thomson CEO – The True Green Alliance