Elephant Poaching

Now let’s have a look at elephant poaching. It is something that we should not allow – but how are we going to stop it? The first step is to identify its causes.
When elephant poaching is carried out by Africa’s village hunters the causes are two-fold:

(1) poverty and

(2) unemployment

So – first things first – we have to remove these two motivating factors. And when we enable rural communities to benefit from the sustainable utilisation of ‘their’ elephants, the elephants themselves provide their own salvation.

Fortunately, that solution is not too difficult to bring into effect. All it needs is political understanding and political will – and I think that Botswana now has both those prerequisites in abundance.

What most people don’t understand, however, is that since 1970, MOST of the really big commercial elephant poaching events, throughout Africa, were NOT conducted by the so-called and mythical Chinese mafia.

They were orchestrated by corrupt elements of Africa’s own political elite. And THAT has not been an easy problem to solve. But that does not apply to Botswana.

The game reserve sanctuaries of all the countries of southern Africa are each carrying between 10 and 20 times too many elephants – and they will all benefit extensively by having those populations reduced by several tens of thousands.

These excessive elephant populations, therefore, have the enormous potential of eliminating long term poverty – and providing sustainable employment – in the villages in those remote regions where the people are living cheek by jowl with masses of these highly dangerous and crop-destructive animals.

And – remember what I said previously – it is poverty and unemployment that are the drivers of commercial elephant poaching by village hunters. By creating realistic symbiotic partnerships between Botswana’s elephants, and Botswana’s rural people, poaching in Botswana by Botswana’s own rural people, can be stopped.
There is nothing I can prescribe to eliminate poaching by Africa’s political elite – except by revealing this reality to the world at large – but relieving poverty in the rural villages – by enabling the rural people to gain substantially from the ‘consumptive use’ of “their” excessive elephants – will turn our village hunters into our game reserves’ greatest-ever custodians. So, we are slowly creeping back to the involvement of our people!


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: www.ronthomsonshuntingbooks.co.za.

Ron Thomson has 211 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

2 thoughts on “Elephant Poaching

  • I dom’t dispute that poverty and unemployment are major drivers of poaching in Africa. However, in a recent study it has also been pointed out that poaching doesn’t just occur among the poorest of the poor. And furthermore, poaching doesn’t just occur among the unemployed. It has come to light that some people who earn a decent income poach in order to supplement that income with additional funds. These poachers don’t count among the poorest of the poor anymore; their lifestyle is way past subsistence level. Providing the necessary funds for education is an important factor to figure into the equation. Education of their kids proves of prime importance to people and some use poaching as a means of providing the necessary funds for education. As many know, good education often comes with a huge price tag. Relative ‘poverty’ also seems to be a factor as people tend to compare their lifestyle with their neighbours’ and friends’ and to ensure that their lifestyle is raised one level higher compared to others, they poach. These are people with employment; people who already earn a decent living, but they still poach!

    Now, I think it is important to look at the poaching crisis holistically and to include all these additional drivers also into the equation. I think one should guard against oversimplifying the matter and accept that the problem has many more facets than when superficially perceived. Consider the complexity of the problem before tackling it. Because at the end of the day one has to incorporate all these scenarios and parameters before one can propose a workable solution – a model that indeed satisfies all the inputs and deliver the desired outcomes – one that people, considering their and their families needs, will be willing to adopt and subscribe to, convincing them and making them realise that it makes financially more sense to become custodians of wildlife, rather than to continue poaching.

  • Yet another first class and worthwhile article.


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