I am an 82 year old ecologist with 62 years of active hands on elephant management service under my belt.
The elephant habitat carrying capacity for most southern African elephant sanctuaries is somewhere in the region of one elephant per two square miles (which equals one elephant per five square kilometers). My accurate and calculated assessment for Kruger National Park in South Africa is that the Kruger elephant carrying capacity – when the habitats were healthy (circa 1955) – was 4000 elephants +/- 500. Kruger is currently carrying over 30 000 elephants = 10 TIMES the number of elephants it should be carrying. As a consequence the Kruger habitats have been trashed and park is losing its plant and animal diversity hand over fist. The Kruger scientists will tell you that, since 1960, Kruger has “lost” “more than 95 percent of its large top canopy trees. This cannot be allowed to continue – or this game reserve will soon be a desert.
The Botswana mega elephant population is reported to be in excess of 200 000 animals (TWENTY TIMES too many). Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe (of which I was the provincial game warden in charge in the 1980s) currently holds 50 000 elephants when its sustainable elephant carrying capacity is just 2 500 (One elephant per two square miles). So Hwange, too, is carrying 20 times too many elephants. Because we are no longer able to cull our elephant herds to bring them down to a level that their habitats can sustainably support, the habitats are being over-utilised (trashed) and species of both plants and animals are being lost to local extinction. Everywhere. All over southern Africa. And THIS is all happening because the British government thinks it knows what is best for Africa.
A few exposures for yours and DEFRA’s interest.
Elephant bulls and cows of both sexes come into puberty at about age eleven or twelve. The young cows are then beginning to ovulate and the young bulls are producing viable sperm in their testes. But no breeding takes place between them.
When they are evicted (by the cows) from the breeding herds, the young bulls (at 15 years old) look for solace in the bull herds amongst much bigger animals than the cows. At this juncture it is important to point out that at a much earlier age – when the young bulls are only three or four years old – they start sparring with their brothers at every opportunity. This baby-fighting is normally looked upon as playful sparring – but those baby fights develop into something far more serious.
Most people don’t understand that elephant bulls and cows do not live in the same herds. They live quite separate lives and they often settle down in areas that are many miles apart. The bull herds, however, are often fragmented – although I have seen close-knit bull herds as big as 82 and 108. When feeding quietly, bulls tend to keep to their individual selves but they often ‘hang-around’ within sight of their peers. So the bull groups could be called scattered companions living in a common environment. They often have permanent relationships, however, and they sometimes raid crops at night in groups of four or five.
Bulls and cows come together frequently, during the dry season, at the waterholes.
Only bulls that have risen to a particular rank in the bull hierarchy come into musth and they breed only with a cow that is in eostrus. Rank amongst the bulls, therefore, is of great importance.
To understand the African elephant better, understand that the elephant’s life expectancy is 60 years. That means, if you divide an elephant’s life into four quarters, it can be assigned four 15 year life-quarters. And the bulls spar with each other during every life-quarter period. Bulls are at the end of their first life-quarter, (0 – 15 years), when they leave the cow herds and join the bull community.
Bulls in their second-life-quarter (16 – 30 years) intensify their sparring because exhibitions of their strength is the way they gain higher and higher rank. Pushing over big trees just because they are there, is one way they do this, and very few of their ‘exhibition’ trees are ever fed upon. In fact, pushing over bigger and bigger exhibition trees often does more damage to the woodlands than does their actual feeding pressure.
Young bulls in their second-life-quarter, after joining the bull groups, are well advised to watch their behaviour because the bigger bulls do not tolerate unruly conduct in the junior cohorts. And bulls in their third-life-quarter (30 to 45 years) are very much bigger than those in their second life-quarter. They grow to full size in their third life quarter. They are also then extremely aggressive towards the younger and smaller animals. So much so is this case, they bully the youngsters and put the fear of God into them if they should ever show any signs of coming into Musth. Third-life-quarter bulls do not tolerate breeding competition from the younger upstarts.
Thus, therefore, do the big adult bulls in their third-life-quarter instill discipline in the second-life-quarter animals. Thus do they reserve the mating privileges for themselves. And that is why bulls in their second-life-quarter rarely, if ever, come into musth.
Bulls in their third-life-quarter are in their prime. It is they who do all the mating. This is when they pass on their genes. And it is the bulls with the higher rank that come into musth the most. This is what the younger bulls – consciously or unconsciously – fight for all their lives. They fight constantly to attain higher and higher rank. Elephant society, therefore, is essentially very aggressive.
All elephants have six sets of molars which are replaced on a regular basis during their lives. Those nearing 60 years old run out of new molars altogether and thereafter they can no longer chew their food. These animals, therefore, generally die of starvation.
Bulls entering their fourth-life-quarter (46 – 60 years) are past their prime and in constant physical decline. They are like old men everywhere! They don’t like fighting with the younger and stronger third-life-quarter bulls for rights to mate. Their passion for mating, anyway, is fading. And because they have long ago passed on their genes, fourth-quarter bulls are actually surplus to their population’s needs. These, in fact, are the elephants that hunters can shoot without any concern that they will be causing any harm to the genetic make-up of the parent population. And the more bulls of this quality that the hunters shoot, the more elephant food there is available for the general population. Nevertheless, these ever-older-growing bulls, will be adding girth, length and weight to their tusks till their dying day.
So, those anti-hunting animal rightists who are telling the world that the fourth-life-quarter elephant bulls with the biggest tusks are the ones that are carrying the population’s critically important gene-banks, are talking twaddle. Those big tusked bulls are the ones that the hunters should be hunting because their biological contributions to their home populations is negligible.
Bulls in their fourth-life-quarter, however, are much sought-after by game-viewing tourists, but the very big ones are rarely seen by anyone. And the older they get the more clever do they become at hiding away from disturbing encounters with tourists.
This same four-life-quarter formula applies all other trophy game animals. Males of all species in their fourth-life-quarter – that is, the biggest of the trophy animals – are the most expendable animals in every wild animal population. They have all, long ago passed on their genes to the next generation; and they have become surplus to their population’s needs.
In Kruger National Park today few elephant bulls ever reach the ripe old age of 60 – as they used to do 20/30 years ago – and very few currently die of starvation as a result of them running out of replacement molars. The oldest of the breeding bulls are now being killed by their younger competitors before they even reach 50; and few, if any, very old bulls now exist. It makes me wonder if Kruger’s current much greater elephant density – in numbers never heard off in the park before now – and the general occurrence of more breeding bulls – could be reasons for this change in their breeding behaviour patterns. These are questions that need to be answered! And I don’t know what those answers are!
The purpose of this note is to tell the British people that the present furore of trophy hunting is invalid. Only when you start to visualize animals (especially elephants) in terms of four life quarters, will you start to see how much drivel is contained in the animal rights propaganda. And I say that if I was a British parliamentarian today, I would be greatly embarrassed to admit that I believed the imaginative stories that are contained in all the parliamentary Fake News that is being bandied about.
I can with all honesty, therefore, say that there are enough good-quality elephant bulls in southern Africa to accommodate each and every hunter in the northern hemisphere that wants to shoot one.
Shame on you Boris Johnstone. If only you knew what people all over the world think of your shenanigans in parliament over your insistence to interfere in African wildlife affairs, you wouldn’t appear in public again.
Ron Thomson. CEO – The True Green Alliance.