There is a fundamental flaw in the way that man conceives of wildlife and how it should be managed. And, although we have brought this matter to the fore many times, nobody identifies with the argument. Has the whole world really gone so crazy? Indeed, the flaw it is so fundamental that if mankind would only start thinking about this matter – and if man “gets it right” – many, many factors that currently confuse the issue of wildlife management will suddenly become comprehensible – except for the fact that wildlife management in Africa is currently an international political pawn.

So let’s try to get humpty dumpty to fall off his wall properly this time.

Lets tell the world the truth: that there is no such thing as “an endangered species”. And, if they can get ‘this’ right everybody will come to understand that the “American Endangered Species Act” (ESA) is based on a false premise; and so is CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Why am I so persistent about this issue? Because this false concept is the basis for a whole host of legal misrepresentations which make no biological sense at all. The ESA – by its very existence – assumes that species can be managed at the species level. And that patently is not true.

Species can be defined as a group of animals or plants that share the same physical and (in the case of animals) behavioural characteristics and which, when they breed, produce fertile off-spring with the same physical and behavioural characteristics. But you cannot ‘manage’ a species. This is why the American Endangered Species Act cannot ‘manage’ any of the wild animal species that it lists. The ESA, therefore, is a fallacious piece of legislation which cannot function in the way it is supposed to function. So it should be discarded!

Species organise themselves into ‘populations’ – which are groups of animals of the same species that are in daily contact with each other; and which breed ONLY with other animals in the same group. Individuals in every population live in the same habitat, but they occupy quite separate ‘home ranges’ within that habitat and those home ranges constantly overlap. A ‘home range’ is that part of the habitat in which an individual animal lives (24/7) (permanently), and from which it obtains its daily survival needs – for air, water, food and shelter. Different habitats have different carrying capacities for the same animal species; and those carrying capacities vary considerably from population to population; and from habitat to habitat.

When a particular population’s numbers are in excess of the

habitat’s carrying capacity for that animal species – the population is called an ‘excessive’ in animal management jargon – and the habitat will be grossly over-utilised; it will be constantly degrading; and loss of species diversity in the sanctuary will be progressive and significant. The animal management strategy required for that population will be ‘animal population reduction’. And, the first remedial action must be to reduce the population in number, in the initial phase, by no less than 50 percent. The long term management goal will be to reduce the animal numbers to a level that are less than the habitat carrying capacity for that habitat; and to keep the numbers at that low level by annual culling. Such a management activity will be necessary to create conditions that will allow the greatly damaged habitat to recover.

When the animal population number is at (or below) the habitat carrying capacity, and it is expanding in an healthy manner, the annual management programme will warrant an annual cull that is equivalent to the population’s annual increment. So, if the population is increasing in size at the rate of 10 percent per annum, it would be wise to reduce the population numbers, every year, by 10 percent – to keep the population number stable. This kind of management is called ‘conservation management’ – sustainable-wise-use management – because the ‘take-off’ can be carried out in several ways: by capture and removal; by annual culling; by annual hunting; and/or by annual harvesting-for-meat. The main objective of such a effort, however, is to reduce the population in number, by 10 percent , every year; and to makes sure that the numbers will not ever grow in number to the extent that the population becomes ‘excessive’. Conservation management is all about habitat protection and habitat management.

The third and last management regime is called ‘preservation management’ – protection from all harm management – which is applied to populations of animals that exist in numbers that are far below the habitat carrying capacities for that species.

I make mention of all these management strategies because nobody else seems to understand them. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, recently banned the importation of elephant hunting trophies to the USA from Zimbabwe because (the USFWS said) Zimbabwe could not guarantee its annual hunting quota out of the Hwange National Park area. This, when Hwange National Park is carrying TWENTY TIMES (20 X) too many elephants. Hwange is currently carrying (depending on where the first rains of the season fall) between 35 000 and 80 000 elephants (Average 50 000), when the carrying capacity (in 1960 – when the habitats were then still reasonably healthy) was determined to be only 2 500. And today, after 70 years of elephant abuse of the Hwange habitats, the sustainable elephant carrying capacity is probably, now, as low as 1000. The US Fish and Wildlife Service – because it still thinks it can manage elephants at the species level – therefore, is greatly in error.

I wonder if common sense will ever return to this equation?

With kind regards

Ron Thomson

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