There is Absolutely no Scientific Reason NOT to Cull Elephants.

I has come to our attention that there is a paper posted on various Facebook groups and pages as a scientific reason not to cull elephants saying it disrupts the social order. Some claiming that the calves will turn rogue and become problem elephants from the trauma of the family culls.


Ron Thomson’s response on behalf of the TGA

There are some people who are totally, truly and ONLY concerned about the disturbing effects that culling has on elephant herds at the social and individual level structures, and I am sure that their studies produce genuine results.  However, such people tend to ignore the very much greater harm that occurs to the elephants’ ecological circumstances and to their entire environment, and to their very existence into posterity, when essential culling does NOT take place.

There are far more important  considerations within the elephant culling controversy,  than the effects that culling has on elephant calves  and on surviving elephant social orders.  The main consideration is that elephant populations that require culling – or more importantly they require major ‘population reduction’ – can all normally  be classified as being EXCESSIVE in number.  And if culling does NOT take place at the appropriate time, the population’s numbers will very quickly increase  to the point of being EXCESSIVE.  An excessive population is one the numbers of which exceed the sustainable carrying capacities of their habitats.

Excessive ELEPHANT populations – to stay alive – HAVE to eat more vegetation in their habitat every year than nature can produce every rainy season (which is the plant growing season).  This has happened because there are now too many elephants in some game reserves.  That means the elephants are, every year, progressively eating  more and more of a constantly shrinking plant food resource.  In other words, every year the habitats become just that little bit more degraded.  Piece by piece, therefore, the more sensitive plants in the habitats are eaten into extinction . Whole plant communities – containing the elephants favoured plant food species – disappear.  The first plant extinctions are the favoured plant food species. And then animals – from butterflies to buffaloes – are rendered locally extinct because their habitats have changed so much they can no longer sustain the badly affected animals.  In Kruger National Park, South Africa, for example, the marula tree is now almost extinct;  and the knobby thorn tree – and several other Acacia species – are virtually gone.

A herd of African elephants drinking at a muddy waterhole, Zimbabwe. Around 60% of elephant deaths are at the hands of poachers, figures show. Photograph: Zdenek Maly / Alamy/Alamy

The physiognomic nature of the landscape has changed, too.  First of all the woodlands thinned out; then all the big trees disappeared; then they degraded to scrublands.  In Kruger “more than” 95 percent of all the top canopy woodland trees are now gone.  The continuous  canopy habitats in the tree tops – essential for species like squirrels and bush babies – has now gone; and birds like the majestic Martial Eagle and the Ground Hornbill are in serious decline (because the trees they need to breed in have been destroyed). And when the animal species loss starts to spiral  – from buffaloes to butterflies – the crash will continued until there is nothing left. After that we will have oblivion.

The loss of plant cover increases soil erosion.  Vast areas of sheet erosion occurs  – where layers and layers on top soil are lost when trillions of rain drops, during tropical storms, hit the massive expanses of bare ground that now exists, loosening the top soil particles, and washing them away in the sheets of rainwater that sweep over the bare land.  And lower down the drainage the once productive streams turn into deep donga erosion gullies.

Plants cannot grow without soil!  And animals cannot exist without plants. So when the destructive ultimate effect of too many elephants on the land happens, the entire ecosystem will collapse.

The emotive tales of disturbed elephant calves that survive after a culling operation; and disrupted family groups that miss their loved ones killed in a cull, doesn’t wash with me.  If such animals survive a cull then the cull has not been conducted properly.

A proper cull kills every individual in the herds that are tackled: old bulls; young bulls, cows and calves.  They must ALL be taken out.  So we should not have to endure the sob stories that emanate from scientists who have nothing better to do with their time.

There is absolutely no scientific reason NOT to cull elephants.  My own experiences prove this point.  I have been involved in many population reduction exercises where three game rangers, with three self-loading rifles, were killing between 30 and 50 elephants in less than sixty seconds.  None survived the slaughter. And they were all killed cleanly with single brain shots at very close range.

There are, however, some very good scientific reasons why culling SHOULD take place and the most important reason is because elephant culling is the only way to maintain a national park’s  biological diversity – that THAT desideratum is the bottom line.  The principle national park management goal is to maintain its biological diversity!

Culling elephants is not a salubrious experience but it HAS to be done.  And honest scientists should not get themselves involved in emotional and uniformed animal rights propaganda.

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 279 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

2 thoughts on “There is Absolutely no Scientific Reason NOT to Cull Elephants.

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    • IF you are a scientist, or a layman, or anything in between; IF you are an intelligent person who values reasoned explanation; IF you accept that the priority objective of maintaining a national park in existence is to maintain its biological diversity (which is the mandate that was handed down by parliament, to SANParks, many moons ago) there is no scientific reason NOT to cull elephants; and there are lots of scientific reasons why you SHOULD. If you are one of those people who believe that elephants should be preserved above all other considerations, then you should not be surprised if your opinions are completely ignored. RT


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