Who is Right About the Prawns: You or Witness?

Well, let me tell you a little story that should open up your eyes to the realities of life – and it will prove my point.

In 1964 I was posted to a small government outpost in the middle-Zambezi Valley in what was then Rhodesia.

It was called Binga – and Binga was located on the shores of Lake Kariba. Kariba was the biggest man-made lake in the world in those days, and it filled to capacity for the first time the year before, in 1963.

“Fifty-seven thousand Ba-Tonga people – who had been living on the banks of the Zambezi River for centuries – had to be moved out of the lake basin before it filled up with water. Many of them settled in the hinterland of the valley floor, away from the very rocky shores of the new lake. They were a very primitive people, right out of the ancient iron-age, and they had great difficulty adjusting to the new way of life that had been thrust upon them.
“My late wife, Babs, and I took a young Ba-Tonga man into our domestic employ that year, and we trained him to clean the house, to look after the chickens in the coop outside, and to tend the vegetable garden. He became fascinated by Babs’ culinary skills and he professed a desire to become our family cook. So Babs introduced this very rare and strange person to the white man’s cooking craft.
“All went well until, one day, Babs opened a packet of frozen prawns and left them to thaw out on the draining board of the kitchen sink.
“Young ‘Witness’ – the name of our new cook – took one look at the prawns and backed away, demanding to know what those strange ‘things’ were: and what were we going to do with them?

“He refused point blank to wash and clean them. He refused to learn how to cook them; he was appalled by the fact we were actually going to eat them; and he left the house immediately after this conversation and went home.

His departing words that day was to inform us that prawns were ‘a product of the devil’. And for the next nineteen years he never changed his opinion, and we never exposed him to prawns ever again.
So my two kids – my son and my daughter – grew up in the old Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) not ever knowing what prawns tasted like.

“So tell me. Who is right about the prawns: You or Witness?”

Who was right? Was our First World perspective correct or are our Third World brethren in Africa to be believed? Are prawns really a ‘product of the devil’?

“Now look at the issue concerning the lion bones. Who are the likes of you and me to judge whether or not the people of the Far East should or should not be allowed to use lion bones for making soup?”
“And let me take this argument one step further. What right have we Westerners to tell the Chinese that they may not use rhino horn in their traditional medicine recipes?”
prepared to pay huge sums of money for it. And THAT is all that matters. There is a huge market for rhino horn in the Far East and we should exploit it for the benefit of Africa’s people – and for the benefit of our rhinos. It is not the Western person’s right to question what the people in the Far East believe in or do. Just as it is not the prerogative of primitive people in the Zambezi Valley to tell Western people that they should not eat prawns!”


  1. Nigel Goodman

    “market for rhino horn in the Far East and we should exploit it for the benefit of Africa’s people – and for the benefit of our rhinos”
    1. What evidence do have there so far that African people have gained anything from this industry selling keratin?
    2. What is the future quality of life of remaining rhino if they are just to be farmed to have horn removed: you claim your devotion to wildlife as that’s why you promote killing them to Conserve Them so how does this all fit together?
    3. Is money your primary motivation ?

    • Dear Nigel,
      Your acceptance to my answers to your questions will depend upon your up-bringing with wildlife, generally, and the exposure you have had, personally, to life and to realities in Africa. But let me try!
      Life is not ‘easy’ in rural Africa where the rural black folk exist/survive by means of not-very-productive subsistence agriculture (by growing maize; sorghums and pumpkins); and by ‘harvesting’ from nature (and that means hunting and killing all things edible – from field-mice to elephants). In many cases – when they are hungry and their families are hungry – they will do ANYTHING to survive – legal or illegal. And as the human population explosion in Africa progresses this century (increasing from about 750 million NOW, to over 4 billion by the end of this century) survival is going to get ever more tough.

      Those of us – like me – who have been living and managing wildlife in Africa all our lives (I have been working with wildlife in Africa now for 59 years continuously)are concerned that Africa’s rural people should survive without destroying the continent’s wildlife. And the more the human population becomes, the greater will their negative impact on Africa’s wildlife be – especially if we ignore all the realities of what is REALLY going on in Africa.

      Africa’s rural people rely on their (very poor quality) cattle, sheep and goats for their protein requirements; and in those places where protein is insufficient in their diet a fatal protein-deficiency disease called “kwashiokor” affects their children. The first indication that a child has Kwashiokor is when its hair turns bright red; then the child becomes ‘skin-and-bone; then the child dies. So the head-men of African families in rural Africa will LITERALLY kill and eat ANY animal to satisfy their protein requirements. This is a reality that most Western people do not understand.

      Today, scrawny cattle,sheep and goats, therefore, are the most important animals in Africa’s rural people’s lives – because the Western World animal rightists have made sure that we cannot use WILD animals to feed and/or to enrich the lives of Africa’s rural people! It is my prognosis, therefore – if the current ‘way or doing things’ does not change – that, by the year 2100 – when there are 4 billion people living in Africa south of the Sahara Desert (not just 750 million)- the only animals that will be alive in Africa THEN, will be cattle, sheep and goats. Why? Because the rural people of Africa depend on cattle, sheep and goats for their survival; and, so, the people will make sure cattle, sheep and goats do not become extinct.

      People like me – and there are lots of us with very similar views – who are experienced wildlife managers – whose primary and honest concerns are for the fate of Africa’s wildlife resources – understand unequivocally that if wildlife is to survive this century (i.e. to the year 2100 and beyond) we are going have to make wild animals just as important to the rural people of Africa as are their cattle, sheep and goats (or even more important). We look upon wildlife, therefore, as being WILD “products of the Land”- just as cattle, sheep and goats, as TAME (or domesticated) “products of the land”; and we believe that BOTH should be used wisely and sustainably for the benefit of mankind. And we understand that if elephants, rhinos and lions (and all other wildlife) can provide BETTER benefits for the rural people of Africa than they can accrue from their cattle, sheep and goats, then it will be the elephants, rhinos and lions (etc) that will survive into posterity not cattle sheep and goats. And that can be easily made to happen because elephants, rhinos and lions are infinitely more valuable than the people’s scrawny cattle sheep and goats.

      So there are great movements afoot to integrate the “survival needs” of Africa’s rural people, with the “survival needs” of Africa’s wildlife – to their mutual benefit. To achieve that we are going to have to create multiple symbiotic and sustainable partnerships between ‘the rural village people of Africa’ and ‘their’ local wildlife resources. This will entail ear-marking SUSTAINABLE ‘harvests’ of wild animals – that is the ‘take-off’ of a reasonable number of animals (by hunting – other-harvesting-means – and the capture [for sale] of live animals)for the benefit of the local villagers.

      The term ‘symbiotic partnership’ means that the villagers will live together with ‘their’ wildlife (as they currently do with ‘their’ cattle, sheep and goats) in sustainable harmony. The one will live off the benefits they derive from the other without either one over-exploiting the other. In other words the wildlife will simply replace cattle, sheep and goats in the people’s lives, as the people’s primary means of survival. And if we cannot achieve THAT simple contrivance wildlife in Africa will be doomed.

      So, with that background now articulated, let’s look at answering your questions:

      (1). There is no “evidence at all that Africa’s people have ever gained any legal benefits from the sale of rhino horn into the Far Eastern rhino horn markets”. And the reason for that is because ‘The West” has never allowed us to sell rhino horn, legally, into that market. It is our intention, however, that we should do so because there is no other practical salvation for the rhino in Africa. If we can’t swing this proposition into a productive activity, the rhino is doomed to ultimate extinction. In the end, the rural people of Africa will never allow rhinos to replace their cattle, sheep and goats – IF they cannot gain benefits from the rhinos.

      (2). A. “What is the future quality of life of remaining rhinos if they are just to be farmed to have their horns removed?” They will have exactly the same ‘quality of life’ that other WILD rhino’s have ‘without the worry of being killed for their horns by poachers”. In fact, on the private rhino horn farms they will have a better life than WILD rhinos have – because they have better feed and living conditions; and they don’t have to worry about lions and hyenas killing and eating their babies.

      (2). B. “You claim your devotion to wildlife as (the reason) why you promote killing them to Conserve them. So how does this all fit together?” Wildlife management is not about saving every single individual animal. It is about maintaining healthy populations of animal “species” in healthy environments. Populations breed all the time – increasing their numbers exponentially. Rhino herds, for example, are capable of doubling their numbers every six or seven years. And once their numbers increase beyond the carrying capacity of their habitats, the health status of their environment declines to the extent that the whole population could face death by starvation. Wildlife management, therefore, is concerned with maintaining animal numbers in balance with their habitats, and that means “removing select individuals” to make sure that their numbers never become excessive. And this is done by hunting; by culling; and or by the capture and live sale of individuals – depending on what management action is deemed the most appropriate by the wildlife manager.

      (3). “Is money my primary motivation?” Not at all. In fact I have never made a penny out of a single rhino, or elephant, or lion, or any other wild animal. I do not own a single wild animal. I do not own a game ranch. I am not a safari outfitter or professional hunter. I am not paid for my wildlife management skills. I am not in any commercial business associated with wildlife management. I am not in the employ of any person or organisation that “makes money” out of wildlife. I am the CEO of a non-profit organisation – the True Green Alliance (TGA) – that has yet to pay me a salary (although they do pay some of my working expenses). I do what I do because I have nearly 60 years of wildlife management experience in Africa and I try to rectify many of the mis-management applications that are happening all over Africa at this time because of Western-World interference in Africa’s wildlife management affairs. So, NO! “money is NOT my primary motivation”.

      If you want to know more about “how this all fits together?” I can supply you with a couple of good books on the subject. And, if you want REALLY want to know how “all this fits together” you can join the TGA as a member. That will enable us to provide you with regular newsletters – that will keep you up-to-date with what is going on with us in Africa. Look up our website: http://www.Mahohboh.org. It has a huge volume of explanatory information abiut wildlife management (“conservation”) that you might be interested to read.

      Hope this helps you to understand our purpose a little better.

      Kin regards,

      Ron Thomson CEO-TGA

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