Wildlife management is what most people call conservation. In other words, they perceive conservation to mean wildlife management. They are not, however, synonyms. Conservation is one of two very distinct functions of wildlife management; the other being preservation. Unless you understand this, and know how to apply both these concepts in an appropriate manner, you will never fathom the otherwise very simple science of wildlife management. It is for this very reason that so many wildlife issues in the world today end up being controversial in the public domain. Public wildlife controversies arise because the vast majority of the world’s citizenry possess a total of a lack of understanding about even the most fundamental principles of wildlife management!
In very basic terms, wildlife management is the action that man takes to achieve a man-desired objective. There is nothing natural about wildlife management. It is an artefact of man – a man-invented plan of action. Wildlife management is, therefore:
- Man conceived,
- Man designed;
- Man implemented;
- Man manipulated; and
- Man is the principle beneficiary.
Why is man the principle beneficiary? Even when particular animals or plants benefit from man’s wildlife management programmes, such advantages occur only because THAT was part of man’s predetermined desideratum. So, in terms of the various results that sometimes emanate from a single man-conceived wildlife management programme, the biggest accomplishment of them all, is the attainment of man’s own primary goal.
Wildlife management has its origins in ecology.
NB: Ecology is the study of living organisms (plants and animals) and their environment; and their interaction with other living organisms with which they share that environment.
Studies produce results.
If you study the black rhinoceros, for example, you will discover that the densities of black rhino populations are entirely dependent on the degree of three-dimensional plant cover in their respective habitats. The greater the degree of cover (thickets) in a black rhino habitat, the greater will be the density of the rhino population that occupies it. A wildlife manager, therefore, can use this information when, for example, he wants to re-establish black rhinos into one of several old habitats from which the species has become locally extinct. If he is wise he will select the one that contains the best thicket cover.
Wildlife management, therefore, is simply applied ecology.
Society’s wildlife management priorities
FIRST PRIORITY – THE SOIL
Society’s most important wildlife management priority is for the protection and/or wise use of the soil – because without soil no plants can grow; and without plants life on planet earth would be non-existent.
SECOND PRIORITY – THE PLANTS
Society’s next wildlife management responsibility is for the protection and/or wise use of plants.
Plants appear second on the priority list – before animals – because those plants that contain the green pigment called chlorophyll are the only primary food producers on planet earth. Simply put: If there were no green plants there would be no animals. In fact, without green plants life, in its every dimension, would be impossible. The chlorophyll in green plants is the only biological mechanism that can change amorphous energy from the sun into tangible carbohydrates that animals can eat.
Besides being our primary producers of food, plants play a number of different and very important roles in the environment:
- They provide cover for the soil, protecting it from the erosive force of the sun, wind and (especially) the rain; also from excessive heat and cold;
- They provide herbivorous animals with energy (food) – which is the first step in a range of energy transfers involving all the consumer organisms within nature’s multifarious food chains and food webs;
- They provide cover for animals, too, protecting them from the vagaries of the weather and hiding them from their enemies; and finally
- Plants – coupled with the physical character of their local environment – have created the many different habitat types that are essential for the existence and survival of the world’s hugely diverse spectrum of wild animal species.
THIRD PRIORITY – THE ANIMALS
Society’s third, and last, wildlife management responsibility is for the protection and/or wise use of animals (both domestic and wild).
NB: The fact that animals appear last on the wildlife management priority list is not because they are UN-important, but because they are LESS-important than the soil and plants.
The relationships between the soil, the plants and the animals
In any game reserve (or national park) there is a finite amount of soil. This limited and vitally important natural resource cannot be enlarged because what there is of it was very slowly created over tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of years. But when it is badly managed this very precious commodity becomes quickly, progressively and permanently reduced. It gets eroded away. And it will not come back – not in man’s lifetime on earth! This is why protecting the soil is of paramount importance.
The nature and fertility of the soil in any given ecosystem – coupled with the available sunlight, the quantity of rain that falls, and the ambient temperature regimes of the region – will produce only a finite mass (amount/weight) of new plant material every year. The edible portions of this plant production are shared by all the different herbivores (plant eating animals) in each and every game reserve. And the average vegetable biomass – although varying in bulk from year to year, depending on whether the rains have been good or bad – is also dynamically fixed.
The quantity and quality of this plant food determines the sustainable habitat carrying capacities for all the animal species’ populations in any given game reserve.
NB: The carrying capacity of a game reserve – with respect to any species of herbivorous animal – is the maximum number of animals (of that species) that the game reserve can carry without irreparably damaging the vegetation in the game reserve’s several habitat types.
Within a single game reserve, the diversity of edible plant species (grasses, woody plants, herbs and forbs); the variety of different herbivorous animal species; and the numbers comprising these animal species’ populations, represents a convoluted wildlife management jigsaw puzzle that is impossible to properly decipher.
Fortunately, we don’t have to completely understand where each and every piece of the complex jigsaw puzzle fits into the bigger picture – or why – because a number of quite simple, visible and measurable signs tell us what is going on. In essence, the trick to managing a national park is to maintain, in a stable and balanced state, the relationship between the soil, the plants and the animals. In order for a good wildlife manager to keep his game reserve in this healthy and sustainable state, therefore, all he needs is an overview appreciation that makes ecological sense. Nevertheless, he also needs to be equipped with a comprehensive understanding about:
- How the ecological machinery works; and
- The stability and desirable health status of the game reserve’s many different habitats.
In general terms, if the wildlife manager is satisfied that the mega-fauna relationship (large plants and large animals) is balanced and SAFE; he can be reasonably sure that the micro-fauna (small plants and small animals) will also be adequately balanced and safe.
The greatest of all society’s national park management objectives
The most important wildlife management objective in any and all nature reserves, game reserves or national parks, is the maintenance of the sanctuary’s species diversity. No other wildlife management priority consideration exists. Maintaining massive large mammal spectacles to attract tourism is particularly not an option. Tourism infrastructure should never be allowed to: undermine the maintenance of a healthy and stable environment; to change the natural physiognomy (general visual appearance) of a game reserve; or to detract from the natural attractions that brought tourists to such sanctuaries in the first place. General ecosystem management in a national park, therefore, should prevail over all else.
Wild animal species and their populations and the endangered species concept
Wild animals exist at the species level, but they only organise themselves at the population level. In Africa, individual wild animals organise themselves within home ranges, territories, rank structures, herding behaviour, and seasonal dispersals, only in terms of their individual positions within populations. This means Africa’s wild animals cannot be managed at the species level. They can only be managed at the population level; and this is the deciding factor that makes the concept of endangered species a fallacy.
NB: The endangered species concept is a fallacy!
There is no place anywhere within the realm of wildlife management – within the principles and practices of science-based wildlife management – or anywhere else – where the erroneous concept of endangered species can be accommodated. There is, therefore, no such thing as an endangered species.
Definition: The animal species
An animal species can be defined as individual animals that share the same physical and behavioural characteristics (they look and act alike) and which, when they breed, produce fertile offspring with the same physical and behavioural characteristics.
Definition: The animal population
A population of animals can be defined as a group of animals of the same species, the individuals of which interact with each other, in continuum, on a daily basis; and which breed only with other animals in the same group.
NB: In continuum means that the home ranges of individual animals overlap continuously – which confirms they are all of the same population. However, many individuals living in a very large and widely dispersed population may never ever get to meet those that live on the population’s faraway boundaries.
The safety status of wild animal populations
Before we can even think about what management strategy to apply to any particular animal population, we need, first, to determine its SAFETY status. There are three basic SAFETY categories: UNSAFE; SAFE and EXCESSIVE.
An UNSAFE population is one that, numerically, is far below the sustainable carrying capacity of its habitat; that is not breeding well; and that is declining in number. If the decline cannot be arrested, the population faces extinction. One of the most common causes of declining populations is persistent habitat degradation. Preservation management should be prescribed for UNSAFE populations because this management strategy: focuses on protecting every individual in the population from harm; and it is ultimately designed to make the population once again SAFE.
A SAFE population is one that exists in reasonable numbers; that is breeding well; and that lives within the carrying capacity of its habitat. Such populations should be subjected to conservation management which allows for a number of more expansive management options. Because it is primarily necessary to ensure that a SAFE population does not expand to a numerical level that exceeds the carrying capacity of its habitat, every safe population should be reduced in number, annually, at the rate of its natural increment. This reduction can take the form of culling; hunting; and capture/live removal.
An EXCESSIVE population is one that, numerically, exceeds the sustainable carrying capacity of its habitat. Some populations are GROSSLY excessive. In 1960, for example, the elephant carrying capacity of Zimbabwe’s 5000 square mile Hwange National Park, was subjectively determined to be 2 500 (or one elephant per two square miles). Why that number? Because in 1960 Hwange’s elephants were already eliminating a number of dominant tree species in the game reserve (they were damaging their habitat beyond recovery). The actual number of elephants counted in 1960 in Hwange was 3 500 and THAT was determined to be definitely too many. Today Hwange’s elephant population is variously estimated to be in excess of 50 000.
Not only do excessive elephant populations destroy their own habitats, they also destroy the habitats of most other animal species which share the game reserve with the elephants. Excessive elephant populations cause plant and animal extinctions in their home-town game reserves; and massive general species diversity losses occur. The management strategy recommended for an excessive population is drastic population reduction – in the first instance by no less than 50 percent. If excessive elephant populations are not controlled – properly – they will convert the game reserve into a desert.
NB: Excessive elephant populations remove the bulk of plant cover in a game reserve, thus exposing the soil to erosion by, particularly, the rain. Remember our wildlife management priorities!
Excessive elephant populations can and should be utilised way beyond sustainable extraction levels. So very, very large culls should be continually implemented; hunting should be greatly encouraged; and every other humane strategy to reduce elephant numbers quickly, should be employed. The management objective in this case must be to save the biological diversity of the game reserve. There should be no consideration for the numbers of elephants that are being removed; and irrational and emotional public outbursts – demanding that the killing of the elephants should be stopped – should be disregarded. No matter what the general public thinks of the population reduction process, it should not result in stopping the killing – because there simply is no other option.
The derivation and functions of wildlife management
Figure 1 illustrates the science of wildlife management in a simple diagrammatic form.
This diagram shows exactly where the word conservation fits into the wildlife management framework; and why it is incorrect to use wildlife conservation as a synonym for wildlife management.