| Hannes Wessels |
An Explanatory Report for Ellie Goodchild
Re: DEFRA, the British Parliament & the Banning of Hunting Trophies to the UK campaign.
Dear Ms. Goodchild,
I must thank you for your openness and honest desire to properly resolve this important issue.
In order to give you some professional insight into this matter, from the point of view of managing wildlife in Africa, I would like to explain a few facts to you.
My name in Ron Thomson. I am an 82 year old retired game warden and university-trained Field Ecologist. I have a total of 62 years of hands-on experience in the field of national parks administration and wildlife management. I joined the Federal Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management (during the days of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland) in 1959, aged 20, and I have worked in this field consistently ever since). I now write books and magazine articles, and make YouTube presentations, on the subject of wildlife management for universities and the general public. I do a lot of public talking on the subject of my career. For some 20 years I was a member of the British Institute of Biology and a chartered biologist for the European Union.
I am the CEO of an NGO called “The True Green Alliance” the purpose of which is to educate the public in all matters pertaining to the environment and the proper and sustainable utilisation of wild natural resources. And I am currently a member of the EXCO Board of South Africa’s newly established Sustainable Use Coalition (SUCo).
During my long career, I carried out, extensively (for 24 years), the ‘management’ hunting of elephants, black rhinos (capture-hunting), buffaloes, lions and leopards, and a host of other big game animals. I have very extensive experience in the capture-and-translocation of all kinds of wild animals. For seven years I led the capture team that pioneered the capture of black rhinos in the Zambezi Valley. All these captured animals were used to restock new wildlife sanctuaries or those which had been depleted, for various reasons, during historical times; and/or to save them from poachers.
‘Management hunting’ means the hunting of wild animals under instruction from the government department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. The animals I hunted were crop-raiders, stock-killers and man-eaters. I hunted others for veterinary disease-control reasons and yet others for essential ‘population reduction’ necessities. I have never purchased a hunting license in my life. I have never hunted for so-called ‘trophies’. So I am NOT a ‘trophy hunter’. I do not hunt now. But I do have a huge volume of big game hunting experience. I am not, however, connected in any material way with the South African hunting fraternity. So, I have no personal or vested interest in South Africa’s commercial wildlife industry – but it has my full support.
One of my esteemed past positions was that of Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park in present-day Zimbabwe. Hwange is one of Africa’s most prestigious big-game national parks. I was also Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board in South Africa.
I tell you all these things to impress upon you that my experience in the field of wildlife management is as genuine as it is vast. I must also emphasis that I don’t ‘make my living’ from hunting. Nevertheless, I understand the hunting ethos; and I support ethical hunting of all kinds. I believe hunting is a human instinct, and that it is an important part of man’s heritage. I tell you all these things because I want you understand that what I am about to tell you comes straight from my heart. There is NO ulterior motive in my opinions or the statements that I make.
Today, hunting is a management tool. It is vital to the well-being of Africa’s wildlife. I know that many people disagree with these opinions and they will disagree, also, with what I am about to add to those statements, too. BUT… those people who disagree with me are died-in-the-wool anti-hunters and there is nothing that anybody can say, or do, to change their minds. Suffice it to say, however, that such people have no knowledge about, nor personal experience in, the vital management needs of Africa’s wild animals. They also have their own immutable agendas. And their purpose in doing what they do has nothing whatsoever to with the rights or wrongs of hunting, or the collection of animal hunting trophies. The animal rightists’ sole interests are about ‘making money’ out of their anti-hunting campaigns. NOTHING ELSE! Making money out of the gullible public is their entire purpose in life.
Through the good offices of the British parliament (and Mr Boris Johnson), for example, people like Eduardo Gonçalves, have told the world that the African elephant is ‘an endangered species’ and that it is facing extinction; and that as such, it is immoral for anyone to hunt an elephant. THAT is all emotion-stirring hype. They have also told the British people that it is “UN-British” for your parliament to support the killing of ‘endangered species’ in Africa… “FOR FUN”.
First of all, there is no such thing as an “endangered species”. Why? Because you cannot manage “a species”. You can only manage a species’ different populations – one at a time – and the management ‘needs’ of each population depends on its own living circumstances within the confines of its own particular habitat-environment.
The environmental conditions that affect an elephant population that lives in a swamp, for example, are entirely different to the environmental conditions that affect an elephant population that lives in a desert. Ipso facto there is no one set of wildlife management (a.k.a. ‘conservation’) rules that satisfies the needs of both these elephant populations. And there are 150 different elephant populations in Africa, every one of which is subject to its very own and very special environmental circumstances. Not one is the same as any other. They all require their own special management programme. Therefore, the idea that the elephant, or any other wild animal, is an “endangered species’ is a fallacy.
Let’s take this argument one step further.
Elephants in Africa live in game reserves (or national parks) that are also home to a host of other wild animal species. And the governments of Africa have charged their national parks departments to manage their wildlife resources in such a way as to ensure the maintenance of their ‘species diversity’. Why, after all, was a national park created if NOT to safeguard the continued existence of ALL its many species? And the term ‘species’ includes both species of plants and of animals!
Nothing is more important in an African national park, therefore, than ‘maintaining the park’s species diversity’. Kruger National Park in South Africa, for example, is home to more than 50 major animal species, to thousands of plant species and to a myriad of lesser living organisms. And not one of those species is any more important than any other. A butterfly is just as important as a buffalo!
Hippos and wild ducks need water-habitats in which to live. If there is no suitable water-habitat for them in a national park, therefore, hippos and wild ducks cannot live there. Zebra need grass to eat. Zebras, therefore, cannot live in a montane rain forest because no grass grows in a montane rain forest. Zebra and wildebeest are grazing animals. Their ecological niche is located on the wide-open grasslands. That is where they thrive. But wide-open grasslands are unsuitable for many other animals – like bush-babies and bushbuck which thrive in heavy forests. Martial Eagles cannot live in wide-open grasslands either because there are no big trees growing there wherein they can build their nests.
All animals have a different habitat to which they are especially adapted; and if their special habitat is not available in a national park, they cannot live in that national park. Or, if their special habitat was extant there in years gone by, and for whatever reason that habitat has disappeared, then the animals that are adapted to it will fade into local extinction. This tells us that looking after a national park’s many habitat types is more important than trying to look after the species of animals that are adapted to them.
If Kruger National Park in South Africa was originally home to 50 animal species, therefore, then there must have been in that game reserve – at one time in the past – 50 of the special habitats to which those animal species were adapted. So, if Kruger National Park is to fulfil its public mandate to ‘maintain species diversity’ at all cost, then at the top of its list must be the maintenance of those special habitats. If the habitats are there, and they are healthy, there will be little or no need for any special management applications to keep the animals that live in them, alive. If the habitats are there, and they are healthy, the animal species will automatically thrive.
So now let’s have a look at what is happening to the Kruger National Park’s special habitats.
Kruger’s elephant habitat carrying capacity was – when the habitats were still healthy (which was in the mid-1950s) – some 3 500 elephants +/- 500. Kruger’s elephant population now stands (arguably) at 34 000 (or more). So we call the Kruger elephant population ‘grossly excessive’. Kruger’s elephants are seriously far, far greater in number than the game reserve’s habitats can possibly sustainably carry.
The Kruger scientists will tell you that (since 1960) ‘more than’ 95 percent of the parks top-canopy-trees have been destroyed (by too many elephants). And with those big trees gone, the park has also lost thousands of square kilometres of woodland understory habitat, too. Understory plants are entirely dependent on the shade cast by top canopy trees, to survive. So, when the big trees disappeared so the understory complexes were burned to a cinder by the roasting sun.
At its zenith, Kruger National Park must have had 50 healthy and special habitats the one lying on top of the next one, all intermingled. That state of affairs MUST have pertained if the park, at one time, hosted 50 species of wild animal.
The virtual total loss of its top canopy trees (due to the fact the park has been carrying far too many elephants for far too long), however, and the total loss of its once ubiquitous understory habitats, must have had a very strong ripple effect through the consequential total loss, too, of the park’s many special habitats. The loss of those top canopy trees, therefore, MUST have resulted in the loss of multiple wild animal, wild bird, and wild plant species. So, Kruger National Park is on the slippery slope to total biological-diversity disintegration.
The answer to Kruger’s over-population-of-elephants problem, of course, is simple. The park has really no other option but to reduce the numbers of its grossly excessive elephant population to a level that its habitats can, once again, sustainably support. If it does NOT do that, there is no possibility at all that its very heavily damaged habitats will ever recover. And it will not be able to fulfil its promise to South Africa’s people to ‘maintain the park’s species diversity’.
THAT drastic management solution – the application elephant population reduction management – will require that Kruger’s current elephant population be reduced from 34 000 (if that IS the population size at this time) to 4 000. In other words, Kruger is going to have to kill 30 000 elephants. How it kills them, whether by culling or by hunting, is NOT the issue. But NOT doing so, is NOT an option. There is no other way to save Kruger National Park’s biological diversity into posterity.
This same state of affairs pertains in Zimbabwe and in Botswana and elsewhere in southern Africa, too.
The problem everywhere, is not that there are too few elephants, but rather that there are too many. And this has placed the once rich species diversity of southern Africa in its entirety, into a state of serious jeopardy. This reality also puts into proper perspective, too, the futility of the British parliament’s purported desire to ‘save’ Africa’s wild animals by banning the importation of game trophies and, in the process, destroying Southern Africa’s hunting industries.
It would be hugely laughable if it was not so serious, to sit back and watch the antics of the British parliamentarians as they are being manipulated – and side-blinded – by a handful of self-centred animal rights extremists whose real purpose in stirring this pot is to make money out of the gullible British public. And I HAVE to comment that it is politically foolhardy for the British Prime Minister to have allowed himself to be manipulated into the position of being the ringmaster to the shenanigans of this huge and ugly confidence-industry circus. Not knowing all the facts about wildlife management affairs in southern Africa, Mr Johnson and his official entourage, have allowed themselves to be led by the nose by these nefarious charlatans.
The numbers of excessive elephant populations in the whole of the southern African wildlife block, is probably in the region of 200 000. And there is no escaping what needs to be done. They will all have to be drastically reduced in number. What is happening in Kruger National Park, and the simple remedy that I know has no alternative, applies to them all.
With regard to the present controversy in the British parliament – that is, whether or not the U.K. should allow elephant (and other game) trophies to be imported into Great Britain – makes a mockery of the real and terrible wildlife management tragedy that is actually happening in southern Africa today. And this does not just apply to elephants. The tragedy is escalating into a free-fall decline of all animal and plant species in the shadow of the too-many-elephants syndrome.
Saving a few elephant bulls – or the old bulls of other game species – is not going to help the wildlife of Africa in any way. The over-population of elephants is going to kill them all off, anyway. They will die of starvation; or they will die because their special habitats have been destroyed. And the whole region will lose its one-time priceless biological heritage. The simplistic idea that stopping trophy game imports into the U.K. is going help the survival of wildlife in Africa as a whole, is based on a false premise. And pushing that agenda might just confuse the issue when it becomes known that southern Africa is going to have to implement some very drastic population reduction management of its elephant populations, soon, if it wants to save the wildlife diversities if its national parks into posterity.
From this truncated dissertation, it must be obvious to anyone who reads it, that the African elephant is far from being ‘endangered’. It is also NOT being ‘over-hunted’ by blood-thirsty trophy hunters. The enforced (by animal rights decree) maintenance of excessive populations of elephants, that are destroying critical habitats in our national parks, is a far greater danger to ALL of Africa’s wildlife resources than a few trophy hunters are, or ever were. Trophy hunting is NOT a danger to Africa’s wildlife! But the existence of do-gooder foreign governments that support the animal rights agenda, are a far greater danger!
It is high time, therefore, that Great Britain scrap its simplistic plans to ban the importation of wild animal trophies to the UK, in their mistaken belief that that will ‘save’ Africa’s wildlife. Instead, the British prime minister should recover his responsible thinking cap and jettison that animal rights extremist, Eduardo Gonçalves, who has so badly led everybody astray.
It would behoove the British government to confer, instead, with the real wildlife experts in southern Africa, and that it helps to convene responsible meetings with the southern African states, thereby to find solutions to the far greater elephant-overpopulation-problem that looms over everybody’s head. Southern Africa’s protected areas are truly under threat of total destruction, resultant from the ongoing and unresolved problem of ‘too many elephants’.
Southern Africa, therefore, urgently needs the British government to understand our REAL dilemma and to help us solve it. What we need is a British government that will help us to ‘save’ southern Africa’s entire biological diversity. What we don’t need is a British government that makes our problem worse.
The banning of game trophy imports into Great Britain is NOT what Africa needs! Africa needs for the United Kingdom to open its heart to honest dialogue; and to enter into honourable discussions with the people who are responsible for the proper management of Africa’s wild animal resources.
Nobody goes to a plumber when he wants a repair man to fix his wooden furniture. The United Kingdom, therefore, is in error when it seeks advice from animal rightists about wildlife management affairs in Africa because they, genuinely, know nothing about that subject.
Ron Thomson CEO – TGA