THE TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE (TGA)
Reg Numbers: NPC (2016/537572/08)
The True Green Alliance is a non-government, public-benefit and non-profit South African organisation that promotes caring for the earth and sustainable living practices throughout the societies and governments of southern Africa. It supports the sustainable use of living resources, and fosters correct social and official government attitudes towards wildlife management.
To create a southern African (ultimately global) society that is properly informed about the principles and practices of wildlife management; that understands the wisdom of, and necessity for, the practice of sustainable utilisation of living resources (both wild and domestic) for the benefit of mankind; that supports animal welfare; and that rejects animal rights – the doctrine of which seeks to abolish all animal uses by man.
A NEW ERA FOR ELEPHANT MANAGEMENT IN BOTSWANA – THE FACTS
On 22 February, 2019, the BBC released a report (and You-Tube material), called: Botswana Mulls Lifting Elephant Hunting Ban, by Alastair Leithead, on the now probable re-introduction of elephant hunting in Botswana. This material was released in a link to the True Green Alliance Facebook page and it has given me the opportunity to provide insight about some vexing problems surrounding this controversy. First of all, it illustrates to me that the BBC and the international general public are ill-informed about the fundamental wildlife management issues involved. Moreover, it clearly illustrates that charismatic tourism operators are not the people who should be advising the Botswana government on this matter.
In one of the videos, Mr Colin Bell of Botswana’s Wilderness Safaris, stated that tourism numbers and the money that tourists bring into the country, are the criteria that best gauge ‘conservation success’. This attitude illustrates just how little people in the eco-
tourism industry know about the science of wildlife management; and just where they and their tourism businesses fit into the bigger eco-tourism picture. And he is hoping that public opinion will sway the Botswana government’s hand and that THAT will stop the reintroduction of elephant hunting as a management tool.
The fundamental fact of the matter is that wildlife – including elephants – cannot be managed by public referendum. The reality is that if the current excessive elephant population in Botswana is not reduced in size, SOON, there will be no elephants left within the next decade or so; and there will no such thing as a healthy habitat in the country. The general public and the media are simply not qualified to pass judgment on wildlife management issues; and the opinions of people with a vested interest in maintaining the hunting ban should not be heard in this important debate.
Sustainable tourism is only possible when the elemental components of a national park’s ecosystem (soil; plants and animals) have been managed into a state of equilibrium; and such stability cannot occur when (in this case) the numbers of elephants are not properly controlled. Mr Bell is on record as stating – without providing any corroborating evidence – that the elephant numbers in Botswana have now ‘stabilised’; and, according to him, this means there is no need to cull or to hunt elephants in Botswana. People who express this kind of simple naïveté – and who project themselves as being experts in elephant management – are those who most greatly cause public confusion. The truth of the matter is that under a wildlife management regime in which elephant numbers are allowed to increase without constraint, the ecosystem will, sooner or later, collapse; followed by the collapse of whatever eco-tourism structures have been constructed on the constantly degrading natural systems.
Three priorities govern wildlife sanctuary management:
FIRST to protect the SOIL – because without soil no plants will grow; and without plants there will be no animals.
SECOND to protect the PLANTS – because (it is worth saying again), without plants there will be no animals.
NB: Plants – besides providing herbivorous animals with food – also give them shelter; and they protect the soil from erosion by the sun, the wind and (especially) the rain. Finally, plants, together with their physical environment, create the habitats to which the earth’s many wild animal species are adapted – and without which they would not exist.
THIRD (and LAST on the wildlife management priority list) is to protect the ANIMALS. Animals come last on the list, however, NOT because they are UNIMPORTANT but because they are LESS-IMPORTANT than the soil and plants.
Different animal species are adapted to those specialised habitats where their species’ survival needs are met; and if those habitats disappear, the animals which depend on them will die out. Maintaining the full spectrum of habitats, in a stable and healthy condition, therefore, is an equally important wildlife management priority. Indeed, this is an objective that exceeds in importance the so-called ‘conservation’ of the mega-animal-species themselves.
Depending on who you listen to, there are between 130 000 and 250 000 elephants in Botswana’s Ngamiland – the Okavango Swamp area – today. This is part of a much bigger mega-population of elephants – numbering possibly 300 000 – that lives across five sovereign states: Ngamiland in Botswana; north-eastern Namibia; south eastern Angola; south-western Zambia; and western Zimbabwe (Hwange National Park). And they all grossly exceed the carrying capacities of their various habitats. Altogether, the game sanctuaries in all these countries are carrying between 10 and 20 times the numbers of elephants that they should be carrying. And this has been happening – doubling their numbers every 10 years – for the last 55 years – without constraint.
As a consequence of this long and progressive build up to present-day elephant numbers, the habitats in all these areas have been progressively trashed. Within 25 kms of water, whole ecosystems have disappeared: the entire riverine forests along the Chobe River and the Kavango River (and others) have been destroyed; the once very rich alluvial Acacia/Combretum woodlands adjacent to the river systems (everywhere) have disappeared; there has been a consistent and progressive annual disappearance of many Acacia tree species, of the kiaat tree and others, wherever they used to occur in current elephant sanctuaries; and there has been the annihilation of whole groves of iconic giant baobab trees – some up-to 5000 years-old. The damage is more intense closer to the river systems – but the destruction is now effectively complete for up to 25 kms away from every dry-season water supply.
And everywhere, the ground has been laid bare. In many places the soil is devoid of any kind of grass or protective woody-plant cover. Dust storms are now commonplace at the height of every dry season; and when it rains the loose topsoil is washed away into the nearby rivers.
So these elephants are doing exactly what we don’t want to happen. They are degrading all habitats; they have removed many major species of tree entirely. They have destroyed not just habitats that are critical to many animal species’ survival, they have removed entire ecosystems from the sanctuaries that are supposed to be protecting them. It is a mess! And why has this happened? It has happened because – for the last 50 years – uninformed people in the public – backed by the sensation-seeking media – have been making demands on Botswana based solely on emotion and their personal preference opinions.
So, should Botswana be allowed to reintroduce the hunting of elephants? Should Botswana be allowed to cull its excessive numbers of elephants? Should Botswana be allowed to use the meat from these culls to feed its people? Should Botswana be allowed to sell the valuable hide it will obtain from its harvested elephants? Should Botswana be allowed to sell the ivory from these essential culling operations? The answer to all these questions is a resounding: YES! Most certainly so! And the public should get behind Botswana’s new President – Mr Mokgweetsi Masisi – and encourage him to reinstate an elephant hunting programme that should never have been stopped; and to institute an absolutely vital elephant population reduction programme. Tens of thousands of elephants need to be taken-off the Botswana landscape – urgently – to save the wildlife sanctuaries from total destruction; and to protect the country’s biological diversity.
In all these things the President of Botswana has the True Green Alliance’s full support.
During a (second) BBC news release (and You-Tube video) – discussing the possibility that the new President of Botswana, The Hon. Mokgweetsi Masisi, will be re-opening elephant hunting in that country – the BBC attempted to let the rural people of Botswana have a say in defending such a decision. In my opinion, however, it failed dismally to ‘get the message across’. This is not surprising because the producers of this material have no idea what the situation really is. And the BBC, it seems, listens to nobody but the animal rightists (whose purpose in life is – without any concerns about the practical biological considerations – to ABOLISH all animal ‘uses’ by man).
There is clearly a great deal of human/elephant conflict in Botswana which is currently carrying – depending on who you listen to – between 130 000 and 250 000 elephants. Even if you take the lowest number of this guesstimate, the country is carrying more than 10 times the number of elephants that its habitats can sustainably carrying. And if you take the higher figure, Botswana has more than 20 times too many elephants. So, forget about the rural people of Botswana for a moment, FIRST try to wrap your mind round this reality.
But, you might say, Botswana is a big country. Surely it can carry its current elephant population? It has, after all, been carrying a massive number of elephants for many, many years. Why cannot it continue doing so forever?
Yes – you are right – insofar as Botswana IS a very big country; but it is predominantly very arid and – except for the Okavango Swamps – it has very little surface water; and elephants are severely restricted to a very limited habitat zone surrounding that water, for the six-months-long dry season every year.
If you look at a map of Botswana, and mark in those parts of the country where permanent dry-season water exists, elephants can ONLY live in the ribbons of country – in a zone 25 kms wide – which surround that water. And Botswana’s rural people and their domestic livestock can, also, ONLY live within that same ribbon of arid bush country. And the elephants have been living in this ‘dry-season-liveable-zone’ – in numbers that have grossly exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity of their habitats – for the last 60 years. And every ten years their numbers have doubled.
THIS CANNOT GO ON FOR EVER! Every ecosystem has its limitations – and Botswana’s wildlife ecosystem exceeded that limit a long time ago. So, the habitats have been degrading every year; they continue to degrade; the elephants – by eating all the available food within that 25 km zone every year – have denied all other wild animals a fair share of this food. These other (smaller) animals cannot walk 25 kms every day to find food… and then to walk another 25 kms to get back to the water… every day. As a result, many once abundant wild animal species are in free-fall decline. Many wild plants and wild animals have already been rendered locally extinct and very soon the entire ecosystem is going to collapse. And elephants, by their thousands, are going to die.
NB: And elephants are not the ONLY wild animals that need to be considered. The whole spectrum of wild animal species have to be fitted into the picture of healthy-habitat national-park management. And when the elephant population in Botswana crashes – as it surely will if no elephant population reduction action is carried out – all the other wild animals will die alongside them.
It is no wonder, under these conditions, that Botswana’s rural people are in conflict with this massive number of elephants. They, too, are striving to survive (under these same environmental conditions) and, during the crop growing season, they have to endure the crop-raiding depredations – every night – of these starving animals. Not only do the people have to suffer the destruction of their crops, many of them – every year – are killed when trying to drive the marauders from their croplands. Even children going to school every morning encounter elephants en route and they, too, are sometimes killed.
The rural people therefore, because they get no benefits from the elephants; because the elephants destroy their livelihoods; and because the elephants kill their family members, have come to hate the elephants with a vengeance; and they would rather see them all destroyed. This emotional climate does not encourage the people to look after ‘their’ elephants; and it ensures that they will poach them to extinction (if necessary) because the only benefits they can get from the elephants is when they kill them, illegally, and sell their tusks into the black market.
Now Botswana has a new and dynamic president – President Mokgweetsi Masisi – an intelligent and forward thinking man who understands all these simple yet complicated things, and he wants to do something constructive about it. By the sounds of it – and I have met him and discussed these things with him personally – he has a progressive wildlife management plan: to drastically (I hope) reduce (by culling) the elephant over-population problem in his country; and to reintroduce elephant hunting (as a management tool) to further reduce elephant numbers. And there is more – a lot more.
Masisi’s plan will ‘save’ Botswana’s national parks from total destruction by too many elephants – and it will restore (hopefully) a great deal of the national parks’ already lost biological diversity (the losses caused by too many elephants). It will reduce crop depredations by elephants and provide the rural people with meat-to-eat. It will reinstate the great employment opportunities that were once a feature of Botswana’s hunting industry. New jobs will come about when factories are constructed to handle the canning (and drying) of elephant meat; the tanning of elephant hide; and, maybe even, the manufacture of high-class furniture using home-tanned elephant hide – for export. It will turn the rural people away from a poaching future because, when they receive such grand benefits from elephants, it will turn them into the elephants’ greatest custodians.
This is a great opportunity for President Masisi to solve Botswana’s many huge wildlife management problems – created by his animal rightist predecessor, Ian Khama – and for him to lead Africa in this new direction into posterity. To succeed in this daunting task, Masisi will need everybody’s support.
Ron Thomson CEO -TRUE GREEN ALLIANCE
Cell: 072 587 1111
Phone: 046 648 1243