Shooting Elephants and Carrying Capacity
|Peter Beard, Kenya, about 1963.|
Over on Facebook a friend posted a video which shows GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons engaged in shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe.
“ When I first went to Kenya in August 1955, I could never have guessed what was going to happen.... it was authentic, unspoiled, teeming with big game — so enormous it appeared inexhaustible. Everyone agreed it was too big to be destroyed."
But, of course, nothing is too big to be destroyed, is it?
What amazed Beard, however, was that a good chunk of his part of East Africa was being destroyed by elephants.
Beard chronicled it all in in amazing, heart-shattering photography.
|Elephant herd, Tsavo, early 1960s, Peter Beard photo.|
What happened in the Tsavo -- a massive die-off of elephants that started in the early 1960s and continued off and on for more than a decade -- was due to a combination of human population growth outside of the park, combined with elephant over-population inside the park, and drought to push it all over the edge.
In the end, what had been a forested landscape was reduced to a near-desert.
Beard's pictures of the destruction became The End of the Game, a book which still stands as one of the great visual witnesses to what can happen when "heart first" wildlife conservation goes wrong.
What Beard photographed (often by air) was shocking then, and it is still shocking now.
|Dead elephant, starvation, Tsavo. Peter Beard photo. Notice tusks.|
So what does this have to do with Bob Parsons shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe?
Maybe quite a lot.
You see, while elephant herds are not uniformly robust across Africa, they appear to be a little too healthy in Zimbabwe, where their numbers have more than doubled to about 100,000 in the last 30 years
Why does Zimbabwe have so many elephants?
One factor is that very few hunters have wanted to go to Zimbabwe in recent years.
Robert Mugabe, the brutal dictator of that country for the last three decades, has collapsed the economy to the point that many people are, quite literally, starving. Not exactly a good place for a vacation!
Another factor is that while wildlife may be in abundance in some parts of the country, most of the local people do not have access to guns, as Mugabe is terrified that an armed populace might rise up to overthrow him.
And so the elephants have done what elephants do -- they breed and they feed.
All good up to a point, but that point can be crossed, and there is little doubt that that has occurred in some parts of Zimbabwe.
Today, the elephant population of Zimbabwe is running far beyond the carrying capacity of protected lands, resulting in elephants frequently entering farmer's fields to destroy life-sustaining crops.
In order to manage its elephant herds, Zimbabwe has implemented a Problem Animal Control (PAC) program in which elephants that threaten local village crops are culled out.
To be clear, when you get a license to shoot an elephant in Zimbabwe you are not guaranteed a trophy animal, nor do you get to decide what animal is culled, nor do you get to keep any part of the elephant.
All you get to take with you is the experience and your pictures.
Bob Parsons is unapologetic about his Zimbabwean elephant hunt. He says:
All these people that are complaining that this shouldn't happen, that these people [in Zimbabwe] who are starving to death otherwise shouldn't eat these elephants, you probably see them driving through at McDonald's or cutting a steak. These people [Zimbabwe villagers] don't have that option."
And, as noted, Parsons is not inventing the hungry people of Zimbabwe. If you have any doubt about that, take a look at these pictures which show what happens when an elephant dies of natural causes in that God-and-UN-forsaken country.
But surely there is an alternative to culling these elephants, right?
What about moving the elephants to an area where there are too few of these animals?
That's been done in the past, but after moving over 1,000 elephants it seems that all of the nearby wild lands that can take elephants have them, and the costs are not cheap to move these massive creatures -- about $2,000 per animal in a country that does not have the money it needs to feed its own children.
What about elephant contraception? That sounds easy enough in theory, but it's not in practice, as elephants are very slow breeders which means you have to put 75% of all breeding females on contraception for more than 10 years in order to get the numbers down, and that too will not be cheap or easy.
Are other options being tried? Of course. Some success has been had with elephant drives using fireworks and drums. Some minor success has been achieved with heavy gates, grates and moats around fields, crop substitution, and the use of chili-pepper fires and oil spray deterrents. African bee hives on trip-wires are even being experimented with. That said, Zimbabwe's problems with elephants are not small and localized -- they are widespread and endemic. If you think it's hard to get deer out of a suburban garden, and impossible to get them off a large farm, consider what it must be like to get elephants out of the fields of some parts of southern Africa!
Put it all together and you can see why regulated, science-based elephant culling in Zimbabwe makes sense, not only for the local people, but also for the long-term health of elephant populations in that part of the world.
So, to bring it all back around, whatever happened to Kenya and the elephants of the Tsavo? Peter Beard is not shy about answering the question:
The game now involves accommodating statistics like every mature female in Kenya having 8.2 children. The game now involves the Bono–Bardot– Jolie–Holywood–Madonna–World Bank people. The politics of sentimentality, AIDS retardation drugs guaranteeing thousands (or millions) more AIDS babies, now already numbering around four-million in South Africa alone. BandAid, UNICEF, World Bank (high nitrogen fertilizers ruining the soil), Oxfam plus all the others. (They’ve never heard of sustainable yield!) Their seemingly heroic businesses are just unloading guilt for profit. More specifically “Buy an elephant a drink” comes to mind: suckering contributions for the overloaded national park system and all the absurdly sentimental park trustees, who could see swelling numbers of 40,000 elephants eating all the trees in the park – starving to death with stress related heart disease and of course constipation from consuming the wood. Violence, vandalism, and density-related negatives… "Buy ‘em a drink! Hug the babies.”
It amounts to selfish and presumptuous often spoiled interference from the disastrous, locust-like, human population exploding all around and replacing (if not eradicating) most of nature. And then on our end: U.N. bureaucrats, G.W. Bush at the G8, and at Kyoto; and even more awkward, his pathetic African tour, just handing out money – more silly interference, less understanding…No sense of biology, population dynamics or Charles Darwin, and most amazing of all, hiding behind clichés like “climate change”, global warming, etc… when all it is, is emissions from our own horrible exponentially expanding human population explosion (except in France, Scandinavia, and a few other places).
Read the entire interview (I am not saying I agree with all of it!) and go order a copy of The End of the Game for the pictures alone. You will not be disappointed (though you may be a little disturbed).
- Related Link:
** Shooting an Elephant (George Orwell)