There are too many elephants

by Ben O’Rourke

“What people don’t understand about the elephant situation is this,” says Ron Thomson, sharing an experience from his decades of wildlife management in Africa. “Let me give you some idea. Imagine elephants doubling their numbers every 10 years, which has been going on for more than 60 years in Botswana.

“Over the last several years they’ve been eating all the food near the water. They’ve destroyed all the trees, all of the vegetation… there is nothing to eat anywhere near the water.

“Elephant cows with their whole entourage – their babies, everything – have to move 10 miles a day to find enough food to eat to stay alive because they go back to the same water holes in the dry season every year. They have eaten all the food out at a distance of 10 miles from the water. 

“They walk a solid 10 miles and then have to start foraging around looking to find anything to eat and a lot of these areas are very dry areas. Botswana is on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The vegetation is not rich anyway, but they have to find enough to stay alive. They then have to walk back again the same day. They’ve got a walk back to the water to have a drink. After they have a drink, they’ve got to turn around straight away and walk back the next 10 miles for the next day’s feed.

“Ten miles is the extreme range that they can travel because the amount of energy they get from the food they eat is less than the energy they need to go from the water to the food and back to the water again every day. The very first thing that starts happening – the first manifestation of a problem – is when cow elephants with babies, their milk starts drying up so they stop lactating. Now these tiny little babies up to three years old, they are dependent on their mother’s milk. If their mother’s milk dries up, those babies starve.

“Eventually the babies can’t keep up with their mothers to go to wherever the mother goes to feed, they hang around the waterholes because they haven’t got enough energy to keep up with their mothers because they’re starving and, when they’re at the water holes on their own, the hyenas and the lions get at them and kill [some of] them and eat them. So you’ve got a situation here now where you’ve got all the juveniles in the population are gradually worked out of the way through this natural process and you end up with a bunch of old cows that are just skin and bone and the whole cycle breaks down. This is happening and it has been happening for years.”

Ron points to the cover of one of his books. It shows a female elephant with a scrawny calf near a water hole.

“Look at the veld. Look at the grass… There is nothing there for those elephants to eat. That baby elephant is so weak it stayed behind with the water. The mother went with the herd, a whole breeding herd. It’s come back to find its baby and what it finds is that it is so weak for lack of food that the baby couldn’t keep up.

“This happened in Hwange National Park in 1982. I took the photograph, then the mother turned around and walked off and it ran to catch up with the others in the herd. That little baby was left wandering around in the hot sun on its own and I went up and I shot it and killed it and put it out of its misery. 

“That is happening all over Southern Africa every dry season, every September, October of every year now. And why is that? Because there are too many elephants. We have to reduce these numbers of elephants to a level that the habitats can support and feed. At the moment, the Western world is causing this sort of thing to happen.

“And that’s one of the things that really messes me up when it comes to these animal rightists. They don’t see this. They’re not interested. All they are interested in is how much money can we make out of a gullible public by telling them lies.”

Here’s a report from a news agency in Zimbabwe:

Thanks to SCI LHAS for supporting this article
For the True Green Alliance, go to
Click here for South Africa’s National Hunting & Shooting Association
Click here for Southern African Wildlife College 
Click here for the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s elephant database

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