BY JOHN NASH
Oh, dear. A cruel and evil trophy hunter has murdered, for money, one of Africa’s last great bull elephants, an elephant that many tourists were clamouring to see. He could have provided thousands of photo-tourists with unknown years of pleasure. Now the poor people of Botswana have been deprived of years of tourist income, the magnificent bull has lost his right to life, and the bull’s family herd has lost its patriarch. More importantly, as elephant extinction creeps closer, the victim of this heinous crime will never father any more babies to inherit his amazing physique. Evil, greedy trophy hunters – he was one of the last forty bull elephants left in the world with big tusks. The result is that tusks are getting smaller and elephants can no longer use them to dig for water. It is blatant colonialism, theft of our children’s future and an exhibition of cruel, criminal human behaviour. Please help save Africa’s last remaining wildlife, donate here…….
This is the story that broke across the world recently, Dear Reader. It is a taste of things to come for all of you UK farm, field, conservation and field sports managers who have any connection, however remote, with wildlife field management or the everyday practical use of firearms. Although ostensibly a story about a huge bull elephant, it is actually more huge bull than huge elephant, I’m afraid. If you are sitting comfortably, I’ll begin…
This story begins in Ngamiland, Northern Botswana, in an area designated as Block NG 13. It is a remote area with no roads, no tourists, no jobs, no shops, no anything except for thick bush, traversed by tracks, linking the few secluded villages of mainly women, children and old men – most of the young men and many young women have left to seek employment elsewhere. Meanwhile, those who remain try to eke out an honest, traditional rural African living by subsistence farming in their little piece of Eden.
But it is far from idyllic. The problem is that lots of the people are giving up trying to grow food because it gets eaten by wild elephants. You and I, sitting in the UK amidst a torrent of woke TV programmes and parasitic eco-chuggers reminding us daily about the plight of elephants, may view these huge pachyderminous miracles with great admiration and sympathy, but the impoverished residents of Block NG13, who actually live with them, have a very different view.
For them, wildlife are both competitors and a resource. To them, the African elephant is a nasty, dangerous, five-ton garden slug who won’t take no for an answer if he takes a fancy to your little plot of sorghum or maize. His evening meal or two is your family’s annual food supply, but if you try to stop him, he will simply express his dissatisfaction with your viewpoint by trampling you rather violently into sanguineous pavement art. Then, for good measure, he will take a post-prandial drink from your village well, turning the precious pipework and water pump into a creative and dynamic statement-piece worthy of the Tate. When a water pump and tank, so expensive to cart into such a remote region, are destroyed in a place where people exist on less than $1 a day, the loss is significant and can have fatal consequences for people and crops.
And so, it came to pass, that a licensed Professional Hunter (PH), with local trackers, was guiding his client on a hunting trip in Block NG13, when they came across some footprints and elephant dung. In the powder-fine dust of the game trail, the big footprints showed deep cracks and furrows, suggesting a large, old bull elephant. The dung confirmed it. Each bolus was large and contained un-chewed fragments of grass and bark, a sign that the elephant was not only big, but old and his last set of teeth were wearing out, unable to chew properly. They set out on foot to stalk it.
Tooth loss is, sadly, the awful reality for end of life for wild elephants. They have, in their lifetime, 26 teeth – four at any time, replaced six times as they wear out (24 in total during its life), plus two tusks (actually modified teeth, too). When the sixth and last set of four teeth are worn down, no more erupt, and starvation inevitably follows. Unable to chew tough food, the poor old beast progressively loses condition until it dies of starvation or is overcome by disease (because of its weakened state) or by a predator (because of its loss of strength). My apologies if you are eating breakfast, but that is the reality of Africa. Disney, it ain’t. When you are such a huge creature, immobilised by starvation, it can take a couple of days to die of thirst. Even being killed by predators is not like the sanitised versions we see on TV – it’s a somewhat more upsetting experience, a bit like you or I being eaten alive, bit by bit, by a pack of rabidly angry but dentulous Gremlins. Nothing will come to your aid. The herd won’t stand around mourning. It is a particularly distressing end. Nature doesn’t care.
Having lost the last of his teeth and so, slowly losing condition, an old bull becomes a solitary old beast. With insufficient muscularity or hormonal ‘roid rage, they are incapable of fighting tough, prime musth bulls for mating rights and would risk fatal wounding if they tried, so (apart from a quick, opportune knee-trembler if they find a receptive cow on her own) they stay well away from the cows and musth bulls to avoid trouble. They spend the last few years of life quietly hiding away from the world. The truth is that Mother Nature has little use for any of us once we have procreated.
Given access to water and succulent, palatable food, these old boys can survive and their tusks continue to grow, making them desirable post-breeding trophies. The problem comes when the best succulent food available is in the villagers’ family food plots. Old bulls are notorious crop-raiders and very, very, dangerous.
And so, back on the hunt, knowing they were on to an old bull elephant, the PH, his client and the trackers stalked carefully through the dense mopani bush until they were close enough for a better look. Sure enough, it was an old bull, his face starting to sink with the first signs of gauntness that comes with senescence. However, they were surprised and excited by the size of his tusks. For a trophy hunter, such amazing luck is like winning the lottery. Carefully, noting the wind, they moved silently to within forty yards and he was taken with a single brain shot. He dropped onto his own shadow. Unaware of the hunters, he never knew anything about it. In a deeply moving little custom, the tracker, a local man, spent a while reverently patting and thanking the elephant for giving his life to those who would continue to enjoy their lives because of his gift. It is always a solemn moment.
The elephant was, for obvious reasons, dressed on the spot. His trophy went to the hunter. His jawbone, by law, went to the government for identification and to obtain statistical compliance, conservation, age and other scientific data. 350 happy people received the meat (hence the thanks for giving life), and they each probably fed three or more people. All in all it was a fitting, respectful, dignified and humane end to a wonderful old boy who had nothing left to look forward to. You may wish to pause for a moment to reflect upon his life, a more fitting reaction than the infantile and disrespectful accounts in the “animal loving” world media.
The PH and guide on this hunt, Mr Leon Kachelhoffer, is a Motswana (a Botswanan). Permission was granted to his company after four years and many kgotla meetings (village councils where everyone can speak and, being local, he speaks Setswana) so hardly colonialism. Block NG 13 has a small government hunting quota of four old bull elephants this year – in an area containing 29,000 elephants, so hardly a free-for-all extinction. The PH’s company pays an annual $110,000 plus a fee for each animal (+VAT!!) to hunt this NG13 concession and the money goes straight into a trust from which the community, through its Village Development Council, distributes the income pro-rata to their three villages. There are other extras, too, like a vehicle donated to serve the community, and the employment of 30 villagers to start cutting roads. Of course, there are also payments and licences that go to the government. The community and its trust, established in 2003, are intimately involved in every decision, but has not received a single penny of photo-tourist income since then. Hunting income is their only real option.
It’s a little sad for the elephant, but nothing like the media outrage. The animal was old – so it won’t be breeding any more. His genes have long been put into the system, so his demise didn’t prevent his gene distribution or contribute to extinction. He wasn’t famous – he had never been seen before, so no tourists were clamouring to see him and there are no roads to carry them even if they wanted to. The nearest lodge is at least forty kilometres away. It was a solitary old bull, so it had no interest in joining a male coalition of adolescents, and even less “its herd”. It had nothing further to add to social cohesion or elephant culture. It wasn’t “the biggest elephant in Botswana” let alone “in the world” as some reports claimed – it was just the biggest trophy harvested there since 1996. Equally large ivory is regularly found in the area on elephants that died of natural causes. Apart from the fact that local elephant tusks are not actually getting smaller, elephants scrape water holes with their feet, not their tusks, so that was all claptrap. And, the ivory size was luck – the client said he would have been happy with a trophy half that size. It was not purposely targeted because of its tusk size.
That is the real story, and you can watch it here, but the world read something else. Nobody mentioned what follows:
The mischievous article that started the fuss was released to the world by Africa Geographic, a flashy but sly take on its more famous “National” namesake, but in this case, it’s actually a travel agent run by a pushbike-riding accountant who likes to pose in a shemagh, a desert scarf, to look like Lawrence of Arabia, the pretentious desk-jockey. Clearly, anywhere safe enough for a lycra-cladded bean-counter to trundle around on his velocipede is hardly going to be wildest Africa, red in tooth and claw – rather more Tarmac and traffic lights with a cup of warm Horlicks.
His company is one of those responsible for trucking hordes of eco-tourists into the bush, turning popular parts of the wilderness into little better than noisy theme parks with traffic jams of rubbernecks, convincing all of them that they are “helping wildlife” by cluttering up the place whilst looking at it, going, “Ooh, Ahhh”. He turns people’s egos into cash. Photo-tourism is his business, so posing as an eco-warrior helps drive the jelly-heads en masse onto his buses. Of course he hates hunting, but if you think it is out of concern for wildlife welfare, well, Dear Reader, you’re having a giraffe. Personally I am in favour of mass tourism to rural places because of the support it provides to rural communities, but there is a cost. It just makes me mad when these unregulated eco-hypocrites criticise regulated hunting. Popular places are supported by photo-tourists, while remote places are supported by hunting tourists. Africa needs both.
Another oily surreptilian in this matter is ex-president Ian Khama, who, it is claimed, “banned hunting to protect Botswana’s wildlife”. More pure unadulterated hyena droppings. The sort of utter crap that dribbles from the lips of that demented halfwit Sir Roger Gale MP. You are being conned. He actually imposed a moratorium on hunting in that country because he had a business deal with a crafty white bloke from South Africa called Joubert. Strangely enough, their business was – yes – you guessed it, eco tourism. By chucking all the hunters out, he thought he could use the hunting grounds as a monopoly resource for himself and his “wildlife-loving” film-making oppo. It was an unmitigated disaster for the wildlife and the locals (who lost their jobs, wages and free meat) and partly why they threw Khama out at the next election. However, Sir Roger Gale of Queef, MP, thinks Khama is wonderful. God help us.
Sir Roger Gale MP
Today’s President Masisi, who followed Khama, lifted the crooked hunting moratorium and instituted a carefully managed, very limited quota system for hunting at the request of his people, his representative saying to critics, “Should we rather kill people?” No wonder Ian Khama hates him. Now, with his tail between his legs, Khama slinks around the globe offering his lying support to anyone critical of the real president. Hardly surprising that he is welcomed profusely by that great UK democratic defender of wildlife, the shyster Eduardo Goncalves, who features Khama prominently on his CBTH website of eco-deceit as a “defender of wildlife”. There is no level to which these deceptive rodents will not sink.
Africa, huh. Can you imagine, the sheer cheek – a large government-supported organisation, hopeless at its job, trying to stop successful privately-funded consumptive conservation, just so that it could garner donations and make loads of money by diverting people’s misplaced animal kindness, selling a dream to hordes of profitable photo-tourists?
That reminds me – time to renew my subscription to the RSPB.
John Nash grew up in West Cornwall and was a £10 pom to Johannesburg in the early 1960’s. He started well in construction project management, mainly high rise buildings but it wasn’t really Africa, so he went bush, prospecting and trading around the murkier bits of the bottom half of the continent. Now retired back in Cornwall among all the other evil old pirates. His interests are still sustainable resources, wildlife management and the utilitarian needs of rural Africa.