Africa's Wildlife, It’s Past, Present & Future - Part Two

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  1. Ron Thomson

    Ron Thomson CONTRIBUTOR AH Member

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    Africa's Wildlife, It’s Past, Present & Future - Part Two

    But in some parts of Africa no culling in the national parks has ever taken place, and during the latter part of the 20th century those culling programmes that had been instituted in the 1960s were stopped.

    Throughout the middle years of the 20th century tourism – especially domestic tourism - grew in concert with better and better vehicle access to the national parks. In the 1960s, following the advent of safe and fast international jet airline travel, international tourism to Africa burgeoned. Since then tourism has become the raison d’etre for the maintenance of Africa’s national parks - surpassing (and seemingly replacing in importance) the original and primary purpose of the national parks - which was to maintain, in good health, representative examples of a nation’s wild heritage for all time.

    Tourism has always been an important part of the national park ideal – and this will never change. Tourism, however, is supposed to be non-detrimental to the original and primary purpose of a national park. In practice this is not now the case. Today, tourism has become all-powerful. In the face of pressure from (especially) a burgeoning animal rights element in urban societies world-wide, from tourist operators, and from the tourists themselves, essential (but seemingly unpopular) wildlife management practices in Africa’s national parks are simply not being carried out.

    Governments have buckled under the pressure and they have (generally) stopped all unpopular wildlife management programmes – such as the culling of excessive elephant (and other animal species) populations. As a consequence habitats have been, and continue to be, severely degraded – and species diversity (the spectra of both wild plants and wild animals) has been, and continues to be, adversely affected. Most national parks in Africa, which suffer from this syndrome, are in a spiral of ecological decay that can only end up with their total destruction. And this will ultimately cause the destruction of Africa’s currently thriving tourism industries.

    Consider what has happened to the species diversity in the game reserves of Botswana – which is currently now 2000 percent over-stocked with elephants? And of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe which is now 1200 percent overstocked with elephants. There are many other examples. Kruger National Park in South Africa is now, arguably, 300 percent overstocked with elephants. Furthermore, at time of writing, no population reduction management is contemplated that can possibly rectify this state of affairs. The elephants, in the meantime, are still increasing at rates that will double their numbers every ten years or so.

    In this whole conundrum, both officaldom and society-at-large have ignored the realities of man’s hierarchy of natural resource management priorities, which are:

    1. The protection and “wise use” of the soil – because without soil there can be no plants.

    2. The protection and “wise use” of plants – because without plants there would be no life on planet earth. There would, therefore, be no animals. Plants have many functions in the natural world – besides providing herbivorous animals with food. Combined with the physical elements of the land, they create the many diverse habitats to which the earth’s many species are especially adapted.
    They provide animals with cover, which protects them from the elements and hides them from their enemies. And plants provide “cover” for the soil, protecting it from erosion by sun, wind and (especially) rain.

    3. The protective management of UNSAFE (so-called endangered) populations of animals – with the purpose of making them SAFE (not endangered); and the “conservation” (wise-use) management of SAFE (not endangered) populations of animals for the benefit of man.

    The ordinary man-in-the-street – even if he is a nature-lover and has his opinions about what should and/or should not be done in terms of the management of wild plants and wild animals in our national parks – normally has no knowledge about this hierarchy of management priorities. The voicing of his opinions on such matters, therefore, is normally unqualified – and should be ignored. And the government wildlife authorities – even if they know about this list of “management” priorities - never try to explain it to the populace. This is a shame because, if the general publics of the world knew about, and understood the implication of, this hierarchical list of management priorities, they would be more receptive, and supportive, of the need to cull (especially) excessive elephant populations.

    Generally, it can be said that most habitats will exist, ultimately, in a particular state of climax without the existence of macro-herbivores. And because the extant plants will not be adversely affecting the state of the soil, and because they will be protecting the soil from the forces of erosion, the soil will remain intact, too. Physical elements such as fire, cold and rainfall will have their effects on the vegetation – creating their own state of stability on the plant communities – but the plant communities can exist (and often do) without macro-herbivore interactions. Nevertheless, there are several benefits that plant communities obtain from the “use” that macro-herbivores make of the habitats, so having macro-herbivores living within the habitats to which they are adapted – on a sustainable basis – is desirable.

    The wildlife management implications of this list of natural resource management priorities will be understood and supported immediately by all reasonable and thinking people – no matter what their understanding might be of matters ecological. What the principles of this ideal seeks to achieve – by providing guidance to wildlife managers with regards to their wildlife management practices - is a healthy and stable state-of-balance between the soil, the habitats, and the diversity of wild animal populations that the habitats support.

    The most important imbalance that can take place in this equation will occur when an animal population exceeds the sustainable carrying capacity of its habitat. When this happens damage (unsustainable use) will occur to the animal’s habitat the most extreme nature of which - if the damage is allowed to continue unchecked – will be the local extinction of both plant AND animal species. The loss of animal species will be occasioned by the fact that the modified habitats will be no longer habitable by those species, especially, which have specific habitat adaptations.

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