Ron Thomson worked in Africa’s national parks for six decades, and says that despite declining elephant numbers as a whole, managing populations within the limited space of parks is sometimes necessary.
Thomson was named in a report by the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, which notes that elephant population has declined from 1.3 million to around 400,000 in the last four decades.
“I’ve done enough in my lifetime to satisfy any ‘bloodlust’ people may think I have. It wasn’t bloodlust—it was my job,” he said.
“I’m totally unrepentant, a hundred—ten thousand—times over for any of the hunting I’ve done because that’s not the problem. The problem is we’ve got a bunch of so-called experts from the West telling us what to do. I’m a trained university ecologist—I must surely know something about this.”
Some animal rights campaigners say that the “management culling” espoused by people like Thomson is a cover for trophy hunting.
‘I’ve done enough in my lifetime to satisfy any bloodlust people may think I have. It wasn’t bloodlust – it was my job’
Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said, “The trophy hunting industry is slaughtering elephants left, right and center. Killing elephants for ‘fun’ is unacceptable, even more so because of the serious threat to its survival.”
“Trophy hunting is a cruel and abhorrent hangover from colonial times. The recent surge in elephant hunting shows the industry is out of control. It threatens to push endangered species to the point of no return.”
The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting is currently petitioning the UK government to close loopholes that exempt trophy hunters from laws to protect endangered animals.
“The Trump administration prohibits imports of trophies from endangered animals such as cheetahs. Our government allows in body parts of cheetahs as well as those of lions, leopards, hippos, bears, and zebras,” Gonçalves said.
According to Discover Wildlife, the United States legally imports 126,000 animal trophies every year, and the EU some 11,000-12,000.
Thomson set up a conservation group in 2016, The Green Alliance, that “rejects the animal rights doctrine.” He says the doctrine runs counter to any sustainable wildlife management and conservation approach, and has to integrate the needs of the people and the wildlife.
Countries take different approaches to legal trophy hunting. In Kenya, all trophy hunting has been banned since 1977, whereas South Africa allows trophy hunting of the Big Five species: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
Thomson says that debates over management of animal populations are muddied by emotion, lack of expertise, and large amounts of money from the lobbying groups.
When the government of Botswana—home to some 130,000 elephants, proposed lifting the ban on elephant hunting in February, many conservation groups were highly critical.
But according to Thomson, the elephant population has been destroying its own environment and that of other animals.
For example, he says, in allowing the elephants to wreck their habitat, much of the elephants’ feeding grounds have been destroyed. That means daily long walks between the the waterhole and the feeding grounds. Once that distance goes beyond 15 miles, the mothers can no longer lactate, resulting in growing numbers of baby elephants seen abandoned and dying.
As the elephants push back the feeding areas further from the watering hole, many other species can no longer sustain their existence. “In 2013, the Botswana government admitted that all other game species that shared the demolished habitats with the elephants were in free-fall decline by, on average, 60 percent,” wrote Thomson in blog.