A Story of Starvation: An Outcome of Passion

It was early January when I found myself stargazing (in the middle of an extremely hot day) at the love of my life. The African sun had kissed his lazy, left arm with a beautiful shade of gold as he drove me through the African wilderness. The car meandered along the tributaries of roads through the Kruger National Park, of South Africa. It’s a passion we share; Nature and all of her interrelated dependents. The ground was a cracking-dry mirage, that one tends to associate with a desert, an unresponsive, barren waste of space — one in which nothing lives and nothing enters. Questions arise when you become aware of the fact that this is one of Africa’s largest nature reserves, harboring over 250 000 animals, and yet tracts of it appear to be uninhabitable. This was not always the case, but due to international disturbances — from organizations that have absolutely no right to interfere with Southern Africa’s past (and present) conversational techniques — our ecosystems are facing complete degradation.

A passionate conservationist, such as myself, is a person who advocates and unselfishly acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and its wildlife. It requires extensive research and understanding of all the relevant facets in order to make the hard decisions that may sacrifice a few in order to sustain the many. Many are brainwashed with the notion that trophy hunting and culling are cruel and inhumane, and that it is for the greater good to ban the international trade in ivory.

A lone elephant on a riverbank in the Kruger National Park

The African Elephant is the world’s largest terrestrial animal and it can be found across central and southern Africa. Elephant are part of a matriarchal society that is led by the oldest and presumably wisest female. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd, whereas males tend to lead solitary lives. Elephant are extremely intelligent animals and possess an astonishing memory. The incredible memory of the matriarch aids in leading the herd to water sources that they drank from in the past. Their developed sense of memory allows them to recognize old friends and even hold grudges. They are characterized by their dexterous trunk, long curved tusks, and massive ears. One of the most fascinating facts about elephant lie in the purpose of their large ears. The large surface area of their ears helps them radiate excess heat under the harsh African sun. Their ears are also used to provide a form of visual communication, and the flapping of their ears signify particular emotions. The African elephant plays a vital role in maintaining ecological stability. Elephant ingest fruit and plants and they excrete the seeds (in the form of dung) as they walk from destination to destination. Research shows that 90 different tree species rely on elephant for propagation. This indicates that elephant play an essential role in sustaining Africa’s precious biodiversity.

Southern African countries that include Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are facing a gross overpopulation of Elephant. Elephant are the most environmentally damaging animal on the grasslands of Africa. They can easily cover 50 miles in a day and individually consume roughly 800 pounds of grass and foliage per day. The organizations previously mentioned claim that Zimbabwe has a problem with declining elephant numbers and that this giant is seriously endangered, but these animals are actually causing critical environmental damage. Human encroachment has reduced their natural territories and this means that the environment has limited ability to heal itself before the next elephant feeding onslaught. Elephant are one of Africa’s greatest treasures, but also probably its most destructive natural inhabitant after man. They are wise and majestic, but also destructive.

An unprovoked elephant bull attacking a juvenile buffalo.

A herd of elephant haul hundreds of trees from the soil and destroy miles of grassland every day. This act does not only damage the natural vegetation but removes valuable food sources that other grazers and browsers depend on. The Kruger National Park is home to about 14,000 elephant. At first glance, this number may seem minimal but it is two times more than that of the available carrying capacity of the park. A similar situation has occurred in many other parks throughout Africa. Tsavo park, located in Kenya, faced — and lost — a battle against their all-too plentiful population of elephant. The park decided that they were going to go against the grain of intelligence and not responsibly cull their elephant. This irresponsible decision resulted in the desertification of eight thousand square miles of precious Commiphora canopy woodland. What are the repercussions of such a disaster? Well, the answer is all too simple. Hundreds of black rhino, which are grossly endangered today, and thirty thousand elephant died in Tsavo. This was the result of starvation, constipation and heart disease. What was the main argument that seemed to fool people into believing that culling is an irresponsible solution? “Ethics” — I pose a question to those averse to the regulation of animal populations — is it better that they starve? Irrespective of ethics, it is the storm clouds of sentimentality that muddy up reason. 
Sadly, it is not realistic to believe that the grasslands and tree life will be able to replenish themselves at the same rate as that of an ever-growing elephant population. It would only take about 7 years to have a substantial increase in the elephant number of a previously controlled herd, whereas it would take over 100 years for the hardwood woodlands to redevelop.

“Elephants can read humans’ hearts.” Benjamin Kyalo, project manager, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

The most significant fact about elephant, in my opinion, is that associated with their many behaviors. Elephant are able to feel grief, compassion, joy, and sorrow. These animals are also shown to be highly altruistic, so much so that they aid other species, and even humans, in times of distress. Their capacity for compassion is demonstrated by how they care for the wounded — they are even known to mourn the deceased. Elephant are the only other mammal species seen to have a recognizable ritual for their deceased. They show a lot of interest in the bones of other dead elephant — even if they are from an unrelated herd. Martin Meredith, an elephant researcher, recalled in an article for The Sunday Times newspaper the occurrence of an elephant death ritual. The whole herd of a deceased matriarch gently caressed her body with their trunks — in the hope to lift her. They were all rumbling and her calf was seen to be weeping. The herd began to throw dirt and leaves over the body and they spent the next two days standing by her side.

So you might be asking, how could I still want to justify the culling of elephant? Because culling is conservation. Knowing about their strong family ties leads me to believe that the most humane way to look at the culling of this extremely emotional creature is to cull an entire herd. It would have to be a smaller herd, one of 30 individuals rather than 100, of course. This might not sound particularly civilized, but I think it is the only fair way to do it. Poaching and habitat loss are the two major threats facing the African elephant today. I believe the only way to fight poaching is to legalize the trade in ivory, and to record and manage the market for it in a systematical way. Monitoring the legal trade in elephant products would be much easier to monitor than the trade of ivory in the black market. Moreover, poaching this animal, or any animal, is gruesome and heartless — it is also going to inevitably remain to be a regular occurrence if the current regulations remain. It is common for poachers to shoot an elephant and violently remove its tusks while it is still alive. Very often the animal is left for dead, and it has been known for poachers to kill a mother and leave her abandoned calf to mourn over her body. Is this ethical, is sentimentality its justification? 
The international ban on ivory can further damage African wildlife; many — so called — “animal lovers” believe that trophy hunting is a grossly unsubstantiated sport for those who are unethical and immoral. However, the revenue generated from trophy hunting, especially from wealthy Americans, is one of the biggest supporters of African conservation. We are able to cover the cost of conserving farms from the thousands of dollars generated by the payment from these hunters. Every few years, new bloodlines need to be reintroduced into every animal population that one has on their land. If one is unable to do this, inbreeding can occur and further damage the livelihood and health of those particular animal populations. The cost of buying and maintaining an electrical game fencing system is well over a few hundred thousand dollars each year. Furthermore, game farm owners have the responsibility of providing alternative food sources on a regular basis and building additional, artificial water sources to limit the risk of animals dying from dehydration. The list is almost endless, payment of staff and the cost of suitable vehicles all contribute to the massive task of conserving wildlife and sharing the beauty of it with others. Hunters are one of the biggest supporters and contributors to funding the maintenance of game reserves. Africa needs to be able to trade in elephant ivory in order to maintain its wildlife and valuable biodiversity. A ban on hunting and the international trade in elephant ivory has also made culling prohibitively expensive, as game farmers have to look elsewhere to locate funding.

Uninformed or ill-researched individuals might not be aware of the fact that ivory is not the only valuable asset of this grandiose creature. The encouragement of healthily managing the overpopulation can help provide meat to a protein deficient country, and continent, and the revenue generated from potentially selling animal skins can only aid in the conservation of all of the savanna’s inhabitants. It is inhumane to promote the ultimate destruction of not only one species, but potentially all African animal species. Interdependence is the very definition of life. An over-dominating species will itself be its own destruction. 
I think this is our very own fate.

We fought up until this moment, and then carried on fighting afterwards.

He packed the car early that morning, leaving me to sleep in, like he always does. He proudly wrapped up all the flowers he had picked for me and put them away safely. Then he drove me through the park, one last time, grinning and humming away at a tune that I couldn’t identify — but somehow seemed to love. I didn’t want to leave. The air was hot and everything felt sticky, but I wanted to stay. I wanted to sit in the dry sand. I wanted to feel Africa with him — and I did. And then we saw them — hundreds of elephant — and there it was, sentimentality. Sentimentality — but not weakness.

Author’s Note

The aspects of Virginia Woolf that I adopted, in my writing, are that of searching for valuable and persuasive research. Woolf went to hunt for information in a museum and I surfed through the tabs at the top of my internet-browser page. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf used descriptive writing. I attempted to do the same in the beginning and end of my essay. Woolf made use of asking her reader questions and I incorporated that in my piece. In certain parts of my essay I did not so much write with Woolf, but wrote similarly to that of the professor she describes — as I wrote with anger. However, unlike the professor she talks about, my opinion is substantiated! I don’t just present the reader with information, I but take them with me — through the pros and cons of animal protection versus animal conservation through hunting. I believe I wrote with Woolf in the piece as I used examples and observations that individuals had previously documented. I also provided many facts that I had researched. Woolf talked about how “natural simplicity” seemed to not be used as much, now that writing is more scientific. This is where I differed from Woolf because I did not write with ‘natural simplicity’ but instead with short and to-the-point facts.

Acknowledgements

I thank my group members, Sofia Romero and Joe Schwab, for their valuable input. A thanks goes to Professor Harris for helping me edit and expand my ideas for this piece. Thank you for all the valuable advice that you offered me — and thank you for introducing me to Virginia Woolf, and the way in which she writes. I appreciate that you challenged my ideas and my stubbornness, to help me broaden the clarity of my writing abilities. I would like to thank my boyfriend for his incredible love and for all the trips he has taken me on. I have to thank my parents for raising me in the wilderness — where I had the privilege of growing up around wild animals and learning about the importance of conservation. Lastly, I want to thank all of the conservationist out there. Those that are facing the daily challenges of working with wild animals. Thank you for the love, dedication and passion that you show.

Bibliography/Works Cited:

“Google.” (2016) Google.

“Basic Facts About Elephants.” (2012) Defenders of Wildlife.

“What Is CITES?” (2016)

“Elephant Population Numbers in Kruger. A Game Warden’s Report.” (2016) Kruger Park Times.

“Conservation Group Sees Need for Elephant Cull.” (2016) New Scientist.

Pacelle, Wayne. (2014) “Stop U.S Hunters from Killing African Elephants.” CNN. (26 June)

“Taking Action for Animals 2016.” (2016) Taking Actions for Animals 2016.

“The Official African Hunter Magazine Online.” (2016) The Official African Hunter Magazine Online.

“African Elephants.” (2016) African Elephants. Retrieved from: http://www.fws.gov/international/animals/african-elephants.html.

“The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).” (2016) The Elephant Trade Information System.

“African Elephants.” (2016) African Elephants.

The definition of “cull” as per the Oxford Dictionary:
“Reduce the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter.”