Letter to US President Barack Obama

via Letter to US President Barack Obama April 28, 2014 by Ron Thomson in NewsDay

ON April 4, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service banned sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania for reportedly poor management practice of the wildlife resource.

In the weeks that followed, there have been diplomatic shuttling between Zimbabwe and Washington over the matter and from all fronts — non-governmental organisations and government organisations.

Safari Club International, a 55 000-member wildlife conservation organisation, has also filed a lawsuit against the USFWS and more meetings have been arranged where Zimbabwe is expected to address the matter with US secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and USFWS director Daniel Ashe.

Due to the importance of this matter to the conservation of the African elephant and of course the environment sector, in this week’s instalment of Viewpoint, we publish an edited letter to US President Barack Obama by a former parks field officer based in South Africa.

. . . .
PO Box 45
Kenton-on-Sea 6191
Eastern Cape
South Africa
Date: 13 April 2014.

Mr Barack Obama
President of the United States of America.
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr President,


I am a 75-year-old ex-game warden from Rhodesia & Zimbabwe. I served in the Rhodesian and then Zimbabwean, Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management for 24 years (1959 to 1983).

Not only was I an active field officer in the department, I was also a member of the British Institute of Biology (London) & Chartered Biologist for European Union (for c.20 years).

I have had a very distinguished career — and that I have extensive big game hunting, management and capture experience
in Africa.

I wish to bring to your attention the fact that the US Fish & Wildlife Service has very recently introduced a ban on the importation (to the United States) of elephant hunting trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

I draw your attention to the non-existent “evidence” they present in support of this ban:-

(a) Anecdotal evidence (whatever that means), such as the widely publicised poisoning last year of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe’s elephants are under siege.

(b) Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards recovery of the species.

Recovery? Recovery from What?

How, Sir, does the USF&WS judge the “sustainability” of elephant “killings” in Zimbabwe and Tanzania when they openly acknowledge the paucity of their information and understanding about these countries’ elephant management programmes?

Sir, I have 55 years of experience in the field of elephant management.

I served, for three years, as a game ranger in Hwange in my youth; and, in later years, I was the provincial game warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park.
And throughout my 24 years’ service in Zimbabwe’s National Parks Department, not one of Zimbabwe’s many elephant populations declined.

In my personal experience of Hwange (1960 to 1983), the elephant population exploded from 3 500 animals (in 1960) to 23 000(+) (in 1983) — despite, latterly, 18 years of sustained annual elephant culling.

Hwange’s elephant population now stands at somewhere between 30 000 and 50 000. And the carrying capacity of Hwange National Park in 1960 was determined to be just 2 500!

Most of Zimbabwe’s elephant populations doubled their numbers every 10 years between 1960 and 2000.

Today, the factor that is putting the brakes on the current “rate” of the elephant population expansion is not poaching, or hunting, but lack of food during the six-month long dry season every year.

The elephant populations in Zimbabwe are ALL “excessive” — which means they now grossly exceed the sustainable carrying capacities of their habitats. The country’s game reserves, therefore, are rapidly being turned into deserts by too many elephants. The adverse effect on Zimbabwe’s biological diversity, as a result of these hugely excessive elephant numbers, is catastrophic.

I am appalled, Sir, at the lack of information and understanding that your USF&WS has about elephant management, particularly, in Zimbabwe.

It hasn’t a clue what is going on, on the ground. And I strongly suspect exactly the same situation pertains with regard to its understanding about the
details of elephant management in Tanzania.

I am astounded, therefore, that the USF&WS have imposed this importation ban on elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe — based on no shred of proper evidence at all.

If they understood the situation in Zimbabwe they would know that “the elephant problem” in that country is that it has TOO MANY ELEPHANTS.

The draconian impositions of these trophy importation bans will put a virtual stop to elephant hunting in Tanzania and Zimbabwe —where American hunters are “key”.

This will adversely affect the wildlife programmes of both countries; it WILL NOT “help the elephants”; it WILL open the gates of the wildlife sanctuaries to the commercial poachers (because the presence of professional hunters on the ground is the greatest obstacle to poaching of all kinds in these reserves); and it will cause the unnecessary unemployment and impoverishment of a great many of Africa’s people. Nothing good, therefore, can come out this horrific and unsupportable imposition.

In support of my views, Sir, I append Attachment 2. This is an extensive report that fully explains the real situation in Zimbabwe – on the ground.

I would request, Sir, that in the interests of fostering good American/African relations — and in the interests of Africa, its wildlife and its people — that you unilaterally rescind these draconian and ill-considered restrictions.

Thanking you for your considerations,

Ron Thomson


  • comment-avatar
    MikeH 10 years ago

    You stick to your guns Mr Obama, if the hunters want something to hunt then let them go hunt the poachers and thus do something useful for a change.

  • comment-avatar

    Icho Makaradi(!) Barack stick to your guns those in positions in zimbabwe are benefiting from the hunting

  • comment-avatar
    The Mind Boggles 10 years ago

    Seems to me Ron Thompson is also old and senile?? In the same mould as someone else we know? Clearly no idea of whats happening on the ground and still living in a time long forgotten!!!!

  • comment-avatar
    Zimbali 10 years ago

    I would respect the views of a well known conservationist such as Ron Thompson ahead of a few armchair critics.

  • comment-avatar
    Nimrod Mupanesengende 10 years ago

    These sanctions appear to have affected those who have unfairly benefited from our natural resources. Whereas sanctions were welcomed with two hands by most whites, this time arround the sanctions hit below the belt of the very whites whom they were supposed to bring back to power. Let us go on under sanctions Most Zimbabweans now own land on which they grow crops, keep cattle, sheep goats and other small animals Most of us get our food from the land, our meat, our milk, our cash from the land when things get tough and therefore, in a way we are shielded from the sanctions as whites used to when they owned land. Now without land, these people are more vulnerable to sanctions than most of us no wonder they are now the first ones to complain about sanctions. Hats off to Mugabe.!!!! He told us a long time ago that whites would be hurt by sanctions in the same way as blacks were hurt a decade ago. What a genius Mugabe is!!!!!

    • comment-avatar
      Kevin Watson 10 years ago

      Nimrod old chap, Ron Thompson is in retirement living in Kenton on Sea about 2500kms from Hwange. It matters not a damn, to him, what happens in Zimbabwe, and yes quite frankly he has a selective memory, notwithstanding his career. I can remember walking in Tribal Trust lands in the very early 1960s and elephants roamed freely outside the parks. His memory is selective and anecdotal at best, as they did not count the free roaming elephants. The truth is that in 1960 there were an estimated 1,6m elephants in Southern Africa and today there are estimated to be less than 600 000, that is a massive decline. As for these sanctions hurting white people, which white people apart from a few wealthy Americans who have already decimated the wildlife in their own country.

  • comment-avatar
    Tiger Shona 10 years ago

    Ron Thompson is right.
    The real problem here once more, is this Zanu PF administration that is hated universally.
    As for MikeH and Petal;Emotions has no place here.

  • comment-avatar

    This is a letter from ZANU PF thugs who do you think will listen and tolerate such nonsense.

  • comment-avatar
    simbi 10 years ago

    I agree with Ron Thompson Gonarezhou has too many elephants aswell

    • comment-avatar
      Kevin Watson 10 years ago

      I disagree with Ron Thompson, there are simply too many people, none of whom have the capital and skills to farm properly or find a job.

  • comment-avatar
    mike paterson 10 years ago

    Ron Thomson talks sense. He and past member of National Parks know of the problem inside the Parks.
    The negative comments above are from ignoramuses who just want to comment for the sake of commenting. Because of humans there is not enough room for the increasing elephant population.
    Poaching is a cancer and those involved do not deserve to live. The final market of ivory products calls the tune and politicians are a large part of it.

  • comment-avatar
    mwana wevhu 10 years ago

    ZANU(PF)’s corrupt tendencies now cloud/blemish all aspects of our lives.Whoever Thomson is/was, there is certainly someone in that capacity in the current Parks & Wildlife management.The incumbent should be giving the correct state of affairs on this matter. But then the incumbent’s credibility would be ZERO.So R.Thomson’s contribution cannot be brushed aside.

  • comment-avatar

    Listen to Ron Thompson, there are five times as many Elephants as their
    habitat can support. Culling and Hunting are essential to the survival
    of the Elephants. Death by starvation is not a pretty site. You need
    hunting to support the the revenue from Game Parks. All Game Parks
    are surrounded by Hunting Concessions, thats how you ensure Game
    remains in the Park for paying visitors to enjoy. Believe me.