Elephants use their trunks to smell for possible danger in the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya in 2010. (Karel Prinsloo/AP)

It is a pity that James Hohmann’s March 9 The Daily 202 column, “On elephants and all else, actions speak louder than tweets,” skirted the dilemma of whether elephants should be hunted. While I could never shoot an elephant and have never owned a gun, I am happy that others are prepared to.

The aim must be to ensure a good population of elephants in, say, 100 years. The most important factor in retaining elephants in Africa is ensuring that they and other wildlife win the race against farming, pastoralism and ranching in maximizing income for local people. All protected areas were created on local people’s traditional lands on which, by the way, elephants had survived for thousands of years. Nowhere in Africa has this history been forgotten. 

Fundamental in sustaining elephants is sustaining the soils and vegetation from which they will survive. Vegetation and soils are degrading in many areas. Overpopulation of elephants well beyond the carrying capacity typically results in vegetation diversity decline and soil erosion from lands devoid of cover.

Hunting fees of around $50,000 per male elephant can make a huge difference to incentives locally. You would need several hundred tourists to match that; in many remote areas, the game-viewing tourists will rarely be enough. Without hunting income, farming and livestock will win.

The simplistic mantra that “shooting elephants is cruel” may well be their downfall, the ultimate cruelty to the species.

Ridley Nelson, Great Falls