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Killing 40,000 Elephants Leads Biologist to His Own Worst Nightmare

Allan Savory’s decision led him to the exact situation he feared the most. He dedicated his life to preserving land and protecting animals but managed to do the exact opposite. He may as well be referred to as the Oedipus Rex of modern science.



Allan Savory is a modern day Oedipus Rex. He went to extremes trying to avoid what he feared most but accidentally ended up in the exact situation he was running from. Science, numbers, and data, are all things people put a bit too much trust in. Any misinterpretation of them inevitably leads to mistakes. 

Killing 40,000 Elephants Leads Biologist to His Own Worst Nightmare

Allan Savory spent his life dedicated to preserving land, stopping climate change, and protecting animals. No one in his field would dare second guess a single theory he proposed. Allan Savory thought he was doing the world a favor when he used science, numbers, and a load of data in his decision to order the death of thousands of animals. It turns out; he made the biggest mistake of his life.

In 1950’s, Allan Savory sectioned off large amounts of land for national parks in Africa. His primary goal was to prevent and reverse damage to areas that turned into deserts as a way to protect all aspects of the ecosystem. In other words, he wanted to keep “the circle of life” going. After moving the people out of the new national parks, the land turned to a desert. Data in hand, Savory concluded that if the people were not the cause of the problem, then the animals must be.

So he ordered the shooting of 40,000 elephants. Savory realized that this was the biggest mistake of his life after the fact. At this point there was no going back, all that was left to say was “oops?”

Killing 40,000 Elephants Leads Biologist to His Own Worst Nightmare

This decision disrupted an entire ecosystem, turning a dangerous situation into a worse one. In his TED talk, Savory admits, “That was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life. I will carry that to my grave.” He is brave enough to admit his faults and is more dedicated to reverse damaged land than ever before.

The renowned ecologist later found that movements of large animals across the land are what keep it from being a desert. Elephants, in particular, are incredibly beneficial to land. They uproot trees, turning them into which shelters for small animals such as lizards. Their soil ridden feet carry and spread seeds that turn grow into much-needed vegetation. Grazing animals, in general, form herds to hide from predators. Their movements together are great for the growth of grass and trees. Without elephants and other grazing animals, the world would go hungry.

Savory tells his story and spreads the word about the actual causes of harm to the land. He’s brave enough to own up to his mistake and hopes others learn from it. The silver lining in this series of events is that now ecologists can provide a real reason why people should stop hunting large animals. However, the more significant lesson is, no matter the level of expertise, a person is always worthy of a second guess.