Can wild animals really “sense” the fear in other animals?

Answer by Rory Young:


There are many external physical signs of fear. These may or may not be detectable depending on the species manifesting them and the species observing.

The eyes are the strongest indicator and easiest for us to pick up, although different animals rely on different dominant senses.

Many animals show the sclera or the whites of their eyes to display surprise or fear. We do the same, our eyes widen in fear or surprise as do many animals.

Here are pictures of a dog and then a human showing fear. Look at the eyes:

Dog expressing fear.

Baby expressing fear.

Here are two images of an elephant eyes. The first shows a relaxed animal and the second is showing fear..

There are many other signs of fear. These are all known as fight or flight responses.

Breathing and heart rate speed up. This is directly related to the fight or flight response. The animal is gearing up to run or fight. It needs oxygen and increased heart rate to be able to use its physical abilities to the max. We are the same of course. Think about the last time you got a big fright.

Relaxation of the sphincter muscles means that they can defecate fear. I have seen this often with both baboons and vervet monkeys treed by leopards. This also happens with people in cases of extreme fear.

The tear and saliva glands shut down which means a dry mouth and eyes. This is of course difficult to see but if an animal is dripping saliva from its mouth it could indicate a lack of fear.

The pupils dilate. Add this to the sclera showing and together they transform the eye. The reason for the pupil dilating is so that the animal can see better.

Animals and people can urinate in fear. This is very common among apes.

Shaking is very common especially once the adrenaline really starts flowing.. Muscle tension is also common and this is obvious in cats. Lions' tails twitch, domestic cats' backs arch and the hair on their back rises. People raise their shoulders.

Lastly there is smell. When animals and people experience fear a part of the brain called the amygdala can allow the release of homones including epinephrine and norepinephrine and cortisol. We may not smell a difference but a dog, elephant, bee or other animal with an exceptional sense of smell  or the ability to sense pheremones may well pick up a change caused by these.

Sensing fear in the animal world is a fact. My own personal experience is that in tense situations with elephants or lions showing fear is not a good idea. The best way to handle it is not to pretend but to train yourself to be calm or even better to transform fear to controlled aggression. In this regard fear and aggression are closely related.

My own experience dealing with wild African animals on foot has taught me that knowledge, experience and confidence can reduce fear when dealing with animals and the best way of not having them pick it up is to not be afraid. It is easy to start using my rifle as a safety blanket (that doesn't sound right!) but the best is to avoid encounters which could cause fear in the animals or ourselves. But should it happen then the fear has to be controlled.

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Would less than lethal rounds have any affect on an elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes. They would enrage the animal. There are much better ways to deter elephants which I will explain further on.

This is what you have coming at you if you piss him off!

I was just recently looking into a story about three people who were killed fairly recently in Kazungula in Zambia (Elephant kills 3 people in Kazungula) and subsequently discovered that it had been shot with bird-shot from a shot-gun the night before.

This sort of scenario is quite common with elephants. In a misguided attempt to deter them from crops people end up making them dangerous and this often ends in tragedy.

There are better ways to deter them such as hot pepper plants for example. Have a look at Elephant Pepper They can be planted or the pepper mixed with old engine oil and smeared on twine which is then strung around areas that need to be protected.

Elephants hate these!

Electric fences are popular but elephants often quickly learn how to break them without being shocked.

Chillies can also be mixed with green vegetation or dung and burnt. The smoke is a deterrent to elephants.

Burning a mixture of elephant dung and chillies.

Elephants don’t like noise so banging pots helps. However, this should be done from a good distance and preferably indoors as from close by it can cause the elephants to charge. Shots fired can also work but of course one should never fire a shot into the air (what goes up must come down) so blank cartridges are best.

Bright and flashing lights are also useful but again not from anywhere near the elephant/s as these can also cause them to attack.

All in all, chillies and other such “passive” deterrents are the safest methods for all concerned.

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How is it possible that the animals ran to the hills hours before the Tsunami hit?

Answer by Rory Young:

There are numerous such stories from all over the world and throughout history about animals warning of impending natural cataclysm. The Roman writer  Claudius Aelianus  wrote that for five days prior to the destruction of the Greek city of Helike by earthquake and tsunami "all the mice and martens and snakes and centipedes and beetles and every other creature of that kind in the city left in a body" and on the night prior to the earthquake none were left.

Which heightened senses in animals could account for these stories and what could they be detecting?

Sight and smell can only detect certain dangers that are close by. Hearing is a different story however.

There are two types of hearing. The first is acoustic hearing.

Beyond our range of hearing there is ultrasound, which is above our range of hearing and there is infrasound which is below our range of hearing.

Canids are well known for their ability to hear ultrasound and to be able to hear much softer sounds than us.Bats use it for radar navigation Some apes too have this ability.

The Bat eared fox uses its incredible hearing to detect its termite prey.

Guerrilla fighters from ZANLA based in Mozambique during the Rhodesian Bush War used baboons as air raid warnings. Once it had survived one attack by the Rhodesian Airforce, a baboon would be able to tell well in advance that a group of planes was on its way.

Chacma baboon

I have been unable to find out if any of this animals in the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami had previously experienced earthquakes or tremors. However, there is the possibility that the reaction could have evolved as an innate instinct.

Infrasound travels further. Elephants routinely communicate at 12 km from each other. Snakes detect infrasound through their bellies.

The other type of hearing used by some animals is seismic hearing.

Seismic hearing involves listening to vibrations through the substrate. This can be the ground itself or simply a leaf. Seismic communication is widespread in the animal kingdom and its users include moles, many species of rodents, skunks,  deer, elephant shrews, marsupials, rabbits and elephants.

Elephants use seismic communication.

The use of seismic hearing in animals ranges from elephants hearing a heard charging in panick from up to 32 kms away to a beetle tapping the ground to attract a mate.

There is no need to go into the details of what reasons animals might use seismic communication for. What is important in relation to the question is that these animals can pick up seismic sound incredibly well.

What is completely unknown and unstudied however is what exactly they are detecting.

When an earthquake occurs 'the "p" (primary) waves travel through the earth's crust about twice as fast as the "s" (secondary) waves, so they arrive first. The greater the distance, the greater the delay between them. For an earthquake strong enough to be felt over several hundred kilometers (approximately M > 5) this can amount to some tens of seconds difference. The P waves are also weaker, and often unnoticed by people. Thus the signs of alarm reported in the animals at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., some five to ten seconds prior to the shaking from the M 5.8 2011 Virginia earthquake, was undoubtedly prompted by the p-waves. This was not so much a prediction as a warning of shaking from an earthquake that has already happened.*

Seismic waves in the Earth

So this could account for reactions shortly prior to earthquakes and especially for tsunamis caused by earthquakes that have occurred very far away. It cannot
however account for the records of animals reacting hours or even days before.

There is the possibility that they react to changes in seismic or other activity prior to the earthquake happening. This could very likely be possible if they have previously been exposed to an earthquake and this is why.

There is something as I use routinely in my work. An American tracker named Tom Brown Jnr. coined a term for it; "The Baseline Symphony".

When I have been away from the bush for a while I will, on returning, first spend anything from hours to days walking on my own. By doing so I "tune in" to this "baseline symphony".

The best way of explaining it is that it is all normal sounds, pressures, temperatures, light and other activity that is routine all combining to create a feeling of harmony.

If I am walking along and suddenly notice a change to this baseline symphony I stop and really pay attention as it means something is afoot. It can be the approach of a predator which has led to a change in bird calls or it can be a change in wind direction meaning a change in weather or a myriad of other things. Sometimes there is a really dramatic change to the baseline symphony where several dramatic changes occur at once. My strongest memory of this was when firearms have been used by poachers nearby to where I have been but to far to hear directly.

I believe all animals, especially wild animals use this "sixth sense" routinely. It is not a "stand alone" sense but sort of a "right-brain" usage combination of all the other senses to produce a "gut feeling".

In the case of an imminent earthquake is it not possible that prior to its occurrence there is a dramatic change to the baseline symphony? Perhaps a combination of seismic sound, sound from the ocean and air, air pressure?

There is no evidence for this little theory. I would not be surprised though to find that despite not knowing how animals can detect an imminent earthquake, that practical people don't start using animals for earthquake warning  like the ZANLA guerrillas used baboons for air-raid warning..


Earthquake prediction… )

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When did you know you had to do something about it?

Answer by Rory Young:

It was attitude. These people were not taking my safety instructions seriously.

Canoeing safaris are potentially extremely dangerous. The only thing that makes them safe is the guide knowing what he is doing and the clients following his instructions to the T.

Hippos have to be avoided carefully whilst choosing the right route round them. There are a whole bunch of things that will upset them, like going through the deep channel when they are in the shallows or getting between them and the low bank or "exit-chutes". Surprising them is also a really bad idea. Getting these things wrong will get your canoe bitten in half if you are lucky and get you bitten in half if you're not..

There are crocodiles up to fourteen foot long and lots of them. Just trailing your hand in the water can mean losing it or losing your life.

Then of course there are all the land animals, including Cape buffaloes, lions, elephants, leopards, hyaenas, mambas and so on and so on.

We were mid-way through the first day and these people had signaled to me that they needed to stop. When we had pulled into the bank to of the middle aged housewife-type ladies had requested to go to "the bathroom".

I had been continuously signalling them all morning to get behind me because they kept wandering across the river. Clearly they did not understand the extreme danger, despite the hour long safety talk.

I pulled my rifle out of its jacket and climbed out of the canoe onto the river bank. I told everyone not to move and then walked the immediate vicinity, checking for scaries.

Once I was sure it was all safe I explained that they must go behind THAT termite mound and NOWHERE ELSE! I explained it was dangerous, there were all sorts of things that could kill them and so on and so forth. I could see it going in one ear and out the other. I was starting to get irritated.

I offered them "Doug" the spade, a toilet roll  and a box of matches. The idea was to burn the paper carefully before burying the ashes and whatever else had been created. They declined. Okay, not a safety issue,just gross for a woman I thought. Still I was there to keep them alive not to admire their personal hygiene.

As I hopped back into my canoe, they toddled off in the opposite direction to the agreed upon termite mound. Now I was pissed. There was a tiny bush very nearby the way they were heading. Couldn't be that, it was too close. They must be heading for the distant bushes that hadn't been checked.

Now I had had enough. Now I knew I really had to do something about it before someone got killed.

I jumped out of the canoe and started towards them as they reached the small bush. They stopped in front of it.

Then something happened that shook me to my core..

Both standing, they put their left hands on their hips and their right hands in front of them and started peeing. Yes. Standing. Just like blokes.

Now I am not a prude at all but this was just bloody weird. It was too confusing. They looked just like the middle-aged, plump American housewives I had been sure they were.

I turned back to my canoe and looked at their "husbands". Both gazed back at me with poker faces.

I sat waiting for them to finish their pee and thought about some of the strange people that I had encountered.

There were the Danish naturists. No one had warned me that they were naturists or Danish. I had turned around in the middle of the first day to discover a flotilla of nudists following me down the river with big smiles on their faces. Lunch on the first day had been an education in eye control.

There had been the Greek chap too with a phobia for germs and insects who had covered himself from head to toe in bright purple gentian violet.

Before I could reminisce any further about all the odd-balls I seemed to end up with, the "ladies" came back.

Before I could say anything they both swished their right hands in the river.

I was just about to let them have it when one said, "oh sorry we're not supposed to put our hands in the water". She really did sound like a woman. And then, "we just deeded to wash our Fuds".

"Pardon?", I said, "what is a Fud?".

Blasted, weirdo foreigners. Now they were really confusing the hell out of me.

"Oh here, look", she said and handed me an oblong shaped cup with a pipe sticking out the bottom of it. "It's my Female Urinary Device. FUD".

Then, "May the FUD be with you", she said and I fell over laughing.

Needless to say the rest of the trip was laugh-a-minute with this lot. Definitely one of the most enjoyable canoeing safaris I did. Long live strange middle-aged Americans"!

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If a tiger fought a lion, which animal would win?

Answer By Rory Young

I am going to specifically answer this in terms of one male tiger going up against one male lion.

Although female lions hunt as prides, male lions spend most of their lives alone. They are forced out of the pride when they reach around two years.

If they manage to take over a pride of their own they will usually only manage to keep it for a couple of years. During the time they have a pride they will spend most of their time fighting off potential usurpers.

When they do not have a pride they frequently fight with other solitary males that they bump into and of course pride males in their attempts to take control of a pride.

So, a male lion spends his life fighting. In fact they spend so much time fighting and not eating properly and stressed out that they only live to about ten years old while females usually live to about fifteen.

The reason a male lion has a mane is for defense in fighting. They fight like wrestlers, facing off, gripping each other and trying to overpower each other. I have watched them fighting many times and have come across two dead males over the years. Both had been bitten through the spine. From what I have read, this is pretty much the norm.

So, the mane is a pretty effective defense in a cat-fight. To get round it requires some serious dominance in the fight as it means out wrestling the opponent to the point of being able to bite them through the spine. Tigers do not have this defense.

Photo: Examples of extraordinary battles in nature

Tigers are solitary animals and although heavier than lions, they are shorter than lions at the shoulder. The weight difference is about 15% which is significant but not enough I believe to mean an overwhelming advantage for tiger, especially since they have a height disadvantage.

In terms of behaviour, male tigers usually solve their disputes via display and intimidation, preferring to avoid each other. Now in terms of fighting, this lack of experience when going up against a pro IS an overwhelming disadvantage.

This is like putting a heavy inexperienced amateur fighter in ring with a taller, leaner professional with a mean history of fights under his belt.

A no-brainer. The lion wins hands down. Size really isn’t everything..

EDIT: Yes, I agree a tiger in a zoo will kill a lion. The whole point I have been making here is that a male lion would probably win against a male tiger because a male lion has a lifetime experience of fighting other male lions. Male tigers do not usually fight except occasionally over a female in oestrus. A lion that had grown up in a zoo would obviously not have gained the experience!


How smart are elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

“The animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind”, said Aristotle.

Mature Female African Elephant

Since Aristotle and long before, people who have been privileged to spend time observing and interacting with elephants have expressed similar sentiments.

They have been trained for thousands of years to do everything from play soccer to destroy the enemy on the battlefield. They were the tanks of the ancient world and the front end loaders and the tractors.. Their size and strength are of course second to none.

There are many tales and legends told about elephants both long ago and today in many different languages and among very different cultures. What is so telling about these stories is that they don’t usually go on about their incredible size and strength because that is obvious. What they all eagerly tell is of the great intelligence, formidable memories and complex nature of these gentle giants.

Now I have to be honest and say that when people ask me how clever a particular animal such as a lion for example is I usually say, “a lion is a genius at being an lion”. What I am trying to say by this is that every animal has evolved to perfectly fit its niche and may be very dumb and doing what doesn’t benefit it and very clever at doing what does.

However, when someone asks me about Elephants, I get very excited and my little story about all animals being geniuses goes out the window. I immediately start comparing them to us. Here is why.

Like us elephants are self-awareThis has been proven scientifically through a number of recent studies. In one study an elephant called Happy would touch a white cross painted on her forehead, a test used to test self-awareness in children. She could only see it in the mirror:…

Elephants practice altruism. There is a now famous story of an Indian elephant called Chadrasekhan who was working lifting poles off a truck as it moved along and placing them in holes dug in the ground. When Chandrasekhan came to one hole he refused to put the log in. Eventually the Mahout checked and discovered a dog sleeping in it. Only when the dog was gone would Chandrasekhan put the pole in. This sort of behaviour is typical of elephants.

Elephants really do have long memories. Elephants eat an incredible variety of foods and need to cover large distances to  get it. They need to know where to go at what time of year. They learn this and remember it. They also have complex communication and societies and so need to remember all the different individuals’ voices and smells so as to be socially adept. The result is they have incredibly good memories.

This is also shown in the size and development of their brains which are proportionally 0.08 percent of their body-weight while that of a horse is 0.02 percent of its body weight. This was all figured out be a scientist called Herbert Haug. He also discovered that the brains of elephant and humans are both highly convoluted, which increases the surface area of the brain.

I once had a love hate relationship with an elephant at Fothergill Island in about 1991. Every day I would drive out the front gate and a bull elephant we called Left Hook (he had extra curve to his left tusk) would charge my vehicle. And every day I would rev my engine and bang the door and tell him to sod off and then we would go our separate ways. Every single day this happened without fail. If other vehicles came and went he would ignore them and then go for mine.

One day I went out in a different vehicle, stopped nearby and watched for a while. The wind changed, he caught my scent and of course we went through the whole noisy rigmarole again before I was allowed to leave with my by now completely traumatized tourists.

More recently it has been found that spindle neurons play an important role in the development of intelligent behaviour. Spindle neurons are found in the brains of humans, great apes, dolphins and elephants.

There are many other behaviours exhibited by elephants such as grieving (see my answer to What non-human animals grieve?), playing, mimicking  producing art and using tools, all of which serve to show their flexible and powerful minds.

Elephant painting in thailand.

However, what I found most amazing is their problem-solving ability. To illustrate this, and because I risk happily waffling on forever, I will leave you with one last story:

Working Asian elephants sometimes wear wooden bells. The young elephants will deliberately stuff them with clay so that they can sneak into banana groves without being heard in order to steal as much as possible!

A wild bull elephant “playing” with legendary Zimbabwean game ranger Willie De Beer. The bull could kill him in an instant if it wanted to..

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What if there were no distractions in life, such as TV or movies?

Answer by Rory Young:

I've spent many years in the bush doing walking and canoeing safaris or forest surveys, anti-poaching patrols or problem animal control. I slept variously under the stars, in tents, in huts in African villages and sometimes in the sumptuous rooms of luxury safari lodges. 

The one thing that I never saw was a television or movie. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate them or am against them in the slightest. In fact I am more drawn to them than most people because I am not as used to them.

However, it is wrong to think that there is no equivalent out in the bush our that our ancient ancestors were somehow deprived.

Quite the contrary. They had the best TV available. I call it "bushman television". Most people call it fire.

You sit yourself down in front of it and stare at it, possibly with your mouth open, for hours and hours. It is very addictive.

"Bushman television" is just as good as modern television. In fact it is better in many ways. Bushman TV is specially adapted and tuned in to you personally. You travel to different worlds you never knew existed inside your own head and the plots are forever developing without any forcing by some hurried writer.

Lastly, the special effects simply cannot be compared with by any modern technology..

Aside from "bushman TV" people who live without modern entertainment enjoy a much more social means of entertainment. It's called singing and dancing.

Everyone in an African village joins in. It is the most natural and relaxing thing a human being can do. Some dance, some sing, some beat drums and some tell stories. Some old people just sit and watch and clap along.

Maybe we should be watching some of this on "TV"..

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How many teeth does a hippo have?

Answer by Rory Young:

Common Hippopotamus:
Young hippos have thirty two milk teeth including three incisors, one canine, four premolars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

Hippo skull

Adult hippos have thirty six teeth including two incisors, one canine, three premolars and three molars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

However! Adult hippos can retain some of their milk teeth for some years after developing their adult teeth meaning some hippos can have as many as fourty teeth for a few years.

The largest teeth are commonly referred to as tusks. These are the canines.

The front incisors are commonly referred to as fighting tusks as they are primarily responsible for inflicting wounds during fights.

Male Hippos Fighting

I have found a number of dead males killed during fighting over the years. In every case the dead animal had been bitten through the spine. Interestingly this is also the way male lions tend to kill each other when fighting (The mane protests male lion’s necks).

The Pygmy Hippopotamus
Young  Pygmy hippos  have the same configuration of milk teeth as common hippos, consisting of 32 teeth.
There are 3 incisors, 1 canine and 4 premolars in each half jaw. Canines of an adult pygmy are huge and can cause serious injurie

Adult pygmy hippos only have 34 teeth, so 2 less than in the common hippo.
These are  2 incisors, 1 canine,3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of upper jaw, 1 incisor, 1 canine, 3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of lower jaw on both sides.…

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What experience have you had/watched with wild animals that has touched you?

Answer by Rory Young:

Stumpy and Patches were two elephants that used to hang around camp on an almost full time basis. It was as though they knew they were safer from poachers there.

Both were large bulls in their prime. Patches got his name from pale discolourations on his skin. He was unusually tall for the area, with a perfect set of evenly matched tusks. Stumpy was named from his stocky build and short thick tusks.

Patches was a menace. He would insist on staying close to man yet would charge anyone at the slightest scent or sound of someone passing nearby.

Had these charges been mild mock charges it wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. Instead though, he would fly into a screaming and trumpeting rage every time and charge like a runaway train. Scouts and workers became adept at sprinting for the cover of buildings and on a couple of occasions were forced to jump into the crocodile infested Zambezi. Fortunately no one was trampled, gored or eaten by crocodiles.

Stumpy on the other hand was a much more laid back chap. He enjoyed his food just like any other elephant and more. We spent large amounts of time trying to keep him out of the vegetable garden. In the end the only thing that worked was posting a game scout on permanent duty to fire a shot in the air if he came to close. If the game scout wen away for a minute then Stumpy would be in the veges in second. Unfortunately he knocked down the kitchen trying to get at marula fruits that had fallen through the windows, but that was just clumsiness not malicious at all..

Patches and Stumpy were best friends. They were nearly always together. It did make it easier to notice when they were around because between them they made quite a racket breaking branches and knocking over trees.. and Kitchens of course..

Stumpy was wonderful. I used to sit for whenever I had a chance just watching him and talking in a low, soft voice. Eventually  I could walk right by him or stop and watch him for a while.

One day he approached me, waggled his head and then stretched it down and forwards towards me with his trunk wrapped over his tusk. I was dumbstruck.  Elephants do this to other elephants to invite them to play. He wanted to play!

I couldn’t exactly go and wrestle with him, so I made some noise and threw some dust in a mock display and he happily joined in. Thereafter, when I saw him he would waggle his head in invitation and kick or throw dust or sticks at me and I would do the same.

The most amazing thing happened when I had a bad dose of malaria (we used to get it regularly in those days) and was asleep on a mat in the shade of a large tree in the middle of the camp. It was an ideal spot as the breeze off the river and the shade of the enormous tree combined to bring the oven-like temperature down a notch at least.

No one had noticed Stumpy had wandered in to feed on the same tree. When they did it was too late. Unbeknownst to me he was feeding whilst standing over me. He had literally walked carefully over me and then stood happily reaching up to pluck leaves while I snored away under his belly.

There was a bit of a panic. No one could do anything as they were afraid to scare him in case he stood on me. So they waited and eventually he finished his sampling, put his trunk down, sniffed my face all over and then stepped his back feet over me and wandered off. I was still none the wiser.

My relationship with Patches was a whole different story.

We did not get on at all. He would wait outside my hut and charge as soon as I came to the door. There was nothing friendly or fun about it.These were extremely aggressive and close to full charges.

We had some really close calls. He almost squashed a Singaporean visitor who decided not to wait for the obligatory  escort and decided to stroll from his hut to the dining area. Patches missed him by inches. Fortunately this fellow turned into a really good sprinter at really short notice and made it into a building just in time. There were many close calls with the workers and there were more and more calls to have him put down.

Eventually Patches almost got me.

I was at a different camp a couple of kilometers downstream collecting supplies. walked out of the warehouse and didn’t notice Patches standing quietly nearby. Once I did it was too late.

He had been next to the building and then walked in between the building and me before charging. I couldn’t run back into the building and it was too far to the river. I was stuck and he was coming at me like a giant cannon ball.

Something clicked in my head and I let him have it. I screamed the most foul abusive stream of the most vile and filthy language at him and told him exactly what I thought of him. At the same time I walked towards him.

I have stood down many, many mock charges from elephants and have learned in detail the art of interacting with them. However, this was different, it was what anyone would only describe as a full charge. His ears were back, his head was down, his trunk was curled and i was unarmed.

I usually always had a side arm for emergencies and when out in the bush always carried a rifle. However, right now I had nothing. I actually had no choice really so I just had to call his bluff and otherwise hope I would go quickly.

He stopped about ten meters away from me just as the last, most disgusting insult came out of my mouth. Then he raised his head, shook it, spraying me with snot and then walked away slowly at an angle keeping one eye on me.

I walked back to the warehouse. My friend and colleague Rolf Niemeijer was standing there with a bunch of workers.

“Young”, he said, “you are completely and utterly insane” and then turned and walked away. Right then found it difficult to argue with that. At least there was method in my madness I suppose. Anyway, it worked.

Not too long after I returned from time off to be told by Lew Games, my boss, that I needed to shoot an elephant.

“What’s the story?”, I asked.

“A bull has a cable-snare round his leg. Probably meant for kudu, but it went bad. ZAWA called in a vet but it took three days for them to get him here. It was already too far gone then, now the poor bugger is on his last legs and in agony.The vet just confirmed he needs to be put down asap. ZAWA asked if you could do it.”

I didn’t have much time to think about which bull it might be and never considered for a moment that it might be Patches. There were hundreds of elephants around and it was unlikely to be those chaps as they were always close to camp not areas where the poachers tended to place snares.

I set of with a couple of scouts from ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) and a colleague called Peter Caborn who had asked if he could tag along.

It was no great hunting expedition. The poor old fellow was only a kilometer from the camp. When elephants injure a foot they can’t go anywhere and quickly starve as they cannot get the variety of nutrients they need in such a confined area.

His foot was swollen literally to the shape of a football. He was emaciated and clearly on his last legs, poison coursing through him. It was stumpy.

Patches was standing quietly nearby.

I put all thoughts and emotions out of my mind. The kindest thing I could do for him was to take away his pain as quickly as possible.

I shot stumpy through the brain.

Patches continued to stick around but although he continued to be aggressive to everybody else he never charged me again. I would often see him from a distance standing at the spot where I shot Stumpy. Elephants do visit the remains of dead elephants. They are also believed to be self-aware like we are.

I never went back to that place until recently, so about seventeen years later. It felt like it was yesterday and I can still remember clear as day those bulls.

I didn’t ask anyone if there was an elephant with whitish patches on his body and a really bad attitude. I didn’t want to know if something bad had happened to him. I like to imagine that Patches is still charging around causing havoc and from time to time visits the remains of his old friend Stumpy.

Among lions, which is responsible for hunting, the female or the male?

Answer by Rory Young:

In the pride it is the females that mostly hunt. More specifically the killers hunt. These are females who have for one reason or another become adept at hunting. Often because at some stage they were not getting enough food, started hunting themselves and developed the skill.

Lions taking down cap _buffalo.

These killers will take the lead in the hunt and the other females will follow their lead.  Interestingly they are not necessarily the most dominant among the females of the pride.

Lioness Hunting

All males on the other hand are perfectly capable of hunting and if they are happen to bump into an opportunity they certainly don’t ignore it. However, when in the pride they spend their time protecting the pride and their territory from would be usurpers and other threats.

The reason that all male lions can hunt is because they are usually chased out of the pride at 18 months to 2 years old. Thereafter they are forced to feed themselves. These nomadic males become very accomplished hunters. Sometimes they will team up with another male for companionship and to increase the chances of both hunting success. The bond also allows them more chance of usurping a pride for themselves.

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What is the best time of year to visit Kruger National Park in South Africa?

Answer by Rory Young:

Southern Africa has three main seasons.

The cool/dry season is from May to August. Because it is dry the game is easier to see as the vegetation is less dense and the game begins to congregate around water points to drink as puddles and other seasonal water sources begin to dry up. At the height of this season it can get very cold! I once drove down to Kruger and passed through snow on the Drakensberg.

The hot/dry season is September to November. The best time to see large game as the available water is by now very limited and animals are forced to concentrate around water-holes and dams. The bush is also very sparse and therefore animals are easier to spot.

The hot/wet season is from November to April. This is by far the most interesting point to see the ecosystem. With the first rains in October/November the impala and other species drop their young and then the bush steadily becomes more and more alive. A myriad of insects, reptiles and amphibians appear. Many migrant birds appear. It is however much harder work to find and spot bigger game and large numbers of animals because they are spread out through the bush as the water is everywhere. It is also difficult to spot game because the vegetation is very thick.

If you are interested in all species, incuding birds, insects and so on and are not that fussed about not seeing many "glamour" species then I would recommend the hot/wet season.

If someone is only keen to see larger and more exciting animals then I would not recommend the hot/wet season

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Have you ever been a witness to or encountered racism?

Answer by Rory Young:

Here is my first experience of racism.

When I was five years old my parents divorced. My mother took me and my much older siblings to the UK and then six months later to white minority ruled Rhodesia, which would become Zimbabwe after achieving majority rule in 1980.

In Zambia I had lived wild and free on the farm running around barefoot and playing with the local black kids. Because my siblings were older and also went to boarding school overseas I hardly ever saw a white kid. When I did get to play with "muzungu" children I found them alien. I loved the workers who looked after me and always joked and made time to chat if I came by.

My parents were not racist and I never experienced any racism and had no idea that it existed or what it was.

In Rhodesia my mother remarried. My new step-father was an officer in the Rhodesian Army. I lived in Salisbury (Harare) and also at Nkomo Barracks, a base about thirty kilometers out of town.

The war between Rhodesia's minority rule government and the black nationalist guerrilla fighter was raging. I was seven by now and had no clue what it was all about, just that people fought and died. My mother was a nurse and when we heard choppers flying in to land at the nearby hospital my knew my mother would come home late or not at all and when she did she would often sit in the garden by herself. Of course I never understood at the time why she was so quiet.
For me it was mostly very exciting because I got to play at the barracks and, really cool for a seven year old, went to school in an army vehicle. Sometimes an armoured truck called a crocodile pictured below and at other times a big green bus.

We always had an escort. Sometimes, when the war situation was worse our transport was part of a military convoy and at other times it was just a soldier in the bus. All the kids were the white children of officers and nco's.

Whatever the situation, there was always one soldier who was there to protect us. He and the driver were black. It was always the same man but at times there were others who joined him. They all looked something like this:

His name was Corporal Moyo. He always sat by the door with his FN assault rifle and I always sat with him. He would let me load and unload one of his magazines or fiddle with some other piece of equipment and we would chat, or he would tell me stories about the bush.

The other children did not talk to him and because I sat with him I was ignored too. That was fine with me. As far as I was concerned I had the coolest seat on the bus. Our protector was my friend.

One day there was shouting from the back of the bus where the bigger kids sat. "Kaffirs! Kaffirs!".

I had no idea what that meant or what was going on so I jumped up and moved back up the isle. The kids were throwing things out the windows. I was confused so I asked "what are kaffirs"?

Everyone laughed at me and told me to shut up. Then, "that's a kaffir" one of them said and pointed at Corporal Moyo and they laughed. Corparal Moyo sat facing forward and didn't respond.

A second later someone shouted "more kaffirs" and as we drove past a black woman they pelted her with banana peels and other rubbish through the windows.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked.

"Shut up you little Kaffir Lover" came the reply, "go and sit with your Kaffir friend".

Bewildered, I went back to Corporal Moyo. I sat down. "Why are they doing that?" I asked.

He said nothing but turned to look at me. He had a look of the utmost sadness
and disappointment on his face. I said nothing more and we carried on with the journey in silence while every time we passed in black people on the road the boys in the back, and some of the girls, would pelt them with anything they could find.

They next day Corporal Moyo was not on the bus. I was scared something was wrong and asked his replacement, "where is Corporal Moyo"?

"DB", he answered. DB was "Detention Barracks"; army jail.

"Why?", I asked.

"He got drunk yesterday and hit an officer. He's going to be court-martialled".

I never saw Corporal Moyo again. I never forgot him either.

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Who are some well known African economists?

Answer by Rory Young:

I think the most well known and fascinating African economist (yes I am definitely biased too because she is a fellow Zambian) is Dambisa Moyo.

She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Dead_Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa (2009) and How The West Was Lost. Her new book is  Winner Take All.

She holds a Doctorate (D.Phil.) in Economics from St Anthony’s College, Oxford.

She earned a Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government

She also earned an M.B.A. in Finance and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Chemistry from American University in Washington D.C.

In 2009, Moyo was honoured by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders.

In 2009 TIME Magazine named Moyo as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

In September 2009 Moyo was featured in Oprah Winfrey‘s power list of 20 remarkable visionaries.

She is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times as well as numerous other publications.

She has appeared as a guest on numerous networks including CNN.

She is also well known to be a very kind, decent and generous person.

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Which animal will best represent your personality and why?

Answer by Rory Young:

Photo:Benny Van Zyl

The Honey Badger

That’s the cheeky one on the left confusing the lion with his willingness to take him on.

For some reason I have always admired, loved and identified with them. I don’t know how much I resemble a honey badger but I like to think I do and I certainly admire and strive for many of their qualities.

The go about their business with determination and don’t look for trouble. If you leave them alone they will leave you alone.

They are not the biggest or the strongest but they can take more punishment than any other animal by far.

They are much smarter than generally realized and are especially adaptable and resourceful. They are even known to use tools. Throw a curve ball at them and they will growl and grouch and then just get on with doing what has to be done. They NEVER give up.

They are much more gregarious than people imagine too but when they want to be left alone though just leave them be. They are caring and loving parents and will fight to the death to protect their young.

Most importantly they make me laugh. Maybe because I see something of myself in them maybe not but they always seem to defy and then beat the odds. I hope by the time I have lived all there is to live that I will have been a Honey Badger.

P.S. Thanks for the A2A.

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Why is it safe to go on safari in an open vehicle?

Answer by Rory Young:

It is not necessarily safe in the slightest! It depends entirely on your guide!

Elephants can pulverise a vehicle whether it is a sedan or a specially adapted safari 4×4. This is the recent result of an elephant’s annoyance in Kruger National Park in South Africa:

Lions will leave you alone if you remain seated. However, if the guide doesn’t tell his clients or if they don’t follow safety instructions and stand up then they are no longer “a part” of the big-noisy-monster-thing and can be seen as individuals. They can go for you. Kids are a huge problem.

Here’s a little secret, I can call lions out of the bush. How do I do it? I use make a noise like a baby crying! Kid’s voices + lions = immediate interest, vehicle or no vehicle.

One of George Adamson’s lions from “Born Free” went in through the vehicle window of w a Park Warden and tried to get his baby. (The same lion later killed the gardener but that is another story).

I know of one incident of a leopard going over the bonnet of an open landrover and having a go at the driver. That though was an extreme situation and an exception to the rule.

Regarding guides and what makes a good one, here is an excellent article by Dick Pitman, a conservationist I am honoured to have known for many years: HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING?

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How would you describe the mood of this young elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

This is typical “Monitoring behaviour” during a situation.
Her head is down. Her ears are forward and raised. The tip of her trunk is curled and she is resting one of her back feet.

Please see ElephantVoices Gestures Database – Attentive – Listening – Monitoring

They explain it perfectly:
“An individual who is monitoring an event, situation or interaction or contemplating a sound, smell or object exhibits a constellation of displays including: Listening, Eye-Opening or Eye-Blinking, and J-Sniffing. The very tip of the trunk is usually curled under and around to face the object of interest. He or she may consider by looking at, listening to or sniffing, the object or subject of interest. Elephants often Monitor or contemplate an experience already ended almost as if reliving the sensations. Monitoring may be observed when an elephant contemplates its own interactions, during Object-Play, the actions of elephants nearby, human conversation or considering the bones of an elephant, for example”.

P.S. If I was on foot and she was doing this I would be talking to her in a soft, low, calm voice which they often react very positively to.

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What did you see as a child that affected you for the rest of your life?

Answer by Rory Young:

When I was eleven years old I saw something that changed me forever. I have never spoken about it since just after it happened and then only to my family. I think it is about time I did.

I was in Blantyre in Malawi where we lived. My mother and step-father were in a restaurant. I had finished eating and had been allowed to go for a walk while they relaxed and chatted over their meal.

As I was walking across a small park a man appeared. He was tall and thin and his clothes were torn. He was carrying something in his hand and he was sprinting towards me.

Behind him was a group of men. They were shouting and trying to catch him. Further back was a larger group, mostly men but also women and children.

As they came close they caught up to him and knocked him down. I realized his clothes had been torn by the crowd and I knew exactly what was going on.

I had seen thieves chased and caught at a distance before. Someone would  shout “kabulala” (crook) and everyone would run after and try to catch the accused person. I had also already seen things a child should not see. What was about to happen though was far worse than anything I had seen or any child or adult should see.

The mob began to beat him viciously. They were not trying to drag him off to the police. They were kicking him beating him with sticks. Then some began jumping onto him with all their weight and strength. I could hear the sounds of the impacts.

The man was crying and screaming and begging for mercy. I could clearly see the terror in his face. There was pink blood frothing out of his mouth. I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t move or look away. I was frozen in place. Many of the people were laughing. No one was trying to stop it.

A couple of men picked up a large rock and carried it through the crowd. They dropped it on his head. He went quiet but his eyes and mouth were wide open but there was no scream. Then they picked it up again and brought it down on his head with full force.

Immediately afterwards the crowd dispersed and I was still in the same spot looking at the scene. I can still picture it in crystal clear detail, including the item on the floor that the man had been carrying. It was a crushed packet of biscuits.

My step-father found me sitting on the ground shaking and hyperventilating.I don’t recall that or how long I was there. I do know that he carried me away before the police came.

He was a former professional soldier in the Rhodesian Army and his “cure” was to tell me I had to be a man and now I knew what life was all about. I suppose that was harsh but true. Either way I never looked at the world the same way again.

I still see the laughing faces and I can still see his face. For a long time I would see the faces of that crowd reflected in the those of people I met. I would be become immediately cold towards them regardless of who they were or what the consequences. This later developed into a greater problem but that is another story.

Something that has haunted me ever since is that I had in my pocket, as an eleven year old, enough money to have bought five packets of those biscuits.

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What are the most poisonous snakes in the world?

Answer by Rory Young:

None! Technically snake venom is not a poison, it is a venom. Poisons can be absorbed through the skin or digestive tract whilst venoms have to be injected into the tissue or bloodstream. This is why snake can be drunk which actually happens in parts Asia as it is believed to carry many health benefits.

In terms of toxicity there is as yet no definitive answer as the testing systems vary so greatly. There have also been no tests done of all using at least one of these systems. Most importantly though the different venoms may have characteristics that may make them deadly to the mice they are usually tested on and humans; in other words, unbelievably, they may be more toxic to mice than humans.

That being said, it is pretty much accepted that the most toxic venom is that of the sea snakes. In studies done in Costa Rica the pelagic sea snake was found to be more than twice as venomous as any land snake. However, it is rare to receive a fatal bite because almost always only tiny amounts of venom are injected.

In terms of percentage of bites resulting in fatalies, the bites of both the black mamba and coastal taipan are almost 100% fatal. Others probably are too. I knew a herpetologist who was at that time the only person who had survived a full black mamba bite.

I did a course on snake bites with him many years ago in Zimbabwe. He explained that he had been working with a medical professional on a theory. Black Mambas are neurotoxic and kill by paralysing all the muscles in your body. Your first stop breathing and the last muscle to become paralysed is your heart. Their theory was that if you could keep the person’s lungs and heart going artificially until antivenom could work then someone could survive.

Amazingly he was bitten by a mamba, rushed to hospital by his wife and the very doctor he worked with met him their (within ten minutes of the bite) and they put him on a heart lung machine and pumped him full of anti-venom and antihystamine. He lived and had no lasting side-effects.

Sadly he was bitten again by a black mamba a few years later and this time died before he could get help.

Black Mamba

In terms of fatalities India has the most fatalities reported of all countries and I believe the King cobra and Common krait are responsible. I have also read about the poor ladies in Sri Lanka who peak tea without protection to their legs and are frequently bitten and die.

King Cobra

Common Krait

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Who would win in a fight between an Elephant and a Rhino?

Answer by Rory Young:

Assuming they are both adults then the elephant would usually win. However, there are records of a rhino fatally goring an elephant in the belly.

Elephants are known to attack anything that gets in their way when in Musth which was most likely the story behind this picture of a Rhino that was killed by an elephant:

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What has been the most embarrassing moment of your life?

I was once running a wildlife sanctuary and safari operation in the Zambezi Valley. During the wet season the area was inaccessible by road and therefore very few people came to visit.

We spent most of our time at this time of year doing anti-poaching work. Two other camps from which ant-poaching patrols had also been active had been attacked shortly before this time.

Due to the possibility of an attack on our camp I used to sleep in a different empty room or tent every night. I always kept a loaded rifle next to the bed.

One night I awoke to a sound of voices whispering.

I rolled off my mattress and picked up the rifle and torch I had ready and quietly approached the gauze window. I peered out. There was quite a bit of moonlight and I could make out several figures moving along a path towards the main building. They had one small torch.

I had no doubts. There had been no sound of a vehicle or boat. My own team would not risk being shot by walking around the camp at night without giving verbal warning first. I steeled myself for a fight.

I knew the paths of course and as I was barefoot was able to quietly sneak up on them. There were four of the bastards.

A few feet behind them I raised my rifle and switched on the torch, which I held under the barrel, at the same time shouting in the local Goba language, “IWE MIRAI!!”. They froze and two of them screamed.

Two elderly European couples stood in front of me with shock on their faces. They had turned around and were also shining their one torch at me.

I cleared my throat and said, “sorry, I thought your were poachers”.

They said nothing and even more strangely the two women were looking everywhere except at me whilst the chap with the torch was now pointing it behind him.

It slowly dawned on me.. I was stark naked.

There was nothing for it but to behave perfectly naturally so I said, “how can I help you folks”? I casually slung my rifle over my shoulder and put one hand on my hip trying to somehow look normal.

After a long pause one of the men said, “our boat hit a sandbar this afternoon and we have been stuck most of the night on the river”. “Eventually we managed to push it off but we couldn’t get it started and paddled downstream till we saw the light by your jetty”.

I directed them to the dining area, casually excused myself and nonchalantly walked off to get some clothes on. I later fed them and organized rooms for them and the next day got to know them. They were farmers from one of the tobacco growing areas. Everyone was polite enough not to mention my “commando outfit” of the previous evening and I naively thought that was the end of the story..

A couple of months later I was in a completely different country and met a couple who also farmed tobacco. They had never even been to the country where I worked. They asked me what I did and where I was based. I told them.

There was silence and I wondered what I had said wrong. Then the woman said to me, “are you the guy who runs around naked in the bush at night hunting poachers”?


Is it racist for someone to ask “where are you from originally”?

Answer by Rory Young:

I am an African of European decent. I was born in Zambia and am fifth generation African. I suppose I am what is sometimes called an Anglo-African.

Passing through the US immigration one day I handed my Zambian passport to the officer. He took it, looked at it, looked at me then looked hard at the passport again and then clearly confused, asked me, "are your parents missionaries"?

Quite obviously he could not comprehend that white people have been living in Africa for generations.

I  answered, "no". I did not see what my origins have to do with my status as a visitor to the US and felt this was rude on his part, so wan't going to make it easy for him.

He paused then said it; "how can you be from Zambia if you are European"?

"I'm not European, I'm African", I answered.

He looked annoyed, like I was being a smart-Alec. "You're white. How can you be from Africa if you are white?" he said.

"Well, let me put it this way", I said. "Are you an American Indian?"

He stamped my passport and, handed it to me and called out "next"!

As I was walking up to the luggage carousel an African-American man walked up next to me. "I was behind you back there" he said, "man, it's tough being nigger ain't it"?

I laughed till I was hurting.

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What is your go-to story?

Answer by Rory Young:

I guess for the last year my "go-to story" has sort of followed me around as everyone heard about it and wanted to hear it first hand, maybe see if I was psychic or glowing..

Central Africa has the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the world  and I have spent most of my life outdoors in Central and Southern Africa, often caught in storms. If you look at the World Lightning Strikes Map below, I live in the nastiest patch in the middle..

World Lightning Strikes Map

I have had many close or unpleasant experiences. I remember vividly being caught in a lightning storm on top "Turret Towers" , the highest point on Mount Chimanimani  on the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border. The storm came in just as we reached the top. We stripped off our packs, watches and any other metal and squeezed ourselves into crevices. The lightning repeatedly hammered the rocks above us. It was deafening, terrifying and magnificent.

Mount Chimanimani

Many times I have run for cover in the bush and joked with others that they would be number 300 not me (a reference to the daily newspaper lightning death toll).

I have always been careful and not taken any chances.

So imagine my surprise when, in the middle of the night, I got out of bed to close a lounge window and was struck by bloody lightning..

It was raining heavily I was snug as a bug when I suddenly remembered that the lounge window was open. So I went to close it.

The floor was drenched and the wall. I had to open the gauze window inwards and holding it with one hand I reached out and grasped the handle of the other window. The windows and frame, it turned out, were not earthed and neither was the roof. As I held them I was effectively standing holding up a lightning conductor.

There was a flash and it felt like every cell in my body had exploded individually. I flew back across the room.

My wife heard it happen and came running from the bedroom and found me standing shaking with my mouth open and staring fixedly at my arms. I had them stretched out in front of me. This I remember well. I was amazed that they were still there. Just before I lifted them I had been certain they were gone.

I had a stiff scotch and a painkiller and started to feel a bit better. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. After a while I felt incredibly tired so went to bed.

In the morning I felt a bit odd but otherwise fine, so I went for a run. I had planned to do an 18km run with my little club that morning and didn't want to let the side down. So, against my dear wife's objections I went and ran.

The run started out okay but by the end it felt as though my eyes and ears were deceiving me. It was as if what I heard and saw and thought were out of sync. Afterwards I was tired again and went to bed. I slept 14 hours.

I woke up with an excruciating migraine and painful eyes. I was up for a few hours and then went to bed again and slept deeply for another 16 hours. When I woke up my head and eyes were so painful I could hardly move. A Russian doctor friend who had heard about it told me to listen to my lovely wife and get me to a hospital as often the symptoms came later.

At the hospital they did an EKG on my heart and told me it was all over the place. My potassium level was through the roof. There was a scare for a while until I was eventually given the all clear by an excellent cardiologist who told me I was extremely lucky to be alive (don't need to be a cardiologist to figure that bit out). I had a bunch of further tests and continued to suffer a permanent migraine and photosensitivity for months. Eventually the pain subsided and after about nine months my eyes were back to normal.

Other side effects were an inability to talk to people, I battled to handle conversation, it was as though I couldn't differentiate between the different voices and other sounds around me; they all came at once. I slept for 16 hours a day easily. A really strange side-effect was that my blood-sugar went from borderline diabetic to normal and has stayed that way ever since.

It is now just over a year and I am back to normal and getting properly fit again.

I am shit-scared of lightning.

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What should you do when you’re attacked by killer bees?

Answer by Rory Young:

Matan Shelomi‘s answer is damn fine advice! I can’t add to it but perhaps my own experience of being attacked by a swarm of African (killer) bees can illustrate how good that advice is...

In November 1995 I was leading an anti-poaching patrol in the Zambezi Valley on the Zambian side of the river.  I was carrying my .375 H&H and leading as it was a dangerous game area so the immediate threat was bumping into lion, buffalo, elephant or other beasties.

The two scouts were armed with Chinese SKS and following about 15 metres bank and flanking to either sides. We were following a river bed as it was an ideal place to cast for poachers’ tracks as they would have to cross it on their way to cross the Zambezi river into Zimbabwe to kill rhinos. The rains had not yet come, so it was bone dry. The scouts’ job was to cover me against poachers and keep an eye out for dangerous game that I might miss.

We had another chap from South Africa who had been given permission to accompany us as an observer. I told him to just walk quietly behind me and either lie down, run or stay still, depending on the signal I would give him if anything happened.

Before setting out I asked him if he was allergic to anything and he told me that he was highly allergic to bees. I had a very comprehensive first aid kit in my pack but of course I intended to avoid bees.

That day CNN reported that the closest town, Kariba, (higher than and above the valley) was the hottest town on earth. The temperature was reported to be 52C (125.60ºF) but according to later government reports some places in the valley reached 56C (132.80ºF).

As we carefully moved in a loose formation down the dry riverbed we came to a bend. There was a steep walled bank to the left inside curve and lots of large boulders, many the height of a man which I had to climb over and round to make my way forward. All the while I was checking for leopard especially but also snakes and of course hoping to pick up poachers’ tracks in the sand between the rocks.

As we approached the curve I crept slowly to the inside while the two scouts went wide. The South African chap was told to wait round the corner till given the all clear to move forward again. The scouts were about 40 meters back and about 15 meters apart.

I came round the corner and heard a loud humming. I was instantly captivated by the sight that met me. An entire hive of bees was attached to the rock embankment in front of me. Because of the extreme heat they had brought the whole hive out onto the rock face and were buzzing to cool it. It looked like a single living organism and I stood there amazed.

As I stood there in silence, the game scouts started getting nervous, wondering why I was not moving or signalling. To them this meant imminent danger and they assumed I had encountered a leopard or something else at extremely close quarters.

Then the buzz of the hive changed. It became suddenly louder and the bees started flying straight at me.

As they did so I remembered the South African and shouted out his name and that he should run. In just the time it took to do that my head was already becoming covered in bees.

I turned, and remembering what I had been taught, began to run like hell!  I couldn’t go near the South African as I could get him killed. I couldn’t run downstream as I had no idea what was that way and could run straight into dangerous game and furthermore the boulders were too high to get away easily. So my only option was to run towards the scouts, intending to head out of the river bed and into the open where we could keep running whilst at least being able to see what was ahead. I began shouting to them that there were bees and to run away from the river.

By this time the bees were buzzing through my hair (yes, ha ha, I still had lots of thick hair in those days) and over my collar and stinging my scalp, face and neck everywhere. Also my back and arms to a lesser degree.

Then the scouts opened fire.

In their minds I had bumped into a group of poachers or a leopard and was now running and leading whatever it was towards them. They just emptied their magazines in my general direction, hoping to hit whatever the threat was to them but not worried about hitting me.

So now not only did I have a swarm of African bees all over me and stinging the hell of me but I had two fools shooting at me too. I hit the ground till they had finished unintentionally shooting bees out of the air and then resumed my attempt at a 3 minute mile, this time passing between the scouts (who by now were changing magazines) and out into the open.

One of the scouts was about five foot tall and the other about six foot five tall and shortly the tall one went flying past me. The bees were thankfully first diverted to the short one and then slowly left us alone.

We walked round, picked up the South African chap, who hadn’t been stung and began to administer first aid. The two scouts to each other and the South African to me. I also radioed camp for a vehicle to come and pick us up urgently and that I had been badly stung so might need evacuation.

You do not take a bee sting out with your fingers. The sting has the venom sac still attached so if you pinch it between your fingers you are squeezing more poison into you so you scrape them out with a knife.

He gave up counting after scraping 23 stings out of my scalp alone. I was stung all over my face, neck, back and arms and by the time the vehicle reached us I was feeling rough as hell. By the time they got me back to camp I was sick as a dog.

I had already pumped myself with antihistamine and painkillers but it didn’t feel like it made any difference.

I was evacuated to Kariba and after recovering discovered that my knife had been so sharp that when they were scraping stings out of my head, they were also shaving patches of hair, so with all the stings I looked like a madman.

The doctor estimated I had been stung seventy to eighty times. It felt like it.

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Is controlled hunting of endangered species a valid plan?

Answer by Rory Young:

The argument for the limited trade in endangered species products is that the money generated will be put back into the protection and management of the endangered species in question.

The obvious first question is whether or not the money does go into the protection of the endangered species.

There has been some controversy over this. There are many examples of countries claiming they need the money generated for conservation and then are shown to be doing nothing for the animals.

As a rule of thumb, countries who’s revenue from their wildlife areas goes into the central treasury tend not to whilst countries who’s revenues from wildlife related incomes do tend to put the money

It is important to look at the successes and failures of this policy in the past.

One of the biggest successes of allowing trade in an endangered species is the Nile Crocodile.

In the 1960s the Nile Crocodile was facing extinction. A combination of protected status, dedicated breeding sanctuaries and, controversially, sustainable-yield programs were introduced.

The details of these sustainable yield programs are important as there are crucial differences between species. It was believed that crocodile hatchlings had a 1 in 20 charge of surviving or 3% up to two years of age. Therefore a system was established whereby eggs would be collected and incubated and the crocodiles raised to two years of age (optimum food conversion point for slaughtering) at which point 5% would be released into the wild (the extra 2 percentage points meant to increase the population) and the rest harvested.

The whole plan worked extremely well and the populations shot up. This system has continued to this day in many countries. Recently it was discovered that certain populations were too large, such as Lake Kariba and subsequent studies revealed that the initial estimates of 3% of two-year-olds surviving were way out and were actually possibly as low as 0.3%.

It would be nice to imagine such a system could be applied to other species but that unfortunately is just not the case.

Let’s look now at the biggest current failure.

South Africa has continued alone to allow hunting of Rhinos despite the critical threat to their continued existence and for the first time in thirty years an American trophy hunter was recently allowed to import his rhino horn trophy into the US. Yet the rhino population in South Africa has this year started to produce less than are being poached, hunted legally and dying naturally.

Whether or not the legalized hunting/exploitation can help pay for the re-establishment of a species there reaches a point at which universal protect is the only answer.

The White Rhinoceros was reintroduced into Zimbabwe after going extinct there and the Black Rhinoceros was reintroduced to South Africa after being reintroduced there. Initially these new groups were kept in protected sanctuaries until the populations grew to a size where they could be hunted sustainably and then start paying for the protection and reintroduction or other endangered species. They didn’t reintroduce them and then start shooting them!!!

The issue is further complicated by the different situations in different regions. Kenya for example has a relatively small and dwindling population of elephants compared to Zimbabwe. Allowing Zimbabwe to sell ivory stockpiles (as happened in 1998 to Japan) may benefit Zimbabwe’s Parks coffers and therefore the reasoning goes protect the larger population, yet it is disastrous for Kenya’s smaller population. The problem with this reasoning is that it is not just about overall numbers that are important but geographical and genetic diversity. We need Kenya’s small population as much as we need Zimbabwe’s huge one.

I have become more and more convinced by Kenya’s arguments for a ban on all trade in ivory. However, I agree 100% with Zimbabwe’s attitude towards poaching. As long as poachers are armed shoot them and if captures up to seven years imprisonment (more for rhino horn). Kenya on the other hand fines them a couple of hundred dollars

So, no hunting of animals as endangered as Rhinos and go to town on the poachers; and as for the “need for the money” that can be found from other sources..

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Why do zebras have stripes?

Answer by Rory Young:

There are two reasons for Zebras to have evolved stripes.

The first is concealment from and avoidance of predators. Zebras stripes do this in two ways.
Disruptment Camouflage. Normal camouflage works by blending in with or copying the colours and patterns of the surrounds. Obviously the stripes don't copy the surroundings. Disruptment camouflage works by breaking up the outline of something making it harder to distinguish and therefore identify clearly. See:…

Personally I found Zebras one of the more difficult to learn to distinguish at very long distance when I first began to work in the bush. From very far they can even look like lions with the naked eye. It can also be hard to distinguish one from another when they are in a herd and running.

They other way they work to confound predators is by the use of Motion Dazzle. This works by distorting predator's ability to effectively judge the animal's movements and speeds and therefore making it more difficult to catch. See:…

The second reason that Zebras have evolved stripes is to protect themselves from Parasitic Flies, especially the Tsetse Fly. The biting  tsetse fly carries trypanosomes which cause  animal trypanosomiasis.

Although there has been much hype recently studies showing that flies might struggle to see Zebra stripes, it was actually well clearly established by the Zimbabwe Veterinary Department decades ago in the work of a man called Ted Davidson.

This is how they discovered it. They were trying to discover what colours would work best for tsetse fly traps  (see here tsetse) and tried all sorts of things eventually finding out that the best colour to attract them was electric blue whilst the best colour for them to land on was black. They also tried different patterns and colour combinations and found that weren't attracted to and didn't land on Zebra stripes!

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Would an unprovoked wild elephant attack a human?

Answer by Rory Young:

Every animal has a "fight or flight" zone. For example if you approach a rat from a distance it will run away but corner it in a hole and put your finger in there and it will bite you!

Elephants are the same, get too close and they could either give you a "mock charge" (i.e. intimidation zone) or a "full charge" (attack zone). How close this distance is depends on the elephant and the situation.

Females tend to be more aggressive  Females with young will be even more aggressive than females without young and the most aggressive of all are tusk-less females. Tusk-less females are most likely so easily upset because of a feeling of insecurity acquired from not having tusks to defend themselves and therefore compensate for this perceived or real weakness by becoming more aggressive.

Males, although generally more laid back, turn into complete lunatics when in "musth". Here is a quote from Wikipedia on musth:

"Musth or must (pron.: /ˈmʌst/) is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones –testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times."

Basically it is linked to rut and one could write a whole book on the subject. They become completely mad and will go out of their way to charge and attack anyone and anything, including other males, other animals, trees, bushes, people, cars and have even killed their keepers and trainers. Here is a newspaper report about the death of a keeper in Livingstone in Zambia. I knew the man who died:
Elephant Kills Zookeeper in Livingstone

Here is a picture of a bull in musth chasing a giraffe:
File:Two bulls matching testosterone levels..jpg

I have personally come across bulls in musth on many occasions and usually get the hell out of their way as soon as I see the usual combination of seeping temporal gland, wet and extended penis and aggressive posture and gait. On one occasion when in a vehicle I had such a bull go out of his way for over half a kilometer after hearing the vehicle (he wouldn't have been able to see it at that distance) and then chase me for some distance. Once I had accelerated out of range he plowed his tusks into the ground in a display of frustration and anger> The only thing that seems to calm them down is a female in season and such females will often attach themselves to a bull in musth to avoid being harassed by lots of males.

Bulls can also be dangerous even when not in musth. Here is a report, also from Livingstone in Zambia about a man killed by two elephants (both males as indicated by the fact that there were only two and therefore also not in musth as bulls in musth are always on their own or around a herd of females).

Elephant kills Livingstone resident

So, in a nutshell; yes unprovoked elephants can and do attack and kill humans.


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What non-human animals grieve?

Answer by Rory Young:

Elephants mourning (source)

Here is what I have observed and learnt.

When a herd of elephants come across the bones of a dead elephant they will immediately stop feeding and become silent. It is as if they there is a deliberate solemnity in honour of their dead friend.
The quietly move among the bones with all signs of dominance or aggression removed from their body language, in fact clearly submissive in behaviour..

They will carefully smell along the surface of the bones almost but not quite touching them. It is as though they are caressing where the skin once was.Then they will pick up a bone and wander around or just stand holding it as though unsure of how to let go of it. Sometimes they will throw it down and then gently pick it up again, not wanting to be parted from the memory.

When my mother was dying I had to say goodbye to her over a telephone. I desperately wanted to be near her. I took a photo of her and piece of jewellery she had given me the last time I had seen her. When the grief came I would hold it. I see no difference between what I was doing and what the elephants do.

There are further examples throughout nature. One of the saddest things I have seen is a baboon mother with her dead baby. Unable to accept the terrible reality she would try to groom it or just sit holding and staring at it. This went on for days.

Fortunately or unfortunately life is both beautiful and terrible — for us and the animals. I believe they do it for the same reason we do, because it these experiences are almost beyond our ability to handle.

Here is a link to an incredible site… about the gestures and communications of elephants including how they mourn.

Lastly, animals also grieve for their human friends…

Jack Russell "Squeak" lying with the body of his murdered master, Terry Ford.

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What non-human animals grieve? How does it physiologically affect them and why do they do it?

Elephants mourning

Answer by Rory Young:

Here is what I have seen and what I believe.

When a herd of elephants come across the bones of a dead elephant they will immediately stop feeding and become silent. It is as if they there is a deliberate solemnity in honour of their dead friend.

The quietly move among the bones with all signs of dominance or aggression removed from their body language, in fact clearly submissive in behaviour..

They will carefully smell along the surface of the bones almost but not quite touching them. It is as though they are caressing where the skin once was.Then they will pick up a bone and wander around or just stand holding it as though unsure of how to let go of it. Sometimes they will throw it down and then gently pick it up again, not wanting to be parted from the memory.

When my mother was dying I had to say goodbye to her over a telephone. I desperately wanted to be near her. I took a photo of her and piece of jewellery she had given me the last time I had seen her. When the grief came I would hold it. I see no difference between what I was doing and what the elephants do.

There are further examples throughout nature. One of the saddest things I have seen is a baboon mother with her dead baby. Unable to accept the terrible reality she would try to groom it or just sit holding and staring at it. This went on for days.

Fortunately or unfortunately life is both beautiful and terrible — for us and the animals. I believe they do it for the same reason we do, because it these experiences are almost beyond our ability to handle.

Here is a link to an incredible site… about the gestures and communications of elephants including how they mourn.

Lastly, animals also grieve for their human friends…

Jack Russell “Squeak” lying with the body of his murdered master, Terry Ford.

Do gorillas have spiritual or religious beliefs?

Answer by Rory Young:

File:Male gorilla in SF zoo.jpg

GREAT question!!!

Firstly, we need to clarify both “religious” and “spiritual”.

According to wiktionary the word comes from relegō (“I bind back or behind”) and from re + legō (“I choose, select; collect, gather”).

There are four meanings for the noun “religion:

1. “The belief in and worship of a supernatural controlling power, especially a personal god or gods”. I think we can exclude gorillas from this form of religion.

2. “A particular system of faith and worship“. I think this can also be excluded for gorillas.

3. “The way of life committed to by monks and nuns“. Nope, not really gorilla behaviour.

4. Any practice that someone or some group is seriously devoted to. Ah! Here we loop back to the origins of the word religion. Yes, I do believe then that this could fit with gorilla behaviour. Let’s examine this further.

I recently read a review (see story) of a new book written by primatologist Frans de Waal. (sorry it will take me a while to get hold of a copy of the book itself).

The book’s title is, “The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism among the Primates“. As the article explains, Frans de Waal argues that we believe in God because we are moral rather than we are moral because we believe in God. In other words morality has evolved over time as we have.

De Waal says, “there is little evidence that other animals judge the appropriateness of actions that do not directly affect themselves, yet, in their behavior, we recognize the same values we pursue ourselves.

“I take these hints of community concern as a sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and we don’t need God to explain how we got to where we are today,” he writes.

As you can see, we keep getting back to that raw definition (number 4) of what religion is. So, morality, community, binding… Being “religious” is not dependent on a belief in God.

Now let’s leap forward to today and look at a new and extremely interesting religion called Syntheism. (See

Syntheism also fits this definition number four. Furthermore, it does NOT meet the requirements of 1, 2 or 3! So, if Syntheists are religious then so are gorillas! There are other ancient religions that also do not fit into the mainstream  expectation for religiosity. Look at…

Now let’s look at “spiritual”.Spirituality lacks a definition but here is what wikipedia says:”social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for “the sacred,” where “the sacred” is broadly defined as that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration”.

To answer this question let’s return to the article reviewing de Waal’s new book; “Some say animals are what they are, whereas our own species follows ideals, but this is easily proven wrong,” de Waals writes. “Not because we don’t have ideals, but because other species have them too.”

I don’t want to steal the well-deserved thunder of either de Waal or Lee Dye (who wrote the article) so will stop there as the point is made. For further evidence, read the article or the book.

Lastly, the question clearly says “belief”. I believe gorillas are true monists. They are not dualists which many would argue is purely an invention of the ancient Egyptians. I would also like to point out that the term “moral” is pretty much accepted as a “religious” term itself denoting good and evil. I prefer the pragmatic “what works and doesn’t work’ of ethics. In this too the gorillas are true.

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