Which country has the most number of elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

Botswana has by far the most.

According to the latest analysis of counts from all over Africa Botswana has 118'736 wild elephants.

To put that into perspective Kenya, the most famous safari destination, only has 26'427 elephants.

The population in Botswana is growing rapidly whilst the Kenya population is falling.

The reason for the difference is simple. Botswana focuses on hunting down poachers using the army and other armed services and locks them up for extended periods, often killing them if they don't surrender.

 Kenya on the other hand makes lots of noise on the international stage about trade bans but does virtually nothing about tackling the poaching. Amazingly, poachers that are occasionally apprehended by the Kenya Wildlife Service usually get off with a small fine.

The trafficking certainly has to be dealt with as a priority but so does the poaching itself. Southern and East-African states spend a ridiculous percentage of GDP to maintain large standing armed forces. It is a disgrace that they don't use them to combat poaching.

Recently Ban Ki Moon said in a speech that poaching was a threat to regional security in Central and East Africa. This was after a very large and

He's right. It is the African equivalent to the Latin American drug trade, bringing in large amounts of cash to criminal organizations. Even if some of these governments don't care about the wildlife then maybe they will sit up and take note of the threat to their National and regional security posed by these well armed and aggressive groups..

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Hypothetical: You are in the middle of nowhere with a group of friends. You accidentally injure a wild animal. The animal doesn’t seem …

Answer by Rory Young:

You should report it to the "appropriate authority" or the police immediately or as soon as reasonably possible.

This especially applies to dangerous game and there are usually laws in most countries requiring that such incidents be reported. Although they vary from country to country the principle is the same.
The "appropriate authority" is  the person or organization that has legal authority over the land where the incident has occurred. It is their responsibility to take any action necessary for the safety of people in the area and to do whatever is necessary for the animal whether that be to humanely euthanize it or bring in a vet to treat it.

If you are not sure who the appropriate authority is then go straight to the police and report it to them.

I will explain what  can go wrong when people don't report such incidents by recounting an incident that occurred on the Zambezi river in Zimbabwe.

In 1997 I was running a canoe safari operation on the Lower Zambezi river. We did over three hundred trips a year of up to ten days. These were unsupported and went through Mana Pools National Park and the adjacent safari areas between Kariba and Kanyemba.

This stretch of the river has a very high concentration hippos and crocodiles. The negotiating of hippo pods is a science and an art and guides are required to do at least 2000 hours paddling on the river before sitting a series of written and practical examinations  and the examiners were ruthless in deciding who was capable conducting these trips.

My own guides were of course licensed but nearly all twelve of them had at least five years experience on the river as licensed guides. They took their jobs and in particular the safety aspect deadly seriously.

I already knew three guides who had been gored by hippos. You can read the account of one of them here: Experience: I was swallowed by a hippo We all knew these guides and what had happened to them and were determined to do everything in our power to avoid any similar accidents.

One day the call I hoped would never receive came in over the radio. It was from Ruckomechi Camp. One of our trips had been attacked and a client was missing.

A married man from New Zealand had been bitten by a hippo, dragged under and not seen again.

Ruckomechi Camp belonged to our organization and they were ten minutes from the site so they raced there. They found the clients safely sitting under a tree on the river bank. The guide Chris, was diving in the crocodile and hippo infested river trying to find the poor man.

Government teams tried for three days to find the body but nothing was ever found. The hippo had literally bitten him in the midsection, completely enveloping him its jaws. We knew that there was no hope. The government called of the search but we carried on for several more days in the hope of finding remains for the family.

The man was married with children and had gone on a dream adventure holiday on his own as his wife was not comfortable with the idea of paddling the Zambezi and the kids were too young.

I went through every detail of what happened with the guide and the clients. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management and the police did the same. We all reached the same conclusions.

The group had come across the lone male hippo which had been in deep water. They guide decided quite correctly to move to the shallow water. This is the correct course of action as hippos will take refuge in deep water by moving away from shallow water.

The other means of retreat for a hippo is to exit the river. Therefore the guide had also taken this into account. The steep bank was next to the shallows and there was a low bank with signs of regular exit and entry by hippos on the other bank of the side channel. This meant there was absolutely no uncertainty as to where they should go.

The hippo would naturally want to go into the deep water but if it was still feeling scared could move out of the water on the far side of the deep.

As they moved along the steep bank in the shallow water they were a relatively long way from the hippo relative to many regular such passes.

To give you an idea in the Chifungulu channel on the Zambian side it was quite normal to pass a pod of several dozen hippos only fifteen metres from them and they would usually exist the water. This was a much easier and less threatening scenario and the guide was not in the least bit concerned.

As the came level with the hippo, they were in single file with the guide in the leading canoe. This was all correct. The guide could in this way easily direct the canoes and if there was any incident he only had to stop and the 5kph current would bring the group to him.

They all passed and then as the last canoe came abreast of the hippo it torpedoed across the deep water from close to the opposite bank into the shallow water (only a couple of feet deep) and then ran up to the canoe and bit it in half.

Safety briefings took place the day before the trip and on the morning of departure. Once on the river these safety procedures were further drummed into the clients.

The two people were thrown from the canoe as the hippo attacked and landed in the water. They immediately did what they had been instructed in case of such an incident, which was to keep the canoe between them and the hippo and move away. The did exactly that. As they were moving away, the hippo came around the canoe and after them.

It grabbed the man in its jaws and went back into the deep water with him.

Our conclusion after investigating carefully was that this hippo had broken every rule in the book. Therefore we suspected there was something wrong with the hippo.

National Parks and wildlife shot the animal and discovered deep wounds on its back. However, before that even happened we were informed by safari company in Zambia that they had been told that a boat carrying clients from a lodge had hit a hippo at that location shortly before the time of the attack.

The guide confirmed that shortly before the attack a speed boat had passed them.

If the boat had reported the incident to the canoe trip that was heading to the location where the hippo had been hit or if they had immediately made a report over the radio then in all likelihood the man would never have died. However, they made no attempt to report it to anybody.

The Zambezi is the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. At the time Zimbabwe had very strict and thorough laws relating to wildlife and safaris whilst Zambia had very basic ones and nothing requiring the reporting of injured dangerous game.

Therefore no charges could be brought against the boat driver or company that he worked for.

When I explained all this to my boss in Harare he instructed me to fire the guide, Chris Dzidzai.

I was stunned and explained that Chris had done everything correctly and had even risked his life in the water. Furthermore, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and the Professional Hunters and Guides Association both commended him for his actions.

I refused and resigned my position shortly afterwards. I still feel like thumping my old boss.

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What are some mind blowing facts from the animal kingdom?

Answer by Rory Young:

The Queen of the Jungle

Photo: Chris Souchon

No, not Simba. More like Suzie actually. Or maybe somewhere in between?

This following picture clearly shows that there is no male genitalia and what appears to be a vagina can be seen.

Photo: Chris Souchon

"Maned females" have been recorded before in Botswana. However, there appears to be no record of them ever producing cubs.

On the other hand there are, unbelievably, stories of female lions turning into males..

The circus owner and lion trainer Terrell Jacobs exhibited a well-known lioness called Sheba. She became really famous when she developed a mane.

Terrell Jacobs with Sheba

In another case a fifteen year-old white lioness at the Philadelphia Zoo, called Vinkel, became menopausal and developed a mane.

Most importantly from a scientific perspective, George Schaller, the world's foremost ethologist, discovered that lions he had recorded as females as cubs grew up to be males.

Furthermore maneless males such as the one pictured below in Tsavo East National Park are not rare at all.

Sequential hermaphroditism is not known to exist among mammals and therefore these animals must have either started out as males and ended up as males or started as females and ended as females. So what is going on?

The reason is most likely hormonal of course. In the case of male lions lacking manes it is probably due to low levels in testosterone. This can be evidenced because when a male is castrated it will fail to develop a mane.

Now, how do we explain Simba-Suzie then? "She" has a mane but clearly no testicles.. Or does she? What if her/his testicles are not properly developed but there all the same?  Take a look at the following picture.

Photo: Chris Souchon

Simbia-Suzie likes girls. So is this clearly showing that she is actually a male?

Well, no homosexual behaviour is very common among lions.Eight percent of male mountings are on other males. This is not dominance behaviour either. The males will bond for a period during which they "cuddle" and reverse roles. Females are well known to bond in captivity.

There is another possible reason. Biologist Luke Hunter, President of the big cat conservation organisation Panthera believes that it may be caused by disruption to the fetus, either due to abberant genetic contribution from the sperm or during the fetus was exposed to high levels of androgens such as testosterone during development.

This would leave a female "masculinized". In other words, instead of a maneless male with low levels of testosterone we have a maned-female with high levels of testosterone.

Whatever the reason, it is clearly not certain how or why exactly maned females occur and only proper study will tell whether Suzie is actually Simba or Simba is actualy Suzie; although it seems most likely that Simba is Suzie – and Suzie prefers other Suzies to Simbas.

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Who is history’s greatest badass, and why?

Answer by Rory Young:

Look carefully at this man's face.

This is what the face of a man who combined genius with open-mindedness, courage with perseverance and curiosity with fearlessness looks like.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, the only man in history who could claim to be a scholar and polymath of the highest order as well as a fighter and adventurer second to none.

Do you see the scar on his cheek?. There was also one on the other side of his face. The cause;  he was impaled by Somali Waranye warrior's spear. It entered one cheek and came out the other, slicing through his palate, teeth and jaw . Afterwards it had to be wrenched out by one man hauling on it while others held his head. He also received ten other wounds in the same incident.

This happened on the first of his expeditions into the African interior. He would go on many more, not only in Africa but also Asia and South America, in the process – together with John Hanning Speke- discovering the source of the Nile.

Now take a look at this picture.

This is Burton again, dressed as a pilgrim on his way to Mecca. Burton did the Haji as a non-muslim!  In 1853 he successfully traveled to Mecca in disguise amongst a group of pilgrims on foot and returned safely.

Does he remind you of Lawrence of Arabia perhaps?

Well, there are some crucial differences. Burton didn't dress as an Arab, he became an Arab. He spoke the language so fluently and knew the detailed customs so perfectly that he could and did pass himself off as an Arab. He even underwent circumcision to properly play the part.

Not only did he pass himself off as an Arab but he also successfully passed for a Pashtun and numerous other ethnic groups among the very groups themselves. Not surprising considering he was proficient in nineteen languages by the time he was twenty. In fact he would speak twenty nine languages by the time he died, including Greek, Jataki, Hindustani, Marathi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Pushtu, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swahili, Amarhic, Fan, Egba, Asante, Hebrew, Aramaic and a dozen European languages.

He was also an accomplished writer. However, no mundane topic would ever do for Sir Richard.

Burton was the man who introduced the Kama Sutra to the rest the world…

and the Arabian Nights..

and the Perfumed Garden..

He also wrote books on sword fighting

and bayonet fighting

as well as many detailed geographical papers and accounts of his explorations.


Burton was not the most heroic man and certainly not the most decent. Although clever he wasn't the greatest in that regard either.

He was however one serious badass.

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What corruption have you experienced in your life?

[Groan] I have lived with different types of corruption in Africa for many years and have seen it grow steadily worse.

Along with poor governance, poverty and HIV/AIDS it has devastated and continues to devastate Africa.

There are many different types of corruption at play. I won’t go into embezzlement and others that haven’t affected me so much personally and directly. I will look at those that have really been “in my face” and how I have dealt with them.

Let’s look at extortion first.

The mild form is where a government official will want payment for doing his job. They will refuse to do anything until they get money or they will slow the whole process and demand payment to speed it up.

There are also much nastier forms. A number of foreigners in a certain town I used to live in were accused of drug-dealing. The police drug officers would plant drugs in the victim’s vehicle and then come and search the vehicle “after receiving an anonymous tip”. The witless “drug-dealer” is then arrested.

A series shakedowns will then begin. These include prison officers getting food and other necessities to the victim, lawyers and magistrates/judges handling the case, journalists and politicians can also jump on the band wagon by demanding money for taking sides in the case.

Usually there will be an acquittal or large fine after a suitable bribe has been arranged.

Understanding the law, protocols and culture all play a part in preventing and dealing with this and other forms of corruption.

Here is an example. I once returned to my office on a Friday to find a British manager who worked for me sitting at my desk behind which (in my chair!) sat two ladies from immigration. They were new in town and didn’t know me..

I immediately greeted them politely and respectfully. They ignored me.

I smiled to myself as I knew what they were up to and in their arrogance they had made some really silly mistakes. I then asked them what they wanted. I was told to keep quiet as they would be asking questions.

I told them to get out of my chairs, out of my office and off the property extremely fast or they would be physically removed.

Of course they were taken completely by surprise, became very upset and shouted that they were from immigration and would have me arrested. I motioned to get a rope and made a big to do of planning to tie them up and remove them. They ran away.

I then sat down and started making calls. The British manager by this time as freaking out and thought I had lost my mind. Foreigners quite understandably usually kow-tow and try to appease and invariably end up in a cell on trumped up charges. Dealing with this stuff requires knowledge, which I have found usually gives one the confidence needed to make the right decisions.

I called the heads of the police and immigration and the District Commissioner and informed them that I had just chased off two fake immigration officers. Of course I knew that they were real immigration officers and the police and immigration chiefs knew that I knew that.

They asked me how I knew they were fake and I told them how they had not followed any legal protocols/procedures. I explained carefully how they had not reported to and  informed the “appropriate authority” (me) who they were and what the purpose of their visit was, they were not wearing their uniforms and had not informed me they were from immigration when directly asked. Most importantly (culturally), I also mentioned how they had refused to return my greeting.

Not returning a greeting in many parts of Africa is considered shockingly aggressive behaviour and is considered totally unacceptable.

Later I received a polite phone request for the DC to come to immigration for a meeting as a complaint had been made against me by two immigration officers.

I went to the meeting with two truckloads of forestry workers as witnesses (60+ wild looking men who were very loyal to me and the company) .

The chief of immigration met us at the entrance, rolled his eyes of course and suggested I leave my entourage outside. (we both knew a game was being played out). Of course, I graciously obliged. We then went into the meeting.

I was treated like a VIP and offered a choice of refreshments. The only question discussed was whether the women officers had been on duty or not. I agreed that they had probably been on duty (to the great relief of everyone there) as that would mean they wouldn’t be charged with a crime but only reprimanded.

Finally the immigration officer said that he had a problem as the officers were saying I had been rude and that I must apologize or “they would take me to court” and would I kindly do so, so as to avoid any more hassle for everyone.

Of course couldn’t do that as they would then certainly “take me to court” and treat an apology as both weakness and admission of guilt.

After some consideration I refused and demanded an apology from them and a chicken.

A chicken is the traditional means of showing apology for a wrong. Everyone laughed and we all went home.

The status-quo was resumed and no one ever came near the property again to bother my ex-patriot managers.

By the way, Fridays are the favourite day to arrest ex-pat managers for trumped up immigration charges as they can’t get out till Monday at the soonest so will by that stage pay anything not to have to endure another second of an African jail.

The next popular form of corruption is bribery. I don’t mean where the bribe has been demanded by an official but rather is offered by a businessman, for example, in return for favours. This has been very destructive in my part of Africa.

It is just too easy to offer a poor official two years salary or even twenty years salary in return for either turning a blind eye or even actively breaking the law to make sure said “businessman” gets what he wants.

Here is an example of how bad this can get. A few years ago I applied for some prospecting licenses together with an “indigenous” partner.

We put together all the required documentation and then employed twelve men from our chiefdom to “walk it through”.

I don’t mean officials and I don’t mean we bribed anyone. We did everything above board. The twelve individuals were paid to guard our files.

Corruption had become so bad at the ministry of mines that some officials would be paid huge sums to copy every bit of correspondence onto someone else’s letterheads and swap it all for yours in return for a tidy sum from a mining company.

The first you would know that this had happened would be when you discovered that the license was issued to someone else and no record existed of your application and work!

The other common types of corruption are less insidious. One is closely related to cultural practices. This involves “gifts”.

Traditionally, you never visit a chief without taking a gift. In some tribes the chief must always give a gift too although this will always be significantly smaller than what you give him. This has carried over to modern government. When you visit someone important you are expected to give them a gift just for seeing you.

Sometimes the corruption is not really initiated by either party and is more of a dirty partnership. A government official and a business person will often collude to develop something and then to share it between them. The official effectively “moonlights” and partners with the businessman, sharing inside knowledge. This is rarely considered corrupt.

Often an official will help someone, expecting a “gift” at the end, usually the price of a beer or two. When not asked for up front it is rarely considered corruption. It is regarded as a thank you and builds a longer-term bond.

In Central Africa kinship is paramount. The closer you are related to someone the more taboos there are against ripping them off. If you are completely unrelated in terms of family, clan, tribe, nationality, race or personal friendship then you are fair game. It is always important to establish and enhance whatever ties exist in order to avoid being a target for corruption. The closer the kinship the less chance of having a problem.

If closely related then one is expected to treat the other as “a brother” and buy lunch or help in some way. This again is rarely considered corruption even though it may well be so legally.

Very often this means simply befriending everyone and becoming “part of the landscape”. Friendship is highly prized in Africa and will very often be put before money.

My personal way round potential problems is to get to know everyone I can in a government department before approaching the issue at hand. I seldom encounter problems. If I do have a problem I would call sinister then I will usually find something to throw back at the individual concerned. Sound nasty but it is self-defense. A recording device can come in very handy.

I have experienced some really difficult and dangerous situations relating to corruption in parts of Africa and will save most of these for later. However, one that is particularly pertinent comes to mind.

In 1997/98 I was in the DR Congo, on my way to Lubumbashi from the Zambian border.

I was accompanied by a Congolese and an indigenous Zimbabwean. I asked the Congolese what the accepted rate was for roadblocks. He explained that it was three Congolese francs for each  officer and one franc for each soldier.

At the time the Congo was experiencing the bloodiest war in the history of Africa and it was very, very dangerous. There were 23 road blocks to get through in just 90 kilometers. Therefore you had to get it right.

We proceeded well, knowing and agreeing what to pay at each roadblock. That was until someone decided to break the rules.

Having just paid, a young idiot with an AK decided to try and rob us. This is a disastrous situation as once the status-quo has been broken it can all spiral out of control.

He openly stuck his hand into one of the packs to help himself to something. If we didn’t do something ourselves we could end up dead in the bush because the unwritten rules that develop naturally in these situations had gone. We had to re-establish them.

Therefore my Zim colleague and I agreed on a course of action immediately. He grabbed the guy’s arms. I took his weapon.  I kept the AK held up and announced that he had robbed us when we had already paid.

The result was not what someone would expect if they were not used to these places and these systems but definitely to someone who has been there.

The other soldiers and officer left us alone and instead laid into their comrade with rifle butts and boots.

I handed over the weapon to the officer who smiled and told us we could go and that that fellow was a fool.

My point is that sometimes the “corrupt” system becomes the only system and people will usually gravitate to such a system of “parallel law” (for want of a better term). These soldiers knew too that it was either no system or protect the system they had even though it was not “lawful”.

I don’t believe the rest of the world differs much. People everywhere have a notion of fair play and also like to agree on a system whereby it governs their world, even if it is “parallel” to the official system.

This corruption, such as what I experienced in the Congo is not the same as other forms and to me is just a reality of life. It is unavoidable and IS the system. To fix it requires starting at the top and changing everyone’s attitude and thinking all the way down the ranks. That is an almost impossible task.

There are very grey areas and fine lines in such places. However, as the late pragmatic Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, the only African leader I have seen actually reverse corruption, said, “It mustn’t stink!”

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What is an animal empath?

Answer by Rory Young:

There is no doubt that people such as the character from the movie "the Horse Whisper" exist in real life. The "Dog Whisperer", Cesar Millan is probably the most well known, but what exactly is an animal empath and do they really exist?

An animal empath is considered a person with an exceptional ability recognize and understand the emotions and mental state of an animal to such a degree as to be able to then interact with the animal and/or positively influence its behaviour in a positive way.

Animal empaths have been around throughout history. Very often this ability was seen as miraculous. Francis of Assisi and his ability to "talk" to the animals is probably the most well known example of this.

In medieval times animals and man were viewed very differently to today. Being "close" to nature was not viewed positively and could even result in being accused of heresy (if your views of nature or animals were in conflict with church doctrine) or of demonic possession or even witchcraft if you were seen to be communicating with animals.

In the case of Francis of Assisi his reputation for saintliness no doubt led to his unusual ability being considered a sign of his holiness rather than proof of witchcraft or other evil. Most notably the story of the taming of the wolf of Gubbio was considered so amazing as to be considered miraculous rather than diabolical.

How exactly he was able to interact with animals, assuming it wasn't miraculous, is of course not known. However, judging by his life story he was both an intelligent person, having succeeded previously as a merchant, and an empathetic person. He also lived a life of austerity and, often,  seclusion.

Living on his own and away from his fellow men for long periods would have meant loneliness. Human beings are not solitary creatures. Did this solitude in nature, combined with intelligence and possibly an inquiring mind lead him to observe and learn animal behaviour? Was he then able to interact with these animals and build a mutual understanding and trust based on empathy? 

There is no way to know but we can look at whether any people today truly are animal empaths.

In order to empathize with an animal it is first necessary to recognize the emotions and mental state being experienced by the animal.

Exactly what emotions an animal experiences is a contentious issue and of course depends on the animal. There is a vast difference between an insect for example and an elephant.

Insects are not believed to experience any emotions. Elephants on the other hand not only experience emotions but are even themselves believed to empathize with other animals.

Most lizards are not believed to experience emotions. The kimodo dragon however, is believed to both experience emotions and to be very intelligent.

There is a well-known National parks scout at the Matobo Hills National Park in Zimbabwe who has been interacting with small lizards for decades. He learned this ability from his father. He will call them and feed them from his hand and is able to touch them. No one else can do this, even if they offer the lizards food.

The lizards have learned that they can be fed by the scout and that they can trust him. They do not trust anyone else. So is he an animal empath.

I don't think so. Although what he does is amazing I don't see him as an animal empath. He uses a whistle to "call" the lizards. This call apparently works just like Pavlov's bell. The lizards have learned to associate food with this sound and this sound with the game scout. They do not trust anyone not making this sound. This is trained behaviour and is nothing to do with interacting with the animals because of an ability to identify their emotions and mental state.

Generally the people with the greatest understanding of animal emotions and mental states and most importantly how animals express these are of course ethologists or animal behaviourists.

Their knowledge of animal behaviour often allows them to properly analyze and understand the emotions of animals.

Often this understanding develops into an intuition. Such is the case of ethologist and lion expert Kevin Richards. His amazing ability with lions is remarkable. His knowledge of lion behaviour and the intuition he has developed over many years of interacting with his lions allows him to literally play with them. Is he therefore an animal empath?

Perhaps. He is very likely a lion empath for sure. However, it is important to note that the lions he interacts with are not wild. Therefore much of their behaviour is habituation. So, he very likely could be an animal empath but it is difficult to say so with any certainty unless we see him interact with wild animals. Considering the animals he interacts with are lions I really hope that he doesn't start doing the same with wild lions. That could get messy if his abilities as a lion/animal empath are not certain!

So, are there any real animal empaths? To be more specific are there any people with an ability to go out and approach, understand and interact with wild animals in their natural habitat and without having been unusually conditioned or habituated to man?

I seen some incredible improbable interactions between wild animals and people during the time I have spent working in wildlife areas.

Many of these interactions are quite common. It is quite normal for a Zimbabwean Professional guide to approach elephants on foot and interact with them. After years of observing and studying elephants in their natural habitat and having been intensively trained in approaching them safely this is not really surprising. You just get used to recognizing their mood and how they feel about you and what you are doing.

The following picture is of a Zimbabwean Professional Guide, Ivan Carter, at close quarters with a wild bull elephant. Most Professional Guides with enough walking experience can approach and interact with wild bull elephants like this. However, it is also considered ethically questionable as if there is a mistake or something unexpected happens, such as a client screaming with fright, it can all go wrong, resulting in either the death of the guide or the death of the elephant if he is not too close to be unable to shoot it. I only go very close to elephant without clients and when dealing with a very relaxed bull.

Many skills are used in approaching elephants like this. I wrote a separate answer on this subject which you can see here: Animal Behavior (Ethology): Hypothetical Questions: If I wanted to approach dangerous wild animals on foot, could I do it safely and how would I go about it?

Does this ability make someone an animal empath? Perhaps. However, it is a learned ability and not something purely instinctive. There are also degrees of ability in this regard.

There are and have been many guides with an incredible ability to approach and interact with animals. The most amazing of this has to be the game ranger Willie de Beer. A man who survived being scalped and having an eye popped out along with many other injuries from a lion mauling, a knee smashed by a zebra and being gored by both elephant and buffalo, there is no doubt that he interacted regularly with wild and dangerous animals.

What makes him unusual however was not how many times he was chewed up or stomped on, but his ability to approach and interact with animals in any situation.  Here are some examples:

He would stroll up to lions on the kill and examine them. This is almost guaranteed to get you killed. However, he somehow managed to do it without scaring off the lions and without being killed himself.  Even more remarkably he did this in such a way that the lions continued eating.

Another intriguing thing about Willie De Beer was his ability to approach and interact with different species. In the following picture he can be seen "playing" with an elephant bull, something he did from time to time.

Willie de Beer was involved in the making of films because of his ability to work with both captive and wild animals. Most notably he was responsible for all the animals both wild and tame in the John Wayne film Hatari! John Wayne was fascinated by him and they became friends during filming.

I suppose there are many people who could be called animal empaths. However, a few really have a genius for understanding and interacting with animals. Much may be learned from books or experience but these few exceptional people have an innate and profound intuition which sets them apart.

Everyone is able to study animal behaviour and to learn how to recognize the emotional and mental states of both domesticated and wild animals and anyone who deals with animals, even their own pets, should do so if they want to understand them better.

Animal empaths do exist and it is not telepathy or mystical spiritual connection. It is just knowlege, experience and understanding. Everyone can become an animal empath in some way but some people  really are able to "talk" to animals.

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Is becoming a Ranger Field guide in Africa the best way to explore the African wildlife and nature?

Answer by Rory Young:

FGASA is the Field Guides Association of South Africa. Their system has various levels and grades and covers the private sector only. Walking is also not a common activity in SA and in the National Parks is only undertaken by Parks rangers. Therefore courses offered in this system can vary hugely.

The only organization I would confidently recommend in South Africa is The Southern African Wildlife College.

Zimbabwe has a gruelling 4 year licensing system based on a mentorship/apprenticeship program combined with examinations and proficiencies under the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. Here is a recent article on it: http://m.theglobeandmail.com/lif…

Zimbabwean Professional guides are licensed to walk in the National Parks and approach dangerous game on foot and armed.

Unfortunately although by far the best, the Zimbabwean system is open to citizens and permanent residents only. I am currently busy, together with the director of training for the local guides association, revising and expanding the training material used to train guides in Zimbabwe. If there was enough external interest we could offer the program to foreign residents but they would not be able to get the license. To do four years training would be unique experience but would be a bit crazy to not have the license at the end of it.

If you seriously want to make a career of it then I would recommend SAWC. If you would like to enjoy the experience then I would recommend either a short course with an institution such as SAWC or volunteer work with one of the well known NGOs.

The best way to explore African wildlife and nature is to be guided by a professional guide on foot. That way you get a realistic impression of the wildlife unlike a vehicle and you don't miss all the smaller animals, plants and of course the tracks and signs of the bigger animals.

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Why is it that of all the cats, only lions have manes?

Answer by Rory Young:

Charles Darwin himself used the lion's mane as an example of evolution. He explained that it developed as a means of protection during fighting. He was quite correct that lions fight much more than other cats.

It is unlikely to be coincidence that the only cat with a mane is also the only cat that fights regularly and aggressively and also the only cat that lives in social groups. Whilst other cats will spend solitary lives in their own territories, only coming into contact with a few neighbors, lions actively socialize and in the case of males, as said, fight for position.

Recently, there have been claims that the mane may be more a means of displaying strength. However,the fact remains that whilst other cats and female lions are often killed by bites to the neck, this rarely occurs among male lions.

If a lion is killed by a bite during fighting it is nearly always a result of a bite through the back severing the spinal cord.

It is most likely a combination of protection and a means of displaying health and dominance to rival males and the females of the pride (a bit like a pimp wearing a fur coat).

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Can animals talk to each other like humans?

Answer by Rory Young:

Animals communicate using the same principle methods as humans do. However, in most forms of communication it is less sophisticated than ours, most obviously in sound communication. In some forms of communication, such as chemical communications it is we who are unsophisticated.Communication among land animals can either be via VisualAuditory,SeismicElectro, touch or Olfactory/chemical communication.Autocommunication is when an animal communicates with itself for some purpose such as bats using echo-location.Touch communication is quite common among some cultures such as the Maya and also among many types of animals, especially elephant. For example, the elephant equivalent of a “hug” is to “hug” or twist trunks together.

Elephants “hugging”.

Elephants use just as much visual communication as humans do. Visual communication is “body language”. How they walk, stand, look approach all have different meanings. They also use their trunks, eyes, ears and tusks to convey different communications to each other.

Electrocommunication is usually used among certain species of fish, mainly “weakly electric fish” species recognition,courtship and sex recognition, motivational status (attack warning or submission) and environmental conditions.

Chemical communication is more common among other animals than man. In this way we differ greatly from many animals. Territorial marking is extremely common and we are quite unusual in that we don’t use scent much in our communications.

Many animals have a Jacobson’s organ which is used to detect pheromones released by other animals, especially females in estrus. This is called “Flehming”. We don’t have one.

Lion flehming.

Using sound is common but often different to us. Elephants probably have the most sophisticated system as they use infra-sound, which is a much lower frequency than we can hear. They use these low rumbles up to 12 km away from each other. They also use seismic sound, something discovered recently by Joyce Poole in Kenya. Seismic sound is extremely low frequency vibration travelling through the earth and in the case of elephants is sensed through the feet.


The animal that comes closest to man’s use of voice communication for social grooming purposes is the Gelada. Since their hands are occupied breaking grass for long periods, they use vocalizations instead of physical grooming as a means of bonding.