Can zebras be domesticated?

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes, Zebras can be domesticated but it is not necessarily practical or humane to train them to do so.

Lord Rothschild in his zebra-carriage in London.

When I was a child my father used to take me to visit the Brereton family who farmed in a place called Tengwe in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). They had a zebra that used to live with the dairy cows. It was just as tame as the dairy cattle and very relaxed, unless they tried to prevent her from walking through the dairy with the cows when they went to be milked. If that happened she would go completely crazy, trying to bite anyone she could through the gate and kicking at anyone or anything.

Many people suggested someone try to train this animal to be ridden but Mr. Brereton refused. He felt that her nature would not allow it.

Many efforts were made to train zebras for riding, drawing and carrying during the late 19th and early 20th Century. There were very practical reasons for doing so.

Many parts of Sub Saharan Africa were (and still are) inhabited by tsetse flies. These areas were known collectively as "the Fly Belts".

The tsetse fly carries animal trypanosomiasis  and human sleeping sickness.

Although sleeping sickness was and is quite uncommon, "tryps" was not. Domesticated animals such as cattle and horses are particularly susceptible, with horses being the most likely of all to die.

Trypanosomiasis therefore made large areas of Africa inaccessible to the European powers. 

A good example of this was the fact that when the explorer and hunter, Frederick Selous arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1871 and announced that he was going North to Matabeleland to hunt elephant he was laughed at. This was because most of the elephants outside the fly belt in Matabeleland had for the most part already been hunted out.

In 1871 he arrived at the Bulawayo and requested permission of King Lobengula to hunt elephant in his kingdom. Lobengula laughed and gave his consent, believing that the then nineteen year old would get nowhere near the elephants before his horse died under him.

Selous then set off on foot and began his slaughter of thousands of elephants.  He hunted entirely on foot and used porters to carry his equipment and the ivory.

Selous also hunted in nothing but a loin cloth and ate what the locals ate. He also married half a dozen local girls but that was hushed up in Britain.

This was a dramatic change from the norm and considered "savage". Explorers were expected to maintain the Britishness at all costs and impose their norms on the locals, not adopt the customs of the locals nor adapt to the local environment. For this reason it was believed that Europeans simply could not survive any extended amount of time in the African interior.

Selous wrote a book called A Hunter's Wanderings in Africa: Being a Narrative of Nine Years Spent Amongst the Game of the Far Interior of South Africa (1881) which was a huge best-seller.

This book dramatically changed British attitudes. It suddenly became popular in some quarters (although definitely not in most) to "go native". 

The book especially affected attitudes amongst white settlers in Southern Africa. Although they weren't interested in adopting the habits of the indigenous peoples, they did begin to experiment on a large scale with adapting their surroundings to suit them. There were faniciful and unrealistic dreams of farming Cape buffaloes and using leopards as guard dogs and other such ill-informed and ill-advised ideas.

Although game ranching, keeping the animals wild or semi-wild, was very much a practical solution (the carrying capacity is much better and the animals less susceptible to disease), very few seemed to have understood this. There was a need to dominate and control in the way European domestic animals were controlled. The wanted to try and farm wild animals the way European domestic animals were farmed.

Using the zebra to do the work of horses, mules and donkeys was a very popular idea and there were widespread attempts to do so.

One of the most famous of these attempts and the most succesful, was that of the accomplished but eccentric zoologist, Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild .

He put great effort into training zebras to pull carriages, eventually driving a carriage drawn by six horses to Buckingham Palace to prove the viability of doing so.

Rothschild did not train Zebras to be ridden. He realized that this was not practical for two reasons. Firstly they are small animals and have not had the benefits of thousands of years of breeding to produce animals with backs strong enough to support the weight of a man.

Secondly he must have quickly realized what many others would learn, zebras are aggressive. They have not evolved in tamer temperate regions, They have instead evolved to survive as a species in Africa where lions re their main predator.

There are many recorded cases of zebras killing lions. This is usually caused by a kick to the head, causing death or a broken death causing the lion to starve.

To give an idea of the power of a zebra's kick one need just point out that no horse has ever broken a lions jaw. Furthermore, few people have ever walked away after being kicked by a zebra.

A zebra doesn't just kick with the leg. Instead it looks between its legs in order to accurately place its kicks and then bucks and kicks violently with both back legs.


Zebras also inflict nasty bite wounds on each other  and on people when they are habituated or "tame" and people get too close.

In order to get them to draw a carriage Rothschild must have realized something imprtant about wild zebra behaviour. This can be seen in the following image:

(Image source:

Zebra herds are made up of groups of females and young with one adult male.

The females follow a strict order of precedence.  The most dominant female walks in front followed by the other females in order of dominance from most dominant to least dominant.

The male goes wherever he wants but usually stays in the side or back of the group. If there is any perceived threat he will put himself between the danger and the herd.

If a zebra passes or attempts to pass another zebra that is more dominant than themselves then they will be bitten or kicked ferociously by the more dominant animal. Passing is a challenge.

Young animals take the position of the mother in the hierarchy but are allowed to move ahead of the mother in order to accompany another youngster. However, when they do so they adhere to the position of the more dominant zebra's young.

In the 1980s a herd of zebras was captured for relocation in Zimbabwe. Sixteen animals were loaded into a truck and driven off. When the truck arrived at its destination only one zebra was left alive. The others had kicked each other to death.

Attempts were made by the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management to train and use zebras for work in the 1970s and 1980s but it was determined that in order to train them it was necessary to first drastically change the natural instincts of the animal.

The project was abandoned with the conclusion that changing the animals natural instincts and aggression inevitably required harsh treatment which was deemed to be inhumane.

So, yes, they can be trained to be ridden and work but to do so is cruel. I wonder what the poor animals in the pictures below went through to be trained to placidly allow a young lady to sit on its back or a fat man to jump with one?

Whilst checking the facts of my own answer I cam e across the following amazing story:…

An American teenager called Shea Inman bought and trained a zebra to be ridden.

She didn't use harsh treatment but instead it seems she used persistence and lots of treats; "According to Shea, zebras have short attention spans, and are not as good as retaining information as horses. She said that she uses a lot of treats to train Joey, such as rubbing peanut butter on the bit to help Joey take it easier."

What a wonderful story. No doubt if the colonials had been more gentle and persistent we might have been riding zebras in the Zambezi Valley today.. I find the idea of doing a zebra-back riding safari intriguing.

Here is a picture of a friend and fellow guide Mike Woolford on a horse-back safari. Could he do this on a zebra some day? I will ask him for his comments..

Photo: Mike Woolford

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What is it like to poach animals?

Answer by Rory Young:

I was arrested when I was seven years old for fish poaching.

My friend and I were caught fishing in the Rhodesia National Botanical Garden.

We had no idea what we were doing was wrong until a couple of workers saw us, started shouting, grabbed us by the wrists and then hauled us off to the officer in charge.

Our mothers were called and we were fortunately let off with a fine. The penalty for fish-poaching was up to two years imprisonment and/or a two thousand dollar fine for the first offense.

It is important to differentiate between those who poach out of ignorance, those who do it out of desperation/hunger and those who do it out of greed.

Yes, Rory Young the poacher..

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Is the zebra black with white stripes or white with black stripes?

Answer by Rory Young:

During the colonial era all zebras were white with black stripes. They are now all black with white stripes.

Seriously though, they used to be believed to be white with black stripes because the underbelly is white. They are now however believed to be black with white stripes.

Melanocyte skin cells "activate" the dark hair pigmentation. In the case of the white stripes this development is inhibited. Therefore the colour of the hair/fur is black and the white stripes are a lack of colouration.

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Which animal would win in a battle between a Wolverine and a Honey Badger?

Answer by Rory Young:

Both of these animals are the largest and most successful mustelids in their respective ranges.

They are equally renowned for their ferocity, their ability to take punishment and their unbelievable gluttony.

The honey badger measures up to 96 cm is length, up to 28 cm at the shoulder and weighs up to 16kg.

The wolverine is much larger; up to 107cm in length, up to 45cm at the shoulder and weighs up to 25kg.

I will break down the respective weaponry and defenses for each species.

Firstly the wolverine.

Northern Bad Attitude

The wolverine's teeth are unique. They have a special molar that is revered ninety degrees which is used for breaking through bone. Their jaws are powerful and the combination of strong jaw muscles and special molars allow them to eat every part of the animal including hooves, bones and teeth.

Wolverine Dentition

According to Dr. Jens Persson from the  Swedish Wolverine Project, wolverine claws are believed to be semi-retractable but are actually fixed. However, the toe biomechanics effectively allows them to perform a similar action which of course allows them to be kept sharp. These claws are also curved and therefore ideal for hooking and shredding.

In terms of behaviour, the wolverine is fearless. It has been recorded killing a polar bear by latching onto the throat with its jaws and suffocating the animal. Its primary means of killing is suffocation by biting the throat and not letting go, and also by crushing with its powerful jaws and specially adapted molars.

Wolverine arguing with a bear.

The wolverine's main defense against predators is its ferocity.
It uses this together with its sharp claws, sharp teeth and powerful jaws and thick skin and fur protect its kills against much bigger predators, including wolves and bears. There is a record of a polar bear having been killed by a wolverine after one latched onto its throat and suffocating it to death.

Although the wolverine is known to have a thick hide, wolverines have been recorded killed by North American porcupines' quills in a number of instances.

Now let's look at the honey badger.

Cheeky Little Shit From The South

Other than its willingness to fight to the bitter end, the honey badger's defenses are fourfold.

Firstly, it is built to take a beating. Honey badgers live in an environment inhabited by many much larger predators, including lions, leopards, hyaenas, Cape hunting dogs, cheetahs and of course, as they both evolved in Africa; man. It is normal for predators in this environment to attack and kill any other predator. This is most likely to reduce food competition. That means that honey badgers have evolved to survive in the same environment as these much larger and well equipped carnivores.

Honey badgers need to be exceptionally tough to survive.  Lions, leopards and hyaenas are all well known to attack and attempt to kill honey badgers.  These attempts are sometimes successful but very often they are not. The honey badger will fight non-stop until it is dead or the attacker tires, at which point the honey badger will make a break for it.

The honey badger has an exceptionally tough, thick and loose hide, specifically evolved to defend it against biting, clawing and stinging. It is almost 6mm thick and extremely tough. A good example of how tough is the fact that African porcupine quills rarely penetrate it. Bear in mind that African porcupines are three times the size of their North American cousins.

Their second defense is tirelessness. They can literally keep fighting for hours on end. This is a problem for a predator already battling to gnaw through the skin. The effort is tiring and the whole time the honey badger is struggling and counterattacking with its own claws and teeth.

Never Say Die. F****ing Ever.

The third defense of the honey badger is that when attacked it will go for its attacker's groin. There are records (Stevenson-Hamilton 1947) from the Kruger National Park in South Africa of adult male Cape buffaloes having bled to death after being savaged by honey badgers in this manner.

Lastly the honey badger has a reversible anal gland. The smell produced by it is described as "suffocating".

The honey badgers weaponry includes a set of much smaller but sharper teeth than that of the wolverine, sharp claws and equal ferocity and stubbornness to that of the wolverine.

In my opinion it boils down to whether the wolverine could get through the honey badger's defenses to kill him and whether the honey badger even has the tools to kill a wolverine.

Whilst the wolverines weaponry is formidable, it does not approach that of lions, leopards or hyaenas. Below is a link to a video of a leopard battling to kill a honey badger. It succeeds in the end but takes one hour to do so.
Another video shows a honey badger fending off six lions and then making good his escape.
Now let's look at a hypothetical fight between the two animals.

I think we can pretty much discount either animal's claws doing much other than superficial damage to the other.

The wolverine's greater strength and powerful jaws and teeth would very likely enable it to overpower the honey badger.

However, like the much more powerful leopards and lions it would very likely have a very hard time getting through the honey badger's hide. This would take it possibly hours to do. Would it have to have the stamina to keep fighting the struggling honey badger which would not give up till the death.

As for the honey badger, its teeth, although smaller than the wolverine's would very likely be able to penetrate the wolverine's hide. However, it would not be able to kill the wolverine by biting it to death.

There is of course the question of whether the wolverine could suffocate the honey badger via biting the throat.

This is highly unlikely because of the same loose, thick hide, which is also why lions and leopards take so long to kill them and they have more powerful jaws and wider gapes.

In my opinion honey badger would either rip off the wolverines genitalia, thus causing it to bleed to death or both would die via prolonged mutual mutilation .

After all this talk of these animals' strengths I would like to point out the one big weakness they both possess. They are worse than pigs.

They will eat anything and everything they can their greedy gobs ahold of.

In the case of wolverines they are so greedy that they have been recorded dying after stuffing themselves full of porcupine without taking the time to remove the quills.

I have witnessed the disgraceful and the debilitating extent of honey badger gluttony after one got into a store room at a safari camp I once worked at.

After spending the entire night gorging himself on every foodstuff imaginable he was discovered by one of the workers who ran to tell everybody.

We were of course worried about how we would get him out of there. We needn't have worried.

When we opened the door he literally crawled out on his belly. He had eaten so much that he went straight past us without even glancing left or right and groaning not growling. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had died as a result.

We didn't see him again for a week and when we did he had a very embarrassed look about him.

So, if you ever have to kill one of either of these species the easiest way would probably be to just feed the buggers to death..

A Hungry Honey Badger is an Angry Honey Badger..

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If you don't you may receive a visit from them and their pets.

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What are some really cool ways animals defend themselves?

Answer by Rory Young:

The honey badger uses raw courage to defend himself.

Whilst other animals use all sorts of weapons and tricks, the honey badger just uses his attitude.

Here is one example of their fearlessness; the naturalist Jonathan Kingdon recorded three Ratels taking a kill away from three sub-adult and four half-grown Lions.

Here is a video that shows six lions attacking a honey badger. What does the honey badger do? He turns around and attacks them! And then he escapes!

It is no wonder they have been called the world's toughest animal.

Here is another example; they are known to attack animals of any size to protect themselves and amazingly there are records from the Kruger Park in South Africa of them killing adult male Cape buffaloes!

So how does an animal that weighs just fifteen kilograms kill a fearsome buffalo weighing nine hundred kilograms, with inch-thick skin and overlapping ribs for armor?

The  answer I'm afraid will make any man cringe and live in fear of honey badgers forever after.

They go for the groin. Eish..

That's right. No queensbury rules or any other rules with these little buggers. They are the street fighters of the bush.

Of course such an animal couldn't be content to eat anything mundane either. One of their favorite snacks is cobra no less.

One thing that always makes me chuckle when I watch a honey badger wander past is the swagger. They really do swagger when they walk and they bloody well deserve to!

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Do you consider it morally wrong to kill elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

Speaking as someone who has killed elephants my answer is yes.

In “normal” circumstances in today’s world it is ethically wrong.

I must point out that I am not against ethical hunting and in fact find it preferable to eat meat from an animal that has lived a wild life with the ability to raise its young to adulthood rather than meat from a farm-raised animal killed in an abattoir.

Normal circumstances do not include starvation, problem animal control (animals that are destroying lives and property outside of wildlife areas) and population control necessary to sustain biodiversity.

The reason I believe it is unethical to kill elephants is because they are so intelligent, possibly self aware as you have indicated and also because they are now believed to be able to empathize.

Whilst all species need to be protected to ensure biodiversity is maintained and whilst I have enormous respect of Arne Naess’ philosophy of deep ecology, the reality is that there is a difference, when it comes to the individual animal, between killing a jelly-fish and an elephant. We do need to respect the fact that elephants areunusually special creatures.

However, despite the fact that I believe it is repugnant to destroy such a magnificent creature, if it will save the species and ensure the survival of many through the revenue raised then I will not only keep silent on the issue of trophy-hunting elephants but will actively support it.

That does not mean I swallow all the bullshit from hunting organizations about all the money that is going from hunting into conservation. I have been investigating the numbers and I know it’s bullshit.

Having said that, I must now say that the most terrible thing I have ever had to do, no matter how necessary, is kill elephants. It is soul destroying and I have never felt anything other than deep sadness, bitter anger and depression after shooting any elephant , even when it was unquestionably mercy killing.

Following is an account I wrote about an elephant bull I had to track and shoot that had been wounded by poachers. Perhaps it can give some people a glimpse of what it means to kill an elephant and the tragedy of wasting their lives.

Just a Few More Seconds Old Chap

I squatted down to get a better look, the pack on my back swaying me slightly off-balance. I placed the butt of my rifle down on the ground to steady myself and a large drop of sweat plopped into the red, powdery dust. The elephant tracks were several days old. It didn’t really matter that much that they weren’t fresh enough to follow  because I wasn’t really looking to find their owner.

I had been looking for fresher spoor when something odd had caught my eye. It was a drag mark.

This was neither the usual scuff mark that was made just before the foot was placed, rather than after or as it was lifted in the case of men for example. Nor was it the often seen, playful doodling of a trunk in the dust such as a laid back chap might make as he wandered down to the water to drink. This showed a harsh, continuous line on the ground from the last track left by the front right foot to the current track left by the same foot.

It was obviously a front foot because the track was round in shape, rather than oblong which would have indicated a rear foot. I could tell which direction the elephant was travelling because of the five toe-nail marks left by the front feet and the four toe-nail marks left by the rear ones. Actually, the left front had for toe-nails. The elephant had lost one, which is not at all an uncommon find with older bulls. I noted this along with other individual “labels” in case I needed to follow him or recognize his tracks at a later time.

I knew it was his right foot for a reason which also told of the direction he was travelling; wearing on the sole. The “pad” of an elephant’s foot is covered in a network of fissures, which show in the track as raised lines. The thick pad expands as the elephant places his foot, putting his weight onto it, and contracts as he lifts his foot, taking his weight off it. This sole wears with age just like one of our shoes does. However, whilst humans can be both over and under pronators, elephants are strictly under pronators, so the pad always wears on the outer side and, just like a human, at the rear of the foot.

The wearing was on the outside, taking into account the direction of travel, so it was his right foot. Judging by the amount of wear and the depth of the fissures in his feet, it was obvious that the bull was relatively old; the older the animal, the more the wearing of the pad at the rear. I say old bull because the same fissures were very raised on the large track; females have finer and shallower fissures in their smaller feet, so they were not raised in the track.

Sometimes it is necessary to compare the depth of the fissures at hand with a mental image of a male and females tracks of the same size but in this case it was obviously male as the tracks were simply too large for a female.

Next I turned my attention to the size. The bull was roughly two point seven five metres at the shoulder. Easier to determine than one might imagine because the height of an elephant at the shoulder is around two and a half times the circumference of the front track.. In this case the track of this bull’s front foot was around a hundred and ten centimetres. This was not huge, but relatively large for the Mutusadona or the Omay, where I was now squatting.

The bulls here were on average thirty centimetres shorter at the shoulder than those in Hwange in the West of Zimbabwe and even shorter still than the incredibly tall elephants from the deserts of Namibia.

However, although they are small, they have proportionally long, thin tusks. Beautiful to see but weight-wise disappointing for trophy hunters as, although they look impressive they tend to weigh as much as a relatively short but chunky tusk from the West. Many an apprentice professional hunter, from the Hwange area, had come short by over-estimating the weight of these elephants’ tusks.

The size was another indicator of age and combining the size, wearing and fissure on the feet I reckoned he was about thirty-five to forty years old.

Then I noticed something strange. The bull had been running. There was distance between the front and rear tracks. When an elephant walks normally, his rear foot will be placed roughly half-way over the front track. In other words, the put their back foot down where their front foot was, the back one going down as the front one is lifted away; on the left and right side respectively.

When an elephant speeds up the gait changes incrementally up to a fast amble, and this is reflected in the tracks by a spacing between the front and rear tracks; from overlapping to just touching to a small gap and eventually a large gap when at full speed.

An elephant walks at around seven kilometres per hour and reaches a top speed, doing the fast amble I mentioned before, as they can’t trot, canter or gallop due to their incredible weight.
This was a strange combination because the bull was both moving relatively fast and dragging his front foot; sort of a fast limping-run. Dragging his foot either meant an old disability, such as some healed wound, at best or some recent injury at worst, and if he was trying to get away fast whilst in pain then he was very frightened and this would be for reason.

There were no other elephant tracks anywhere nearby. I thought about my recent walk to this point. Not only had I seen no other elephant tracks but I had seen no predator’s tracks from the time of the bull’s tracks either. Other than the usual plains game such as impala and water buck the only other tracks from around the same time were from local fishermen who had stopped and eaten on the shoreline. I thought about it, his tracks were about the same age. The bull’s tracks had the same contrast with the drizzle marks around it as the fishermen’s, so had been created at the time of the light rain we had had three days earlier.

I had another look round; the bull had been feeding in the thick Mopani and had rushed away from the direction of the lake, where the fishermen had disembarked from their boat. This was very unusual because the bulls in this area tended to hang around the same location and were used to people, so why did he bolt when he came across people? It was starting to look like his bad leg and people were connected. I suspected his injury had recently been caused by man.

There was no blood. In the case of elephants this is nothing unusual. Their skin is so thick that it will seal a wound quickly and completely. This unfortunately means that the wound doesn’t drain and hence infection is rapid.

I re-assessed. A 2.75m tall bull, probably in his late thirties or early forties, moving as fast as he could go, away from fishermen who had stopped on the lake-shore; I strongly suspected he had been wounded either by poachers or bad news hunters who had not reported the incident. It was time to call it in.

I headed back to Musango where I was freelancing at the time. Iwas mostly doing walking safaris in the Matusadona National Park on the other side of the Ume River from where I had just found the elephant tracks.

The area where the bull had been was part of Gache-Gache Rural Council’s CAMPFIRE Project.

CAMPFIRE, or Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources,was an initiative to reintroduce and develop wildlife in the traditional or communal farming areas. Concessions were allocated and tendered out for both photographic and hunting safaris. Musango, Bumi Hills and Katete Lodges were all within the photographic safaris area.

Hunting areas were not far to the South from where we were but the operators were professionals and I found it hard to imagine them not reporting a wounded bull.

Steve,the owner of Musungo, radioed the National Parks Warden at Tashinga, the headquarters of Matusadona National Park.

At that time the warden was Zef, an older, experienced and no-bullshit officer with many years under his belt. I got along well with him, especially since my proficiency exam a couple of years earlier, when I had had an interesting time running into the middle of a heard of buffalos with him, on his say so, to shoot an old “dagga boy”. It turned out we both had the same attitude towards dealing with difficult situations with dangerous game, but that is another story.

Zef told Steve over the radio, “Wellensky or Young can shoot it in the Park if they find it has crossed over. Otherwise let me know if council are a problem and I will contact them”.

Colin Wellensky was an ex-Parks Professional Hunter with many years experience and was doing freelance walking safaris at Musango as well.

Steve then radioed Gache-Gache Rural Council based at Siakobvu. They advised that they would send the scout who was responsible for the immediate area to join us and that Colin and I should “check it out” and determine whether or not it needed to be shot, and if so, report back tothem for thego ahead.

A full day went by before the scout turned up. He was nervous and cocky and wouldn’t look us in the eye. Although his behaviour was a bit odd, we didn’t think much of it as we were more interested in getting going as the spoor was now four days old. Furthermore, more the most part the scouts were hand-working and dedicated as a rule and so deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Colin and I grabbed plenty of water and set off for the spot I had last seen the elephant’s spoor. Although the tracks were now four days old we followed them on the principle that he was probably not going to be able to move far and we would probably cut fresher tracks sooner or later.

After tracking him till the end of the day it clear that he was slowing down rapidly. Even more serious was the drops of stinking liquid that rayon the tracks. Clearly a very infected wound was suppurating. When an elephant’s wound reached that stage it was almost certain that sepsis would also have spread throughout his system.

Something else I noticed at this point was that his droppings contained hardly anything other than the Mopani we were moving through, not the normal healthy variety of foods needed to supply him with the nutrients necessary to sustain him. The outside of the dung was almost black with a varnish-like quality. This indicated very high levels of tannin. Mopani and other trees pump tannin into their leaves when browsed upon, and also message other trees downwind to do the same. For this reason an animal has to keep moving or the leaves will become bitter. Grasses do something similar with arsenic.

So, an elephant unable to move is going to get very high levels of tannin and arsenic in what he eats, in addition to a lack of necessary variety. Together with the infected wound this would ultimately cause a slow and painful death.

As the point we had reached was close to the Kariba Lake shore we decided to head back to Musango via a boat pick-up rather than sleep on the tracks.

On the boat trip back to camp we discussed the situation. We had no doubt that he was deteriorating extremely fast. He was also heading towards a fishing village. We couldn’t let him near people as he was now potentially deadly to man.

We had noticed this bull didn’t have anything wrong with the base of his foot because where he did put his foot down, obviously gingerly, it looked normal. We both suspected some other problem with his leg, and that was a bullet wound.

That evening Colin heard that he had to head out for some reason or other. There was a Learner Professional Hunter in camp, apprenticed to Steve who needed dangerous game experience, so I agreed that I would let him shoot or back up.

That evening a concerned couple asked me if we couldn’t bring in a vet to help. They even offered to pay for this.

We explained that infection spread so fast in such situations that a vet would be able to do nothing for him.

Just as importantly the amount of money that would be necessary to bring in a vet and dart and treat the elephant could be used to save many more elephants and rhinos through anti-poaching and other activities.

They immediately offered to donate the equivalent amount to anti-poaching and other activities.I was very impressed with their generosity and concern for our wildlife. They were Americans and I have had further occasion to admire many Americans for these selfless traits.

Lastly,the wildlife shared the area with people and had been reintroduced for mutual benefit; the locals benefited financially from photographic and hunting safaris and the animals would be free to roam where they once had before. That meant people lived and worked in the same area and no chances could be taken with the communities’ lives and property. In this case it was not only a kindness to the elephant to euthanize him, it was also a duty to the local people.

We set out the next morning whilst it was still dark and arrived on the shoreline where we had departed the day before.

Our council scout was waiting. He had fallen behind often the day before and we had not waited for him. He contributed nothing and still seemed jumpy. There was no love lost between us. He had his radio with him and a .458 but I made it clear he was to keep the radio off and the weapon unloaded. When embarking on a serious and dangerous task  it is necessary  to be focused, calm and aware.Some fellow constantly fidgeting and fussing behind you doesn’t help in any way and is more of a nuisance than a help.

We set off and very soon crossed fresher spoor from the same bull. We followed for most of the morning. By midday the spoor was as fresh as could be. He was now hardly covering any ground at all. We needed to end his suffering as quickly and efficiently as possible. We were very close to a fishing village and a person could easily bumble into him by accident. They wouldn’t stand a chance.
Even though the bull couldn’t walk properly because of pain and was so weak he was hardly moving,the sight of a person would trigger a surge of adrenalin through his body that would cover the pain and give him the energy to kill.

At this point we crossed the road dirt road that went from near Musango to Bumi Hills. I decided to stop and rest, as I knew we would be doing the final approach very soon.

I looked at Craig and realised that he was wound up as tight as a spring. The excitement was buzzing through him. This was the first dangerous game he had shot and I realised he was a likely candidate for a bout of buck-fever, so I told myself to keep this in mind and instructed him to get ready.

We chatted briefly about dos and don’ts and other bits and pieces and I checked his weapon and ammunition carefully. Then I told the game scout to stay well back and we got back on the tracks.

Within a couple of minutes we were in short but dense Mopani and couldn’t see further than our noses but I heard the bull rumble. We were next to a tree much larger than the rest, so I handed my rifle to Craig and started climbing. Half way up I had a good view of the bull who was only sixty metres away. He was upwind from us standing next to a large Mopani with one foot off the ground. Even from that distance I could see how his leg was grotesquely swollen. The tree he was under stood in a small clearing and I could see that we would have a clear shot from the edge of the clearing but that it was only twenty meters from the bull.

I climbed back down and headed back to the road, used the scout’s radio to speak to HQ and confirmed we were putting him down.
We began the approach carefully and about 40m from the bull I stopped and checked on Craig. He was so tense he was shaking and was breathing way too fast.

I told him we were going back. He asked why and I answered, “I need a smoke”. His jaw dropped and he went red in the face, then he followed me back to the road.

By the time we got there he had cooled down. Getting his mind off the hunt and getting him pissed off with me instead had worked and he was now pretty calm. I decided we should go back and get it done and that this time he would probably be okay.

Just then, a game drive vehicle from another concession came along at high speed and pulled up next to us in a cloud of dust. Two Learners climbed out with weapons, all talking at the top of their voices, as is polite among Mashonas.

They had heard from our scout’s radio chatter that we had found the bull and had requested permission from Council to also back-up. They announced this as though it were an instruction for me. So, of course, I answered no.

There was silence. I explained to them that I was conducting the hunt and therefore if was my decision. Furthermore, I was the only man present with a full license and I would not sign the letters they would need if they wanted the experience to count towards their exams so they could all f-off.

Without a letter they could not claim an animal hunted, backed-up or even accompanied. Then I got onto the radio to Council and let fly.

Council apologised and explained that one of the learners had over five years’ experience and had been chosen by a Pro Guide based at the concession who was known to me.

By this stage the learners attitude had changed remarkably and they were standing humbly, hat in hand, so I agreed that one could back up. But first I laid down the law and explained exactly how the approach would be done, making clear that they were not to shoot unless I gave the go-ahead.

We moved out and approached the point we had reached previously. There was no clear shot from there so we would have to move quite a bit closer.

I checked on Craig and saw that he was breathing smoothly and was focused rather than tense. Then I signaled to the other chap to join us. He did well and I relaxed somewhat.

I whispered to them that we would move up another twenty metres to the edge of the clearing and that when I gave the signal Craig should shoot. Once he had fired, the other chap should fire the back-up shot. Then I made clear that if the bull did not go down, because of the close proximity that I would deal with it. It would be too close to take any chances. He could easily kill us all from that close in a matter of a few seconds.

We approached to the point twenty metres further on. The bull was dozing. His misery was obvious. Yet despite the agony of his condition, I knew his will to live would be a deadly force if treated lightly.

Just a few more seconds old chap and your suffering will be over, I thought to myself.

I turned to Craig, slipping my own weapon off safety as I did so, and signaled to him to shoot when he was ready.

Craig fired, slightly too far back to be a heart shot, but not a bad shot. It was a common mistake with an elephant exactly side-on.

However, I had no doubt the bull would drop soon but soon would not be good enough.

The other chap’s back-up shot was terrible, straight through the guts.

These two shots had both happened within a second of each other.
Within another second the bull screamed and turned on us, immediately veering from the tree into a full speed charge at us.

A head shot on elephant is best described as “between the ears”. If you imagine a stick between the ear-holes then you are spot on.

Even better is to have a “3D” knowledge of where the brain is situated. Most importantly at short distance, aside from shot placement is focusing on nothing but getting it done.

At about fifteen metres as he was lifting his trunk to smash us, just a few steps for an elephant,I shot him through the brain.

The bull crashed to the ground as only as brain-shot can make happen. Then I walked back to Craig who was clearly wondering what had happened.

I explained that his shot was slightly too far back but still a kill-shot. However, not enough for us to have been safe waiting for the full effect of his shot to work!

Then I looked around for the other learner. He was nowhere to be seen. We eventually found him up the same tree I had earlier climbed looking for the bull.

Then, out of nowhere, people started appearing. In no time there were dozens of people armed with knives, axes and machetes ready to get stuck into the elephant. These situations can get nasty as people got out of hand and start fighting over more protein that they usually see in a year. People get hurt,so we organised leaders who would portion out the meat and clobber anyone who stepped out of line.

Finally I had a look at the elephant’s leg. The knee and most of the leg was badly swollen and full of pus. There was a small entry-wound in the knee.

Obviously, some bastard had shot him in the leg and not finished the job. The question was whether it was a poacher or hunter. There was no exit wound so Craig and I got to work extracting the bullet. At the same time we noticed the scout pacing around us, clearly a bag of nerves.

We located the bullet and it turned out to be a .458. The scout carried a .458 and was responsible for this area. However, so did most hunters. Then he snatched the bullet out of my hand, insisting that it had to go to Council who would in turn hand it over to the police.

Now I was really suspicious. I tried to insist that I hand it to the police directly but knew that I was wasting my time; I had no legal authority, whilst he was on his turf.

That evening, when we returned to camp, we immediately got hold of council on the radio. They explained that unfortunately the bullet had been “lost” whilst being transported to Siakobvu by the same scout.

I ground my teeth with the sheer frustration.

That evening I thought over the day’s events whilst sipping a Scotch by the campfire. The bull’s tusks were both over sixty pounds apiece. Not only had a magnificent animal’s life been wasted but if it had to die then his would have brought in a lot of sorely needed funds into the area for both the local people and the wildlife if he had been hunted by a paying trophy hunter.

I was glad to have ended the bull’s suffering and was pleased that Craig was a step closer to his full license and now had an elephant under his belt.

I kept my face and body calm and still for the clients also enjoying the campfire but inside I was boiling with anger at the attitude of a man who could wound an animal and then callously condemn it to a lingering and painful death.

I looked down at my clenched fist and sighed.


What are the dynamics of an elephant herd?

Answer by Rory Young:

Generally, the older the female in the herd the more dominant she will be. 

Adult males on the other hand  live on their own or form small temporary groups. Among the males the bigger the male is the more dominant he will be.

Elephants never stop growing although the growth does taper off dramatically after 25yo in males and 20yo in females. Therefore the older the male is the more dominant he will be too usually.

However, a bull in "musth", which is when a male elephant goes into season, will temporarily be more dominant than all other elephants, male or female.
Being in a herd is necessary for the females in order to protect the young. The downside however is that this makes getting enough food more difficult. It is of course easier to find enough food for one individual than a herd. For this reason the females are obliged to remain in herds whilst the males can wander off and feed themselves more easily in a usually less nomadic manner.

For the herds of females to find enough quantity of food and, especially importantly, to get the necessary variety of nutrients that they need, the females have to travel long distances to different locations for different foods. This necessitates a lot of acquired knowledge which is of course improved on over the years. This makes the older females more knowledgeable and more valuable and more dominant.

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How can a human subdue and overpower a full-grown elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

Absolutely not.

The weight of the trunk alone is as much a large man, with one big difference; the trunk is made up of 98% skeletal muscle whilst a whole man is made up of only 42% skeletal muscle.

However, for arguments sake let's look at whether men have ever managed to subdue elephants using hand held bladed-weapons?

Well, yes, they have.

The Shangaan people of South-Eastern Zimbabwe would sneak up on elephants and ham-string them by slicing the Achilles-tendon of one hind leg. I'm not sure how this was done quickly enough as elephant can turn very fast but there are records of it happening.

Once an elephant has one leg incapacitated it cannot go anywhere. Therefore they could just wait for it to begin starving, which happens within a matter of days as they need to eat 22 hours a day normally and over a wide area to get the nutrients they need. They would then spear it numerous times causing it to bleed to death.

Apparently many of them died in these attempts.

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If a crocodile can stay under water for almost a hour and a human can barely manage two minutes, then apart from lung size what is the ca…

Answer by Rory Young:

In addition having relatively large lung size proportional to its body, a crocodile is cold blooded and can reduce its heart-rate down to one beat per minute at will.

Being ectotherms means that they have a lower metabolic rate and htherefore can go for longer periods without food and oxygen. Reducing the heart rate lowers the metabolic rate even further.

Nile crocodile

On a croc-capture exercise I took part in twenty years ago or so on the Lower Zambezi we thought a large female we had caught  had died. There was literally no sign of life whatsoever. After lying "dead" for over an hour under a tree she suddenly began "growling"!

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How can you tell if an elephant is in “musth”?

Answer by Rory Young:

I can only answer in terms of African elephants.

There are three main things I look for:

Firstly seepage from the temporal gland. Although generally a sign of stress in elephants, in bulls in musth the gland will also be swollen and the seepage looks thinner.

Secondly I look for wet back legs and wet penis and sheath. The bull will seep urine and semen continuously onto the back legs. You can also often smell it.

Lastly I look at the attitude of the animal. Often they can be extremely aggressive but at the very least they will have a wide eye, showing a lot of the sclera, as though afraid, walk with their head held very high and they will take long strides. They also spend more time walking like this and less time feeding.

Once you have confirmed these points are all present get out of there!

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Could legalizing the sale of rhino horns actually save the African Rhino?

Answer by Rory Young:

I take a teaspoon of crocodile oil every morning.

Why? It might be good for my health.

Is it scientifically proven to be good for my health? No, not specifically, except perhaps for the fact that it is high in vitamin E.

So why do I take it and what has it got to do with the question?

Well, the reason I take it is because an eighty three year old man I know takes it and swears by it. He trains hard in the gym every evening, he has a thirty-something year old girlfriend, he walks with a ramrod-straight back and his mind is as sharp as a razor. Furthermore this is after having lived a hard life as a game-ranger and catching and breeding crocodiles. He never gets sick. Ever.

I am not harming myself by taking and I am not harming the crocodile population by taking it. In fact I am assisting the maintenance of the population. How? Well,this brings me to what this has to do with rhino horn.

Nile crocodile numbers had been reduced to critically low numbers. They were facing extinction.

Instead of just trying to protect the last crocodiles, a controversial decision was made in the 1960s to allow them to be farmed.
The system worked by collecting the eggs and incubating them. At two years of age the crocodiles reach their optimum food conversion level and are slaughtered, except for a percentage that are released into the wild.

The result of this system has been the dramatic recovery of the wild crocodile population and the maintaining of a "stock" captive population that can be used to boost numbers in the wild.

A similar argument has been used for zoos. That is that they serve as a reserve of species for later reintroduction into the wild. The problem however is that zoos don't make much money.

Now, let's get down to the question of "farming" rhinos.

Under the laws of many African countries a wild animal on your land belongs to you. The government can declare the species "specially protected"or what used to be known as "Royal Game". This means that it may not be killed. It does still however still belong to the property owner.

In the case farmed wild animals, depending on the country, ownership can be registered.

The argument for the farming is that the animal should still not be allowed to be killed but that it should be legal for rhino owners to "harvest" the horns and sell them.

The biggest supporter and proponent of this scheme is a man called John Hume who owns over 500 rhinos.

John Hume

A rhino horn takes three years to regrow after being cut. At least three kilograms of rhino horn can be expected every three years. The current prices in Asia is more than US$100'000 per kg. That means John Hume can potentially earn at least $50 million per year by harvesting and selling rhino horns.

Of course this doesn't take into account that prices would be depressed if large amounts of legal rhino horn hit the market but it also doesn't take into account the continued growth of the average Asian's disposable income. Most importantly whatever the potential earnings they would be dramatically more than what he earns tight now which is zero.

White Rhinos on a Private game farm.

The argument then is that if game ranchers were allowed to harvest and sell the horns they would breed and protect the populations on private land. I believe this is quite correct. Poachers can certainly be controlled on private land with the right funding, especially if they are kept in small fenced areas.

Keeping them in small, well-protected and fenced locations  effectively means they are no longer wild. That has been a common comment by reporters visiting John Hume's rhino population, that they are almost like cows, being fed and unconcerned by the presence of humans.

We can conclude two facts from this. These rhinos are not wild and yes this would allow the non-wild and semi-wild numbers to increase dramatically thus preserving a "stock" of rhinos for re-introduction into the parks and other wild areas at a later date.

What about the wild rhinos then? What effect would the sale of legally harvested horn have on the wild rhino population?

The opponents of this plan say that it will increase demand and allow horn from poached rhinos to be sold openly in Asia and increase demand.

What these people don't seem to understand however is that the demand already so massively outstrips the even illegal supply that there is absolutely no way of reducing demand via supply restriction of poached rhino horn.This is simply because the rhinos are being poached so fast that they will be extinct before any small impact on demand can be made.

Rhino horn is used in various Asian traditional medicines.

I take croc oil because it is legally available and might be good for me. However, others have a blind faith in its healing properties and will take it whether legal or not and will pay whatever they must for perceived health benefits. The same applies to rhino horn.

The speed at which the wild rhinos are being butchered means that dramatic anti-poaching measures have to be taken regardless of whether legal trade in harvested horns is permitted. However, because of the lack of success in reducing rhino poaching to date this cannot be relied on. We have reached the point of drastic measures being needed to reverse the declining numbers.

In conclusion, it is my belief that in the case of the rhino the only way to now save the species is for South Africa, which has the vast majority of rhinos left, to allow private game farmers to harvest and sell the horns for profit. I am not in agreement however with allowing the hunting of rhinos.

I have opposed legalizing the sale of rhino horn till now but have no more faith in African governments tackling the poachers properly nor in the international community properly tackling the trafficking of poached rhino horn, or any other endangered species product for that matter.

At the same time, rhinos in protected areas such as National Parks should have their horns injected with the recently developed products that render them useless for Asian medicine.

Injecting Rhinos' horns with non-lethal chemicals on the Sabi-Sabi reserve in South Africa.

Most importantly the poaching war needs to be taken seriously by African government and the trafficking of the horn taken seriously by the international community. It is because the governments are not doing anything to stop the decline in the Parks that we need to look to boosting numbers through legalizing sales in the private areas.

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