UPDATE FROM THE WILDEST AFRICA

I have very exciting news!

Firstly, the manual is out.

Secondly, I will, through ALERT and funded by Chengeta, be training the Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Department Anti Poaching Units.

Thirdly, through ALERT and funded by Chengeta, under UN OPS, be training the Guinea Parks Ranger Officers in Anti Poaching.

More to come soon too! In the meantime I hope you enjoy the full stories below..

Best wishes and thank you for all your support. We are doing great things together!

Rory

July 20 2014

Africa’s wildlife is under attack from poachers, and many species face imminent extinction if the killing continues at current rates.
The campaign group Save the Elephants estimates that between 2010 and 2012, 33,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory each year. Last year, 1,004 rhino were killed in South Africa alone. In the Central African region the illegal bush-meat trade totals up to 3.4 million tonnes per year, with poachers targeting primates, antelope, carnivores, rodents and fish.
Wildlife loss however is dwarfed by the illegal trade in flora. Currently, up to 90% of wood and wild plant products are believed to come from illegal sources.
With a projected human population increase in Africa of another 1.1 billion people by 2050, and increasing global demand for Africa’s wildlife products, continued poaching will lead to widespread extinction and large-scale deforestation, with impacts felt globally.
To address this complex issue, the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) and Chengeta Wildlife have published “A Field Manual for Anti-Poaching Activities”. The first publication of its kind, the manual presents the most comprehensive and pragmatic doctrine ever devised to bring the practice of poaching under control. Further, this doctrine utilises existing local resources and personnel with objective and low-cost solutions.
The doctrine has been developed by Rory Young of Bannon-Tighe Global Assessment Group –himself a professional tracker with 25 years’ experience, alongside a number of security professionals with experience in investigations, special operations, law enforcement, and S.W.A.T. training doctrines. The combined experience of these contributors has created a doctrine capable of tackling poaching from every angle and at every step of the process.
David Youldon, Chief Operating Officer for the Zambian based ALERT says, “Right now, organizations often end up latching onto some expensive technology or super-warrior as the magic formula to tackling the issues of wildlife protection. Generally, the feeling is that soldiers are the people for the job, and the troops are being sent in more and more. There are also many programs where serving and former foreign military men train scouts according to established military doctrine. This is just not the answer. Most of these troops are sent out and cannot find the “enemy”. They patrol around and around without ever even seeing a poacher. This is because poachers, although often skilled fighters, are not conducting a military campaign – and they are past masters at not being found. Conventional military practices do not apply. What is needed in this struggle is a comprehensive doctrine, developed specifically for the complex and organized crime that poaching is, and that addresses all the problems with objective and inexpensive solutions.”
Co-author Rory Young explained that through ALERT he intends to provide training free of charge to Africa’s anti-poaching units to increase their effectiveness. The doctrine and training includes: pro-active and reactive investigation techniques to understand the movements, areas of operation and modus operandi of poachers; surveillance and tracking skills to locate the poachers – developed with many years’ experience and incorporating aspects of anthropology, podiatry and forensic science; apprehension techniques to ensure a safe and effective method to capture poachers; and most importantly, how to prevent poaching in the first place. He says, “Training is conducted within local and international laws and adapted to local conditions and sensitivities. Wherever possible local trainers are to be used, and, the training of local individuals able to provide future training, is always the primary goal. What we need is for these improved techniques to spread like wild-fire.”
Lisa Groeneweg of Chengeta Wildlife, who is overseeing fundraising to implement the training programmes, explains, “At the moment we have sufficient funding to continue offering training courses for the next few months, but we urgently need more donations to meet the huge demand from African governments and anti-poaching units for training, as well as sponsors of the manual so that we can provide all rangers and scouts working in anti-poaching in Africa with a copy”.
To read a sample of the manual click here.
To purchase an electronic copy of the manual, and help fund the training of APUs in Africa visithttp://goo.gl/d80Kwz
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of the manual so that free copies can be provided to APUs in Africa, contact info@lionalert.org
If you would like to make a donation to support this cause you can do so here.

SECURING MALAWI’S NATURAL HERITAGE
The Southern African nation of Malawi has not escaped the scourge of poaching that is decimating wildlife populations across the continent. In many of the nation’s protected areas some species have already gone extinct, with many more in peril. The most recent estimates suggest that only around 30 lions remain in the country.
ALERT has offered assistance in the form of anti-poaching training to enhance the effectiveness of existing operations. Agreement has been reached with the Department of National Parks & Wildlife to bring the heads of anti-poaching for all of Malawi’s national parks together to undertake an intensive training course starting this August that will include training in how to pass on their knowledge to their anti-poaching teams when they return to their own parks. Training will be funded by Chengeta Wildlife.
ALERT is extremely proud to work with the Malawi Department for National Parks & Wildlife to support wildlife protection in the country.

ESTABLISHING WILDLIFE PROTECTION IN GUINEA
There has been no formalised body of national park rangers in Guinea since 1966, a country that holds one of the last remaining lion populations in West Africa. Scientists believe that only 250 adult lions remain in the whole of West Africa, with Guinea forming part of the Niokolo-Guinea lion area that includes parts of neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal. A small sub population of perhaps only 5 – 8 individuals also survives in Guinea’s Upper Niger National Park.
A 2-year pilot initiative to implement a wildlife protection program in the country has begun – funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in partnership with the Republic of Guinea’s Ministry of the Environment, Water and Forests. The aim is to support the Ministry in the creation and application of a new corps of rangers in three of Guinea’s protected areas: Upper Niger National Park, Ziama Massif Biosphere Reserve and Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve. The project was also conceived with the aim of reintegrating ex-combatants, and in providing support to the regular army in the context of regional insecurity. UNOPS are currently in the process of rehabilitating the operational bases of these three sites, and selecting and equipping 38 officers and 290 rangers. If successful, activities may be extended to a total of 4000 rangers across the Guinea’s protected area network.
Basic training of the officers and rangers will commence in August. One major training area needed for the project’s success is training in anti-poaching techniques. To that end UNOPS have reached agreement with ALERT to provide training throughout October and November 2014. Training will be funded by Chengeta Wildlife.
ALERT looks forward to working with the Republic of Guinea and UNOPS in supporting wildlife protection in this region.

It’s time to stop the killing

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rb65rxjTsA

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.

How smart are elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

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

Mature Female African Elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/61004…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elephant painting in thailand.

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

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

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

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

Answer by Rory Young:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My relationship with Patches was a whole different story.

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

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

Eventually Patches almost got me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the story?”, I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Patches was standing quietly nearby.

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

I shot stumpy through the brain.

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

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

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

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

Answer by Rory Young:

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

Lions taking down cap _buffalo.

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

Lioness Hunting

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

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

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How would you describe the mood of this young elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

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

Please see ElephantVoices Gestures Database – Attentive – Listening – Monitoring

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

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

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

Answer by Rory Young:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the scouts opened fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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