How does laughter unite people together?

Answer by Rory Young:

Your women are so ugly that even your goats refuse to be seen with them..

Believe it or not such comments are an ancient and crucial means of maintaining peacebetween certain tribes in Central Africa.

It is called joking kinship. Basically two tribes were at war and decided enough was enough. A truce was declared and the different chiefs/kings agreed to become "cousins" or allies.

Kinship is declared and from that day forward by both tribes.They will now strictly adhere to all rules for treating members of their own tribe when dealing with their new "kin", except for one important difference. They are permitted to and even expected and encouraged to make fun of each other at every opportunity.

African chiefs are wise enough to know that two different
cultures cannot live in perfect harmony and they therefore give their people a vent for all the little things that will cause annoyance and disgust.

Facebook has allowed Joking Kinship to reach new heights. One of the most popular pages in Zambia is Facebook where Lozis from Western Zambia and Tongas from Southern Zambia are able to let rip at each other in hilarious attacks – which can at times be shocking for outsiders.

Here are a couple of examples:


Saturday morning and Mrs Hamankwamu is already
dressed for her friend's Kitchen party in Banakaila.


Application for employment from a typical cheeky Barotse (Lozi).

Perhaps the rest of the world could learn a thing or two about keeping the peace between different ethnic groups from the tribes of Central Africa..

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How does one become more creative?

Answer by Rory Young:

File:PC – 7300 – 0014, Matemere Bernard, Eagle, 1973.jpg

I once asked this question of the most creative person I had ever met.

He wore a ragged old pair of overalls, a battered old floppy hat with the faded logo of some random fertilizer company displayed on it, and "manyatellas", which are basically flip-flops made from old car tyres and sat on an upside down old crate whilst he banged away on a lump of rock with a hammer. This was, I knew, all very deceptive.

Just as misleading was the fact that he was practically illiterate. Most of his childhood had been spent herding cattle in the African bush and he had only done four years of schooling. His only formal employment, many years before this, had been driving tractors on tobacco farms.

Despite all of this, he was successful, wealthy and very famous. His name was Bernard Matemera  and he was a world renowned sculptor. He was amongst the most famous proponents of a type of sculpture known as  Shona art.

Historically art in Africa always had a purpose. It had been decorative or religious. Art was not usually created for its own sake. In the late 1950s that changed dramatically. There was an explosion of creativity in the out in the bush in Zimbabwe that literally that continues to this day.

In 1966 a failed tobacco farmer called Tom Bloemfield decided to give up farming and turn his land into a giant art workshop, utilizing the soapstone that was found there. The place was called Tengenenge and Tom invited artists to form a community on his property. He was laughed off by everybody as a crackpot and his artists as nobodies.

Bernard Matemera was one of these nobodies. Before his death in 2006 he had exhibited all over the world and become the most famous of a group of incredibly talented and unbelievably talented artists.

Yet he stayed a humble and simple man. Although he looked like he had just crawled out of the bush and his workshop was just another patch of ground near other equally ambiguous pieces of ground in the bush at Tengenenge, I knew he had earned the respect of some of the most famous art critics in the world.

He was happy for me to sit with him and chat while he worked and every time I visited Tengenenge I would stop by for a few hours and "chew the cud" with him while he worked.

One day I asked him where he believed creativity came from. Although usually light-hearted and casual in his conversation, he took this question very seriously and stopped what he was doing to sit down before answering me very carefully.

"What I see in my head is what is from deep inside me and from the spirits". He continued, "if it doesn't come to me I must wait or go and look for it. We are all different and we should not try to be the same but we must be Mhunu".  Mhunu is the Shona equivalent of the philosphy of Ubuntu implies "oneness".

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What goes through your mind when you see someone begging?

Answer by Rory Young:

Very vivid memories.

The first of a filthy old beggar sitting on the pavement holding out a bowl and one of my sixteen year old classmates taking a run up and kicking it out of his hand. I have never felt so ashamed to be in company of another human being in my life.

The second memory is of standing in the icy rain in Boulogne in France and asking a truck driver for a coin to make a phone call. I was seventeen years old and my friend and I had not slept for five days.

We had been hitching lifts and begging meals or coins all the way from Marseilles after arriving there from Corsica. Wearing only T-shirts and jeans, cold and wet, our spirits were at their lowest. Now we stood at the English Channel and were stuck. Our only options were either to stow away on a truck heading onto a ferry or try and call my friends family to come and get us. The coin I was asking for was to make that call.

The English trucker gave us a coin and we thanked him profusely. We tried to make the call and failed to get anyone on the line. We would later discover that they were away. We were too exhausted to even try and sneak onto a boat. We were broken.

A short while later we were on a bench in an open waiting area and I just ran out of juice. I passed out or fell asleep on the bench and woke soon after because I couldn't stop my body from shaking violently. The trucker who had given us the coin, and another, were standing there and tried to help me. They asked us who we were and what was going on. I told them.

A few hours later we were sitting in the warm lounge of a ferry. The truckers had smuggled us on board in their trucks.

Once we were on our way they ordered us full English breakfasts and coffee. I was about to try and get into the UK without a passport and as a non citizen or resident, and had no idea what I would do or where I would go if I did get in. Still, I felt better than I had in a long, long time. The two truckers had no reason to help us and could have gotten into big trouble for doing so yet they did. That gave me an incredibly good feeling and brought back my confidence and determination.

So, whenever I see a beggar, I always think back and wonder what would have happened if I had approached a trucker for a coin who had the same attitude as my old classmate.

Anyone can end up desperate and needing to ask for help.

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What is your opinion on zoos?

Answer by Rory Young:

Painted Wolves. African Wild Dogs. Cape Hunting Dogs. Lycaons.

These are the different names that one of my favorite animals is known by.

Lycaon pictus

Following them when they were hunting in Northern Botswana were some of the most thrilling experiences of my life. They can run up to eighty kilometers in a day and will run an animal down over ten kilometers without breaking their pace. The animal is singled out and the pack will run right by other animals so focused are they on their intended quarry.

We would race along, trying to keep up with them. The end though was often hard to watch and hear as they will literally tear an animal to pieces. Still, it is very quick, especially compared to other large predators. I have watched lions slowly eat a buffalo from the rear while it is alive.

They are incredible animals. Although brutal killers, the pack are incredibly close. Animals will stay behind to look  after sick dogs and the pups. All these animals will be fed by others regurgitating meat when they return from the hunt. There is group interaction for every event. Before hunting they will psych each other up with growing excitement.

Walking up to them is always an incredible experience. I like to lie down and throw my hat in front of me. They are incredibly curious and will run up and check you out, sniffing the hat.

 I have only once seen a completely silent group of wild dogs. All unmoving. They were in a fenced area at the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam.…

The pen was clean. The dogs were well fed and healthy, but their behaviour was all wrong. There wasn't any behaviour. They all just lay in the small area and stared at nothing. As thrilling as watching them hunt was, this was so sad.

I feel the same way when I look at the fat, unfit lions or bored primates.

I can never like a zoo. However, I will tolerate and even help them because they are, in today's world, a necessary part of ensuring the continued existence of many species that are or soon will be extinct in the wild.

They are not, however, in any way a normal or wonderful thing. They are to me, a sad necessity. A world where the wild is contained behind bars is a sick world.

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How do adult male elephants interact with other elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

Life is unfair. Life in the world of elephants is very unfair. Male elephants are much better off in so many ways than the females.

A solitary bull elephant feeding quietly on his own. The scene is calm and peaceful.

Male elephants are large enough and powerful enough to defend themselves against any predator (except for man in very recent times). Therefore they are not obliged to stay with a herd for safety in numbers. Being able to move around on their own is a great advantage. Solitude means that a much, much smaller amount of food needs to be found every day.

A cow herd on the move. They are very aggressive. The female at the front is missing most of her trunk.

Cow herds on the other hand are forced to roam great distances in order to find enough food to feed the whole group every day. This is a more stressful and dangerous existence as the females and calves are vulnerable to attack by lions. Even adult female elephants can be attacked by lions. Linyanti in Botswana has been famous for its prides regularly bringing down adult female elephants. The cow herds therefore are very defensive and busy with less idle time.

Two young adult bull elephants playfully working out who is the more dominant.

So, elephant bulls have a lot more "idle" time on their trunks than the females. However, they don't waste this extra time feeling lonely and standing around doing nothing. They get together with their buddies and do the elephant equivalent of arm-wrestling. They figure out dominance by fighting.

A "casual" approach. His trunk is not only slung over one tusk but he is sucking it! How less serious could a suggested sparring session be?

This fighting can range from mild, playful pushing to raging battles to the death. There is much language and ritual involved with bulls approaching each other and indicating their intention. This can be a casual approach with the trunk hung over one tusk to indicate a "relaxed" disposition or a head-held-high, roaring attack. The laid back approach will usually be a casual session to figure out who is stronger whilst the death match will usually involve two bulls in musth.


A bull just going into musth. His penis were beginning to drip, he was secreting from the temporal gland and he had a bad, bad attitude. A girl or a fight was what he was after.

Musth is when a male elephant goes "into season". He will have as much as two hundred times the normal level of testosterone pumping through his system. When a bull goes into musth he turns into a monster. All he wants is a female to mate with and will fight to the death to get it. Other bulls that are more dominant will get out of his way. As elephants never stop growing, the older bulls are usually more dominant. Musth allows younger, less powerful bull a chance to "get their leg over". There is a cost to this though. A bull in musth hardly eats as he only has one thing on his mind. They cannot stay in musth for more than three months or so or they would probably die. They lose a lot of weight during musth and come out of it exhausted. The other big downside is of course that should they bump into another bull then one or both of them will very likely be killed.

I will give you an example of the behaviour of bulls in musth.

I was once driving along the Matusadona shoreline in Zimbabwe. Matusadona is famous for its big-tusked elephants  and one of these huge fellows started moving fast towards me from half a kilometer away. There was no way he could see me from that distance so he was heading towards the sound of the vehicle.

I stopped and waited for him. As he drew closer I realised that he as in musth. All the signs were there, most notably his attitude. He was striding with his head high. When he was a hundred metres away he charged.

I drove away, just keeping the same distance between us to see what he would do. When he realised that he couldn't catch up to me he suddenly, in full charge, collapsed his front legs driving his tusks deep into the ground, all accompanies with loud roaring (not trumpeting).

There is another important advantage to bulls going into musth. It actually gives the girls a break.

When a female goes into season every male for miles around will try to mate with her. The whole herd will often try to chase of large numbers of excited males and the poor girls will become exhausted by it all. Hardly a situation likely to encourage conception.

When a bull in musth turns up however, everything changes. The other bulls back off and the female in season will attach herself to him so as to be left alone by all the others. The rest of the herd understandably encourages this.

Generally males are not welcome amongst a herd and females also do not socialize with females from other herds even. There is of course one great exception to this rule…

Every boy has to visit his mum from time to time!

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How will the funds donated by Quorans be used by The Tashinga Initiative to protect wildlife?

Answer by Rory Young:

Please look carefully at how the men in this picture are dressed and equipped.

Everything is rudimentary, worn and broken. One of the AK47s didn't even have a stock. The scout carrying it would only be able to fire it without raising it to his shoulder and sighting it. When I took the photo a few weeks ago, these men were tired, sore and hungry after covering long distances daily for twenty days.

Now turn your eyes to their faces.

They are smiling genuinely and their heads are held high.

These men are humble people but proud of what they do. They are also resigned to the possibility that they may very well die defending the animals that they have dedicated their lives to protecting.

These men do not receive medals, decent salaries, awards or even public recognition for the work they do, without the necessary training, equipment and other reseources to do it well.

I will not say in which country or park this picture was taken, just that it was in a wildlife area of the Middle Zambezi.

There are wildlife areas and all along the river and in all the countries that border it. They are all in need of assistance. Sometimes it is training. Sometimes it is transport. Sometimes it is communications equipment. Sometimes they just need someone to look after their wives and children and find them clean water or try somehow to improve their futures.

The Tashinga Initiative tries to help fill these needs so that the rangers are able to better do their work.

In just a few days $8k was raised by Quorans eager to help. This was all started by Lisa Groeneweg, a person I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago. She now looms large in my life, along with all the others who have so generously given in work and money to try and help win this war. I am extremely grateful. Behind the scenes Jay Bell has been working non-stop to get the word out and Oliver Emberton has been lending his time and expertise to assist in fund-raising.

I have had long discussions with Lynne Taylor, the head of the Tashinga Initiative about how the money should be spent so as to have the greatest impact. We have agreed that it will be used to provide expert support, training and operational capacity to assist in wildlife protection and management activities in the Zambezi River Basin Area".

A plan for a project to support and enhance wildlife protection operations has been sitting gathering dust for a long time. With the recent sharp escalation of ivory poaching this project has become urgent. TTI has managed to secure a boat and vehicle and this money will enable specialists to train, guide, support, deploy teams in the field wherever the situation is most serious and the need greatest for a period of one month.

I have agreed to run the project for two to three weeks of that time, alternating with another specialist.

There have been many remarks of disappointed that not more money was raised. Please understand that one month of this activity will have a clear and a large impact. Just today I received news of two more elephants killed in Matusadona. Please see Two More Elephants Poached in Matusadona by Rory Young on Quorans For A Cause This is just one of many wildlife areas. Some areas are losing many elephants every single day.

Photo: Matusadona Anti Poaching Project MAPP

In addition to her donations and tireless efforts, Lisa Groeneweg has also donated a GoPro camera. I will be using this to show people what happens on the ground. Some work will be sensitive and cannot be filmed but I can assure you that the footage released will be variouslyeye-popping, sad, exhilarating and beautiful. Thank you Lisa.

Some people have complained that no celebrities have rallied to support the efforts here and that governments should be funding the work. To hell with them! This will never be won by celebrities or politicians. It will be won by all the "little people". Politicians don't care and will only jump around when they see all the "little people" want this to end. As for the celebrities, I don't care if they are not interested. We will do it without them.

My heroes are the people here who help and the people on the ground.

Thank you.

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What is Nelson Mandela’s legacy?

Answer by Rory Young:

Peace, hope and dignity.

Stanley M made it clear to me that he hated me and all white Africans. We were sitting in a tent and had just heard about Nelson Mandela’s release. Stanley was a former Zimbabwean ZANLA guerilla fighter. He told me that payback time was now coming to white South Africans and they would get what they deserved.

I thought back to the year I had spent at boarding school in Kimberley in South Africa in 1985 as a 12-13 year old. I remembered a pleasant evening walk from a church service back to school. My friend and I were strolling along a small street lined with pretty colonial bungalows, all with lovely little gardens. It was sunset and we were enjoying the walk and laughing at some silly stories we were telling each other. We were interrupted by a voice from one of the verandahs.

Kaffir“, it said.
[Edit: Kaiffir is the most derogatory word for a black person]

I turned and saw a family sitting in silence with cold faces staring at us. I looked to my friend. His name was Hilton and he was black. He was small and harmless and a good boy. He now had a look of fear on his face; a look also of sadness, disappointment and frustration. He searched my face, waiting for my own reaction. I smiled pathetically and tried to make light of it. I failed.

“Hey kaffir boetie, voetsek!” This was from the verandah of the next house along. Again, cold stares. We ignored it and continued.
[Edit: “boetie” literally means little brother, but is meant sarcastically and “voetsek” means roughly “piss off”.]

As we approached the next house, I heard in English, “Get that little kaffir out of here soutpiel!” We walked half a kilometre along the row of houses and, every step of the way, both he and I were insulted; he for being black and me for simply walking with him.
[Edit: “soutpiel” is a derogatory name used by Afrikaners for Anglo-Africans. It literally means “salt prick”, implying that Anglo-Africans have one foot in Europe and one in Africa and that their penis hangs in the ocean becaue they are not truly from Africa]

Our school was a private one and thus could admit black kids, unlike the government schools which were all strictly segregated. We had been walking through a white area where any black would have required a special pass to enter. It was a huge shock and a lesson to me. I was struck not only by the laws, but by the real hatred of this whole street towards my friend simply because he was black.

I came back to the present. I was worried. Stanley was right, white South Africans would be wiped out, murdered on the streets. I had absolutely no doubts about it.

I had of course heard of Nelson Mandela. I had heard that he had been a “terrorist”, as some called him, or a “freedom fighter” as others called him. I expected a man like Samora Machel or Robert Mugabe. I certainly didn’t expect the Nelson Mandela we would all learn to respect and love. African leaders had always been a disappointment to me. They had been hugely consistent in their ability to mismanage, steal from their people and of course butcher their enemies.

I couldn’t imagine the Afrikaners letting themselves be governed by a black man and an ANC government. On the news I saw Eugene Terblanche rallying the AWB to fight when the inevitable black revenge came. It would of course spill over into Zimbabwe, Namibia and other African countries and it would descend into bloody civil war. Those of us in the middle would be forced into one group or another, as always happens. My own family had been divided during the war in Rhodesia. Would I end up fighting my own?

It never happened. Nelson Mandela not only became the great example of a leader that Africa needed, he became a unique and wonderful example to the whole world. He also became a personal example to me. If he could go against the flow and stand alone in order to do the right thing, then so could we all. Not just South Africans, but Africans of all nationalities, colours and creeds. Nelson Mandela became a greater leader than any white leader. He was a man who could be respected, admired and loved more than any other politician, and he was black! What a gift to mankind.

Nelson Mandela flew so high above the ideals and actions of any other man of his generation that he changed my little world and the greater world I live in forever, giving me and all Africans, both black and white an ideal to live by and a future to believe in.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy is peace in South Africa for the last twenty years, hope for the future and dignity for himself, his people, his country and his continent.

Without his amazing personal leadership and ability to inspire people to forgive and reconcile there would have been a very different outcome and no matter who leads his country in the future, they will always have to live in his moral shadow. He has shown us the way.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is our conscience.

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Wildlife: What will be more effective as a means to end Elephant and Rhino Poaching, Park Rangers or alleviating poverty?

Answer by Rory Young:

Ivory poaching has not decreased as poverty has been alleviated, the opposite has happened. This is because ivory and rhino horn poaching are about green not hunger!

As Africa (where the poaching happens) and the Far East (where the biggest market is) have grown economically, and especially with regards to their per capita income, the poaching of ivory and rhino horn has escalated in tandem with this economic growth.

Zimbabwe National Parks Rangers On Parade At Tashinga in Matusadona National Park.

I have received a number of negative and even aggressive dismissive comments about raising funds for anti-poaching activities in National Parks. These people have been saying that it is a waste of time and that to end poaching we need to focus on poverty alleviation. These people are wrong.

First of all, there is a massive difference between poaching for meat  and the poaching of elephants and rhinos for ivory and horn.

Let's look at bush meat first. Meat poaching is not a very profitable venture but the costs of poaching meat are also low. There is a definite link between meat poaching in Zimbabwe for example and poverty/hunger. During the economic crisis meat-poaching rocketed.

It is also the easiest type of poaching to deal with. The meat-poachers are typically unsophisticated in their methods and not overly industrious in their efforts. They will usually lay snare-lines or hunt with dogs.

Most of the meat will be consumed by the poachers and their kin with any surplus being sold on. Dealing with these poachers usually entails first lifting snares in an area that has not previously been patrolled and then creating a deterrent by making arrests.

Education and community outreach are crucial. The same communities that the meat-poachers come from need to know how poaching negatively impacts their lives through loss of tourism revenue for example.

The countries which experience the worst meat-poaching are those with the worst rule of law, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is out of control and a huge threat to wildlife populations simply because the government is doing nothing about it.

Rhino and elephant poaching in Central, Southern and East Africa is a whole different kettle of fish.

There is the occasional inexperienced group or individual who might dig up an old rifle and try to shoot an elephant so as to make a few bob out of the tusks but those are not a serious threat and are usually found and arrested very quickly if there are rangers operating in the area.

The real threat and the cause of all the devastation are the "professional" poaching teams. These are men for whom killing elephants and rhinos is their livelihood and it is a very lucrative livelihood which is why they are also willing to shoot dead any rangers who try to stop them.

Here is a typical report: (WELL DONE TO OUR RANGERS IN MARONGORA)
On the 13th of November 2013, three Rangers (names withheld) were out on extended patrol in the Sharu general area in Rifa. Around 0600hrs early in the morning they picked up a spoor of three people coming from the Zambezi River heading inland.
They tracked for a short distance and came across a place where the poachers had camped. The poachers fired at the rangers who also fired back. This led to the poachers fleeing from their camp.
Hereunder is the list of the recoveries that our Rangers recovered.

  1. 1x AK 47 rifle serial number 386)56
  2. 1x .375 rifle with erased serial number
  3. 21x .375 rounds of ammunition
  4. 16x  AK 47 rounds of ammunition and one magazine.
  5. 2 x aluminium cooking pots and one aluminium plate.
  6. 15kg mealie meal of Zambian label  (Champion breakfast by name)
  7. 750 iltres cooking oil of Zambian label  (OKI packaged in Lusaka)
  8. 1x lighting torch
  9. 1x pair of shoes and 1 pair slippers (pata pata type)
  10. Assortment of clothing including shirts, T shirts, jerseys and trousers.
  11. 1x hand axe and one ripping knife.
  12. Some various tablets and water purifying liquid.


  • The poachers were Zambians judging from the labels on their belongings and direction from which the spoor was coming.
  • The poachers were just entering the park for a poaching expedition.
  • The poachers were three in number and the direction of flight was towards the Zambezi River which was less than 5 kilometres from the contact scene.
  • It seems the poachers had not shot anything as they had just entered the Park the previous night.

With the onset of the rains and the sprouting of vegetation, poachers take advantage of the environs which they use as cover for their illegal activities. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority however warns would be poachers that illegal entry into any Parks for the purposes of poaching is suicidal and Parks will be pro active in order to remain on top of the situation. The Authority will continue to take poachers as they come.

The above list is the typical make up of a professional poaching team. They have crossed the border from Zambia into Zimbabwe. Hopping back across the border when they have completed their filthy task will leave them in the clear.

Amongst the group there is one "hunter" who is armed with the .375; a weapon designed for shooting big game such as elephant. The serial number has been removed because it has been bought legally in a gun shop in Zambia, along with the ammunition for it. It has been properly licensed for legal hunting or target shooting and then handed over to the poaching team. It will have been kept away from the poachers along with all other equipment so that they cannot be associated with any illegal activity in Zambia (don't shit on your own doorstep). This rifle is not primarily a weapon of war.

There is also an AK47 assault rifle. This weapon would have been kept hidden in the bush somewhere most likely and would  have come from one of the guerilla units fighting in any one of a number of wars during the last forty years or so.

The AK47 is not suitable for shooting elephants. It would only wound elephants and cause them to bleed to death slowly or die slowly from septicemia. This weapon is a weapon of war and meant for use against rangers. In 1989 the parliament of Zimbabwe passed the National Parks Indemnity Act because of the fact that these poaching teams were entering the country armed for war and using the weapons against rangers who in turn were not fully protected under the law if they returned fire. When the Act was passed it was condemned by many countries and organizations, including the WWF, who called it a shoot-to-kill policy.

Zimbabwe realized in 1989 that the people who were coming to kill elephants were former soldiers and criminals who meant business and responded appropriately. To this day Zimbabwe's successes against ivory and rhino horn poaching were almost unique in the world. Unfortunately the economic disaster in Zimbabwe has made it impossible to train, equip and support the rangers as before.

There is a lot of organizing involved in this horrible business. Someone has offered to fund the team. They will have been paid deposits. Someone else has added his knowledge of who to employ and how much to pay them. The food and equipment has been purchased. Meetings have been held to decide which area to target. On their return the money would have been paid, based on the weight of the ivory, all the components and evidence redisbursed and the ivory handed over to the organization or individual that funded the expedition.

This is organized crime. It is a premeditated and carefully planned and executed criminal endeavor. It is also one that adds the use of the tools of war to terrorize the men tasked with guarding these natural areas and their animals. There is huge money involved. The current street value of rhino horn is around $150'000 and rising fast. A rhino's two horns will weigh around 3kg each equating to street value of $900'000. Ivory is going for around $10'000 per kilogram. A Matusadona bull elephant's tusks will easily weigh 25kg each at least; so $500'000 per animal.

This is not about poverty alleviation. These people are making a lot of money. The poachers on the ground are not making as much as the dealers but they are still getting rich by our countries' standards. They are wealthy people. If they shoot five elephants they can retire in comfort. However, they continue killing and killing and killing and making more and more and more.

Amazingly, we have been here before. The elephants and rhinos of Southern, Central and East Africa were all wiped out to one degree or another by early colonial hunters. To save what was left and allow the populations to recover a decision was made to create reserves, National Parks, sanctuaries where the animals would be left alone. These would be large areas where gene pools could be protected. Pragmatically but controversially adjacent to these areas would be established "safari areas" where hunting would be allowed and would be used to raise money.

These National Parks began to flourish.
Soon the game began to repopulate the safari areas and spill over back into the traditional and commercial farming lands. Eventually private (commercial) and communal (rural council/traditional) game ranching became big business.

The efforts to combat poaching are being undertaken in all these different zones. There are many different variables associated with each and different degrees of success with each type of land-ownership in different countries. This is of course necessary to maintain overall populations of wildlife for tourism for example.

So why focus on the National Parks.
It is not possible to protect all the areas properly. We need sanctuaries for endangered species that are intensively protected, whether private or National. In Zimbabwe, the private reserve Madikwe is successfully protecting a population of 200 rhinos. Lake Chivero Rhino Sanctuary and Matobo National Park are National Reserves where rhinos are successfully being protected. However, these areas are not enough.

Matusadona National Park was declared an "Intensive Protection Zone" in the early1990s.
It is the home of the last of the rhinos of the the middle and lower Zambezi river basin and also the home of a unique gene pool of large-tusked elephants. It needs to be protected and rhinos reintroduced to rebreed and build a viable genetic stock.

The rangers are the front line. Without them in the field the animals stand no chance. Changing the attitudes of the buyers in Asia and elsewhere will take time. While that work continues the rangers have to hold the fort!

Park Rangers on patrol in Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe.

The Tashinga Initiative is focused on primarily, but not only, on providing support to the rangers of the Middle Zambezi. Please visit this blog Quorans For A Cause where amazing people are doing what they can to help the Tashinga Initiative support the rangers!

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What type of safari would Rory Young take a group of intrepid Quoran adventurers on?

Answer by Rory Young:

Well, no, that's not me, but I do have a really big gun!

First of all, what is a safari?
The word "safari" never used to mean "race to the coordinates radio'ed to you by the other drivers so you can have a quick look at the poor bloody lion surrounded by a dozen little buses, and then race off again to the confused cheetahs hemmed in by a dozen more of the same".

Game drives are a must of course but definitely not like this..

(Unhappy spotty cat up a tree and surrounded by dozens of buses.)

This is how a game drive should look..

(Very happy spotty cat being observed quietly and unobtrusively by one open vehicle)

In swahili "safari" used to mean "long journey" and a journey it should be. It should be a journey of discovery and wonder. Such a journey it will be. We need variety, so not just vehicles. We need to get close to nature; touch it, smell it. We need to walk..

An elephant and me and my really big gun.

The difference between walking and driving?
Below is what lions looks like from 20 metres away when you see them from a vehicle..

Below is what lions look like from 200 metres away when you are on foot and there is nothing between you..

Everything is bigger and more real when you are on foot. You can hear everything, smell everything, touch.. er, well not touch everything..

Where would the safari take place?
The middle Zambezi area. We have to see the rhinos, soMatusadona…………… National Park on the shores of Lake Kariba is the number one priority. We will track them on foot and watch them at home.

Lake Kariba from Matusadona

Then of course Mana! Mana Pools National Park is a World Heritage Site in the Middle Zambezi, and they are both perfect for tracking big game on foot, so we would combine those two parks..

Mana Pools

So what else would be worth discovering and wondering at?

The Homecoming
This is where we all came from! Man evolved in Africa and only ventured out of here relatively recently. Matusadona National Park is strewn with evidence of our ancient ancestors in the form of early, middle and late stone-age tools, the oldest half a million years old. Looking for these whilst surrounded by the same animals our ancestors would have lived amongst is quite an experience.

The people
We have to meet the people of the community around Matusadona. The people are BaTonga. The area is called the Omay and the chief of these BaTonga people is called Chief Mola.

Chief Mola with an arbitrary ad hoc retainer during a surprise visit to the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit.
The people of Chief Mola were relocated to the Omay from the Gwembe valley which was flooded when lake Kariba was built in the 1950s. They are a unique and fascinating culture with unusual customs. They also live together with wildlife in their area. People live alongside lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards, hippos and many more. There is conflict at times and Chief Mola does his best to protect animals and people from each other.
We would visit Chief Mola, meet some of his people and discuss their life in the wild with them.

The Wildlife Protection Teams
This goes without saying. Meet the most important people there.

(I've got the biggest gun)

How Long?
Between ten and fourteen days excluding flights.

Where would we stay?
Alternating sleeping in tents under the stars and cozy lodges is best; rough it a bit with excitement and then relax. Here are some links to some of the places I would like us to stay, depending on availability and other factors.
Bumi Hills Lake Kariba
Zimbabwe safari lodge : Musango safari camp
Chikwenya Safaris
Camp Zambezi | Natureways Safaris

And finally:
I'm now going to try Oliver Emberton's gratuitous use of kittens..

Cute little African kittens.

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How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?

Answer by Rory Young:

You can determine a good estimate of weight from an elephant's footprints or droppings.

Here is something I wrote about estimating the gender, stature, age and weight of elephants from their tracks.

Left hind foot imprint of an adult female elephant

Tracking has in recent times often been considered a general and vague skill, mainly useful for following animals and establishing rude estimates regarding the age of the tracks, the size of the animal and possibly a bit more information.

Highly skilled trackers have been able to convincingly show their ability to reveal detailed information of the animal. However, this was never taken seriously. It was seen as a tool but not as empirical and therefore you could “not take it to court” so to speak.

However, while this ancient skill was being practiced unchanged since time immemorial in the wild, in the universities of the Western world a new version of tracking was developing from scratch in a strange convergent evolution. They called it forensic science. Empirical information was used to categorically determine the accuracy of different hypotheses.  In 1892 in Argentina  Juan Vucetich applied the first systemized use of fingerprint recording to law enforcement.

Fingerprints are nothing more than “transfer tracks”. A good example of transfer track is a muddy footprint on a kitchen floor. In the case of fingerprints the mud is instead oil secreted naturally by the body and instead of examining them with the naked eye they are enhanced and “lifted” for later comparison.

So, what has all this to do with tracking elephants? Well, Natural Philosophers as scientists were originally known, developed many different disciplines and applied their use of empirical data to determine much else. Amazingly, they reinvented the skill of tracking in order to gather the information they needed to conduct their studies.

Twenty two years ago, as a young ranger, I listened to my tutor, Rob Clifford, explain that taking the circumference of an elephant’s front foot and multiplying it by two and a half would give you its height at the shoulder.
This was something that I found completely amazing.
I had grown up tracking and hearing tales of tracking. In all that time I had only learned by experience, mainly using the right side of my brain and the obvious. It was good and gave me a natural awareness and ability that I could build on. However, it was the first time I had heard of mathematics or scientific methodology being applied to determine specific information.

The scientists have been very busy. Trackers could greatly benefit by adding the results of scientific studies to their arsenals.
Although trackers themselves are not scientists; they are experts in their skill and often profession. They combine knowledge and practical ability gained over many years, often from early childhood, developing an amazing database, a set of skills and a highly developed intuition to become experts at what they do.
It is important that they do not let scientists take their job away from them, applying great knowledge but with limited skill. The trackers need to step up, whether professional trackers, hunters, guides or rangers, and start studying and applying this new knowledge (well not so new actually) and combining it with the more ancient knowledge.

Determining Stature in Elephants.
Why would we want to accurately determine the height of an elephant?
Interestingly an elephant never stops growing. They go through several different growth rates. They also slow right down at twenty five years old in the case of males and twenty years old in the case of females. That means we the age of the animal can be determined from its size.
Determining the age of elephants is very important for establishing the health and other status and other information pertaining to a population. 
Although elephants also use instinct they are very dependent on acquired knowledge from older elephants, especially regarding food and behavior.  It is important to have a healthy variety of ages within a population. With the current levels of poaching in Africa, particularly affecting bigger animals it is important to be able to properly analyze tracks.

Determining Stature From Tracks
The old rule of thumb I learned as a years ago is not bad but it is not accurate either.
When an elephant puts on or loses weight, whether because of illness, hunger, pregnancy or other reason, the width and circumference of the feet will change.

For this reason and other reasons the most consistent and reliable foot measurement to use to correlate to height is the rear foot length; it deviates much less than any other foot measurement with weight loss and other variables that affect circumference.
The foot is measured in a straight line from the base of the rear foot to the front of the same foot.
Now comes the tricky part, determining the formula to use.
A general, rough, rule of thumb guide is 6:1. It is not accurate though, because the growth of elephants is not linear. Their growth rate changes throughout their lifetime.
Up to the age of nine years old the ratio of foot length to shoulder height is 5.83:1 Foot length at this age is recorded as below 43.67 Therefore to determine height at shoulder:  Hind Foot Length x 5.83 = Shoulder Height
Between the ages of ten and fifteen years old the ratio of foot length to shoulder height is 6.11 Mean foot length at this age is 43.67cm which should be used to determine the age group. Therefore: Hind Foot Length x 6.11 = 267cm
Between the ages of fifteen and twenty five years old the ratio of foot length to shoulder height is 5.82.  Mean foot length at this age is 49.81cm. Therefore to determine height at shoulder: 49.81 x 5.82   = 290cm
Between the ages of twenty five and thirty five years old the ratio of hind foot length to shoulder height is 5.68.  Mean foot length at this age is 53.32 cm. Therefore to determine height at shoulder: 53.32 x 5.68 = 303cm
Above the age of thirty five years the ratio of hind foot length to shoulder height is 5.74 .  Mean foot length at this age is 53.32 cm. Therefore to determine height at shoulder: 55.04 x 5.74 = 316cm
The average for all of these age groups is 5.83.
These figures were extrapolated from a study of elephants in Etosha National Park. Because heights vary according to different populations calculations can be made based on different mean heights for different age groups and a percentage difference applied in order to give a reasonably good basis for estimating height.

Determining Stature From Droppings
To determine stature using droppings the bolus diameter is used.  “Bolus” is the name given to a single round dropping.
The diameter is measured as one would measure any circle; across the widest part.
The following table shows the different formulas to be used for determining the size of male elephants:                                         
2-9.75 cms diameter                         Age =   0-5yrs                      Height at Shoulder = <160cm
9.75-12.25cms diameter                  Age =  5-10yrs                     Height at Shoulder = 160-200cm 
12.25-13cms diameter                     Age =  10-15yrs                  Height at Shoulder = 200-230cm
13-14cms diameter                           Age =  15-20yrs                  Height at Shoulder = 230-250cm
14-14.25cms diameter                     Age =  20-25yrs                  Height at Shoulder = 250-260cm 
14.25cms<  diameter                        Age =  25yrs <                     Height at Shoulder = >260cm
The following table shows the different formulas to be used for determining the size of female elephants:
15.5cm<  diameter                            Age = 25yrs <                      Height at Shoulder = >215cm
14.75-15.5cms diameter                  Age = 20-25yrs                   Height at Shoulder = 212-215cm
13.75-14.75cms diameter                Age =  15-20yrs                  Height at Shoulder = 205-212cm 
12-13.75cms diameter                     Age =  10-15yrs                  Height at Shoulder = 185-205cm 
10-12cms diameter                           Age =  5-10yrs                     Height at Shoulder = 160-190cm
2-10cms diameter                             Age =   0-5yrs                      Height at Shoulder = <160cm

Shoulder Height to Age Table.
                Females                                                                                                                Males
Age (years)  Shoulder height (cm)                Hind Foot Length                              Age (years)          Shoulder height (cm)
<1yr                       <110cm                                                                 <1yr                       <105cm
1yrs                        105-115cm                                                           1yrs                        105-115cm
2yrs                        115-130cm                                                           2yrs                        115-130cm
3yrs                        130-145cm                                                           3yrs                        130-140cm
4yrs                        145-155cm                                                           4yrs                        140-150cm
5yrs                        155-160cm                                                           5yrs                        150-160cm
6yrs                        160-170cm                                                           6yrs                        160-170cm
7yrs                        170-175cm                                                           7yrs                        170-175cm
8yrs                         175-180cm                                                              8yrs                         175-185cm
9yrs                         180-185cm                                                              9yrs                         185-190cm
10yrs                       185-190cm                                                              10yrs                       190-200cm
11yrs                       190-195cm                                                              11yrs                       200-210cm
12yrs                       195-200cm                                                              12yrs                       210-215cm
13-14yrs                  200-205cm                                                              14yrs                       215-220cm
15-17yrs                  205-210cm                                                              15yrs                       220-230cm
18-23yrs                  210-215cm                                                              16-17yrs                  230-235cm
60                            215-220cm                                                              18yrs                       235-240cm
60<                          220<                                                                        19yrs                       240-245cm
                                                                                                                20yrs                       245-250cm
                                                                                                                21-22yrs                  250-255cm
                                                                                                                23-24yrs                  255-260cm
                                                                                                                25-26yrs                  260-265cm
                                                                                                                27yrs                       265-270cm
                                                                                43.67                       28-30yrs                  270-275cm
                                                                                                                31-33yrs                  275-280cm

Estimating the Weight of an Elephant Using its Tracks Or Droppings
If the age and or height at the shoulder has been determined either using tracks or droppings then either can be used to estimate weight using the following table.
The following data has been taken from estimates used in zoos for feeding and medication purposes.
Age (years)                                          Height (m)                                           Mass (kg)
0                                                              0.85                                                        120
1                                                              1.15                                                        300
3                                                              1.30                                                        400
6                                                              1.50                                                        600
10                                                           1.90                                                        1,200
15                                                           2.20                                                        1,600
40                                                           2.60                                                        2,400
In theory height can be determined from stride length. However, there is as yet no been no empirical studies to determine exactly what the ratios are.

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What is the loneliest animal in Africa?

Answer by Rory Young:

There are many animal species in Africa that lead a solitary lifestyle. However, when I think of a lonely animal I always think of leopards. All cats are loners, except for lions of course, and the largest and possibly the most beautiful of these is the leopard.

Their loneliness is a necessity. Whilst a pride of lions relies on teamwork to bring down buffalo and other mostly large prey, very much in the open, leopards use stealth, camouflage, ambush, incredible bursts of speed and a mind-boggling power-to-weight-ratio to hunt their prey. As ambush hunters they need to be solitary. They would not be able to hunt this way in a group.

I recently spent some time in the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia watching and following the stunning beauty in these all of these pictures. She lives in riverine forest which, being thick bush, makes it hard enough to spot animals, so I was very lucky to see so much of her.

Here is an example of her camouflage ability. Look carefully!

Okay, let's take a closer look..

Here's a real close up..

Aside from seeing her I found a lot of evidence of her life.  Here are her tracks. As they use stealth, leopards move very quietly and place their feet very carefully at all times. Their paw marks are very neat and symmetrical, unlike lions who tend to slap down their paws and make a big racket unless they are actually stalking.

One morning on a walk we found had dropped this impala between  two trunks.

Leaving it there would mean the hyaenas and lions could easily reach it. Somehow she would have to unwedge it from between the two trunks and haul it up higher.

When we returned in the late afternoon we found that she had unwedged it and  hauled it to the top of a baobab tree nearby.

She is a young female and this tree trunk was over 12m straight up which may give some idea of their incredible strength.

This is the first time I have ever seen a leopard kill up this type of tree. They prefer trees that provide shade and concealment. Baobabs are very exposed and offer very little shade and concealment.

Here is a picture of the marks made by her claws at an earlier site where she had taken a baboon up a tree. They are known to take prey weighing over 100kg straight up a tree trunk by holding the animal in their mouths and using their claws to grip the tree trunk.

Here is a picture of her climbing a tree trunk without prey. As usual, she manages to be almost invisible although she is in plain sight.

The following tree is much more like what she would normally take her prey into. She is grooming, something, like domestic cats, that leopards do a lot of.

Leopards are mostly nocturnal although sometimes they will come out in overcast weather.

Although leopards are able to survive right on the edge of towns, living on small animals, sadly their numbers have declined dramatically due to poaching  and being caught in snares set for other, smaller animals.

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What is the most photogenic animal you know?

Answer by Rory Young:

I agree that tigers are amongst the most photogenic animals. Leopards are too. I think that birds in flight are also incredibly photogenic. Here are some of my most recent amateurish efforts.

Glossy Ibis, Chongwe Confluence, Zambia

Hooded Vulture, Old Mondoro, Zambia

African Skimmer, Chikwenya Island, Zambia

African Skimmer, Nyanzirawo, Zimbabwe

Great White Egret, Lower Zambezi, Zambia

Yellow-Billed Stork, Old Mondoro, Zambia

And finally a couple of shots of a White-Hooded Vulture trying to save his tail-feathers..

White-Backed Vultures and Spotted Hyaenas, Old Mondoro, Zambia

White-Backed Vultures and Spotted Hyaenas, Old Mondoro, Zambia

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How did Rory Young become a safari guide?

Answer by Rory Young:

I trained under the auspices of the then Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management for five years. The system was a combination of mentorship under a professional guide/hunter, written exams, proven time in the field, logged dangerous game experience (especially  problem animal control of buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and hippo).

At the end of the five years we had to sit a ten day field proficiency exam in a National Park. During the proficiency exam we had to set up our own fully staffed camp, shoot a buffalo and or other game, prove our tracking and other field skills and of course show a comprehensive and detailed knowledge of our work and its environment. Only one in twenty passed the final proficiency and only two attempts were allowed.

The reason it was so intense and so difficult was that Zimbabwe is the only country to allow professional guides to walk freely in National Parks with clients and to track and approach dangerous game on foot. The system was also set up so that the same pro guides could be quickly transferred into government service as officers as needed. Zimbabwe pro guides are generally recognized both inside and outside the country as the most capable and knowledgeable rangers in Africa. They have a unique combination of knowledge and field skills that are seldom found elsewhere and certainly not as a minimum standard.

There are currently a total of only +-100 Zimbabwean licensed pro guides left. Most are now either involved in training, anti-poaching or other specialist field work, run anti-poaching efforts or do specialist walking safaris in various parts of Africa.

Unfortunately only one or two pro guides are now passing through the system per year now. The requirements have stayed the same but getting the required experience, especially the dangerous game experience is almost impossible. Zimbabwe's economy has also of course declined dramatically in recent years meaning less funds are available for training.

That is how I became a professional guide. I have also worked as a ranger for many years and run both game parks and forests as well and done game capture, anti-poaching and other wildlife-related work.

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What does Rory Young think about the Melissa Bachman lion hunting controversy?

Answer by Rory Young:

My grandfather was an oddball. He was seventy years old when my father was born and my father was thirty five when I was born, so of course I never met him. However, I was fascinated as a child by all the stories I would be told about him.

I was amazed to hear about him being assegaaied by Matabele warriors during the Matabele Rebellion and surviving by playing dead before fighting his way through the Matabele lines into Bulalwayo. I was proud to hear about how he kicked Lord Baden-Powell in the backside with his "carpet slippers" and called him a "coward and a murderer" for having three chiefs shot after promising not to hang them if they surrendered to my grandfather.

However, there was one story that has always interested me the most. It was how he had broken off an engagement to a beautiful and wealthy young woman after seeing her deliberately kill a moth.

When I saw the picture of Mellissa Bachman I thought about this story of my grandfather. Obviously grandpa wouldn't have been thinking about dating her if he had seen the picture. I was thinking more about the fact that my grandfather, after a lifetime of seeing death first hand and of dealing it out himself in four brutal wars, could not abide the thought of a woman killing a moth.

I know that in later life he could not abide any death unless absolutely necessary and referred to fox hunters as savages, but breaking off an engagement almost before the altar for the killing of a month seems a little excessive. Was it because he deemed it unfeminine or did he really have the best interests of moths at heart? I don't believe for one second that he would have blinked if a man had done it. I believe it was all about his view of what a woman should be.

When I look at the image of Melissa Bachman I ask myself  the same question. There are innumerable pictures of trophy hunters  with dead lions all over the internet and nobody gets that hit up about it. Therefore I ask myself is it really because they are so appalled at the death of the beautiful male lion or is it because it is a beautiful, feminine , smiling woman that did the killing of this animal that so epitomizes strength and bravery? I certainly don't see such heart-felt concern for lions or other endangered African wildlife generally, especially when it comes to people dipping into their pockets. I smell hypocrisy.

There is however, more hypocrisy amongst the trophy hunters. There is a loud claim that hunters plow back more money into conservation of endangered African animals than non-consumptive tourists. I recently started digging into how much really does go back into conservation.

After lion hunting was recently banned in Zambia I approached some of the professional hunters to find out how much money had been generated by lion hunting and how much would be lost . No one could answer. I asked various organizations and individuals who would be expected to know and no one had a clue, or they didn't want to tell me..

I looked further afield and discovered that the much hyped 65% of revenue generated by trophy hunting in Botswana that had supposedly been ploughed back into conserving vast wildlife areas for decades  was actually a load of baloney and had been a load of baloney for decades. The Botswana government estimates it was actually less than ten percent.

There are lions nearby where I am sitting right now in the Omay in Zimbabwe. One of them is a nice big male. Not too long ago a similar male who used to live around here was shot by trophy hunters literally on the boundary. They argued that it was legal and therefore they had done nothing wrong. They also shot a collared elephant and again claimed that because it was passing through their area they had done nothing wrong. In both cases they argued that these were paying customers and they had a right.

In other words there is no question of ethics or morality, it is all about law and economics. Sadly that is the long and short of it for African wildlife. It is not about what is right or wrong it is all about the money.

Sadly, although Botswana and Zambia have banned lion hunting there is little chance of other Southern/Central/East African countries doing the same. They need the money that is generated by hunters as they are not generating enough from photographic tourism and when it comes to paying for it out of the central coffers there is no way it will be given priority over education, health and other necessities.

Here is an example. Zimbabwe's wildlife areas are dependent on raising revenue from tourism to survive and protect themselves through the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. When the economic and political tragedy struck in 2001, the tourists dried up over night. The only revenue came from hunting and tiny support from NGOs. Without the trophy hunters there would be no animals left. People were hungry and they would have simply killed them all for food. Right now many African national wildlife agencies are dependent on money raised by trophy hunters

Therefore my view is that if people want to stop trophy hunting then they should start dipping into their pockets to support endangered species, start spreading the word, put pressure on their governments to do more for the world's wild places and stop wasting all this effort on this one woman.

Entire species are going extinct right now in an uncontrolled killing frenzy and no African nation is going to turn down the money from trophy hunting a few animals  which they need to maintain whole wildlife areas without much more incentive to do so. Not until it makes financial or political sense for them to do so.

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Can elephants swim?

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes. Elephants love swimming and have a much closer relationship with water than many would imagine.

They will usually swim after drinking if they can or at the very least will spray themselves with water.

They often get frisky after swimming and will often play or males will fight over dominance at this time. I used to avoid them after they had been in the water as I had the impression that they were more aggressive. However I have learned that they are actually more playful after a swim than aggressive. Here is a picture I took of a young elephant  splashing a stork after getting out of the water.. You can see what I mean by frisky!

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What are some interesting ways animals avoid predators?

Answer by Rory Young:

Everybody loves a good hole!

I may look like a dumbass looking into that burrow like that, but it's the bugger behind the camera who's going to be in trouble if something decides to come flying out of it..

Yes, everybody loves a good hole to hide in. Especially an aardvark hole.

Aardvarks are prolific burrow diggers. They can dig several temporary burrows for refuge in one night for refuge and permanent burrows can be up to 50ft in length.

However, it's not aardvarks that I'm so nervous about in the picture. If a predator tries to get to an Aardvark in its burrow the Aardvark will just dig deeper to escape, pushing the excavated soil behind him to build a barrier beween himself and the predator.

Leopards, hyaenas and wild dogs amongst others use the burrows. Wild dogs and hyaenas use them as for dens to raise their young as well. It's not them I'm worried about either. There is no predator spoor around the entrance.

I'm worried about warthogs. They love hiding in aardvark burrows to avoid predators. And being unusually clever pigs they know that when a threat appears at the entrance that it is only a matter of time before they are dug out of their hiding place and gobbled. Therefore they have cunningly concocted a plan B.

Plan B consists of reversing into the burrow in reverse order. When trotting around in the bush normally, Dad usually goes first, followed by Mum and then the kids. So, when reversing into the burrow they do it the other way round, kids reverse in first, followed by mum and lastly dad.

When a predator or dumbass human wanders up and pokes his nose into the hole, everybody charges out at full speed and keeps going no matter what. No turning left or right or slowing down. They just come barrelling out like big fat ugly cannon balls, and if you are in the way you just get butted and run over. Believe me, a half dozen ugly pigs with sharp tusks hitting you head-on and then running over you is no laughing matter. It is just like being tackled by an entire rugby front row and then run over with their studded boots.

Yes, I'm talking from personal experience..



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Do elephant graveyards exist? Were they a myth? How has elephant culture changed?

Answer by Rory Young:

The poor old girl in the right of the picture above has a blocked uterus. She was darted and treated by a vet who did what he could but she continued to decline. Every time I visit this area to train rangers and guides I both dread being asked to shoot her and also wish I could just end her suffering.

It is always easy to find her. She hardly moves more than a kilometer or so from this stretch of shoreline. The reason she doesn't move away is that this is the easiest place to feed.  There is a lot of mopane and a few other tree species as well as some panicum and cynoden grass  which appears as the water level drops at this time of the year.

Normally she would travel long distances to get the variety of plant species necessary to get all the nutrients she needs. By not moving she is eating much less than she needs and also not getting enough nutrients. Furthermore, species such as Mopani are known to pump tannins into their leaves making them bitter so as to fend off over-browsing. More importantly these tannins are not healthy for the poor girl.

Sadly she is slowly but surely starving to death. It is debatable as to whether she will be shot or euthanized in some other way as her illness is considered natural and therefore the policy is that nature should take its course.

Either way it is most likely that she will die on this area of the shore and her bones will lie there for some time to come.

In the same picture in the distance can be seen a group of elephants. Their location is the picture below where the remains of an elephant that died two years ago are to be found and which can be seen in the below image. Most likely they were examining the bones which is normal behaviour for elephants when they come across elephant bones.

They will carefully smell them with their trunks and then pick them up and carry them for a while before dropping them. This behaviour has been well studied and documented by Joyce Poole in Kenya. (Please see…).

This poor animal was wounded by poachers and moved to the same area before dying on the shore. Most likely it went to this location for the same reasons; the best food option and close to water.

You cannot see in the picture that the bones are not spread
being spread out but bones can be found as far away as the small patch of water in the in the upper right hand part of the image.

By contrast the remains of the elephant in the picture below, that was killed by poachers about nine months ago are still all together. When you compare the two pictures it is easier to see how the bones in the above picture have been more spread out.

In the below picture of an elephant killed by poachers about three years ago you can only see a few larger bones at the site of the horrible crime. Wandering around the area now bones can be found several hundred metres away.

All of these sites are within a couple of kilometers of each other. There are others in the same area that died both of natural causes and of course by poachers' bullets. Over time the bones get moved by elephants especially but also by the elements and even other animals that gnaw on the small bones to get calcium such as porcupines, tortoises and most notably giraffes (it is quite surprising to come across a giraffe sucking a bone believe me. However, giraffes are not found in the area that the pictures were taken which is the Omay district middle Zambez-Kariba area.

Imagine now you came wandering along a few hundred years ago and had little knowledge of elephant behaviour which was very much the case in the West until very recently, and suddenly you came across numerous scattered bones from a number of different elephants. Considering the reputation elephants have always had for great intelligence, then it would not be unreasonable to assume that the animals had come here to die.

In reality they came to this place to try and survive but didn't make it.

Another reason that the myth most likely developed is the mass die-offs during drought periods especially in arid areas when the few water holes that sustain the elephants have dried up. This has been recorded many times, especially in the Namib desert of Nabiaand the Kalahari desert in Botswana.

Lastly I must add that today elephant graveyards are a very real and tragic reality. They are a result of the sickening and fast spreading practice of poachers poisoning waterholes.

Most recently this was done in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. I was initially shocked and horrified to hear that eighty elephants had been killed in one incident. However, the number has continued to climb and today I learned that the tally has now reached 300 elephants of all ages; complete herds.

Very, very soon there will only be elephant graveyards to be seen and no more living ones.

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What is the sexiest thing about your job?

Answer by Rory Young:

It's really hard to say..

It's not always very busy at the office, in fact it can be quite peaceful at times..

Sometimes it's  dead quiet. Literally..

At other times it's absolutely packed, a real jungle..

The ablution facilities are a bit basic to say the least..

Even hazardous to one's health some would say..

We do have some nice plants around the place though..

As for the office cat, not very sociable to say the least. I hardly catch a glimpse of him..

And the office lounge is not helluva comfy.

I get very little privacy. The bosses are always bothering me, looking down from on high, ready to crap on me..

Peeping round corners to check up..

Constantly looking over my shoulder..

Typical corporate types you know, always trying to get to the top, no matter how unseemly it appears..

When my colleagues and I meet them it's very often an "us and them" state of affairs..

Still, at the end of the day..

As to what is sexiest? Well, as far as these guys are concerned..


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Is there a way to summarize when you should play dead vs act aggressive when unexpectedly walking/swimming up on a large, dangerous animal?

Answer by Rory Young:

Professional Guide Dardley Tafurukwa doing an "open" approach on a wild elephant bull on the Bumi Hills shoreline in Zimbabwe. He is unarmed and the bull is "against" the water. This can be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you are doing. In this picture the bull is monitoring Dardley's movements and intentions and is ready to react accordingly.

Just as the bull gets ready to intimidate charge Dardley, he turns away from the bull and maintains an attitude of disinterest. This takes confidence as you can't know for certain that the bull is not charging you while you are looking away.

The bull understands that Dardley is posing no threat and moves off. If Dardley tried this with a cow with calf, wounded elephant or a bull in musth he would be a very flattened Dardley. If this bull had decided to mock charge then Dardley would have responded with intimidation, shouting at key moments and even throwing his hat.

In most African countries, the list of animals legally defined as "dangerous game" includes lion, leopard, elephant, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus and crocodile. Others, such as hyaena, numerous venomous snakes and such seemingly passive creatures such as ostriches and bushbuck are not classified as dangerous game but are potentially deadly.

The very broad rule of thumb is that predators are potentially, but not only, deadly if they see you as prey and non predators are potentially, but not only, deadly when they see you as a threat.

I would never recommend playing dead with African dangerous game. I have only heard of it being used with buffalo in East Africa and that is supposedly because they can't easily gore you when you are lying on the ground, not because they believe you are dead and therefore no longer a threat. Not only are most dangerous animals not easily fooled but they may just have a go to be sure.

Playing dead, or lying down rather, is a good way to get their curiosity. I have often brought a herd of elephants or buffaloes closer by lying on the ground and waving my arms and legs in the air. I think there is good reason for the fact that no African mammals play dead like an opossum does in North America.

Furthermore, lions, leopards and hyaena (but not cheetah) are all more than happy to eat really putrid carrion so will just see you as an easy meal.

If you encounter non-predatory dangerous game such as buffalo or elephants then get the hell out of there asap. With rhino or buffalo climbing a tree is a good option if you are fast and the tree is suitable but it is not a good idea with elephants as they will just pull you out. Standing down and intimidating an elephant is an option if you know what you are doing but I would recommend getting out of there if you are not an expert. Experts can read elephant gestures and body language and determine how to respond but this takes years of study and experience.

Rhinos are as blind as bats so standing stock=till can work as long as they definitely don't have you in their sight and as long as the wind is definitely in your favour. I have often used this technique. Black rhinos will sometimes charge in arbitrary directions to try and intimidate you into moving and betraying your position. Again, I recommend a tree.

 If you encounter predators and they are approaching you with interest then you need to threaten/intimidate them with noise and confident body language and attitude.

In the water with crocodile and also hippo your only option is to get out of there. They will both, albeit for different reasons, attack you whether you are playing dead or not.

For all dangerous game, unless you are an expert, steer well clear of them and leave them in peace. There are many good makes of binoculars available. The only two parks in Africa that still allow private individuals to walk are Mana Pools and Matusadona in Zimbabwe. Although most people prefer to hire a professional guide to take them walking in these parks there are still those who try to walk without any real knowledge and experience and every year there are a number of fatalities and serious injuries.

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Anomie’s Child

Post by Rory Young:


The battered old mini bus rolls quietly into Siakobvu, grinding to a halt in front of Peter's Store.

The five weary occupants stumble out. They look nervously around them as they wander into the little shop. They order cokes and then settle down on the front step to wash away the dust that has burned their throats for an eternity on the road.

An old man, seemingly dozing under a nearby tree watches them carefully. He nods to the young boy next to him who wanders over to the strangers. Everyone knows they are not from here. They are not Tongas either, although one looks as though he might be.

Siakobvu, tiny little hamlet though it may be, is the headquarters of the Nyaminyami rural council and the gateway to the Omay communal area and the Matusadona National Park. No one can drive through to either the Omay wildlife area or the park without going through Siakobvu. After passing through Siakobvu, the road winds its way down the rocky escarpment. It then splits into with one road continuing to Bumi Hills and the other to Chalala. The Chalala arm is in very bad condition so most vehicles pass through Bumi and then head West along a connecting road to Chalala.

The old man slowly climbs to his feet, helping himself as best he can with the old broken spear he uses as a walking stick. He begins a steady and direct plod past the bus. A tension flashes through the strangers. They go quiet and watch him with narrowed eyes. They visibly relax when they see he is clearly infirm and obviously not checking them and their vehicle out. They don't know the old man though, he only needs one glance. He glances into the back of the vehicle and notices that there is no luggage.

The boy  slouches next to the strangers. He is a mujiba. Mujibas have been used throughout Central and Southern Africa in all the various wars as information gatherers and signalers. He is proud of his job and pays attention to everything he hears. The strangers are not talking though.

That's not a problem for the boy, he sees one of the group is a woman and starts talking to her. She chats back to him and soon the store keeper joins in the discussion. The woman says they are going to Chalala down on the lake shore to buy dried kapenta fish to take to Harare to sell.

The boy tells them how lucky they are. The Bumi Hills road has just been graded for the first time in years!

"Yes, I know", she answers. This is strange, how would an outsider who knows no-one here know that.

He meets the old man outside a nearby hut. He tells the "madala" that there is one who claims to be an off-duty policeman, that they claim to be going to Chalala to buy fish and that somehow they seem to know a lot about what is happening in the area, including that the road has just been graded.

The old man carefully removes an old cell phone from his pocket and dials a number.

The phone rings loudly next to me. I am a bit annoyed by the sound. After so many years in the bush without anything except radios I am still easily irritated by the intrusive sound and struggling to get used to the idea. I am also in the middle of a discussion about the remains of a poached elephant I am looking at in a discussion with some of the men I am training, so do not appreciate the interruption. I nod to the conservation manager and wait as he takes the call.

He speaks in fast ChiTonga so I can only just get the gist of it. From what I hear and from the growing tension in the WM's voice it can only be poachers. He finishes and turns to me.

"A black mini-bus just arrived in Siakobvu with some dirty-looking strangers", he says, "they say they are going to Chalala to buy fish to sell in Harare. They don't seem right. They say they are driving to Chalala but why at this time? They have no luggage with them but they claim to know nobody here, so why would they bring nothing with them".

We decide to run to Bumi rather than wait for a vehicle to come and collect us. Rogers, the conservation manager, calls on the phone as we go. He has a radio but the phone is preferable as we don't want anyone to hear what is going on. There are eyes and ears everywhere. He calls the local head of the National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the rural council head office. It is agreed that a combined operation can take. In addition to our team of 4 trackers there is myself and one Parks ranger. There are no more Parks rangers available as they are tied up elsewhere but there are a couple of council scouts based at Mola that we can pick up.

I change clothes and grab my kit. We hold a council of war to plan our strategy.

We know that a vehicle will take three hours to reach Chalala. We need to establish whether the group actually goes there and if not then where they have been dropped off? If they are dropped off somewhere other than Chalala then we know that they are poachers. They will usually access the wildlife areas via one route and leave by another to avoid being vulnerable to being ambushed on their return. They also spread disinformation just in case an informer is watching them

We decide to leave one small group, comprised of the Bumi GM, the wildlife manager and a couple of guides with a vehicle at the junction where the Siakobvu road splits. The other group, comprised of myself, the park ranger and four trackers will use a Bumi Hills game drive vehicle to avoid alerting anyone to the fact that an anti-poaching team is on the move, drive to Siakobvu and hopefully meet the suspected poachers on the way or determine where they have dropped off. If that is the case then we will pursue them on foot. On the way we will pick up a couple of scouts working for rural council wildlife management in Mola village. The Bumi GM and the Conservation Manager will try and make contact with the police, local safari operators and NGOs to see what support is available in the event of a firefight or prolonged pursuit requiring the assistance stop-groups, observation posts and police road-blocks.

We head off. It is already getting late. It is dark by the time we reach Mola. We now have to be very careful. I park just out of range of the  light cast by the stores. There is a lot of loud music blaring from the three shops that are open and a number of men milling around or dancing with containers of opaque beer in their hands. The park ranger and the others sneak out into the dark. They will take a long roundabout route to the council scouts' quarters and then hopefully sneak up without being seen. There is a good chance that someone will be watching to see what the scouts are up to.

I wait patiently for the team to return. I cannot help but be a bit nervous. Only the park ranger and I are properly armed. The scouts are not yet armed as although they have all previously completed their training, I need to assess them and do some refresher training before the approval can be given for them to be armed. I am confident of the Parks ranger's training, experience and ability. It is immediately clear that we are on the same page, understanding each other and falling into sync immediately. I hope that the council scouts will be a postive addition to our team.

The team returns without the council scouts. "They are on their days off" the park ranger tells me, "they left yesterday and will be returning in two days. There are also none on patrol". This coincidence is not good. It is also close to full moon, the favourite time for ivory poachers to operate. If there are no council scouts patrolling or active in any way in the area then it is an ideal opportunity for poachers".

I don't like it. We have only two armed men and no real support team. We have been working on setting up a combined rapid response team for the area covering the park and the adjacent areas but it is still in the discussion phase. So, no support, only a small team of trained men of whom only two are armed. We also have no medical support. There are no helicopters in the area and no airstrips. If there is a firefight and someone is wounded it will take many hours to get him competent medical help.

We have no choice but to keep going and hope that we can arrest or deter them before any elephants get killed..

A call comes in. It is the conservation manager. The informer at Siakobvu has spotted the vehicle returning; with only two occupants and after only two hours instead of six. Now we have no doubts.

The vehicle could only have driven an hour down from Siakobvu. That would put the drop-off point just above the escarpment at around dusk. That would be a useful location to either move through the villages just after dark and then on into the Bumi Hills wildlife concession at first light or to access the Matusadona National Park.

A vehicle appears on the road ahead. We stop it. The driver was known to one of the scouts and quite happy to assist us. He had seen the black bus stopped at a point an hour up the road from where we now were. We thank him and I put my foot down hard on the accelerator. It would be better to find them before they moved into the bush.

We reach the point and jump out of the vehicle with torches to look for the tracks and learn who they are and where they went. It is all there. We see where the bus had stopped and turned around before heading back the way it had come. Four people were dropped off and then we find a fifth set of tracks joining them further on. They had met someone at this point. One of the group is a woman. Alarm bells go off in my head; I have been told by the conservation manager that there have been reports of a woman moving in and out of the area with money and organizing ivory poaching. Apparently she brings in a group and weapons and equipment are collected from people who hide them in return for money. The group then poaches, whilst she moves separately to another rendezvous point and then they move out via another route towards Binga far to the West.

The tracks continued down the road and so do we.. for several hours. We track using the headlights and torches and at a run. At one point we find the tracks had left the road. After a closer inspection we realize that it was when we were passing that location in the vehicle. They hid from us in a gully next to the road. We continue on our way, taking turns with the driving/resting and tracking.

We reach the first village from Siakobvu. Known as "the guest-house", it is a small collection of mud huts and goat-pens. I hop out and try to conceal my white skin in the darkness. One of the scouts, deliberately dressed in a simple pair of coveralls wanders over to one of the huts that is hosting a little evening discussion of elderly men. We wait patiently as he goes through the exhaustive but important ritual of greetings and polite small-talk before inquiring if his "friends" have arrived from Siakobvu. No-one has come it turns out although some of the dogs were barking a few hours earlier.

They obviously didn't show themselves but we do know that  they came here. We carefully "360" around the village and pick up their tracks again leaving in a different direction. Instead of heading North they are now moving North-West. We notice that they have been careful to avoid being seen, walking a careful loop around the outskirts of the village. Unfortunately they are now using a path and the vehicle can't follow so we can't use the headlights to help  track and the vehicle will have to take an alternative route.

We split up but try to keep in sight of each other as much as possible, in case there is an ambush or the group is close. Unlikely though as they are still hours ahead of us and the going is slow as we can't risk losing the spoor if they suddenly switch direction again to throw off pursuers. They could however stop to rest allowing us to catch up. We have to be vigilant. 

After a route that carefully skirts villages but maintains its overall direction we meet up again and a lively discussion develops. Our quarry is now moving fast. Their stride-length has increased. The woman and one other are dropping back however. They may be tiring and struggling to keep up. The others may be speeding up because they have their destination in mind and it is now close. This is a dilemma that has been on our minds constantly. With only two armed men we will be at a big disadvantage once they pick up their weapons. On the other hand if we catch them before then we may not be able to hold them. On the other hand they may disperse into the villages before picking up the weapons and we risk losing them. The Parks ranger and I discuss it over. It is a difficult decision but in the end we both agree. We jump back into the vehicle and I gun it. We will try to catch them before they reach their destination.

We race down the road stopping from time to time to check for spoor. Each time we find it is still there and each time the woman and one other have fallen back behind the others. This is good, if we don't catch them before the head into the bush then we will focus on grabbing these two. They are tired and slow. We are not. This team can keep going without food or sleep way beyond most people's limits. They do it all day every day, and often all night.

Unexpectedly we round a bend between two small but sharp embankments and find a pair of panicked faces caught in the headlights.

As I slow the vehicle they look around desperately for an escape. It is dark around them, made much worse, in spite of the moonlight, by the headlights confusing and blinding their eyes. Two of the team jumps out and order them to lie down on the ground. We continue forward and not far down the road we find three men running toward a small group of huts. We shout at them to stop. They do what they are told.

They are searched. No one has brought anything with them. Except the woman. She has cash. Lots of it. They are questioned individually.

They maintain that they have come to buy fish to sell in Harare. The story is bizarre. They could easily travel to Kariba, on the other side of the lake from Harare, more cheaply, far quicker and much, much more comfortable than this way. None of us believe it and it appears they don't either, although they do stick to the pretense.

We check their soles and identify the man who had joined them on the escarpment. He is a local and extremely nervous. We don't let on that we know he was waiting for them and is their guide. We ask him where they are going to in the middle of the night. He tells us that they were going to spend the night at the group of huts just ahead. I'm stunned. We caught up with them just in time.

While the group are seated and guarded we approach the little homestead and call out the owner. He is fully dressed and again, very nervous. He claims that the group had arranged to come and stay with him as they are visiting friends. No surprise that there is another contradictory story. He agrees to allow the scouts to search. They do and nothing is found.

We cannot hold them under the National Parks and Wildlife Act nor any other laws as they have not broken any yet. However, if they can be individually interrogated properly then we are certain that someone will spill the beans and tell us where the weapons and equipment are hidden. As we are on rural council land and therefore are obliged to release them. We need the police. I make the call. There are no officers available. We let them go with a warning that they will be watched and followed. They advise us that they have changed their minds about the "fish" and will instead head back to Harare.

I wonder if I will next see these people through my rifle sights. Tough times are ahead. I am here to train the team and reorganize them to go after the armed ivory poachers that are increasingly swarming into the area, rather than the relatively harmless meat poachers who had been laying snares. I have a big job ahead of me. We need to expand the network of informers, retrain the scouts- especially in tactical tracking, build a plan for deployments based on information collated from the informers and the trackers in the field about access points, exit points, usual movements, terrain, and so on. We especially need a rapid response and support team with vehicles and boats.

It is a difficult job with scant resources. The men however, I have no doubts about. I am now sure will be our greatest asset.

To be continued…

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Training Anti-Poaching Trackers in Zimbabwe

With trackers from the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit at the end of a recent training exercise. 

Man-tracking is completely indispensable the anti-poaching. The better the tracker the easier it is to find and follow the poachers. The poachers know this of course and practice “anti-tracking” or “counter-tracking”measures to try and conceal their tracks or avoid leaving sign.

I watched a documentary on television recently where some well meaning former special forces soldiers were attempting to locate poachers by all means except cross graining for tracks in areas most likely to be traversed by poachers and of course failing.

Poachers are not stupid. Most of them were either guerilla fighters or counterinsurgency fighters or were taught by such experts who fought in the many bush wars in Southern and Central Africa. They know how to simply stand behind a tree trunk to conceal oneself from aircraft.

They also know they shouldn’t go near water points during the dry season as there will probably be observation posts set up to monitor them and so they carry large amounts of water, even if it means it will be backbreaking work and will slow them down.. They are patient determined and skilled.

Overcoming these tricks requires well developed tracking skills and a thorough understanding of counter tracking techniques.

Together with an expert tracker from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority I spent some time training the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit trackers in the Omay area in Zimbabwe in advanced tactical tracking techniques.

Important lessons included:

This is quite easy to determine once one knows how. Women point their  toes more inward and most important the straddle (the width between the line of tracks on the right and left feet) is much narrower than a man’s.  In other words men walk with their feet further apart whilst women walk with them closer together or even overlapping (picture a catwalk model walking down the ramp and a wrestler strutting in the ring).

Determining Stature
The height of a person is directly proportional to their foot length. Roughly 6.5 the length of a bare foot will give the height. This varies according to ethnicity and other factors.

Determining Weight
The width of the heel is greater proportionally to the length of the foot the heavier the individual. The thinner the heel then the skinnier the owner and the thicker the heel then the heavier the owner of the track.

Determining Whether Loads are Being Carried
When someone carries a heavy load they take shorter steps, they point their toes more outward and their straddle widens (they walk with their feet further apart). Furthermore packs and other luggage will often be put down when resting and the sign left can tell what it is, i.e. box, water container, backpack, etc.

BHAPU trackers learning how to tell the difference between the tracks of someone walking unburdened and someone carrying a load. Leading up to the man piggybacking his comrade are his tracks. To the right are the tracks of the same man walking unburdened. Knowing how heavily burden a tracker is and what they are carrying can tell how slow or fast they are able to travel, whether they will need to find water or not and much else.

Ascertaining the weaponry being carried.
This   Knowing what weapons and how many of them a group of poachers is crucial information. A couple of trackers can’t take on a large group armed with AK47s and RPG7s. As with other burdens they will invariably rest the butts of their weapons on the ground when stopped. Every weapon is different and this mark left on the ground indicates what weapon left it. A well organized and experienced group of professional poachers will often have one heavy calibre sporting rifle for shooting the elephants and any number of assault rifles for use against wildlife protection personnel.

A heavy calibre  .458 bolt-action rifle designed to be used on big game such as elephant and smaller calibre fully-automatic  AK47 designed for warfare. Between and slightly above them can be seen the marks left by their butts when p 

Determining the Number of Poachers
This is relatively simple. Once the direction of travel is determined two lines are drawn between the tracks furthest apart from each other. The number of people can easily be determined within the sectioned area.

Breaking Down the Group.
Once the number of people is determined the trackers will assess the tracks of each individual thereby building up a picture of the make up of the group and what equipment and supplies they have. For example, “serious” groups coming from across the border in Zambia will travel in large, well-armed groups (they bring their own porters for the ivory), weartakkies” (canvas plimsoles), carry all their water so that they do not have to go near the watering holes and typically move faster. Local poachers on the other hand typically travel is small groups because they can call on porters from local villages, wearmanyatellas” (homemade shoes made from car tyres and tubes which leave very faint tracks) or go barefoot, travel slowly and carefully counter-tracking to avoid detection. These groups often know where and when scouts will be and therefore are less concerned about approaching water but will counter-track when doing so.

A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority Scout explaining what information can be gleaned from the footwear of poachers. 

Basic Tactics
The advantage is with the poachers if they know they are being tracked as they can easily lay an ambush on their own trail. Therefore tracking unit tries to follow without alerting the poachers that they are being followed.

The usual formation is a tracker with an armed scout oneach of his flanks and moving ahead of him. While the tracker focuses on following the tracks, the scouts focus on protecting against any threat from dangerous animals or ambush by the poachers being followed.

I would rather not reveal the tactics used to arrest/engage the poachers. Suffice to say stop-groups and/or air support are preferably used whilst the tracking group focuses on “shadowing” the poachers and keeping track of their location.

In terms of picking up tracks in the first place patrols will”cross-grain” areas where it is difficult to conceal tracks but necessary to cross, such as dry riverbeds, game trails, “capped” areas, watering holes and other sources of water.

Counter-Tracking and Anti-Tracking
Experienced poaching groups use many methods to conceal their tracks or not leave any. Commonly this is done by not walking on ground that will leave tracks, such as stepping on stones, approaching roads, dry river beds and large game trails at a 45 degree angle and then leaving it at a different angle after crossing, walking backwards across roads on one’s toes and many other tricks.

This is just a taste of what an anti-poaching tracker knows and does. If there is interest in the subject I will happily post more.


Lifting Snares and Dodging Charging Buffaloes in The Omay Area of Zimbabwe.

I hate wire. Whilst it may look like a harmless barrier for most people, to many of us it represents pain, death and the desperation of hunger and poverty.Whilst elephants and rhinos are usually poached using guns, more animals as a whole die horrible deaths from snares made from plain old fencing wire.These are typically set, often in lines, along game trails frequented by the targeted species of animal or even any animal. The intention is usually for the poor victim to be caught round the neck and strangled. Such a death is slow and agonizing, usually lasting days.Anti-poaching teams spend a lot of times searching for and removing these snares.

A Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit Scout Holds Up a Wire Snare Removed from The Omay

Sadly, many other animals, including elephants and other big game get limbs caught in snares and end up dying just as miserably and even more slowly.

Remains of a buffalo killed slowly by a snare which can still be seen wrapped around the face.

With the economic crisis many poor people in Zimbabwe have turned to snaring, hunting with dogs and other forms of poaching as a way to supplement their meager diets with some real protein. Even worse, some unscrupulous individuals have turned this into an industry, snaring on an industrial scale so as to sell the meat for financial gain.

Whilst I was working with the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit recently we received information that this was taking place in a neighbouring concession. The team of poachers would sneak in, lay snare-lines, scare a herd of buffalo into running through it, kill and butcher any caught and then lift the snares and go, leaving little trace.

Reports came in of lots of cheap buffalo meat being secretly sold in nearby villages. In the space of two weeks four buffaloes were also found wandering around with snares attached to them. Although the nooses had tightened the buffaloes had broken the wires free from their attachments to trees or even torn the tree out of the ground.

One morning, just as I was about to set off on a training patrol with the anti-poaching team, word came in of a buffalo with a snare around its leg in a nearby area. Andries Scholtz was on his way by boat from Kariba to dart it and remove the snare.

Andries holds a dangerous drugs license from the veterinary department which authorizes him to purchase and handle dangerous narcotics and to dart animals.

We offered to assist and joined up with Andries by boat. The young female buffalo was lying next to the shore near a gulley shielded by bushes.

Unfortunately for us she moved into the gulley. This would make the approach to dart her and the four minute period before the drugs took effect much more dangerous.

We moved along the shoreline and around a “point” and moored the boats there. It was far enough away to be out of earshot from the buff and downwind from where the buffalo was hiding in her gulley, so a good place to begin the approach. Andries began preparing the drugs and dart gun.

Someone would have to “back up”. This means shoot the animal if things go wrong and it charges. Mitch Riley and I and I are both licensed for this work. As I had a video camera we agreed that we would both go in with Andries but Mitch would back up and I would record the event.

I admit to being nervous about this. I have followed up and shot many wounded buffalo and checked out many but rarely without a heavy calibre rifle in my hand and never whilst looking through a viewfinder. I would have to trust Mitch to make the right call and do what would have to be done if it became necessary. Zimbabwe is well known to have the most difficult and rigorous licensing system in the world for Professional Guides and Hunters. An important part of the training is the shooting of dangerous animals that have to be put down at close range. The experience and training are so hard that very, very few ever make the grade.

Once Andries had his dart-gun ready we discussed the approach. Andries would go in first, followed by Mitch and then myself. Any trouble and Andries would drop back and Mitch would take over. I would keep filming as long as possible.

We set off upwind towards the buffalo’s hide-out. The mopani scrub gave us enough cover but we had to step carefully as the ground was littered with dry leaves which made a loud noise when stepped on. We hoped that she would still be in her gulley and not on the top of the bank.

We crept up and found her wedged into her hiding-place.

Andries fired the dart which sounded like a champagne cork popping whilst Mitch kept his rifle trained on her. She burst up the bank through the bushes and bolted away from us. Now the race was on to find her. The drugs would take effect in four minutes. We began to track her.

After four minutes we hadn’t yet caught up with her. Andries called in all the helpers to spread out and search quickly rather than track now that she was unlikely to be on her feet. Within a minute someone found her. Everyone raced to where she lay and got busy.

Andrews daughter Kylie brought his drugs and he began monitoring the buffalo and getting the antidote ready while Kylie’s friend Dean began cutting off the wire wrapped tightly round the animal’s ankle.

Although the wire had not broken the skin because it is so thick (much, much thicker than a cow’s-more like an elephant in fact) it had obviously stopped the blood flow. It was also still attached to the stump which had been torn out of the ground making it even more difficult for the buff to walk.

Just when the wire had been taken off and things were looking good, she stopped breathing. Andries immediately gave her some of the antidote and told everyone to get ready. He couldn’t wait any longer. She was not responding well and her breathing was stopping and starting. He had to revive her immediately.

Everyone picked up the equipment as Andries injected the rest of the antidote into her. Most of the group were sent well back whilst Andries, Mitch and I waited with Dean to see whether she would be okay. She got up. She looked at us. She was not happy. I decided to keep filming as long as possible.

Andries told us to get ready to run. I looked back for a suitable tree to go up and saw none. Oh dear. She charged.

Initially she headed for me but then veered towards Mitch who was over to my right. I waited for the rifle shot.

Nothing happened. Another split second passed.

The buff is on the left now and you can see Mitch’s arm on the right. Bear in mind that this is all happening in split seconds. 

Still he didn’t shoot.

Closing in..

By now I’m wondering what he is planning as he hasn’t raised his rifle. I would have shot it by now.

Mitch begins to side step her as I turn to run:

You can just see him starting some sort of matador move as she turns past him. Riley is as Irish as a name can get. I didn’t know they were part Spanish though..

Unfortunately I was no longer thinking about filming but instead about saving my skin so didn’t get much on camera after this.

Having missed Mitch she swerved my way. Dean threw his pack at her, which is the blue thing in the following picture, just as I began to do a neat turn into a sprint. She ignored the pack completely.

The view from the camera of Dean throwing his pack just as I begin to destroy Usain Bolt’s best time.

She turned away and having made her feelings known she headed off. None of us were hurt and thanks to Mitch’s judgement she is still alive and kicking.. Or charging rather..

After she went past him he aimed to shoot if she didn’t turn away and looked about to gore someone.

Laughing and letting off steam after the adrenaline rush!

Andries and his family do this work for free and never turn down a call out. Very often they also cover all the costs of the exercise out of their own pockets. This amounts to many animals a month. I feel honoured to know these people. It is thanks to all the efforts and sacrifices of people like them that there is still hope for Africa’s wildlife. And if this war that is being fought to save the animals is ever one it will be thanks to the efforts of the “small”, great people like Andries and his good family.

Thank you family Scholtz!

What it is like to have to put down elephants wounded by poachers.

In addition to the many animals killed outright by poachers, many many more die a slow and agonizing death as a result of wounds received from poachers’ guns. Very often they do not know where to shoot the animal and usually use underpowered weapons or the wrong type of ammunition. In the case of elephants especially, nearly all bullet wounds cause infection and eventually death.  I wrote the following story about a beautiful bull I had to shoot some years ago.,_old_chap.htm

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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The Wolverine Foundation Inc.,
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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