How important is it to save the world’s elephants?

Would you suffocate and starve your own children or let them be murdered?

That is exactly what you and I are doing by letting elephants and other “keystone” species race towards extinction.

I can certainly understand that many people wll imagine that I am exaggerating as this catastrophe is belived by pretty much everyone to be very distant.  I am not exaggerating at all and I will explain…

We need to stop this insanity now for the sake of our children and our children’s children. (Photo: Rory Young)

African, Asian and Forest Elephants are all amongst the most important “keystone species”. Their size and power combined with their eating habits mean that they literally shape their environment, “gardening” the forests and other habitats they live in, keeping the entire ecosystems healthy.

Forest elephants at Dzanga Baie in Central African Republic. (Photo: Rory Young)

These ecosystems, from the Congo Basin rain forests and the tropical and sub-tropical woodlands of Africa to the forests of South-East Asia are dependent on elephants “gardening” them.

Rain forests alone directly supply 28% of the world’s oxygen and are a key element in keeping our climate stable. They are only one of the habitats of which a large part are dependent on elephants to keep them healthy. Does anyone really believe our world could survive with a bit less oxygen in our atmosphere? Unfortunately not. Without healthy air we all, humans and animals alike, get sick and we die. Good luck trying to live a healthy life breathing even slightly polluted air.

Elephants are the largest frugivores on earth. Just as insects, bats and birds are critical to pollination, elephants are extremely critical to seed germination and dispersal. They have very poor digestive systems yet eat a huge variety of fruits and cover vast distances. The result is a major proportion of the different tree species having their seeds widely dispersed after being planted in a nice pile of elephant poo.

Other animals and plants are dependent on elephants opening up areas for them to access. I was recently in a park in West Africa where elephants are now extinct. The first thing that struck me was how impenetrable the forest now is. In a healthy forest ecosystem there is a maze of game trails and clearings where other animals and different species can move about, or young plants can gain a foothold…

All of this adds up. When we destroy the pillar of an ecosystem, we create a terrible domino effect.

There are now no elephants in 95% of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s forests. The DRC has the bulk of the Congo Basin rain forest. Recent studies have revealed that the African rain forests are now “browning”. No one has the faintest clue how badly that could affect us. However, no one is denying that it is a disaster of giant proportions. No one amongst those who even know about it of course..

We are heading for catastrophe. Add up all of the other areas where elephants are key to a healthy ecosystem and the situation is chilling.

Non-elephant (Photo:Rory Young)

This is not even taken into account when it comes to discussions on the effects on climate of man’s “progress”. We have yet to discover what the results of this disgraceful and stupid failure on the part of Africa, Asia and the international community will be.

It doesn’t stop there. The disaster only begins with climate change. The effect on agriculture and the economies in Africa will be devastating. The Sahara is already moving South, causing starvation and inter-ethnic conflict never before seen on this scale.

People are on the move and every year the numbers living in extreme poverty are rocketing. Those desperate people are prime candidates for recruitment by the number of terrorist and rebel groups proliferating rapidly across the continent. These groups are getting stronger and more popular by the day.

Has everyone forgotten 9/11? Does everyone believe they can contain extremism militarily? I guarantee you that unless we put a stop to the unfolding chaos, it will become, over time, far, far worse than ever before. This really is a global village in every way.

Welcome to the future. (Photo: National Geographic)

These masses of hungry people are also driving the bushmeat trade. The unprecedented Ebola epidemic this year was only one aspect of a dire warning. There were outbreaks in three completely different parts of Africa; West Africa (Guinea etc.), Central Africa (D.R.Congo) and East Africa (Uganda). This is the habitat of elephants. As we are wiping them out and raping their habitat, we are releasing unknown biological weapons on ourselves.

Refugee family fleeing inter-ethnic killing in CAR (Photo: Rory Young)

We are in a total war against ourselves and have not yet realized it. The world’s response has been less than pathetic. We are trying to fix the problem as it was, not as it is, let alone what it could be.

Here is the key to the problem and the solution. We are not separate from or independent of our environment. We are a part of it and are dependent on it being healthy. The elephant’s decline is not just the loss of a beautiful species, it is a reflection of the loss of the elephant’s environment, and if we lose the elephant’s environment, we will lose our environment. We cannot fix the looming sixth extinction just recently prophesied by scientists (USA today article) once it has happened:

The loss and decline of animals around the world — caused by habitat loss and global climate disruption — mean we’re in the midst of a sixth “mass extinction” of life on Earth, according to several studies out Thursday in the journal Science.
One study found that although human population has doubled in the past 35 years, the number of invertebrate animals – such as beetles, butterflies, spiders and worms – has decreased by 45% during that same period.
“We were shocked to find similar losses in invertebrates as with larger animals, as we previously thought invertebrates to be more resilient.” said Ben Collen of the U.K.’s University College London, one of the study authors.
Although big, photogenic species, such as tigers, rhinos and pandas, get the bulk of the attention, researchers say it’s clear that even the disappearance of the tiniest beetle can significantly change the various ecosystems on which humans depend.
“We tend to think about extinction as loss of a species from the face of Earth, and that’s very important, but there’s a loss of critical ecosystem functioning in which animals play a central role that we need to pay attention to as well,” said lead author Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University.
“Habitat destruction will facilitate hunting and poaching, and species will have difficulty in finding refuge given land use change and climatic disruption,” added Dirzo.

We cannot live without healthy wild areas. The cities we live in are not isolated little bubbles that exist without dependence on the rest of the world, they depend entirely on the supply of food and other resources that originate in the warzone that are our last wild places. Instead of interacting in harmony with the environment they need to sustain themselves, they are becoming out of control monsters, with ravenous appetites, sucking up resources and the sucking up of those resources is . The loss of the elephant will signal the beginning of the irreversible loss of our world.

This is not something I have heard or read about. I have seen all this happening with my own eyes. In the last year alone I have seen the inter-ethnic butchery in Central Africa on two separate trips there. I have spent six weeks in Guinea at the height of the Ebola outbreak. I have seen the slaughter of elephants with my own eyes over and over and over, all over the continent. I have watched the forests change over my entire life time. It is all very personal and in my face for me right now, and it is going to all get very personal and in your face for everyone else’s too, very soon.

If we cannot save the elephant then we cannot save ourselves.
If you are interested in avoiding the creation of hell on earth then please visit Take a Stand for African Elephants and Rhinos  or  Chengeta Wildlife or  Quorans For A Cause

Rory Young
12/01/15
http://www.quora.com/Rory-Young-1

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Should poachers be shot on sight?

Is it ever justifiable to shoot on sight? Is this a war? If it is then who exactly is the enemy?

I cannot think of any question that I have to consider more carefully, where my opinion, recommendation, advice or actions could have more tragic consequences if I am wrong.

I have over the years had to make the decision during anti poaching operations of whether my actions would be legally and morally justifiable. More recently however, I have advised governments on when, how and if their rangers, investigators and military can shoot, and the tactics that should be used against poachers in the field and I have trained many anti poaching trainers, leaders and rangers in tactics for dealing with poachers, showing them how by undertaking actual operations as part of their training.

The recent events in the United States, where the country is torn apart by the question of when it is acceptable to pull the trigger, should remind everybody of the importance of considering such a questions extremely carefully. Flippant answers to such questions are irresponsible at the very least.

The recent devastation of wildlife populations across africa, in particular black and white rhinos, and african and forest elephants also means we desperately need the most effective policies and strategies for dealing with poaching. Those need to be both morally and legally justifiable as well as effective. They also need to be politically acceptable, something that is incredibly difficult to achieve.

So, who are we going to kill?
Here is a picture taken by a friend in Central African Republic last year. It shows three children removing meat from the carcasse of a poached forest elephant. So, which poacher would you shoot first? The little girl sitting on the elephant carcasse, or the boy doing the butchering? How about the little girl on the right? She is armed with a machete…

Children butchering poached elephants at Dzanga Bai in Central African Republic.

These children were locals from the area of Bayanga in Central African Republic who accompanied a group of Sudanese poachers who had travelled from Sudan accross the CAR, an area twice the size of Texas, to massacre an entire herd of thirty six rare forest elephants. They were present at the killing and were given the meat by the Sudanese in return for showing them where to find the elephants. Therefore, according to the law, they are poachers. The same children will participate in killing animals if told to do so and will not hesitate. They are hungry, desperate and terrified of the men giving the orders.

Such poaching groups rarely restrict their activities to killing elephants. They are frequently employed by the Séléka and other rebel groups as mercenaries. They also engage in large-scale banditry, blocking roads and then looting, raping, kidnapping and murdering. They have taken part in the atrocities in Darfur and are recognized as terrorists.

Sudanese Séléka mercenaries, typically equipped. When not hired by rebel groups and certain pariah governments they spend their leisure time poaching and raiding in iEastern and North-Eastern CAR.

So are they “just poachers” or are they an enemy that needs to be destroyed? They often move in groups of up to one hundred and are mobile and well equipped, with vehicles and camels, and are armed with assault rifles, propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and often even anti aircraft cannons and armoured vehicles at times. They are a small army. However, they are also poachers. When they encounter law enforcement officers or any perceived threat to their activities, they not only open fire, but will also aggressively pursue the law enforcement officers/rangers/soldiers and will even direct revenge attacks against any nearby civillian settlements. They address the local people as “slave”, which gives a good idea of their mentality.

Can or should we define such people as poachers? Should they fall into a different category? They will certainly not surrender if approached by rangers. Yet we have to be aware that they will be accompanied by others who, although engaged in criminal activities, may be coerced or bullied into participating. Any plans to deal with these groups have to have developed tactics for tackling the worst of these while protecting the innocents amongst them. That is a very difficult task. Perhaps they should be defined by their worst crimes? Ethnic cleansing, murder and slavery. They are enemies of the country and therefore should they not be treated as such and fought as military invaders?

Who poaches, what they poach,why they poach and what they are prepared to do to attain their goal varies enormously. In anti poaching and anti trafficking operations that I have participated in  in West, Central, East and Southern Africa it is always different, however, there are certain obvious constants. Most important of which is the clear difference between poaching for commercial gain and subsistance poaching. All too often the poachers themselves are from similar backgrounds and very often motivated by poverty. The great difference though is that in the case of commercial poaching, whether for ivory or meat, there is always someone behind the scenes making buckets of cash out of the trade and it is these people who are the most culpable. When the poaching is an organized criminal activity the whole syndicate needs to be dismantled and broken up. Killing the poacher in the field is just cutting off one of the Hydra’s heads. The beast itself must be destroyed.

Subsistance poachers in poverty stricken areas just cannot be dealt with in the same way as commercial poaching gang members. A subsistance poacher is often both more desperate, driven by hunger, and less culpable as he has limited choices. If we are truly going to stop poaching, then we need to look as seriously at helping these people find other means of survival as at apprehending and punishing them. These people are also the most likely to be deterred by a shoot on sight policy. To shoot starving people would be an appalling crime.

Here is another picture showing women and children we apprehended early this year being escortied out of the protected area. They were part of a group of over forty people poaching buffaloes by shooting into the air and shouting so as to herd them into long lines cable snares. All those who were unarmed were released immediately after interviewing them and taking statements. Sadly, there were both armed women and children in the group.  This was a mixture of commercial and subsistance poachers. Commercial poachers came into the area and offered a share of the meat to villagers in return for participating. Should we have shot those women and children on sight?

Women and children apprehended as part of a large-scale poaching operation being carefully walked out of an area for release under guard to ensure their own safety as well as the rangers in case of signalling to other armed poachers.

What about mistakes?
Here is another scenario. I was prepared to shoot the man in the picture below. He was armed and was located at a position to where we had just pursued a group of poachers. As you can see, he is not in any way dressed as a ranger. He is wearing a red T-shirt and shorts and is barefoot. My team and I were convinced that we had one of the poachers in our sights.

The man was actually a ranger. He was part of a team in a boat positioned to cut off any attempt by the gang we were trying to outmanoevre, by cutting off any attempted retreat across a large river. The boat team had encountered the vessels used by the poachers to access the park. These poachers had laid fish nets before moving inland to poach big game. Their intention and past MO was to sell ivory, meat and illegal fish. They had large boats and were well equipped by a backer who expected to make good profit on all the different contraband. If they didn’t get lucky with ivory or meat, they would at least return with four boats full of illegal fish. Our ranger had changed his shirt on encountering the nets as it is dangerous to have buttons when working with nets.

He had swapped his uniform bush shirt and trouser for the soccer shirt and shorts and because he didn’t want to get caught in a net and drown and he needed to wade through the water and mud to get to the bank where he and his comrades hoped to intercept the team we were driving towards them. He had also removed his boots.. The rangers are not equipped with radios and instead use their personal cell phones to communicate (and pay for the air time out of their own meagre salaries). Unfortunately this was a spot without cell coverage and he was unable to advise that he had changed clothing and position.

We spotted him behind a large termite mound from a distance and prepared to shoot him if he raised his weapon to shoot at us. He had made a mistake. If there was a shoot on sight policy in place he would have been history as soon as he had been seen by our team. We shouted at him to drop his weapon.

The ranger in question believed we were shouting at a poacher on our side of the termite mound that he could not see. Fortunately he did not raise his weapon and instead, realising that we might not recognise him, backed away, raising his weapon above his head with two hands.

We immedaitely saw from its outline that it was an M16, something the poachers do not have access to in that area, and lowered our own weapons.

There is absolutely no doubt that ranger would have been riddled with bullets from the team if a shoot on sight policy existed. He would be dead dead dead. His children would be fatherless. The rangers would be demoralized. The poachers win.

Is a shoot on sight policy effective?
Congratulations! You just shot dead your best source of information! That is exactly what happens when a poacher is shot dead. Any opportunity to find out who is behind the business is gone.

To really stop poaching in an area it is necessary to cripple the whole illegal operation. It is a complex crime, requiring many participants and numerous steps. People have to fund the expedition. Someone has to supply weapons and ammunition. The poachers need to be transported, with all their kit to the area, sometimes guided in. Porters as well as poachers/shooters are needed to carry the ivory and meat. Officials, such as police officers, customs agents and even rangers have to be paid off. Different steps require different specialists, including shooters, buyers, smugglers, financiers and so on and on.

To effectively cripple poaching activities in an area, pressure has to be applied at all steps and to all the different individuals involved. A poacher is not going to poach if he has no ammunition for his weapon, cannot pay porters and has no one to supply and has his own ass in a jail..

By shooting dead all the poachers instead of professionally and legally questioning them to find out details of who is doing what, where and when, the authorities play into the hands of the brains and money behind these crimes. A dead poacher means nothing to the people who sent him other than they may have to pay a few nickels out of their millions of profits to send another one…

Killing professional rhino and elephant poachers  will certainly deter some. However, will it deter enough to drop the levels of those willing to take on the job enough to reduce poaching activity at all in an area? I’m afraid not. It may temporarily deter gangs from a particular area, in favour of easier pickings, but it has not worked as an effective deterrent against rhino poachers. The first country to issue order to shoot on sight and to indemnify rangers against prosecution or civil suits in the courts was Zimbabwe in 1989. Rangers had already killed 89 poachers in just one area of the country, in just a few years, before the shoot on sight order was given. After the go ahead was given, more poachers died and more and more came. It failed. It was clear that for every poacher who was killed another ten were ready to take his place.

So, who really benefits from a shoot on sight policy?
Killing poachers, rather than arresting them, benefits one group more than any other and that is the people who send them to poach. It also benefits the people who supply the weapons and the ammunition, and the equipment, the transport and so on. Instead of the whole criminal enterprise being brought down, the poorest and usually least educated of the criminals is silenced. He is easily replaced.

When is shooting justified?
In defense of human life. In the case of the Sudanese brutes I mentioned earlier, they need to be defeated militarily to protect the population and resources of the country. That is clearly justified warfare. That situation does not apply to a poacher working for a criminal organization. Both ethically and objectively it is important to capture him. Many countries in Africa, especially Central Africa, no longer differentiate between terrorists, bandits and rebels/terrorists. It is unnacceptable to treat subsistance poachers as terrorists.

Is it realistic to capture, interrogate and imprison poachers, rather than shoot them on sight? Is there really an effective way to control poaching in a given area?
The tactics necessary to shoot a poacher without putting the ranger’s life at unnecessary risk are virtually the same as those necessary to apprehend a poacher. Poachers cannot be apprehended in pursuit, they have to be ambushed or surrounded and surprised. Rangers killed by poachers have usually invariably been trying to catch them or attack them in pursuit from the rear and have themselves been ambushed.

Our organization specializes in developing doctrine, methods, skills, tactics and strategies for safely investigating, locating and apprehending poachers and traffickers in the field. We train rangers to use these methods to as safely as possible and to use the information gathered from pro active and reactive investigation to bring down whole sysndicates. We have trained over 100 instructors, investigators, unit leaders and rangers in the last year and have succesfully taken down whole syndicates and entire networks as part of the in-operations part of our training. We have worked with organizations this year such as UNOPS, The European Union and different National wildlife and forest departments, military special forces and law enforcement units.

Officers learning how to age tracks so as to ensure not approaching poachers too closely from the rear.

We teach these organizations not only how to coordinate tracking, observation and ambush teams to apprehend poaching gangs in the field, but also how to positively engage with the community to educate and sensitize them and build up relationships that everyone benefits from and which provides the necessary information to go after the people behind the commercial poaching. The most important asset in the fight against commercial poaching is the assistance of the community. They provide information on movements into and out of the area and other illegal activities.

Officers meeting with community elders in Guinea.

During in-operations training officers visit villages surrounding the protected areas and meet with community and religious leaders, hunting brotherhoods, political groups, officers from other authrorities and many more. Not only are the meetings invariably succesful in terms of teaching the communities why the protected areas are important and how they can benefit from protecting them, but the same communities provide the information on all the commercial poaching operations in the area and allow us to plan arrest operations. The interviews of those arrested give us all the information needed to aprehend the criminals those suspects work with. Further arrests lead to even more arrests and so on and on. The same applies to arrests of poachers in theprotected areas. One arrest leads to more arrests and so on and on.

Shooting someone dead creates a very final “dead end” and, if the aim is to gether information so as to bring down the whole network, it is therefore not only a tragic but a stupid action. To stop and deter poaching the sydicates and networks need to be torn apart. That requires an intellignet, necessarily complex and thorough doctrine that addresses the problem in its entirety. Shooting poachers in the field does not tear apart the networks, it simply protects them from discovery.

The devastation of Africa’s wildlife can be stopped and stopped a lot more easily and for a lot less cost than most people imagine. Our organization Chengeta Wildlife is proving that on the ground in the front line and in the communites in West, Central and East Africa. It can be done and we are showing the world how.

Sorry for the horrific and sad pictures. I often need to take a break from all of this and just remind myself why we have to win this. I will leave you with an image of how it can be..

How can we allow such scenes to be replaced with stinking, rotting carcasses on barren ground?

https://www.quora.com/Rory-Young-1

 

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.


 

How smart are elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

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

Mature Female African Elephant

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/61004…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elephant painting in thailand.

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

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

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

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How do animals in the wild avoid eating anything poisonous?

Answer by Rory Young:

Animals either know instinctively what not to eat or they learn from experience by trying and learning or they are taught or all of these, depending on the animal.

Regarding instinct, let’s look at the Cape Buffalo as an example. They know instinctively that grass is edible and that it tastes good. They are unlikely to try eating leaves or anything else unless starving, in which case they will often attempt to eat plants that wouldn’t normally appeal to them and can die from attempting to eat poisonous plants.

For animals eating plants that they are not used to let’s look at Impala. They are browsers and there are many different species of plants to choose from, literally hundreds in their habitat. Impala and other antelope always nibble a tiny bit of a plant before feeding on it. As poisonous plants are usually bitter they will discover that in the first nibble and move on. This way they learn which plants are the best to eat. They also do this because many plants are known to use tannin when browsed upon  to make themselves unpalatable. One tree species that has been studied and shown to do this is the Mopani. See: http://www.resource-ecology.org/…

Lastly lets look at elephants. Because elephants only absorb as little as five percent of the nutrients of what they eat, they need a wide variety of foods (and a large quantity) to get all the nutrients they need. All elephants grow up in the herd and learn from their elders not only what can and can’t be eaten but also where to go at what time of year to find certain foods. They will even dig up minerals from the ground in order to supplement their diets. I recommend Cynthia Moss’ Elephant Memories as a great read if you want to know more about this and other behaviour of African Elephants.

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