How do you deal with animal poachers?

Answer by Rory Young:

WARNING! This contains graphic images. It is not for children!

WARNING! This contains graphic images and is not for children!

There are two types of poachers.

Meat poachers poach mainly plains game to sell the meat or to eat themselves.
They are best dealt with by “normal” methods of law-enforcement, education, poverty alleviation and even integration into the wildlife management system.

These people are for the most part hungry and this type of poaching can be brought under control to the extent of game populations and biodiversity not being threatened. However, as in the case of the DR Congo and many West African countries, the bush-meat trade can get out of control. This is in large part due to a lack of will, effort and/or ability of the governments concerned to limit and regulate the practice.
Meat poaching is also tied to the poaching of gorillas for “muti” (traditional medicine). In the case of the mountain gorillas, the problem is more akin to the elephant and rhino poaching, requiring similar strategies and tactics to combat it.

 The bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in the Virunga National Park July, 2007

Rhino and elephant poachers hunt for the rhino horn and ivory to sell on the international black market. The ivory goes to the Far East and is used for trinkets and jewellery. The rhino horn goes either to Yemen to be used to make handles for traditional daggers (relatively small quantities) or to the Far East be used in traditional medicines (large quantities).

Rhino poached and butchered in 2011 in South Africa with her calf. (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/south-africa-poaching.html#cr)

These poachers are usually ex-guerilla fighters or the like and are well equipped with fully automatic weapons, heavy calibre hunting rifles and at times even rocket propelled grenades. The RPGs and fully automatic assault rifles are not suitable for hunting and invariably wound, maim and cause suffering long drawn-out death due to infection and blood loss. (I have just written an article for African Expedition Magazine about what it is like to have to go and put down such animals. I will post the link on my Blog as soon as it is up). 

Increasingly White South African poachers with a background in wildlife, using helicopters, have been encountered.

The purpose of fully automatic assault rifles and RPGs is of course also for use against Parks rangers and scouts, army, police or anyone else that may try to stop them.

The policy of African countries has either been to:

1. Try and arrest the poachers. This is usually impossible and results in the scouts and rangers losing morale and and avoiding confrontations. The reason is that when tracking a group of poachers the advantage is all with the poachers as they simply have to lay an ambush on their own tracks. Walking along for long periods knowing that the enemy is directly in front of you and can easily open fire at any time really frays your nerves.

The only way round this problem really is to have helicopter and other air support and to “leap-frog” with an airborne tracking team and stop group who move ahead and cross-grain at potential sites, thus narrowing down the location and eventually cornering them. The poachers of course have counter-tactics such as splitting up and each going in a different direction.

Zimbabwe Airforce Chopper and crew.

Such air support is expensive and invariably provided by the military who are usually not brought in to arrest people. 

It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy of only arresting poachers also have the biggest poaching problem.

2. Shoot on sight. Zimbabwe was most famous for this policy and the military has been used to provide air and ground support for anti-poaching operations. It is no coincidence that the countries that follow this policy have had the most success in curbing rhino horn and ivory poaching. There are increasing calls for other African countries to adopt such a position. See: Minister calls for shoot to kill policy in Botswana

Dead Poacher

Now here is my own two cents worth. If groups of criminals crossing into your country, armed to the teeth and with a tendency to fight rather than surrender and if that is leading to the extinction of a species and increased lawlessness then shoot them on sight.

The problem has to be treated as a priority and a threat to “homeland security” and all branches of the armed services in the affected countries must be directed to support the Parks officers. It is a war and needs to be fought as a war.

I have answered this specifically as asked, i.e. dealing with the poachers. I answered another question separately about dealing with the problem of Elephant poaching in Africa in general: https://youngrory.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/what-would-effectively-stop-elephant-poaching-in-africa/

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Do birds in the wild alert each other to the presence of predators that do not necessarily hunt them, such as lions, and if so do other a…

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes, they do. Many gregarious and other species of birds will alert each other to anything that looks even vaguely threatening or out-of-place.

Once they learn more about a new creature they encounter, they will begin to relax if they find that it is not interested in them. A good example of how adaptable and able to learn is the Oxpecker. When feeding on ticks on Cape Buffalo they will warn the buffalo of an approaching human. However, Oxpeckers feeding on ticks on cattle will not warn cows of an approaching human.

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Are lions the only big cats that hunt in prides and why are other big cats solitary? (specifically the females)

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes they are the only cats that hunt in prides. Young cheetah males will sometimes congregate in bachelor groups but these just temporary get-togethers.

Let’s look at the three big African cats, the lion, leopard and cheetah. They have each evolved to fill a niche which they dominate. These niches may overlap and when they do the lion is top of the pile, followed by leopards and then cheetah.

The leopard is an ambush predator. They like to stalk their prey as close as possible and then pounce on them. They also try to sneak up on animals in trees, especially baboons and monkeys and then start up the tree by which stage the baboon can’t go anywhere. Baboons will fight back at times as a group but that is another story.

In order to ambush prey they need to be on their own. A large group of them would not be able to stalk animals as successfully.

The ideal environment for them is forested or rocky not flat and open, as that would not allow them to stalk up close to their prey.

In some ways they are more gregarious than people would imagine. Males’ and females’ territories will overlap, as will females and females. However, males’ and males’ territories will not overlap and they will chase each other out of their areas. Adult offspring will often hang out with mom from time to time for a few days if they bump into each other. These habits show that they are not solitary because they don’t “like” each other but because they are necessarily so to hunt and survive.

Leopards’ spots are also ideal camouflage for an ambush predator, allowing them to sneak up close without being seen.

Cheetah of course also have spots. Most people imagine them running down prey from distance with their incredible speed. However, they need to get as close to their prey as possible first before launching themselves after it and running it down. Thus the need for spots. They combine stealth first and then speed to succeed.

So, leopards and cheetahs do not really compete in terms of environment because as explained, leopards prefer terrain where they can hide and ambush whilst cheetah open areas, with some limited cover such as tall grass or shrubs to first stalk their prey. The extremes of these two are mountainous terrain or cliffs where you will find leopards (who are incredibly versatile and will live on the edges of urban areas living off rats if need be) and flat open grassland areas where you will find cheetahs (who are not versatile at all). Both species are medium size, allowing them to take down relatively large game or small game to survive.

And then of course there are lions. Although the will not survive in the extreme mountainous terrain where leopards are happy, they will overlap a fair amount with them in areas of fairly open, broken ground and savanna woodland. When it comes to cheetah habitat however, there is much more competition between cheetahs and lions and cheetahs will often be chased off their kills. I was fortunate to be part of the cheetah re-introduction into Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe 20 years ago. I built the boma (a boma is a pen where you keep the animals for anything from 4 to 8 weeks to acclimatize them to a new area and get them settled)  so that the 16ft fences were buried deep with rubble, very strong with steel posts and the fences were looser the higher up they went so that any thing trying to climb them would fall off. This was because we were expecting trouble and boy we got it. During the day we would shoot impalas to feed  the cheetahs and then sleep because we would be up all night chasing off lions and hyaenas (he he, yes they should be part of the question and answer but you did specify cats) with shots and Landrovers. Lions, leopards and cheetahs will kill each other if they get a chance, because of the competition for food.

Lions are “pack hunters”. They live in close-nit extended family groups. Their group behaviour allows them to take on prey that neither leopards nor cheetah could touch. They use herding and other techniques together with stalking and enormous strength to take down large prey all the way up to elephants (this is quite common in Botswana). Most importantly and most relevant to your question, they can tackle large herds of large game and this is their real niche which they dominate completely.

If they were solitary they would not be able to feed themselves consistently, as often happens with young males who are pushed out of the pride when they grow to big for their boots and start threatening the boss. These homeless males will either die of hunger, join up with other such males to hunt as a team or learn to hunt on their own, adopting methods more like leopards.

With regards to females specifically, although we males hate to admit it, females are the heart of any  group and whilst males tend to think first about sex and then food whilst females tend to think about feeding their babies and then themselves. So the males are pretty much obsessed with their… genes.

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What animal(s) kills the most humans per year?

Answer by Rory Young:

The Hippopotamus kills more people than any other mammal every year. You could say that it has been unintentionally provoked as they are so touchy that they are easy to upset. They are extremely aggressive and will often attack boats and dug out canoes as well as people on land. Very often the cause of death is drowning

The most deadly animal on the planet by far and causing unprovoked deaths is the Anopheles Mosquito which carries the Malaria Plasmodium . In 2010 between 660,000 and 1.2 million people died from malaria.

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What is the best way to defend yourself against a large cat attack?

Answer by Rory Young:

There are many accounts of people not only surviving lion attacks but killing the lion (with something other than a gun).

One of the techniques recorded as used by the the Maasai and other African tribes hunt lions was to provoke a charge; covering themselves with their shield and wedging the butt of their spear against the ground and letting the animal impale itself.

One of the most amazing stories of bravery I have ever  read was recorded by the explorer Frederick Courtney Selous.

Two Matabele (Ndebele) boys who had a cow in their care killed by a lion. Determined to redeem their honour and the cow, they set off with one shield and one Assegai. They provoked the lion to charge by approaching it while it was feeding.

The intention was for one of them to let the lion attack, while protecting himself with the shield. This would distract the lion, allowing the second chap to spear it. This is clever and shows they understood lion behaviour. A lion that attacks more than one person will usually stay on that one individual.

The first boy did hold the shield and let the lion attack him whilst covering himself with the shield and the second did spear the lion and kill it.

Unfortunately the boy who held the shield was killed by the lion and the second boy was mauled but survived. The cow was retrieved.

              Matabele Warrior

Then there is the amazing story of game ranger Harry  Wolhuter who was attacked by two lions while riding a horse in the Kruger Park in 1904.

One of the lions grabbed him in its mouth by his shoulder and dragged him off to eat him.

Somehow he managed to draw his sheath knife knife and stab the lion, mortally wounding it.

Harry Wolhuter

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Do wild animals, once captive, retain their wild habits?

Answer by Rory Young:

If you do as you have described a lion will still know how to hunt but may have some difficulty at first and I will explain why.

Firstly. They have a hunting instinct. They are pure killer. They have evolved to kill. They enjoy it. It is fun for them and they get excited by it. I can’t bear the Hollywood bs of lions only killing just what they need. It is so untrue. They are well known to kill more than one animal and even go on killing sprees as do other cats and hyaenas.

Secondly. When a lion gets hungry it gets nasty.You may have heard the saying “a hungry man is an angry man”. Lions are the same.  When they get hungry they don’t just want to eat they want to KILL!

This strong urge to kill, just as powerful as their hunger, does not go until their belly is full. This is why killing sprees happen. They may kill one animal and then, before eating properly and satiating themselves, come across another opportunity and then kill again.

This is common with other cats too. There are numerous accounts of leopards getting into livestock and killing one animal after another. I remember an description from the book Smithers and Skinners Mammals of the Southern African Sub Continent of one leopard that killed 39 lambs in one attack. There is no way it was going to eat 39 lambs. Maybe two or even three but not 39! Simba would be horrified!!

Thirdly. There are also learned hunting and kills that they gain from experience and those do not go away. If your lion had never been in the wild these skills would not have been well developed and the released lion would then have problems feeding itself.

Lastly. Fitness! Just like one of us they can get fat and lazy getting too much food and not enough exercise. This is why I said they may have some difficulty at first. Not too much though! The instinct will still take over..

I love lions they are truly awe-inspiring animals! Seeing them hunt is one of the most incredible things you can ever see.

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