Can animals talk to each other like humans?

Answer by Rory Young:

Animals communicate using the same principle methods as humans do. However, in most forms of communication it is less sophisticated than ours, most obviously in sound communication. In some forms of communication, such as chemical communications it is we who are unsophisticated.Communication among land animals can either be via VisualAuditory,SeismicElectro, touch or Olfactory/chemical communication.Autocommunication is when an animal communicates with itself for some purpose such as bats using echo-location.Touch communication is quite common among some cultures such as the Maya and also among many types of animals, especially elephant. For example, the elephant equivalent of a “hug” is to “hug” or twist trunks together.

Elephants “hugging”.

Elephants use just as much visual communication as humans do. Visual communication is “body language”. How they walk, stand, look approach all have different meanings. They also use their trunks, eyes, ears and tusks to convey different communications to each other.

Electrocommunication is usually used among certain species of fish, mainly “weakly electric fish” species recognition,courtship and sex recognition, motivational status (attack warning or submission) and environmental conditions.

Chemical communication is more common among other animals than man. In this way we differ greatly from many animals. Territorial marking is extremely common and we are quite unusual in that we don’t use scent much in our communications.

Many animals have a Jacobson’s organ which is used to detect pheromones released by other animals, especially females in estrus. This is called “Flehming”. We don’t have one.

Lion flehming.

Using sound is common but often different to us. Elephants probably have the most sophisticated system as they use infra-sound, which is a much lower frequency than we can hear. They use these low rumbles up to 12 km away from each other. They also use seismic sound, something discovered recently by Joyce Poole in Kenya. Seismic sound is extremely low frequency vibration travelling through the earth and in the case of elephants is sensed through the feet.

The animal that comes closest to man’s use of voice communication for social grooming purposes is the Gelada. Since their hands are occupied breaking grass for long periods, they use vocalizations instead of physical grooming as a means of bonding.


Is controlled hunting of endangered species a valid plan?

Answer by Rory Young:

The argument for the limited trade in endangered species products is that the money generated will be put back into the protection and management of the endangered species in question.

The obvious first question is whether or not the money does go into the protection of the endangered species.

There has been some controversy over this. There are many examples of countries claiming they need the money generated for conservation and then are shown to be doing nothing for the animals.

As a rule of thumb, countries who’s revenue from their wildlife areas goes into the central treasury tend not to whilst countries who’s revenues from wildlife related incomes do tend to put the money

It is important to look at the successes and failures of this policy in the past.

One of the biggest successes of allowing trade in an endangered species is the Nile Crocodile.

In the 1960s the Nile Crocodile was facing extinction. A combination of protected status, dedicated breeding sanctuaries and, controversially, sustainable-yield programs were introduced.

The details of these sustainable yield programs are important as there are crucial differences between species. It was believed that crocodile hatchlings had a 1 in 20 charge of surviving or 3% up to two years of age. Therefore a system was established whereby eggs would be collected and incubated and the crocodiles raised to two years of age (optimum food conversion point for slaughtering) at which point 5% would be released into the wild (the extra 2 percentage points meant to increase the population) and the rest harvested.

The whole plan worked extremely well and the populations shot up. This system has continued to this day in many countries. Recently it was discovered that certain populations were too large, such as Lake Kariba and subsequent studies revealed that the initial estimates of 3% of two-year-olds surviving were way out and were actually possibly as low as 0.3%.

It would be nice to imagine such a system could be applied to other species but that unfortunately is just not the case.

Let’s look now at the biggest current failure.

South Africa has continued alone to allow hunting of Rhinos despite the critical threat to their continued existence and for the first time in thirty years an American trophy hunter was recently allowed to import his rhino horn trophy into the US. Yet the rhino population in South Africa has this year started to produce less than are being poached, hunted legally and dying naturally.

Whether or not the legalized hunting/exploitation can help pay for the re-establishment of a species there reaches a point at which universal protect is the only answer.

The White Rhinoceros was reintroduced into Zimbabwe after going extinct there and the Black Rhinoceros was reintroduced to South Africa after being reintroduced there. Initially these new groups were kept in protected sanctuaries until the populations grew to a size where they could be hunted sustainably and then start paying for the protection and reintroduction or other endangered species. They didn’t reintroduce them and then start shooting them!!!

The issue is further complicated by the different situations in different regions. Kenya for example has a relatively small and dwindling population of elephants compared to Zimbabwe. Allowing Zimbabwe to sell ivory stockpiles (as happened in 1998 to Japan) may benefit Zimbabwe’s Parks coffers and therefore the reasoning goes protect the larger population, yet it is disastrous for Kenya’s smaller population. The problem with this reasoning is that it is not just about overall numbers that are important but geographical and genetic diversity. We need Kenya’s small population as much as we need Zimbabwe’s huge one.

I have become more and more convinced by Kenya’s arguments for a ban on all trade in ivory. However, I agree 100% with Zimbabwe’s attitude towards poaching. As long as poachers are armed shoot them and if captures up to seven years imprisonment (more for rhino horn). Kenya on the other hand fines them a couple of hundred dollars

So, no hunting of animals as endangered as Rhinos and go to town on the poachers; and as for the “need for the money” that can be found from other sources..

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What would effectively stop elephant poaching in Africa?

Answer by Rory Young:

I mulled over how to answer this for some time because there are just so many things that can and must be done, I decided to look at the broader picture because no matter the effort of the brave few on the ground, without the will of the world’s nations to put an end to ivory and other poaching it is a losing battle.

There is currently a struggle between two very polarized groups of African countries (and their corners) on how to deal with the problem.

Firstly it is important to look at the three links in the ivory supply chain. These are the poachers, the traffickers and the consumers.

Firstly with regards to the consumers.
There are two approaches to the problem.

The first approach, promoted mostly by Kenya, focuses on ending the international legal trade in ivory.This ivory is from legally culled or hunted elephants in countries with large populations. It is believed that by doing so demand will dramatically reduce or dry up altogether.Those who support the theory believe that demand will dry up and their will therefore be no more demand.

The argument against this approach is that the demand will always be there and that the supply of legal ivory should be carefully controlled and funds funneled into wildlife management.

To give some context to these different approaches we also need to look at the different situations between these groups of countries. Zimbabwe for example has over 80’000 elephants and the population increases at about 3% per annum. Zimbabwe is in favour of limited trade in legal ivory. Kenya on the other hand has around 12’000 elephants, the population is decreasing rapidly and the Kenyan government is totally against any trade.

Where both groups agree is that the countries where this illegal ivory is going are not doing enough to discourage its sale.

Next we need to look at the traffickers. These are smugglers of just the same ilk as drug or blood diamond traffickers. However, their are much fewer controls and and because many of the States these traffickers come from have a very disinterested views of wildlife conservation, they are much more easily able to collude with the authorities in the countries they are shipping to. Like any illicit product, it is relatively easy to get it out. Controls and checks are usually at ports of entry not exit and as a result the methods, systems and infrastructure are not in place to stop exports.

The big problem again is the lack of will to get tough at the countries where the ivory is going. The customs departments are just not motivated to arrest and charge traffickers.

Thirdly we need to look at the poaching itself. The approach to stopping the poaching again differs tremendously between the two groups of countries mentioned before. In Kenya an ivory poacher will likely get off with a fine. In Zimbabwe he could be shot if he doesn’t surrender immediately contact is made with him and then he will face up to 7 years in prison (typically 5).

As you can imagine the group of countries with the vast majority of elephants also has the toughest policies for dealing with poaching. Most of them also support limited trade in ivory.

Whether supporting this is right or wrong, it will be impossible for the Kenya group to convince the others to change this until Kenya itself shows that they are really doing what needs to be done to fight the poaching itself. Iain Douglas-Hamilton recently said that Kenya is all that is standing between the poachers and the large Southern African populations. If that is true then God help us because if Kenya’s way of fighting poaching is with fines then they will have no elephants left soon.

Now to answer your question. I believe that Kenya has held an idealistic policy that has also not been supported by tough action. Realistic pragmatism is needed and a will to save what is left.

There needs to be an all out war on poachers in East Africa, supported by the African Union, as it is a cross border problem with harsh penalties imposed.

There needs to be international pressure and action against the traffickers and the nations that allow them to ply their trade.

With regards the consumers, the ivory itself needs to be made untouchable, taboo, illegal or dangerous. That can only happen if the governments of those buying get serious. Whether or not the trade should be banned, there should only be allowed a tiny amount of extremely expensive legal ivory sold to these countries. Any revenue should be proven to have been channeled back into anti poaching and other conservation efforts.

It is possible to win this war. I mentioned that Zimbabwe has 80’000+ elephants. Well, in 1900 there were less than 500 left.

The white rhino was reintroduced into Zimbabwe from South Africa after being wiped out completely and the Black Rhino was reintroduced into South Africa from Zimbabwe after being wiped out.

So, this war can be won but to win it needs money will and champions. All are in
short supply. What it doesn’t need is procrastination, half-hearted effort, hesitation or denial. It is a war just like any other war, it needs action and massive support to win it.

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