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

Answer by Rory Young:

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

Lions taking down cap _buffalo.

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

Lioness Hunting

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

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

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Would an unprovoked wild elephant attack a human?

Answer by Rory Young:

Every animal has a “fight or flight” zone. For example if you approach a rat from a distance it will run away but corner it in a hole and put your finger in there and it will bite you!

Elephants are the same, get too close and they could either give you a “mock charge” (i.e. intimidation zone) or a “full charge” (attack zone). How close this distance is depends on the elephant and the situation.

Females tend to be more aggressive  Females with young will be even more aggressive than females without young and the most aggressive of all are tusk-less females. Tusk-less females are most likely so easily upset because of a feeling of insecurity acquired from not having tusks to defend themselves and therefore compensate for this perceived or real weakness by becoming more aggressive.

Males, although generally more laid back, turn into complete lunatics when in “musth”. Here is a quote from Wikipedia on musth:

“Musth or must (pron.: /ˈmʌst/) is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones –testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times.”

Basically it is linked to rut and one could write a whole book on the subject. They become completely mad and will go out of their way to charge and attack anyone and anything, including other males, other animals, trees, bushes, people, cars and have even killed their keepers and trainers. Here is a newspaper report about the death of a keeper in Livingstone in Zambia. I knew the man who died:
Elephant Kills Zookeeper in Livingstone

Here is a picture of a bull in musth chasing a giraffe:
File:Two bulls matching testosterone levels..jpg

I have personally come across bulls in musth on many occasions and usually get the hell out of their way as soon as I see the usual combination of seeping temporal gland, wet and extended penis and aggressive posture and gait. On one occasion when in a vehicle I had such a bull go out of his way for over half a kilometer after hearing the vehicle (he wouldn’t have been able to see it at that distance) and then chase me for some distance. Once I had accelerated out of range he plowed his tusks into the ground in a display of frustration and anger> The only thing that seems to calm them down is a female in season and such females will often attach themselves to a bull in musth to avoid being harassed by lots of males.

Bulls can also be dangerous even when not in musth. Here is a report, also from Livingstone in Zambia about a man killed by two elephants (both males as indicated by the fact that there were only two and therefore also not in musth as bulls in musth are always on their own or around a herd of females).

Elephant kills Livingstone resident

So, in a nutshell; yes unprovoked elephants can and do attack and kill humans.


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What is some of the most interesting animal poop?

Answer by Rory Young:

If you are tracking animals then all poops are interesting but some are more interesting than others!

I will use the example of elephant poop. Here are just a few things that can be told looking at elephant boli:

1. The age of the animal.. Elephants never stop growing. There is a direct correlation between bolus diameter or circumference and the age of the elephant. The greater the diameter the older the elephant.

2. The size of the animal.  Again diameter or circumference can be used to determine height at the shoulder.

3. Gender. There are several ways to use dung to determine gender from droppings in elephants. One is the composition of the contents. Males and females browse differently. Because females alive in herds and are smaller in stature and males are solitary it means they have different dietary requirements and feeding habits. Another is the shape of the bolus, which tends to be “tidier” in females than males. Also frequency of defecation is greater in females than in males.

4. Diet. Elephants digest as little as 5% of what they eat meaning the droppings contain cclear evidence of what has been eaten.

5. Populations. Counting boli is a tried and tested means of determining populations, especially in areas where it is difficult to observe the elephants directly such as tropical rain forests.

6. When the elephant was there. The rate deterioration of mounds of droppings has been established and also the cooling rate from 38C elephant body temperature down or up to ambient temperature.

7. The condition of the animal. The health and condition can be determined by frequency, content and appearance.

Much more can be estimated or determined and with a remarkable degree of accuracy not only from elephant droppings but from the droppings of all animals.
I am not sharing details just yet of exactly how to determine all of the above as I have just written a magazine article on this subject which goes into all the details, including formulas, accuracy ranges, references scientific papers for further study for the analysis of elephant tracks, droppings and aerial spoor and what can seriously be determined. I’ll post a link as soon as a digital version of the article has been published.

I leave you with this splendid example of elephant poop.

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