Would less than lethal rounds have any affect on an elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

Yes. They would enrage the animal. There are much better ways to deter elephants which I will explain further on.

This is what you have coming at you if you piss him off!

I was just recently looking into a story about three people who were killed fairly recently in Kazungula in Zambia (Elephant kills 3 people in Kazungula) and subsequently discovered that it had been shot with bird-shot from a shot-gun the night before.

This sort of scenario is quite common with elephants. In a misguided attempt to deter them from crops people end up making them dangerous and this often ends in tragedy.

There are better ways to deter them such as hot pepper plants for example. Have a look at Elephant Pepper They can be planted or the pepper mixed with old engine oil and smeared on twine which is then strung around areas that need to be protected.

Elephants hate these!

Electric fences are popular but elephants often quickly learn how to break them without being shocked.

Chillies can also be mixed with green vegetation or dung and burnt. The smoke is a deterrent to elephants.

Burning a mixture of elephant dung and chillies.

Elephants don’t like noise so banging pots helps. However, this should be done from a good distance and preferably indoors as from close by it can cause the elephants to charge. Shots fired can also work but of course one should never fire a shot into the air (what goes up must come down) so blank cartridges are best.

Bright and flashing lights are also useful but again not from anywhere near the elephant/s as these can also cause them to attack.

All in all, chillies and other such “passive” deterrents are the safest methods for all concerned.

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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 many teeth does a hippo have?

Answer by Rory Young:

Common Hippopotamus:
Young hippos have thirty two milk teeth including three incisors, one canine, four premolars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

Hippo skull

Adult hippos have thirty six teeth including two incisors, one canine, three premolars and three molars on each half of the jaw on both sides.

However! Adult hippos can retain some of their milk teeth for some years after developing their adult teeth meaning some hippos can have as many as fourty teeth for a few years.

The largest teeth are commonly referred to as tusks. These are the canines.

The front incisors are commonly referred to as fighting tusks as they are primarily responsible for inflicting wounds during fights.

Male Hippos Fighting

I have found a number of dead males killed during fighting over the years. In every case the dead animal had been bitten through the spine. Interestingly this is also the way male lions tend to kill each other when fighting (The mane protests male lion’s necks).

The Pygmy Hippopotamus
Young  Pygmy hippos  have the same configuration of milk teeth as common hippos, consisting of 32 teeth.
There are 3 incisors, 1 canine and 4 premolars in each half jaw. Canines of an adult pygmy are huge and can cause serious injurie

Adult pygmy hippos only have 34 teeth, so 2 less than in the common hippo.
These are  2 incisors, 1 canine,3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of upper jaw, 1 incisor, 1 canine, 3 premolars and 3 molars in each half of lower jaw on both sides.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fil…

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Which animal will best represent your personality and why?

Answer by Rory Young:

Photo:Benny Van Zyl

The Honey Badger

That’s the cheeky one on the left confusing the lion with his willingness to take him on.

For some reason I have always admired, loved and identified with them. I don’t know how much I resemble a honey badger but I like to think I do and I certainly admire and strive for many of their qualities.

The go about their business with determination and don’t look for trouble. If you leave them alone they will leave you alone.

They are not the biggest or the strongest but they can take more punishment than any other animal by far.

They are much smarter than generally realized and are especially adaptable and resourceful. They are even known to use tools. Throw a curve ball at them and they will growl and grouch and then just get on with doing what has to be done. They NEVER give up.

They are much more gregarious than people imagine too but when they want to be left alone though just leave them be. They are caring and loving parents and will fight to the death to protect their young.

Most importantly they make me laugh. Maybe because I see something of myself in them maybe not but they always seem to defy and then beat the odds. I hope by the time I have lived all there is to live that I will have been a Honey Badger.

P.S. Thanks for the A2A.

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Why is it safe to go on safari in an open vehicle?

Answer by Rory Young:

It is not necessarily safe in the slightest! It depends entirely on your guide!

Elephants can pulverise a vehicle whether it is a sedan or a specially adapted safari 4×4. This is the recent result of an elephant’s annoyance in Kruger National Park in South Africa:

Lions will leave you alone if you remain seated. However, if the guide doesn’t tell his clients or if they don’t follow safety instructions and stand up then they are no longer “a part” of the big-noisy-monster-thing and can be seen as individuals. They can go for you. Kids are a huge problem.

Here’s a little secret, I can call lions out of the bush. How do I do it? I use make a noise like a baby crying! Kid’s voices + lions = immediate interest, vehicle or no vehicle.

One of George Adamson’s lions from “Born Free” went in through the vehicle window of w a Park Warden and tried to get his baby. (The same lion later killed the gardener but that is another story).

I know of one incident of a leopard going over the bonnet of an open landrover and having a go at the driver. That though was an extreme situation and an exception to the rule.

Regarding guides and what makes a good one, here is an excellent article by Dick Pitman, a conservationist I am honoured to have known for many years: HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING?

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What should you do when you’re attacked by killer bees?

Answer by Rory Young:

Matan Shelomi‘s answer is damn fine advice! I can’t add to it but perhaps my own experience of being attacked by a swarm of African (killer) bees can illustrate how good that advice is...

In November 1995 I was leading an anti-poaching patrol in the Zambezi Valley on the Zambian side of the river.  I was carrying my .375 H&H and leading as it was a dangerous game area so the immediate threat was bumping into lion, buffalo, elephant or other beasties.

The two scouts were armed with Chinese SKS and following about 15 metres bank and flanking to either sides. We were following a river bed as it was an ideal place to cast for poachers’ tracks as they would have to cross it on their way to cross the Zambezi river into Zimbabwe to kill rhinos. The rains had not yet come, so it was bone dry. The scouts’ job was to cover me against poachers and keep an eye out for dangerous game that I might miss.

We had another chap from South Africa who had been given permission to accompany us as an observer. I told him to just walk quietly behind me and either lie down, run or stay still, depending on the signal I would give him if anything happened.

Before setting out I asked him if he was allergic to anything and he told me that he was highly allergic to bees. I had a very comprehensive first aid kit in my pack but of course I intended to avoid bees.

That day CNN reported that the closest town, Kariba, (higher than and above the valley) was the hottest town on earth. The temperature was reported to be 52C (125.60ºF) but according to later government reports some places in the valley reached 56C (132.80ºF).

As we carefully moved in a loose formation down the dry riverbed we came to a bend. There was a steep walled bank to the left inside curve and lots of large boulders, many the height of a man which I had to climb over and round to make my way forward. All the while I was checking for leopard especially but also snakes and of course hoping to pick up poachers’ tracks in the sand between the rocks.

As we approached the curve I crept slowly to the inside while the two scouts went wide. The South African chap was told to wait round the corner till given the all clear to move forward again. The scouts were about 40 meters back and about 15 meters apart.

I came round the corner and heard a loud humming. I was instantly captivated by the sight that met me. An entire hive of bees was attached to the rock embankment in front of me. Because of the extreme heat they had brought the whole hive out onto the rock face and were buzzing to cool it. It looked like a single living organism and I stood there amazed.

As I stood there in silence, the game scouts started getting nervous, wondering why I was not moving or signalling. To them this meant imminent danger and they assumed I had encountered a leopard or something else at extremely close quarters.

Then the buzz of the hive changed. It became suddenly louder and the bees started flying straight at me.

As they did so I remembered the South African and shouted out his name and that he should run. In just the time it took to do that my head was already becoming covered in bees.

I turned, and remembering what I had been taught, began to run like hell!  I couldn’t go near the South African as I could get him killed. I couldn’t run downstream as I had no idea what was that way and could run straight into dangerous game and furthermore the boulders were too high to get away easily. So my only option was to run towards the scouts, intending to head out of the river bed and into the open where we could keep running whilst at least being able to see what was ahead. I began shouting to them that there were bees and to run away from the river.

By this time the bees were buzzing through my hair (yes, ha ha, I still had lots of thick hair in those days) and over my collar and stinging my scalp, face and neck everywhere. Also my back and arms to a lesser degree.

Then the scouts opened fire.

In their minds I had bumped into a group of poachers or a leopard and was now running and leading whatever it was towards them. They just emptied their magazines in my general direction, hoping to hit whatever the threat was to them but not worried about hitting me.

So now not only did I have a swarm of African bees all over me and stinging the hell of me but I had two fools shooting at me too. I hit the ground till they had finished unintentionally shooting bees out of the air and then resumed my attempt at a 3 minute mile, this time passing between the scouts (who by now were changing magazines) and out into the open.

One of the scouts was about five foot tall and the other about six foot five tall and shortly the tall one went flying past me. The bees were thankfully first diverted to the short one and then slowly left us alone.

We walked round, picked up the South African chap, who hadn’t been stung and began to administer first aid. The two scouts to each other and the South African to me. I also radioed camp for a vehicle to come and pick us up urgently and that I had been badly stung so might need evacuation.

You do not take a bee sting out with your fingers. The sting has the venom sac still attached so if you pinch it between your fingers you are squeezing more poison into you so you scrape them out with a knife.

He gave up counting after scraping 23 stings out of my scalp alone. I was stung all over my face, neck, back and arms and by the time the vehicle reached us I was feeling rough as hell. By the time they got me back to camp I was sick as a dog.

I had already pumped myself with antihistamine and painkillers but it didn’t feel like it made any difference.

I was evacuated to Kariba and after recovering discovered that my knife had been so sharp that when they were scraping stings out of my head, they were also shaving patches of hair, so with all the stings I looked like a madman.

The doctor estimated I had been stung seventy to eighty times. It felt like it.

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What non-human animals grieve? How does it physiologically affect them and why do they do it?

elebones
Elephants mourning

Answer by Rory Young:

Here is what I have seen and what I believe.

When a herd of elephants come across the bones of a dead elephant they will immediately stop feeding and become silent. It is as if they there is a deliberate solemnity in honour of their dead friend.

The quietly move among the bones with all signs of dominance or aggression removed from their body language, in fact clearly submissive in behaviour..

They will carefully smell along the surface of the bones almost but not quite touching them. It is as though they are caressing where the skin once was.Then they will pick up a bone and wander around or just stand holding it as though unsure of how to let go of it. Sometimes they will throw it down and then gently pick it up again, not wanting to be parted from the memory.

When my mother was dying I had to say goodbye to her over a telephone. I desperately wanted to be near her. I took a photo of her and piece of jewellery she had given me the last time I had seen her. When the grief came I would hold it. I see no difference between what I was doing and what the elephants do.

There are further examples throughout nature. One of the saddest things I have seen is a baboon mother with her dead baby. Unable to accept the terrible reality she would try to groom it or just sit holding and staring at it. This went on for days.

Fortunately or unfortunately life is both beautiful and terrible — for us and the animals. I believe they do it for the same reason we do, because it these experiences are almost beyond our ability to handle.

Here is a link to an incredible site http://www.elephantvoices.org/mu… about the gestures and communications of elephants including how they mourn.

Lastly, animals also grieve for their human friends…

Jack Russell “Squeak” lying with the body of his murdered master, Terry Ford.

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/

How does one stop a charging buffalo?

English: The African buffalo, affalo, M'bogo o...

English: The African buffalo, affalo, M’bogo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large African bovine. Photo taken in Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Answer by Rory Young:

I will give the answer in terms of self defense against a charging Cape Buffalo. This assumes there is no option but to shoot as the animal is in a full charge and that you are armed with a .375 H&H or larger and there is no good tree next to you.

The Cape Buffalo kills more people in Africa than any other mammal after hippos.
It charges at approximately 56km/h.
Shooting it through the heart in a full charge will not necessarily stop it in time.
I have seen a buffalo that run 80 meters after being shot through the heart. (see Problem Buffalo Article).
Therefore the only way to stop it dead is to shoot it in the brain.
The brain is 12cm in diameter.

Because it is moving towards you at 56km/h, the brain is only 12cm in diameter and the head is moving up and down, it is best to wait until it gets very close and drops its head to gore you. This is usually 10 to 20 meters away.
The best way to visualize the correct shot placement is to imagine a line from one ear to the opposing eye and for the other eye and ear. Where these two lines cross is the brain no matter what the position of the head is.

You need to hold your nerve and shot perfectly accurately because if you miss you are dead. If you turn and run you are dead.

Unfortunately for me I had to do this twice in one day in 1993.
I was together with another ranger-guide, Jesse Zvikonyuakwa. We were investigating reports of two “problem” buffalo in one of the CAMPFIRE areas near Matusadona National Park and had been warned that they were injured and had chased a couple of people up trees.

Unfortunately for us they had moved into Jess Bush, a type of very thick thorny vegetation. It is a common tactic for injured buffalos to take refuge in dense bush and it is extremely dangerous to pursue them in such areas as they are extremely aggressive, have acute senses, are very cunning and it is almost impossible to move quietly through Jess (it often involves crawling).

However, it was our job and we had no choice but to go after them so in we went.

The first one came flying at us through the Jess and came out into a small clearing about twenty meters from me. It dropped its head to hit me at about fifteen meters at which point I shot it.

We found the second one about 5 hours later in a much bigger clearing.He was on the other side of a small valley, about 80 meters away. This is far to shoot with a heavy calibre rifle and open sites and normally would not be done because of the chance of wounding. I gave the go ahead to Jesse to shoot though because the animal was already injured (meat poachers had tried to kill both animals causing the wounds), dangerous to the local population and surrounded by Jess bush, where it would be more difficult and dangerous to find him.

Jesse fired and the bull took off for the thick bush heading diagonally away from us. I sprinted after it because I really didn’t want it going into that Jess.

The bull caught my movement and veered round to charge at me. I stopped and prepared to shoot once it got close and dropped its head.

Instead, it fell to the ground about twenty meters from me. I lowered my rifle and just then Jess fired another round to make sure it was dead. Instead it got up again and came at me a second time. By the time I raised my rifled and aimed it was only 7 or 8 meters away so when I fired, even though my shot placement was spot on, the momentum of the charge carried it several more meters and it literally ended up at my feet.

I never had to shoot a buffalo before or after that day in self defense and ever since have not followed buffalo, wounded or healthy into Jess bush.

I reckon, if I do it might be third time lucky for the buffaloes.

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Do hyenas and canines hunt in packs because of their size, the size of their prey and terrain limitations? Also, how different are the hu…

Answer by Rory Young:

This is a really good question but also difficult because of the three species of hyaenas only the Spotted Hyena is gregarious and hunts in groups. Also, Hyaenas are more closely related to cats than canines. The behaviour differs to both cats and canines. I will refer only to the Spotted Hyaena as I believe this is what the question refers to.

With Spotted Hyaenas hunting usually initiated by one animal and a few others will then join in but more likely to be successful with larger game. Hyaenas do not use coordinated teamwork to bring down prey.  In other words the group activity is more a case of opportunism on the part of the others joining the hunt than a team effort per se.

They do not hunt in groups because of their size, the size of their prey and terrain limitations and this is evident from the wide variety of the size and type of prey. They are simply opportunistic/versatile and will hunt in whatever manner is more likely to be successful and in the case of larger game this will more likely be successful for a group of hyaenas and in the case of smaller game will often be more successful hunting singly.

African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) are cursorial hunters, running down their prey in coordinated groups. They rarely hunt singly and there is much “ritual” or group “psyching up” prior to hunting, reinforcing the group bonds and “oneness”. They work as a a team and this extends to everything they do. They allow the youngest to eat first rather than the most dominant, which I believe is unique.

Wild Dogs will put all their efforts into raising one litter which is produced by the alpha male and alpha female. This includes dogs regurgitating food for the litter, mother and any other animals that have stayed behind. They also look after sick animals by regurgitating food for them and allowing them to remain at the den when the others hunt. There is a male and a female hierarchy and only the alpha male and alpha female mate with all the efforts of the entire pack going into raising the one litter.

Spotted Hyaenas are a matriarchal society and all females are dominant over all males. There is one alpha female and although there will be a dominant male among the males there is no alpha pair. The females are larger and have a pseudo-penis, mounting other females and males to assert dominance. Mating takes place through the pseudo genitalia with the male sliding under the female  ( Sexual behavior of spotted hyenas).

Spotted Hyaena clans are closely knit but nowhere near as closely as Wild Dog packs and overall the behaviour is different in a number of significant ways.

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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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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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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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If I got lost on an African safari and came face-to-face with a growling lion, what should I do to garner the best chance of survival?

Rory’s answer to:

Answer by Rory Young:

The first thing you do when coming across a “growling lion” is freeze and avert your eyes. You also do not point at it.

If a lion is not habituated to man it will most likely run. The danger arises with lions that are more used to people.

Look at the animal’s tail. When a lion is angry or feeling threatened it will sweep its tail from side to side. If it is hunting it will keep its tail stiff and twitch it from time to time.

It is much more serious if it is actively hunting you.

If you see stalking indications then raise your arms above your head and wave them and most importantly SHOUT YOUR HEAD OFF.

If you have something in your hand then throw it at the lion.

Even if the lion charges you do not run. Believe me this can be extremely intimidating. They charge at 65km per hour and the roaring is deafening.

If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately. If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately.

Night time encounters are another story. I was once doing problem animal control in Gache Gache in Zimbabwe, trying to bait and shoot a lion that had killed several people and the night before had almost succeeded in breaking into Chief Mangare’s hut.

It was dark but moonlit and I was lying on the ground, carefully backed into a euphorbia hedge along with two game scouts and a fellow ranger.

I heard a very faint noise behind me and the lion was crawl-stalking me and just 10 foot back! He had actually carefully crawled through the dense hedging to sneak up on us. He was too close for me to be able to turn and shoot. However, I turned on the torch in my hand and shone it in his face. He ran off.

So, if you are walking in the bush at night (it happens in safari camps especially) and come across lions, keep your beam in their eyes and back away.

One of the biggest myths is fire. Lions are not afraid of campfires and will often walk round them and see what’s happening. However, keeping a fire between you and a lion is probably better than nothing!

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What are some unusual animals eaten in Africa?

Africa

Answer by Rory Young:

In Zambia and other African countries some tribes are very keen on mice. Bon apetit!

Mopani worms ( type of caterpillar) are very popular in Central and Southern Africa.

TheArmoured ground cricket is eaten by the Goba and Soli in the Zambezi Valley  The brown (females) one are eaten but not the (green) males and have to be boiled in clean water, the water thrown out and then repeated otherwise the eater will not be able to urinate for an extended period and can end up hospitalized.

 

Locusts and grass hoppers. My son used to catch these in the garden with the maid and then she would fry them up for lunch!
locust

 

“Flying Ants” (Termites)
When the first rains arrive in Southern and Central Africa the termites fly out of their mounds there is much excitement as people rush around in the rain with buckets trying to collect as many as possible. They are great to eat!

formosan-termite-swarmers-alates_367x493

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Is there evidence that early humans hunted by running in packs over long distances to wear out their food?

Answer by Rory Young:

This is known as persistence hunting and I have done it. The most important evidence that humans persistence hunted in the past is the fact that we can do so today…The ability to long distance persistence hunt or even run really long distance is not a common one. The only African predators that do so (other than man) are African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus or Painted Wolves)

It is almost certain to have been used by early humans and is a theory for our having evolved the ability to run long distance.

I have hunted Impala in this manner some years ago. I noticed that when spooked they would not run far. I had also seen a tame Impala that sometimes walked with us on anti-poaching patrols had absolutely no stamina or endurance. Clearly they have evolved to quickly outrun predators and then recover.

One day I had to kill an impala for the pot and so instead of the usual bullet a game scout and I ran one down. It was not that difficult.

The San people of the Kalahari still persistence hunt to this day. They will often combine endurance running, tiring out an animal, with stalking after leaving it to settle once it is exhausted.

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What are some extinct species found?

Answer by Rory Young:

The Coelacanth, known only from fossils and believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period (around 66 million years ago), was rediscovered off the East coast of South Africa in 1938.  The fish was caught by Captain Hendrick Goosen and identified Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer.

This would be the equivalent of bumping into a dinosaur while looking for deer in a park.

Here is a great link: http://www.dinofish.com/

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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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Why do zebras have stripes? It’s not as if they are even camouflage colors!

There are two reasons for Zebras to have evolved stripes.

The first is concealment from and avoidance of predators. Zebras stripes do this in two ways.

Disruptment Camouflage. Normal camouflage works by blending in with or copying the colours and patterns of the surrounds. Obviously the stripes don’t copy the surroundings. Disruptment camouflage works by breaking up the outline of something making it harder to distinguish and therefore identify clearly. See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cam…

Personally I found Zebras one of the more difficult animals to learn to distinguish at very long distance when I first began to work in the bush. From very far they can even look like lions with the naked eye. It can also be hard to distinguish one from another when they are in a herd and running.

They other way they work to confound predators is by the use of Motion Dazzle. This works by distorting predator’s ability to effectively judge the animal’s movements and speeds and therefore making it more difficult to catch. See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cam…

The second reason that Zebras have evolved stripes is to protect themselves from Parasitic Flies, especially the Tsetse Fly. The biting  tsetse fly carries trypanosomes which cause  animal trypanosomiasis.

Although there has been much hype recently studies showing that flies might struggle to see Zebra stripes, it was actually well clearly established by the Zimbabwe Veterinary Department decades ago in the work of a man called Ted Davidson.

This is how they discovered it. They were trying to discover what colours would work best for tsetse fly traps  (see here tsetse) and tried all sorts of things eventually finding out that the best colour to attract them was electric blue whilst the best colour for them to land on was black. They also tried different patterns and colour combinations and found that weren’t attracted to and didn’t land on Zebra stripes!

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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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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.

Beware!

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How do you track a leopard, or any other wild animal?

Answer by Rory Young:

I’ll focus on leopard specifically..
All cats have three “lobes” on the base of the “Pad”.
Four toes show in the tracks of the front and back feet.
Aside from Cheetah, all cats keep their claws sheathed when walking.
So, three lobes on pad + no claw marks = cat.
Next, the size of an animal’s footprint is proportional to the size of the animal. Big track=big animal and of course big cat track = big cat.
What big cats are there aside from leopards sharing the same habitats?
Well, in Sub-Saharan Africa where the largest populations exist, lions are also found.
We have already established that big cat track = big cat so how big are leopards compared to lions?
Lions are a lot bigger! The average leopard in the Cape area of South Africa is only (male) 28kgs and 58kg in the Hwange National Park area of South Africa. The average male lion on the other hand ways around 200kg, depending on the area.
An average large male leopard of around 50kg will have a track length (the track being the paw impression not the stride length!) of around 90mm whilst a a lion of around 225kg will have a track length of around 180mm.
The fact that the tracks are so different different doesn’t mean the two species can’t be confused. For example a lion cub track can be the same size as a leopard track. The difference is that front lion tracks especially are “messy” and more elongated; not neatly rounded in shape and symmetric as in the case of leopards.
To tell the whether it is a male or female leopard look at the straddle. The straddle is how widely or narrowly a human or animal places their feet when walking. This is usually measured by drawing a line from the heel of the right fore foot track to the heel of the right rear foot track and doing the same with the  left feet. The distance between the two lines is the straddle.
A male leopard has a wider straddle than a female leopard. Imagine a fashion model walking down the ramp placing her feet in front of each other and compare that to a big guy walking along with his thighs and crotch area getting in the way…
Now look down at your own feet. Notice how your toes are pointing in the same direction that you are pointing? Well the same applies to leopards. The pad points to the rear and the toes point to the front, so, unless the animal is walking, backwards moves in the direction its toes are pointing.

You can also tell whether a leopard is walking forwards, backwards or sideways, the height and weight, condition, speed, how long ago it was there and many other details.

I won’t go into that now. I am busy writing a book on the subject of tracking men and animals and how to determine or estimate all these different facts with real accuracy.

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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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If I were to get lost on an African safari and come face to face with a growling lion, what should I do to garner the best chance of surv…

Post by Rory Young:

The first thing you do when coming across a “growling lion” is freeze and avert your eyes. You also do not point at it.

If a lion is not habituated to man it will most likely run. The danger arises with lions that are more used to people.

Look at the animal’s tail. When a lion is angry or feeling threatened it will sweep its tail from side to side. If it is hunting it will keep its tail stiff and twitch it from time to time. It is much more serious if it is actively hunting you. If you see stalking indications then raise your arms above your head and wave them and most importantly SHOUT YOUR HEAD OFF. If you have something in your hand then throw it at the lion. Even if the lion charges you do not run. Believe me this can be extremely intimidating. They charge at 65km per hour and the roaring is deafening. If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately. If you have frozen and then lion is not approaching but not leaving either then start to back slowly away. If it starts to move then freeze immediately.

Night time encounters are another story. I was once doing problem animal control in Gache Gache in Zimbabwe, trying to bait and shoot a lion that had killed several people and the night before had almost succeeded in breaking into Chief Mangare’s hut. It was dark but moonlit and I was lying on the ground, carefully backed into a euphorbia hedge along with two game scouts and a fellow ranger. I heard a very faint noise behind me and the lion was crawl-stalking me and just 10 foot back! He had actually carefully crawled through the dense hedging to sneak up on us. He was too close for me to be able to turn and shoot. However, I turned on the torch in my hand and shone it in his face. He ran off. So, if you are walking in the bush at night (it happens in safari camps especially) and come across lions, keep your beam in their eyes and back away.

One of the biggest myths is fire. Lions are not afraid of campfires and will often walk round them and see what’s happening. However, keeping a fire between you and a lion is probably better than nothing!

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