How To Catch Poachers (in a nutshell).

How To Catch Poachers (in a nutshell).
In order to bring poaching under control, it needs to be tackled at the market, in transit, and on the ground. I will focus here on the problem of tackling the poaching on the ground.

“We want to raise funds for a drone”, the well-meaning head of an NGO tells me with excitement in her voice.

“What do you need a drone for?”, I ask. I admire her enthusiasm, but my frustration has also clearly shown in my voice, despite my best efforts.

“For anti-poaching of course”, comes the confused and slightly irritated reply.

“Which part of your strategy requires drones, what type of drone, to do which particular job, and how much will the drone cost”? I ask.

The lady flushes, “Well, we are working with [famous former military officer now selling hardware] so-and-so who knows all about them”, she answers, now clearly irritated.

This is a very common scenario. Involved individuals, governments and NGOs are usually unclear as to how and what exactly they need to do to slow the massive poaching onslaught. They have no comprehensive doctrine/strategy/tactics/you-name-it for dealing with poaching.

Right now organizations often end up latching onto some expensive technology or some super-warrior as the magic formula. Generally, the feeling is that soldiers are the people for the job and the troops are being sent in more and more. There are also many programs where serving and former foreign military men train rangers and scouts in weapons handling and battle tactics. This is just not the answer.

Most of these troops who go in cannot find the “enemy”, they are conventionally trained. They patrol round and round without ever even seeing a poacher.  Poachers, although often skilled fighters, are not conducting a military campaign, and they are past masters at not being found. It is a game of cat and mouse and it needs the right cats!

What is really missing and is really needed in this struggle is a comprehensive, intelligent and pragmatic doctrine that addresses all the problems and offers objective and inexpensive solutions, preferably using existing local resources and personnel. 

I am absolutely certain that this is possible and that the right doctrine, with the necessary training and implementation will work. I am certain of this because I have, together with others involved in wildlife protection, developed a doctrine and implemented it successfully. 

Firstly, three problems have to be solved. The first problem is where to look for the poachers. Sending in assault troops or game rangers to figure this out is a waste of time unless they have been trained in pro-active investigation. Expert investigators are needed. 

Investigations can be both pro-active and reactive. Pro-active investigations go hand in hand with working to benefit people who are extremely important to the effectiveness of the wildlife protection operation; the community. The community has to be engaged to assist in efforts and must if at all possible benefit from the tourism and other revenue and prestige earning and job-creating activities. If this is done, they will invariably assist and that assistance is key to determining where to look for the poachers.  

To access a wildlife area requires passing through the adjacent areas, usually on foot. Poachers usually also require the assistance of neighboring communities for caching weapons, transporting food, water, and equipment, and of course for carrying ivory and other spoils. The eyes and ears of the community are an invaluable and effective means of gathering information on poachers’ movements into and out of wildlife areas, and in the case of community wildlife areas, within the areas as well. Investigators or scouts /rangers trained in pro-active investigation gather information from the communities, previous poaching activity from the field provided by tracking teams, other organizations and captured poachers and build up a detailed picture of poacher movements. 

I have been working with Jacob Alekseyev, a former Major in the USAF and Federal Agent in the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations who has been developing this part of our doctrine and a genius in this field. He has many years experience and the best education and training available for such investigations and his knowledge has been very much missing from the mix.. till now..

These movements once learned and understood seldom vary to a large degree because they are based on necessity. For example, where to find water or where a cliff cannot be climbed or a croc-infested river cannot be crossed and so on. This narrows down the search area considerably, thus requiring less “boots on the ground”.

The second problem is how to find the poachers once their movements, area of operations and modus operandi are understood. This requires both surveillance and the world’s oldest science; tracking.

Children in rural villages in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa grow up tracking goats and cattle and even wild animals. They have highly developed skills of observation and an innate ability to read sign. This does not mean other people can’t do it. It is just like reading, even an adult can learn to do it, but a person who has done it from early childhood will always be more able to become expert at it.

During the Colonial and other wars in Africa during the last century, tracking was used as an effective means of finding and following insurgents and anti or counter tracking was used to hide one’s presence in an area from casual observers. In fact, it was by far the most successful method of locating unconventional enemy forces and was used on all sides of all conflicts to one degree or another. 

There is absolutely no difference between the locating of poachers in a wildlife area and the locating of guerrilla fighters in any area. Together with cleverly located observation posts, this is the only really successful way of finding a poacher. Aircraft do not help in this role as poachers are well known to just stand behind a tree and avoid them. There are of course silent, high altitude drones out there and of course they can play a clear role in surveillance, assuming they can do a better job than the equivalent cost number of highly trained and well equipped trackers, but Africa can’t afford thousands of them and and they scare the hell out of our governments, so let’s not go there..

People who have never seen an expert tracker at work do not usually realize how good they are at it. Imagine a person being able to follow someone’s trail with their eyes the way a bloodhound can follow a man’s scent trail with his nose. Many can do it at a run with hardly a glance at the ground every once in a while. These people can be trained and their skills developed to a phenomenal degree to the point where they can follow one man’s trail into a busy village and out the other side before continuing for days on end. 

This is my specialty, I have been doing it since I was a little kid and I have been doing it professionally for the last twenty five or so years. I trained as a professional guide under the Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management and over the years I have developed my skills tracking both animals and poachers and have also taken a different approach by collecting and studying scientific papers on everything from anthropology to podiatry to forensic science in order to bring my skills into the twenty first century. I have been putting together this part of the doctrine as well as implementing our ideas in the field. 

The third problem is how to arrest them. It is both hard and dangerous for the trackers to do because when following someone it is always the follower who is at a disadvantage. The poachers can either try to out-pace you, slow you down by counter-tracking (hiding or disguising spoor) or they can ambush you. The job of the trackers therefore is to locate, follow and thereafter monitor the movements of the poachers and pass this to the coordinator of the operation.

To apprehend the poachers requires a different set of skills to the investigation and the tracking/surveillance teams. The rapid response team needs to get ahead of the poachers. They need more tactical and special weapons skills. Getting ahead of the poachers can mean parachuting in, helicoptering in, boating or driving or, more often these days, running for a position where the poachers are likely to pass, and where they can be surprised. 

Jacob and I are working with a third writer for this part of the doctrine.  Our third contributor has both a background in special forces in the military, and a SWAT background in law-enforcement, but is still working and so chooses to remain anonymous for the security of his family. We believe our combined skills, knowledge and experience put into writing and taught to wildlife protection personnel all over the continent will make a major difference.

Our work is well-advanced and we are almost finished writing a “Field Manual For Anti-Poaching Operations”. Once published we plan to get as many copies as possible into as many hands as possible of people involved in all parts of wildlife protection, in government, NGOs and as many different parts of Africa.

I have been training anti-poaching teams in this doctrine and this has been funded recently by Chengeta Wildlife – We train wildlife protection teams. If you can, please spread the word about their efforts to publicize and raise funds for wildlife protection training – Poachers Are Targeting Africa’s Elephants

Do you consider it morally wrong to kill elephants?

Answer by Rory Young:

Speaking as someone who has killed elephants my answer is yes.

In “normal” circumstances in today’s world it is ethically wrong.

I must point out that I am not against ethical hunting and in fact find it preferable to eat meat from an animal that has lived a wild life with the ability to raise its young to adulthood rather than meat from a farm-raised animal killed in an abattoir.

Normal circumstances do not include starvation, problem animal control (animals that are destroying lives and property outside of wildlife areas) and population control necessary to sustain biodiversity.

The reason I believe it is unethical to kill elephants is because they are so intelligent, possibly self aware as you have indicated and also because they are now believed to be able to empathize.

Whilst all species need to be protected to ensure biodiversity is maintained and whilst I have enormous respect of Arne Naess’ philosophy of deep ecology, the reality is that there is a difference, when it comes to the individual animal, between killing a jelly-fish and an elephant. We do need to respect the fact that elephants areunusually special creatures.

However, despite the fact that I believe it is repugnant to destroy such a magnificent creature, if it will save the species and ensure the survival of many through the revenue raised then I will not only keep silent on the issue of trophy-hunting elephants but will actively support it.

That does not mean I swallow all the bullshit from hunting organizations about all the money that is going from hunting into conservation. I have been investigating the numbers and I know it’s bullshit.

Having said that, I must now say that the most terrible thing I have ever had to do, no matter how necessary, is kill elephants. It is soul destroying and I have never felt anything other than deep sadness, bitter anger and depression after shooting any elephant , even when it was unquestionably mercy killing.

Following is an account I wrote about an elephant bull I had to track and shoot that had been wounded by poachers. Perhaps it can give some people a glimpse of what it means to kill an elephant and the tragedy of wasting their lives.

Just a Few More Seconds Old Chap

I squatted down to get a better look, the pack on my back swaying me slightly off-balance. I placed the butt of my rifle down on the ground to steady myself and a large drop of sweat plopped into the red, powdery dust. The elephant tracks were several days old. It didn’t really matter that much that they weren’t fresh enough to follow  because I wasn’t really looking to find their owner.

I had been looking for fresher spoor when something odd had caught my eye. It was a drag mark.

This was neither the usual scuff mark that was made just before the foot was placed, rather than after or as it was lifted in the case of men for example. Nor was it the often seen, playful doodling of a trunk in the dust such as a laid back chap might make as he wandered down to the water to drink. This showed a harsh, continuous line on the ground from the last track left by the front right foot to the current track left by the same foot.

It was obviously a front foot because the track was round in shape, rather than oblong which would have indicated a rear foot. I could tell which direction the elephant was travelling because of the five toe-nail marks left by the front feet and the four toe-nail marks left by the rear ones. Actually, the left front had for toe-nails. The elephant had lost one, which is not at all an uncommon find with older bulls. I noted this along with other individual “labels” in case I needed to follow him or recognize his tracks at a later time.

I knew it was his right foot for a reason which also told of the direction he was travelling; wearing on the sole. The “pad” of an elephant’s foot is covered in a network of fissures, which show in the track as raised lines. The thick pad expands as the elephant places his foot, putting his weight onto it, and contracts as he lifts his foot, taking his weight off it. This sole wears with age just like one of our shoes does. However, whilst humans can be both over and under pronators, elephants are strictly under pronators, so the pad always wears on the outer side and, just like a human, at the rear of the foot.

The wearing was on the outside, taking into account the direction of travel, so it was his right foot. Judging by the amount of wear and the depth of the fissures in his feet, it was obvious that the bull was relatively old; the older the animal, the more the wearing of the pad at the rear. I say old bull because the same fissures were very raised on the large track; females have finer and shallower fissures in their smaller feet, so they were not raised in the track.

Sometimes it is necessary to compare the depth of the fissures at hand with a mental image of a male and females tracks of the same size but in this case it was obviously male as the tracks were simply too large for a female.

Next I turned my attention to the size. The bull was roughly two point seven five metres at the shoulder. Easier to determine than one might imagine because the height of an elephant at the shoulder is around two and a half times the circumference of the front track.. In this case the track of this bull’s front foot was around a hundred and ten centimetres. This was not huge, but relatively large for the Mutusadona or the Omay, where I was now squatting.

The bulls here were on average thirty centimetres shorter at the shoulder than those in Hwange in the West of Zimbabwe and even shorter still than the incredibly tall elephants from the deserts of Namibia.

However, although they are small, they have proportionally long, thin tusks. Beautiful to see but weight-wise disappointing for trophy hunters as, although they look impressive they tend to weigh as much as a relatively short but chunky tusk from the West. Many an apprentice professional hunter, from the Hwange area, had come short by over-estimating the weight of these elephants’ tusks.

The size was another indicator of age and combining the size, wearing and fissure on the feet I reckoned he was about thirty-five to forty years old.

Then I noticed something strange. The bull had been running. There was distance between the front and rear tracks. When an elephant walks normally, his rear foot will be placed roughly half-way over the front track. In other words, the put their back foot down where their front foot was, the back one going down as the front one is lifted away; on the left and right side respectively.

When an elephant speeds up the gait changes incrementally up to a fast amble, and this is reflected in the tracks by a spacing between the front and rear tracks; from overlapping to just touching to a small gap and eventually a large gap when at full speed.

An elephant walks at around seven kilometres per hour and reaches a top speed, doing the fast amble I mentioned before, as they can’t trot, canter or gallop due to their incredible weight.
This was a strange combination because the bull was both moving relatively fast and dragging his front foot; sort of a fast limping-run. Dragging his foot either meant an old disability, such as some healed wound, at best or some recent injury at worst, and if he was trying to get away fast whilst in pain then he was very frightened and this would be for reason.

There were no other elephant tracks anywhere nearby. I thought about my recent walk to this point. Not only had I seen no other elephant tracks but I had seen no predator’s tracks from the time of the bull’s tracks either. Other than the usual plains game such as impala and water buck the only other tracks from around the same time were from local fishermen who had stopped and eaten on the shoreline. I thought about it, his tracks were about the same age. The bull’s tracks had the same contrast with the drizzle marks around it as the fishermen’s, so had been created at the time of the light rain we had had three days earlier.

I had another look round; the bull had been feeding in the thick Mopani and had rushed away from the direction of the lake, where the fishermen had disembarked from their boat. This was very unusual because the bulls in this area tended to hang around the same location and were used to people, so why did he bolt when he came across people? It was starting to look like his bad leg and people were connected. I suspected his injury had recently been caused by man.

There was no blood. In the case of elephants this is nothing unusual. Their skin is so thick that it will seal a wound quickly and completely. This unfortunately means that the wound doesn’t drain and hence infection is rapid.

I re-assessed. A 2.75m tall bull, probably in his late thirties or early forties, moving as fast as he could go, away from fishermen who had stopped on the lake-shore; I strongly suspected he had been wounded either by poachers or bad news hunters who had not reported the incident. It was time to call it in.

I headed back to Musango where I was freelancing at the time. Iwas mostly doing walking safaris in the Matusadona National Park on the other side of the Ume River from where I had just found the elephant tracks.

The area where the bull had been was part of Gache-Gache Rural Council’s CAMPFIRE Project.

CAMPFIRE, or Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources,was an initiative to reintroduce and develop wildlife in the traditional or communal farming areas. Concessions were allocated and tendered out for both photographic and hunting safaris. Musango, Bumi Hills and Katete Lodges were all within the photographic safaris area.

Hunting areas were not far to the South from where we were but the operators were professionals and I found it hard to imagine them not reporting a wounded bull.

Steve,the owner of Musungo, radioed the National Parks Warden at Tashinga, the headquarters of Matusadona National Park.

At that time the warden was Zef, an older, experienced and no-bullshit officer with many years under his belt. I got along well with him, especially since my proficiency exam a couple of years earlier, when I had had an interesting time running into the middle of a heard of buffalos with him, on his say so, to shoot an old “dagga boy”. It turned out we both had the same attitude towards dealing with difficult situations with dangerous game, but that is another story.

Zef told Steve over the radio, “Wellensky or Young can shoot it in the Park if they find it has crossed over. Otherwise let me know if council are a problem and I will contact them”.

Colin Wellensky was an ex-Parks Professional Hunter with many years experience and was doing freelance walking safaris at Musango as well.

Steve then radioed Gache-Gache Rural Council based at Siakobvu. They advised that they would send the scout who was responsible for the immediate area to join us and that Colin and I should “check it out” and determine whether or not it needed to be shot, and if so, report back tothem for thego ahead.

A full day went by before the scout turned up. He was nervous and cocky and wouldn’t look us in the eye. Although his behaviour was a bit odd, we didn’t think much of it as we were more interested in getting going as the spoor was now four days old. Furthermore, more the most part the scouts were hand-working and dedicated as a rule and so deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Colin and I grabbed plenty of water and set off for the spot I had last seen the elephant’s spoor. Although the tracks were now four days old we followed them on the principle that he was probably not going to be able to move far and we would probably cut fresher tracks sooner or later.

After tracking him till the end of the day it clear that he was slowing down rapidly. Even more serious was the drops of stinking liquid that rayon the tracks. Clearly a very infected wound was suppurating. When an elephant’s wound reached that stage it was almost certain that sepsis would also have spread throughout his system.

Something else I noticed at this point was that his droppings contained hardly anything other than the Mopani we were moving through, not the normal healthy variety of foods needed to supply him with the nutrients necessary to sustain him. The outside of the dung was almost black with a varnish-like quality. This indicated very high levels of tannin. Mopani and other trees pump tannin into their leaves when browsed upon, and also message other trees downwind to do the same. For this reason an animal has to keep moving or the leaves will become bitter. Grasses do something similar with arsenic.

So, an elephant unable to move is going to get very high levels of tannin and arsenic in what he eats, in addition to a lack of necessary variety. Together with the infected wound this would ultimately cause a slow and painful death.

As the point we had reached was close to the Kariba Lake shore we decided to head back to Musango via a boat pick-up rather than sleep on the tracks.

On the boat trip back to camp we discussed the situation. We had no doubt that he was deteriorating extremely fast. He was also heading towards a fishing village. We couldn’t let him near people as he was now potentially deadly to man.

We had noticed this bull didn’t have anything wrong with the base of his foot because where he did put his foot down, obviously gingerly, it looked normal. We both suspected some other problem with his leg, and that was a bullet wound.

That evening Colin heard that he had to head out for some reason or other. There was a Learner Professional Hunter in camp, apprenticed to Steve who needed dangerous game experience, so I agreed that I would let him shoot or back up.

That evening a concerned couple asked me if we couldn’t bring in a vet to help. They even offered to pay for this.

We explained that infection spread so fast in such situations that a vet would be able to do nothing for him.

Just as importantly the amount of money that would be necessary to bring in a vet and dart and treat the elephant could be used to save many more elephants and rhinos through anti-poaching and other activities.

They immediately offered to donate the equivalent amount to anti-poaching and other activities.I was very impressed with their generosity and concern for our wildlife. They were Americans and I have had further occasion to admire many Americans for these selfless traits.

Lastly,the wildlife shared the area with people and had been reintroduced for mutual benefit; the locals benefited financially from photographic and hunting safaris and the animals would be free to roam where they once had before. That meant people lived and worked in the same area and no chances could be taken with the communities’ lives and property. In this case it was not only a kindness to the elephant to euthanize him, it was also a duty to the local people.

We set out the next morning whilst it was still dark and arrived on the shoreline where we had departed the day before.

Our council scout was waiting. He had fallen behind often the day before and we had not waited for him. He contributed nothing and still seemed jumpy. There was no love lost between us. He had his radio with him and a .458 but I made it clear he was to keep the radio off and the weapon unloaded. When embarking on a serious and dangerous task  it is necessary  to be focused, calm and aware.Some fellow constantly fidgeting and fussing behind you doesn’t help in any way and is more of a nuisance than a help.

We set off and very soon crossed fresher spoor from the same bull. We followed for most of the morning. By midday the spoor was as fresh as could be. He was now hardly covering any ground at all. We needed to end his suffering as quickly and efficiently as possible. We were very close to a fishing village and a person could easily bumble into him by accident. They wouldn’t stand a chance.
Even though the bull couldn’t walk properly because of pain and was so weak he was hardly moving,the sight of a person would trigger a surge of adrenalin through his body that would cover the pain and give him the energy to kill.

At this point we crossed the road dirt road that went from near Musango to Bumi Hills. I decided to stop and rest, as I knew we would be doing the final approach very soon.

I looked at Craig and realised that he was wound up as tight as a spring. The excitement was buzzing through him. This was the first dangerous game he had shot and I realised he was a likely candidate for a bout of buck-fever, so I told myself to keep this in mind and instructed him to get ready.

We chatted briefly about dos and don’ts and other bits and pieces and I checked his weapon and ammunition carefully. Then I told the game scout to stay well back and we got back on the tracks.

Within a couple of minutes we were in short but dense Mopani and couldn’t see further than our noses but I heard the bull rumble. We were next to a tree much larger than the rest, so I handed my rifle to Craig and started climbing. Half way up I had a good view of the bull who was only sixty metres away. He was upwind from us standing next to a large Mopani with one foot off the ground. Even from that distance I could see how his leg was grotesquely swollen. The tree he was under stood in a small clearing and I could see that we would have a clear shot from the edge of the clearing but that it was only twenty meters from the bull.

I climbed back down and headed back to the road, used the scout’s radio to speak to HQ and confirmed we were putting him down.
We began the approach carefully and about 40m from the bull I stopped and checked on Craig. He was so tense he was shaking and was breathing way too fast.

I told him we were going back. He asked why and I answered, “I need a smoke”. His jaw dropped and he went red in the face, then he followed me back to the road.

By the time we got there he had cooled down. Getting his mind off the hunt and getting him pissed off with me instead had worked and he was now pretty calm. I decided we should go back and get it done and that this time he would probably be okay.

Just then, a game drive vehicle from another concession came along at high speed and pulled up next to us in a cloud of dust. Two Learners climbed out with weapons, all talking at the top of their voices, as is polite among Mashonas.

They had heard from our scout’s radio chatter that we had found the bull and had requested permission from Council to also back-up. They announced this as though it were an instruction for me. So, of course, I answered no.

There was silence. I explained to them that I was conducting the hunt and therefore if was my decision. Furthermore, I was the only man present with a full license and I would not sign the letters they would need if they wanted the experience to count towards their exams so they could all f-off.

Without a letter they could not claim an animal hunted, backed-up or even accompanied. Then I got onto the radio to Council and let fly.

Council apologised and explained that one of the learners had over five years’ experience and had been chosen by a Pro Guide based at the concession who was known to me.

By this stage the learners attitude had changed remarkably and they were standing humbly, hat in hand, so I agreed that one could back up. But first I laid down the law and explained exactly how the approach would be done, making clear that they were not to shoot unless I gave the go-ahead.

We moved out and approached the point we had reached previously. There was no clear shot from there so we would have to move quite a bit closer.

I checked on Craig and saw that he was breathing smoothly and was focused rather than tense. Then I signaled to the other chap to join us. He did well and I relaxed somewhat.

I whispered to them that we would move up another twenty metres to the edge of the clearing and that when I gave the signal Craig should shoot. Once he had fired, the other chap should fire the back-up shot. Then I made clear that if the bull did not go down, because of the close proximity that I would deal with it. It would be too close to take any chances. He could easily kill us all from that close in a matter of a few seconds.

We approached to the point twenty metres further on. The bull was dozing. His misery was obvious. Yet despite the agony of his condition, I knew his will to live would be a deadly force if treated lightly.

Just a few more seconds old chap and your suffering will be over, I thought to myself.

I turned to Craig, slipping my own weapon off safety as I did so, and signaled to him to shoot when he was ready.

Craig fired, slightly too far back to be a heart shot, but not a bad shot. It was a common mistake with an elephant exactly side-on.

However, I had no doubt the bull would drop soon but soon would not be good enough.

The other chap’s back-up shot was terrible, straight through the guts.

These two shots had both happened within a second of each other.
Within another second the bull screamed and turned on us, immediately veering from the tree into a full speed charge at us.

A head shot on elephant is best described as “between the ears”. If you imagine a stick between the ear-holes then you are spot on.

Even better is to have a “3D” knowledge of where the brain is situated. Most importantly at short distance, aside from shot placement is focusing on nothing but getting it done.

At about fifteen metres as he was lifting his trunk to smash us, just a few steps for an elephant,I shot him through the brain.

The bull crashed to the ground as only as brain-shot can make happen. Then I walked back to Craig who was clearly wondering what had happened.

I explained that his shot was slightly too far back but still a kill-shot. However, not enough for us to have been safe waiting for the full effect of his shot to work!

Then I looked around for the other learner. He was nowhere to be seen. We eventually found him up the same tree I had earlier climbed looking for the bull.

Then, out of nowhere, people started appearing. In no time there were dozens of people armed with knives, axes and machetes ready to get stuck into the elephant. These situations can get nasty as people got out of hand and start fighting over more protein that they usually see in a year. People get hurt,so we organised leaders who would portion out the meat and clobber anyone who stepped out of line.

Finally I had a look at the elephant’s leg. The knee and most of the leg was badly swollen and full of pus. There was a small entry-wound in the knee.

Obviously, some bastard had shot him in the leg and not finished the job. The question was whether it was a poacher or hunter. There was no exit wound so Craig and I got to work extracting the bullet. At the same time we noticed the scout pacing around us, clearly a bag of nerves.

We located the bullet and it turned out to be a .458. The scout carried a .458 and was responsible for this area. However, so did most hunters. Then he snatched the bullet out of my hand, insisting that it had to go to Council who would in turn hand it over to the police.

Now I was really suspicious. I tried to insist that I hand it to the police directly but knew that I was wasting my time; I had no legal authority, whilst he was on his turf.

That evening, when we returned to camp, we immediately got hold of council on the radio. They explained that unfortunately the bullet had been “lost” whilst being transported to Siakobvu by the same scout.

I ground my teeth with the sheer frustration.

That evening I thought over the day’s events whilst sipping a Scotch by the campfire. The bull’s tusks were both over sixty pounds apiece. Not only had a magnificent animal’s life been wasted but if it had to die then his would have brought in a lot of sorely needed funds into the area for both the local people and the wildlife if he had been hunted by a paying trophy hunter.

I was glad to have ended the bull’s suffering and was pleased that Craig was a step closer to his full license and now had an elephant under his belt.

I kept my face and body calm and still for the clients also enjoying the campfire but inside I was boiling with anger at the attitude of a man who could wound an animal and then callously condemn it to a lingering and painful death.

I looked down at my clenched fist and sighed.


 

What experience have you had/watched with wild animals that has touched you?

Answer by Rory Young:

Stumpy and Patches were two elephants that used to hang around camp on an almost full time basis. It was as though they knew they were safer from poachers there.

Both were large bulls in their prime. Patches got his name from pale discolourations on his skin. He was unusually tall for the area, with a perfect set of evenly matched tusks. Stumpy was named from his stocky build and short thick tusks.

Patches was a menace. He would insist on staying close to man yet would charge anyone at the slightest scent or sound of someone passing nearby.

Had these charges been mild mock charges it wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. Instead though, he would fly into a screaming and trumpeting rage every time and charge like a runaway train. Scouts and workers became adept at sprinting for the cover of buildings and on a couple of occasions were forced to jump into the crocodile infested Zambezi. Fortunately no one was trampled, gored or eaten by crocodiles.

Stumpy on the other hand was a much more laid back chap. He enjoyed his food just like any other elephant and more. We spent large amounts of time trying to keep him out of the vegetable garden. In the end the only thing that worked was posting a game scout on permanent duty to fire a shot in the air if he came to close. If the game scout wen away for a minute then Stumpy would be in the veges in second. Unfortunately he knocked down the kitchen trying to get at marula fruits that had fallen through the windows, but that was just clumsiness not malicious at all..

Patches and Stumpy were best friends. They were nearly always together. It did make it easier to notice when they were around because between them they made quite a racket breaking branches and knocking over trees.. and Kitchens of course..

Stumpy was wonderful. I used to sit for whenever I had a chance just watching him and talking in a low, soft voice. Eventually  I could walk right by him or stop and watch him for a while.

One day he approached me, waggled his head and then stretched it down and forwards towards me with his trunk wrapped over his tusk. I was dumbstruck.  Elephants do this to other elephants to invite them to play. He wanted to play!

I couldn’t exactly go and wrestle with him, so I made some noise and threw some dust in a mock display and he happily joined in. Thereafter, when I saw him he would waggle his head in invitation and kick or throw dust or sticks at me and I would do the same.

The most amazing thing happened when I had a bad dose of malaria (we used to get it regularly in those days) and was asleep on a mat in the shade of a large tree in the middle of the camp. It was an ideal spot as the breeze off the river and the shade of the enormous tree combined to bring the oven-like temperature down a notch at least.

No one had noticed Stumpy had wandered in to feed on the same tree. When they did it was too late. Unbeknownst to me he was feeding whilst standing over me. He had literally walked carefully over me and then stood happily reaching up to pluck leaves while I snored away under his belly.

There was a bit of a panic. No one could do anything as they were afraid to scare him in case he stood on me. So they waited and eventually he finished his sampling, put his trunk down, sniffed my face all over and then stepped his back feet over me and wandered off. I was still none the wiser.

My relationship with Patches was a whole different story.

We did not get on at all. He would wait outside my hut and charge as soon as I came to the door. There was nothing friendly or fun about it.These were extremely aggressive and close to full charges.

We had some really close calls. He almost squashed a Singaporean visitor who decided not to wait for the obligatory  escort and decided to stroll from his hut to the dining area. Patches missed him by inches. Fortunately this fellow turned into a really good sprinter at really short notice and made it into a building just in time. There were many close calls with the workers and there were more and more calls to have him put down.

Eventually Patches almost got me.

I was at a different camp a couple of kilometers downstream collecting supplies. walked out of the warehouse and didn’t notice Patches standing quietly nearby. Once I did it was too late.

He had been next to the building and then walked in between the building and me before charging. I couldn’t run back into the building and it was too far to the river. I was stuck and he was coming at me like a giant cannon ball.

Something clicked in my head and I let him have it. I screamed the most foul abusive stream of the most vile and filthy language at him and told him exactly what I thought of him. At the same time I walked towards him.

I have stood down many, many mock charges from elephants and have learned in detail the art of interacting with them. However, this was different, it was what anyone would only describe as a full charge. His ears were back, his head was down, his trunk was curled and i was unarmed.

I usually always had a side arm for emergencies and when out in the bush always carried a rifle. However, right now I had nothing. I actually had no choice really so I just had to call his bluff and otherwise hope I would go quickly.

He stopped about ten meters away from me just as the last, most disgusting insult came out of my mouth. Then he raised his head, shook it, spraying me with snot and then walked away slowly at an angle keeping one eye on me.

I walked back to the warehouse. My friend and colleague Rolf Niemeijer was standing there with a bunch of workers.

“Young”, he said, “you are completely and utterly insane” and then turned and walked away. Right then found it difficult to argue with that. At least there was method in my madness I suppose. Anyway, it worked.

Not too long after I returned from time off to be told by Lew Games, my boss, that I needed to shoot an elephant.

“What’s the story?”, I asked.

“A bull has a cable-snare round his leg. Probably meant for kudu, but it went bad. ZAWA called in a vet but it took three days for them to get him here. It was already too far gone then, now the poor bugger is on his last legs and in agony.The vet just confirmed he needs to be put down asap. ZAWA asked if you could do it.”

I didn’t have much time to think about which bull it might be and never considered for a moment that it might be Patches. There were hundreds of elephants around and it was unlikely to be those chaps as they were always close to camp not areas where the poachers tended to place snares.

I set of with a couple of scouts from ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) and a colleague called Peter Caborn who had asked if he could tag along.

It was no great hunting expedition. The poor old fellow was only a kilometer from the camp. When elephants injure a foot they can’t go anywhere and quickly starve as they cannot get the variety of nutrients they need in such a confined area.

His foot was swollen literally to the shape of a football. He was emaciated and clearly on his last legs, poison coursing through him. It was stumpy.

Patches was standing quietly nearby.

I put all thoughts and emotions out of my mind. The kindest thing I could do for him was to take away his pain as quickly as possible.

I shot stumpy through the brain.

Patches continued to stick around but although he continued to be aggressive to everybody else he never charged me again. I would often see him from a distance standing at the spot where I shot Stumpy. Elephants do visit the remains of dead elephants. They are also believed to be self-aware like we are.

I never went back to that place until recently, so about seventeen years later. It felt like it was yesterday and I can still remember clear as day those bulls.

I didn’t ask anyone if there was an elephant with whitish patches on his body and a really bad attitude. I didn’t want to know if something bad had happened to him. I like to imagine that Patches is still charging around causing havoc and from time to time visits the remains of his old friend Stumpy.

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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How would you describe the mood of this young elephant?

Answer by Rory Young:

This is typical “Monitoring behaviour” during a situation.
Her head is down. Her ears are forward and raised. The tip of her trunk is curled and she is resting one of her back feet.

Please see ElephantVoices Gestures Database – Attentive – Listening – Monitoring

They explain it perfectly:
“An individual who is monitoring an event, situation or interaction or contemplating a sound, smell or object exhibits a constellation of displays including: Listening, Eye-Opening or Eye-Blinking, and J-Sniffing. The very tip of the trunk is usually curled under and around to face the object of interest. He or she may consider by looking at, listening to or sniffing, the object or subject of interest. Elephants often Monitor or contemplate an experience already ended almost as if reliving the sensations. Monitoring may be observed when an elephant contemplates its own interactions, during Object-Play, the actions of elephants nearby, human conversation or considering the bones of an elephant, for example”.

P.S. If I was on foot and she was doing this I would be talking to her in a soft, low, calm voice which they often react very positively to.

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What are the most poisonous snakes in the world?

Answer by Rory Young:

None! Technically snake venom is not a poison, it is a venom. Poisons can be absorbed through the skin or digestive tract whilst venoms have to be injected into the tissue or bloodstream. This is why snake can be drunk which actually happens in parts Asia as it is believed to carry many health benefits.

In terms of toxicity there is as yet no definitive answer as the testing systems vary so greatly. There have also been no tests done of all using at least one of these systems. Most importantly though the different venoms may have characteristics that may make them deadly to the mice they are usually tested on and humans; in other words, unbelievably, they may be more toxic to mice than humans.

That being said, it is pretty much accepted that the most toxic venom is that of the sea snakes. In studies done in Costa Rica the pelagic sea snake was found to be more than twice as venomous as any land snake. However, it is rare to receive a fatal bite because almost always only tiny amounts of venom are injected.

In terms of percentage of bites resulting in fatalies, the bites of both the black mamba and coastal taipan are almost 100% fatal. Others probably are too. I knew a herpetologist who was at that time the only person who had survived a full black mamba bite.

I did a course on snake bites with him many years ago in Zimbabwe. He explained that he had been working with a medical professional on a theory. Black Mambas are neurotoxic and kill by paralysing all the muscles in your body. Your first stop breathing and the last muscle to become paralysed is your heart. Their theory was that if you could keep the person’s lungs and heart going artificially until antivenom could work then someone could survive.

Amazingly he was bitten by a mamba, rushed to hospital by his wife and the very doctor he worked with met him their (within ten minutes of the bite) and they put him on a heart lung machine and pumped him full of anti-venom and antihystamine. He lived and had no lasting side-effects.

Sadly he was bitten again by a black mamba a few years later and this time died before he could get help.

Black Mamba

In terms of fatalities India has the most fatalities reported of all countries and I believe the King cobra and Common krait are responsible. I have also read about the poor ladies in Sri Lanka who peak tea without protection to their legs and are frequently bitten and die.

King Cobra

Common Krait

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Who would win in a fight between an Elephant and a Rhino?

Answer by Rory Young:

Assuming they are both adults then the elephant would usually win. However, there are records of a rhino fatally goring an elephant in the belly.

Elephants are known to attack anything that gets in their way when in Musth which was most likely the story behind this picture of a Rhino that was killed by an elephant:

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What has been the most embarrassing moment of your life?

I was once running a wildlife sanctuary and safari operation in the Zambezi Valley. During the wet season the area was inaccessible by road and therefore very few people came to visit.

We spent most of our time at this time of year doing anti-poaching work. Two other camps from which ant-poaching patrols had also been active had been attacked shortly before this time.

Due to the possibility of an attack on our camp I used to sleep in a different empty room or tent every night. I always kept a loaded rifle next to the bed.

One night I awoke to a sound of voices whispering.

I rolled off my mattress and picked up the rifle and torch I had ready and quietly approached the gauze window. I peered out. There was quite a bit of moonlight and I could make out several figures moving along a path towards the main building. They had one small torch.

I had no doubts. There had been no sound of a vehicle or boat. My own team would not risk being shot by walking around the camp at night without giving verbal warning first. I steeled myself for a fight.

I knew the paths of course and as I was barefoot was able to quietly sneak up on them. There were four of the bastards.

A few feet behind them I raised my rifle and switched on the torch, which I held under the barrel, at the same time shouting in the local Goba language, “IWE MIRAI!!”. They froze and two of them screamed.

Two elderly European couples stood in front of me with shock on their faces. They had turned around and were also shining their one torch at me.

I cleared my throat and said, “sorry, I thought your were poachers”.

They said nothing and even more strangely the two women were looking everywhere except at me whilst the chap with the torch was now pointing it behind him.

It slowly dawned on me.. I was stark naked.

There was nothing for it but to behave perfectly naturally so I said, “how can I help you folks”? I casually slung my rifle over my shoulder and put one hand on my hip trying to somehow look normal.

After a long pause one of the men said, “our boat hit a sandbar this afternoon and we have been stuck most of the night on the river”. “Eventually we managed to push it off but we couldn’t get it started and paddled downstream till we saw the light by your jetty”.

I directed them to the dining area, casually excused myself and nonchalantly walked off to get some clothes on. I later fed them and organized rooms for them and the next day got to know them. They were farmers from one of the tobacco growing areas. Everyone was polite enough not to mention my “commando outfit” of the previous evening and I naively thought that was the end of the story..

A couple of months later I was in a completely different country and met a couple who also farmed tobacco. They had never even been to the country where I worked. They asked me what I did and where I was based. I told them.

There was silence and I wondered what I had said wrong. Then the woman said to me, “are you the guy who runs around naked in the bush at night hunting poachers”?

 

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 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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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 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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Hypothetical Questions: If I wanted to approach dangerous wild animals on foot, could I do it safely and how would I go about it?

Answer by Rory Young:

This picture (courtesy J. Levenderis) shows the legendary Zimbabwean game ranger, the late “Oom Willie De Beer” tangling with a wild elephant bull. His rifle can clearly be seen hanging of his arm and not pointed at the bull and he actually has his hands on the elephant’s tusks. This incredible man had an uncanny understanding of animal behaviour. You can also see the bull’s head is down but his ears are forward and his head is down. He is also leaning towards Oom Willie. He is having a tussle not trying to kill. If he were intending to kill his ears would be back and he would be flailing with his trunk, goring with his tusks and trampling with his feet. By the way, Oom Willie was in his seventies when this picture was taken!

There are two ways to approach any dangerous animal on foot.

I will use Elephants as examples in this reply but there are important differences between different animals and their behaviour that affects how you approach them; if you do so at all. Every species and every individual is different
I will also answer as a guide/ranger.

Before you decide to approach, you assess the animal or animals. You take into account the gender, the condition, the demeanor, the age and anything else that could affect it’s behaviour.

The first way of approaching wild animals is known as a “guiding approach” or “open approach”. You approach the animal openly, letting it know you.are there.
For dangerous game that is not shy, this is usually the best option because it allows you to gauge the animal’s response to you. For example, elephants use just as much body language as we do, if not more as they have a trunk and huge movable ears to throw into the mix.

The approach is nearly always best done diagonally, at an angle. Imagine a big dog that you didn’t know just walked straight up to you. That would feel intimidating wouldn’t it? That is how wild animals feel too about other Species approaching them. Bear in mind that we walk on our hind legs and we show more of the whites of our eyes than any other animal. Showing the whites of your eyes to most species means fear or aggression. We also smile, showing our teeth. Nearly all animals, except some apes (and my dumb but beloved dogs), see showing your teeth as a threat display (and damn rude). Don’t smile at wild animals!

Often, as you approach – which is best done diagonally to the animal and not directly –  you will deliberately make some sort of subtle noise to let them know you are there, such as tapping your rifle stock quietly.

Once the animal knows you are approaching they will let you know how they feel about that. They may just carry on munching their food and gaze at you, which of course is a pretty good sign.

Let’s look at an older bull elephant first. Let’s say he is healthy, having a good day and is roughly 30 years old. The first sign that he elephant is aware of you is that he raises his ears upwards.This would be the equivalent of you tensing up when someone who really makes you nervous walks into the room.You might tense your  shoulders, clench your fists or purse your lips (sorry here I think I’m a bit better with elephants than people).

Then he will turn and face you. They put their trunk into the air to catch your scent and put their ears forward to listen. Usually if he catches your scent he will shake his head and snort, with the ears making a slapping noise. This is basically telling you that you stink and should piss off.

At this stage I like to just wait. The elephant usually does the same and will often twirl a clump of grass(just like a person twirling a lock of their hair whilst thinking) and look  a bit dumb. He may also raise his head and put forward his ears. Putting his head up is a sign of dominance and putting his ears forward is meant to intimidate and let you know how big he is as if somehow he wasn’t big enough. Bear in mind their language is that spoken between elephants so he will “speak” as one elephant does to another.

It is important at this stage to make clear that you are willing to move off but also that you won’t take any nonsense.  Ideally you both walk off at an angle to each other. However, you could get a “mock charge”.

A mock charge is when a bull charges with the intention of scaring you. He will do so with his head up and ears forward and trumpet. If you don’t run and wait for just the right moment to shout, lift your hands or rifle in the air and even throw something at him, he will stop and reconsider (mock charges can develop into “full charges). He will very likely throw dust or sticks from the ground at you and kick dust at you.

With experience the behaviour and body language of elephants can be very well understood and professional guides and rangers even “tangle with them”, having a battle of wills for dominance where everything except touching is “allowed”.
The second way of approaching wild animals is known as a “hunting approach” or “concealed approach” whereby you stalk the animal as you would to hunt it, i.e. not letting it know that you are there. This can be very non-intrusive but also potentially dangerous. You have not had the benefit of the animals responses to an open approach and therefore don’t know how it is going to react if it suddenly notices you are there.

Now, that was an example of a laid back bull elephant. As mentioned, you first assess gender and other points. If it was a female, I would only look from a distance and wouldn’t let her know I was there.

With regards to condition, if the bull was in Musth, for example, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. I would also make sure he had no idea I was anywhere near. If he did there would be a big chance of a “full charge”.

A full charge is when an elephant puts his ears bag it’s head down and charges full speed at you. Bear in mind that an elephant has no idea who you are but will instinctively know from hundreds of thousands of years of evolving in the same environment and geographical location as us, that we are really bad news. Therefore a full charge for an elephant is the equivalent of a Kamikaze pilot taking the final suicide dive. It means the elephant has totally committed to a fight to the death and as a guide/ranger you have only one option left and that is to shoot.

This is why I am dead against walking guides/rangers going to close too often on foot. Eventually there will be a full charge and the elephant or the ranger or those accompanying him will end will end up dead. In Zimbabwe it will mean the elephant is dead as the guides are extremely well trained. In most other countries it will mean the guide and clients are dead.

With regards to age, older animals will tend to be less “spunky” and more inclined to a full charge when they do finally get annoyed. Young elephants are usually the opposite, just like human teenagers, full  nonsense , lots of noise but run to Mommy as soon as the going gets tough! I openly admit to playing games with these types from time to time (the elephants that is not the teenagers).

As mentioned, females are dangerous. They are just like most working mothers; stressed, tired, in a hurry. You don’t want to mess with them and especially not with their kids!

Playing with dangerous game is a dangerous game! Respect them!

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How do you approach dangerous wild animals on foot?

Rory Young

There are two ways to approach any dangerous animal on foot.

I will use elephants as examples in this reply but there are important differences between different animals and their behaviour that affects how you approach them; if you do so at all. Every species and every individual is different

I will also answer as a guide/ranger.

Before you decide to approach, you assess the animal or animals. You take into account the gender, the condition, the demeanor, the age and anything else that could affect it’s behaviour.

The first way of approaching wild animals is known as a “guiding approach” or “open approach”. You approach the animal openly, letting it know you.are there.

For dangerous game that is not shy, this is usually the best option because it allows you to gauge the animal’s response to you. For example, elephants use just as much body language as we do, if not more as they have a trunk and huge movable ears to throw into the mix.

The approach is nearly always best done diagonally, at an angle. Imagine a big dog that you didn’t know just walked straight up to you. That would feel intimidating wouldn’t it? That is how wild animals feel too about other species approaching them. Bear in mind that we walk on our hind legs and we show more of the whites of our eyes than any other animal. Showing the whites of your eyes to most species means fear or aggression. We also smile, showing our teeth. Nearly all animals, except some apes (and my dumb but beloved dogs), see showing your teeth as a threat display (and damn rude). Don’t smile at wild animals!

Often, as you approach – which is best done diagonally to the animal and not directly –  you will deliberately make some sort of subtle noise to let them know you are there, such as tapping your rifle stock quietly.

Once the animal knows you are approaching they will let you know how they feel about that. They may just carry on munching their food and gaze at you, which of course is a pretty good sign.

Let’s look at an older bull elephant first. Let’s say he is healthy, having a good day and is roughly 30 years old. The first sign that he elephant is aware of you is that he raises his ears upwards.This would be the equivalent of you tensing up when someone who really makes you nervous walks into the room.You might tense your  shoulders, clench your fists or purse your lips (sorry here I think I’m a bit better with elephants than people).

Then he will turn and face you. They put their trunk into the air to catch your scent and put their ears forward to listen. Usually if he catches your scent he will shake his head and snort, with the ears making a slapping noise. This is basically telling you that you stink and should piss off.

At this stage I like to just wait. The elephant usually does the same and will often twirl a clump of grass(just like a person twirling a lock of their hair whilst thinking) and look  a bit dumb. He may also raise his head and put forward his ears. Putting his head up is a sign of dominance and putting his ears forward is meant to intimidate and let you know how big he is as if somehow he wasn’t big enough. Bear in mind their language is that spoken between elephants so he will “speak” as one elephant does to another.

It is important at this stage to make clear that you are willing to move off but also that you won’t take any nonsense.  Ideally you both walk off at an angle to each other. However, you could get a “mock charge”.

A mock charge is when a bull charges with the intention of scaring you. He will do so with his head up and ears forward and trumpet. If you don’t run and wait for just the right moment to shout, lift your hands or rifle in the air and even throw something at him, he will stop and reconsider (mock charges can develop into “full charges). He will very likely throw dust or sticks from the ground at you and kick dust at you.

With experience the behaviour and body language of elephants can be very well understood and professional guides and rangers even “tangle with them”, having a battle of wills for dominance where everything except touching is “allowed”.

The second way of approaching wild animals is known as a “hunting approach” or “concealed approach” whereby you stalk the animal as you would to hunt it, i.e. not letting it know that you are there. This can be very non-intrusive but also potentially dangerous. You have not had the benefit of the animals responses to an open approach and therefore don’t know how it is going to react if it suddenly notices you are there.

If anyone would like then I will post some pictures of rangers/guides doing all of this to my blog Anomie’s Child Some of these are quite spectacular.

Now, that was an example of a laid back bull elephant. As mentioned, you first assess gender and other points. If it was a female, I would only look from a distance and wouldn’t let her know I was there.

With regards to condition, if the bull was in Musth, for example, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. I would also make sure he had no idea I was anywhere near. If he did there would be a big chance of a “full charge”.

A full charge is when an elephant puts his ears bag it’s head down and charges full speed at you. Bear in mind that an elephant has no idea who you are but will instinctively know from hundreds of thousands of years of evolving in the same environment and geographical location as us, that we are really bad news. Therefore a full charge for an elephant is the equivalent of a Kamikaze pilot taking the final suicide dive. It means the elephant has totally committed to a fight to the death and as a guide/ranger you have only one option left and that is to shoot.

This is why I am dead against walking guides/rangers going to close too often on foot. Eventually there will be a full charge and the elephant or the ranger or those accompanying him will end will end up dead. In Zimbabwe it will mean the elephant is dead as the guides are extremely well trained. In most other countries it will mean the guide and clients are dead.

With regards to age, older animals will tend to be less “spunky” and more inclined to a full charge when they do finally get annoyed. Young elephants are usually the opposite, just like human teenagers, full  nonsense , lots of noise but run to Mommy as soon as the going gets tough! I openly admit to playing games with these types from time to time.

As mentioned, females are dangerous. They are just like most working mothers; stressed, tired, in a hurry. You don’t want to mess with them and especially not with their kids!

Playing with dangerous game is a dangerous game!

Ethical Conduct Considerations for Hunters

 

Here is an article on ethics I wrote recently for African Hunter Magazine:

Ethical Conduct Considerations for Hunters
By Rory Young

There is much misconception about what ethics is and how it can benefit us. Many Hunters view it with suspicion and imagine it will just add to their long list of things to worry about.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The question of right and wrong is a part of everything we think, say and do throughout the day and cannot be avoided. It is a simple fact that every human knows that there is a right way and a wrong way to do anything. Understanding ethics makes identifying the right from the wrong easier and having a code of ethics, either as an individual or an organization, makes the decision a simple process.

So what exactly are ethics?
The term comes from the Greek word Ethos, which means “character”.
Ethics are what an individual or organization determines to be right or wrong for that individual or organization and reflect their values and standards. They are the principles, values, standards and rules of behaviour that guide our decisions and behaviour in our work.

What is a code of ethics?

Ethical codes are adopted by organizations to assist members in understanding the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and in applying that understanding to their decisions. Any individual can also at any time adopt his own ethical code.
An ethical code generally implies codes of business ethics, codes of conduct for employees, and codes of professional practice.

Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers and every other profession on the planet have codes of conduct governing what is considered to be ethically sound behaviour. This is usually known as a Code of Professional Practice.

Even pirates had codes of conduct known either Codes of Brethren or Articles.
The reason all these professions, from Lawyers to Pirates (hehehe) have codes of ethics is because there is a need within any society to have common standards and values which the group as a whole and the individuals that make up that group practice, promote and defend.

It is wrong for people to assume that ethics equates to idealism and high mindedness. That is not the case at all; take the pirate codes for example. No one would describe pirates as idealists! Yet nearly every pirate crew had a code of conduct. The reason is that a group needs to understand what the entirety of its values is in order to work towards a common goal. What is right and wrong for a group can even be extremely self-serving. There is nothing wrong with that, assuming we have other rules and standards for the other aspects of our lives.

When you say you are a hunter you immediately identify yourself as part of that whole group who call themselves Hunters. Many countries have very good laws in place to govern hunting. Still, that does not mean that there are not still many questions of right and wrong left to decide for ourselves. These fall in to the category of ethics.

As hunters how do we determine what is right and wrong behaviour?
Right and wrong behaviour for the people of a state as a whole is determined by the constitution and laws enacted by parliament and enforced by the officers of the law.
On the other hand religion is the realm of the soul and its precepts and commandments deal with good and evil.

In the case of hunting good ethics can be determined by whatever is good or bad for hunting and hunters, as well as the country and all those affected by hunting. By extension it includes those areas that directly or indirectly benefit or hinder hunting and hunters and all those who are affected in any way by the activity.

From a purely egoistic viewpoint it boils down to that behaviour that benefits hunters and hunting is good and behaviour that hinders hunters and hunting is bad. However, when you think of it, upsetting or benefiting the State and all those who are affected by hunting and hunters will impact hunting and hunters positively or negatively. Therefore even from the most selfish viewpoint it is necessary to have and adhere to good ethics.

A code of ethics should also contribute to the welfare of its key stakeholders and also respect the rights of all those affected by its operations. Even from an egoistic viewpoint this makes sense because we don’t operate-in a vacuum; our behaviour is noted by others who are affected by it and by those who feel it is important. All of those people can and do work with or r against our interests. Whether they work for or against our interests depends on how we portray ourselves and our profession to them. So, perceptions are important.
So how does a code of ethics benefit us?
Codes of ethics benefit us in many ways, chiefly:
By defining acceptable behaviours.
By helping to avoid conflicts of interest.
By providing a yardstick against which we can judge our own ethics and the ethics of others.
By promoting high standards of practice and professionalism.
By codifying, enhancing and promoting group identity.
Most importantly they protect and promote our image via transparent standards and values.

So what would be worth including in a code of ethics?
It should cover all aspects of hunting and fields affected by the activity.
It should oppose all prejudice with respect to sex, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sexual preference, colour, or physical or mental disability;
If should promote peaceful resolution of conflict.

Furthermore it should promote a positive image to outsiders and in this regard it is important to bear in mind is that the future of hunting is always in the hands of the non-hunting majority. That non-hunting majority is for the most part meat-eaters yet unbelievably they are for the most part against hunting.  This strange contradiction didn’t happen by chance. It is a direct result of the bad attitude and resulting bad behaviour of hunters without ethics. The biggest threat to the continuation of hunting as a legal pursuit worldwide is the bad behaviour of unethical hunters.

The negative perception can be broken down into three areas. Those are waste, suffering and conservation. These three issues dovetail with other areas directly affecting hunting. From these and the other issues previously mentioned it is possible to build a code of ethics.

Here is an example I have created and try to adhere to myself. . Any hunter or hunting organisation can create a code of ethics to follow as a guideline or as an established code of conduct:

Breaking the law is the first, most obvious negative. If someone breaks the law, not only do they become criminals but they also cast all hunters in a bad light. Hunters must always uphold and defend the law, especially law relating to hunting, firearms and conservation.

Because hunting is dependent on the environment, not caring for our environment is unacceptable. We have an ethical obligation to ourselves, our fellow hunters and to all future generations of hunters to conserve, protect and nurture the natural environment in which we liveline, work and play.
We should never waste anything. We should honour an animal hunted by utilizing as much of it as possible.

A hunter should never deliberately wound an animal or allow an animal to be deliberately wounded. We are hunters, not torturers. Anyone who takes pleasure in causing suffering belongs in an institution.

Hunting is a dangerous activity. We should endeavour to make if as safe as possible through adherence to firearms and other safety procedures and golden rules. We should never attempt or do anything that could conceivably result in injury or death of anyone on anything other than the quarry. Furthermore, a hunter should always respect public and private property. He should never hunt on any property without the knowledge and approval of the appropriate authority even if not required by law. If someone knows you are shooting in an area they can take any necessary precautions.

Because the future of hunting depends on its acceptance by the public, it is only right that we protect it and defend and promote its reputation whenever and wherever necessary. The slandering of other hunters and hunting itself is unacceptable. In fact we should defend ethical hunting whenever and wherever necessary.

When under the guidance of a professional a hunter should treat them with the respect they deserve. They are not servants and are there not only to ensure you get your trophy, but that you do so without loss of life or limb. They may be called upon to save your life or vice-versa. The same applies to trackers, skinners and all other staff. They are professionals. Treat them as such.
We must treat the communities we encounter with the same respect and courtesy that we would expect to be treated ourselves.

One could go into much more detail of course. However, a code of ethics is probably better as a broad set of guideliness gridlines nattier that than a narrow set of rules. In the end it is the hunter himself who will follow these standards and judge himself by them..

My intention here is to plant seeds that hopefully will someday grow and bear fruit.

It is a subject that sorely needs discussing and I sincerely hope that this short article stimulates discussion. If it results in just even one person changing one bad habits thenm I will consider having written it time well spent.

This is how I believe we should view ethics. It is an attempt to do the right thing and better ourselves and better our image in the eyes of the world.. Even if it only results in a small improvement over a long period it is still worth it. At the very least we will all sleep better and be able to look at our children and say, “I tried to do the RIGHT thing even when I didn’t have to”.

Rory J. A. Young
14th March 2013

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Is it unethical to eat animals if you aren’t willing to kill them yourself?

Answer by Rory Young:

Good question. Here is a little story I wrote about issue from past experience:

Ying and Yang

I lay there, immobilized with fear, as the dentist approached me, instruments of pain and suffering in her hands and a look of the utmost contempt on her face. I tried to speak and failed horribly. The clamps, pads and other foreign objects stuffed into my mouth prevented anything but an incoherent gurgle.

Desperately, I tried to gesture to wait and ended up banging the tray of instruments that hovered over me, earning a sharp rebuke from the enormous Zimbabwean nurse, together with a vice-like grip on my wrist. I was close to panic, I could only imagine what this gargantuan helper would do to me if she felt she needed to or in fact she wanted to. Then I noticed the voice in the background. It was ACDC’s Brian Johnson singing “highway to hell”. No doubt about it now, I was in a living nightmare. My shoulders slumped as I realized the terrifying reality of my horrifying situation. There was only one option left. I began to scream shamelessly

A short time earlier, my pretty little dentist had been smiling, Cliff Richard had been singing “Summer Holiday” in the background and the nurse had been half the size. It had been like a little sanctuary of peace in a timeless paradise.
Then, the stunning reason for my wanting my teeth checked out said, with her sexy Polish accent, “you not from here, why you in town: special to see me?” (The last said with a look that could drive men mad).
“Sort of“, I replied innocently giving her my best smile in return. I had been brushing my teeth 12 times a day to prepare for this. ”I have been in the bush for so long and unable to get back to see you; but I had to pass through town so thought I’d seize the opportunity”.

Then I made my fatal mistake. “I have to shoot a buffalo not too far from here tomorrow” I said, naively wondering to myself when I should ask her out for dinner.

She passed out of sight and I assumed the silence was due to concentration as she picked up the mouth thingies.

As her gorgeous face reappeared over me and she began to insert the hardware into my mouth, I began to notice that her previously sweet, sparkling eyes had changed from those of an angel to those of a hound from hell. Then a now demonic-sounding Slavic voice emanated from her, saying, “you kill nice animals. I not like people who kill nice animals”.

I wanted to tell her that it was a wounded animal that was suffering and needed to be put out of its misery and how ethical hunting was a natural thing to do that help support the Parks, and so on and so forth, but it was too late!
Then I heard a clunk as the hypodermic containing the anaesthetic I was pinning my fading hopes on was dropped into the bin. I was doomed, doomed, doomed. . .

Seriously now; this may come as a surprise but I have a great respect for vegetarians. I’m a bit nervous of militant former Soviet-bloc vegans, but all in all I appreciate the fact that vegetarians are people who practise what they preach.
To be frank, what I really find intriguing is the position of people who do eat meat… and are against hunting.

When asked what they feel about hunting most people in the Western world will come out in opposition to it. Yet, strangely the vast majority of these same people will happily sit down and eat a steak. Pretty weird some would day, or even hypocritical…

It is quite obvious that the vegetarians would be against it, but meat-eaters?
Is it really hypocrisy? Could it be ignorance maybe? Or even something else entirely, such as hunters behaving badly? How about a combination these?
Well it’s easy enough to find out. Next time you are sitting with a group of non-hunters, ask them. I do it all the time and invariably receive the very similar answers.

The first thing point to come up will usually be the perception that hunting is destructive to the environment and in particular certain species, especially endangered ones. This sometimes comes as a shock to responsible hunters.
However, perhaps they are just ignorant rather than deliberately hypocritical, so let’s be open-minded. Put yourself in the shoes of these non-hunters for a second. Assuming, that you are just an average person who lives in an urban area and doesn’t actively seek out very controversial subjects. what would you pick up in the media to lead you to form such an opinion?

Picture this scene. A television journalist, shaking with outrage, tears streaming down her cheeks, points to piles of migratory birds of prey littering the ground on the small Mediterranean island she is investigating. Next a series of loud reports interrupts her choked words and the camera turns to a small cinder block bunker-like construction from which shotgun barrels protrude. Then, more shots are heard. This time, accompanying recoils and fumes from the shotguns are clearly seen.

We jump forward in time. Now our heroine is bravely confronting the “hunters”. She is insulted, threatened and the camera-man is assaulted. It all ends with the accused racing off in a battered sedan, rude gestures showing clearly out the windows and leaving their kills to rot. Mostly endangered or threatened species of course…

Never mind the average non-hunting, European town-dweller; I too was outraged by this barbarity. In fact I was shaking with anger and ranting and raving about how these maniacs should be hunted down themselves. They weren’t hunters of course. They were poachers, the lowest of the low as far as I am concerned.
Sadly the same behaviour continues in many countries quite legally, thereby making them not poachers but legal “hunters”. Quite obviously what these morons were doing is bad for the environment and that is unethical and therefore unacceptable. Personally, I believe that only ethical hunters should be called hunters, full stop. The rest should be referred to as poachers, regardless of whether what they are doing is legal or not. Poaching should refer to both illegal AND unethical hunting.

Let’s get back to our non-hunter question and answer sessions.
The second thing that usually comes up is cruelty or suffering caused to animals hunted.

Now the deliberate wounding of or cruelty to animals is usually covered by the law. Well it is in civilized countries anyway. I think any hunter with a normal upbringing, living in a normal community and not currently institutionalized will agree that anyone who is deliberately cruel to animals should get help before they move on to mass murder or serial killing. However, the non-hunters see hunting as often cruel and the cause of suffering.

On this point, aside from the bad behaviour of medical hunters, I believe the television and film industries are partly responsible for perpetuating the myth that wild animals in the wild live an idyllic existence without any pain or suffering. Obviously that’s nonsense and only the ignorant and out of touch with reality wander around believing that. Unfortunately though, there are plenty of people who really are that ignorant and out of touch with reality wandering around!
At this stage I usually ask the non-hunters if they prefer “free-range” meat or battery-farmed” meat. Of course the answer is always “free-range” (even if they secretly buy the cheaper stuff). Why? Because it’s a nicer more natural environment for the animals to live in and invariably the meat will be healthier to eat too.

For some reason our non-hunters don’t usually notice the obvious; that wild animals are the most “free-range” animals under the sun. This point usually makes a big impression when pointed and is often accompanied by remarks such as “‘I never thought of it that way” and “wow” (accompanied by distant look).

After a while they will usually return to the point about suffering in this vein, “but farm animals die a more peaceful death than animals that are hunted.”
After explaining that an animal that is shot correctly by hunter using the correct calibre endures a lot less suffering than one that endures the small and sounds of an abattoir or one that dies a more natural death by predator, disease or old age.

That also makes an impact but very often the response is only too true, “that’s all very well as long as the hunters do actually use the right weapon for the quarry and kill  cleanly”.

Yes, back to ethics. Again we are embarrassed by those fools who can’t behave or who don’t educate themselves. Someone who is not competent simply shouldn’t go near game or firearms.

Let’s move on to the third point that comes up. The story of those fools slaughtering migratory birds over the Med also falls into this category: Waste.
Many people feel hunters are only interested in hunting only so that they can mount a trophy on the wall. Well it’s true in some cases in many places and in many cases in some places. Furthermore, although some countries have laws that require a hunter to remove the entire carcass from the hunting area, I have yet to come across a law that says that nothing if possible, should be wasted.
It may not be a law but it should certainly be standard good conduct for all hunters anyway. Surely the animal deserves to be honoured and respected by all hunters?

The last point that usually arises is image, or the perceived psychology of the hunter may be a better way of putting it.

People who have never hunted often view the killing of an animal as a necessary evil and therefore the thought of enjoying it is somehow very wrong. I believe most Europeans fall into this category. This I believe is a result of a total disconnecting with their natural environment whereby they do not have any experience of the entirely natural thrill of hunting that is a built-in part of us.
I am sure you will agree that the combination of challenge, outdoors, thrill, danger , objective and more is impossible to describe to someone who has absolutely no experience of anything like it.

This is the toughest of all to change. How does one convince someone that a hunter has more right to hunt than a non-hunter has to eat meat? How do you explain to them that they have lost the innate understanding that all men once had; that life is about struggle and death as much as it is about beauty and peace – Ying and Yang?

I guess the conclusion to these musings is that hunters need to think about what they do and how they do it and make sure they do what is right. At the same time non-hunters need to be educated and a few, who really are hypocrites, like the bad hunters, should be exposed for what they are. I do however strongly feel that these dishonest people are, for the most part, a minority. The real problem is ignorance.

As for me, I need to brush my teeth at least twice a day and keep my mouth firmly shut around vegetarians.

Rory J. A Young
22nd March 2013

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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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