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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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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