HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING?

EVERY GUIDE Should Read This..

Thank you to Dick Pitman for kindly allowing me to post the following Excellent article.

 

HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING?

 We’re pottering around – say – Mana Pools in our Land Cruiser, and someone coming the other way pulls up beside us, brandishing a hugely expensive camera. We exchange greetings. Then –
“Have you seen anything?” the driver says.I ponder for a moment. “Yes, indeed. There’s an ele mum back there with a really tiny calf. A group of absolutely superb kudu bulls. A civet, a bit earlier. Couple of impala rams sparring, really interesting to watch. Lovely light through the albidas.”My interlocutor looks a bit uncomfortable. “Yes, but have you seen…umm…something?

Something

I’m determined to drag it out of him. “What do you mean by something?”

“Well…er…you know, lions. The Dogs”.

As a matter of fact we did see ‘something’, yesterday. I give him some inspired misdirection and off he goes, wheels virtually spinning, until he vanishes in a cloud of dust.

This happens to us all the time. Our National Parks are full of vehicles hurtling around in search of this something. To them, everything else isnothing. Well, to me, this nothing is in fact everything. The wild dogs and lions – good though it is to see them – are just one part of the richly-textured tapestry of our wild places. We have ourselves had enquiries asking for “guaranteed” predator sightings. There’s only one answer to this: if you want is to see lions and wild dogs on demand, matey, go to a zoo.

Nothing?

You have to take wilderness as it comes and, if experience in recent years is anything to go by, fewer and fewer people are happy to do that.

Why?

Is the current ‘sensational predator photography cult’ a reflection of a society that has in itself become predatory? Is it the fault of an increasingly sensationalist media? Or is it the paradigm of instant gratification, ceaseless motion and search for novelty prevalent in today’s world?

A combination of all three, maybe, but I favour the latter – and probably simplest – explanation.This is borne out by what happens when one does actually put people in front of  a pride of lions.

Excitement turns to boredom in about ten minutes flat, when, as is their wont during daytime – the lions just lie around doing nothing at all or – the worst-case scenario! – all go to sleep. It takes on average about ten  minutes before boredom – signified by an insidious outbreak of foot-shuffling andsotto voce conversation – sets in. Finally, some bold spirit pipes up – “Well. Nothing much happening, then.” And so resting lions and wild dogs also get consigned to the great vacuum of nothingness with which the Park is apparently filled.

Mana lions, doing what they like most. Let them sleep!

Well, sorry for that, everyone, but this variety of “nothing” is what most predators do, most of the time. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough for the hordes of so-called “wildlife photographers”, that have invaded Parks like Mana Pools recently. Wild dogs must be persuaded to come trotting up and shove their noses into the business end of the telephoto lens. Lions that would far rather lie around sleeping must be provoked into making mock charges instead.

While writing this post, my attention was drawn to an excellent piece by Gerry van der Walt at http://photography.wild-eye.co.za/ethics-in-wildlife-photography/. Really, he says it all, but I’ll add my 0.05cents-worth while I’m at it.

At a purely personal level I couldn’t give a damn if some lunatic macho-man (or woman) gets themselves killed by a  deliberately-provoked “mock charge” that turns nasty. Unfortunately, though, there could be other outcomes as well.

For starters, a lot more visitors with little or no bush experience who see these photos all over the web may be infected by the “zoo mentality” and try the same thing, with disastrous results. Furthermore, guides and operators may be faced with immense pressure from guests to create similarly artificial photo opportunities, and risk getting labelled as cissies or worse if they refuse.

Worst of all, intrusive behaviour can have a profound impact on wildlife. Wild dog packs may be forced to move away from denning sites by constant, close-quarters intrusion. We’ve also seen tragedies that almost certainly resulted from lion becoming over-habituated to humans. And where potentially dangerous species are involved, something’s quite likely to get shot, either by a guide or by the Parks Authority, and sadly it’s not usually the offending visitor.

Meanwhile, for many, the idea of actually sitting still beside a pan for a day, just waiting and observing what goes on, what comes to drink, listening to the chorus of birdsong, absorbing the immutable peace of wilderness – in other words just being –  has become an absurdity. It seems that wild nature must increasingly be viewed through the lens of sensationalism.

 Dick Pitman Dick’s Blog: http://zim4x4.blogspot.com/

12 DECEMBER 2012

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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!

View Answer on Quora

 

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!

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.

View Answer on Quora

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.

View Answer on Quora