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

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Training Anti-Poaching Trackers in Zimbabwe

With trackers from the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit at the end of a recent training exercise. 

Man-tracking is completely indispensable the anti-poaching. The better the tracker the easier it is to find and follow the poachers. The poachers know this of course and practice “anti-tracking” or “counter-tracking”measures to try and conceal their tracks or avoid leaving sign.

I watched a documentary on television recently where some well meaning former special forces soldiers were attempting to locate poachers by all means except cross graining for tracks in areas most likely to be traversed by poachers and of course failing.

Poachers are not stupid. Most of them were either guerilla fighters or counterinsurgency fighters or were taught by such experts who fought in the many bush wars in Southern and Central Africa. They know how to simply stand behind a tree trunk to conceal oneself from aircraft.

They also know they shouldn’t go near water points during the dry season as there will probably be observation posts set up to monitor them and so they carry large amounts of water, even if it means it will be backbreaking work and will slow them down.. They are patient determined and skilled.

Overcoming these tricks requires well developed tracking skills and a thorough understanding of counter tracking techniques.

Together with an expert tracker from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority I spent some time training the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit trackers in the Omay area in Zimbabwe in advanced tactical tracking techniques.

Important lessons included:

Gender
This is quite easy to determine once one knows how. Women point their  toes more inward and most important the straddle (the width between the line of tracks on the right and left feet) is much narrower than a man’s.  In other words men walk with their feet further apart whilst women walk with them closer together or even overlapping (picture a catwalk model walking down the ramp and a wrestler strutting in the ring).

Determining Stature
The height of a person is directly proportional to their foot length. Roughly 6.5 the length of a bare foot will give the height. This varies according to ethnicity and other factors.

Determining Weight
The width of the heel is greater proportionally to the length of the foot the heavier the individual. The thinner the heel then the skinnier the owner and the thicker the heel then the heavier the owner of the track.

Determining Whether Loads are Being Carried
When someone carries a heavy load they take shorter steps, they point their toes more outward and their straddle widens (they walk with their feet further apart). Furthermore packs and other luggage will often be put down when resting and the sign left can tell what it is, i.e. box, water container, backpack, etc.

BHAPU trackers learning how to tell the difference between the tracks of someone walking unburdened and someone carrying a load. Leading up to the man piggybacking his comrade are his tracks. To the right are the tracks of the same man walking unburdened. Knowing how heavily burden a tracker is and what they are carrying can tell how slow or fast they are able to travel, whether they will need to find water or not and much else.

Ascertaining the weaponry being carried.
This   Knowing what weapons and how many of them a group of poachers is crucial information. A couple of trackers can’t take on a large group armed with AK47s and RPG7s. As with other burdens they will invariably rest the butts of their weapons on the ground when stopped. Every weapon is different and this mark left on the ground indicates what weapon left it. A well organized and experienced group of professional poachers will often have one heavy calibre sporting rifle for shooting the elephants and any number of assault rifles for use against wildlife protection personnel.

A heavy calibre  .458 bolt-action rifle designed to be used on big game such as elephant and smaller calibre fully-automatic  AK47 designed for warfare. Between and slightly above them can be seen the marks left by their butts when p 

Determining the Number of Poachers
This is relatively simple. Once the direction of travel is determined two lines are drawn between the tracks furthest apart from each other. The number of people can easily be determined within the sectioned area.

Breaking Down the Group.
Once the number of people is determined the trackers will assess the tracks of each individual thereby building up a picture of the make up of the group and what equipment and supplies they have. For example, “serious” groups coming from across the border in Zambia will travel in large, well-armed groups (they bring their own porters for the ivory), weartakkies” (canvas plimsoles), carry all their water so that they do not have to go near the watering holes and typically move faster. Local poachers on the other hand typically travel is small groups because they can call on porters from local villages, wearmanyatellas” (homemade shoes made from car tyres and tubes which leave very faint tracks) or go barefoot, travel slowly and carefully counter-tracking to avoid detection. These groups often know where and when scouts will be and therefore are less concerned about approaching water but will counter-track when doing so.

A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority Scout explaining what information can be gleaned from the footwear of poachers. 

Basic Tactics
The advantage is with the poachers if they know they are being tracked as they can easily lay an ambush on their own trail. Therefore tracking unit tries to follow without alerting the poachers that they are being followed.

The usual formation is a tracker with an armed scout oneach of his flanks and moving ahead of him. While the tracker focuses on following the tracks, the scouts focus on protecting against any threat from dangerous animals or ambush by the poachers being followed.

I would rather not reveal the tactics used to arrest/engage the poachers. Suffice to say stop-groups and/or air support are preferably used whilst the tracking group focuses on “shadowing” the poachers and keeping track of their location.

In terms of picking up tracks in the first place patrols will”cross-grain” areas where it is difficult to conceal tracks but necessary to cross, such as dry riverbeds, game trails, “capped” areas, watering holes and other sources of water.

Counter-Tracking and Anti-Tracking
Experienced poaching groups use many methods to conceal their tracks or not leave any. Commonly this is done by not walking on ground that will leave tracks, such as stepping on stones, approaching roads, dry river beds and large game trails at a 45 degree angle and then leaving it at a different angle after crossing, walking backwards across roads on one’s toes and many other tricks.

This is just a taste of what an anti-poaching tracker knows and does. If there is interest in the subject I will happily post more.

 

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

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.

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