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Hwange's Dilemma

Hwange Wankie Zimbabwe elephant culling

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#21 Atravelynn

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Posted 13 October 2015 - 02:43 AM

The effects of contraceptives for mares in feral horse herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, US are being studied.  Don't know the results.


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#22 wilddog

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Posted 13 October 2015 - 09:25 AM

I think contraception was discussed/tried some years ago in Kruger. @Bugs can you advise if this was the case and if so what was the outcome?



#23 inyathi

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Posted 13 October 2015 - 10:52 PM

Though I’m undecided as to what the answer is I’ve decided to try and engage with this issue and present the anti-culling side. I ended up writing rather more than I expected so I won’t post this all in one go the following are my thoughts and also responses to some of the points raised by @douglaswise, @Bugs  and others

 

Here in the UK we have to cull deer because we have wiped out all of our large predators also 4 out of 6 deer species that we have here were introduced, some conservationists have been arguing for some time that we are not culling nearly enough deer. To protect our native woodlands and allow for natural regeneration of trees and shrubs and to benefit other wildlife we need to kill far more deer than we actually are I would entirely support such a move, there isn’t really another way around the problem reintroducing large predators is in my view nothing more than a romantic dream on our overcrowded island and contraception is both very expensive and not entirely effective. I would personally rather see deer shot by marksmen with the appropriate qualification than have large numbers of them darted with contraceptive drugs without really knowing what consequences that might have.  

 

However while I whole heartedly support the culling of deer I feel very differently about elephants given everything that we now know about elephants and their behaviour and social lives things that were perhaps not known when culling was common place. We know for example that elephants communicate over vast distances using infrasound that we cannot hear, when elephants were being culled in Hwange in the past I don’t think that anyone really knew this. In the book The African Elephant Twilight in Eden by Roger Di Silvestro he describes an incident in a (unfortunately unnamed) private reserve in Zimbabwe where they had a herd of 80 very calm habituated elephants that always hung around the lodge area. One day they decided to have a major cull of elephants in the adjoining national park and all of a sudden the elephants in the private reserve disappeared when they searched for them they eventually found them all bunched up together at the farthest end of the reserve as far away as they could get from the national park. The nearest cull had been 40 miles away and yet the elephants in the reserve had cleared picked up messages from the ones in the park. Thus when culling is taking place it is causing stress to elephants in the whole of the surrounding area even ones far away from the actual cull that are not being targeted.

 

When elephants were being culled initially all of the adults in a herd were killed and the calves left so that they could be captured and sold to zoos and such like however it soon became apparent that the calves were seriously traumatised by this experience it was then decided that the most humane thing to do was kill entire family groups.  However for between 50 and 80% of the time families are not actually all together so it is very difficult when culling to ensure that you have killed every single elephant in the family. Although they are not actually together they will be in communication with each other so you will very likely still be leaving traumatised animals aware that the rest of their family has been killed. Certainly elephant calves orphaned by poachers that are raised in orphanages show clear evidence of being seriously traumatised by their experiences indeed it is suggested that they suffer from a form of PTSD.  As far as I am aware humans and elephants are the only animals known to suffer from PTSD no one would suggest that a red deer suffers from PTSD because other members of the herd have been culled. Also there is plenty of evidence that elephants experience grief for their dead relatives, obviously one has to be careful when interpreting animal behaviour to avoid anthropomorphising but in doing so one shouldn’t go too far the other way and dismiss any suggestion that an animal is experiencing a similar emotion to a human. If we see elephants appearing to mourn their dead rather than say there must be some other explanation maybe we should accept that what they appear to be doing is exactly what they are doing.  Ian Douglas-Hamilton when he was studying elephants in Manyara NP witnessed a cow carrying its dead calf around on its tusks for several days it is hard to conclude anything other than that the animal was grieving. Then there is also another concern about trying to kill entire family groups what does this do to the genetics of the elephant population if you are destroying entire bloodlines.

 

The point is that culling elephants humanely is a lot more complicated than culling deer, or antelopes or grey squirrels or whatever other species we may need or choose to cull. None of this changes the fact that the population of elephants in Hwange is almost certainly far too high or at least that they are too concentrated in specific areas, some of the areas surrounding waterholes in Hwange with all their stunted smashed up trees have come to resemble battlefields. However it does make the decision as to what to do a lot more difficult, when you’ve sat and watched elephants and seen just how intelligent and caring they are you don’t have to be a believer in animal rights (and I am certainly not) to have deep reservations about seeing them culled.


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#24 Geoff

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 06:19 AM

In my view, and I'm used to being in a minority, sterilising animals is less humane than culling them.  It will mess up normal herd behaviour.  In any event, it is probably technically non-feasible, even if one disregards the economics.  Even if applied successfully, it would take too long to have the necessary benefit to the ecosystem

 

@douglaswise  Unfortunately a cull messes up normal herd behaviour too.


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#25 Game Warden

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 06:40 AM

With Kruger elephants being mentioned, here is an old Safaritalk debate about culling its elephant population.


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#26 douglaswise

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 06:46 AM

@ Geoff:

 

Not necessarily.  I would have thought that it depends upon how it's done and which animals are targeted.  Perhaps somebody with more expertise could comment unless you, yourself, have experience of culling elephants.  If you have, you may be able to enlighten us further.  



#27 inyathi

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 09:02 AM

Leaving aside whether elephants can or can’t be culled humanely the other problem is that if you kill just enough animals to reduce the population to below carrying capacity the birth rate goes up so you then have to keep culling on a regular basis. If once you start culling you develop a small industry based around selling the meat and hides this creates employment for a number of people whose jobs then depend entirely on the continuation of regular culling. You have effectively turned elephants into a crop and the question then is whether you are really culling them to protect the habitat or whether you are culling them purely because they are a crop generating income and employment. I am absolutely not against the cropping of game animals on private land as is done in South Africa, I've eaten a fair bit of game meat biltong in my time and enjoyed a nice kudu steak at Vic Falls not so long ago but I'm not really in favour of cropping animals in national parks unless there is good scientific justification for doing so. Yes animals have to pay their way and national parks need money but producing populations of animals that can be cropped for meat or hides or whatever is not the purpose of a national park, on the same principal I wouldn't want to see rainforest national parks selling timber. 

 

As for legalising the trade in ivory I simply cannot see how a legal trade in ivory can ever possibly be made to work, when the ivory trade was previously legal Burundi was exporting 140 tonnes of ivory a year even though there was only one single elephant in the entire country. CITES at one point granted Burundi permission to legally sell a huge stockpile of ivory even though it was quite obvious that it was all illegal poached ivory smuggled into Burundi from around Africa. Sure you could have people in Africa checking tusks before they are exported to confirm they are from Hwange or other parks where legal culling is taking place but the idea that there will also be officials going around shops in China, the Philippines or wherever checking ivory objects to establish where the ivory has come from is in my view fanciful. A legal trade would further encourage demand for ivory, would provide the means to launder ivory exactly as it did before, the huge scale illegal killing of elephants and the smuggling of ivory would continue. If culling is resumed it is inevitable that there will be calls for the trade in ivory to be legalised, in th unlikely event that it is legalised then again the question would be are you really culling elephants to protect the habitat or are you just doing it to harvest their ivory.

 

While I have been to Hwange NP and seen for myself the damage that the damage that the elephants there are causing I have also of course been to Zakouma NP and seen a population of elephants there that have adapted their behaviour to centuries of ruthless hunting and that was on the point if being wiped out by poachers.  Had African Parks not taken over Zakouma when they did and completely overhauled the park’s security the elephant population that now stands at around 470 and is rising would likely by now have been reduced to double figures and they could well have been as good as extirpated. It is extremely doubtful that they could have survived another few seasons of the poaching that was going on there before AP took over. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of culling perhaps thousands of elephants anywhere at a time when entire populations across huge swathes of Central and Western Africa face being literally wiped out by poachers. Even in East Africa in Tanzania a country that has none of the problems with political instability and war that have plagued Central Africa elephants are it seems being almost extirminated with most of the ivory being exported to the Far East coming from there. This has an awful lot to do with rampant corruption in Tanzania but one also has to wonder whether it also has to do with the fact that Central Africa which once had hundreds of thousands of elephants now has very few herds left. If elephants virtually disappear from East Africa elephant poaching will start too become a far more serious problem in Southern Africa than is currently the case then maybe it won’t be necessary to cull Hwange’s elephants because poachers will soon do the job. After all you could argue that this is exactly what happened with rhinos up until sometime in the 80s the Central African Republic had one of the largest populations of black rhinos anywhere in Africa now there is not a single one left. In Cenral Africa rhino poaching was rampant then the rhinos disappeared, likewise in East Africa poaching was rampant and then rhinos disappeared from almost everywhere outside of fenced sanctuaries in Kenya, now rhino poaching is rampant in South Africa because that's where the largest population of rhinos and where the most vulnerable rhinos are. If the demand for ivory continues as it is or worse grows then as elephant populations keep on declining in the rest of the continent the large herds that remain in the south will be targeted more and more.


Edited by inyathi, 14 October 2015 - 10:00 AM.

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#28 inyathi

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Posted 14 October 2015 - 06:42 PM

As to the point about habituation of elephants in national parks that was raised, in Zakouma apart from the few habituated bulls that hang out around the HQ and can be found very easily finding the main breeding herd without spotting them from the air first is very difficult. They still keep to a large extent to the thicker bush and woodland preferring not to come out in to the open where they still don’t really feel safe. On my last visit we really only caught the briefest of views as they crossed the road in front of us and disappeared back into the bush. People going on safari want to actually see elephants and they want to see happy calm elephants, not nervous traumatised elephants that never know when they might be attacked and killed and run for cover at the first sign of humans. Or for that matter elephants that are liable to charge your vehicle every time you try to get close as the elephants in Gorongosa NP in Mozambique apparently still do. The fact is animals in most national parks do become habituated to vehicles and camps and people but I don’t believe that in most cases this is the result of attempts to actively habituate them as is done with say gorillas or chimps it is simply the natural effect of not being hunted. In some instance where elephants respond aggressively towards safari vehicles because of bad experiences in the past then it may be necessary to try and actively habituate them to calm them down for safety as much as anything.  

 

I’m also very uncomfortable with the idea of culling elephants in order to maintain an entirely artificial system that was arguably created primarily to attract tourists. An over abundance of elephants may affect the biodiversity of an area but then in the case of Hwange we are talking about populations of antelopes and other animals that like the elephants are only there at all during the dry season because of the artificial waterholes. By putting in these waterholes we have created populations of animals that cannot exist without these waterholes and we have likewise created a tourist industry that cannot exist without them. No one is ever going to suggest that they should all be switched off to return Hwange to how it was before they were put in giving tourists no reason at all to visit the park. Hwange was basically made a park because it was no good for anything else it was completely unsuited to farming have we by putting in the waterholes created an area that is now very important for the conservation of species like sable that have perhaps lost their habitat elsewhere in areas that were considered suitable for farming. I don’t know but is it really the case that turning off the waterholes would result in the loss of significant populations of animals that are of conservation importance. Warthogs were mentioned earlier, the common warthog lives up to it's name it is still very common and I would assume that almost every major savannah park from South Africa to Senegal has healthy populations of them the species is listed by the IUCN as least concern so if turning off waterholes has a negative impact on warthogs does that matter. Populations of sable or roan may perhaps be of more conservation significance and therefore the impact on these species may matter.

 

Perhaps maybe what they need to do is actually put in more waterholes but then switch them on and off on a rotation so that the number of waterholes that have water in would be the same but when an area is suffering very heavy elephant damage the waterhole would be switched off to encourage the elephants to move elsewhere. Certainly I do think that much more needs to be done to ensure that the elephants can and do move around safely over a much larger area by linking up different parks with wildlife corridors and such like.

 

I accept that the translocation of elephants is expensive, difficult and is not a long term solution to the problem however, when you look at the IUCN distribution map for elephants you see that while there are elephants in the immediate adjoining corner of Angola the only other population shown there is in Kissama NP just south of Luanda.  If you zoom in far enough on the map you can see some of Angola’s other parks like Iona, Bicuar, Mupa, Cangandala, Cameia etc all of which if the information on the map is accurate have no elephants at all. While Mupa appears to have been entirely destroyed every part of the park is now occupied by people to the point that the park really no longer exists I understand that Bicuar is supposedly being rehabilitated and some articles suggest that there are in fact elephants already there either way it is somewhere that surplus elephants could be translocated to and maybe elephants could be moved to some of the other parks as well if they are not too far gone as Mupa is. This would not seriously address Hwange’s problems moving the number of elephants necessary to have a major impact on Hwange would not be possible and in any case the numbers would soon build up again taking the park back to square one but I would still like to see more elephants restored to Angola if that is possible and Hwange would be a good place to source them from.  Putting elephants back into some of these salvageable parks would I hope help ensure that they don’t just go the same way as Mupa, Iona NP is at the northern end of the Namib so maybe if at any point an attempt is made to reintroduce elephants it would be better to translocate desert elephants from Namibia rather than elephants from Hwange.

 

The central question in the whole to cull or not to cull debate just generally is are there parks and other protected areas that are truly big enough to allow natural processes to take place, to allow elephants to be the architects of the landscape as they should be or are we really saying that there is nowhere where we can allow elephants free reign to modify the landscape. Allow nature to control their numbers and natural selection to decide who lives and dies rather than the crude imperfect artificial selection of culling. With enough time and space elephants convert woodlands into grasslands and then back into woodlands again and if there are too many of them when there is major drought lots of them die it’s not pleasant but it is natural. Are we saying that conservation areas are just not big enough to allow these natural processes to happen anymore or in the case of Hwange do the artificial waterholes make the whole situation unnatural and therefore letting nature take its course is not really an option?

 

Do we even know how big a landscape elephants need for us to allow these natural processes to occur? Elephants take down trees creating grassland but as they roam around they also as it were plant new ones in their dung but will these new trees ever get a chance to grow when the elephants are not moving around as they used to. Thinking about it this exactly the same problem that is created when boreholes are put in to provide permanent water for nomadic pastoralists who are then encouraged to settle in one spot and stop moving around resulting in a major problem with overgrazing.

 

Are we really so sure that the changes wrought by elephants are such a bad thing or are some conservationists just scared of change?

 

In the case of Hwange is it really the case that there are far too many elephants or is it just that they are far too concentrated because of the waterholes?  In Mana Pools you may not see the devastated landscapes that you see in Hwange but when you look at the woodlands there you have to ask where all the young trees are? There aren’t any.

 

I don’t really know what the answer is but I do know that while I am perfectly comfortable with culling deer, squirrels, kangaroos and a variety of animals I’m not comfortable with culling elephants at least until a really humane way can be found to do it and one that ideally mimics what would happen in nature when elephants die off naturally due to drought. When elephants were being culled I believe that in Zimbabwe elephants were normally shot whereas in Kruger they would be darted from a helicopter and then a ground team would be sent in to cut their throats a pretty unpleasant job for anyone to have to do. I also believe that if it is to be done then it should be done purely for ecological reasons and not for commercial reasons.

 

I believe as has already been said that when contraception has been tried it was found to mess with the elephant’s behaviour and is therefore not a good alternative to culling.

 

Though it’s not about Hwange here is The Elephant Debate by Daphne Sheldrick this presents various anti culling arguments and of course recounts what famously happened in Tsavo.


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#29 pault

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 02:25 AM

@inyathi   Effort much appreciated. Great summary - really well done.

 

@Soukous Thanks too, for raising the issue and (successfully I think, although I was already aware of it) making the issues clear - even if solutions remain muddy.

 

The problem in the end is one created by well-meaning, responsible, intelligent people either in response to a potential disaster - the gazetting of Hwange without sufficient water resources ) to create a tourist attraction/ recreation space or to help keep animals away from farms... or possible a bit of all three? It's an effort to manage nature and that is not as simple as it seems. I am not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but in places where there is no or littel water available, elephants will dig for it and by that means actually provide water that enables all other creatures to survive. I don't know how deep groundwater is in Hwange and whether there are plenty of seasonal rivers (the beds of these being where the elephants dig. I also don't know how long it would take elephants to find that water and whether those 'spoiled" by artifical availabiulity of water 365 days a year would know how to dig for it. If they could learn and uncderground water is available throughout the year, Anyway, I know very little about these things so I am not suggesting that would be helpful in determining a "solution". Just wanted to add something to the intelligent comments by everyone above.


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Waiting again... for the next time again


#30 elefromoz

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 03:23 AM

@inyathi thank you, you've pretty well covered all aspects, logistical, financial, political, ecological and of course sentimental (for want of a better word) of this debate. For those of us with little to no knowledge in such matters, it makes for fascinating reading, but as always, more questions than answers. I'm probably representative of the majority of the general public who never in their wildest dreams considered culling a proposition in times when all we hear about Elephants is their plight and inevitable demise.
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#31 twaffle

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 05:47 AM

Thank you Soukous for initiating this discussion.  Many of the points raised have been interesting, to say the least.  I have contacted a few of my colleagues who have been field scientists with elephants for comment but no one has had time to respond as yet.  

 

I must say that there is almost a passive aggressive tone of writing from the proponents of culling and if anything is going to cause people with a differing viewpoint to walk away from this debate, it would be that.  In my view.

 

There is also an intransigence of viewpoint, and this may be an accidental byproduct of frustration both with this topic and with the whole subject of trade.  It hasn't gone unnoticed that trading of the byproducts of the elephant cull is advocated.

 

After many years I consider that Bugs has put forward his opinions on trade, culling and hunting in both a succinct and erudite manner.  None of us could be in any doubt about his feelings on these matters.  However, there is little point in debating this issue if the consideration of one's point of view is put forward so forcefully that there is no room for any other point of view.

 

One more point - there is an argument that elephant numbers grow and decline naturally, and they are architects of the African savanna. 

 

This is something that some people are selling, but I am not buying. 

 

 

So the impact on the habitat may be in cycles of thousands of years is now reduced to 100 year cycles, and this doesn't give the habitat time to recover. Its all messed up, and culling is the only option. 

 

 

Some interesting points douglaswise, thank you for your input.  Again, I would say that there are many interesting articles and points worthy of debate that are ignored here on Safaritalk.  Being surprised at the lack of attention any one of them received is something I've given up doing.  Not everyone feels adequately educated on every issue to debate it and there will be some who feel that there is little point going over this issue again when the culling debate has been around for so long, and discussed here previously.  There appears little new.  Making those who haven't put forward an alternate viewpoint feel like they lack interest or that the alternate viewpoint doesn't have educated and experienced proponents is a mistake, I feel.

 

Perhaps it doesn't add so much to this discussion to make assumptions about other ST readers and what their feelings are about animal population control.  There is a tone of denigration about them which is just slightly distasteful.  Habituated animals are a consequence of people entering a protected area and enjoying the wildlife and the environment, spending their money to benefit both the area itself and the people who live nearby.  I thought that was a good thing.  You make it sound slightly grubby, perhaps not your intention.

 

I would say that there is a vast chasm between culling hippos in the 1960s and culling elephants in the 2010s, so vast that the link between the two is stretched beyond believability. McNaughton, et al's paper appears to be very old and I wonder how relevant it is to this discussion.

 

Georgiadis would appear to have a problem if he is concerned with the Hirola population in Laikipia and I wonder the relevance of his information to this discussion also.  

 

You definitely make some interesting points, but have certainly taken on the view that a full control of an ecosystem is the only way forward without perhaps considering whether this makes those protected areas have any longterm value to the planet except as a source of curiosity and income.  

 

@Soukous:

 

I think you have started an extremely interesting and worthwhile subject for discussion.  I am surprised, therefore, at the lack of attention it has received.  I had hoped to read a wider range of responses before wading in myself, but have decided not to wait.

 

From my perspective, it is self evident that Hwange's elephant numbers need to be controlled unless there is opportunity for them to drift into other areas of lower density where they are wanted. However, I suspect that many ST readers are totally antipathetic to any form of wild animal population control for ethical reasons.  Others are motivated by photography and seem to favour NPs and concessions where the wildlife is so habituated that individual animals become as approachable as those in zoos.

 

I have just finished reading a paper by McNaughton et al, entitled "Comparative Ecology of African and South American Arid to Subhumid Ecosystems."  It is free online and can be found by entering the title on Google (my links usually don't work). The comparison is interesting due to the lack of large native mammals in the latter continent.  However, I will focus on some of the authors' conclusions relating to Africa.  In areas that have the potential to carry the most biomass (usually those with water availability rather than soil quality), there is usually reduced biodiversity of herbivorous mammals because, in such circumstances, elephants make up a highly significant component of the biomass and their presence threatens the existence of other species.  I saw evidence of hippos in QENP (Uganda) doing the same thing in the mid 1960s.  Heavy culling resulted, in this case, in both increasing biomass and biodiversity.  I conclude that wildlife, certainly in environments impacted by man (which are nearly all environments on the African Continent - due to human rates of population growth) will benefit from active management.  I would suggest that animal densities can thus be enabled to reach the maximum that can be sustained by natural annual plant productivity.  However, one could go even further and use artificial measures to increase plant productivity.  This may involve the seasonal introduction of cattle to graze down what would otherwise become surplus, indigestible herbage or could be even more interventionist and involve the supplementation of limiting minerals.  In fact, given water availability and mineral provision, one could expect to increase biomass by a factor of ten. Clearly, this would not necessarily be economic and it most certainly would not if no income could be derived from the extra animals.

 

Interestingly, while artificial water holes have upped elephant numbers in Hwange and probably decreased biodiversity, Geogiardis (ex director of Mpala Research Station, Laikipia, Kenya) has suggested that growth in lion numbers has had similar consequences in those parts of Laikipia where mixed game/cattle have replaced cattle ranching - think Grevy, Hartebeest, Hirola, Oryx.

 

I would argue that, if one is going to intervene with the intention of improving upon what would otherwise be available, there has to be a purpose.  There will undoubtedly be a cost.  The purpose should be to enhance both the welfare of the wildlife and the local human communities. The additional costs of active management must, one way or another, be covered. Tourist income derived from photographic safaris is not adequate and neither is that derived from trophy hunting.  Even a combination of the two is likely to fall well short of what is needed and neither is it entirely simple to create a successful combination.  For this reason, I consider that it would be necessary to crop( cull/kill) animals for meat and to control predators when it is deemed that they are in damaging surplus.  In theory, I would also like to see legalisation of horn, tusk and hide trading, but I can also certainly understand and appreciate the counter-arguments.  I like the South African concept of a Central Selling Organisation, but I can also see that it could be potentially damaging to the interests of other range states.  If the concept were to become an international one, agreed by all selling and buying nations and tied to foreign aid, it could, in theory, be hugely beneficial for wildlife conservation in Africa.  However, it would require accurate traceability of traded products and I'm not sure whether this would be possible.

 

At present, NPs are underutilised resources.  It should be possible to manage them more actively while still conserving the wildlife, keeping tourists happy and, more importantly, enhancing the lot of local communities.  Conserve, don't preserve. 

 

Again, I find the following language very demeaning to those Safaritalk members who have chosen not to debate this contentious issue.  What you suspect about your fellow members is not something that needs to be written here and members here on this forum definitely should never feel that they need to explain their opposition or support for any issue.  "Outrage by the ignorant"?  In whose opinion?  How about "outrage by the educated and informed who have a differing point of view".  A rather insensitive parallel drawn between the ignorant, the emotional, the prejudiced and the advantage of having an African despot as a ruler.  Does no one find this offensive.

 

Interesting observations from @Soukous and @Game Warden:

 

Outrage by the ignorant should not be a reason for not taking correct actions.  It is a weakness of democracy that politicians are dictated to on all sorts of issues by voters who have no knowledge of the said issues themselves and are guided solely by emotions and prejudice.  Ideally, I suppose one should attempt to persuade potential dissenters, but, in this case and many others, it would probably take too long and may not succeed anyway.  One might have supposed that one advantage that African rulers may have is the luxury of not being too concerned about public opinion.

 

I suspect that Safaritalk has many correspondents who would oppose a cull.  It seems a shame that none of them have stuck heads above the parapet to give an explanation for their opposition.

 

Soukous, I think the majority of people with an interest in conservation would agree wholeheartedly with your following statement.  Saving habitat is absolutely necessary but more important is the quantity and quality of said habitat.  Unfortunately, the sideshow will continue.

 

 

Bottom line: you cannot hope to save the species (individually or collectively) unless you save the habitat that is necessary for their survival.

 

Hunting vs no hunting is just a sideshow.

 

I think the idea that sterilising animals is less humane and messes up normal herd behaviour more than killing them is just slightly absurd.  I will certainly stand to be corrected if given the appropriate peer reviewed scientific paper.  But that is one statement that I have certainly asked for some expert elephant scientist feed back on.  Perhaps you are right.

 

In my view, and I'm used to being in a minority, sterilising animals is less humane than culling them.  It will mess up normal herd behaviour.  In any event, it is probably technically non-feasible, even if one disregards the economics.  Even if applied successfully, it would take too long to have the necessary benefit to the ecosystem

 

It would be great to bear in mind that just because someone may have a differing point of view, or may choose not to express their point of view at all, it doesn't mean that they are necessarily ignorant nor that their views don't have validity.  Please bear that in mind.


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#32 Soukous

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 07:21 AM

@inyathi   Effort much appreciated. Great summary - really well done.

 

@Soukous Thanks too, for raising the issue and (successfully I think, although I was already aware of it) making the issues clear - even if solutions remain muddy.

 

The problem in the end is one created by well-meaning, responsible, intelligent people either in response to a potential disaster - the gazetting of Hwange without sufficient water resources ) to create a tourist attraction/ recreation space or to help keep animals away from farms... or possible a bit of all three? It's an effort to manage nature and that is not as simple as it seems. I am not sure if anyone has mentioned it, but in places where there is no or littel water available, elephants will dig for it and by that means actually provide water that enables all other creatures to survive. I don't know how deep groundwater is in Hwange and whether there are plenty of seasonal rivers (the beds of these being where the elephants dig. I also don't know how long it would take elephants to find that water and whether those 'spoiled" by artifical availabiulity of water 365 days a year would know how to dig for it. If they could learn and uncderground water is available throughout the year, Anyway, I know very little about these things so I am not suggesting that would be helpful in determining a "solution". Just wanted to add something to the intelligent comments by everyone above.

 

The elephants used to dig for water in Hwange and, to an extent, they still do so at the seeps. But the pumps were in many cases sited where the elephants used to dig.


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#33 Soukous

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 07:27 AM

Good input @twaffle - (spoken like a moderator  :rolleyes: )

 

BTW I am not suggesting that culling is the only solution, I want to stimulate debate that might throw up some new ideas - as I have said, if we do nothing, Hwange will be the loser.

 

I would LOVE it if the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area could be made to work as a meaningful wildlife conservation area - although I don't know how. At the moment it is just lines on a map.


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#34 Game Warden

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 08:17 AM

I would LOVE it if the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area could be made to work as a meaningful wildlife conservation area - although I don't know how. At the moment it is just lines on a map.

 

How would incorporating a number of transfrontier parks encourage movement of elephant numbers if the pumps are going all year, ergo a continuous water supply? Unless the pumps were switched off forcing a migration for water? But then, many of the pumped pans are associated with photo camps, the fuel and maintence, or some cases, solar power systems paid for by them: are these camps going to want to turn off the water supplies and possibly lose their big draw at certain times of the year? Also, if pumps are turned off, what would stop the elephants moving to buffer zones, GMAs and agricultural areas, likely causing human vs. wildlife conflict and bringing them into hunting areas? Unless a pathway of pumped pans was established? How long would it take for the elephants to learn of "safe passage"?

 

Culling is unplatable to many, baby elephants are part of the draw for tourists, so careful planning would have to take place to ensure that there will still be numerous births: and laissez faire - what about a mass die off during drought conditions and how that would affect tourism, i.e., a large number of rotting elephant corpses close to camps, the smell alone would be off putting.

 

@zimproguide was telling me, when I stayed at Camp Hwange of the changed elephant behaviour in drought conditions surrounding dwindling water supplies, even the pumps could not keep up with demand.

 

What of the lesser visited areas of the park, undeveloped for photo tourism: does that suffer the environmental degredation seen around the pumped pans?


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#35 Soukous

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 08:31 AM

 

I would LOVE it if the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area could be made to work as a meaningful wildlife conservation area - although I don't know how. At the moment it is just lines on a map.

 

How would incorporating a number of transfrontier parks encourage movement of elephant numbers if the pumps are going all year, ergo a continuous water supply? Unless the pumps were switched off forcing a migration for water? But then, many of the pumped pans are associated with photo camps, the fuel and maintence, or some cases, solar power systems paid for by them: are these camps going to want to turn off the water supplies and possibly lose their big draw at certain times of the year? Also, if pumps are turned off, what would stop the elephants moving to buffer zones, GMAs and agricultural areas, likely causing human vs. wildlife conflict and bringing them into hunting areas? Unless a pathway of pumped pans was established? How long would it take for the elephants to learn of "safe passage"?

 

 

That was partly my point @Game Warden

It is all very well to draw lines on a map and declare a Transfrontier Conservation Area, but that area encompasses both National Parks and areas of human settlement. Was any thought given to how animals might move between different areas of the Conservation Area? Is there a plan to create corridors?

 

If, a big IF, there was a way to allow free movement of animals within the Conservation Area so that they could access water throughout the year, then the pumps would be redundant. 

Would this make the camps/lodges happy? If they really believe in conservation then it ought to as they'd be able to see animals in a much more natural environment even if they need to drive a bit further to do so, but as would almost certainly have an adverse effect on their business, probably not.


Edited by Soukous, 15 October 2015 - 08:32 AM.

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#36 Game Warden

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 08:38 AM

@Soukous Yes, sorry, that was a general question to everyone, using your idea as a starting point.

 

If elephants would have to cross GMAs and areas of human settlement that would obviously make them legal targets for hunting quotas and illegal targets for poaching where anti poaching would be a lot more difficult to enforce. And how would you get villages and communities on side if perhaps twice a year they would have mass elephant migration through their areas?


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#37 douglaswise

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 04:38 PM

@ Inyathi:

 

I found your comments to be very thought provoking and well argued.  I would like to pick up on a couple of your questions:

 

1) Are there parks that are truly big enough to allow natural processes to take place?

 

I am not really in a position to answer.  I suppose the Serengeti/Mara system with adjoining private conservancies could be. However, having been an intermittent visitor to East and Southern Africa for 60 years, my most prevailing impression has been the development pressure around peripheries of protected areas caused by an unabated explosion of human populations.  I do not anticipate that such pressure will cease, much as I'd like it to.  In consequence, wildlife is squeezed into areas from which it becomes almost impossible to diffuse out.

 

2)  You state that Hwange was basically made a park because it was no good for anything else and completely unsuited to farming.  You then ask whether, by putting in waterholes, we have created an area that is now very important for the conservation of species like sable which may have lost habitat in areas that have been adopted for farming.

 

I would tentatively answer in the affirmative.  I would go further and suggest that, because wildlife has largely been confined to less favoured areas, it is not beyond the whit of man to compensate by enhancing said habitat and allowing a greater biomass and diversity.  We have already passed beyond the natural, however much we may regret it, by pinning animals into less productive areas.  My position is that it is possible and maybe incumbent upon us to try to manage wildlife areas in an active way with the intention of improving upon what would be available through laissez faire preservation.

 

@ Twaffle:

 

You accuse me of passive aggression and making making offensive insinuations about other Safaritalkers' views.  You are probably absolutely correct.  I was being intentionally provocative and it is my debating style to be confrontational, having always found it a good way to learn.  Starting from opposite standpoints is, from my experience, a good way of arriving at eventual syntheses of ideas.  I would, however, like to clarify two points.  I was not intending to suggest that habituation was grubby.  I was agonising with myself about the compatibility or otherwise of culling and contiguous photo tourism.  Also,  I had not intended to imply that Georgiardis' conclusions were in any way based on observations on  hirola in Laikipia. However, the species is apparently very vulnerable to predation by lions and I therefore used it among my examples.

 

I think you might have touched upon the essence of our differences by suggesting that my attitude implied that protected ecosystems had no long term value but for curiosity and as sources of income.  I can live with that although it is an extremely pejorative description of my views.  I would put things somewhat differently.  I advocate managing a circumscribed area that has been dedicated to wildlife in ways that maximise biomass and biodiversity.  The very success of such an endeavour will, sooner or later, mean that surplus animals will be created that will have to moved out of or culled from that circumscribed area on an annual basis.  In order to gain maximum conservation benefits, it will be necessary for income to be generated, preferably from several streams.

 

@Inyathi:  You are concerned that culling of elephants could lead to PTSD and that it might be kinder to allow them to starve in a natural manner.  I do not share your views, but respect your point of view.  I have given some thought and study to humane methods of culling.  It could be worth considering use of carbon dioxide, which is much heavier than air and inhalation of which will kill quickly.  If anyone is interested, it would be worth studying the consequences of the land slip in Lake Nyos in The Cameroons.  This is well documented and information is free online.  In summary, release of CO2 from supersaturated water at the bottom of the lake resulted in the instant deaths of approximately 1500 people, an equal number of cattle and all mammalian and avian wildlife in the vicinity.     


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#38 inyathi

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Posted 15 October 2015 - 11:40 PM

@douglaswise I wasn’t arguing that death by starvation is kinder at all, the point is simply that in a serious drought as occurred in Tsavo all those years ago it was arguably natural selection that determined which animals lived and which died, nature and evolution are not supposed to be kind. What happens in a natural die off like this is surely the very definition of survival of the fittest, culling doesn’t replicate this, which elephants live and which die is down to the park management and not nature. I’m sure starvation is a horrible way to die but it is how elephants naturally die, in old age when their last set of teeth has worn down they can no longer eat properly and they starve, it’s not pleasant but it is natural.  The great die off of elephants in the Tsavo drought is surely not the first time this has happened I imagine that periodically in the drier regions of Africa droughts have caused die offs of elephants ever since African elephants first evolved however many million years ago. 

 

Humans are the only predator of full grown elephants and in parts of Africa certain peoples did virtually specialise in hunting elephants as was the case with the Waliangulu in Tsavo who hunted elephants using hugely powerful bows and arrows tipped with acokanthera poison.  Although historically in pre-colonial times I don’t suppose that they necessarily killed enough elephants to prevent natural die offs, other people like the Barabaig a branch of the Datoga in Tanzania killed elephants occasionally in place of lions as a test of manhood but again not enough to seriously impact the population. In the north Arab horsemen certainly killed large numbers of elephants for their ivory usually hunting them with lances or sometimes swords and this certainly had an impact.  My point is die off’s of elephants due to starvation or even perhaps thirst in bad droughts is natural and if they live into old age they will eventually die of starvation anyway, Where in the past we probably weren't killing enough elephants in most parts of Africa to make a difference now we certainly are, we don't see large natural die offs of elephants anymore because of poaching and maybe as a result we are no longer so accepting of the fact that it is natural. Nature is cruel should we intervene to prevent a natural occurrence and if we intervene for elephants why not for other species as well.  Why not whenever there is a major drought cull all sorts of species to prevent them from suffering?

 

In Kruger National Park in the 60s an extended dry period led to a huge increase in the population of wildebeest wildlife managers decided that there were too many and that they should be culled, Kruger then went through a wet period.

 

Animals’ Influence on the Lanscape and Ecological Importance

 

In Kruger National Park, predators appear to have a major effect on wildebeest population. After increased precipitation and resultant better growth of savanna grasses, wildebeests formed smaller herds and grazes where short grasses prevail. Consequently, losses to carnivores increase. Decreasing wildebeest population, however led to the fallacy that grassland carrying capacity had been exceeded. Therefore wildlife managers carried out additional culling to adjust wildebeests to the ‘right numbers’. However after culling was stopped, wildebeest decline continued, probably due to the predators’ impact.

 

 

Due to the ongoing decline in the population of wildebeest it was then decided to cull lions and spotted hyenas to in the hope that this would halt their decline but it did not and in the end this predator control was abandoned having been found to have had no positive benefit.  Often times we interfere with nature for the best of reasons thinking we know what we are doing when really we don’t as this Kruger example illustrates. It also worries me that when you introduce the commercial aspect of trade in elephant products that the decision to cull is no longer being taken for purely ecological reasons, having said that I wouldn’t want to see large numbers of elephants killed and the meat left to rot either. As I said earlier if you reduce numbers to below carrying capacity the birth rate goes up if you are exploiting the elephants commercially you might actually see that as a good thing. Is there then a conflict between culling to preserve habitat and culling for commercial exploitation?

 

Conservations in the UK have for some time now been talking about the need for what they call ‘landscape scale conservation’ the need to recreate and expand habitat outside our nature reserves so that rare wildlife can expand back into the wider landscape. Otherwise the fear is that our reserves may prove to be too small in the long term to save the species they were set up to protect. It concerns me that the way the population is rising in Africa we may in the long run not be able to practice ‘landscape scale conservation’ to the extend required to allow elephants to live as they should. However I think as far as possible we should strive to create and maintain wildlife corridors linking parks and other protected areas and should resist the temptation to put up fences for as long as possible. Otherwise we will just end up with parks that are too small to maintain their wildlife long term without very intensive management.    

 

In a recent article in the Times ‘Africa’s Forest Elephants Drink at the well of death” about the poaching of forest elephants at Dzangha Bai in C.A.R. the elephant researcher Andrea Turkalo said that even if we can end the poaching she was worried for the long term survival of forest elephants because of human demographics. That demand for land for agriculture, land to grow yet more palm oil, logging, mining etc will result in less and less habitat for forest elephants.  

 

I didn’t think there was any point in posting a link as you have to subscribe to the Times however the article was written by their Africa Correspondent Jerome Starkey and I see that the article is on his website here.

 

He also has some amazing photos on Flickr

 

https://flic.kr/ps/xsQnF

 

I suggested in my last post that culling Hwange's elephants may become academic because poachers will do the job and see that they have just poisoned a whole lot more elephants in the park unfortunately cyanide is far too readily available because of its use in gold mining.

 

If elephant poaching can be brought under control then I'm sure the question of whether to cull elephants or not will become more and more pressing in many conservation areas not just Hwange and if contraception is not an option then I am not opposed to the idea of finding genuinely humane methods of culling elephants if there's no other option. Of course if we could just do something about our own numbers we might not have to worry quite so much about there being too many elephants.


Edited by inyathi, 15 October 2015 - 11:49 PM.

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#39 Bugs

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 06:05 AM

@ Geoff:

 

Not necessarily.  I would have thought that it depends upon how it's done and which animals are targeted.  Perhaps somebody with more expertise could comment unless you, yourself, have experience of culling elephants.  If you have, you may be able to enlighten us further.  

 

I know this may sound daft - claiming to know something from reading a book.. But Ian Manning, who I met through Safartalk gave me the book he wrote. They were required to cull elephant with darts rather than bullets. It was a result of pressure from animal rights groups in an attempt to be humane. 

 

In fact this was far less humane than shooting them.

 

Oddly enough I met a person once who was doing a study on stress in wild animals during capture. He would take blood samples of animals during capture and he also followed hunts where he took blood samples of animals shortly after they were shot. He said the preliminary results were that capture is far more stressful than being shot. But then - I sort of expected that result. 

 

I have to say the story about the elephants feeling the communication miles away is a little difficult to swallow. I watched the film about this pride of lions that specialise in killing elephant - now if it takes about 2 to 6 hours to actually kill the terrified elephant, you would imagine it got the message through to all other elephant, especially as its fellow elephants have watched the whole thing play out. Buy - the next day other elephants fall into the same trap. If your theory was correct - then all the elephant in the area would be huddled in the far corner of Hwange. 


Edited by Bugs, 16 October 2015 - 06:11 AM.

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#40 douglaswise

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 08:14 AM

@ Inyathi:

 

I really don't think we have that many differences.  I most certainly wouldn't disagree that wildlife managers can sometimes make decisions which, with hindsight, prove to be the wrong ones.  However, I do wonder about your survival of the fittest suggestion in the case of exceptional and periodic drought. I accept that it could give selective advantage in the case of a gradual drying of the ecosystem.

 

During the course of this discussion, several other questions have occurred to me:

 

1)  To what extent did human activities either create or expand the Sahara desert?  Is Hwange at risk of desertification as a  consequence of ecosystem damage consequent upon surplus elephants, themselves, ironically, the consequence of man made water holes?  (Even if the answer to the latter question is affirmative, I would prefer to see culling rather than shutting off the artificial water supplies).

2)  Is the pumped water in Hwange a sustainable supply or is it coming from what are essentially mined sources which are not replaceable?

3)  Would it be better to provide water via sand dams rather than in open ponds?  This would certainly reduce evaporative water loss?  It has already been suggested that elephants would dig for water from the former and that certain other species, at least, would be able to exploit the elephants' endeavours.

4)  It is my understanding that anthropogenic global warming will result in climate change in central African regions such that droughts will become more frequent and severe.  Given that wildlife has been pushed into the more arid regions, won't lack of active management exacerbate their problems?

 

@ Bugs:

 

Measuring cortisol levels at times of anticipated stress is or was a favourite activity for research students/animal welfare "scientists" who had little understanding of physiology.  Stress is only harmful if it exceeds coping ability - something that may occur during animal capture, but only if an animal is restrained and unable to use its muscle pumps to move blood around the body.  Interestingly, first time parachute jumpers seem to produce the highest cortisol levels I've ever read about and peaks occur well before they leave the aircraft.  The stress is not harmful to them, possibly beneficial.  It is worth noting that cortisol levels are also markedly elevated during human sexual intercourse.

 

By the way, you say you don't buy into my theory of terror spreading to elephant groups miles away from an aversive experience.  It was not a theory that I propounded and I, too, am sceptical about it.  However, I don't discount the suggestion that elephants can produce distance-carrying infra sound.  However, I don't know what those sound messages are able to convey to remote animals.







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