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Hwange's Dilemma

Hwange Wankie Zimbabwe elephant culling

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#41 Bugs

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 08:49 AM

 

@ 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.

 

 

Interesting, and of course you are correct - wild animals need stress. I suppose humans do too. 

 

 

 

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.

 

Absolutely - they can communicate over a long distance. But - I am less convinced that they can communicate any difference between having a member torn apart by lions and to communicate that the herd is being culled, or being chased by a helicopter to be sterilised. 


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#42 ZaminOz

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 09:12 AM

Culling would be a terrible waste of elephant lives.

 

There are many very vocal anti-hunting / anti-culling activists who have trunk loads (or should that be truck loads as my auto correct suggested) of more available cash than the likes of me. Derek Joubert, Ricky Gervaise to name a couple off the top of my head.

Wouldn't it be nice if they put more than just their words (or in Ricky's case his Facebook account) to use and got together with their friends and financed the translocation of whole family groups of elephants from Hwange to say Kafue NP, or Nsumbu NP or  Gorongosa NP?

 

Or am I just having a naïve fantasy moment... like when I though someone who looked like she might be Jessica Biel was about to sit next to me on a plane.. in economy class...


Edited by ZaminOz, 16 October 2015 - 09:13 AM.

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#43 Sangeeta

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 04:26 PM

 

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.

 

Yes, I wish we would. 

 

With continent-wide ele numbers plummeting at the rates they are and with the latest ele numbers in Zim, esp numbers in the Zambezi Valley, showing alarming declines 

 

http://www.bloomberg...t-from-poachers

 

http://www.zamsoc.org/?p=2088

 

it boggles the mind that the focus of this discussion should be on culling instead of on the many other proposals that have been raised in the course of this discussion, such as how to make the Transfrontier Park really function as it ought, or how to translocate animals to places that have the habitat to support them. 

 

Frankly, in this day and age, when these animals are already facing the kind of existential pressure they are, I find discussions about culling not even remotely interesting or controversial or eliciting of any outraged response. I just find them repulsive and paradoxical.


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#44 douglaswise

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Posted 16 October 2015 - 07:56 PM

@ Sangeeta:

 

I don't think anyone likes the idea of culling.  However, unless anyone can come up with a practical means of allowing elephants to get themselves to where they are wanted or can come up with an affordable means of forcefully translocating them by the thousands, don't you think that culling a proportion of the population may be the best means of safeguarding the habitat and the remaining elephants?  Is it necessarily repulsive to opt for the lesser of two evils?



#45 Sangeeta

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Posted 17 October 2015 - 12:07 AM

@douglaswise - I believe that humans beings have an endless ability to devise clever strategies and stratagems to kill things. And because we're so good at this, it is much easier for us to address these complex issues from the killing side of the equation than from the conservation/preservation side of the equation. 

 

For example, I have seen myself that whenever we need alternatives to photo tourism anywhere at all, then hunting will inevitably pop up as the number one "practical" idea most people will ever proffer as a solution. Not because there may not be another solution if we thought about it long enough and hard enough, but because this is the easy solution, the existing solution and, what the heck, we're good at killing things, so why not solution. And so also when we need solutions for habitat loss and degradation, again culling is apparently the "practical" idea du jour. But it's so easy to do that. Yup, we could go out and gas them or poison them or shoot them or slit their throats or whatever is the preferred method to dispatch them humanely and tidy up our park. We're already experts at this stuff (Mr. Thomson quoted here could probably easily write up a plan in 10 minutes given his vast experience with culling in both Hwange and Gonarezhou). To me, this solution warrants neither much thought nor discussion. Given the dire situation these animals are in, this solution is indeed repulsive and anachronistic - and actually, on further thought, it is such a cop out too.

 

When I see the excellent germs of ideas that came up during this discussion, such as how to make the Kavango Transfrontier Park a place worthy of its name (so that we don't have ele refugees from the surrounding countries destroying the remaining habitat of Botswana, soon to be the only remaining safe haven for eles in that part of the world) - or @inyathi's always thoughtful and well-researched ideas for translocating eles to parks in Angola (not that far from Hwange as the crow flies actually) - it would be so refreshing to see us talk about how we could possibly help save animals, repopulate depleted parks whilst saving the habitat of overpopulated parks, instead of reverting to the same old kill, cull, whatever.

 

I am not saying that these ideas have not been followed up at all - certainly Matt expanded on it and others have branched off from them too. What I am saying is that there are many more interesting things to talk about in this thread than culling. And please forgive me for not responding directly to your question - it was intentional, but my intent was not rude.


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#46 douglaswise

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Posted 17 October 2015 - 07:12 AM

 Sangeeta:

 

I can appreciate where you are coming from.  You would prefer to discuss solutions to the "Hwange Dilemma" that don't involve deaths of elephants, certainly before getting on to the subject of culling.  That's fine.  I would love to learn more about the economic and sociological consequences of alternatives and, being interested in practical details, would like to read a discussion of the mechanisms.

 

You seem to suggest that culling is a simple solution unworthy of further attention.  It is my personal view that it is much more complicated than you imply on the basis that a) you would wish to interfere with normal behaviour as little as possible, B) it would be taking place in the vicinity of tourists, c) it should be conducted as humanely as possible, d) one should attempt to provide maximum value from the slaughtered product, both to pay for the operation and, in the case of surplus, for the benefit of local communities.  There's a lot to discuss there too, even if you're not interested in participating.  I am not attempting to preach. I would genuinely like to learn more about both alternatives to culling and about best methods of culling..



#47 Game Warden

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Posted 17 October 2015 - 07:29 AM

What is the cost, per elephant, (or if neccesary, per breeding herd) to be translocated from Zim to another African country? (Not considering abroad, whether it be to China or some other zoo facility). What steps would have to be taken to ensure they would not migrate back? And how would it be funded? When you think that financing can be raised to transport retired circus lions back to South Africa, or rhino from a zoo to a conservancy in Kenya, can we not motivate a similar undertaking with the elephants?

 

What would be the criteria for selecting them? How many, logistically could be moved, annually and would translocation be in the numbers to even make a dent on the problem which this topic seeks to debate? Could translocation be done in conjunction with birth control? And what is the risk, that, once translocated, the would be subject to poaching threats. It's good in principle, but if there is nothing in place to protect them once moved, would it be a worthwhile undertaking?

 

And yes, @ZaminOz makes the point about celebs: if they could galvanise their followers to each donate 10 dollars, that would raise a good proportion of translocation costs. (Depending on the numbers to be moved of course.)


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#48 Bugs

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Posted 17 October 2015 - 08:40 AM

@Sangeeta We have to remember that this is Africa and there are unbelievably poor desperate and deprived people living surrounding National parks. Also remember that wildlife habitat in Africa vast. In fact the sheer vastness of the land under wildlife is part of the problem. It would be far easier if it were a wealthier continent with less habitat to look after. 

 

The cost of moving elephant is simply outrageous, and you have no guarantee that they will stay where you have delivered them. I remember talking to Calvin Cottar about this and they did this in Kenya at huge expense - moved elephant across the country, but as they were released they simply bombshelled. Many died trying to make their way back and the exercise was a net failure. 

 

Now - lets look one of these Africans living in poverty in the face and tell them that you are planing on spending zillions of dollars to move the elephants that he regards as a pest. Even here in Cape Town the people have accused the municipality putting baboon priority above humans. The cost to keep a single baboon roaming free already is 4 times more than the minimum wage. 


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#49 Bugs

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Posted 19 October 2015 - 01:25 PM

After watching this film again - I thought it would be appropriate to drop in this thread as well. It goes into detail about Hwange's elephant problem, and there are interviews with Dr Rowan Martin ex director of Zimbabwe national Parks and many Professor Brian Child - who played a part in implementing CAMPFIRE..  

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=ovfO7k5a_D8


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#50 Sangeeta

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 01:27 AM

@Bugs, sorry to say this but any pronouncements by Dr Rowan Martin don't impress me particularly. He may have played an important role in the founding history of CAMPFIRE but these days, he is simply an 'independent wildlife consultant' who writes up whatever is needed by Conservation Force and SCI.

https://www.conserva..._2014_Issue.pdf

 

https://www.conserva...mment Final.pdf

Read the above. In this report, he states that the Zambezi Valley ele numbers are on the rise - when we've just heard that there has been a 70% decline in numbers. He's saying anything to make the point he wants to make - just dressing it up in italics and adding numbers doesn't cut it.

 

The head of the Zim Campfire Program is regularly hosted by SCI in the US

http://www.outdoorhu...ssional-caucus/

 

But most absurd of all, Conservation Force and the like actually fund the very Elephant Management Programs in Zimbabwe that are supposed to justify to the USFWS that Zim has a plan for the long term survival and thriving of the species.

 

(Btw, they are not shy about publicizing their efforts either) - see: https://www.conserva..._2015_Issue.pdf

and https://www.conserva...vember 2014.pdf

 

So you can understand that I take anything coming out of the mouths of these so-called experts, workshops and conferences with very large & many multiple grains of salt.

 

We thought we had a lot of eles in Tanzania and look what happened. We thought we had a lot of eles in Mozambique (Niassa) and look what has happened. We may think we have a lot of eles in Hwange, but with the poachers and hunters running amok in Zim, for how long do you think we'll have a lot of eles in Hwange?


Edited by Sangeeta, 20 October 2015 - 01:33 AM.

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#51 Bugs

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 06:32 AM

 

 

 

https://www.conserva...mment Final.pdf

Read the above. In this report, he states that the Zambezi Valley ele numbers are on the rise - when we've just heard that there has been a 70% decline in numbers. He's saying anything to make the point he wants to make - just dressing it up in italics and adding numbers doesn't cut it.

 

 

 

He said that elephant numbers in Zimbabwe are still at 80 000+  and they can only support 40 000. The numbers have increased in Gona-re-zhou and Hwange. He did not say they increased in Zambezi valley. The reason for the decline in Zambezi valley could be due to a number of causes, and that has not been determined. 

 

 

 

We thought we had a lot of eles in Tanzania and look what happened. We thought we had a lot of eles in Mozambique (Niassa) and look what has happened. We may think we have a lot of eles in Hwange, but with the poachers and hunters running amok in Zim, for how long do you think we'll have a lot of eles in Hwange?

 

I have just got back from Niassa - the challenges and pressures they are having there are extreme, and complex. Its impossible to simplify the situation in response to what you have said above. You have just taken three countries and lumped them into one sentence. Mozambique has just come out of civil war, Niassa size, habitat and remoteness is extraordinary, and Mozambicans are extremely poor. Zimbabwe is feeling the pain of Mugabe for years, - we should be grateful that things aren't a whole lot worse. Tanzania is another completely different situation, which I am still trying to better understand. 


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#52 LastChanceSafaris

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 10:08 AM

After having read all the posts, and then slept on it, here is my five cents worth......

1. The logistics of culling are now beyond consideration, the reasons are amply covered by several other posts.

2. Hwange is part of the megaherd range that extends across Botswana and into Namibia, SW Zambia and SE Angola, i.e. the KAZA TFCA. Culling (as it has in the past) creates a vacuum that will be filled by others from the megaherd - a common ecological occurrence. The rate of population increase after culling is as much a factor of stimulated breeding as it is immigration - at least in Hwange's case.

3. Point 2 makes the decision for culling on purely ecological grounds quite pointless. This begs the question....

4. Is the reason for culling then stimulated by the economic benefits it brings rather than the ecological benefits?

5. To date, I have yet to find CONCLUSIVE evidence that culling swings the ecological 'damage' in the opposite direction (please note the quotation marks. Damage is a human concept that Nature is quite unaware of). This despite Zimbabwe having culled more than 40,000 elephants since the inception of its culling policy.

6. Hwange is sadly reaping the consequences of the (at the time) ignorant, but well meaning, decision to place waterholes in what is effectively an extension of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. If the TRUE desire is to relieve the browsing pressure (note, not damage) on Hwange's ecosystem, then the waterhole system has to be phased out and allow the park to revert (over time) to a CKGR type national park. 

 

My mantra is that for every problem there is a solution, and I challenge the establishment to start looking and thinking out of the proverbial box. Globally, reductionism in wildlife management has nearly always led to ecological calamities. Shouldn't we be doing something else? Well someone is, and his name is Allan Savory. The man whose research developed the culling policy for Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), now regrets his involvement and strives every day to change the long lasting effects it has had. Yes, he believes (as do I) that the culling of the 70's & 80's is the primary culprit for habitat degradation (I see the raised eyebrows). Watch his TED talk and check out the Savory Institute to get some idea of what he has achieved in 'healing land' using cattle (yes, cattle) in large numbers to mimic the large herds of herbivores that were also culled in an effort to eradicate FMD. You will be astounded. The Savory Insitute runs a research and teaching ranch outside Vic Falls call Dinamgombe Ranch. It sits neatly between Kazuma NP and the Chobe, right in the middle of prime elie country. What has been the result of his methods here? Erosion has been halted, rivers remain flowing, grass cover is ABUNDANT, browse is ABUNDANT, and wildlife numbers have increased, particularly elephant and buffalo. The problem he now faces is that he doesn't have enough cattle. That's right, the land needs even more herbivores to maintain its high rate of production.

 

Am I suggesting cattle are introduced to Hwange. Hell yes, why not? As I said we need to challenge the perceived norms. However, ONLY under the Savory model, not using current pastoralist practices. Think of the knock on effects to local villages and their economies. Suddenly the NP's become a true asset, not something that is elitist in the eyes of the locals. What about predators you ask? Well at Dinamgombe, there are more lions than in the whole of Kazuma NP (Savory pers comm.) and so far they have lost one cow, but they are producing a lot more calves, so it remains a net gain. Until such time as the mega herds of herbivores return to places like Hwange, why shouldn't we use cattle as surrogate healers?

 

On a final, personal, note. I find the concept of mass culling (elephants, seals, dolphins) despicable, and when it comes down to the crux of it, it is always driven by greed, not ecology. The ability of our species to inflict 'zooicide' (apparently genocide is only for humans and I don't think slaughter is definitive enough) is one of our most heinous attributes.  

 

Now that I have effectively tossed a leopard amongst the guineafowl, let me sit back and watch the fallout....

 


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#53 egilio

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 07:18 PM

@LastChanceSafaris Some very good points about culling.

However, I have to disagree with you on the Savory stuff. There's quite a bit of critique on the way they have done their work and science. 

For example:

inexactscience

slate.com

terrastendo.net

 

I guess 'holistic' also implies you have to be critical to everything.


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#54 Sangeeta

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Posted 20 October 2015 - 09:17 PM

 

 

 

 

https://www.conserva...mment Final.pdf

Read the above. In this report, he states that the Zambezi Valley ele numbers are on the rise - when we've just heard that there has been a 70% decline in numbers. He's saying anything to make the point he wants to make - just dressing it up in italics and adding numbers doesn't cut it.

 

 

 

He said that elephant numbers in Zimbabwe are still at 80 000+  and they can only support 40 000. The numbers have increased in Gona-re-zhou and Hwange. He did not say they increased in Zambezi valley. The reason for the decline in Zambezi valley could be due to a number of causes, and that has not been determined. 

 

 

 

@Bugs - here is the extract from that report on which I based by comment above re the Mid-Zambezi Valley eles:

 

2. Mid-Zambezi Valley The Mid-Zambezi Valley has been surveyed consistently (in 2001 , 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010), and as recently as 2011. ZimParks Resp. p. 7; Chewore Safari Area, Elephant Database.  In 2005, this area was estimated to have approximately 30,000 elephant, "the highest ever for the region indicating that the population was increasing." ZimParks Resp. p. 7. In a 2010 aerial survey, the Chewore Safari Area (of approximately 3,400 krn2 ) was estimated to have 5,000 elephant (or 1.5 elephant/krn2 ). See Chewore Safari Area 2010, Elephant Database. The Mid-Zambezi Valley shares its elephant populations with the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia and the Magoe in Mozambique (ZimParks Resp. p. 7), which also requires shared management and surveying. (See page 12 below on Transfrontier Conservation Areas). Similar to the water hole census in Hwange: The Wildlife and Environment Society of Zimbabwe have done an annual game count in Mana Pools National Park in the middle of the lower Zambezi Valley since 1995. While conducted by wildlife enthusiasts and not as part of a scientific programme, the count uses the same transects and methodology each year and can give an indication of population trend. The results (Figure 1) would indicate a general increase in the elephant population over the last 20 years. Safari Operators of Zimbabwe, Status of Elephant Populations, Hunting, and Anti Poaching Effort in Safari Areas in Zimbabwe ("SOAZ Report"), p. 2 (including graph showing population increase).

 

The bolding is mine. What have I misunderstood here?

 

Granted the 2005 numbers quoted here are old numbers, but this is no way reassures me. Rather, it makes me question why such old numbers were quoted in the report, when in the preceding sentence, they themselves say that the last survey was conducted in 2011. Was there a downward trend showing already? I don't know this, but I suspect this to be the case. I have looked everywhere for the 2011 Mid-Zambezi Ele Survey numbers but I cannot find them.  

 

He also seems to be extrapolating from the ele numbers obtained from the Mana Pools annual game count to the entire mid-Zambezi Valley, and certainly, when I read it this paragraph, I understand from this that the ele population of the mid-Zambezi is growing and thriving.

 

Which leads me to the conclusion that when someone (from either side, btw, I will grant you that) wishes to make a point, they can massage whatever numbers they want to make them look however they want it to look.

 

If I look back at the number of times you yourself have discounted papers because, according to you they were either written or sponsored by animal rightists, you can understand, I hope, that people who work for Conservation Force etc are not likely to be considered very reliable or trustworthy opinions for people coming to this issue from the opposite side of the fence.

 

But I don't want to get into a hunting/not-hunting or culling/not-culling debate at all - I just wanted to say that the very experts and scientists and workshops and conferences and papers that we base so much of our thinking on is already so biased & loaded & simply reinforces our preexisting points of view.

 

I really do want to discuss the points you raised about translocation (but I need to educate myself a bit first before I can talk to you sensibly) and most of all, about the Transfrontier Park, because I think we can all find some congruence on that last point.


Edited by Sangeeta, 20 October 2015 - 09:27 PM.

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#55 egilio

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Posted 21 October 2015 - 03:12 AM

Elephants are known to migrate to safe havens. Apparently Hwange is safer than other areas in Zimbabwe and across in Zambia. Should you now cull to create more room for more elephants to come in? Or should maybe the management in the areas outside Hwange be conducted in a 'smarter' way? IE, create safe areas for elephants. No hunting, relatively high anti-poaching efforts and away from human settlements. 


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#56 LastChanceSafaris

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Posted 22 October 2015 - 06:54 AM

@egilio

Amen to that (safe havens)!

The thing about the Savory stuff is that the proof is in the pudding. And not only in Africa, but on 5 continents. Sadly established science and institutes that have been teaching something for decades resist anything that counters the 'accepted' science. Scientific history is littered with this - from Galileo to continental drift. It takes time to get the 'benchmark' institutes to come round to different science and thinking that completely flies in the face of what is considered 'the norm'.

As I said - can we not think, and act, out of the boundaries set by institutionalised thinking, particularly if it is not working? 


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#57 Sverker

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Posted 22 October 2015 - 02:55 PM

From Davison´s book I remember that he started the artificial waterholes because the access to the Gwaii river was fenced out.

 

So how natural is the wildlife in Hwange?


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#58 egilio

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Posted 22 October 2015 - 06:16 PM

Here's a paper reviewing Savory's initial trials. They mention some key points which he oddly did not mention in his TED talk.

The years of the initial trials had above average rainfall (>24% more)

He had to supplement feed his livestock

The livestock became stressed and lost weight, enough to compromise the profitability of higher numbers of livestock.

 

Another oddity. Savory doubt that his method could be tested experimentally. But testing the method experimentally would be THE proof that the method works, and would work in other geographic areas too. 

But he also claims it works in other geographic areas, and that he has done so. 

 

Others have tried and failed.

So why is it so difficult for others, independent of Savory, to replicate his methods? Did he not clearly write out his methods?



#59 douglaswise

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 03:14 PM

I agree with @ egilio that @ LastChanceSafaris' claims relating to the benefits of Savory's holistic grazing system are overstated.  I very much doubt that Savory, himself, would claim that his methods could solve the "Hwange Dilemma".

 

If holistic grazing has any benefit, it is because it can obviate the need for burning which reduces organic soil carbon.  In areas that are not carrying sufficient livestock (wild or domesticated) relative to the potential determined by plant productivity, a surplus of indigestible, lignified grass will accumulate.  Without burning, this will suppress new growth. However, in the absence of migrating grazers, surplus vegetation will almost inevitably be present at the end of the rainy season and subsequently rapidly deteriorate towards inedibility.  This surplus could usefully be consumed before its deterioration by introducing and then removing domesticated grazers, arguably more beneficial than burning.  Another approach might be to cut the surplus before it lignifies, leaving it as useful hay for wild grazers during dry periods (baling not necessary).  Yet another approach would be to provide block feeding (urea and molasses) which would enable the otherwise indigestible dry season grass to be made use of.  Thus, there are four human interventions that might be used to overcome seasonal grass growth characteristics of which burning is the most common, the cheapest, but probably the least useful.  The others are all likely to increase biomass.  If this increase is not to involve domesticated stock, it will require sustainable cropping of wildlife to pay for the extra management inputs.

 

Hwange's problems are not going to be solved in any of the above ways.  Here, point sources of permanent water have allowed biomass to increase above what the peripheral vegetation can sustain.  Over time, this is clearly not sustainable - animals will die in large numbers, but, in the meantime, there will be so much botanical damage that desertification will ensue.

 

One anti-culling argument relates to density dependent mortality.  I cannot accept this as valid.  Overcrowded populations are under considerable nutritional and social stress.  As such, their reproductive rates will be sub-optimal and their welfare compromised.  If one reduces population density, reproductive rates will increase, an indication of fitness and good welfare. It has been suggested that culling elephants would be a waste of time because their numbers would increase by 10%/annum, allowing a population doubling every 7 years.  (NB, if culling is as stressful as some claim, reproductive rate wouldn't increase.)   The anti-cull argument only makes sense if one considers a one-off cull.  If one wants a sustainable elephant population in Hwange and elephants can't diffuse naturally from the area into contiguous elephant-suitable/friendly habitat, culling will need to be continuous or one will have to ship in supplementary feed.

 

I find talk of semi-continental megaherds to be mere hand-waving.  While humans continue both to multiply and persevere with subsistence farming, there will be less and less space available for elephants.  To the extent that many conservationist efforts focus on helping local communities to carry on in a more comfortable, but essentially similar, way, they could be said to be exacerbating the problems for wildlife in the long term.


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#60 LastChanceSafaris

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 09:49 AM

@douglaswise and @egilio

 

Your points are well taken and your comments are valid under accepted science. Please visit Dinamgombe the next time you are in the Vic Falls area and see the difference with your own eyes. The constant state of flux and number of variables in each environment concerned make 'replication', 'repetition' etc. extremely difficult. Those folk who have managed to 'replicate' (for want of a better word) the system swear by it - from the Karoo to Texas to Sweden. Holistic grazing is NOT about stocking rates. It is a means to an end for;  reversing soil erosion, increasing water retention, reducing fire dependency (a regular Hwange management tool BTW). All that ultimately (takes about 5-7 years) leads to higher productivity of the land.

As much of a disciple that I am, all I am trying to do is shed blinkers and get people to start thinking that there MAY be another way. When conclusive evidence is presented to me that culling 'works' I will reconsider it. So far the only reversal in environmental degradation I have seen is at Dinamgombe where elephant numbers have gone up, not down.


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