Rwenzori

Good fences make safe lions - Born free is good, but protected is better

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Posted (edited)

Of course it’s clear what the real issue at the heart of this problem is and that is human population growth. The current population of Malawi is 17,734,757 and if the growth rate continues at the current level with women in rural areas having on average 6 children by 2050 the population will reach 37 million. Assuming there won’t be any further translocations of elephants to Nkhotakota after next year then in roughly the time it will likely take for the 620+ elephants to increase to 2,000 the human population of Malawi will have more than doubled. With more and more people living around parks and reserves fences will be essential not just to keep the animals in but to prevent encroachment. Otherwise people will be taking their livestock in to parks ro graze or going in to cut trees for firewood etc.

 

Malawi Population Matters

 

The projection is that the population of Africa will reach 4 billion before it stabilises, I believe there will be little option but to fence all parks and reserves that can be fenced. However having said that I think that we should strive to avoid this for as long as possible and ensure that animals that are currently still able to migrate can do so for as long as is feasable. The original article mentioned Tarangire in Tanzania and how fencing the park would prevent the wildebeest and zebra from migrating out of the park as they currently do. If these animals were no longer able to move out on to the Masai Steppe there would undoubedtly be a significant decline in their populations. Recently a BBC documentary followed the migration of plains zebras in Botswana from the Chobe River floodplains south to Nxai Pan NP a long and dangerous journey which the zebras make because for them the grass really is greener in Nxai Pan when they get there. If this migration route was blocked by fences or some other obstructions the zebra population would undoubtedly crash. Besides species that need to actively migrate and that in some locations may include elephants there other species like as I say wild dogs that naturaly roam over very large areas. Wild dogs will not survive in fenced reserves without intensive management and if at anytime that management stops for some reason they will then die out. We are in danger of creating a situation where wildlife will not survive without continous human intervention and the funding and continuence of this management will depend on the will of politicians or the involvement of organisations like African Parks Network which in turn relies on donor funding.

 

@douglaswise you’ve on a number of occasions spoken in favour of elephant culling this is something that may at some point become inevitable but it is certainly not something I would welcome. I have absolutely no objection to for example the culling of deer as I stated in the Hwange thread but I have real concerns about the culling of elephants. Especially in fenced parks, Hwange NP is 1,469,872ha in size in comparison Liwonde National Park is just 46,968ha, I do not believe that culling elephants in such a small fenced area can ever be an option, what the alternative is when there is no longer anywhere to move surplus elephants to I don’t know but I’m convinced that another solution will have to be found. Removing elephants entirely from some of the smaller parks and taking them elsewhere would not be an ideal solution either quite apart from the fact that tourists want to see them elephants as well as knocking over trees also plant them. I wouldn't be surprised if there are tree species in the Aberdares for example that rely entirely or almost entirely on elephants to distribute their seeds.

 

This photo taken in Mikongo Forest in Lope National Park in Gabon shows what's known as an elephant garden, tree seedlings growing in a deposit of elephant dung.

 

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There are already parks like Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda from which elephants have disappeared entirely, what effect this will have on the ecology of the forest, the trees and other plant species only time will tell, unless elephants can be reintroduced from somewhere.

 

Having spent many happy hours watching elephants around Africa and in Asia nothing will convince me that culling elephants is really no different to culling any other animal. For reasons I gave in the Hwange thread culling elephants is entirely different to culling antelopes or here in the UK deer something I have no problem with at all.

Edited by inyathi

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@inyathi:

 

The logic of your argument relating to fences and human/elephant conflict seems to have led you to an inevitable conclusion. Having reached it, you appear to "bury your head in the sand" when it comes to the only solution that you can think of, namely culling. Culling, you say, is a good solution for surplus red deer in the UK, but cannot be envisaged for elephants, particularly in small, fenced parks that are surrounded by human development and lack escape corridors. (You do not really explain why the size of the park is relevant.) Your objection to elephant culling seems to stem from the fact that you would wish to accord them exceptional rights. Having spent " many happy hours" watching their behaviour has led you to the opinion that their apparent intelligence elevates them above other species and that they should be afforded special status. Fine, if that's what you believe, but I think it's incumbent on those with your views to find solutions other than culling rather than adopting a negative "hand wringing" posture that merely dictates what is unacceptable. (FWIW, I am unconvinced that behavioural signs of intelligence are necessarily evidence of possession of a mind that is capable of psychological suffering in like manner to our own.)

 

In fairness, you do accept that culling may eventually become necessary and that all wildlife areas may have to be fenced. In many respects, I share your distaste for what may become inevitable. However, I would plead with you and your ilk either to find an effective non-culling solution or to endorse culling before habitat becomes degraded and the survival of other species is further threatened. There isn't that much time before laissez faire has to give way to greater human intervention.

 

At present, time is being bought for wildlife by allowing surrounding populations to share the benefits of the exotic income accruing from tourism. However, this represents a very short-term fix. While nearly 80% of Africans are unemployed, but for subsistence agriculture, and continue to increase their numbers, pressure on wildlife will increase, as you, yourself, suggest. A longer term solution would involve step changes in agricultural efficiency, urbanisation and human population control. These would go further in prolonging the period during which generous amounts of space continue to be allocated for wildlife.

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What I'm wondering. Repeatedly it's been stated that elephants have no natural enemies and populations grow uncontrolled. But, how did that work in the recent past, say the century before westerners got to Africa. Not many tribes would have been able to hunt elephants to the extent that they controlled the population, yet Africa wasn't completely overrun with elephants, like Northern Botswana is now. Some lions prey on elephants, but again, not in a way that it affects the population. How were elephant population regulated? In most populations once they reach a certain level, density effects come into play. Slower reproduction rate, first reproduction at a later stage, more disease outbreaks. But some of those affects are not so easy to detect, especially in species with long generation times, and naturally low population growth rates. And even if they are at play, and can be detected, it takes quite some, again, especially in species with long generation times, to have an effect on the population. Culling, and farming is often aimed at keeping the growth rate maximal, as a higher density would lead to a reduced growth rate which reduces profit.

I don't think there have been long enough studies of elephants, under various conditions/densities, to get a good insight into how elephant population are affected by themselves. But maybe that should be done, or maybe differences in population structures between populations under different pressure should be compared to see how different management strategies affect elephants. Culling might lead to increased growth rate (that's what farmers aim for, maximal growth rate!), so, just like moving elephants, culling only buys you some time, and you might even decrease the time you're buying with it.

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@egilio:

 

You ask how elephants, without obvious predators, didn't destroy their habitats in the past and go on to suggest that their numbers might be self limiting at high levels of density. You discount the effects of human predation as likely to have been insignificant prior to the arrival of westerners. I suspect you may be right, but, equally, wonder whether this really was the case. There are strong arguments, for example, to suggest that all large South American herbivores were forced into extinction by the arrival on that continent of early man, probably through use of fire. I have no idea about the African situation.

 

You go on to suggest that, at increasing levels of density, elephant and other animal populations probably self regulate their numbers. Clearly, this is so. However, we should examine the physiological mechanisms that lead to maximum carrying capacity. I would suggest that, in animal welfare terms, these mainly result from prolonged and inescapable stress with which affected animals cannot readily cope and, in consequence, would be classed as distress and representative of very poor welfare. (The stress hormones are antagonistic to the reproductive hormones). Animal welfare scientists would, therefore, mostly suggest that herbivores living at maximum carrying capacity were suffering. Certainly, farmers who kept their domesticated stock in like manner (hungry and diseased) would be prosecuted for cruelty in western countries. I tend to believe that most welfare scientists are wrong and that they exaggerate the ability of non human animals to suffer, but, be that as it may, you, yourself, acknowledge that parts of Africa are currently over-run by elephants. I think that you'd also agree that this is leading to desertification and damage to other species, exacerbated by the provision of artificial sources of water. Without such sources of water, maximum carrying capacity would have been lower, but, in the absence of significant predation, reached through similar physiological mechanisms.

 

The areas dedicated to wildlife in Africa are shrinking. However, there is potential to increase wildlife productivity in such areas by maximising the percentage of annual plant productivity that can be consumed in a sustainable manner. This can be achieved by a combination of water provision and culling. Obviously, without culling, the increased animal productivity will be temporary and unsustainable. You suggest that culling only buys you time and, if you are referring to one-off culls, you are undoubtedly correct. They should be conducted on an ongoing basis and, perhaps, would better be called harvesting.

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Yes, many species in North America, South America, Papua New-Guinea and Australia went extinct shortly after the arrival of modern men. Some through altered habitat due to fires, most through hunting. However, Africa is different in this respect as modern man evolved there, so animals had time to evolve with man. A wild lion in Africa will run from people, while a bird on an island, not evolved with men, will stay put.

 

I agree with you on the hormone and animal welfare issues. I don't think animal welfare laws should be applied to wild animals, however, how wild are they once you fence them in? Are game animals who get check by a veterinarian every year, who receive supplementary feeding, live behind a high fence in an area where predated have been eradicated, or are being persecuted, wild animals? And should animal welfare laws be applicable to them? On top of that, are game animals who are kept on game farms, who don't fulfill a full ecosystem function truly wild animals?

 

You say that you don't believe the suffering of animals. I used to think that too for a long time, but having seen the same individual elephants behave very differently in different areas (very agitated and skittish in a hunting area, where there weren't elephants on quota even, versus national park, relaxed and very approachable), and even lions (lions which you could practically drive over their tails in a national park, you couldn't get within 50 meters in a hunting area, with the same car), made me wonder about it. Seeing a wild dog come back to her mate, 10 hours after we darted him to remove a snare was impressive to see. While we darted him in the morning she had left the area, until I couldn't get a signal from her collar anymore (that collar enabled us to find them to dart him). In the afternoon there was still no signal from her, then a very weak signal and I could hear her whoo-calling. The distance from not hearing a signal to her arriving was about 3 kms, which she covered in less then 10 minutes. The greeting between them was very elaborate. Hearing a male lion soft call from about 100 meters the whole time while we de-snared his mate, and then as soon as the de-snared lion raised his head while recovering rushing back to greet him. Reading of flip standers website that when the 5 musketeers lost one of their mates, kept going back for over a week to the same area where he was shot, visiting all the places the lions had visited the week before the one was shot. Hearing a zebra bark for over an hour after lions killed her foal. All those instances and many more made me realize animals do 'miss' group mates. And I'm sure it elevates stress hormones while they 'miss' their group mate. Is that equal to suffering? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if physiologically there isn't much difference.

 

Yes, in some areas elephants have a big impact on the vegetation. Does this affect other species? Yes, some negative, but some positive too. Sable and kudu seem to be doing quite well in Chobe for example. Adding water points increases maximum carrying capacity, but wildlife areas shouldn't aim to be at maximum carrying capacity. They should aim to be a sustainable carrying capacity. But fenced reserves/game farms, will aim to be at maximum carrying capacity (fenced reserve) or maximum growth (game farm for hunting). I don't think conservation should aim to increase wildlife productivity, they should aim to increase wildlife sustainability. Culling will be needed in areas where predators are removed, but not for most species in areas where predators have healthy populations.

For elephants...currently we don't know what kept elephant populations in check in the past. Maybe we should try to find that out. Botswana has arguably the best anti poaching, and the highest elephant densities. A coincidence? Hwange has a high elephant density too and not too much poaching, while nearby Zambezi valley, with plenty of good habitat doesn't have many elephants left, and high poaching levels. Coincidence? Angola has lots of habitat for elephants, is easily within reach for elephants from Botswana or Hwange, but has high poaching levels. Coincidence? Sioma-Ngwezi in Zambia same story. Is culling a solution? Or is maybe a dedicated fight against poaching in the areas with high poaching levels more effective?

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@egilio:

 

I would like to reply to a few of your comments:

 

1) You agree about animal welfare issues, but don't think that animal welfare laws should be applied to wild animals. I don't necessarily disagree. However, for the majority of people who believe that these welfare laws exist to minimise animal suffering, there is a certain logical inconsistency here. There are no reasons to suppose that domesticated animals should be capable of suffering more than wild ones. In fact, the reverse is probably the case because domestication has tended to "dumb down" the stress system. I suppose that one could posit that animal welfare laws exist, not for the benefit of animals at all, but to enable punishment of those who are deemed wilfully to cause suffering (defined as cruelty). However, if this is the case, how can one justify blanket species protection of specific wild animal species, which, in consequence, may become overcrowded and lead very distressed lives? (e.g. badgers in the UK and, possibly, elephants in some parts of Africa). Ignorance of the law is no defence. I think, therefore, that it is too easy for "bunny huggers" to escape censure with the "cop out" that such laws have no wild animal application.

 

2) You misquote me by suggesting that I don't believe that animals can suffer and go on to give examples, grounded in observations of animal behaviour, that have led you to believe that they can and do. Study of animal behaviour is called ethology and this is the discipline followed by the majority of animal welfare scientists. Animals undoubtedly display a range of emotional behaviours, which, when similar occur in humans, could be taken as being associated with certain pleasant or unpleasant conscious feelings. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of laymen also assume that animals consciously suffer when they behave as a suffering man does. This is called anthropomorphism and most welfare scientists from the ethology discipline fall into this category, elevating themselves above laymen by describing their science as "critical anthropomorphism". However, experimental psychologists and evolutionary biologists have concluded that, while emotional behaviours have survival advantage, it is not at all clear that their association with conscious feelings is either necessary or desirable. Furthermore, more recent advances in neuroscience have failed to identify any structures in the brains of non-primate mammals which could allow for the types of feelings that man can experience (requiring what is called reflexive consciousness). I certainly believe that wild and domesticated animals possess a type of sensory consciousness (which permits access to a greatly restricted range and intensity of conscious feelings) and, as such, we owe them a duty of care. However, I also believe that, were most animal species to have access to reflexive consciousness, they wouldn't have evolved at all because the lives of so many species are so stress-filled that they wouldn't have had the capability of multiplying. Judged by critical anthropomorphism, the quality of the lives of wild animals are incomparably worse than those of most domesticated ones.

 

3) You go on to discuss subjects such as fencing, carrying capacities and culling of wildlife areas. I agree with your comments insofar as they apply to small reserves (game farms and ranches). I also agree that culling in larger areas will generally be unnecessary where predators are present (with the probable exception of elephants), though it would be instructive to hear your views on the management at Tswalu where lions are fenced out of one of the two parts of the reserve. You say that adding water points increases maximum carrying capacity, but, in my view, you then "muddy the waters" by discussing sub-maximal but sustainable carrying capacity and claiming it as a superior goal for wildlife. However, I was never writing about non sustainable carrying capacity. Without water points, carrying capacity will naturally reach a maximum (sustainable) level which will be lower than the maximum level that can be achieved by the addition of water points. Whether this higher level is sustainable will depend upon proper predator/prey balance. Under this scenario, elephants become a major problem. Nevertheless, to the extent that wildlife is already generally pushed to marginally productive areas (which are simultaneously under pressure from growing human populations), I believe that the provision of water points is of overall conservation benefit, albeit that it may involve the necessity of elephant control.

 

4) Finally, you cite evidence to suggest that elephants will choose to go hungry and damage their habitat rather than moving to areas where poaching is prevalent. Certainly, elephants have cognitive abilities that are superior to those of most non human mammals (quite distinct from conscious emotional feelings) and may make such a choice. Suppression of disturbance might lead to their spread to other available areas (which would be a good thing), but, eventually, space would run out. One might mischiefly suggest that poachers are providing a service to other species in the areas in which they operate, but for the fact that they almost certainly create merry hell for all species.

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1) Domesticated animals were domesticated because they had certain desirable advantages to people AND could be domesticated. Many other animals, especially in Africa, have desirable features but simply can't be domesticated (buffalo, zebra, eland for example). However, ownership of animals comes with responsibility, one of them being taking care well of the animals. This becomes tricky, if you allow leopards on your game farm, are you taking care well for your impala? You kind of contradict yourself in stating that animals can't suffer, but can live distressed lives. Isn't being stressed a form of suffering?

 

may become overcrowded and lead very distressed lives

 

 

I tend to believe that most welfare scientists are wrong and that they exaggerate the ability of non human animals to suffer
.

 

2) I know what ethology is, I know how it works. But I also know that we know very little about consciousness (example: a man lives consciously without 90% of his brain). You claim that animals have emotional feelings (in fact, dolphins and orcas might have more emotional feelings than humans, as their brain part associated with emotions are much larger: here and here). Just because experimental psychologists and evolutionary biologist can't find a link between emotional behaviours and survival advantage doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's just a very difficult thing to study objectively, as emotions are subjective. You can measure physical reactions, you can measure chemical reactions, you can measure behavioral reactions, they're all pretty much the same between animals and humans, yet, they regard them differently. However, if 'suffering' didn't have an evolutionary advantage, then why do humans suffer? And if humans suffer, there must clearly be something to it, as we have evolved like that, but why haven't other animals then? People have evolved ways to deal with constant stress levels, and I'm sure animals have too. For example, if you survey people who live downstream of a major dam in a river, and you start far away (>100 km) and ask them if they're worried about the dam breaking and the consequences it will have for them, very few will be worried. When you progress towards the dam, the percentage of people worried will increase, until it's very high. After that, still getting closer to the dam, the percentage worried about the dam will drop to zero again. The danger is so much in their face, that they don't consider it anymore in their daily lives. Just like people often asked me if I was not worried about living below sea level in Holland. No, we don't . And the same mechanism enables soldiers to function on battle fields.

 

3)

 

Whether this higher level is sustainable will depend upon proper predator/prey balance.
That's not my point. Water points will increase the number of animals which are water restricted as you give them more water, but it doesn't increase the number of animals which are forage restricted, nor does it increase forage. So you increase the pressure on the forage. Some years, when rains are good, there is plenty of forage, other years, when rains are bad, there isn't enough regrowth of forage. Most animals will survive, as a lot of forage takes more than one season to grow, but it isn't sustainable. Predators can keep that in check, but adding water points, changes the balance. What I meant with maximal carrying capacity is what an area can sustain when things are good. Which is what farmers are after, what a lot of game reserves are after. But things are not always good, so a sustainable carrying capacity is achieved probably based on a well below average (average for forage regrowth) year. I think that adding water points in areas where most animals are kept in check by water availability, will results in animal densities too high to be sustainable for the forage in that area.

About Tswalu. That's their decision. They probably control the lion numbers too through anticonception or relocation or even culling. The area is too small for a sustainable lion population, and they don't want to go through the process of keeping bringing in prey to feed the lions like what is happening in other reserves. But tourists want to see lions. So economically it makes sense to keep them in a separate part of the reserve.

 

4) Yes, space would run out. But I'm curious how it worked in the past, why wasn't the whole of Africa overrun with elephants? What was controlling this in the past? Did they move en masse at times? Where they affected by epidemic diseases at times?

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I appreciate that this debate is veering away from the original subject, but, nevertheless, feel that I should explain that I have not been contradicting myself. Perhaps, I have not expressed myself well and will try again to explain my point about suffering and reflexive consciousness. I would suggest that suffering can be of the physical or mental variety. These may or may not go together (most ethologists assume they do). Prolonged physical suffering will (even without the necessity of accompanying conscious awareness thereof) invariably lead to adverse physiological outcomes and will manifest in such ways as poor growth, poor food conversion efficiency, loss of immune competence and reduced lifespan. Many of life's stresses for social humans and animals alike arise from intra-group experiences. Thus, humans and baboons that are at the bottom of their hierarchies will live less long than those at the top. In the case of humans, it is often assumed that lack of resources is the cause and that it can be corrected in a welfare state by the provision of better healthcare and food. This is unlikely to be the case. You might be interested to read the writings of Sapolsky in this context. Personally, I believe animals can probably suffer mentally in a limited way, but I'm pretty sure they live in the present and do not suffer in the absence of immediately perceived threats. Humans can stress themselves with a lot of "what if" abstract thoughts (like your dam example).

 

I hope the above shows you that I was not contradicting myself.

 

You ask why humans have evolved a reflexive consciousness if it has no survival advantage. There are two possible explanations. First, it enables a great deal of pre-planning and consideration of alternative options which are only of advantage if combined with very high levels of cognitive ability. However, there are also some who think that cognitive ability alone is sufficient to give us these advantages and that reflexive consciousness was an accidental emergent property that actually handicaps rather than promotes survival. In other words, this consciousness was but an undesirable consequence of evolving high cognitive ability (which, obviously, does provide survival benefits). For the vast majority of animal species, with their very much lower cognitive abilities, reflexive consciousness would be a positive disadvantage.

 

There are other problems you bring up. You say emotions are subjective without defining what exactly you mean. In the context of this debate, you should differentiate between emotional behaviours and emotional feelings, recognising that the former can be brought about in the lower brain centres without the necessary involvement of conscious feelings. This is not, of course, the same as saying that animals are never conscious of their behaviours. It is the unthinking assumption that they always are and, furthermore, that their conscious feelings mimic what ours would be if we were displaying similar emotional behaviours, that I find unacceptable. Nevertheless, this seems to be what most empathic laymen believe.

 

I would like to distinguish between stress and distress. Of course, both humans and animals are well evolved to cope with stress, as measured by corticosteroid release. Further, it has huge survival value. However, when corticosteroids are either released in huge single amounts (rarely, but exemplified sometimes in capture shock) or when releases are prolonged and almost continuous (bottom of pecking order) do they become difficult to cope with. Coping can here be defined as the ability to return the body to its normal homeostatic range. Failure to cope with excess stress will lead to adverse body consequences and can be called distress.

 

You refer me to lay articles relating to a damaged human brain and normal cetacean brains. I found all of them interesting. Experimental psychologists and neuroscientists have been studying humans with brain damage for decades. This is in no way intended to belittle the significance of the one patient you refer to. It is, indeed, amazing that he should have been able to function so well. However, the article made no mention of his prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain in man that appears most to distinguish us from other animals and it is, particularly, the right dorsolateral prefrontal area that is thought to provide us with our reflexive consciousness. This also illustrates that the functions of the human brain tend to be lateralised (an evolutionarily advanced characteristic). Your second cited article on killer whales was also very interesting. I already knew that cetaceans were exceptional among non human mammals in having well developed brains. However, I was previously unaware as to the anatomical details. A large expansion in the limbic area, an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain associated with emotional behaviours, may well indicate that this species has a wider repertoire of such behaviours than does man. it doesn't indicate much about consciousness. However, the evolution of an associated organ, unrepresented in the human brain, is extremely interesting and may suggest the ability to monitor emotional behaviours. I have absolutely no knowledge as to whether this is a substitute for our prefrontal cortex nor what it means for consciousness. As cetaceans are are exceptional in this regard, perhaps it would be sensible not to drift further from the debate's subject by getting bogged down with them. (I'm going to the Falklands later this year and hope to watch killer whales hunting seals. It may give me an incentive to delve further.)

 

Finally, a return to the subject. You suggest that a sustainable carrying capacity is that which can be carried in a less than average (average for forage re-growth) year. Clearly, species other than mammalian herbivores make use of forage (ants, for example). However, you are ignoring the fact that poor forage utilisation in one year is likely to result in poorer re-growth in the next. We had this discussion in the Hwange Dilemma debate when Allan Savory's work was featured. Thus, I would argue that both undergrazing and overgrazing can lead to desertification in dry habitats. It is moot whether predators are capable of fine tuning desired densities as between dry and wetter years in semi-arid environments. I see culling as an alternative, but you don't. I think culling may be a necessary corollary to the higher numbers of animals that I'd like to see carried. On ethical and animal welfare grounds, I'd also like to see grazers surplus to predator requirements shot rather than slowly starve to death in drought years, despite my doubts on the ability of such animals to experience severe psychological suffering.

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Posted (edited)

Inevitably when you’re writing a long post and having to find and read various research papers while having to devote time to other things at the same time as well, you find that the debate has moved on and you then have to go back and rewrite everything to take account of newer comments. In this case I have rewritten much of the following in response to some recent posts but not necessarily all, I was just on the point on the starting to post this when the latest post came in so I've only just read the last post and have decided not to see if I need to make further changes to anything in order to respond to it, otherwise I'll never get around to posting anything. Having start writing this some time ago I hope that after several rewrites I haven't got in a muddle somewhere or repeated myself too much.

 

@@douglaswise

 

Having spent "many happy hours" watching their behaviour has led you to the opinion that their apparent intelligence elevates them above other species and that they should be afforded special status.

 

 

You seem to be implying that my viewpoint is perhaps based on some sort of romantic imaginings that I’ve just dreamt up while watching elephants and that have no basis in reality. Clearly I should have given more consideration to how my comment would be interpreted, just as you should have done when you very clearly implied that you believe animals do not suffer when that wasn’t actually what you meant. My view on the intelligence of elephants comes from reading books, articles and research papers written by some of the world’s leading experts on elephant behaviour. Ethologists like Ian Douglas Hamilton, Andrea Turkalo, Cynthia Moss, Joyce Pool and those are just the best known ones whose names are in my head. I’ve read (largely since joining ST) all sorts of other research on elephant communication and on their impact on habitats and various elephant related topics written by other scientist whose names I don’t recall as they aren’t so well known. My own unscientific observation of wild elephants in various places simply backs up what I already know regarding the intelligence of elephants. In any case what I said in essence is that it is quite obvious that comparatively an elephant is much more intelligent than say a wildebeest for example that is not a controversial opinion, indeed it’s clearly one you agree with since you admit that elephants have superior cognitive abilities than other non human animals. The evidence gathered so far indicates that elephants have the same cognitive abilities as primates and cetaceans.

 

 

Of course that isn’t the point because you’re really arguing about whether or not they have conscious feelings not how intelligent they are.

 

Elephant Cognition in Primate Perspective

 

 

With samples from individuals who were at least 1 km away, urine from kin produced significantly more interest from the target individual than samples from unrelated individuals. We also presented test elephants with urine deposits from related individuals actually present in their group that day, which were either walking some way ahead of the target elephant or behind it. We reasoned that if elephants are able to identify specific individuals from their urine, and each is continually updating its memory of where other key individuals are, then discovering a fresh urine deposit from an individual who was walking behind should violate its expectations. Target individuals investigated samples from family members behind them at the time of the test, significantly more than samples from individuals who were in front. From this, we concluded that elephants are able continually to track the locations of family members in relation to themselves, as either absent, present in front, or present behind (Bates, et al., 2008b). These results suggest that elephants are able to hold in mind and regularly update information about the locations of at least 17 other female party members, as well as implying that they recognize individual identity from scent and have some understanding of invisible displacement and person permanence. (We tested only scents of adult females, but it is presumably likely that individuals keep track of males and some immatures in addition.) That they can keep track of so many, independently moving companions implies that elephants have particularly large working memory capacity

 

 

The following taken from Wikipedia is a précis of an account of a poaching incident in Amboseli described in Cynthia Moss’s book Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family. You can find the book online if you follow the link from Wikipedia and then read the full account I would have copied and pasted this if I could. Of course this will likely just confirm your opinion of ethologists.

 

The elephant has one of the most closely knit societies of any living species. Elephant families can only be separated by death or capture. Cynthia Moss, an ethologist specialising in elephants, recalls an event involving a family of African elephants. Two members of the family were shot by poachers, who were subsequently chased off by the remaining elephants. Although one of the elephants died, the other, named Tina, remained standing, but with knees beginning to give way. Two family members, Trista and Teresia (Tina's mother), walked to both sides of Tina and leaned in to hold her up. Eventually, Tina grew so weak, she fell to the ground and died. However, Trista and Teresia did not give up but continually tried to lift her. They managed to get Tina into a sitting position, but her body was lifeless and fell to the ground again. As the other elephant family members became more intensely involved in the aid, they tried to put grass into Tina's mouth. Teresia then put her tusks beneath Tina's head and front quarters and proceeded to lift her. As she did so, her right tusk broke completely off, right up to the lip and nerve cavity. The elephants gave up trying to lift Tina but did not leave her; instead, they began to bury her in a shallow grave and throw leaves over her body. They stood over Tina for the night and then began to leave in the morning. The last to leave was Teresia.[31]

 

Because elephants are so closely knit and highly matriarchal, a family can be devastated by the death of another (especially a matriarch), and some groups never recover their organization. Cynthia Moss has observed a mother, after the death of her calf, walk sluggishly at the back of a family for many days.[31]

 

 

 

Wikipedia Elephant Cognition

 

If you think that shooting an elephant has no more impact on the rest of the herd than shooting a buffalo would then clearly the size of the park/reserve or the fact that it is fenced hardly matters. I won’t repeat all of what I said in the Hwange thread but my point is that when the elephants are being culled they will be sending out ‘distress signals’ via infrasound which will be picked up by all of the other elephants in the park. The infrasound emitted by elephants can travel huge distances and these parks/reserves are very small, the culling could well therefore cause all of the other elephants to become stressed and obviously because they’re fenced in they have no escape. Given that the aim in the case of these various Malawian parks is to bring in sufficient tourists to at least make a significant contribution to their running costs, having a highly stressed elephant population would not be a good idea. You would clearly disagree that culling elephants in Liwonde will likely cause severe distress to all of the elephants in the park otherwise you would not have asked me why the size of the park matters.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjtrdpSwEUY

 

As the video shows there is evidence that elephants grieve and mourn their dead you may choose to interpret what is shown in the film in an entirely different way because it goes against your particular rigid scientific viewpoint that rejects any interpretation that smacks of anthropomorphism. However you can’t expect laymen (as I am) not to see this as evidence that elephants have some sort of understanding of death and that they are indeed perhaps mourning/grieving. I should make it clear though that I’m not suggesting that what is going through the elephant’s minds is exactly the same as would be going through the minds of the people attending a friend or relative’s funeral. Otherwise I would be guilty of classical anthropomorphism, but bending over backwards to try and come up with any explanation at all other than the obvious one just to avoid this crime gets more than a bit ridiculous after a while.

 

Many animals that are not as intelligent as elephants adapt their behaviour in response to severe hunting pressure by humans becoming much more secretive and very largely nocturnal. Elephants very clearly change their behaviour due to severe hunting I have on several occasions explained how the elephants in Central Africa those that survive like the ones in Zakouma have adapted their behaviour in response to perhaps centuries of hunting by Arab horsemen. I won’t describe the traditional Arab elephant hunting methods again here if you want to read about this you can look up my Zakouma reports or other threads on Zakouma. Most of the elephants even though poaching has now been almost stamped out to the point where the number killed in the last few years is in single figures still largely stick together in one large herd and spend the majority of their time in the thick bush. They seldom stay out in the open for any length of time at all and quickly bunch up at the first sign of danger and head back into the woodland. On my last visit to Zakouma apart from the handful of bull elephants that regularly hang around the park hq in the dry season we would not have seen a single elephant during the entire trip had Darren Potgieter not taken us up in the park's plane and gone up on his own to spot them from the air. Other parks I’ve been to where elephants have not been poached to the extent they have in Zakouma and where elephants are common it is not necessary to go out specifically to look for elephants they are just there and there’s a reasonable chance that you will see them on every game drive. On recent safaris in Botswana and Zimbabwe in those parks with elephants I saw elephants every single day, out of 11 days in Zakouma I saw elephants on just three, of course this in part due to the fact that population is still small at just under 500 however it is mainly due to the behaviour of the elephants.

 

The park guards in Zakouma conduct many of their patrols on horseback and inevitably they will on occasion encounter elephants if this happens they have very strict instructions to back off and not approach them because the elephants are terrified of horses or certainly men on horses. Of course one cannot get inside an animal’s head to know what it really thinks but I would say that it is clear that Zakouma’s elephants know that men on horses bring death. If the guards approach elephants while on horseback the elephants will likely be terrified and therefore seriously stressed or it’s possible that some of them might attack the guards. Not a good idea either way I should add also that at the point when African Parks took over the management of Zakouma the elephants had stopped breeding entirely due to the severe stress of being constantly under attack from the Sudanese horsemen.

 

My concern therefore with regard to the idea of culling elephants in a park like Liwonde or Majete is that you could end up with a severely stressed elephant population which would be neither good for elephants or tourism. Elephant culling is generally carried out from helicopters I don’t hard to imagine a situation where elephants in Liwonde (or wherever) start to see helicopters in the same way that Zakouma’s elephants see horses. Where the mere sound of a helicopter will cause elephants to panic and disappear into the woodland. Creating a population of elephants that spend most of their time hiding out in the woodland where tourists can’t easily view them and that may well respond aggressively to tourist vehicles if they approach is I would suggest not a good idea. As a result of years of very heavy poaching during the civil war elephants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa national park behave much more aggressively towards vehicles than those elsewhere often charging in circumstances where elephants in say Hwange would not. Where elephants have been badly poached they will often respond to tourists vehicles in one of two ways run away or charge.

 

When Pilanseberg National Park in South Africa was created in 1979 and entirely restocked with animals they introduced orphaned elephants that were captured as calves after culling operations in Kruger. In those days conservationists didn’t have the means or the knowhow to move entire herds of adult elephants as they do now so introducing orphans was seen as the best way of returning elephants to the park. Initially these young elephants formed large groups hiding out in the bush avoiding people as much as possible and acting aggressively when they did encounter people. You could argue that this behaviour was a clear sign that they were traumatised by their memories of the culling of their families or you could put it down to something else. When techniques for moving elephants were improved some family herds were brought to the park, the young orphans gradually integrated with these herds and started to behave more normally becoming much less secretive.

 

However during the 90s park rangers started finding worrying numbers of dead white rhinos with their horns still in place indicating that these animals had clearly not been killed by poachers. Evidence from their injuries and tracks at the scenes showed that they had been killed by elephants and young teenage bulls were soon identified as the culprits. These bulls were also becoming aggressive towards tourists so both to protect the valuable rhinos and the safety of visitors five of these bulls were shot. This aberrant behaviour was blamed by some people on the trauma of culling; in fact the cause was the early onset of musth in these bulls. At the time there were no mature bulls at all in Pilanseberg as a result these teenage bulls were going into musth and experiencing an overdose of testosterone roughly ten years ahead of time. They would then try to mate with some of the cows who would give them the brush off because cow elephants won’t mate with young immature bulls, as a result the bulls would vent their frustration on the rhinos and occasional tourist cars. This problem was eventually solved in 1997 when some fully mature bulls were captured in Kruger and moved to Pilanseberg once these big bulls had settled in they knocked the young delinquents back in to shape. Mature bulls prevent young immature bulls from attempting to mate and their mere presence suppresses the onset of musth in young bulls. The initial behaviour of the young orphans when they were first taken to Pilanseberg can be attributed to culling but the subsequent behaviour of the delinquent teenage bulls however can only really be attributed to the absence of mature bulls. The idea that trauma from culling was the cause was just an assumption that proved to be incorrect that’s not say that it has been proven that trauma played no role at all but the likelihood is it didn’t.

 

At the time that the young orphans were taken to Pilanseberg it was common practice during culling operations to kill only the adults and possibly the very smallest calves that would likely not survive. As Daphne Sheldrick discovered with her elephant orphans keeping the very youngest milk dependent calves alive is a real challenge and even though she eventually learnt the secret it’s still a challenge. In those days they wouldn’t have known how to keep these very young calves alive but the any calves old enough to survive and young animals small enough to still be manageable and moveable were left alive and sold either to zoos and circuses or perhaps to some private reserves or parks like Pilanseberg. In time however they realised that these calves were extremely traumatised by this experience so they stopped doing this deciding it was more humane to kill the calves and that it was better to kill entire family groups leaving no survivors. It’s difficult to guarantee that you have in fact killed every animal as elephant families don’t spend their entire lives close together they can be spread out over large distances given that they can still communicate with each other.

 

I have not visited the Nairobi Orphanage but I know that some calves that when they are first brought there are clearly very traumatised, if these calves are not comforted by their keepers virtually round the clock they will waste away and die even though there’s nothing physically wrong with them. As I mentioned in the Hwange thread elephants are the only animals other than humans that are believed to suffer from PTSD. I'm sure that as you say most grazers do not experience severe psychological suffering but plenty of people not least those at the Nairobi Orphange will tell you that elephants do.

 

I could infer from your various posts that you have an almost universally negative view of elephants and the role that they play in ecosystems (I am not saying that this is actually the case but is how some of your posts come across to me). Your final comment in post 31 appears to suggest that you think that the removal of elephants is good for other species that in areas where elephants have been heavily poached other species would benefit significantly if they were not also being poached. I appreciate that you were being mischievious but you are completely ignoring the many other species that benefit significantly from the presence of elephants.

 

Aside from needing to relieve the pressure on the habitat in Liwonde and Majete and to attract tourists I suspect there’s another reason why African Parks wants to quickly re-establish a sizeable elephant population in Nkhotakota. They want to have a healthy population precisely because elephants will knock over trees and modify the habitat. Nkhotakota is predominantly woodland allowing elephants to open up this woodland will benefit some of the other herbivores that they are reintroducing and will also improve game viewing. An overpopulation of elephants is clearly detrimental but so is an under population of elephants, undoubtedly the unnaturally low population of elephants in the park has led the woodland to become more dense. Of course once the population has reached around 2,000 they will have to stop it growing further otherwise the elephants will then start to have a negative impact rather than a positive one.

 

I certainly accept that if the elephant populations are allowed to become too high then modification of the habitat can very quickly turn into destruction and that in some very dry locations this could result in desertification. My point though is that while we don’t want elephants to destroy their environment we need to accept that they will modify it and not automatically feel we should reach for a gun a very time a tree is pushed over. In the case of elephants in Northern Botswana and those in Hwange by far the best solution if it can be made to work is to make Southeast Angola a safe place for elephants once more and encourage elephants to move there. Until this has been done culling should not be on the table as an option, if this proved to be unsuccessful or if it just buys time until Angola fills up with elephants then culling can be considered as an option. If elephants and other widlife could be brought back to that part of Angola the area could then perhaps be opened up for tourism but I suspect that the government generates so much oil money that they’re not interested in developing tourism.

 

To summarise my view based upon the scientific evidence that I have seen (and my understanding of it as a layman) elephants not only have superior cognitive abilities to other animals but they exhibit a level of awareness and consciousness above that of most other animals. That on its own does not completely rule out culling but it does mean that it should always be a last resort when there are no other alternatives. I also believe that culling especially regular culling as you advocate would in a small park like Liwonde or Majete quickly prove incompatible with photographic tourism for reasons stated earlier. And that is not taking in to account the attitude of tourists towards culling, I don’t know what the case is now that APN have taken over Liwonde but IFAW have for some time had a project there and they are very much an animal rights organisation (which is why I don’t support IFAW). If they have influence with the DPNW and the Malawian government they will make sure that culling is not considered as an option. Furthermore it is not hard to imagine that if Malawi at some point takes the decision to start culling elephants that animal rights campaigners will call for a tourist boycott of the country.

 

By chance there happened to be a travel article in the Sunday Telegraph this morning entitled “The Rewilding of Malawi” which focused mostly on Liwonde (they don't seem to have the article on their website). The plan as one would expect is that once the boundary fence is completed the black rhinos currently still living in a fenced sanctuary within the park will be released to roam the whole of Liwonde and cheetahs, leopards and lions will be reintroduced. It stated that according to a carnivore research project supported by Bristol University there is enough game to support a single pride of around 10 lions. Apart from showing just how small Liwonde is it illustrates the problem I mentioned earlier with fenced reserves, maintaining a population of lions in Liwonde will require intensive and permanent management of the population both to stop the number of lions from increasing and to prevent inbreeding. I guess this would be similar to the situation in Tswalu and other fenced reserves in South Africa, in Liwonde populations of herbivores will need to be kept in check and the lions will help with that but the park also needs them to attract tourists. If the Liwonde doesn’t have lions many tourists will likely decide to go to other parks/reserves most likely in other countries where they do have lions.

Edited by inyathi
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@@inyathi - as allways, great informativ reading - thank you.

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@inyathi:

 

In the main, I don't take any issue with what you've written. It is mainly all about elephant behaviour in the face of stressful challenges and the undoubted adverse consequences of culling (as typically carried out) on elephant behaviour from the perspective of tourist observers and on the likely adverse impacts on tourist income that might arise in consequence of objections from donors with animal rights agendas.

 

I agree that the culling of elephants should be a last resort. However, you seem to accept that when all available space is occupied, it could become the only option. Given that this time will probably come, I think it appropriate that the public and animal rightists should be educated to accept its necessity on both conservation and animal welfare grounds. I think, also, that, in the meantime, research should be undertaken in the hope of finding methods to minimise the adverse behavioural sequelae to surviving elephants. (Attempting to kill whole groups is a step in this direction, but it is likely that other improvements could be identified).

 

I agree that elephants rate highly among mammals in terms of cognitive ability (intelligence). I am unsure what evidence you have to adduce that it is equivalent to that of primates or cetaceans, but, for the purposes of this debate, this point is really not relevant. More relevant is your appreciation of the fact that I have been attempting to differentiate between levels of cognition and of conscious emotional feelings. Having watched and read widely about elephant behaviour, you find it ridiculous to suggest that some of such behaviour is not necessarily associated with conscious feelings. Any alternative view is counter-intuitive. Obviously, I don't know for certain what goes on in an elephants head in terms of suffering. If you had been able to to demonstrate anatomical characteristics of elephant brains that were significantly different from those of, say, sheep, I would have been more impressed than with a catalogue of interesting behaviours. In passing, I should note that sheep are quite impressive in being able to identify and differentiate between quite large numbers of flock members and between shepherds and strangers. It may well be that elephant brains have been studied and that I'm ignorant of the fact and any consequent findings. However, I think I can say with some confidence that the evidence of one's eyes is but a poor guide to the inner conscious feelings of other species and that neuroscience, while never likely to get us a full understanding, has more to offer in getting us towards an understanding of the limitations or otherwise of the minds of different animal species. Please accept that even spiders can carry out flexible and strategic behaviours in pursuit of their prey.

 

Finally, you suggest that I give the impression that "I take a universally negative view of elephants and the role they play in ecosystems". You charitably acknowledge that this may not have been my intention and I hasten to say that it wasn't. I am fully aware of the landscape transforming effects of elephants, which can sometimes benefit other species by opening up areas and by spreading seeds in dung. In passing, I should add that it's my understanding, which may be wrong, that, in the case of some types of shrub cover, the attentions of elephants make it impenetrable and, generally, of less use. My negative view is of the people who refuse either to propose new or to countenance conventional measures to deal with surplus elephants, which lacking in significant predators other than man, are capable of creating widespread habitat damage. I have worked with elephants in the past as part of a research team as well as having spent a lot of time watching them as a tourist. I have a great admiration and respect for the species. I have also personally observed the types of behaviour in elephants that were akin to those seen by Cynthia Moss which you cited. At that time, as a young vet, I had little doubt that elephants appeared to understand the concept of death and that they probably experienced feelings such as our own. My doubts relating to my own interpretation then have progressively increased in consequence of having read many tomes and papers by experimental psychologists and neuroscientists. However, I hasten to add that my own professional expertise, such as it is, relates more to animal management and nutrition and that I have no direct experience of brain research.

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@egilio:

 

In post #33, I suggested that you might be interested to study the writings of Robert Sapolsky. It occurred to me that this might not have been very helpful so I did an internet search. I found that Sapolsky's book, "Why zebras don't get ulcers" was freely available online (www.mta.ca/pshl/docs/zebras.pdf ). Although I have read some of his papers on baboon research, I had not previously read this book, possibly his most well-known one. It is highly informative (very accessible to lay readers) and amusingly written. So far, I'm only half way through its 220-odd pages. However, I can't recommend it highly enough to any of those safaritalkers who have any interest in the physiology of stress and its potentially adverse consequences in man and animals.

 

@inyathi:

 

Having replied to you and admitted that I knew next to nothing about elephant brains, I googled "elephant brain structure and anatomy". I found quite a bit of interesting information although I lack the expertise necessary to make judgements about the implications with respect to the animal's ability to suffer psychologically. Most of the relevant authors were not addressing this question. However, they confirmed that elephants had relatively high levels of cognitive ability, though, in some respects, probably falling below those of cetaceans and great apes. To me, the most interesting finding was that the the elephant hippocampus is particularly well developed. This part of the brain is important for memory retention and may account for matriarch's ability to find water for the herd in drought conditions and for the ability of offspring to retain chemical memories of maternal urine for decades.

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@inyathi:

 

This debate has provoked me into re-visiting the subject of access to emotional feelings. Among those who can be placed among academic authorities in this field, I would list Joseph LeDoux, Antonio Damasio and Edmund Rolls as being pre-eminent. References to their work can readily be found on the internet. I know you like to undertake your own research before posting your views so I thought I would refer you to one easily available source of information which is free online:

 

"Emotion, higher-order syntactic thoughts, and consciousness" by E.T. Rolls. (www.oxcns.org/papers/456).

 

The author discusses what he believes to be necessary in the brain for feelings become conscious, how they evolved and what selective advantage they provide. He compares his beliefs with those of LeDoux. Damasio has essentially similar views, but thinks animals such as dogs can feel (core consciousness), but not know that they feel and that they can, essentially, only focus on one thing at a time (again, suggesting absence of higher order syntactic thoughts). Their views have quite a lot in common, but differ from those of the Dutch neurobiologist, Bob Bermond, who believes that only higher primates and, possibly, cetaceans can suffer and that we should rejoice in consequence.

 

If you can find time to read the paper I cite, I would be very interested in your subsequent comments.

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Thanks @@douglaswise

 

It had started to cross my mind that you were presenting a very negative view of elephants in order to make a point about the seriousness of an issue you don’t think is being addressed.

 

I probably should have said in my post that elephants may have the same cognitive abilities as apes and cetaceans, what I said was I admit based on just one science article that was quoted in that Wikipedia piece on elephant cognition. I didn’t have time to search online for further evidence, knowing that there is a strong link between intelligence/cognitive ability and complex social lives it makes sense to me that elephants would at the very least be approaching the same level as that of apes and cetaceans. Although elephants have now been studied for some long time I believe that our understanding of their cognitive abilities and their consciousness and such like is still in its infancy.

 

Elephants smart as chimps, dolphins

 

I’m always mindful of the fact that we constantly underestimate animals and what they are capable of and not capable of perhaps because even the non religious haven’t quite given up on the notion that humans are still special and essentially different from the rest of nature. I’m always reminded of Dr Louis Leakey’s famous response when Jane Goodall demolished the theory of ‘Man the Toolmaker’ when she observed chimpanzees making tools to fish for termites "Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans." Of course we now know that other animals besides chimps can make tools.

 

None of this deals with the ‘elephant problem’ it if anything just makes it more complicated.

 

I might say being mischievous, that re-educating animal rights campaigners to persuade them to accept elephant culling is a great idea why don’t you give it ago and when you’re done perhaps you could address the Israel/Palestine question and bring peace to the Middle East. ;)

 

My viewpoint has always been that extinction and biodiversity loss is a far greater concern than animal welfare and that the opposite view seemingly taken by some animal rights campaigners is absurd. However extinction is a natural process and an important driver of evolution if a handful of species here and there become extinct it may be sad but does it really matter? The world will keep turning around without rhinos and for that matter a bunch of other species, for some people for whom animal welfare is their primary concern extinction doesn’t matter. This was an issue that came up in the animal welfare vs. wildlife conservation debate when I brought up the eradication of hundreds of thousands of feral goats in the Galapagos Islands to save the critically endangered plants and giant tortoises that they were driving to extinction. I wouldn’t say that is impossible to change the minds of some who believe in animal rights but it will be an uphill struggle. After all if we can’t convince animal campaigners in the UK that we have to cull grey squirrels in order to save red squirrels and to save our native deciduous woodlands what hope is there of convincing them that we have to cull elephants in Africa to save habitats and other species. Also if as you would like you commercialise the culling by selling meat and hides and even ivory you will struggle to convince people that the motivation is ecological and not purely economic.

 

While some extinctions may not matter some undoubtedly will and the current rate of extinction should be a major cause for concern. What worries me more than animal rights campaigners who aren’t too bothered by extinction is the number of people in the wider population who really don’t care that much either or who think it’s all just doom-mongering from the usual hippyish loony lefties.

 

Scientists warn of 'unsafe' decline in biodiversity

 

The complete loss of elephants from Africa would not bring the world to an end but it would have a major impact on the ecology of Africa, elephants are as mentioned earlier important seed distributers for many tree species. So since the subject of megafaunal extinctions came up earlier, here’s a scientific paper by Daniel H Janzen and Paul S Martin Neotropical Anachronisms: The Fruits the Gomphotheres Ate

 

Dr Janzen is an American conservationist and ecologist who has spend much of his life working in Costa Rica studying the ecology and restoring habitats; Paul S Martin was a geoscientist and palaeontologist who proposed the overkill theory to explain the loss of the Pleistocene megafauna. Critics have suggested that their paper needs revising and refining since they don’t really explain how it is that the Neotropical trees that produce so called megafaunal fruits are still extant when the megafauna has been extinct for 10,000 years. What no one really knows is if there were in fact trees that did become entirely extinct following the demise of the megafauna.

 

Here’s another paper by a different group of scientists which sets out to address these issues.

 

Seed Dispersal Anachronisms: Rethinking the Fruits Extinct Megafauna Ate

 

Slightly more on topic I thought I’d add something that I had intended to write and add to the Hwange thread, relevant to the subject of culling though not some much with regard to fences.

 

I’m sure many here will be familiar with the beloved classic South African book Jock of the Bushveld. The book recounts the adventures of the author Percy Fitzpatrick and his Staffordshire bull terrier Jock while he was working as an ox wagon transport rider in the 1880s moving goods across what was then the Transvaal to Delagoa Bay in Mozambique. The wagon route that they followed crossed the south western end of what is now Kruger National Park, I’ve not been to Kruger but I imagine that there are lots of elephants in this area as there are elsewhere in the park. Yet in the book which is after all very much about hunting the author does not mention ever encountering a single elephant and one elephant never mind a whole herd is quite hard to overlook. Given that he describes their encounters with all of the other wildlife in the area it might seem a little odd that there are no elephants in the book, that you could cross and re-cross Kruger and not see elephants. The reason for this is I would suggest is that at the time elephants had already become very rare in this region due to ivory hunting, the Portuguese had after all been trading ivory out of Delagoa Bay (Lourenço Marques/Maputo) since the 16th century. In South Africa the Great Trek began in 1837 and more and more Voortrekkers or Boertrekkers travelled north through the interior founding the Orange Free State and then the Transvaal. Amongst these Boers were some serious ivory hunters such as Jan Viljoen, Petrus Jacobs, Hendrik van Zyl and Piet Botha

 

The British hunter William Charles Baldwin records that on a journey to and from Lake Ngami in 1859 he overtook two of these famous Boer hunters Jan Viljoen and Petrus Jacobs and that they had shot 93 elephants somewhere only a few days journey further north. The fact that they were hunting in Bechuanaland now Botswana might suggest that there already by then very few elephants left in the Transvaal. Baldwin was just one of the many British ivory hunters operating in the region and the white hunters and ivory traders were also encouraging the native Africans they had dealings with to supply ivory. A lot of elephants were being killed in those days such that by the late 19th century there were very few elephants left in South Africa (and southern Bechuanaland/Botswana) or that much other big game, huge numbers of other species were hunted for meat and hides. Baldwin in his writings lamented the fact that you had to keep travelling further and further north beyond the frontiers to find big game. When the famous hunter F. C. Selous arrived in South Africa he had to travel north across the Limpopo into what is now Zimbabwe, just to find appreciable number of elephants and other big game to hunt. It wasn’t just hunters who wiped much of the big game, in 1896 the great rinderpest epidemic crossed the Zambezi killing off huge numbers of ungulates both wild and domestic. Animals like buffalos were hit very hard by the rinderpest right across Africa.

 

The point of bringing up all of this history is that when the Kruger National Park was created although it was home to some of the last big game in South Africa but there was actually very little of it.

 

Kruger National Park was created in 1912 from the Sabi and Singwitsi Game Reserves

In 1902 Stevenson-Hamilton (Kruger's first warden) estimated that the Sabi Game Reserve contained a relic 5 giraffe, 5 tsessebe, 8 buffalo, 12 sable, 15 hippo, 35 kudu, 40 blue wildebeest, 100 waterbuck and large numbers of impala, reedbuck, steenbok and grey duiker. A decade later he was able to report that the Sabi and Singwitsi reserves together sustained 25 elephant, 200 hippo, 250 giraffe, 250 buffalo, 1 500 sable, 3 000 zebra, 4 500 blue wildebeest, 1 000 tsessebe, 1 500 kudu, 6 000 waterbuck and 7000 impala.

 

Therefore the early managers of Kruger were not seeing Kruger’s habitats as they would have been when they were still home to large herds of grazers and browsers including significant numbers of elephants. It is therefore reasonable to argue that the woodland in the park was much denser and more extensive having grown up following the virtual eradication of elephants and other herbivores. If when they started culling elephants and various other species they were attempting to preserve the park as they knew it or as they thought it should be then clearly they were misguided they were attempting to preserve a landscape that they thought was natural but wasn’t. In place of the balance of nature a concept that most modern ecologists no longer recognise they were trying to create an entirely artificial balance to try and preserve the habitat in a fixed state much as you would with an anthropogenic habitat like a grouse moor. In a small fenced reserve you may have no option but in a large park I don’t think you shouild be striving to prevent change.

 

This is why I have reservations about culling elephants and other wildlife in large unfenced protected areas, that the need to cull or the number of animals that need culling may be based on flawed thinking going back to the early days of Kruger National Park. This is why I believe that we have to be careful to distinguish between habitat modification and serious habitat destruction and allow the former as far as possible but equally try to prevent the latter when it is definitely occurring.

 

I said that I don’t support IFAW because they are an animal rights organisation that is to say I see them as such because many organisations that are involved in animal welfare to tend to veer much more towards animal rights. As was illustrated by what has happened with the RSPCA in UK however many of their supporters will not recognise any real difference between animal welfare and rights. Since I would consider myself a supporter of well managed trophy hunting for pragmatic conservation reasons I can hardly support an organisation that campaigns against hunting. I am also concerned about the influence that groups like IFAW have on conservation policy in countries like Kenya. Actually another reason I would not donate to IFAW is that they also have projects trying protect the welfare of cats and dogs in China for example a laudable aim but I would rather all of my cash went to conservation. Having said all of this they do actually do or at least fund some good conservation work.

 

Elephants a way Forward

 

I haven’t as yet had time to read the paper that you recommended Emotion, higher-order syntactic thoughts, and consciousness I will do so when I have a chance, all research papers are welcome as long as I can understand what I’m reading. :lol: Of course while elephant consciousness is an important and interesting subject for debate, if my concerns regarding possible impacts on elephant behaviour are not unfounded this would very likely be a bigger issue when it comes to small fenced reserves. Liwonde NP is Malawi’s premier wildlife tourist destination, it’s a beautiful place and boating on the Shire River to watch the wildlife is a very pleasant way to spend time. Under APN’s stewardship tourist numbers should increase, currently to see the black rhinos you have to be taken into the sanctuary to track them but once they have the freedom of the whole park it should be possible if you’re lucky to see them on game drives as you can in Majete. Outside of South Africa, Namibia or Kenya and Zim (if you can afford to visit Malilangwe) seeing black rhinos is a bit of a challenge therefore the rhinos should be a good selling point. Malawi’s disadvantage is that these small parks/reserves are really just too small and therefore not nearly as wild as the better known parks in neighbouring countries. Any culling that is done of elephants or any other animals has to be compatible with wildlife photographic tourism. The issue of whether or not hunting is compatible with photographic tourism has I believe come up before though I haven’t checked and I think the consensus was that it isn’t. What happens on private reserves in South Africa that may offer both hunting and photographic tourism I’m not sure. In the I assume unlikely event that the reintroduction of large predators to Liwonde does not adequately control the herbivore population I would not object to occasional culling of antelopes or buffalo the meat could then be supplied to local communities. However it would have to be done in such a way as to minimise any possible negative impact on tourism in the park, if animals are skittish and always tending to run off so that tourists can't get good views and photos they will go elsewhere.

 

Just for amusement here’s a trailer for the live action film of Jock of the Bushveld would anyone like to point out what’s wrong this clip beyond a few obviously rather silly moments?

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Not sure if this article was already mentioned here. It discusses elephant intelligence, and mentions they are capable of self awareness.

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@@inyathi:

 

I enjoyed your last post and didn't find a lot with which to disagree. To the extent that we have differences, they tend to quantitative rather than qualitative. Anyway, you certainly set me a lot of homework with all those citations. Being a relative newcomer to Safaritalk, I must admit that I had been unaware of the previous debate on "Animal welfare vs. conservation". I have now read it. One of the contributions that resonated with me was that of @@armchair bushman. He said his logic (head) told him one thing and his heart another. I entirely understand and sympathise because I'm much the same (you'd be surprised how "uncritcally anthropomorphic" I can be with my own dogs and even observed wildlife, given my typical comments on Safaritalk). I take solace from a remark that Robert Sapolsky made at the end of his TED talk (free online). He said it was a uniquely human characteristic to be able to hold two opposing views simultaneously and that, on balance, it was a good thing!

 

Yes, I suppose I have come across as anti-elephant to some, but as I said previously, this was not my intention. I have, indeed, been attempting to get those readers who take a predominantly sentimental approach towards wildlife to face up to some hard facts - at least hard facts from my perspective. I was initially triggered into this by the way the "Hwange Dilemma" debate was framed. However, having read "Elephants a way Forward" to which you linked, I consider that I came over as too pro-cull from the outset and that this might have been counter-productive to my objectives. It may well be that the majority would favour the approach recommended in "Elephants a way Forward". I would, therefore, like to summarise the recommendations made therein and then analyse their implications (taking Hwange as an example):

 

1) In southern African range states some 25% of land (mainly agriculturally less-favoured land) has been set aside for wildlife. In addition, there is a 70% additional area of wildlife-suitable habitat that doesn't contain many people and which allows some degree of protection. This is 42.5% of total land mass and allows plenty of suitable space for all the current elephant population and for substantial further population growth.

 

2) Currently, this theory can't be put into practice for two reasons: 1) Obstructions (often fences) prevent connectivity of suitable habitats which aren't always of sufficient size on their own to provide for seasonal needs in the absence of artificial sources of water. 2) The provision of (particularly closely-grouped) water points which have the effect of supporting high elephant numbers in areas which would otherwise be bereft of elephants in the dry season because they would have moved away to permanent water. Thus, artificial water can be correlated with habitat damage.

 

3) Solution to the problem (the way forward) is thus simple - knock down fences and remove water points. Proponents deny that this would eventually lead to widespread overpopulation and habitat destruction because the population would level off due to "density dependence".

 

4) Some small reserves that are fenced will need artificial water points. Here, we are told, it is better not to have elephants at all, but, if you want them, control their numbers by contraceptive means.

 

This all sounds quite simple. Indeed, it appears to be precisely the approach advocated by @@egilio (and several others on this site) - in other words, it is a modern conservationists' view. I see things rather through the eyes of a veterinarian and animal manager. In theory (and I'm a theoretician), I can see the logic and consistency of the conservationist argument. In practice, it makes me uneasy for a variety of reasons:

 

A) Take Hwange as an example. Currently, we have been told that it supports about 3 times more elephants than would be the case were artificial water points to be unavailable. It can probably be agreed that this is unsustainable in the long term and is damaging habitat and biodiversity. However, it would seem, even now, that population growth has not yet stabilised in consequence of density dependent factors. One can expect, therefore, to see more habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity in the short term future. As I understand it, Hwange has few sources of permanently available water other than the artificial pumped sources. Thus, in the dry season, closure of water points would result in numbers of elephants declining to far below the one third figure deemed sustainable, but could rise above that during the wet season to arrive at an "acceptable" average sustainable number over dry and wet seasons combined. However, elephants, we are told, like to be within 10 km of water. What the report does not tell us is what happens when water sources are withdrawn. How far and how quickly and what proportion of elephants will move to permanent water and how many will choose to route themselves through appropriate corridors rather than entering more populated areas? How many matriarchs will have any memories of where permanent dry season water is to be found if, for decades, they have never had the need to find any?

 

B) The "Elephants a way Forward" document is, quite reasonably, elephant-centric and pays scant regard to the requirements of other wildlife, many species of which also require water, but are less capable than elephants of travelling so far to find it. What would be the immediate effects of water point closure on such animals? I would suggest, again as a theoretician with no detailed knowledge of the habitat, that there would be mass die offs or, at best, dry season emigration from which the emigrants wouldn't return in anything like previous numbers. Most photo-tourists choose to travel in the dry season as they are more likely to see animals in low vegetation gathered near water and to witness more predator/prey activity. I would, therefore, suggest that water point closure would make Hwange an unattractive destination for the majority of photo-tourists. This, in turn, would involve loss of income and make the control of poaching very difficult. The Kafue, for example, is a huge Park, but only very small parts, mostly near permanent water, are policed by dint of having tourist camps present. In consequence, animal densities are well below their potential over the Park as a whole

 

C) Plants are more productive if they are grazed, but not over-grazed. In most African semi-arid habitats , there remains much un-grazed material, even at the end of the dry season. Greater plant productivity could be achieved with a higher grazing pressure, which, in turn, can only be achieved by the provision of artificial water points. In future, if not now, growing human population pressure, particularly if rural populations grow, will reduce space for wildlife. The space currently and generously allocated is in what could be described as marginal areas. It might seem sensible, therefore, to optimise wild animal numbers in their own zones by provision of artificial water (provided one is supplying sustainable rather than "fossil" water). One can expect the carrying capacities of most (non migrating) species that are subject to predation to go up and then level off. However, the lack of significant elephant predation means that desirable efficiency gains cannot be made - instead, elephant numbers grow disproportionately, biodiversity becomes less and habitat is desertified.

 

D) Population stabilisation through density dependence: What, in reality, does this mean? If one ascribes a high level of consciousness to elephants, it translates into the most unpleasant means of population control possible, implying something akin to famine in humans. Even if elephants' experiences are mainly implicit (without higher order consciousness), there will be chronic stress, poor growth, low or absent levels of ovulation, loss of immunity and shortened lifespan (all taken by welfarists to be signs of very poor welfare). On the face of it, therefore, it is surprising that IFAW endorses the "Way Forward" document. It is totally understandable that those conservationists who think animal welfare has no place in wildlife matters (e.g. @@egilio) should find density dependent population control for elephants acceptable. Arguably, it might also be acceptable to those with animal rights views. It could suggested, for example, that elephants should be allowed to live out their lives with minimum human interruption. The fact that the manner of their deaths is likely to be extremely unpleasant is irrelevant because it represents the elephants own choice. However, the animal welfare view, insofar as domesticated stock are concerned, is that both implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) distress and suffering should be avoided, but that a quick death is acceptable and represents the end of suffering. (I would love to know what @@Sangeeta, a lucid advocate for the individual rather than the species, has to say on this matter.)

 

I agree with @@inyathi that decisions involving elephants should not just take account of their lack of predators, but also of their complex behaviour, be it implicit or explicit. Consequently, I accept that culling probably requires an approach that is radically different from the methods that are currently regarded as the only ones available. As to contraception, to the extent that it would involve regular capture of elephants and imposing upon them patterns of abnormal behaviour, I consider even current culling methods to be more welfare friendly. I accept the point made about the importance of mega-herbivores in the dispersal of certain types of seeds. I have read Jock of the Bushveld several times and recall how scant the game was repoted as being. I was interested in your Kruger numbers and early history of ivory hunting and elephant distribution. Further, I accept that landscape features can fluctuate over time and don't necessarily have to be fixed in a pre-conceived state. This is not to say that I accept that there aren't ways of increasing wildlife productivity through management.

 

I accept that it is entirely sensible to create corridors in the hope of providing more elephant-usable land which could be exploited by them in a less habitat-damaging manner, but equally accept that it may not always be practicable. I think that closure of all artificial water points in places such as Hwange would profoundly reduce biomass and tourist income and open the way for poaching to increase. However, I would very interested in seeking methods to make some of the water points inaccessible to elephants, while keeping them accessible to smaller mammals.

 

I believe that my arguments are becoming repetitive, but hope that, by constructing them in a different way, readers will realise that my recommendations, which involve culling, are no less humane than those set out in "Elephants the way Forward". There are alternative ways to "go forward" if only sentiment and political correctness could be removed from rational consideration of the facts.

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I have just read through my prior post, have failed to have done so properly in preview. I would like to make one correction:

 

In paragraph A) I mentioned that there were reportedly three times more elephants in Hwange than could be sustained if artificial water was removed. I think this is incorrect. I think the one third figure applies to the numbers that the Park could sustain without habitat damage in the presence of artificial water points. I suspect that, without the water points, biomass would plummet to well below the one third figure.

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Can I say how interesting this debate is? Never having been to Hwange can I ask if there are efforts being made to re_introduce wildlife corridors and if so where would they be to? I suppose trans_locating elephants to others areas would be much too expensive? Very much enjoying the contributions

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Totally agree @@Towlersonsafari Excellent debate and this is one of the great strengths of Safaritalk.

 

Just for those members that may not have seen it there is a very interesting thread on Hwange's Elephant 'problem' started by @@Soukous (October 2015) that you might like to look at also. Some of the issues raised above are also touched on there http://safaritalk.net/topic/15273-hwanges-dilemma/page-2?hl=hwange

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