Welcome to Safaritalk where we have been talking Safaris and wildlife conservation since 2006. As a guest you're welcome to read through certain areas of the forum, but to access all the facilities and to contribute your experience, ask questions and get involved, you'll need to be a member - so register here: it's quick, free and easy and I look forward to having you as a Safaritalker soon. Matt.
Good fences make safe lions - Born free is good, but protected is better
I agree that your conclusions are valid. Certainly, corridors to alternative feeding areas, where possible, make a lot of sense. I also think that the wildlife prospects in the Northern Rangelands have been boosted by the activities of the NRT, in large part by changing attitudes of the local populations. However, when it comes to changing attitudes, would you not agree that that it is "the bunny hugging fraternity", to whom you refer, that are in need of education. They should be encouraged to appreciate that the "road to hell is paved with good intentions". Do you, as a tour guide, consider this as part of your duty? Certainly, many so-called conservation NGOs seem to encourage ignorance on the subject of biological sustainability (eg The Born Free Foundation). Their continuing protectionist agendas seem to be almost designed to precipitate human/wildlife and even racial conflict and habitat destruction.
It seems to me we come to these issues with such vested ideas and (dare I say it) such inbuilt prejudices that our individual answers inevitably devolve into familiar rants against the ranter's favorite punching bags. Which is not particularly helpful in advancing the debate.
The bunny-hugging brigade continues to proceed along its well-intentioned road to hell, undeterred by the fact that focusing on animal welfare and animal rights is anathema to so-called serious conservationists.
The culling brigade can't see a road to anywhere that doesn't involve at least a little bit of culling to tidy things up & make them ship-shape, undeterred by the fact that culling is now considered to be an extreme solution that most people will no longer accept.
The hunters and 'sustainable use' brigade can't see a single animal of any specie, however endangered, whose hunt will not ultimately be beneficial to conservation, undeterred by the fact that the hunting industry is riddled with crime and corruption.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to look at things from an altogether different perspective - one that marries conscience with science with ethics with conservation. Maybe we just need to start asking different questions:
Here are 2 articles/talks that I found to be quite intriguing and thought provoking:
All the arguing and all the "your side never listens to this part of our argument" stuff isn't helping wildlife. Perhaps compromises and a marriage of conscience, ethics, science, and rational thought are what's needed, rather than a hard line on either side. Whatever the case, the solutions need to be thought out quickly and acted up on immediately. In many areas, we're running out of time.
As usual, you produced a post that was lucid and I would welcome a prolonged face-to-face debate with you. I read and listened to your two attachments and, though they were interesting, I don't believe that they had more than very peripheral relevance to this debate. I would also like to suggest that you have made a couple of comments that are both disparaging and wrong:
1) You suggest that focussing on animal welfare and animal rights is anathema to so-called serious conservationists. I would reply that "welfare" and "rights" are totally different concepts and I very much doubt that there are many serious conservationists who are inimical to the former.
2)You state that "the hunters and the sustainable use brigade can't see a single animal of any species, however endangered, whose hunt will not be ultimately be beneficial to conservation." Personally, I think this is total and unsubstantiated rubbish. It also leads me to suspect, perhaps unfairly, that you believe that any who advocate culling do so for undisclosed motives of blood lust.
I am much more concerned that you are quite probably correct in suggesting that culling is now considered to be an extreme solution that most people will no longer accept. You go on to suggest that , because majority opinion is anti-culling, we should strive to find solutions that would better suit the said majority. In reply, I would suggest that majority opinion is often wrong. Thus, if democracy is to work, it requires enlightened leadership, which keeps opinions in line with reality or changes them when they have gone wrong. To some extent, as an erstwhile educator, I feel compelled to attempt to change the anti-cull views of what are, probably, the majority of Safaritalk contributors. It seems clear that I'm not making much progress and, I suppose, I never was a very good teacher. However, I'll keep trying and, perhaps, attempt to add emotional and ethical content to unadulterated scientific logic!
Imagine, if you will, that you own a ranch of, say, 1000ha. You stock it with cattle at an appropriate stocking density. After a year, you find that you have surplus animals (of course, if there is no harvest of the surplus, most ranchers would be out of business). However, you're independently rich and don't like the idea of harvesting the young stock because you've become emotionally attached to them. In the short term, maybe for a few years even, you can get round the problem by buying in food and fertilisers. However, the growing numbers of animals will still be damaging your pastures. OK, you can get round this by putting your young stock in feedlots or even housing them off the pasture altogether. Oh dear, your ethics and conscience kick in and you decide, though your housed stock are thriving, that you wouldn't like to be in a feedlot yourself so why would your cattle? You still have money - more than your neighbours, so you solve your dilemma by buying more land at over the market rate. It is unfortunate that your neighbours lose their livelihoods, but, at least, they now have some of your capital so they have the opportunity to take up other activities. Your efforts are clearly unsustainable in the long run, though you may feel good about things for a few years. Perhaps, you could push things for slightly longer if you could persuade wealthy, like-minded people to give charitably to you and allow you to take over yet more land.
Am I being ridiculous? Possibly. However, please try to bear with me. Substitute elephants for cattle and expand the ranch by a factor of 100. Your elephant numbers are increasing at 5%/annum and they have no predators. The trees are being devastated. Is it ethical not to cull? Is it better to allow population growth to stop naturally through overcrowding and starvation? In animal welfare terms Is sudden death through culling better or worse than lingering hunger and death through starvation? What about the accompanying habitat destruction and its effects on other species?
Am I making a strawman argument? If so, please tell me why my logic is flawed and why my sense of ethics is inferior to yours? You might argue that humans have apparently been able to multiply in huge numbers, so why can't they accommodate reasonable wildlife numbers? Here, I sympathise. However, our own multiplication as a species is almost entirely due to our unsustainable exploitation of fossil sources of energy. I believe that we could save our own and other species by taking corrective action, but I doubt that we will. Like all other animals, we have evolved to perceive and respond to short term threats much better than to long-term ones. By the time that climate change risks become more overt, it will probably be too late to take effective corrective action. Again, like other species, we are very much influenced by our "selfish" genes such that we take an "eat, drink and be merry" approach, living for today with few thoughts of tomorrow.
Inspired by the thread on the translocation of elephants to the Nkhotakota Reserve in Malawi that will be starting this year I decided to write something about this. However Rather than add it to that thread I thought should write rather more regarding Malawi and add it to this thread as I think it is relevant to this debate.
When African Parks Network took over the management of the Majete Game Reserve in Malawi there was very little wildlife left at all so they put a fence up around the reserve and then reintroduced all of the big game. Majete is now home to sable, nyala, and other antelopes and to buffalo, elephants, black rhinos, leopards and lions all of the species that historically occurred there. Well not quite all there is one species they haven’t brought back African wild dogs these animals need huge areas in which to roam and hunt and Majete simply isn’t big enough maintaining wild dogs in small fenced reserves is a serious challenge. African Parks clearly decided that returning these animals would not work. This example illustrates a problem with fencing reserves and parks animals if you can’t satisfactorily keep wild dogs inside fences what future wild dogs? An issue for all parks the world over with or without fences is, are they big enough to support viable populations of all of their animal species especially the larger animals?
Just recently African Parks has taken over Liwonde National Park and the Nkhotakota Game Reserve the former is probably Malawi’s premier tourist attraction certainly as far as parks are concerned. When I visited Liwonde in 2001 there was a fenced black rhino sanctuary with I think at the time just 1 pair of rhinos known as Justerini & Brooks after J & B Whisky who’d sponsored them otherwise the park was unfenced. Back then some game species had already been reintroduced and there were still quite a few elephants but some animals were still missing. I don’t think there were any lions there at all, only quite recently at least one lion appeared in the park having wandered over the border from Mozambique. I am not quite sure what the lion situation is right now but AP’s plan is certainly to reintroduce them, one of the first things they have done since taking over is start to put up an electrified fence which will go right around the park as they did at Majete. Just a few months ago one of a series of TV news reports on the elephant poaching crisis featured Liwonde and the reporter was flown over the park, you could very cleary see the park boundary because it was a straight line with thick woodland on one side and an expanse of maize on the other with almost no trees. If you look at Malawi on Google Earth and go to the southern end of the lake find Lake Malombe and zoom in on the area immediately south of it you can clear see where Liwonde is and where the boundaries of the park are from the change in vegetation. Since the creation of the park as the local population has expanded they have cleared all of the trees to create fields right up to the boundary. The park is completely surrounded by farmland and this is pretty much case with other parks/reserves in Malawi other than in the mountains almost everywhere outside of protected areas is now cultivated.
This scanned slide shows a typical landscape in Malawi.
If elephants leave parks and reserves they end up in people’s crops if lions leave they end up preying on livestock or perhaps even people. Fencing at least these small parks and reserves makes sense, you have to protect the animals from the people and the people from the animals and fences are best way to do that. Although having said that, it is vital to ensure that the fences are properly maintained. In the area around Mecula Town in the Niassa Reserve in Mozambique conservationists put simple fences comprising strands of electric wire around people’s fields to keep out elephants. For some reason the locals failed to maintain the fences the electricity went off rendering them useless at keeping out elephants, while at the same time providing local people with a perfect source of wire to make snares. The law of unintended consequences came into play and an initiative that should have been good for the reserve’s elephants proved to be bad for other species like buffalos, zebras and antelopes that fell victim to meat poachers.
While looking at Liwonde on Google earth if you then scroll back up the western shore of Lake Malawi you fill find the town of Nkhotakota the reserve next door is very obvious because because it is much darker shade of green than the surrounding countryside. Nkhotakota like Majete has lost most of its wildlife it still has elephants but only very few, the population is just around 120, as was reported in another thread African Parks are planning to capture a total of 500 elephants from Liwonde and Majete and move them to Nkhotakota. This will reduce the elephant pressure in those to parks while giving Nkothakota the elephant population it needs both for ecological reasons and to attract tourists. There are currently around 800 elephants in Liwonde 250 of them will be moved this year and there are now close to 400 elephants in Majete some 200 of these animals will be moved next year. I assume a few more will be moved from Liwonde as well in 2017 to make up the 500. A 170km² fenced sanctuary has been or is being constructed to provide a temporary home for the elephants and other animals like roan, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, buffalos and other species that will be reintoduced. Once the animals have settled in and are breeding and numbers have reached the desired level they will be released into the wider reserve. In time I’ve no doubt that the entire reserve will be fenced but at almost 4 times the size of Liwonde this will be some undertaking, it will though protect farmers crops and protect the animals in the reserve. Cleary it won’t take long for the population of elephants in Liwonde to get back up to 800 and for the numbers to recover in Majete likewise. Nkhotakota had at one time 1,500 elephants even after the addition of 500 new elephants to the 120 or so that remain there now it will take few years for the population to get back up to 1,500 but not too many. The reserve should actually be able to support 2,000 when the population reaches that level then moving surplus elephants at least within Malawi may not be an option. In time Liwonde, Majete and Nkhotakota will all be full of elephants and if poaching can be kept under control then elephant population in other parks and reserves will rise to the point where there’s really nowhere to move elephants to.
Kasungu the country’s second largest park used to have around 2,000 elephants but in 2014 an aerial count found fewer than 40, a Dutch NGO Kasungu Elephant Foundation is supporting the park and trying to bring an end to the poaching. If the situation can be brought under control then moving surplus elephants to Kasungu could become an option. Kasungu in conjunction with Lukusuzi National Park in Zambia should be able to support a significant population of elephants assuming that the land between the two parks is kept open as a wildlife corridor; these parks form part of the Malawi – Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area (MZTFCA). Of course the Zambians would have to seriously up their game as Lukusuzi has been seriously neglected and has a big problem with squatters so I imagine that a fair bit of poaching has been going on there. The distance between the boundaries of Kasungu and Lukusuzi at the narrowest point is only about 7 miles however almost all of this intervening land is cultivated but I would have thought it should be possible to find ways to allow animals to move between the two without impacting too heavily on local people. Using sattelite tracking collars it should be possibel to determine the routes that the animals take if they are still moving between the parks and then take steps to protect people’s crops in those areas. If the security situation in Kasungu can be sorted out then it should become possible to move some surplus elephants to the park. As the park isn’t fenced it would be necessary to construct a fenced sanctuary where the elephants can be kept until they are fully settled in to ensure that they don’t try to leave and head home to Liwonde.
Malawi’s largest national park is Nyika where for some time there has been a small herd of elephants whether this herd is increasing due to breeding or immigration from Zambia or from Vwaza Marsh GR I’m not sure but a significant increase would be undesirable. The high plateau of the Nyika is predominantly grassland but it has been suggested that in the past when the climate was much wetter that it would have been entirely covered in montane forest however this is disputed and there is evidence from the fauna and flora present indicating that there has always been at least some grassland. Over time as the climate has changed and due to the influence of bushfires either natural or manmade the amount of grassland and forest has fluctuated sometimes the plateau was mostly forest and sometimes mostly grassland. Today it is mostly grassland and only tiny remnant pockets of montane forest remain these forests are home to a variety of rare (at least for Malawi) plants, birds, mammals and other animals. Aside from the constant threat to these forest fragments posed by fires the future of these important forests would be seriously threatened by any significant increase in the elephant population. Nyika is not fenced and along with Vwaza is part of the MZTFCA so animals can move between the different parts of the conservation area. In 2007 a major restocking of game was carried out on the border between Vwaza Marsh and Zambia’s Lundazi Forest Reserve. Establishing and maintaining wildlife corridors will link the area ultimately to North Luangwa National Park it is therefore important that these parks are not entirely fenced. The southern and eastern sides of Vwaza Marsh border agricultural land in Malawi so electric fences have been put up to protect farmers from elephants and other wildlife.
There really isn’t anywhere else in Malawi that could provide a home for elephants.
In the far south of the country there is a reserve called Mwabvi that is in the process of being restored by an organisation called PAWS (Project African Wilderness) quite how far they have got I’m not sure as the English woman Gaynor Asquith who founded PAWS and was its driving force died in 2011. Mwabvi is very considerably smaller than Majete it's only about a fifth of the size far too small for elephants but they were intending to return lions and I imagine black rhinos eventually as the last Malawian rhinos were apparently poached there. North of Mwabvi and just south of Majete is Lengwe National Park but this park is slightly smaller even than Mwabvi.
When I visited Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve below the Nyika Plateau I was taken on a walk along the shore of Lake Kazuni which is the boundary of the park. It is just a small lake, over the other side is a low ridge at the top of which were a number of houses, walking along the side of the hill just below the houses was a herd of elephants. We stopped and watched the elephants and could see that we weren’t the only ones watching the elephants some of the local people were lined up in front of their houses looking at the elephants moving through the trees just below them. I’ve often wondered what they were thinking and thought about the contrast between how we as tourists view elephants and how they as local farmers view elephants.
This scanned slide shows the view across Lake Kazuni the human figures are not easy to make out even in the full sized scan but you can clearly see how close the elephants are to the houses.
This illustrates why it is important that at least parts of the Malawian boundaries are fenced to keep elephants out of people’s crops however wild dogs have regularly been sighted in Vwaza (and have been seen in Nyika) it is therefore vital to keep the Zambian border open as these dogs must have come from Zambia and also to maintain a wildlife corridor between Vwaza and Nyika. Vwaza is slightly larger than Majete but if it were fenced entirely it would likely also be far too small to support wild dogs. Given how far wild dogs roam these dogs presumably cross the border on a quite regular basis and it’s quite likely that the dogs occasionally seen in Nyika are the same ones seen in Vwaza.
These examples from Malawi show that for small parks and reserves that are very largely surrounded by agriculture putting up fences is only sensible. You need to keep people out to prevent meat poaching; cutting of trees etc and you need to keep the animals in to protect crops and human lives. There’s really nothing to be gained from not putting up fences if animals leave the park there’s nowhere for them to go any elephant migration routes are long gone. Animals have already been prevented from moving between reserves because of the growth in the human population and the loss of habitat to agriculture establishing wildlife corridors through these agricultural landscapes isn’t an option. It will undoubtedly still be necessary for animals to move from one park/reserve to another to prevent inbreeding but this will have to be done by wildlife managers moving them. In the smallest reserves inbreeding is likely to be the biggest problem and if steps are not taken to prevent it then some species may well decline. The animals like wild dogs that require much larger areas to roam and that would likely be doomed by fences are already gone from these reserves.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 ethologistspecialising 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.
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.
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.
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, 17 July 2016 - 03:43 PM.
Galana, michael-ibk, Africalover and 2 others like this
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.
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.
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.
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.