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

lion fence Craig Packer conservation Selous South Africa

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#41 inyathi


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Posted 21 July 2016 - 01:06 AM

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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#42 egilio


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Posted 22 July 2016 - 09:50 PM

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

#43 douglaswise


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Posted 23 July 2016 - 12:48 PM



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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#44 douglaswise


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Posted 23 July 2016 - 01:08 PM

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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#45 Towlersonsafari


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Posted 24 July 2016 - 08:51 AM

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

#46 wilddog


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Posted 24 July 2016 - 10:04 AM

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.ne...age-2?hl=hwange
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