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.
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.
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.
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. 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?