2 ELEPHANTSElephant ManagementElephant Management in Kruger National Park Series 9-TGA Public Position Statements

A Public Guidance Publication: The Importance of an Animal’s Four Life-Quarters

The True Green Alliance

A Public Guidance Publication

Understanding The Principles And Practices Of Wildlife Management

One does not become ‘comfortable’ with wildlife management affairs until you have completed Malcolm Gladwell’s proverbial 10 000 hours of service to its study and application. What does that make me, then, after 60 years of total passion and dedication? I don’t, however, profess to be an expert at anything, but I would like my observations to be, at least, considered. And this observation proves that one never stops learning.

This idea, however, is something new. You won’t read what I am about to tell you in any university text book. It represents a new way of looking at one small part of the science of wildlife management. And it debunks the animal rightists’ assertion that even responsible Trophy Hunting does a great deal of harm to wild animal populations. THAT is bunkum!

When, recently, I was struggling to evaluate the animal rightists’ giant propaganda lie – ‘Cecil the Lion – I came up with a brand new perspective on wild lion management. And, in a flash, it was working for me. I began immediately to understand the subject better. I then applied it to elephants, and to the human species, too, and it worked right across the spectrum. And if you are not too precise it will work for you, too.

When trying to visualize the life span of an animal species, any animal species, divide its normal life expectancy into four equal quarters. Then determine the changing circumstances of a single individual as it passes through each of those life-quarters. How it is placed in its own population’s hierarchy. What it is actually doing during that quarter? Take note of any physical and behavioural changes that take place. And a new and realistic perspective will take shape in your mind. Furthermore, you will start to feel ‘comfortable’ with your own management decisions. Why? Because the science of wildlife management then starts to become ‘real’.

The African Elephant

What is the life-span of an African elephant? Sixty years the scientists will tell you. That means its four life-quarters equate to time-spans of fifteen years each.

During its first life-quarter a bull elephant is born; it suckles from its mother; it is weaned; it converts to eating plants; it becomes pubertal; it leaves its maternal breeding herd; and it joins an all bull herd. And all the while it has been jostling for rank, play fighting, amongst its siblings. And all this happens during the elephant’s first fifteen years.

Its second life-quarter ranges from 15 years to 30. During that period the young bulls mature into sub-adulthood. And they continue to spar with each other for an ever better position on the ranking structure. They do not breed, however, because only fully mature bulls can come into musth; and bulls that are not in musth cannot breed. Indeed, just the presence of fully adult and much bigger bulls, in musth, suppresses the development of musth in this younger age class.

The third life-quarter occurs between the age of 30 and 45. During this period of life the elephant bulls enter full adulthood, they grow in size immensely, and they, individually, use their incredible strength to achieve breeding dominance. It is within this cohort of animals that all periods of musth occur and most breeding takes place. Serious fighting within the established higher ranks of the bull community is the factor that seriously suppresses the occurrence of musth in the younger bulls. Younger bulls, in the second life-quarter phase, cannot compete, physically, with any of these leviathans.

Moving into their fourth life-quarter (45 years to 60) sees the big bulls slowly sliding down the slope into senility. They may not immediately stop breeding, but they no longer have the strength to fight their opponents; and rank within the bull hierarchy becomes of no consequence. They stop coming into musth and their final set of molar teeth wears out altogether. This means they can no longer masticate the rough tree bark that they eat. That, in turn, means they cannot properly digest their food. And, slowly but surely, ever greater levels of starvation leads to their deaths. Senile elephants die of starvation!

Bull elephant tusks, however, never stop growing. They increase in length, in thickness and in weight, until the day the elephant dies.

It is a fallacy, therefore, to believe the animal rightists’ twaddle that the elephant bulls with the biggest tusks are important gene-banks for their populations. Old elephant bulls do not breed. Elephant bulls pass on their genes to the next generation during their third life-quarter. Not thereafter!

The African Lion

The life expectancy of the African Lion, in the wild, is about twelve years – although I acknowledge that some people say fifteen. On the other hand the Kruger National Park lions are said to have a life expectancy of just ten years because they are all infected with Bovine TB.

All things being considered equal, however, I think that the general life-quarter span of an African lion in the wild is about three years.

During a male lion’s first life-quarter, it is born, suckles from its mother, becomes weaned and grows into sub-adulthood. At between 22 and 24 months of age young male lions (and females) are evicted from their parental prides and they are required to fend for themselves from then on. They become ‘nomads’ – wanderers. At three years old, if they survive that long, they have grown reasonable manes and they actually look like young adult lions. They still have to find a home-range of their own, however, and they are pushed form pillar to post all day and every night, by the mature lions in the population who want nothing at all to do with them. They get just as much competition from the older nomads, however, than they do from the pride males. Nevertheless, although many don’t, some survive.

The young lion’s second life-quarter is one of great danger and constant competition, but it is during this second phase of their lives that they learn all the intricate tricks of survival. By the time they are six, the males have huge manes and they are twice the size and twice the mass of the three year olds. At six they are truly big adult animals and capable of challenging the dominant pride males in the population. At the end of this second life-quarter (as happens with all species) they are on the cusp of full adulthood.

During the male lions’ third life-quarter, they begin their adult life with a vengeance. This is when they challenge the pride males for possession of their territories and possession of their harems. The older fourth-quarter pride males often succumb, because they cannot compete with the strength and the power of their third life-quarter rivals. Thus ownership of the prides often changes hands during this period – but not always. Many pride owners, and many challengers, are killed in the process. But it is during this third life-quarter of their lives that the young adults intensify their breeding opportunities.

Many lions pass into their fourth life-quarter still in charge of their harems, but after they pass their ninth or tenth year anniversaries, the older males start to seriously slide into senility. Sooner or later a stronger, younger male will come along and challenge the old man and dispossess him of his pride; and dispossess him of his territory, too. And the deposed male will leave the land of his birth and seek a new home-range of his own, in isolation, and normally on an unprotected game or privately owned cattle ranch. In this regard, we have to remember that if they remain inside their old game reserve territories, they will be killed.

These deposed and old fourth life-quarter males are of no consequence to the resident prides in a national park. They are no longer breeding so they are totally surplus to the general lion species for many miles around. And it is these fourth life-quarter males that the Trophy Hunter should best be targeting. In this regard, I think the Oxford scientists of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe have provided us with the best possible Trophy Hunting model.

I know that in Tanzania it is illegal to shoot a male lion under the age of seven. But I fail to see the sense in that requirement. Seven year old male lions are just starting their most productive third life-quarter cycles, so the occurrence of such a lion in any sanctuary is a certain plus for any lion population. But, in Tanzania, those very lions are the ones being wantonly and legally eliminated.

Cecil the Lion was thirteen years old when he was killed by a trophy hunter. He had already been deposed and he had established a new and solitary home range outside the boundaries of Hwange National Park. He was living on privately owned land. He had even moved, marginally, into his fifth life-quarter period. Cecil the Lion, therefore, was the perfect example of the kind of lion that should be reserved for the high-fee-paying Trophy Hunter.

Ron Thomson. CEO- TGA

Below: Elephant – its third life-quarter occurs between the age of 30 and 45

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