Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Erection Problems? Chew Your Fingernails.

What a complex business wildlife conservation is. I read that a rhino park has recently opened in China. At this park, which will hold several white rhinos, they will humanely harvest the horns by tranquilizing the animals and removing the horn. In this way it will grow back and the Chinese will have a sustainable supply of rhino horn to sell to those men who very misguidedly believe it will solve their erection problems.
Rhino horn is just keratin - the same as your finger nails, so if you'll pardon the expression - if you have a limp willy, chew your nails, it has the same effect as rhino horn. Now on the face of it you may think that the rhino park is a good idea, and that it will take the pressure off a wild population which is being decimated by poaching. Sadly this is not necessarily the case. I have a horrible feeling that all it will do is increase the demand for powdered rhino horn and therefore increase the poaching problem. I really hope I'm wrong.

Certain African governments have moved to have the ban on the sale of ivory lifted so that they can sell their huge stockpiles of confiscated ivory in order to gain much needed revenue. Where's the harm in that? You might ask. No elephants are being slaughtered. All they're doing is selling ivory from elephants that were poached long ago. However, once again, you run the risk of increasing demand. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of the fact that ivory is once again a legal commodity and will step up their poaching activities, and how can you tell whether the ivory you've bought is from a legal stockpile or an illegally poached animal?

Many parts of Africa - Chobe National Park in Botswana for example, have far too many elephants. The result of this is the destruction of habitat for many other species as well as for the elephants themselves. Authorities try to avoid culling, because with elephants you cannot just kill individual animals as this traumatises the entire herd and can make them wary and aggressive. Imagine someone coming into your house and shooting your brother. You'd be wary and aggressive too right? They would have to destroy the entire herd, including calves, and apart from the public outcry that this would cause, no one really wants to go down that path. So, the only option left is relocation, but again the whole herd has to go which is immensely time consuming and massively expensive.

When male elephant calves reach a certain age they are booted out of the family group which helps to prevent in-breeding within the herd. These boys often form a bachelor herd and do what most groups of young men will do - hang out together, chase girls and generally behave in an obnoxious manner. Old lone bulls that they come into contact with will act as mentors and will have a calming effect on the younger bulls. In addition the old fellows will pass on their bush wisdom, teaching the lads the proper way be behave and where to find the best grazing and water holes for example. Hunting concessions usually sell these old bulls to hunters who pay thousands of dollars to shoot an elephant. Why anyone would want to kill such a magnificent animal is beyond me, but a lot of that money is then ploughed back into conservation. Of course the problem with that is that there are then a shortage of old bulls to teach the youngsters in the bachelor herd how to behave, and so they go a bit "feral" as kids without proper adult guidance will. They then start breaking down fences, raiding crops, destroying water pipes and painting graffiti. Of course this is not tolerated by the human populace and both animals and humans are often killed in the battles that break out. This problem is not confined to Africa either, India has similar issues to deal with.

So, whatever you do, don't go thinking that African wildlife conservation is a simple issue. There are so many things to consider, and an action that may be taken for the good of one species of animal in good faith can easily backfire with unexpected disastrous consequences for another species. These things have to be thought through and researched. There is no quick fix, but as long as there are people who care about preserving wild Africa we will at least be heading in the right direction.    

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