Habituated wild animals

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    East London
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    Default Habituated wild animals

    An exchange of emails from a couple of old and trusted East African hands who are active on this forum, has stirred me to open this thread for discussion. The email discussion originated from a trip report thread that was side tracked to largely discuss lion–human interaction and possible lion habituation in Mabuasehube.

    I was reminded that it is truly exceptional for any large, wild animal to enter within any of the campsites in the whole of East Africa and there the chances of adverse human-animal interactions are truly minimal. In East Africa they practice true high cost, low volume tourism. The lower independent tourist volumes are probably attributable to the high cost of such visits. This reduces wild animal habituation and thus also reduce the risks of dangerous human-large animal encounters. The monetary income remains the same!

    In East Africa many of the campsites also have minimal facilities, no water or ablutions. Thus there is little to attract the animals into the campsites even in arid areas like the Samburu NP of Kenya. Also the lack of “facilities on tap” means that mainly dyed-in-the-wool tourism enthusiasts want to use these campsites and these old hands should be able to effectively avoid dangerous incidents with wild animal before they escalate. In much of East Africa the indigenous population continues to live and herd their cattle in the midst of wildlife conservation areas. Is it perhaps the no-nonsense attitude of the Maasai and such people towards predators that has maintained the natural aversion of wild animals to any human contact in those countries? There appears to be a natural balance with minimal habituation.

    In Southern Africa the increasingly sophisticated facilities, relatively low prices and media publicity have resulted in growing numbers of campers in the unfenced campsites of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, from South Africans in particular. If something is convenient, easy and priced cheaply enough, it seems that every Tom, Dik and Harry with a 4x4 will make use of it. All types of South Africans are flooding these unfenced camping facilities. These increased numbers and the inexperience of some of the campers has resulted in dangerous human habituation of the wildlife in my opinion. Overseas independent travelers are also swelling these numbers to some extent.

    Over the years I have personally have had some fairly dire contacts with semi-habituated animals in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. More broadly these appear to be increasing in frequency, especially involving Kalahari lions. I particularly think of all the lions visiting unfenced campsites particularly in Mabuasehube and other sections of the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. There are unfortunately many reports of short-sighted campers trying to attract predators into their campsites for the thrill. I think it was Etienne le Rich of the famed family of custodians of the Kgalagadi NP who stated that the one sure way to attract the attention of a Kalahari lion, was to light a fire! This observation arose from the bygone days when the rangers patrolled on foot and slept out in the open at night. It seems these Kalahari lions have always been a little different.

    Then one is reminded of the well documented encounters with aggressive elephants at Third Bridge and especially Xakanaxa. The hyena and even leopard intrusions at Khwai Camp and other Moremi campsites are another example. Lions and elephant also visit the campsite at Nxai Pan. In Namibia the dangerous encounters with wild desert elephant in camp at Puros are well documented. In Zimbabwe the death of Peter Evershed at Chitake Camp in Mana Pools in 2010 (Google), is well documented as is a near-fatal lion attack at Matusadona around that time. In my opinion this situation is not going to be allowed to continue for long in its present form. All that is needed is a sensational tragedy and the authorities are going to be forced to reign back on the freedoms many of us enjoy so much.

    In contrast in Tanzania, in a special campsite in Serengeti in the Western Corridor, we were allocated a very isolated, unfenced site with no facilities, named Kira Wira. We found that we were camped in the midst of a large, resident pride of lions numbering somewhere between 20 to 30 members. They remained in this area as it was a few hundred meters from the Grumeti River and there was plenty of food in the form of the last of the wildebeest migration. We spent three days camping there, just the two of us. The lion pride were scattered all around us all the time, especially making an unforgettable impact with their nocturnal roaring. Unlike our experiences in the Kalahari and other campsites further south, they avoided our campsite, detouring fairly widely around it as they moved about.

    We camped in virtually all the well-known East African National Parks and Game Reserves where large predators and elephant occur. A quick count of this trip in 2015 includes at least 4 in Uganda, 7 in Tanzania and 8 in Kenya. To the best of our knowledge at no stage did any elephants, lions or even hyena ever enter our camps there although their calls and presence were frequent in the surroundings. This differs markedly from what we would have experienced if we had spent an equivalent of those 75 days in Southern African parks, where visits and encounters within campsites would have been inevitable. I think it is just a matter of time until a Kalahari lion or Moremi elephant (for example), is inadvertently startled or feels threatened in camp, resulting in a fatal animal-human encounter. All it requires is a single, forepaw blow from a lion that thinks it is cornered, as a reflex reaction to the perceived threat, and we will have death on our hands. I fear that the authorities would then have little option but to tighten camping regulations and possible cull the responsible animal. We might then be facing fenced campsites, intrusive security patrols and far stricter regulations, all greatly diminishing the wilderness experience permanently.

    In South Africa our national parks have fantastic facilities for those wanting to see African wildlife and there is even provision for camping for those wanting a more authentic bush experience. The campsites closest to the sturdy camp perimeter fences are often the most popular. Here the animals are protected from contact with humans. I would move that these provide more than sufficient an African bush experience for the average local and overseas tourist. Just the ability to conduct a self-drive, game viewing outing is a real privilege.

    Unfortunately such destinations are not enough to satisfy some of us seeking more intimate African bush experiences, no matter how ill equipped to cope with that environment we might be. Many feel compelled to seek out the thrill of unfenced campsites amidst the animals, despite being poorly equipped to safely coexist with these potentially dangerous large wild animals. We were all new at this experience once and I remain grateful to those that mentored my first excursions into unfenced wildlife camping. Broad-based education does not seem to be effective and I do not see the day when there will be sufficient patrols to enforce safe habits. If there are sufficient tragic human-animal encounters, these unfenced campsites will no longer be allowed to exist in their present form. I fear that they are simply not suitable for high volume, independant tourism. My self-serving fear is that these relatively unregulated and unfenced wilderness destinations will become regulated into vastly different places to visit, directly due to tragic human-animal interactions. I feel the time has come to be ruthless and follow the East African model of low volume (lesser camping conveniences and facilities), high cost tourism for this type of facility. If this is the best means of preserving these unfenced camp experiences, well and good, albeit with fewer visits from my side because of budget considerations.

    I realize that the above proposal for a possible solution will be unpopular with some, but I hope it will be food for thought and perhaps even alter some behavior for the better. Any debate and contributions are welcomed.
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    Trans East Africa 2015/2016 Trip report http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...e16?highlight= from post 315.

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