Habituated wild animals





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  1. #1
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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.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Stan I cant afford High Cost camping thats why I currently camp at Rooiputs = Cheaper than the outsourced camps at CKGR and NXAI Pan and Fenced camping at Etosha ..and I only ever go to double the price SANParks fenced camps during Pensioners Discount periods > have to stay long periods as the Fuel Price in a Hilux from E Cape to say Rooiputs or Tsendze is the price of an airline ticket to New York ..So looks like I will be camping more often at Yellow Sands down your way more often R1750 for pensioners for the month and change from Wild Life Photography to Seascape long exposure photography ..Sad as in the 1980's we used to camp at Nossob in PRIME April month and be the ONLY Campers for THREE WEEK stays ..So I sincerely hope your scheme doesnt fly as it will only be for the Sandton Range Rover Owners

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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Well it's a very interesting debate!

    In a nutshel...

    The East Africa parks are expensive and hard to reach: only the lucky few can access them and afford them.

    The Southern Africa parks are cheaper and easier to get to (more or less) but the high numbers of visitors makes habituation, inappropriate interaction and human contact more of a an issue .

    I honestly cannot decide: I am an FGASA guide , although I am not working in this field at the moment. I always feel I want to make wildlife accessible to as many people and communities as possible because with knowledge and appreciation comes the spark that might make a child into a conservationist rather than an armchair/keyboard expert or even poacher.

    On the other hand I can see that easy access can cause complacency, overconfidence etc. I have seen guys chase elephants in quads and bakkies around in Kariba ...

    I wouldn't like to be the one who decides to close down the amazing camps we have in Southern Africa. We are very lucky...it's a very delicate issue and I don't see a silver bullet .

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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    I think you are not getting the series of responses as one would have wanted - as no one has an answer!

    I don't believe making it more expensive will change anything. Rich people are not necessarily more responsible than poor people.

    The sense of entitlement is the issue perhaps? We pay - we do what we like.

    Also more expensive campsites will not be a problem for foreigners. So you only cut down on locals

    I dunno either - I am still thinking.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    It would fulfil a rather fanciful dream for me should Kruger open unfenced camps for the hardy few prepared to sign an indemnity.
    Just a dream but it would help to train the uninitiated on how to behave in these conditions, but on their home turf.
    I agree that this is a complex debate and I trust others are "still thinking".
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  10. #6
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Let me say "I hear you Stan". Your theme is habituation of the animals and high volume will achieve this. Are we sitting on a time bomb in Mabua/ Fully agree. We already had one incident at Matopi.

    But also not sure if increasing the price will solve the issue. Will it reduce numbers? Maybe, but the waiting lists for Mabua and the other Botswana KTP wild camps are so long that it would probably still not help. And even amongst the rich there are stupid people doing stupid stuff.

    Education probably remains the thing that can really make an impact but it takes time to make an impact on people's actions. Broad base education, big signs at entrance gates etc. has hardly any impact. People still hang out of their cars or even get out.

    I would suggest a more direct eduction with people who come to these areas. This is a task up to the rangers, volunteers and conservationists who work there. Mabua in particular only has a few sites in the conservancy. A stop at a camp site by a ranger to discuss and educate the visitors will have more lasting impact. Will there still be stupid ones? For sure, but hopefully they will think twice. This then need to be followed up by strong policing. You put out water or leave your BBQ bones out to attract animals - you should be escorted out of the area immediately.

    Then there are us. What do we do when we see other people doing these things? Do we confront them or do we just drive past? What do we do when we see someone throwing bones over a fence to attract animals?

    Thanks for hanging the issue on the bell. It is serious and should be taken serious.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    I sat on my hands for a while before answering Stan. I was lucky enough to grow up going to family in Botswana all through my school years. Trips into the areas that are now the reserves were always a highlight of the holiday. I have not been able to travel to these areas for many years for different reasons but a big one has been the cost. If you push the costs up even further it will be only the very well off locals and overseas visitors that will be able to enjoy something that should be available to many more locals. Having money doesn't mean that the well off visitor to the wilderness areas will be better behaved. Unfortunately from what I've experienced in recent times is that the more people have paid for something the bigger the feeling of entitlement to do as they please and not follow the rules.
    The only way I see the dangerous behaviour being curtailed is for the current rules to be policed and enforced strictly. If this means having a permanent warden or ranger at each camp to do the enforcing so be it. Having a person watching over your shoulder might not be what you want but at least it will be better than fenced camps or exorbitant increases in fees.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Thank you for the thought-provoking responses.

    Increased fees will never be a popular choice, but if they are increased enough they will decrease numbers.
    The increase in the number of visitors is probably a major factor in "familiarity breeds contempt". This cliche works both ways, familiarity and contempt from both the visitor and animal point of view.

    In the natural way of things, defenceless humans should avoid any contact with dangerous animals and animals should avoid the merest whiff of human scent.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    I think education is worthwhile although the impact will not be short term.

    Part of the reason for the huge pressure on camps has been the intensive publicity given to these reserves.

    Having visited Kgalagadi for several decades I can't remember seeing such a flood of articles making unfenced camping look like the simplest exercise in the world.

    I don't recall much advice being given on how to camp safely and how to behave in these pristine areas. SANParks and its Botswana counterparts need to push the message out to the media and underscore what is at stake.

    One wonders how many of the "new tourists" are baiting their camp sites with biltong or leaving lamb chops out at night to attract the big cats.

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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Great thread. At its heart is the thought that tourism can easily damage the very things we seek. And normally does in fact. I was in tourism for five years, and being part of that machine ate away at my soul.

    I agree education is a good compromise going forward, but thats a difficult thing to do. People don't really listen.......

    A suggestion from someone was having a ranger visit the camps in rotation. Very intrusive, but though many would resent it (I suspect the ones being most vocal in objection might be the offenders), I think its a good step, and would achieve much more to have a knowledgeable experienced and credible (and friendly) ranger explain that leaving food out at night could have an unhappy ending, than writing it on the entry permit or displaying it on a board. For instance. All of the Bots rangers I have met would satisfy those criteria. I personally always welcome interaction with people who live and work in the areas I travel through.

    But inevitably it would cost more.

    Just increasing the price I don't think would do it. Though it would reduce volumes, it would not in itself improve the behaviour of the visitor.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Quote Originally Posted by tashtego9 View Post
    Well it's a very interesting debate!

    In a nutshel...

    The East Africa parks are expensive and hard to reach: only the lucky few can access them and afford them.

    The Southern Africa parks are cheaper and easier to get to (more or less) but the high numbers of visitors makes habituation, inappropriate interaction and human contact more of a an issue .

    I honestly cannot decide: I am an FGASA guide , although I am not working in this field at the moment. I always feel I want to make wildlife accessible to as many people and communities as possible because with knowledge and appreciation comes the spark that might make a child into a conservationist rather than an armchair/keyboard expert or even poacher.

    On the other hand I can see that easy access can cause complacency, overconfidence etc. I have seen guys chase elephants in quads and bakkies around in Kariba ...

    I wouldn't like to be the one who decides to close down the amazing camps we have in Southern Africa. We are very lucky...it's a very delicate issue and I don't see a silver bullet .
    My problem, and with the GREATEST RESPECT for Stan.

    He, and his privileged few have experienced these great things and now want to close them down for us to experience. (And I don't mean privileged as in rich and spoilt, I mean it in the sense of being there in the right place and time.)

    Kinda similar to driving on the beach laws.

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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Quote Originally Posted by Fluffy View Post
    My problem, and with the GREATEST RESPECT for Stan.

    He, and his privileged few have experienced these great things and now want to close them down for us to experience. (And I don't mean privileged as in rich and spoilt, I mean it in the sense of being there in the right place and time.)

    Kinda similar to driving on the beach laws.

    ------------------

    Please put my thinking right, I can take it, my names not .......
    Fluffy - I believe Stan's thinking is exactly the opposite - not wanting to close it down for us to experience - but to protect it for the future of the animals and visitors- so it can be experienced it as it should be experienced.

    However - I believe your point is correct that the effect will be just that - that it will be closed down for us regular folk.

    Thats my thinking if you get what I mean

    (and your name is not wot?? )
    Last edited by EHoffmann; 2019/03/25 at 06:42 PM.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Well I think that's the whole motivation for the South African parks to have fenced off camp sites, and then with that come the facilities, and for that they need the visitors again People, from various walks, want to see the animals, but have very little knowledge of the behaviors etc. During the day on drives its mostly fine within a vehicle, but at the camps they needed to be kept away from these animals for these various reasons.

    In 1974, a pal and me visited Bots and Zim. In Chobe and Moremi area the hyenas and baboons were already a problem., although tourists were very few. The Elephants in Hwange were not different then those in Gonerezhou now.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Quote Originally Posted by JLK View Post
    In 1974, a pal and me visited Bots and Zim. In Chobe and Moremi area the hyenas and baboons were already a problem., although tourists were very few. The Elephants in Hwange were not different then those in Gonerezhou now.
    That is indeed true but how are these behaviour patterns explained?

    I think the Gonerezhou elephants' behaviour has been attributed to poaching pressure. Where the elephants have become habituated to vehicles as in Chobe, they tend to largely ignore them. This is the double-edged sword of habituation, it can also have positive effects on wildlife-based tourism.

    Interestingly enough, many of the larger yet relatively low traffic public campgrounds in the East African parks, have major problems with habituated and marauding baboons and vervet monkeys. Here I think of those like Samburu, Tsavo and Meru in Kenya and Ruaha in Tanzania. Some animals seem to learn quicker than others that campsites might have something to offer sufficient to overcome their inherent fear of humans. I think spotted hyenas are almost as quick to see opportunities to be found in campsites. Lions and elephants on the other hand seem to have to be tempted and habituated over a far longer period of time and with higher human densities, before they might become a danger to campers.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Stan, ... in reading your opening post
    a number of aspects came to mind.
    I recall, as a boy, reading about the
    man-eaters of Tsavo and other
    instances and accounts of
    animal-human interaction arising
    from the early development in Africa.
    Accounts of the early push northward
    of railways into my homeland of
    Northern Rhodesia is also fascinating.
    In my opinion European settlers
    spreading through and into Africa
    failed to be discrete and had excessive
    impact especially through the practices
    of trophy- (as opposed to pot-) hunting
    and safari operators often leading
    and incentivised by especially foreign
    but also local tourists and quick-click
    trophy-photographers.
    This all above and beyond the farmer
    settlers trying to grow crops and raise
    livestock in wild pristine areas as my
    N. Rhodesian forefathers did.

    Here in SA the intense farming, hunting
    and exploitative safari-operator
    intrusions have largely overwhelmed
    the natural wild conditions that must have
    once prevailed and alas ... increasingly they
    venture on forays to the north’
    Yet ... I feel the high-cost low volume
    approach serves to deprive the average
    African (of any colour!) of experiencing
    his heritage ...
    Rather we need clamp down
    on trophy-hunters, reckless safari-operators
    and very high-volume tourism and
    ... of course contain the intrusion and
    invasion of protected/proclaimed areas
    by farmers and developers.
    We need much better strict legislation and its
    effective imposition.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    An interesting discussion and an important issue. For a start I am one of the foreigner from overseas, who seem to flood your campsites in increasing numbers

    I travel with my family which include my 2 sons which now is aged 10 and 14. We have camped a lot of times(started with fenced campsites like Etosha and Kruger) and the last 2 trips have been to Botswana staying in unfenced campsites.. We camped in Moremi, CKGR, Kwai, Savuti, Kgalagadi and Mabuasehube. We had elephants at the campsite in Savuti, hyenas in all camps except CKGR and Kgalagadi and lions in Kgalagadi (Rooiputs) and Mabuasehube(Mpaya).

    Two remarks:

    First one: Increasing costs will not do a big difference for us foreigners. The costs of accommodation only accounts for around 10-15 % of the total costs for a trip(the main one being car hire and flight tickets)

    The other one is that in Kgalagadi/Mabuasehube the showers (Rooiputs 1 and Mpaya 1) is made in way that they collect the water after use, which of course attract a lot of wildlife. Any suggestions why that is?? I guess that is made from the DWNP and not by irresponsible tourists.

    But agree that it would a disaster if they close down for unfenced camping.

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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Great debate, thanks Stan.

    Along with the developments of social media, sightings apps, drones and other tech advancements, the landscape of a wildlife holiday has changed.

    If we are to categorise then perhaps the following will apply:

    Contained wildlife reserves. Here I refer to the luxury market reserves such as the private game reserves.

    State owned reserves, San parks or regional reserves ran by municipalities or Government.

    Safari, here I refer to long overlanding trips to various locations, usually crossing borders.

    Wildlife parks, such as Lion and Rhino, Predator park and so on.

    In essence we now have choices as to how we perceive and plan our holiday time.

    We can choose to visit a single location or we can choose to go on Safari or to simply overland to various locations. Those choices will be dictated mainly by budget. Perhaps it will be a once in a lifetime or may be included in an annual budget.

    Personal preference comes next, those that prefer luxury lodges and private reserves will ague that this is the way to see wildlife as the environment is controlled by Rangers a dedicated game sightings vehicles.

    Then comes choices of self drive to state owned reserves or longer Safari's and lastly trips to wildlife parks.

    The thought process here comes down to how we perceive ourselves in these environments. Some of us believe ourselves to be bush savvy and many will only feel safe in a wildlife park and think that folks who go to Mabua are nuts to risk their lives like that.

    As things stand not much will change in the short term and we will have as many opinions on how to change or even if we must change as we have people debating this issue.

    All I can say is that on my travels I will endeavour to behave well myself and be an example to others. If I am permitted I will try to educate ..... but will just as quickly turn my back on those that will not be educated because I know there is no joy there.

    Stan and Tony have presented an argument that spans a far larger geographic area that I will probably never see and have incorporated many problem areas.

    I can't fix that, it's too big. Best I can do is my little bit in the areas that I visit. Perhaps if we all did that we can make a difference.
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    That's why I never go into the wild bush without a game ranger or at least with a rifle.

    In fact, that's why I like going to the seaside: I have never heard of a shark or in fact a killer whale making it half way up the beach........
    2012 Jeep Sahara Unlimited 3.6 V6
    Percivamus

  33. #19
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Quote Originally Posted by jelo View Post

    In fact, that's why I like going to the seaside: I have never heard of a shark or in fact a killer whale making it half way up the beach........
    Mhmmm....check this:


    https://youtu.be/AtF3FPyRVIw

  34. #20
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    Default Re: Habituated wild animals

    Quote Originally Posted by tashtego9 View Post
    Mhmmm....check this:


    https://youtu.be/AtF3FPyRVIw
    yep but that's not half way up the beach

    i can outrun a shark or killer whale even at my age
    2012 Jeep Sahara Unlimited 3.6 V6
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