OLD AFRICA AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Once upon a time in Africa, people understood that us humans are not above all other animals but equal to them. And so the time has come for us to reflect on the past, present and look deeply to find a solution to the damage we have caused.

Credo Mutwa is an extraordinary South African character; he is a traditional healer, psychic and talented storyteller. His knowledge of old Africa which has been progressively lost throughout past decades remains a crucial key to understanding our true relationship to nature and other animals. In his book, Isilwane the Animal, he describes how African people did not see us humans as separate from nature in the past: we understood that we are not above animals, trees, fishes and birds but equal to them.

Old Africa understood our interconnectedness with all living beings. When the white man came to Africa, the continent was teeming with animals which were then mass slaughtered once they erected their farms.
Credo makes the point that many westerners still believe that conservation was imported by colonial powers into Africa and Ian Player confirms in the foreward to the book that those who worked in reserves and protected areas in Zululand know that conservation existed long before the white man arrived.  He describes how African tribes respected nature and our interconnectedness with the Earth by holding wild animals as their totems – a system which served to preserve the environment and showed a clear respect for a healthy biodiversity.


Excerpts from ISILWANE THE ANIMAL BY CREDO MUTWA:

“Through Isilwane the Animal, I hope to open the eyes of the world to traditional African attitudes, folklore and rituals which have governed the relationships between the people of Africa and the animal world.
Today we see the human race running around in circles, like a mad dog chasing its own tail. Today, the same type of confusion prevails in all fields of human thought. There is confusion in the way we view ourselves, there is confusion in the way we view the earth, there is even confusion, believe it or not, at the core of every one of the world’s religions. I can state this with confidence as I have studied most of these religions and even joined some of them.

 But why the confusion? It is due to the way we view things: the way we view the atom, stars, life on Earth, and the way we view the Deity Himself or Herself. But the most dangerous and destructive view by far – one which has changed human beings into rampaging, destructive and mindless beasts – is that we compare ourselves with other living things.

Western Man is taught that he is the master of all living things. The bible itself enshrines this extreme attitude, as do other great books. Repeatedly one hears of dangerous phrases such as “untamed nature”, or “interrogating nature with power”. One hears of the strange belief that man is superior to all other living things on Earth and that he was especially created to be overlord and custodian of all things animate and inanimate. Until these attitudes are combated and erased from the human mind, Westernised humans will be a danger to all earthly life, including themselves.”
“When white people came to Africa, they had been conditioned to separate themselves spiritually and physically from wildlife. In the vast herds of animals, they saw four footed enemies to be crushed and objects of fun to be destroyed for pleasure. They slaughtered wild animals by the million. It never occurred to the white pioneers that these animals were protected by the native tribes through whose land they migrated. It never occurred to them, with their muskets, rifles and carbines, that black people worshipped these great herds and regarded them as an integral part of their existence on Earth.”

CONSERVATION AND THE TOTEM SYSTEM:
“In old Africa, every tribe had an animal that it regarded as its totem, an animal after which the tribe had been names by its founders. It was the sacred duty of the tribe to ensure that the animal after which it was named was never harmed within the confines of its territory. In addition, Africans knew that certain wild animals co-exist with others, and that in order to protect the animal after which the tribe was named, it was essential to protect those animals with which the sacred one co-existed. In KwaZulu- Natal for example, there is a tribe, the Dube people, for whom the zebra is a totem. These people not only protect vast herds of zebra in their tribal land, allowing them to roam where they choose, but they also protect herds of wildebeest because they realise that zebras co-exist with wildebeest. ...The old Africans knew that to protect the zebra one had to effectively protect the wildebeest, the warthog, the bushpig, the eland, the kudu and other animals sometimes found grazing with zebra in the bush. But the old Africans knew that it was not enough to simply protect those animals which grazed with their totem animal. It was essential to protect those animals which preyed upon their sacred animals.

“There were tribes, such as the Batswana Bakaru and the Bafurutsi, which regarded the Baboon as their totem. They knew that protecting the baboons alone was not enough. The leopard which preyed on the baboon had to be protected, along with the plants upon which the baboon fed. The people knew that if they did not protect the plants, they would starve in the bush and start feeding on the crops in the people’s corn and maize fields. If this occurred, baboons would become man’s enemy.
The Batswana Batloung tribe, whose name means “people of the elephant”, were sworn to protect the elephant. They also protected the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus, which they regarded as the elephant’s cousins. It was believed that an elephant would not injure a person who carried the Bafluong name.”

BIODIVERSITY:

“The African people knew, just as the native American people knew, that if you destroy the environment, you will ultimately destroy the human race. ...A remarkable Tswana proverb states that, “He who buries the tree, will next bury the wild animal, and after that, bury his own ox, and ultimately bury his own children.” This saying indicates that people were aware, even in ancient times, of the interdependence on all living creatures upon this Earth, and that if you harm one, you harm others and, in the end yourself.” 

Not Only Humans Have Gender Wars






Observing wild primate behaviour may be particularly open to projection simply because of our close relationship to these animals, but there's no doubt in my mind that one can learn a lot about human behaviour through watching baboons. 

One interesting dynamic that has shown itself repeatedly through the years is the manner in which human men interpret baboon behaviour and how different this is to the way in which women interpret it (generally speaking). 
A male primatologist once told me that the post coital whoop of the female baboon was "probably fake" and is "intended to stroke the male ego". The video at the bottom of this blog illustrates the female's post coital whoop which I doubt very much is an intentional gesture designed to impress the male... :-)

Some years ago I lived in a recycled wooden cabin perched on the edge of a Magaliesberg gorge. A troop of eleven baboons passed by regularly. I got to know each individual, developed a relationship with them and was inevitably drawn into their social issues at times. The troop was made up of one adult male, five adult females, three juveniles and two infants. 

In my experience, whenever there is only one adult male in a troop, what results is an abuse of power and this certainly seemed to be the case in this group. The alpha male's name was Alfie and he'd moved into the troop after their previous leader had been killed on an electric pylon. Alfie was a tyrant; he singled out the Teleka - top female - and her which resulted in an ongoing tortuous conflict that continued for months. When  a new male moves into a troop, it is normal for traumatic relationships to occur as new social dynamics unfold. This process is particularly stressful and destructive when a troop has only one adult male. 

Watching Alfie harass the others was difficult for me. Sometimes I couldn't help but charge after him or chase him down the hill while banging on a pot. (I wouldn't advise anyone to try this unless armed with a knowledge of baboon behaviour ). One day Alfie attacked a young female juvenile, ensuring she would never use her arm again. 

As the months passed, a strange thing happened. The five females would run towards me when Alfie went after one of them. Apparently, they had observed my ability to scare him off and were silently asking for me to intervene. 

In spite of Alfie's aggressive nature, after two years I felt confident in my relationship with him. I didn't push his boundaries. After all he was a wild adult male baboon who physically could have harmed me had he wanted to. 

One morning Alfie picked on the lowest ranking female in the troop. Instead of remaining passive as they usually did, all five adult females charged at Alfie - in much the way I had done countless times -  who literally went rolling down the sleep slope into the gorge. 

I'd be curious to know how other primate watchers interpret this behaviour. As far as I could see, these baboons have their own gender wars with similar ups and downs to us humans. It appeared that the five females were tolerant and passive towards Alfie's behaviour as he was the "protector" against outsiders but this time he had gone too far and as there was no other adult male to compete and keep the balance, the females had reacted accordingly. 



video

Baboons in Africa - Misunderstanding their Language

A Researcher working in Uganda contacted me some time ago to ask if I could help her understand what was happening to the villagers in her area; a group of the women were being "sexually harassed" by a troop of baboons. These "attacks" occurred when the women headed towards the river to do their daily clothes washing.

I asked if anyone had threatened the baboons, or perhaps walked too close to an infant? She answered that the baboon threats were totally unprovoked by the women and they feared they would be "raped".

Baboons do not rape or sexually harass human women.

Bewildered by this story, I questioned the researcher further.

"Were there any men around when these women were threatened by the baboons?"

"Yes".

The men were threatening the baboons to "protect" the women, the reason being fear.

The behaviour described above is a clear cut case of redirected aggression. The baboons were threatening the women because -  in their eyes -  women are "weaker" hence it is safer to threaten a woman who is connected to a hostile man than threaten the man himself.

This is common behaviour among wild primates. If an adult human man attacks -  or strongly threatens -  a male baboon who feels he has to respond, and there happens to be a woman close by, the baboon will threaten the woman.

As far as baboons sexually harassing humans is concerned, it appears that a certain amount of projection was involved in understanding the behaviour of these baboons.

The solution to a problem like this would be for the men and women to ignore the baboons, act passively and be respectful of their troop and territory.

To harmoniously co-exist with wild primates, it requires us to practice tolerance and patience. We need to take the time to understand their language so we can correctly interpret the behaviour that scares us. 

Petting Lion Cubs Leads to Canned Lion Hunting


Our DPG primates were moved to Tenikwa on 16th April 2013. Tenikwa informed us some months later that they were not economically viable and they were looking into getting in lions. 

 wrote the following post on Facebook: 

"ALERT Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness is getting two lion cubs for petting.... We think the Cape Nature should not have granted them a permit to do so and this is why:
Not too long time ago, they temporary got into the primates and monkeys "rehabilitation", they received some monkeys from the Darwin Primate Group, they killed a few monkeys rather than provide care for them, got out the monkey business and now they are getting into the more profitable lion exploitation business. 


"Informers have told us that the Freemans were neglecting the animals for long periods, starving them and refusing to pay for their food and care. Ultimately, the Tenikwa owners chose to murder the monkeys rather than provide adequate care." 

We've also received reports that Tenikwa is not a safe place when it comes to more dangerous animals and that some even escaped and this was not reported although Tenikwa is located close to a residential area( a young caracal and recently a honey badger amongst others) 

Also the walk with cheetahs doesn't seem to be too safe according to this older (2010) review on TripAdvisor
"I did the cheetah walking with 3 friends and 3 other people. We were 7 in total. After drinking water one adult male cheetah come to the group of people and attacked me three times. I got injured and had 8 sticks in my legs.
I definitely do not recommend this walking, as i am sure that the Tenikwa do not provide enough security. The cheetahs can get free from the leads easily and they are wild animals."
So now they will have lions too.... Not a good thing for sure."
Permit conditions in South Africa – wilful ignorance or self -protection? Recently we wrote to Cape Nature (CN), our provincial conservation service, as follows: CACH to CN Tenikwa represents...
CANNEDLION.ORG

The Case Against Sustainable Use

The Argument Against Consumptive Sustainable Use:

Is it possible to promote the idea of wildlife as a commodity that may be traded, controlled, hunted, subjected to untold cruel practices in the name of biomedical research and entertainment, yet simultaneously expect this practice to foster a respect for wildlife and the environment?

The sustainable use of wildlife can either be consumptive or non-consumptive:

Consumptive use: The killing, trapping and capturing of wild animals for commerce (for ivory, the pet trade, biomedical research) or recreation (sport hunting, entertainment).

Non consumptive Use: An activity that generates income without harming animals or removing them from their habitats.

The concept of sustainable use has been pushed as a sound wildlife management tool, yet in practice it has involved far more “use” (and abuse) and not much sustainability. History has shown that it generally results in the over-exploitation and decimation of the species involved.

Depletion of species used is almost always a foregone conclusion because of several factors, some being:

1.    The short term financial interest and greed (human nature) of the users.

2.    Inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations

3.    The inability to predict the outcome of our attempts to manage wild animals with any degree of accuracy.

These factors and results have almost - without exception - characterised past efforts at consumptive management and the commercial use of wildlife species.

EXAMPLES OF DAMAGED WILD POPULATIONS:

Wild species that are perceived to be in competition with agriculture and forestry are generally painted as healthy and plentiful in spite of the fact that their populations are not monitored. The reason for this is to keep the real damage done to these species hidden from the public so that agriculture can appear to be justified in persecuting them. In Southern Africa, “problem” species have historically been fatally injured and killed in exceptionally cruel ways – poison, gin traps, bow and arrows, dog hunting packs, barbed wire are some of many methods that have been used.

In the past, near Bloemhof about 200 kms west of Johannesburg, a small reserve named the SA Lombard Nature Reserve was in existence. At this reserve, captured predators were fed on meat laced with poisons, while conservation officials recorded the time taken by the animals to die. Dogs were bred (at taxpayers' expense) to supply the dog-packs which hunted the land, killing our wildlife. Large scale barbaric cruelty was carried out, hidden from the tax payers who paid for it. Not much has changed since the days of the Oranjejag hunting club which exterminated 87,570 animals in the Free State alone.

The Wild Dog – once perceived to be a “problem animal” or “damage causing animal”, has been exterminated from large parts of Africa and is an example of how a species that is not monitored, is plagued by misconceptions and is encouraged to be persecuted by legislation and ignorance can become highly endangered due to the message of disrespect conveyed by the consumptive use camp. Today the Wild Dog is one of the continent's most rarely encountered animals.

Other Southern African species that suffer similar effects as perceived “problem animals”, are likely to go the same way unless there is change. The vervet monkey and chacma baboon are generally believed to be healthy due to the fact that they are “commonly” seen in certain areas but the damage caused to troop structures , and how this impacts on related ecosystems has not been taken into consideration. As a result those that work hands-on with these species report a dwindling in numbers and troop structure damage that has a ripple effect on future generations and all related systems.

Founded as the Botswana Wild Dog Research Project in 1989, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) has expanded to cover all the large carnivore species in Botswana. It is one of the longest running large predator research projects in Africa and one of only a handful of its calibre worldwide.

BPCT research on wild dogs has made it abundantly clear that the health and welfare of the entire predator population is a key indication of overall health of the ecosystem.

Preservationists and animal protectionists have begun to realise the importance of focusing not only on endangered species but on working towards a healthy biodiversity.

In his book Animals In Peril, ex chief executive, John Hoyt from the HSUS, says:

“Whales were supposedly sustainably exploited for decades under the careful scientific management regime of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – until all eight species of great whales were pronounced endangered.

Sustainable use did not work with such developed North American resources such as grizzly bears, ducks, californian sardines, ancient forests, or just about anything else that has supposedly been managed, conserved, exploited , utilized or harvested on a sustained yield basis.

Not even white tailed deer which have thrived, can be considered an unmitigated management success. Creating and maintaining a “harvestable surplus” of deer has adversely affected other species, and has been achieved by the removal of old growth forests and predators.”

The “Damage” Caused by Elephants Benefits Biodiversity:

A recent study showing environmental benefits conducted by elephants, that are often perceived to be environmentally damaging, illustrates how inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations can be destructive to the environment: ”Areas heavily damaged by elephants are home to more species of amphibians and reptiles than areas where the beasts are excluded”, the study suggests. The findings have been published in the African Journal of Ecology. "Elephants, along with a number of other species, are considered to be ecological engineers because their activities modify the habitat in a way that affects many other species," explained Bruce Schulte, now based at Western Kentucky University, US."They will do everything from digging with their front legs, pulling up grass to knocking down big trees. So they actually change the shape of the landscape."He added that elephants' digestive system was not very good at processing many of the seeds that they eat."As the faeces are also a great fertiliser, the elephants are also able to rejuvenate the landscape by transporting seeds elsewhere," Dr Schulte told BBC News. In the paper, the scientists concluded that difference in abundance and species richness in the damaged areas was probably a result of engineering by elephants, generating new habitats for a diverse array of frog species. Dr Schulte explained the team decided to carry out the study in order to identify effective indicator species that offered an insight into the health of the region's environment. He added that the findings had implications for habitat and wildlife management strategies;"if we are managing habitat, then we clearly have to know what we are managing it for. "What this study point towards is that although things may not look particularly pretty to a human eye does not necessarily mean that it is detrimental to all the life that is there." 


 

Living With Vervet Monkeys - Loss of Habitat


Living Harmoniously With Vervet Monkeys

In some parts of South Africa, Vervet monkeys have been forced to compete with humans for resources after having their habitat destroyed by human development. On the surface, it may appear that the Vervet monkeys are being deviant but all too often they are genuinely hungry. Human properties have replaced their ancient foraging routes; your home may be on one of these routes.

When monkeys have no choice but to appeal to humans for food:
While there are many educational initiatives advising the public not to feed monkeys, this approach hasn’t worked effectively, especially in areas where monkeys have no choice but to obtain food from urban environments. In cases where monkeys have no option but to seek food from human properties, denying them this option ensures they will look for food on someone else's property - this does not offer a viable solution.  If we accept that compassionate people are likely to feed hungry monkeys in areas where the monkeys have lost their natural food source, then constructive advice on how to feed monkeys is necessary.
 The Hierarchy Connection:
The Vervet troop in your area has worked out a hierarchical relationship with others sharing their territory. This includes human families and the domestic animals connected to them. Vervet monkeys eat according to their hierarchy with the top ranking members having first access to food. Those lower down the hierarchy are allowed to eat only when the top of the hierarchy have had their fill. Vervets do not give their food to others. Vervet mothers do not even share food with their babies. From the monkeys’ point of view, these principles apply to humans which is why it is a problem to feed them by hand.

Never feed a monkey by hand:
The monkeys around our homes are working out a relationship with us.  When a human hands food to a monkey, it may be interpreted as a giving over of power thus giving the message to the monkey that you are taking a submissive position. Giving away your power when feeding a wild primate is the main reason why feeding becomes a problem as the human/monkey relationship progresses. It is due to feeding by hand that certain monkeys are prone to becoming more and more daring and intimidating when approaching humans for food. This behaviour instills fear in people and the consequences tend to result in the monkeys being harmed.
Accepting responsibility for the problem we have created:
 As we are responsible for destroying the natural habitat of monkeys (and other wildlife), it follows that we are responsible for correcting this imbalance which has caused such harm. To protect the wild animals who share our territory, we need to practice tolerance and patience. We need to adapt our lifestyles to live harmoniously with the wildlife whose habitat we have destroyed.

Feeding Stations:
For those residents who choose to co-exist harmoniously by setting up a feeding station we offer the following guidelines:

1. Don’t feed monkeys by hand. This behaviour may show the monkeys you are lower in the hierarchy which encourages them to act demanding and threatening.

2. When you set up a feeding station, do it when the monkeys are not around to see. This ensures that the feeding station will not be associated with humans but will offer the monkeys a food source that they can survive on.

3. A feeding station requires that you place portions of food in at least three different places – preferably out of sight of each other so that the various groups within the troop are fed. One feeding station encourages the top members of the hierarchy to eat while the
others wait and this is likely to cause those lower on the hierarchy to visit your neighbors to check for food there.

4. If you find that the monkeys are visiting at the same time every day and waiting for food, it means they have come to depend on you for that food source. If this is the case, try to limit the food you are putting out so that they eat what is needed but are encouraged to continue on their foraging route to find food elsewhere too. If you feel that the monkeys are visiting because of a drought or because they have no natural habitat to survive in, encourage your neighbors to put out feeding stations as well.
5. Residents who choose to feed monkeys need to be consistent. If you go away, please ensure that someone is there to feed the monkeys in your place.

Your relationship with the monkeys:

It is beneficial to be consistent in your behaviour when the monkeys visit your home. To keep your "power" so that the monkeys do not enter your home, steal food off your table or threaten your pets, use a water bottle to spray at them when they advance or shout and bang on a pot. Remember that the more hungry the monkeys are, the more likely they are to try different methods for getting food. A communal feeding station is a potential solution for both residents and Vervet monkeys.    

Our Relationship With Nature.

My time spent with both orphaned baboons and wild baboon troops brought a clear message about our self-imposed separation from the nature. This message reminded me constantly to see past our pre-conceived notions about species non-human. This lens is necessary if we are to understand wild animals. Letting go of our human based notions about animals also inevitably brings into focus a lost part of the human self.