A man straddles a captive element during the last minutes of daylight

Why you should NOT ride elephants.

Featured Image: El Vaquero

Humans are drawn to elephants. Whether by their size, intelligence, beauty or any other coveted quality, people are willing to travel great distances just to lay eyes upon them.

This attraction is the foundation of a booming tourism industry in Asia.

Unfortunately, by virtue of their magnetism they are subjected to practices that threaten the survival of the species. When most people think of issues that have befell the elephant, few would consider more than ivory poaching.

However, in order to support a growing demand for elephant tourism, operators engage in cruel and systemic practices that transmute wild elephants into docile and submissive creature capable of being ridden.

The rising demands to outlaw elephant rides in Asian countries may seem excessive to those unaware of the situation. But, they have resulted from these practices.

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It is common practice to ride elephants in most asian countries.

Image source: El Vaquero

The situation.

The Asian elephant is listed as ‘endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. Most of the species native countries, except India, host less than a few thousand individuals – several nations have less than two hundred.

In total, their population is estimated to be around 45,000. (Several studies, however, suggest that this is only a crude guess and the true population level is much lower).

A slew of factors contribute to this hastening decline, including: environmental degradation, population fragmentation, human encroachment into habitat, poaching and skewed sex ratios.

Asian elephants are expected to be extinct in the wild in less than 10 years if intervention does not occur.

Tourism.

Poaching tends to sit at the forefront of peoples mind in this situation. But, poaching needs to be understood as a response to an incentive.

Tourism promotes poaching. In order to meet the growing demands of tourists to interact and ride elephants, you need elephants. And, year-on-year, more and more elephants are plucked from the wild to meet this demand.

So prevalent is this demand that in many countries, captive elephants outnumber wild elephants. In Thailand, for example, of the countries estimated 5,000 elephants, more than 4,000 are in captivity.

Supplying a constant need for elephants from a population diminishing at an unprecedented rate is one thing. But, how do you turn a 4-tonne wild animal into a submissive prisoner of your tourism venue?



Crush their spirits…

This title is not intended to fuel an emotion-driven sentiment. Rather, the process of domesticating an elephant is called Phajaan, literally translated to ‘the crush’.

Phajaan originates from Indian hill tribe communities. The traditional practice comes from the idea that shaman can physically separate spirit from body.

The process is rather simple, although macabre. As the name implies, you need to break the animal into submission.

“the brutal truth is that breaking these animals’ spirits to the point that they allow humans to interact with them involves cruelty at every turn”

– Dr Schmidt-Burbach

The process begins around infancy. The baby elephants are dragged from their mothers and place in a kraal or ‘crush cage’ – this often results in the killing of the protective and aggressive mother. Here, it is completely deprived of movement and starved for several days.

Phajaan begins. This involves brutalizing and torturing the baby for around 3 days or as long as needed, using methods of burning, stabbing and beating. Literally breaking the elephant into docile submission.

This stands as an introduction to the tourism industry. For the rest of its life, the relationship of elephant and mahout is one of master and slave – submission through fear.

Mahout continue to brandish a bull hook or some nostalgic weapon of fear when in the presence of the elephant to reinforce submission through visceral fear. The intentional use of these techniques to induce submission in an elephant is hard to view as anything but the most heinous inclination of humans.

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An award-winning photo by Brent Lewin of the Phajaan process.

Image source: NBC News

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A Bull Hook is the weapon of choice when ‘breaking’ elephants.

Image source: A Beating Heart

A lifetime of problems.

Beyond the torturous initiation into the tourism industry, any issues that follow seem banal. But, the life of such an elephant is filled with hardship. The biggest draw of tourism operators is elephant rides. An action elephants are simply not built for.

When considering the elephant in its simplest form, a creature of mass proportions, it is difficult to assume that riding such a creature would have any substantial impact. But, this is because we draw assumptions from other aspects of our life.

When we think of riding elephants, it is likely in the same light as horses? (Horses, however, have undergone selective breeding to achieve a specimen that can bare great weight on their back).

Unfortunately, the spine of elephants is distinct in the animal kingdom.

“Instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.”

– Carol Buckley, president of Elephant Aid International.

Elephant tours can total more than 8 hours a day and have up to 5 passengers, plus a saddle. In the immediacy, this can cause damage to the skin, promote the development of painful skin lesions and bring about general pain and discomfort. Over years, like most spines, improper posture and movement can cause degenerative spine conditions – an elephant that cannot perform profitable tasks is discarded in the cheapest manner.



YOU are the problem… and the solution.

It is the demand from tourists for entertainment that drives the poaching of baby elephants, their torture and a life of hardship. But, tourism in and of itself, is not a bad thing. There are many examples of the good that has come from an ethical and sustainable tourism industry.

For all those anthropocentrists, tourism could support the transition of those that rely on this cruel practice to an alternative where the welfare of the elephant and its carers are equal. For example, much of Africa’s elephant tourism industry offers non-invasive interactions and remains a highly lucrative industry for the economy.

“Elephants need to eat and mahouts—lacking any government financial support—need money to survive.”

– Chanantpha from the Elephant Nature Park

The Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand is a rescue and rehabilitation centre that operates on a caring ethos. While the elephants are rescued from the tourism industry, their indefinite care relies upon the continued operation of the Nature Park.

In order to support its operations, the park offers guests the chance to feed, bathe and simply observe the animals’ nature behaviours. For those particularly keen souls you are even able to volunteer your services for the nitty-gritty of elephant care – if you know what I mean. Elephant rides are vehemently opposed.

The Elephant Nature Park symbolises the development of a multi-national mindsight that emphasises the importance of ethical tourism. And, its sending ripples through businesses that continue to offer elephant rides. Nowadays, there are only two kinds of people that ride elephants – the ignorant and the cruel.

Will you be riding elephants in Asia?



A famous photo, taken by Joel Satore for the Photo Ark, depicts a young Loris wearingly looking at the camera with notably large eyes

Hands-off the Loris!

Featured Image: Joel Satore, founder of The Photo Ark

Most people could presume the story of the slow loris that met the hands of a tourist attraction – an exotic creature with desirable qualities is subjected to deplorable conditions.

It’s a tale heard over and over again, from the petting of tiger cubs in India to elephant rides in Thailand to dolphin dives in Indonesia. Industries that cater to the desire of tourists to interact with these animals offer big returns. The more intimate the interaction, the greater the return. The welfare of said animals does not fit within the parameters of the most profitable interaction.

In the case of the loris, there is a simple business model: engage the curiosity of tourists with an exotic creature and offering photo-ops that they can parade to acquaintances. Or, seek out those that desire a rare and exotic creature that they can boast about to acquaintances.

In either case, the success of the business is founded on an individual’s need for external validation.



Ohhh… what is that?

The slow loris is a general term used to describe a group comprising nine Strepsirrhini primates that share, among several qualities, brachial glands on their upper arm that secrete a liquid toxin and a nocturnal lifestyle.

The latter quality laid the foundations of our attraction to the loris. Not because they are active at night, but because their body became adapted to being active at night. Specifically, their eyes, which have become enlarged for higher light sensitivity.

Coupled with their timid persona and gentle movements, the slow loris is the pinnacle of adorability. It is no wonder they have become so popular as a portrait partner – even the likes of Rihanna sought to be graced by the photogenic loris.

Even when engaging its venomous defence, the loris can’t help but attract more people. When threatened the loris will raise its arms above its heads and lick the toxins from its brachial glands. When mixed with saliva the toxins are activated. Unfortunately, this is its response to being touched and tickled. A response that we perceive as a comedically adorable gesture. (The loris was first shot into popularity when a video surfaced on YouTube of this exact behaviour).

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A screen shot from a viral video of the loris being tickled.

Image Source: Share the Buzz

This popularity has done little to slow the decline of the loris species – it has hastened it. Every member of the slow loris group is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Javan Slow Loris is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.

The slow loris decline has resulted from habitat loss and degradation through deforestation and other factors; poaching to supply a demand on the Asian market for ‘traditional medicine’, which utilises the supposed healing qualities of the loris; and supplying the illegal exotic pet trade – this includes those that end up on the shoulders of tourists.

The illegal wildlife trade is widely stated as the biggest factor in the loris’s systemic decline. But, how does this toxic denizen of the night become the ephemeral curiosity of a feeble day-dweller?

Behind-the-scenes

Transforming the only toxic primate into a hands-on attraction or innocuous household pet is really a simple task that could be performed by a halfwit. If the loris’s bite is toxic, then its bite needs changing? What harm could a toothless mouth do?

To make the loris harmless, it needs to have its teeth removed. And, the simplest and cheapest way to remove teeth: take your average toe-nail clipper and start removing teeth.

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Typical method used to remove loris teeth.

Image Source: Wikipedia

While the cruelty of this systemic practice is blatant, it is often only the beginning. In order to satisfy the demands of tour operators and potential pet owners alike, the loris must be subjected to conditions that are oppositional to its very nature.

Who would desire a creature that sleeps all night, demands only high quality exotic fruits and insects, and travels vast distances into the dark yonder every day? No one would. People in the market for this kind of ‘pet’ desire something whose nature is catered to human desires, not its own. But, this only results in more problems for the loris.

Loris are strictly nocturnal animals. Exposing them to day light causes discomfort and stress. It is hard to detail and relate to this kind of discomfort because the eyes of diurnal creatures allow them to transition between light and dark reasonably easy.

(To all those photographers who have stumbled upon this article, imagine trying to achieve the correct exposure in harsh daylight when your camera has become locked on extended high ISO. You will toggle the shutter and aperture, but achieve little more than the outline of shapes. No matter how you buffer the ISO with alternative settings and tricks, it cannot be denied that the ISO is simply too high to offer an appropriately exposed image – it’s not an exact one-to-one comparison, but you should have an idea of the exposure issues faced by the loris’s eyes).



The loris are naturally inclined to travel long distances at night in the search of food. Confinement in cages or relatively small enclosures perplex this natural desire. Again, this induces a highly stressed creature that results in higher mortality rates; general discomfort; an overall poorly mental wellbeing; et cetera.

On these night prowls the loris will source a large and varied platter of food. Their optimal diet is complex, consisting of fruits, bird eggs, insects and tree sap. Ignorance of these requirements or an inability to meet this complexity results in the high rates of health problems in gaoled loris. These health problems include: obesity, diabetes, pneumonia, malnutrition, infection, metabolic bone disease and more.

With the plight of the loris founded on the human interaction itself, there is only one way to mitigate this issue: keep your hands off the loris!

What are your thoughts on the use of animals as dispensable objects of curiosity?

A crocodile navigates the murky backwaters of Australia's outback as the sunset gives an ominous orange glow to the creatures eye

A crocodile cull in Australia is pointless

Feature Image: Michael Schwab

Demands for a cull of Saltwater Crocodiles in Northern Australia and Queensland are an ever-present whisper in the ears of the regions masses. Every now and then these whispers intensify, often following a tragedy, and reach national headlines, where the subject and discourse polarise people.

“How can we stop the next crocodile attack?”

Answers to this question are broad and diverse. But, culling advocates have a ubiquitous presence in these discussions.

As of July 2018, the most recent calls for a crocodile cull have come from Northern Australia politicians. The most vocal proponents of a cull being far-right figures, such as Bob Katter, whom renewed their advocacy to the public after the non-fatal mauling of a teenage boy and the fatal mauling of a spearfisherman.

The teenager entered the Johnstone River on the drunken dare of a friend. He staggered into the croc-infested waters and, surprisingly, was mauled by a crocodile, but lived to tell the tale. The spearfisherman’s death is unfortunate. He was taken from the coast of Northern Queensland near Innisfail, in an area known to be inhabited by crocodiles. His body was later found with lacerations consistent with a crocodile attack.

It is important not to adopt knee-jerk reactions in response to such events. The legitimacy of a cull is important, as bills have been proposed, and rejected for now, on several occasions. It would only take one successful bill, implemented in hysteria, to once again threaten the future of a keystone species.



What legitimacy does a crocodile cull have?

Such a question can only be understood in the context of the last century of crocodile populations fluctuation. During this time, they were pushed to the brink of extinction. (This article uses the general term of ‘crocodile’ to denote purely the saltwater species, as this is the most active target of culls).

A bleak history?

 In the 1970s, several bills were introduced and implemented in state parliament that assigned ‘protected’ status to crocodiles across Northern Australia. It took close to a decade to achieve this outcome because, in spite of scientific recognition, the parties in power were highly reluctant and oppositional to this protection on the grounds of ecological importance.

Nonetheless, by the late 1970’s crocodiles were unanimously protected across all jurisdictions of Australia – this protection was extended to Freshwater Crocodiles.

Before this, the species had been hunted relentlessly for their hide and out of contempt. Due to a lack of regulation, it was essentially open season year-round. Crocodiles were on the brink of extinction. In the era before protection, intense hunting wiped out 95 to 98 percent of wild crocodiles.

The total population of Saltwater Crocodiles was down to roughly 3000 individuals in Australia – its lowest populous since the days of the Asia-Australia consummation.

The protected status was a welcome embrace for the species, which bounced back with a vengeance. It is estimated that there are now around 100,000 Saltwater Crocodiles inhabiting the waters of Australia.

In fact, the revival of the crocodile population is one of the conservation success stories of Australia. (Hence, the question mark in the title of this subsection). But, not everyone has embraced this rejuvenation.

“Crocodiles are now a serious risk to humans”

 Some suggest that the population of crocodiles living in proximity to humans has reached such a level, that they are now threatening the safety of humans.

Too many crocodiles?

Visit any local venue in the Northern Territory and you will likely hear long-term Territorians recounting a time when they used to swim in the regions waterways. But, many are now hesitant to walk the banks of those same waterways.

To many, this is evidence of a problem. Crocodiles are now of a populous which is infringing on human safety. While many people do not remember the time before the crocodiles near-extinction, they demand a resolution to the situation. They demand a return to a time when waterways were safe to swim in.

In the 40 years following the total protection of crocodiles in Northern Australia, there has been a total of 33 fatalities directly attributable to crocodile attacks – the Northern Territory is the main location of these attacks, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the fatalities. Rates of attack have increased slightly over this period, although they remain an extremely rare incident – from around 1 attack to 1.4 attacks per year.

These deaths, while unfortunate and in most cases avoidable if care were taken, are not indicative of a population explosion beyond sustainable levels.

Most scientists argue that crocodiles are almost fully recovered, verging on a near optimal level that sustains and can be sustained by the ecosystem. In most waterways, populations have reached a plateau, with said waterways reaching carrying capacity.

The increased sightings are an outcome of the recovery of the population. When a population of any species increases from 3,000 to above 100,000, there will be notable differences in its composition and density – naturally with such an increase, people are going to see more crocodiles.

As to the associated claim that waterways used to be swimmable and safe. This too is fallacious on rational grounds. The waterways in Northern Australia have never been safe to swim in. They have been less risky in the same way that an Olympic swimming pool hosting 1 crocodile is less risky than a pool with 3 crocodiles.

In 1975, just after Queensland’s protection of crocodiles, Peter Reimers was attacked and killed by a crocodile near Mission River – it is difficult to discern how many attacks occurred before this point as records only began following crocodile protection.

Crocodile awareness has been heavily promoted by Australian municipalities in recent years. It is possible that waterways in previous decades were perceived as ‘safe’ because people were not aware of the dangers and crocodile attacks did not receive as much coverage, owing to the times.

A second anomaly has amplified the chance of interactions – humans. Specifically, the explosion of the human population in regions that overlap into crocodile territory. The human population in Northern Australia has more than doubled over the period mentioned above. With millions more people and the attraction of urban sprawl, we have advertently encroached into crocodile habitat. Inevitably this has increased the chances of unwanted interactions.

The social perception of the crocodile population explosion has been a big driver for culling advocates. While it is founded on incomplete knowledge and counterintuitive logic, it is nonetheless part of the public discourse. But, in the context of this issue, it is only a single pro-cull argument. And, unfortunately, the only partially reasonable one.



I want to swim. Cull the crocs!

People have equated a perception of historical safety in waterways with a croc population explosion. This perception is false, but understandable – if you played the odds, a dip in the refreshing water would be a pleasant experience. However, there are others that ‘remember’ these times and advocate a cull upon them.

Culling advocates are fond of citing a time when the waterways were safe, yet such a time never existed.

“We can’t ski out in our favourite skiing places and the rowing clubs have dropped in numbers” – Shane Knuth

Upon the insipid desire to swim or go out canoeing, people are driven to call for the eradication of a species. This kind of deplorable anthropocentrism does not often rear its ugly head. But, unfortunately, it has not completely disappeared from existence. To people who desire a cull on this premise, all I can say is:

Please, go for a swim.

Asides from the anti-humanity sentiment of desiring a cull for recreational activities, the whole notion of humans as reasonable and conscientious moral agents has gone out the window. This mindset sits atop the pinnacle of a human selfishness. A selfishness that has underpinned the mentality behind some of the worst environmental atrocities in the modern age.

Ethics aside, there is logic in rejecting calls for a cull on the basis of a desire to swim in crocodile infested waterways. Namely, even when the crocodile population was at its lowest in modern history, attacks still occurred.

“It’s possible that in the 1970s it was relatively safe to swim in Queensland waterways, but even then, there were fatal attacks. If you bring the population down, even then there will be fatal attacks” – Dr Adam Britton

A crocodile cull would not bring safety to waterways. These zealots claiming the they want “to swim in the rivers again, like when we were kids” seemingly do not realise that attacks did occur. A cull would not emulate safety. 

The only way to guarantee safety while swimming in Northern Australian waterways would be to advocate the annihilation of an entire species.

An alternative option is that people could recognise that they have placed themselves in an ecosystem founded on a large reptilian predator. Short of exterminating a species for personal sentiments, you will have to accept that you wittingly live in close proximity to crocodiles not vice versa– crocodiles have existed in these same rivers for many millennia.

Despite the existence of these self-motivated views some are concerned extra-personal views; about macro-scale impacts to the local economy. Namely…

Crocs are driving away tourists.

Are crocodiles driving away tourists?

No. The resurgence of the crocodile population is having the opposite effect. Recent decade has seen the proliferation of the croc tourism industry – possibly due to the healthy crocodile numbers, but such a claim would purely be speculation.

If we consider the Northern Territory alone, the least visited region in Australia, tourism has increased year-on-year. Between 2015/16 period, tourism was up 28 percent to 1,735,000 international and domestic tourists.

The same period saw a 17 percent increase in foreign visitors to 800,000. During the 2013/17 period, the Northern Territories social media following increased 200-fold. Statistics after statistic indicates that the regions tourism industry has not suffered any major blows.

But, even if tourism to the region were falling, how can this be immediately linked to the crocodile populations resurgence?

No academic studies have formulated this connection, so who has?

Why should conjecture hold merit in the governance of wildlife management?

Why immediately target the crocodiles instead of issues, such as rurality, resource scarcity, negative perceptions of the local people, the high costs of visiting the region, the high crime rate?

What is the real issue?

There are easier ways to get yourself killed.

 

With a crocodile cull being tantamount to nothing, what can be done to mitigate the risks still posed. The problem is not with crocodiles, but people. Wildlife management is about managing people. Pre-empting and mitigating peoples lack of knowledge, fatal mishaps or blatant stupidity.

In every death or injury that has resulted from a crocodile attack, people have put themselves in a situation that increased the likelihood of an attack. No individual has been in a situation that could be considered completely innocuous, only to be mauled by a rouge crocodile in some abstract location.

From swimming and fishing in croc waters to camping on river banks to engaging in recreational activities in close proximity to crocs, every single person has put themselves in that situation. Should they have chosen to bask in the comfort of some inland activity, no injuries would have occurred.

Many deaths and injuries have been a result of alcohol and/or stupidity – people have a few drinks and throw caution to the wind. They go into waters that are known to have crocodiles and are surprised when they get attacked. More to the point, people believe that there is some issue with the crocodile population because of this attack. Should we legislate for stupidity?

“It will continue to happen; no amount of legislation is going to change anything.” – Professor Webb

The local governments have invested many resources into risk mitigation. From warning signs cluttering the banks of most rivers to radio and television campaigns to brochures. The Northern Territory and Queensland crocodile management program works remarkably well and has set a precedent for the world.

Despite such a large crocodile population, Australia has a disproportionate amount of attacks when compared to the rest of the world. The Philippines, for example, has a much lower population than Australia, but nearly twice as many attacks. The success of the public safety and awareness campaigns would only be tarnished by adopting nonsensical management strategies, in place of current ones that are proven to be effective.

Most crocodile attacks that do occur are outliers – the result of freak circumstance or stupidity. Furthermore, a cluster of incidents does not indicate a worsening situation. Similar to shark bites, it commonly indicates a blip in the numbers. We must be cautious not to adopt knee-jerk reactions to outlier events and rely on ‘solutions’ that are proven to have no legitimacy.

It is difficult to suggest something that can mitigate the risks associated with people acting on whims. But, this is not to say that nothing can be done. The best option is to build on top of the strong foundations provided by current crocodile management strategies.

Firstly, rule out any suggestions of strategies that are counter to scientific evidence. There are real world examples of how this can have unforeseen issues.

The Western Australia shark cull is a lesson in complete failure. The government relied on political ideology over scientific evidence to implement a cull. The scientific community predicted the outcome to a tee.

The cull did not improve public safety at all. But, it had a significant impact on Australia’s reputation as a precedential manager of endangered species. In the aftermath, all this policy achieved was the diminishment of Australia’s reputation.

Secondly, develop risk aversion strategies for high risk groups. Specifically, young males and foreigners. While this would need development on the basis of research that determines the breadth of high risk groups and why their risk is high, potential solutions could involve increased safety barriers in areas where high risk groups are most common, such as river pubs.

Along with this, education is an important factor because a good portion of those involved in crocodile interactions are foreigners. The best way to target these groups would be through tour operators. As this is where most foreign tourists end up. Investments in expanding safe practices and knowledge on crocodiles may be enough to subside the risk to foreigners – foreigners are a only a fraction of the affected group.

Potential mitigation mechanisms at the disposal of local and national governments are broad, although many hold promise. In the light of scientific knowledge, the best option is to develop strategies that further public awareness and minimise risky behaviour.

The specifics of the best path to take are still up in the air. But, one thing is certain: a crocodile cull holds no merit nor those that purport it.

Is there any rationale for a crocodile cull in Australia?

 


Should I drink Civet Coffee?

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I do not find much appeal in Coffee. We have never been formally acquainted without a string of inconvenient events following. So, it was to my surprise that I found myself enjoying a guided tour around a rural coffee plantation in Bali.

Rich aromatic scents drifted on the wind; the coffee willows swayed gently, producing a calming white noise; our guide could scarcely be seen without a smile from ear-to-ear. It was an unexpected pleasantness away from the constant hustle-bustle of Southern Bali.

The day was progressing nicely, until I became curious about the many cages dotted throughout the property containing peculiar creatures.

“They’re civets” replied our guide when pressed. “They make the coffee”.

I was confused by this proposition. But, the answers became apparent a short time later at a tasting vendor, which offered a particular strand of coffee labelled Kopi Luwak, otherwise known as Civet Coffee.

“So… what is Kopi Luwak coffee?”

Kopi Luwak derives its name from a process of fermentation, in which coffee cherries pass through the dietary tract of a Civet.

Genuine Kopi Luwak relies on wild Civets. These shy and solitary creatures raid coffee plantations in the still of night, seeking out the flesh of the choicest coffee cherries. They consume the coffee cherry in its entirety, but excretes the seeds as they are indigestible. The partially digested, and now fermented, coffee beans are collected, cleaned and processed.

Enzymes in the dietary tract change the protein structures of the coffee bean, while the creatures anal scent glands infuse a unique aroma. The result is an aromatic cup of coffee with a smooth and earthy flavour that is less bitter than regular coffee – at least that is what the coffee bag claims.

Some years ago, Kopi Luwak was a rare and exclusive product of the most well-connected. Today, it is no longer exclusive, but it is the most expensive coffee in the world.

The Problem.

Kopi Luwak came from humble beginnings. The droppings of wild civets were collected and processed by small-scale farming operations, often with a single worker, having little interaction with each other.

This boded well for these creatures. The Civet, whom had historically been considered a pest by the fruit farms it raided, was given a green card.

Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity and accessibility of Kopi Luwak – it is no longer a novelty of the wealthy and well-connected. Consumption outpaced the capacities of traditional production methods, forcing the industry to evolve.

There is now a thriving industry in Indonesia based around the consumption and production of this coffee – people are willing to pay a hefty fee to see how this coffee is made and interact with the creatures that provide it.

As the business has grown, the demand for more productive and efficient methods of harvesting said coffee have also grown. Similar to layer hens and dairy cows and many other animals, this has meant neglecting these animals to horrendous living conditions and deplorable treatment under the guise of efficiency and profit.

In order to sustain a commercial quantity of coffee that is viable for mass consumption, the process by which it is produced needs to be highly efficient and profitable – the wellbeing of the Civets does not fit into these parameters.

This has meant higher stocking densities in smaller cages, limiting natural movements and increasing rates of Zoochosis, a stress-induced neurotic breakdown; the naturally solitary animal experiences stress related issues from living in close proximity to other civets; nutrient deficiencies and hair loss stem from the exclusive feeding of a single food source; unsanitary conditions spike disease and mortality rates; exposure to daytime conditions leads to mental disorders – civets are exclusively nocturnal animals; wire mesh flooring create an intense and constant source of pain for the soft-footed creatures; caged Civets have a greatly reduced life expectancy and high rates of vices, such as gnawing at legs and fighting; et cetera.

“When tourists see the caged civets, it helps to convince them that they are drinking genuine real civet coffee as part of their tour. Sadly, many tourists are blind to the cruelty associated with caged civet coffee and even queue up to take a photo to share on social media”

– Dr Neil D’Cruze, Wildlife Researcher

Luxury. Austere.

The commercialisation of Kopi Luwak detached the industry from one of the fundamental roots that made it a ‘luxury’ item – WILD Civets.

Wild Civets are incredibly picky. They will only eat the finest and ripest coffee cherries. Being fed cherries by a farmer removes this aspect of selectivity. If there is nothing else, a Civet will eat a cherry regardless of its grade. This luxury item is a shadow of its former self. Coffee connoisseurs and aficionados alike will likely never taste a true cup of Kopi Luwak.

“Detecting cruel civet coffee remains a constant challenge because of the difficulty in distinguishing between beans from caged or wild civet cats. However, if tourists see civets in cages as part of their tour this is a clear indication that unnecessary animal abuse is involved.”
– Dr. Jan Schmdit

There is no way to tell if Kopi Luwak is sourced from wild or caged Civets, as there is no regulatory or certification body to validate this claim. Coffee certifiers, such as the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, refuse to certify Kopi Luwak products because it is almost impossible to determine if they are wild-sourced and abide by welfare standards laid out in the widely applied Sustainable Agriculture Network standards.

“My personal advice is generally to avoid it. More likely than not it’s going to be coming from a caged production landscape.”
– Alex Morgan, Rainforest Alliance

A Few Bad Eggs or a Systemic Practice?

Like with any exploitive business there will be those who operate with the best intentions, ensuring that their actions are not unduly damaging or abusive. However, there will always be those who seek to capitalise on any potential business to the fullest of its extent in spite of the damage it will cause. So, what is the case with Luwak Coffee?

“nowadays, it is practically impossible to produce wild kopi luwak”

A review by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of 16 different coffee plantations found industry-wide standards of misconduct and welfare rejection. Of the 16 plantations, 14 processed their coffee beans through caged civets on-site. The other two plantations sourced their coffee beans from an off-site facility that used caged civets.

The review remarked;

From the size and sanitation of the cages to the ability of their occupants to act like normal civets, every plantation the researchers visited failed basic animal welfare requirements… “Some of these cages were literally the tiniest—we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place” … Most of the civets were very thin, from being fed a restricted diet of only coffee cherries—the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Some were obese, from never being able to move around freely. And some were jacked up on caffeine.

A conduct of deceit weighs heavily on the industry to maintain an illusion of ‘traditional’ standards. Most telling, at least for me, was the employment of diversion tactics. It is common practice to keep several Civets in reasonably large cages and in healthy condition to put on show for the tourists. It creates an illusion of an ethical ‘business’ relationship. If the conduct of this industry was known, this products consumption would plummet. And, they know it!

 

I will not be drinking Kopi Luwak. Will you?

 

Swimming with wild Fur Seals. Can you do it?

Fur Seals. The name alone brings forth images of large globules of blubber floating ever so majestically through soft ocean currents. While they do occasionally present themselves in such a manner, it will quickly become apparent upon viewing them that this is a highly romanticised perception of their appearance and features.

After driving two hours to Port Vincent, a town adjacent to a small Fur Seal colony, it quickly became apparent that I had been wrong about these denizens of the sea on all points but one – blubber. They are fat. Though, in a sense, that gives them a lovable appearance. What I didn’t expect was the smell. They stink. Nonetheless, I was determined to swim with Fur Seals and a slight smell and a flawed perception of their majesty was not about to stop me.

With wetsuit on back and GoPro in-hand, I entered the calm ocean water about ten metres down from the colony. I spent several hours in the water and had an incredible time. During said time, I came to view them as beautiful creatures with an inquisitive nature that transcends their pudgy appearance. And a significant amount of reflection on my decision. I answered one question. Can you swim with wild Fur Seals? Yes. Quite easily. But, another question reared its ugly head; should you swim with wild Fur Seals?

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Where to find them? 

Fur Seals, in this specific case New Zealand Fur Seals, can be found along Australia’s coast and extensively throughout New Zealand. The seals I visited live in a small colony, numbering just 10 or so, on a rocky outcrop near the coastal town of Port Vincent in South Australia.

Another much larger colony lives in the Coorong near Goolwa. This area would have presented less of a safety issue than open ocean, but the water is so murky that it is nearly impossible to find Seals nor know that your swimming with them even if they were within metres of you.

If you find yourself looking for Fur Seals in South Australia and wish to do so in reasonably clear water, Port Vincent is your best bet, followed closely Kangaroo Island. Although, the latter will cost a greater amount to reach (Cost of Kangaroo Island Ferry).

The legality of swimming with wild Fur Seals.

In Australia, Fur Seals are a protected species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under this policy, it is illegal to harm, kill or harass Fur Seals.

I would not purport to understand any of the legal jargon that entangles the Australian ‘justice’ system, but I would not think of it as too much of a stretch for a snarly civil servant to warp the act of swimming with Fur Seals into one of harassment. However, any reasonable person would likely leave you to your own devices without hassle.

I had no problem and being that Port Vincent is a small country town, you are unlikely to be challenged on your decision to swim with the seals.

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Is it hazardous?

The seals themselves are known to be aggressive when they feel threatened. This has resulted in some puncture wounds for unsuspecting surfers and divers. These have tended to be isolated incidents and under unfamiliar conditions to the seals that promote aggressive behaviour. You must remember they are wild animals and needed to be treated as such!

They also pose an unintentional threat when being friendly. When interacting with other seals it is a common habit to bite. Seals have thick coats which allow this practice to be harmless. However, we don’t have thick coats and their bites can cause issues even if it wasn’t done with such intent.

The final threat, that only became apparent to me when I started to reflect on the dive, was not to do with the seals, but the creatures they share the ocean with – sharks. Specifically, Great White Sharks which are known to regularly visit the waters of Port Vincent. Creatures whose favourite snack is large unsuspecting seals. And any small unsuspecting seal lookalikes my risk a nasty investigatory bite.

Just be mindful that sharks do petrol these waters and realise that, should any trouble occur, the ramifications are entirely your own doing and not that of the inquisitive sharks! 

Despite all the aforementioned points, several industries have been established around swimming with Fur Seals and with great success. However, as of this moment, none exist in South Australia, so your just going to have to do it under your own heading.

Will you be swimming with wild New Zealand Fur Seals on your visit to South Australia?

 

Will you be ‘conservation hunting’ elephants in Africa?

The practice of trophy hunting is a controversial topic and one that has been ongoing for many decades, but has mostly existed within the peripheries of people’s minds and only occasionally at the forefront. The controversy recently flared up again due, in part, to Mr Trumps reversal of the Obama administrations ban on the importation of Elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

So, why’s it today’s hot topic? 

Despite being an ongoing issue, it has flared up recently for less than standard reasons. Specifically, because trumps reasoning appeared to go against expert consensus and advice. So, the question became; why was the ban reversed? Was it to satisfy the desires of the minority of American hunters and several lobbying groups, who desire a renewal on the importation of elephant parts? Was it because Trumps son is an avid trophy hunter, whom was unable to mount the heads of his kills in his bedroom thanks to the passing of this ban? Or, was it simply out of spite for the Obama administration and everything it stood for?

Whatever the reason, it does not seem to be on the basis of conservation because the two countries in which the bans have been removed are in the midst of political and civil turmoil. It was nothing more than a dull murmur. Now, it’s almost none existent because the conservation and monitoring of elephant populations exists far below the spectrum of interest.

This issue is not isolated to Mr Trumps renewal of importations, but this has given a good reason to, once again, talk about why the hunting of animals for trophies and the importation of said trophies, in this specific case of elephant trophies, should not be continued, with the general argument being that it is ethically permeable; its importance to conservation is erroneous; it is economically trivial and socially negligible; and simply a remnant of a bygone era of cruelty, arrogance and irrationality.

Why is the trophy hunting of elephants allowed?

On which justification do trophy hunters houses remain full of heads and ethicists heads full of contempt? Few people would argue that such a practice is ethical and the few that do would be unable to rationally justify their view. Nonetheless, several arguments commonly stand out for its continuation, ranging from its ‘benefits’ to the overall population of elephants to its value for the African economy. Most of these arguments are permeable and stand as nothing more than a smokescreen to distract people while they argue about the legitimacy of said act. All the while, it continues. Nevertheless, the following sections shall address some of the most common points that arise in relation to this polarising topic.

Elephant populations are out of the dire straits

Over past centuries, the population level of elephants in Africa has always fluctuated, sometimes erratically, but they have always remained at a relatively sustainable level. Come the dawn of the 20th century this trend took a dramatic change. In the early 1900’s, there was as many as 10 million elephants in Africa. By 2017, there is less than 350,000. This is more than a 95 percent decline in population over a mere century. Despite this, it is claimed that elephant populations in Africa have stabilised and have even begun to rise; that they are out of the dire straits and can support regulated hunting.

This belief likely came about due to a lack of data on the exact numbers of elephants. Up until 2016, prior to the release of the continent-wide survey of elephants dubbed the Great Elephant Census, there was no concrete understanding of population levels. Numbers had been thrown around and estimations given. These approximations took into consideration educated estimates on what the expected population would be with things such as poaching bans, isolated ground surveys and conservation plans, in place. They were all a fair way off.

The release of the of Great Elephant Census, which took a team of 90 scientists, six NGOs, and two advisory partners, 3 years to complete, gave a conclusive number on the current population. And it was far below what anyone expected. Even more so, it revealed the current loss, largely from poaching, was having a far more significant impact than first thought.

Today, 27,000 elephants are slaughtered yearly or about 8 percent of the total population – this is largely due to ivory poachers. Come countries have experienced as much as a 60 percent decline in elephant populations in 5 years. In Tanzania & Mozambique, as well as several other countries, elephants are considered at risk of extinction. There is even a risk of local extinction in Cameroon where the population is only 148 individuals. You can be assured that elephant populations have in no way stabilised, but only continued to decline.

So, while trophy hunting is touted as being legal and may even be sustainable under good governance, the effects of illegal hunting and government corruption on the elephant populations are too significant to consider legal hunting sustainable. However, as there is more to the equation of trophy hunting, specifically its lucrative pay deals, there is more ‘arguments’ in need of addressing.

Trophy hunting supports local impoverished people and conservation strategies.

With the cost of some hunting safaris exceeding 100’s of thousands of dollars, it would be assumed that the argument that there are great benefits for local people and conservation to be true. But, again, it isn’t as glamorous as commonly depicted.

Of the stated $200 million received for trophy hunting in Africa every year, less than 3 percent of this goes towards local tribes and conservation – it should be noted, that many question the legitimacy of this large claim due to the poor resources and methodology used in the paper to come to this conclusion i.e. it is likely to be less then stated. As a percentage of any African countries GDP, trophy hunting is less than 0.13%. And this, in Botswana, is the highest contribution trophy hunting makes to any African country.

So, why is such a small amount portioned off for local people and conservation? Africa is infamous for corruption. When you have a lucrative business, such as trophy hunting, it inevitably draws in unscrupulous characters. This 3 percent is even questionable. There have been many cases, such as the fabled CAMPFIRE scenario, that have been revealed to drastically overinflate the estimated benefits to local people. For example; In a study analysing the validity and integrity of CAMPFIRE, it was revealed that corruption had drastically diminished the amount of revenue received by councils and local communities.

Most rural councils are drastically underfunded – this is a notorious issue in many African countries, particularly Zimbabwe. In the Chiredzi Rural District, where a hunter payed over $50,000 AUD to kill one of the largest bull elephants ever seen in the area, the region recorded negligible revenue in an end-of-year report. The CEO of CAMPFIRE, Phindile Ncube, reported that his rural district made more than $158,000 from hunting fees, in some years, for local communities and infrastructure. However, when the regions local villagers where interviewed about said funding, they stated that they have not received a single cent from the council.

While the theoretical model for funding local communities through trophy hunting may have some validity, in practice, it is a complete failure, due to the poor political and civil structure of Africa, but also for pragmatic reasons in relation to the inadequate amount of money put into circulation. Craig Packer, a prominent biologist & zoologist chiefly known for his research of lions in the Serengeti National Park, sees the importance of conservation and ‘contribution’ of trophy hunting in practical terms:

“If hunters were shooting lions for millions of dollars and returning a million per lion directly into management, they would be on solid ground. But lions are shot for tens of thousands of dollars, and very little of that money goes back to conservation”.

He was referring to lions, but the same line of thinking is equally applicable to elephants. Essentially, after all the colliding parties take their ‘share’ of the profits, there is very little left over for conservation and local communities, especially when these latter parties exist very low on the spectrum of political importance and have very little power to say otherwise.

The removal of older & bigger elephants is not harmful to the broader population and can have benefits.

 The regulated and targeted removal of older & bigger elephants is claimed to not be harmful and said to even harbour benefits for the broader population, due to said individuals being past breeding age or having passed on genes enough times that they have made a ‘significant contribution’. (One could question the whole assumption that at some point in an elephant’s life they will eventually reach a point where they have bred ‘enough’, as if this is some predefined number and we should only view an individual as a ‘breeder’). From the outset, this reasoning seems sound. Unfortunately, research has shown that this argument is incorrect. Apart from establishing themselves as keystone players in social organisation – a point address later in this article – it seems that older elephants have a lot to contribute to future generations.

Elephants reach sexual maturity around the age of 15 for females and 10-15 for males, although most males will not be able to successfully compete with other bulls until there at a size and skill level reached around 20 years of age. However, ‘prime’ breeding age for males is considered between mid-40’s and 50 years old. Female elephants have been shown to actively target males of a greater age during breeding times, likely due to their size and/or social and physical dominance.

The argument that elephants are of little importance when of an older age is not applicable based on birth alone. It could be argued that elephants reaching ages that will see them soon on their death bed may not have much in the way of breeding to contribute. Maybe, if the importance of an elephant was solely founded on its breeding contribution then they could be taken without any harm to the broader population. However, an elephant should be valued on far more than just its breeding potential.

Note: I’ve never agreed with this line of reasoning because it assumes that we should act on anything that is pragmatic, but discount other factors that give value to the quality of humanity, such as morality. Essentially, the same mindsight that the killing of the elderly that burden society through the increased services required to care for them and their lack of contribution, would come at a benefit to the economy and the broader country in general. There is a rational justification for it, but who is going to be in a mindset to justify such actions. They are heinous, but, in some ways, beneficial. They make this suggestion because they are relying on people to not be impartial on the matter. To value elephants as lesser beings, and hence this act of barbarity is not ethically the same as the killing of elderly humans.

The importance of older elephants is unfairly valued!

 The decision as to the worth of an individual elephant is often only noted in relation to its reproduction potential. That is, if an elephant has been given enough time to reproduce then this is considered adequate, although there is an ambiguity to this claim as it supposes that because one is old enough therefore there is no point allowing them to further contribute. If an elephant is not seen to be able to contribute to the population or has contributed ‘enough’ sexually it is put up to the board to be executed. In this narrow view of what constitutes value, special interest groups are intentionally misdirecting people away from the value of older elephants, specifically their importance as repositories of social knowledge and pillars for order and stability.

When you remove an individual from a herd it disrupts the social structure. In some cases, this can be detrimental, resulting a herd to disband and sometimes the deaths of its individual. For you see, elephants are social creatures that rely on herd dynamics for safety, knowledge, communication et cetera.

Matriarchs, generally the older and biggest cows within a herd, are repositories of social knowledge. Over the course of their life, some spanning more than 70 years, these individuals have spent their life forming social networks within and externally to their herd and accumulated ecological knowledge about the land, such as the locations of waterholes and the trails to take to navigate the lands. These are invaluable resources that ensure the survival and health of elephants.

These individuals stand as bodies of knowledge for younger generations to gain experience and develop skills to survive, for which they in turn, become essential to pass unto the next generation and the next. In a perpetual circle, with each link connecting the next and if anyone were to fail then the whole chain would fail. These strong bonds are hard things to lose. And, it is believed, a contributing factor to the reason elephants mourn the passing of any individuals, regardless of if they had contact with them or not.

Patriarchs are similarly important in elephant society, even if they spend most of their life in solitude. Without guidance or the authoritative role that larger bulls play, it can cause vice within young elephants resulting in heightened aggressiveness. The scenario is comparable to the higher likelihood of juvenile delinquency in humans in the absence of fathers.

Older elephants appear to be pillars of stability in elephant society. There reproductive capacity may have declined, but their importance for social structures only grows as they become older and more intertwined in the social networks of the elephant world.

An elephant is worth more alive than dead!

Would you choose a single wad of cash totalling $20,000 or a continuous income over 40 or so years totalling in the millions of dollars? This is not hypothetical. This is the real scenario for elephants. The killing of an elephant for a trophy will bring in a single payment. However, the continued use of elephants for non-lethal activities, such as photography, provide a continuous and far more lucrative income.

While trophy hunting does bring in some capital to African countries, it makes up as little as 1.8 percent of tourism revenues. The majority of this revenue comes from tourists hoping to experience Africa’s wildlife in non-lethal manners.

Being that elephants are part of an iconic species, they are particularly sought after by non-lethal tourists, similar to lions and jaguars. It has even been shown that countries than ban all hunting, will maintain a lucrative tourism industry without the contribution from hunting. For example, Botswana banned all forms of hunting in January of 2014 after consultation with learned individuals on the conservation cost of big game hunts versus the income generated from photo tourism – the photo tourism season is longer, makes better use of animals and employs significantly more locals. That same year, Botswana generated $344 million from non-lethal tourism.

The continual draw of non-lethal tourists to an area for a single rare elephant, particularly big ones known as tuskers such as the illusive Nkombo, will inevitably bring in far more proceeds over the years of its life compared to a single lump sum of $20k to take its life and remove that incentive for people to travel to that specific area.

It could be helpful if it was regulated

Inevitably, any argument to the counter, once rationally argued against, will fall-back on a final point; Trophy hunting could be beneficial if it were regulated. Besides admitting that trophy hunting is not helping, it suggests that they are not defending this act on the basis of its conservation value, but their own desire to hunt heads.

It has been demonstrated in this article and many others, that the fables of trophy hunting are not as beneficial as they claim. Potentially, I have left the most important point until last. And that is that trophy hunting will never work in these countries because they lack the civil, political and economic structure to ensure that the act is appropriately regulated, enforced, and that it is not the subject of corruption.

Africa is infamous for its civil instability, economic volatility and political corruption. Singularly, these are troubling issues; collectively, they are devastating. While Africa remains in such a state, the complex relationship between conservation and trophy hunting, will never reach a sustainable plateau.

An excuse, not a reason!

Out of all the issues explored above, one point should be abundantly clear, if nothing else. Regardless of whether you support trophy hunting or not, the mixing of conservation into the brew and depicting the act as something beneficial and necessary for the animal kingdom is nothing more than an excuse and a smokescreen. In reality, people carry out this act not because they feel obliged by some deep-seated compassion for nature, but because they desire some insipid sensation that comes from the killing of rare animals and permanently mounting their head on the wall as a reminder of that sensation. It is as if someone realised the act of trophy hunting is entirely unethical, but wished to carry on anyway, thinking to themselves; “how can I spin this so it does not seem so barbaric and unnecessary”.

The conservation of species is in no way relevant in the reasoning used by hunters for taking heads. The same goes for the so-called benefits of hunting which provide food for local people. After a hunter has removed anything they value from the carcass, the local people are given whatever remains. This is not an act of kindness. This is, simply, allowing local people to have whatever the hunters don’t want. Not a single hunter visits Africa with the intent of hunting an animal to feed local people. This is another ploy used to add smoke to the screen.

If these people who profess to care for the animals they are killing or are doing so for conservation reasons, would it not be more reasonable to donate the money to conservation strategies and allow the animal to live and contribute to the population, rather than divide the proceeds amongst many individuals, only leaving conservation with a mere 3 percent of your contribution?

With all this in mind,

 

Will you be ‘conservation hunting’ elephants in Africa?