Elephants for Africa Forever

Isn’t it incredible how a picture taken out of context can have such a detrimental impact. That’s what I was concerned about when writing this article, but nevertheless I’m going to post it as i’d love to hear your point of view on this subject. The subject being training wild African elephants.

This post is a follow up to my last post where I mentioned I visited EFAF (definitely in need of website re-design!) – Elephants For Africa Forever – near Tzaneem in Mpumalanga just after Christmas.

EFAF Rory Hensman

Rory Hensman – The Elephant Whisperer

EFAF is run by Rory Hensman. Rory is world renowned and with 18 years of experience behind him, having trained more that 60 elephants during this period, he is referred to as The African Elephant Whisperer.

There is a crisis emerging in elephant populations in South Africa, the number of elephants are on the up, yet the amount of land dedicated to these animals remains constant, in fact in some game reserves it is decreasing. Ivory sales are now illegal and black market prices are at an astronomical high which is encouraging the desperate to resort to poaching.

What is to be done with these “excess” elephants is the question? If we are not careful we could follow the route of our neighbouring countries, where poaching is rife and the elephant numbers are now dramatically low. Kenya for example.

“All wildlife reserves in South Africa, which have elephants, either have enough or too many elephants. There is little or no demand for the further relocation of elephants, even if new owners could obtain them at no cost. Reserves which have been judged as having an overpopulation of elephants cannot find new homes for their excess animals.

Certain provincial conservation authorities are now admitting that other than contraception on a very limited scale, culling is the only option to reduce excess elephant populations.”

Certainly not an option the elephants would vote for, and certainly a controversial topic.

EFAF is trying to look at this problem differently and provide other meaningful roles for the elephants in and around South Africa. Training these wild animals to provide elephant back safari tours, and even hunt down poachers with their amazing sense of smell (isn’t that ironic- the hunter becoming the hunted?). All the while the training camp is frequented by tourists and under unprivileged school kids, teaching people about these majestic animals.

EFAF’s bilateral-ask-and-reward system

Ellies love mangos

Rory uses the bilateral-ask-and-reward system for training the elephants and EFAF has designed and published more than 30 codes of practice protocols in this regard. What is most important is that Rory is hugely passionate about elephants and from observing him with the EFAF elephants you could mistake the animals for his own children, the bond is that strong.

Yet, there are people out there who are determined to undermine the work he is doing. Rory told us of one particular “greenie” who took photos upon visiting the EFAF camp and then made up stories regarding the photos.

The elephants have one foot chained to a cable for one very small part of their training program, for most probably only an hour or two a day. This “greenie” said the elephants have all 4 four feet chained up all day long. The “Greenie” also said the elephants were whipped and displayed a photo of an elephant with a water trickle down its side which resembled a whip mark.

I hope the photos I have displayed both here and on Flickr prove to you that EFAF is doing great work in elephant conservation. I wish them only the best and commend them on saving if only a few African ellies.

Without experiencing EFAF first hand it is hard to agree with the work they are doing. However, I would love to know if you are for or against this kind of program, remembering that the elephants only other alternative is to be culled…

EFAF Elephant with groom

The EFAF elephants spend the vast majority of their day grazing, splashing around in the dam, bonding with their groomers, and even helping with the herding of the nguni cattle.

19 responses

  1. Capturing and training elephants for safaris involves a lot of pain and cruelty for the elephants and destroys elephant society. Leading elephant researchers,including Cynthia Moss, Joyce Poole, Dame Daphne Sheldrick and others, oppose it. An organization called Public Watch (http://www.elephanttrust.org/node/389) is organizing opposition to this practice as well as input on South Africa’s draft Elephant Norms & Standards.

    Capturing elephants for safaris and culling are not the only two options. South Africa’s wildlife is one of its big tourist draws; destroying its elephants might be compared to the country shooting itself in the proverbial foot. There is much to be learned on this topic; three places to start are


  2. Im for this program, since the elephants as individuals and as species benefit from it. There were surely a time when man and elephant seldom met, and interacted, but those days are gone. There was a lot of hunting in late 1800, and in the sixties only some 1.2 million elephants were left.

    Between 1979 and 1989 50% of the global elephant population were hunted or poached (according to CITES), and became Ivory. 10 elephants per hour was killed (source:TRAFFIC), and elephants optimal population growth at 8% (source: IUCN) was not enough to replace them. 1990 the population stabilized to apr 600 000, the number which was considered as many elephants as there was place for in africa.

    Most nature conservation areas have artificial water tanks where the animals can drink, so tourists can enjoy them from a dinner table at the lodge. Unfortunately, this gives wild elephants to good conditions, and their optimal growth rate at 8%, gives the consequence: too many elephants wehere there is a good, functional protection against poaching.

    Alternative: that the elephants (as well as other species)finally starve to death, when they have consumed all food, all trees etc, like they did in Tsavo in the sevenies, where, among others, George Sheldrick gave them the chance to foind a balance with out professional hunting.

    The result was that 10-20% survied the starving, and afterwards the desert in Tsavpo slowly became a savanna again, but it took time.

    So, in case you dont put sunglasses on your eyes, culling is needed, like in Kruger. No game reserve in africa will be able to take over the surplus of 10 000 too many elephants in Kruger. No welfare organisation on earth will be able to stand the costs of even shipping only 500 animals.

    Kruger (and africa) has presently as many elephants as there is place for, and there is, as far as I know, no plans to kill humans in africa and close down cities, or take land from poor farmers and give to needing elephants.

    The human overpopulation problem will not be solved withing the next five years.

    But the elephant overpopulation must be solved, not only becuase its barabaric to let thousands of elephants starve to death, but also that other animals should not suffer.

    Just because european or american animal welfare organisations may try to attack southafrica and make anti-tourist campaings if they cull their elephants, we can still not let the animals suffer.

    Under those circumstances, when maybe 10 000 elephants has to be killed, or at leat removed from their natural environment, its worth to give captive projects a chance.

    If you look on the asian elephants, theres only some 40 000 left. 50% in captivity. Forget about releasing 20 000 captive elephants in the wild again, its the other ay around, in 10 years there will be even less natural environments. Still, the species can partly survive in captivity. Food can be grown, care can be given, and breeding can be done, on one condition:

    That they are parts of a healthy, sound commercial program, which gives income, and cover the costs.

    Taming, and riding the elephants is one such potential possibility, where actually thousand of elephants could survive and breed new generations.

    The elephants will not change a lot, they will not be domesticated, just tamed and trained.

    They can suite as ecological vehicles for people who wish to see animals on the savann without poluting the air with diesel. They can provide interesting, exciting interaction with tourists etc.

    As long as someone pays, there will be people willing to handle all the work and responsibilty, which is connected to captive elephants.

    Give those people a chance. Dont exhibit opinions about the training that you didnt saw with your own eyes, but just read on animal welfare websites. Visitan elephant camp yourself, feed the elephants with bananas, and see for yourself if they suffer more than a dog, a horse, a cat, or another animals in human care.

    And remember that horse doesnt have a clue what the word domesticated means, they will be wild after two generations on the american praire. A tame, trained elephant wil also not understand what the word “wild” means, it will just expect to get food, and interaction with other elephants and their elephant keepers.

    Some 1,3% of those elephants will eventually become problem makers, and couse incidents and accidents, as well as some 5-10% of dogs or horses will.

    When, and if, this happends, remember that 98% of those elephants WILL NOT cause incidents and accidents, so dont blame the system as such, but look into what happened in each individual case, evalute, and make sure it wont happen again. But dont blame the indusry of safari riding as such, or likewise.

    Just because I read in the news that someone found a dead rat in a milkbox, I will not stop drinking mikl in my coffe.

    The same goes for statistics of accidents associated with elephants. In reality, they are very few, compared to accidents with other tamed and trained species, or accidents with cars or likevise.

    Finally, oddly enough, we can learn a lot about wild elephants when we study the captive ones.


  3. Lil Brother Avatar
    Lil Brother

    Nice post bru. I think that there’s a fine line between taming the elephants and teaching them to do things to keep control of them, teaching the elephants to perform tricks which are irrelevant and arbitrary. EFAF need to be careful not to cross that fine line as then it starts to become like a circus, where the elephants are just being served for our entertainment purposes. Only when that happens do the ‘greenies’ have a case because at the moment you can tell that Rory only has the elephants best interests at heart and no one can say anything otherwise.

  4. Amy: Thanks for visiting and leaving your point of view. I’m not sure if I agree with you that ALL elephant training and capturing involves a lot of pain and cruelty. Sure elephant capture is a traumatic experience for the animal, but is their an alternative in how to move them? They are big animals. Great improvements in elephant capture have taken place over the last few years and it is not as painful in moving them as you may think, they are tough animals.

    I’m sure there are elephants being mistreated at certain training camps around the world and that saddens me, but experiencing EFAF first hand and hearing of all the protocols in place to protect the animals is very re-assuring.

    You say there are alternatives to capture and training programs, and South Africa is shooting itself in the foot, but the facts are we are running out of land for them, jeopardizing the existence of other animals in those areas.

    Dan: Thanks for a most insightful long post. I couldn’t agree with you more. You have all the facts to back up your argument and a wonderful website. Its great to know there are people like you out there informing the masses about these wonderful animals.

    You mention “As long as someone pays, there will be people willing to handle all the work and responsibilty, which is connected to captive elephants“. On the EFAF website they mention that each elephant trained creates 9 people’s jobs. It is a wonderful way to create employment and boost the economy.

    Lil bro: You were there with me and witnessed EFAF first hand. I think EFAF have all the policies in place to prove they are not training circus animals. Each “trick” they demonstrated to us is a valuable skill they have been taught for a specific reason.

  5. “Just because european or american animal welfare organisations may try to attack south africa and make anti-tourist campaigns if they cull their elephants, we can still not let the animals suffer.”

    This is quite interesting. The birthday’s and holiday’s here in the US has become quite difficult for me as it has become extremely popular to give “donations” to welfare organizations. Typically everyone then pats themselves on the back and feels quite good about themselves.

    These organizations are typically well intentioned, however they often do not understand the implications off the programs.

    Bringing up the possible consequences of supporting these organizations typically makes you look like a first class jerk. I mean, who doesn’t want to “save the elephants”?

  6. Tim Price Avatar
    Tim Price

    Hey! you don’t even work or live in South Africa! you fraud!

  7. Brock: Good point. These organizations are very well intentioned, but seem to not understand that culling does need to take place in some places in order for others to survive. These organisations receiving donations to “save the elephants” should be giving the money to all types of elephant conservation programs, including the ones that involve culling.

    Tim: I can always trust on you for a most insightful, relevant comment 🙂 Sorry I didn’t get to see you whilst i was over there.

  8. I’d like to respectfully point out that the three links I posted take you to organizations founded either by Africans or by researchers such as Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole who have spent years of their lives in Africa studying elephants. I also respectfully ask, did any of you read any of the links I posted?

  9. Tim,

    I assume your commenting on my comment? Yes, and unfortunately I have never even been to South Africa! As such, I don’t feel that I can comment on the Elephant situation as my perspective is irrelevant.

    However, I thought the paragraph I quoted of Dan’s comment was quite interesting as I feel that we are too often interfering in “other peoples” business.

  10. Woops, I forgot Mark is living the UK….

  11. Thanks-you for an interesting read. I don’t really have my own opinion at this point, but will return and read the externally linked sites, etc.

  12. Rabou Leudembi Avatar
    Rabou Leudembi

    Addressing Amy. We all like to envision a wild africa, an existing eden, where creatures have the run of the land. As Africa was once a vast wilderness with villages interspersed today it is unfortunately the opposite. Farm land, peoples livlihoods, surrounds our park system throughout Africa and in fact many parks you see on a map exist only on paper. Most of the wildlife has been poached out by people who are either trying to provide meat for their families or are risking their lives for a commercial gain. The situation is desperate, but the bottom line is profit. Land is the limiting factor whether it is elephants overpopulating parks like Kafue and degrading habitat to endemic endangered species or it is farmers who encroach upon protected areas. Thats where privatization of parks is coming into play.

    Developing governments are having a hard enough time trying to manage their civilization let alone their wildlife. But either way whomever is managing the wildlife depends on revenue to keep it running, whether its tourism or hunting and the surrounding communities need to benefit from it if they are to stop their traditional subsistence or their commercial poaching and protection has to be enforced with rangers and that costs money too. If captive elephants are helping bring in revenue for conservation dont knock it.

    I have visited the websites you mentioned and have read some of Poole’s literature before. While I applaud her breakthroughs in research she does not offer solutions to a shrinking wilderness and growing elephant populations. Activists need to be careful not to discredit conservation efforts from otherwise allies who are working ultimately for the same objective-wildlands for wildlife. Battles need to be picked. The park system in the US which served as a model for other countries would not be as grandiose as it exists today was it not for largely the concerns of hunters like Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot who set up the first Parks-so go ahead PETA wage a war on hunting. But the real concern is ethics.

    I find it amusing that some ‘greenies’ can speak out so vehemently on taking in elephants from the wild and chain them during training sessions and call it cruelty, when the environment elephants are naturally reared in has no concept of cruelty. Bulls will bully younger elephants severely, they at times fight to the death, they face starvation during drought, they are predated on constantly and that is the bush law. When did humans become separate from the environment? That so close a bond can exist between two separate species is a beautiful thing and that is the magic of this world. Lets encourage it. Benefits from captivity are real-protection and basic necessities. This is why animals in captivity outlive considerably their wild cousins. However ethics are a serious matter and I believe the animals emotional health is the first thing that needs care as does Rory. The African method of training differs from that of Asia in that its focus is on trust rather than coercion. I will argue that when the animals emotional needs are priorital, humans are capable in providing an environment that is as stimulating as the wild and in some cases surpasses. The complex social structure of elephants works well with humans because we have the same complexities and to a well cared for elephant it does not matter we are a separate species. To achieve this trainers have to make their methods transparent. Bad apples should not spoil it for the bunch and thats where training certification, regulation etc. That was a rant but I am tired of seeing emotional greenies distract attention from the main issue which is habitat loss. If there is a way to preserve land without revenue go for it!
    From an aspiring mahout.

  13. Tim Price Avatar
    Tim Price

    No harm intended…

    Hey Brock, my comment was directed at Mark, not you (Sorry). I know him from back in the day when he lived in South Africa. The purpose of my comment was to poke fun at the fact that Mark has a very ‘Proudly South African’ angle to his website, even though he lives in the UK! – hence why I called him a ‘fraud’. Mark picked it up because he knows my odd sense of humor. 🙂

  14. Hi Mark,

    Mmm… Googling for info I found this and it is actually sad. There are also from what I have read many arguments for and against. Many have a point and have even made them here.

    There are abuses against animals and humans so no difference in that argument. I have read many of the other material on the web and sorry Amy, but many are emotional anger like a emotional parents. One of the arguments I like is the humanification of elephants: Elephants spirits are broken during training by punishment. Uuh…. so by using the same the ethics I would then become a child beater for punishing my child with a hiding for being criminally naughty. On the other side there are also those that oppose any animals in captivity. Uuh….. that would make my fox terriers and my norwegian forest cat captives as they where once in some previous generation wild animals. (By the by, if my memory serves me correct the first domesticated cat appeared in Egypt in some or the other thousand years BC).
    An unfortunate fact with many of the arguments is that they seldom take the baby out of the water before the trough out the bath water.

    My biggest problem with all the arguments is single fact of anger. Emotional decisions have proven themselves detrimental as history has proven time and again. I do support nature conservation, but with many developments in the tourism industry and from animal rights organisations; emotional anger I am of the opinion that I will unfortunately not be donating my money there anymore.

    With the current demise of technology as the rate of human consumption with regards to natural resources and energy overshadows the rate of replenishment. It thus amuses me in that Elephants would probably become work animals once again, yet I wonder if those people will scream foul when they need to use animals as transport?

  15. To Tim Price and his freind Mark. Im just as dumb as both of you, suggesting that we waste Brocks time with idle chat. I do hope we can use our time for the real cause, remember? I wish you the best of British Luck in your continued quest Brock and God bless. Sincerely Kevin & Ruth.

  16. James Ludick Avatar
    James Ludick

    Rabou I thought that your inputs into this argument were very relevant and constructive. Well done!. It gives me great pleasure to read such a strong argument that silences people like Amy who are, obviously, led by emotion and make decisions based on sentiment and who are also led by people who have to justify their existance and decisions to keep themselves on their “ivory towers” (excuse the pun) from the donations they receive from other Amys of this world. Is it possible for me to quote your arguments in a final meeting to estabish the Norms and Standards for the handling of Elephants in “Captivity” to be held on the 20th May. My email addres is zwcraft@gmail.com

  17. BJ Bowen Avatar

    I haven’t seen Rory in over over 12 years! I grew up and went to school with his children and spent many holidays and weekend with them! Animals where a part of the hensmans lives! every time i went there they had a new addition to the family! and it was always like that! as kid we would run out of the house, followed by dogs, hornbills, diyker etc. A lot of people don’t know Rory and this brother Gary at their best where horsemen and polo players in Africa! All due to their handling and training of their horses! The Elie’s where always a big part of the family life!

    There has been lots of BAD press on elephant training, chaining, beatings etc! on carte blanche! Yes there are some blood bad buggers out there. Rorys “greenies” should be focusing on those okes and making sure they never get another chance to mess up some more animals lives. not trying to close down a guy who is doing good!

    Rory is the kind of guy who would give his life for his Elie’s and would give theirs for his! He is the kind of guy gets that kind of a bond with animals!

    The “Greenies” would realise that if they took the time to get to know Rory and his extended family!

  18. Hi Rory, It’s great what you are doing. I used to live in Zims and South africa, I would like to email you, could you please email me your address. Thanks

  19. Isabella Thomson Avatar
    Isabella Thomson

    I sincerely hope that this work with Rory and those that work with him, continues!!!! Elephants are magnificent creatures and the opportunity for people to interact with them (in my opinion) can support a greater bond and appreciation for the gift that they are on the planet and in South Africa!!!

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