Category Archives: Anthropocene

Opinions about the Anthropocene geological era

Re-wild the Planet

David Attenborough in his testament statement on  his show A Life on the Planet, said there was a straightforward way out of our world crisis. I found this very difficult to believe.  He said we had to re-wild the planet and we could do it, so that 100 years from now the planet will be wild again.

One of my favorite environmental writers, George Monbiot, a columnist for the The Guardian said something similar. Since two of my favorite environmentalists made a similar statement, I decided I should pay attention.

Attenborough said every species reaches a natural limit of its population. That is the population that can be supported by our planet. Anything more makes our life here unsustainable.

Because there is nothing restricting us, during my lifetime, the human population has been growing dramatically. During my lifetime so far, the population has grown from approximately 2.5 billion people to 8.2 billion. That is a pretty big increase. Scientists are predicting that there will be 11 billion people on earth by 2100. That is about when my youngest granddaughter will reach 80 years old (I hope).

We could stop population growth before it reaches that point. Japan has stopped its population growth. They are actually worrying about not having enough people and are encouraging their citizens to have more children, but the people of Japan are resisting.

The birth rate fell in the last half of the 20th century as their standard of living grew. Their population growth has stabilized. Attenborough says, there are signs that it is happening around the world. The number of children being born around the world and the growth of the population is about to level off. It is likely that the population growth of the world will peak in the near future for the first time. That will make everything we have to do easier, says Attenborough. But not easy.

What we need to do is help people to live better! In other words, we should help people get out of poverty, give all access to health care, and enabling people, girls in particular, to stay in school as long as possible, we can make the world’s population peak sooner and at a lower level.


Why wouldn’t we want to do that?  Many will say they don’t want to pay for this. But this would benefit all of us! Not just those in the poorer countries. All of us benefit from this approach! We should help others to reach these goals for our selfish reasons! Because it will be good for us!


But we have to raise the standard of living of people around the world without raising their impact. Attenborough says there are ways that we can do this. That is the challenge.


A Long Think


Since I was born in 1948 animal populations have been reduced by more than one half. We have destroyed the wild world that was. Our species has done this. Perhaps Professor John Moriarty is right—we are like an Aids virus of the planet. It seems difficult to deny this. Our species has overrun the planet. We have a lot on our conscience. Whenever Huckleberry Finn had a serious thing to consider, like whether or not to continue floating down the Mississippi River deeper into the south, a place of great danger for his friend Jim, he said, this deserves “a long think.”

David Attenborough called the statement he made in his documentary film Our Planet, a witness statement. He wanted to summarize what he had seen and what the consequences were of what he had seen. That statement was a story of global decline during a single lifetime. His lifetime. It was a lifetime I have shared. I have experienced the same thing. I will summarize what he said.


Here is a photograph of a sunset, for a world turning from colour  to darkness.  I started this journey  to Arizona in 2023 wanting to explore two themes. The decline of western civilization and the decline of nature and the need for a new attitude to nature. This really is one story with 2 sides to the same page. Like 2 streams merging. It is not a happy story. It begs for us to make “a long think.”  That is what I want to do.

This story is not over. As David Attenborough said, “if we continue on our present course, then the damage that has been the defining feature of my lifetime will be eclipsed by the damage coming in the next.” In other words, though things were bad during my lifetime, they will be much worse during the lifetime of my granddaughter. Her world will be greatly impoverished compared to mine. And that is what we have left her.

In 2020 when this photo was taken, the world population reached 7.8 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere reached 415 parts per million, and the remaining wilderness was reduced to 35% of what it once was.

Extrapolating what David Attenborough said, science predicts that my granddaughter who was born 4 in  years ago is likely to witness the following:

In the 2030s, the Amazon rainforest will be degraded to such an extent that it won’t produce enough rain to remain a rain forest but instead will survive as a dry savannah. This will bring catastrophic species loss. This will seriously disrupt the global water cycle.  Not just in the Amazon, but around the world. The Arctic will become ice free in the summer. The speed of global warming will increase as a result because less of the sunlight will be reflected back into space when all that white snow and ice disappears. This will create a global feedback loop.

In the 2040s frozen soils will collapse and release vast amounts of frozen methane. It is a greenhouse gas that is much more potent than CO2.  Of course, this will dramatically increase the rate of climate change—another feedback loop that we will have created.

In the 2050s as the oceans continue to heat up and get more acidic, coral reefs where 25% of the oceans’ marine life now lives, will die, causing immense loss of that marine life. Ocean populations will crash.

In the 2080s, when my granddaughter will reach my lofty age, soils will become exhausted, if they will not have been exhausted before then, and food production will plummet, even though populations will have risen dramatically. What kind of political upheavals will that create? Pollinating insects will disappear, again drastically reducing food production. The weather will become more and more extreme.

In the 2100s the planet will become 4ºC warmer, rendering large parts of the earth uninhabitable. Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps more, will be rendered homeless. Where will all those climate refugees go? What struggles will they encounter with people who don’t want to let them in? What havoc will they bring in their wake? What will life be like on the planet then?

It is likely that a 6th mass extinction event has already started. And this time, unlike the first 5 of such events, the cause will be us.  We will be the producers of that massacre of life on the planet.

As David Attenborough said, “Within the span of the next lifetime, the security and stability of the Holocene, our Garden of Eden, will be lost.” 

That is the lifetime my granddaughter can look forward to. And she can thank me, and my generation for what we have done. Imagine that. I can’t!

We can’t let this happen. We need to make a long think!

Our Planet


In his testament statement in the PBS film Our Planet, David Attenborough pointed out something interesting, namely, that,

 “a change in atmospheric carbon was a feature of all 5 mass extinctions. In previous events it had taken volcanic activity up to 1 million years to dredge up enough carbon from within the earth to trigger a catastrophe. By burning millions of years of organic organisms all at once, it we had managed to do so in less than 200.

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is extremely important.

 Until then the ocean had been able to absorb all of that carbon, masking our impact. It was clear to scientists that the earth was beginning to lose its balance. The ocean was no longer able to absorb all of that carbon we have been spewing into the atmosphere. As a result, the mild Holocene epoch, that was so favourable to human life,  was drawing to a close much sooner than expected.

Attenborough and his television crews, like others,  had noticed that things were changing rapidly in the Arctic. Places they could not reach before were now easily accessible. The northern pole was much different than it was. And by 2011 the reasons for the change were well established. As a result, the global temperature is 1ºC warmer than it was when David Attenborough and John Neufeld were born.  Although 1ºC does not seem like much of a change, we must remember that ‘it took less warming, 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F), to lift the world out of the Ice Age… That’s the profundity of the change we’re talking about.” In other words, a 1 ºC global average temperature is a very big deal. Some scientific studies have said we are already on track for a 5 ºC average global temperature rise.

 We have no reason to be glib about a 1 ºC rise in global average temperature rise in my lifetime! This speed of change exceeds anything that has happened in the last 10,000 years, when the world was embedded in an Ice Age.

 In the last 40 years, the polar ice has been reduced by 40%. I have been married for more than 50 years. The fact is, as David Attenborough said, “the planet is losing its ice.” Though I have lost my attraction for ice, this is not a good thing. This is a very dangerous thing. As Attenborough said,

 “this most pristine and distant of ecosystems is headed for disaster. Our impact is now truly global.  Our impact now truly profound. Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to affect the very fundamentals of our world.”


It is time we really looked closely at our impact on the planet. That impact is incredible. And incredibly dangerous! As Attenborough said,

“We have overfished 30% of fish stocks to critical levels. We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. By damning, polluting, and over-extracting rivers and lakes we’ve reduced the fresh water populations by over 80%. We are replacing the wild with the tame. Half of the fertile land of the earth is now farmland. 70% of the mass of birds on this planet are now domestic birds, the vast majority chickens. We account for over one third of the weight of mammals on earth. A further 60% are the animals we raise to eat. The rest, from mice to whales, make up just 4%. This is now our planet, run by humankind  for humankind.  There is little left for the rest of the world.”

We are really turning this planet into “our planet.” One species–humans–is doing this. We are changing the planet in a big way. Do we know what we are doing?

Who among us thinks this makes sense?  Who among us could deny that we need—urgently need—a new attitude to nature?

From Wonderland to Wasteland


Some ecosystems, like the Amazon rainforest, or the North American prairies, have been assaulted by humans. As a result, vast tracts of each have been destroyed in favor of human designed systems.  For example, rainforests contain more than half of all terrestrial species and those forests depend on diversity. Yet, in places like Borneo, and others, humans have devastated the rainforest ecosystem by turning it into mono-cultures of oil palms. We did the same with prairies of course. Humans have been doing this over and over again.  In a single small parcel of tropical rainforest there could be as many as 700 species of trees. That is as much diversity of trees as all of North America put together.  David Attenborough said that the mono-culture of what was once a tropical rainforest is dead in comparison to the diversity of a rainforest.


We could say the same about the farmers’ field in comparison to the ecosystem of North American tall grass prairie. One is dead. Humans benefit two times when the cut down a forest. First, they can use the timber. Secondly, they can use the bare land that is left for agricultural crops.  As Attenborough said, “That is why we have cut down 3 trillion trees across the world. Half of the world’s rainforests have already been cleared.It is a gross understatement to say that we are a rapacious species. Similarly, we have cut down 70% of the North American prairies and ploughed 98 to 99% of its tall grass prairie.


During Attenborough’s lifetime and mine, we have reduced the population of orangutans by 2/3rds. As Attenborough said, “We can’t cut down the rainforest forever, and what we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable.”

I would say the same thing about the prairies and tall grass prairies of North America. Also unsustainable. The same goes for the ocean.

By 1997 the word population had risen to 5.9 billion, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had risen to 360 ppm while the remaining wilderness was reduced by 46%.  By now we can all see the pattern is clear.

The ocean of course was the world’s first ecosystem. That is where scientists believe life on the planet began. Most of the ocean is barren of life, but there are hot spots where there occurs an explosion of life. Colourful and beautiful life. Huge shoals of fish gather in such spots. But humans have learned how to find these hotspots too. And they have come equipped with the best of modern equipment.

Humans have been harvesting these hotspots on an industrial scale. Industrial style fishing really started in the 1950s and, as Attenborough said, “yet we’ve removed 90% of the large fish in the sea.” Bizarrely, governments around the world started to subsidize these industrial fleets in order to maintain them while they refrained from maintaining marine life on the planet. We allowed it to be ravished. We have also relentlessly attacked other marine species. Our species is by far the worst serial predators on the planet because we kill  species with astonishing mechanical tools. That is one of the reasons that those who believe humans might be headed to extinction along with their rapacious society sometimes cheer for the other side.

David Attenborough pointed out that “without large fish and other marine predators the oceanic nutrient cycle stutters.” The predators help the oceans to recycle marine life. Without them the hotspots diminish and the oceans start to die.

But, as Attenborough said, “ocean life was also unravelling in the shallows.”  The film crews he was working with stumbled across an event that was poorly understood at the time. “Coral reefs were turning white.” This was frightening because coral reefs contain about 25% of all the creatures of the sea even though they covered a small percentage of the planet. This was a serious challenge. The white colours are caused by the fact that the coral expel symbiotic algae that lived inside their bodies. Attenborough described this process as “turning from wonderland to wasteland.

That is what our current attitude to nature is leading us to. A wasteland.


Breaking Loose


In the 1970s whales were being hunted near to extinction by fleets of industrial ships. So were some fish species.  When humans made a target of an animal, there was no place it could go to hide. Some photographers were showing films and photographs of whales being slaughtered.  They also played tapes of the sounds they made. People began to identify with whales even though they had been hunted relentlessly by people for centuries. People were starting to empathize with whales. How was that possible?


It was possible because the attitudes of humans to whales were changing. Many people did not like the slaughter. Sometimes the feelings for animals were merely sentimental. In other words, the concern for whales had not been earned. The feelings were often shallow. People were often quickly distracted by other concerns. But attitudes were still changing.


On the whole, in the 1970s people on earth, numbering about 4,000 million (or 4 billion) of us, had by and large “broken loose from the restrictions that govern other animals” as David Attenborough called it in his testament statement. We had considered ourselves separate and apart from the rest of life on the planet. We were the dominant species on the planet and we believed we had a divine right to dominate all other species as we saw fit without restraint. Many of us actually had divine sanction for our rule, just as whites once understood themselves to have divine sanction to own people with a different colour of skin. The insanity of both views was not visible to many people in the late 70s, but the number of people who did was quietly growing. Some people had a different attitude to nature.

By the late 1970s we had eliminated the predators who once stalked us except for a few in zoos or minute reserves. We had conquered many of the diseases that once ravished our numbers. We arranged for systems of food production and management that were marvels of industrialization. We were starting to house animals like chickens and pigs in industrial style farms where those animals were treated abominably. We broadcast chemicals into the air in a war on insects that we considered as pests interfering with out right to harvest life as we wished.

We thought we were entitled to all that by God’s law. He had given us dominion over the earth we thought and believed on the basis of ancient texts. We thought we could deal with the earth and the creatures on it as we pleased.

As David Attenborough said, “There really was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us unless we stopped ourselves. We would continue to consume the earth until we had used it up.” It was not enough to save species or even groups of species he said.

In other words, we really needed a new and different attitude to nature. We needed a more humble attitude to nature. We still do.


Champions for the Earth


By 1978, when I had recently begun a legal career the population of the world was numbered at 4.3 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere was 335 ppm and the remaining wilderness of the world had been reduced to 55%.

David Attenborough travelled around the world that year to create a portrait of life on the planet.  He said he already noticed that some wildlife was getting noticeably harder to find.  I was not that smart yet at that time. Not that I am much smarter now.

I remember going on some fly-in fishing trips with friends in Northern Manitoba at about that time. We thought fish were endless. Of course, that was not true.  We thought birds were everywhere. They weren’t. I took as many photographs as I could when I was not fishing. Soon photographing and exploring nature would overwhelm my interest in fishing. My attitudes to nature were changing, but they had not changed enough.

I remember being disgusted at one member of our group on one of those trips tossing a beer bottle into the water from his fishing boat. I knew this was abhorrent, but I said nothing. I did not want to rock the boat. He was a client of ours and I did not want to insult him. I am not proud of the cowardice I showed that day. It’s like keeping quite when you hear someone utter a racial slur. The planet needs better champions than that. It needs even better ones today!

David Attenborough was lucky enough to see Mountain gorillas in the wild. But there were very few left.   But even those numbers needed to have a 24 hour human guard to protect them from human poachers. There were only about 300 left on a remote mountain reserve.  Baby gorillas were treasured. Poachers might kill 10 or more adults to get at one young gorilla. Sometimes people are scum. The scum of the earth.

Some think that people have outlived their usefulness on the planet. They want humans to be the next extinct species. That is pretty drastic. But who deserves it more than us?


Africa Needs Lions



When we were in Africa 10 years ago (2013) we visited Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. They claim to be Southern Africa’s Most Intriguing Destination. It is home to the world famous ALERT lion. That is a sophisticated program to re-introduce lions into the wild to support the declining lion population.

It is set in more than 3,000 acres of open savannah grassland. In addition to walking with lions it offers elephant rides [of which I don’t approve], canoeing on the tranquil lake or river and a swimming pool.  Of course, it is most famous for allowing people to walk with a lion!  Their motto is very apt, “Where else in the world?’

Their goal is to ethically re-introduce lions into the world by doing that with the offspring of captive bred lions.  ALERT was founded in 2005. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to the facilitation and promotion of sound conservation strategies and management plans for the African lion in consultation with governments and wild life authorities and African communities.

The Trust that was established has a four stage African Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program. They want to augment proposals to stop the serious decline in lion populations in Africa.

No human contact is permitted at stage 2 of the program to ensure that the lions that are introduced to the wild have had no human contact. These are the offspring of the lions that had contact with humans. The young of the captive lions has no contact with humans whatsoever.

In every pride of lions, there is a male lion that takes over the group of lions. This is the dominant lion. The humans keep a close eye so they know which is the dominant male.  When food is put out for them it is quickly obvious which is the dominant male. When the dominant male comes to the carcass, as we saw, he flings himself right on top of it to hog the meat. He does not care about any of the other lions even those who have caught the prey. The dominant lion eats first.  There is no sharing if he can help it. He does not subscribe to the maxim ‘sharing is caring.’

While we visited the park, we were taken to a pen where there was an animal carcass, cut into a few pieces, right in front of the fences behind which we stood. We were warned to get ready. The gate at the far end of the pen was opened and 3 male lions—huge male lions—rushed right at us. They were loud and aggressive and fast.  They made deep ominous sounds. Had I been the prey, the sound alone would have killed me.  It was terrifying.  It was extremely exciting. I sure was glad to be behind a strong (I hoped) chain link fence. I would not have wanted to be the prey.  It would have been a very short life. They lunged at the carcass. Two lions each grabbed a small piece of meat, before the dominant male leaped onto the carcass, hogging it for himself.


To photograph the event, I placed my camera on continuous shooting mode. I shot the images through the chain link fence which is basically invisible because I was so close to the fence. It blurred into invisibility.  I fired away as the lions bolted right at me. It was amazingly exciting. Even though I knew the fence was there, it was thrilling.

When we saw the 3 males lions bounding at the carcass the 2 non-dominant males ran as fast as they could because they realized that when the dominant male arrived there would not be any sharing after that. So they tried to get a piece of meat before the king arrived.

Lions in the wild learn to eat fast. They have to eat before competitors come for the carcass. They have to eat before the dominant male if they can. It took these 3 males a few minutes to consume the carcass.


While I was there, I purchased a T-shirt that read, “Africa needs lions.” African lions are disappearing fast. That really is the point. We need lions. We need nature.

This is how humans do it.  they drive animals toward extinction and at the 11th hour, or later, we make heroic efforts at great expense to save them. Now humans are trying to make amends for the havoc they have imposed on lions. It is really too little too late. But I hope it is part of a revaluation of our attitude to nature. We really need a new attitude to nature. And we need it fast before its too late.


In 2013 this man, who looked supremely competent, lead about 10 of us into the bush carrying a rifle to try to find rhinos.  Our intent was not to shoot them. But we were walking on the ground where we could be attacked by wild animals. It was a bit scary.  We encountered no dangerous animals and did not find any rhinos.

As a consequence of the current attitude to nature, which says everything in nature is a resource for humans to do as they choose, rhinoceros are also in deep trouble in Africa. This is another  dreadful pity. As Peter Matthiessen said in his book Sand Rivers, “I am in pure breathless awe of this protean life form, six hundred thousand centuries on earth…the ugliest and most beautiful life imaginable.”  And is deeply appalling to think that some foul smelling evil little man shoots it to lie dying on the ground as its rough prong of compacted hair is hacked off for some puerile superstition. Sometimes life stinks with injustice. The stink of humans.

This was also part of that walk in Zimbabwe.

In 1981 already, Peter Gwin described the issue this way, in National Geographic, “Rivaling the price of gold on the black market, rhino horn is at the center of a bloody poaching battle.” In 2011, two years before we went to Africa, more than 1,000 rhinos were slaughtered in South Africa alone.  22 poachers were gunned down and more than 200 arrested.

Today, authorities are taking poaching seriously. As they should. It is a serious problem.  At the time, South Africa, which was  home to 73% of the world’s rhinos, had stockpiled a billion dollars of rhino horn.  From time to time, they say they want to sell the horns to get money for conservation efforts.

This was 2 rhinos in Kruger National Park South Africa

The problem is the rhino’s horn was thought by many people in Asia in particular to be a vitally useful in Asian medicine.  In 2011, prices according to Gwin ranged from $33 to $133 a gram. At $133 that is double the cost of gold! It can exceed the value of cocaine! In Vietnam for example, a pair of rhino horns could produce a net profit of $200,000!  It is no wonder that it is at the center of such a battle.

Poaching since the 1970s and 1980s has devastated rhino numbers.  In time, China succumbed to pressure to ban rhino horn from their traditional medicines. At the same time Yemen prohibited its use for ceremonial dagger handles. Things were looking good.

There was evidence a lot of rhino horns were going to Vietnam. Hugely increased profits just poured fuel on the problem. Another part of the problem is that the Vietnamese who also lust after rhino horns, had exploited the rhinos of Java to the point of extinction. So they had to find an alternate source. Now it seems like the rhino market is centered in Vietnam.

In Asia unsubstantiated rumors persist that rhino horns after being ground into powder cure a wide range of ailments including cancer. Of course the placebo effect of such powder is in turn juiced up by the wild prices. If it is so expensive it must be good!  Naturally rich people in particular facing death are willing to try anything. Who wouldn’t?

In a tour of Vietnam for his article in National Geographic, Gwin said he found rhino horn everywhere he looked. Even western trained doctors were using it. Their patients demanded it. Families would often pool money to purchase it. Rich people gave it to poor people. Mothers gave it to their children for measles. It is seen as a miracle drug.

It has been said of the rhino that they wake up surly and quickly go downhill from there.  Yet the black rhino has been around for 6 million years. 100 years ago there were hundreds of thousands of rhinos in Africa, now poaching has reduced them to about 18,000. We were privileged to see them. It might be that my granddaughters will never have a chance to see one.

I really think we need a new attitude to nature. Don’t you?

Disappearing Lions


This was the only Lion we saw in Africa

I have never seen wildlife as I did on our trip to Africa in 2013. It was spectacular.  But the fact is, numbers were already in serious decline when we were there. While others have been more lucky, we saw only one lion in the wild when we visited and that was in Kruger National Park in South Africa. That of course, is not important, but there are some important issues about lions and other African Wildlife.

Already in 2013, when we were in Africa, the problem with lions was severe. Between 1974 and 2013 when we were in Africa, it had lost 80-90% of its lions! And their number were continuing to decline.

One report published at the end of 2012 estimated that the number of lions in Africa was as low as 32,000. Another estimated the number at 15,000! That was profoundly disturbing since 40 years before that there were an estimated 200,000 lions in Africa.

The UK-based conservation  group LionAid said as few as 645 lions remained in the wild in western and central Africa  It said lions were extinct in 25 African nations and virtually extinct in 10, and it estimated that 15,000 wild lions remained on the continent as a whole, compared with about 200,000 30 years before.

No matter whose figures you believe the numbers are amazingly bad! According to Afua Hirsch writing in The Guardian in 2013,

“The report comes after a series of studies have raised concern about the fate of the African lion. Researchers at Duke University in the US used satellite imagery to conclude that about three-quarters of Africa’s wide open savannah had  disappeared over the last half century , and extrapolated lion populations on to data about their available habitats to estimate that 32,000 lions remained.”

This was one of the fastest declines of mammals in history.  Although their situation was not as dire as that of the tiger, it was clearly headed in the same direction and at breakneck speed.

The overall picture is clear—lions were disappearing fast. Many believed that at current rates unless something was done seriously and fast, the lions would  disappear from the wild in 40 years! As David Lamb pointed out in his book The Africans, in 1982,  “lions are so few in number that most Africans have never seen one.”

One of the problems was that the Chinese were paying big sums for lion bones. It was and is part of their superstitious beliefs that animal parts can give them health benefits.

That of course drives up the price of lions. Then when lions are scarce, the price is driven up so poaching continues with even greater vigor. It is vicious circle, just as it is for rhinos.  Added to that, as tiger bones become nearly impossible to obtain, partly because the Asians have driven them to extinction with their superstitious beliefs, they are now helping drive lions to extinction as well.  The problem is compounded, as it is for rhinos, by the fact that as lion numbers decline sharply, the price rises proportionately just as sharply, thus increasing the profits from poaching.

As a result of these declining numbers serious efforts must be made to protect lions, for the benefit of the tourism industry, but even more importantly so save the lions.

Can we considered ourselves to be civilized if we allow lions to be exterminated? Can we deny that a civilization that acquiesces in such destruction is in sersou decline?


Africa a place of unbounding Abundance: Elephants


David Attenborough made his first trip to Africa in 1960.  Back then it really did seem inconceivable that a single species could threaten life on the planet. We were ignorant. There was such a species—Homo sapiens.

We went to Chobe National Park in Botswana where there are more elephants than anywhere else in the world. You have to work hard not to see any.


53 years later, when I went to Africa in 2013, I was blown away by the astonishing amount of wildlife. It seemed like every few minutes in our safari vehicles we would see an amazing array of wildlife. And compared to wildlife back home it was amazing. But compared to what it had been when Attenborough had gone 53 years earlier it was already cheap beer.

As far as wildlife is concerned, my experience in Africa was unparalleled. I had never seen animals in such abundance anywhere else in the world. It was not even close. All kinds of animals. But today I want to concentrate on one of them—elephants.

Yet we learned there that elephants were facing tough times—they were under siege. A survey in 1979 estimated that there were about 1.3 million elephants left in the wild. It is thought that in 2013 when we were there some 34 years later those numbers had been reduced to about 500,000. Less than half were left!

The worst part of it is that elephants were facing increasing challenges to their existence. Things were not getting better in many places, they were getting worse. Even though Chobe National Park was one of the few places where elephants were thriving this is what Damian Carrington of The Guardian said about them and their prospects:



The forest elephants of Africa have lost almost two-thirds of their number in the past decade due to poaching for ivory…There are about 100,000 forest elephants remaining in the forests of central Africa, compared with 400,00 of the slightly larger savannah elephants. The total population was over 1 million 30 years ago, but has been devastated by poaching driven by the rising demand for ivory ornaments in Asia.   

What has made things worse for elephants is that they range over central Africa and that region had suffered greatly on account of wars and competition. Poachers in such regions had easy access to weapons, and enforcement officers that were distracted by wars raging around them. Loss of habitat was not the primary problem as it was for many other species that were endangered. Many of the forests were already empty of elephants. That demonstrated that was a poaching problem not a habitat degradation issue.

China in particular was a large part of the problem. Their craving for elephant tusks had driven the price up to more than $1,000 per kg. Just 3 years before I was in Africa, the price was $150 per kg. 90% of Kenyan ivory ended up in China. As Africans told the Chinese, ‘China does not need ivory, but Africa needs elephants.’

The poachers were usually part of criminal gangs. They can be violent and ruthless. The guards on whom the elephants depended for their survival were often harassed and feared for their lives.  One guard said that he had become part of the national psychosis.

What was really weird then was that elephants by then depended on their mortal enemy for their survival.  That was us by the way. We were their enemy.  We had driven them to the brink of extinction by our wanton, foolish desires, and yet without us they would likely not survive because some of our species were working hard to save them.  The world is not just crazy. It is much more whacky than that. It is weirder than we could conceive it to be.

These two were from Kruger National Park in South Africa.



This group of elephants were actually part of a much  larger group. They actually surrounded our safari vehicle. It was a bit disconcerting to be surrounded by such large animals.  It was an experience I will never forget.  the elephants were actually difficult to photograph because they were too close!

I don’t know about you, but I think a world without elephants would be a paltry thing. Yes we need a new attitude to elephants. We also need a new attitude to nature.