The story of Riff Raff, a 45-year-old bull elephant in South Africa, highlights a major problem in wildlife conservation on the planet, namely, the invasion of people onto territory occupied by wild species resulting in an ever present conflict over shrinking space between animals and the growing human population.
Riff Raff’s home range during his formative 13 early years was an area which is a private nature reserve close to the Kruger National Park. A farm owner fenced off a part of it. The overwhelming instinct for Riff Raff, who was confined to the other side of the fencing was to go back to his home range which resulted in him destroying part of the farmer’s property.
The farmer applied for a destruction order against the elephant. This is not uncommon in South Africa and it is believed that some farmers use such orders to get rid of elephants.
A judge refused the order and there was an attempt to relocate Riff Raff. He was moved 40 miles away but he returned under his own steam crossing a road and a railway line. He simply wanted to live in his home where he had lived for the first 13 years of his life.
But humans are increasingly encroaching upon the home ranges of wild species including elephants which results in this conflict and normally the human wins with the destruction of the animal concerned.
This problem is particularly acute for bull elephants who form a strong attachment to territory when they become independent from the family heard.
“In Riff Raff’s case, a fence was erected in the middle of the home range that he had moved freely around for 13 of his formative years,”Audrey Delsink a spokesperson for the Humane Society Africa.
The society brought an urgent court application to spare the life of this bull elephant. He had been categorised as a “damage causing animal” some two years ago which threatened his existence.
Campaigners came to his defence to have him moved to a new reserve but as mentioned it failed. A further request to move him was rejected by the authorities in Limpopo province. That decision is being reviewed while his stay of execution remains in place.
“If the destruction is upheld and Riff Riff is killed through a destruction permit, it will be a tragedy not only for this amazing animal but for all so-called problem elephants across South Africa who face a similar fate,”Audrey Delsink
Of course, I totally agree with Audrey. There has to be a better way. The problem is rooted in human behaviour and the need for economic growth fuelled by population growth.
Yesterday I went for a test drive in an electric vehicle. We discussed batteries and the need for minerals to build these batteries. Africa is rich in minerals and the Chinese have moved into Africa in order to fuel their economic boom to produce batteries and other electronic goods. They need these minerals. This means more people in Africa. It means more economic activity and the destruction of habitat. That’s one problem.
The other is that the African population is growing the fastest of all continents on the planet. There is so much conflict between farmers and indigenous wildlife. It seems that it applies to all the iconic animals that people in countries outside of Africa treasures so much but which many Africans seem to be disdainful of and careless about.
Farmers have to eke an existence. I understand that. They don’t care if they have to destroy endangered species in pursuit of that goal. The bottom line answer is that there should be less people which is a non-politically correct statement. Nothing will be done about this problem.
At the end of the day humans will be recreating elephants in test tubes and then placing those creations in zoos. That will be the extent of our enjoyment of the natural world in years to come.
There are similar but slightly different examples of the same thing in any other country you wish to name. Here are a couple: new human settlements in America built on cougar home ranges leading to cougars wandering around homes which in turn leads to uncomfortable encounters and in the end the death of the cat (shot by rangers). In the UK, the gradual extinction of the Scottish wildcat due to crossbreeding with domestic and feral cats creating non-purebred Scottish wild cat hybrids.