Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
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Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
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African Acacia Trees – Learn More!

Few trees are as iconic as the flat-topped Acacia on the plains of the African Savannah. On par with the Big 5, these trees instantly evoke nostalgia in those who know them, and will forever be associated with the African Safari.

What’s in a name?
The botanical names of African Acacia trees have been changed in the last decade, from ‘Acacia’ (such as Acacia karroo) to Vachellia (Vachellia karroo), and Senegalia. Despite wide-spread unhappiness in the world of Botany, the common name for these unique trees will always remain ‘Acacia’. As it should. Australian Acacias are still called Acacia spp. Collectively, these species (Acacia, Vachellia, and Senegalia) will still be known as Acacias as a common name. There are around 1000 species of Acacia worldwide, primarily in Australia and Africa.

The iconic, flat-topped African Acacia (Nyanga Flat - Top) is called Vachellia abyssinica.

The dome-shaped Vachellia erioloba, known as the Giraffe Thorn or Camel Thorn tree, is the most recognizable tree in the Kalahari desert, and occurs widely in the drier areas in Southern Africa. It can grow up to grow up to 18 m tall and live up to 200 years. The tap root can grow up to 60 m, allowing it to access deep ground water sources and live in extremely dry climates.

A Deeper Meaning:
The Acacia is of spiritual significance in that it symbolizes regeneration, perseverance, and integrity. The evergreen nature of this tree denotes the immortality of the human spirit.

The ancient Egyptians made funeral wreathes of Acacia. They believe that Osiris was the first god to be born under the Acacia tree, and all others followed. The Hebrews planted a sprig of evergreen Acacia to mark the grave of a departed friend. Acacias are also mentioned in the Bible, with specific reference to the building of the tabernacle.

A Useful Tree:
Senegalia senegal (Gum Arabic Tree) found in Sudan and the northern Sahara, is the main source of gum arabic, which has been used for over 2,000 years in paints, watercolours, candy, medicines, calico printing, dyeing, and in the making of silk, paper, and cosmetics.

The various species of Acacia were used by early shipbuilders for its durable wood, and today many countries cultivate the trees. Along with the wood being used for furniture, flooring and even weapons and jewellery, the gum is used as an adhesive, for medicine, and even for chewing gum and desserts. Furthermore, the blossom can be used as flavouring, the seeds utilised in sauces and the tannin as a dye. And in Central America, the swollen thorns are made into beautiful necklaces.

In landscaping and gardening, Acacias are often used to control soil erosion in dry and damaged soils. They can be planted as protective hedges, creating shady areas for animals and to accommodate a variety of bird species for nest building areas. These hardy water-wise plants are perfect garden additions to areas where water may be scarce.

Sweet Thorn (Vachellia karroo): Edible gum seeping from cracks in the tree’s bark is important food for the Bushbaby’s winter diet. The tree is especially useful as food for domestic and wild animals, like goats. The flowers make a good source for honey bees, and honey from the Sweet Thorn has a pleasant taste. The Sweet Thorn tree makes excellent firewood, and the wood is also used as fencing poles in making a kraal. Traditionally the inside of the bark was used to make a tough rope with.

Masters of self-defence, employing bodyguards!
Almost all Acacia species have long, sharp thorns, which prevent (most) animals from eating their leaves. Some species grow thorns that are as long as 8-10cm, and sharp as a knife.

Stinging ants (bodyguards!) live inside hollowed-out thorns, which provide further discouragement. The trees have developed a symbiotic relationship with stinging ants who live in the thorns (which they hollow out and use as nesting sites) whilst feeding on the nectar of the tree’s flowers. If a big African mammal takes a bite of its leaves, the stinging ants see to it that the animal will certainly think twice before munching more!

Along with the production of thorns and the usual accompaniment of ants that nest in these trees, the African Acacia has developed an incredible early warning ‘alarm system’ to warn other trees when browsers such as the antelope are in the area. Wouter Van Hoven (a Zoologist from the University of Pretoria) has found that when the leaves of Acacias are nibbled, they produce high doses of tannin in their foliage, which may be lethal to browsers.

When the leaves begin to fill with poisonous tannins, they release ethylene gas, which drifts toward other acacias. In response, the nearby trees begin to manufacture poison themselves. Giraffes can eat as much as 29 kilograms of acacia leaves and twigs daily. Herds of three or more giraffes spend hours browsing in acacia thickets, so they pose a real threat to the survival of the trees if left to munch away. But all it takes is a few minutes for the neighbouring trees to step up their leaf tannin production to repel lurking browsers. The simultaneous tannin release by all nearby acacias essentially forces the giraffes to travel upwind to trees that have not yet received the panic alert.

There’s a reason they are dome-shaped or flat-topped:
Flat-topped crowns help trees to resist drying winds by allowing leaves to shelter each other, while the umbrella-dome shape of most African acacias enables the trees to capture the maximum amount of sunlight, with even the smallest of leaves. Because the African savannahs are regularly burnt, any tree that wants to survive fire has to cleverly adapt. Thick bark is a useful defense. Another sensible trait is to grow tall, quickly: trees that are above the 'fire trap' (2-3m tall) aren't burnt back to the roots by a fire and can re-sprout from the top. With limited resources and living in a place where fires are frequent, trees produce a single (or at most a few) stems and grow straight up, without branching out sideways. Once tall enough to escape the impact of fire, they’re free to branch sideways.

After branching out, even though moderately tall trees don't always escape giraffe browsing, a horizontal growth-form still protects the central branches. It's common to see Vachellia tortillis (Umbrella Thorn) that only grow large thorns on the outer tips of their branches, providing enough defense to protect inner branches. So, in a fire-dominated, browse-affected and unlimited light environment, the flat topped tree structure is perfectly designed!

It's so rare that a seedling survives both fire and being eaten, that mature trees tend to be at low density in savannahs. This explains why they are so memorable and often isolated on the sweeping landscapes and golden plains of grass. The next time you see one of these iconic trees, think back on what you’ve learnt here, how amazing Nature is, as you snap the perfect sunset photograph, with some giraffes strolling past a flat-topped Acacia!

Written by Carina Crayton BSc(Agric)HONS

I stretch my arms wide
To catch the last of the light
Tomorrow the rains may come
another dry season will be done
If not, I’ll still be here
I’ll still allow majestic giraffes near
For a minute or two and then
My sweet poison will defend
For life, I will stand strong
on the golden plains where I belong
I’ll filter the dust
I must reach deep for water
Mother Earth and I – we’re one
Together we’ll fight the burning sun
In my shelter they’ll thrive
all that I keep alive
You will always remember me
I’m that African Acacia Tree
© Carina Crayton

Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation2 days ago
"Take nothing but pictures,
Kill nothing but time,
Leave nothing but footprints"
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation3 days ago
Milestone for captive bred Lions

Lion Breeder found guilty
In a precedent-setting ruling, captive Lion breeder Gert Claasen was found guilty on contravention of The Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962. Although only sentenced to a fine of R4000 or 12 months imprisonment, this is the first successful case relating to the welfare of captive bred Lions in South Africa. The NSPCA regards it as a major win that the Steilfontein Farm owner has been brought to book for the cruel, negligent confinement of these animals. This sets a precedent for every related cruelty case that will be brought before the courts.

Inspections reveal horrendous cruelty
The case was brought before the court by the NSPCA, following joint inspections with the Provincial Nature Conservation (DESTEA: Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs) and DFFE (the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment). The officials’ 2022 visit to Claasen’s Steilfontein Farm, based in the area of the town Petrus Steyn in the Free State Province, revealed animal welfare concerns with regards to the captive conditions of several feline predators. Follow-up inspections revealed that conditions had worsened, with no fresh drinking water available, rotting meat and faeces left in the enclosures, fly infestations, obvious signs of malnourishment, paralysis and pain without veterinary intervention, and lack of shelter – all of which contravene the Act. (Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962). Over-crowding within the enclosures further contravened the permit conditions.

Breeding breaking the brand
In South Africa, the captive bred Lion industry is alive and well, with around 8000 captive Lions being bred on more than 500 farms. It is not currently illegal, provided that the breeders do have the correct permits in place. A high-level panel on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of Elephants, Lions, Leopards, and Rhinos, in May 2021, recommended the formation of a ministerial task team – to identify and recommend pathways for captive lion owners to exit their business voluntarily, with the premise that it would be outlawed in the future. This task team was formed by DFFE Minister Barabara Creecy, in December 2022.

Wild Lion Conservation in South Africa is mostly funded by Eco-tourism, which has been negatively impacted by the sordid captive Lion industry. The captive Lion industry therefore poses a risk to the sustainability of Lion Conservation in South Africa. The panel recommended the closure of the captive breeding sector and its resultant trade in body parts.

Breeding for greed
Captive bred Lions are exploited at every level. The Lionesses are breeders, producing an ongoing litter of cubs, which are removed from her within a few days at most. These cubs get petted and fed and photographed by unsuspecting tourists and paying volunteers who believe the lies that these cubs had been abandoned in the wild. The next stage is walking with lions, which once again generates millions of Rands (for the owner – not for Lion Conservation). Once the Lions have become too big to walk with safely, they are shipped to hunting farms for trophy / canned hunts. The last level of exploitation is the selling of the body parts, skin, teeth, bones – nothing escapes the greed. The cycle starts all over again.

Many South African organizations, including Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation, have been actively involved in bringing awareness of and seeking solutions for the captive breeding industry to South African citizens and the rest of the world. Because it is such a lucrative industry, with one Lion able to earn its owner over ZAR 2million during a relatively short lifespan, it is challenging for small NGOs to compete with the funding these breeders have at their disposal.

Small steps to success
It’s easy to become disheartened and overwhelmed by what is happening with captive lions in South Africa, so we have to focus on the successes. And although the fine imposed on Gert Claasen is laughable, it still resulted in him now having a criminal record, and being instructed by the Judge to warn the other captive lion breeders. While fighting against the horrific captive lion breeding industry in South Africa, as long as every step leads to the same outcome, small steps are fine too.

Written by Carina Crayton (Co-Founder Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation)

Link in comments.

#WHWF #WildHeartWildlifeFoundation #EthicalConservation #StopCaptiveLionBreeding #NotYoursToPet #EthicalVolunteering #EcoTourism #BrandSouthAfrica
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation3 days ago
How not to shoot an Elephant - The Balule Trophy Hunt:

This is a story about an apparently illegal kill licence, a botched trophy hunt, the gratuitous pain and suffering of an elephant and the right to shoot iconic wild animals.

Hunting does not provide the precision kill of an abattoir, but what happened in Maseke Game Reserve on 3 September was beyond acceptable, even in hunting circles. Apart from a botched hunt, it may also have been illegal.

Maseke is within the Balule Nature Reserve, which, in turn, is in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), an area to the west of Kruger National Park. There are no fences between Kruger and the APNR, so animals can and do move freely between the two.

A paying client took a shot at a bull elephant but merely wounded it. The professional hunter accompanying him then pumped four more bullets into the animal but also failed to bring it down.

The elephant took off towards the Grietjie section of the Balule reserve, a non-hunting area, pursued by the hunting party. They couldn’t keep up, so a helicopter was called in. By then the animal was in Grietjie and the chopper drove the wounded animal back into Maseke where it was shot and finally killed, its body by then carrying eight bullets.

This incident is not a hunting outlier. In 2018 in Maseke, a young elephant was shot 13 times — screaming in pain within view of traumatised guests at a lodge in Parsons Nature Reserve bordering Maseke. The professional hunter in charge, Sean Nielsen, claimed the elephant had been “shot in self-defence”. Nielsen is the hunting concessionaire for Maseke Game Reserve which is owned by the Maseke tribe.

According to Balule chairperson Sharon Haussmann, that hunt had the correct permits in place, but she said the incident “did not comply with the sustainable utilisation model of ethical hunting in accordance with the hunting protocol that governs all reserves within APNR and to which Balule and hence Maseke are bound.” That would also go for the latest hunt.

Was it legal?
There is a question regarding the legality of the permit for the Maseke hunt. According to the Humane Society International-Africa (HSI/Africa), the issuing of a hunting permit contradicts a high court interim interdict which prohibits the allocation of permits for trophy hunting of African elephants, leopards and black rhinos in South Africa.

It followed a successful legal challenge brought by HSI/Africa in 2022 against the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and others. Judge Patrick Gamble found that the Department of Environment had failed to comply with the consultative process prescribed by the National Environmental Management.

Pending a review, the minister was therefore not permitted to issue a quota for trophy hunting and export of elephant, black rhino or leopard without valid non-detriment findings. The review hearing is only scheduled for January 2024 so has not been held. Therefore, according to HSI/Africa’s executive director, Tony Gerrans, the the prohibition on hunting of trophies still stands.

The hunt evidently sparked a “vigorous debate” on WhatsApp by Grietjie landowners furious about the incident, including about the helicopter chase on their land. In a letter to the landowners, Ian Nowak, the general manager of Balule, apologised, but said Maseke Reserve “conducted the hunt in accordance with the requirements and protocols”, that the hunt was legal and that no protocol violations were committed. Balule provides the overall administrative system for Maseke, with both situated within the APNR.

HSI/Africa rejected this assurance. Gerrans said, “We are horrified by this unnecessary tragedy. Given the high court’s interdict prohibiting the permitting of elephant hunts, the letter’s conclusion that this hunt was lawful is incorrect.

“Furthermore, no animal should ever experience the pain and suffering that this elephant endured. The practice of trophy hunting is not only profoundly inhumane but also poses a grave threat to our biodiversity and tarnishes South Africa’s global reputation as a sustainable and responsible tourist destination. To injure, chase and kill any animal in this way is unacceptable.”

Hunting in the APNR
The hunt, apart from its obvious cruelty, raises wider questions about hunting in the APNR. These reserves are unarguably prime or even core wildlife areas. And because there are no fences between the APNR and the Kruger Park, by “supporting” APNR annual offtake quotas as it does, Kruger is essentially giving permission to hunt animals which it’s obliged by law to protect — with permits being granted by the provincial authority.

Within the APNR, some reserves, such as parts of Balule, Klaserie, Timbavati and Umbabat, allow hunting and others do not. Animals can move freely across the borders of neighbouring reserves, which means that protected animals from one reserve or even the Kruger Park can be killed by trophy hunters within another reserve.

Olifants Camp and the private Balule Camp in the central Kruger National Park, Limpopo, give you acess to the mopane shrubveld of the north as well as the game-rich plains to the south. Elephants swim across the Olifants River.

Each year the APNR is allocated quotas for the hunting of a range of animals. According to Nowak, it has permission to shoot 50 elephants annually. Of these, Balule is allocated 22 and Maseke, in turn, has a licence to hunt 12. He says the APNR quota “is to allow for better breeding opportunities for the average and above average bulls.” An elephant expert we contacted (who did not wish to be named) called that unscientific nonsense.

Questions have also been raised about general hunting offtakes in the APNR. In reply to a parliamentary request for these numbers for 2022/23 and 2023/24, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said that SANParks was not at liberty to release them and that the request should be routed to the relevant provincial authorities. It is unclear why the minister should not wish to provide the information requested as it is certainly in the possession of her department and comprehensive replies have been provided to similar requests in previous years.

In 2021/22, SANParks supported the hunting of 4,449 animals (including 55 elephants, 64 buffaloes, 26 kudus, four warthogs, three hippos, nine hyenas, six giraffes and 4,265 impalas) in the APNR.

The proceeds
In 2019 (the only year for which financial figures could be obtained) hunting netted Balule estates alone R2.8-million, according to their financial statements. However, a desktop calculation using the SA Professional Hunters’ standard rates, estimates income attributable to the hunting of animals allocated to Balule to be R10.9-million. So who received the difference of R8-million?

On the same basis, hunting income for the entire APNR was estimated to be R29-million, of which R17-million was disclosed by the APNR representatives to the Parliamentary Environmental Affairs oversight committee as having been received. Of this, only 9% was declared as having been used for community outreach.

‘Trophy hunting’, specifically, is a form of hunting in which the hunter’s explicit goal is to obtain the hunted animal’s carcass or body part, such as the head or hide, as a trophy that represents the success of the hunt. (Image: ifaw / Wikipedia)

The wider question is about the hunting of rare and protected animals. According to Gerrans, the latest incident “once again demonstrates the inhumanity of hunting sentient animals merely for bragging rights and to display parts of their bodies as trophies on a wall. Too many endangered and threatened animals continue to suffer and die within so-called nature conservation reserves in what is best described as a blood sport.

“HSI/Africa has challenged the way this horrifying activity is permitted by the government, and we call on all South African wildlife administrators to abide by the high court order which prohibits the permitting of elephant, leopard and black rhino hunts until such time as the court can rule on the merits of the permitting process.”

With clients who can’t down an elephant and professional hunters who seemingly can’t provide the coup de grâce when the clients miss, this means that a miserable fate awaits another 11 elephants for which hunting permits have been issued in Maseke. DM

Republished from Conservation Action Trust, original article by Don Pinnock, Daily Maverick.

Photo: Elephant in Kruger National Park / © Carina Crayton
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation7 days ago
This is a portrait of a beautiful lion named Rafiki after he was given some veterinary treatment. As you can see, he recovered very nicely. 🐾👑🐾

Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation
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