Category Archives: Conservation

The Forgotten Ones

Giraffes becoming extinct? Yes.

The news comes as a surprise to many- after all, they’re ‘always around’, and on safari, not many usually stop for yet another giraffe that comes walking by. Which may be part of the reason why their plight has been overlooked and largely unnoticed. These beautiful creatures are in serious and rapid decline, with populations having fallen by 40% over the last 15 years due to habitat loss and poaching for their meat.

There are 9 subspecies of giraffe, two of which are classified as endangered by IUCN. The other 7 are classed as ‘of least concern’. Well, there’s a concern alright. Reportedly they still have this classification as nobody has bothered to conduct any proper monitoring and evaluation for some time. And until something is done, the population, which is sitting at 90k as we speak, will continue to plummet as sure as the sun sets every day.

Here’s to the giraffe- head always held high, elegant, and more now than ever, truly a limited edition.

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When the lion is not at the top of the food chain

This may look like an idyllic scene, however it shows one of the symptoms of a greater problem that leads to many lion deaths. It’s when lions and livestock compete for space.

The Maasai will oftentimes lead their cattle, goats and sheep into the Maasai Mara reserve to graze due to expanding settlements and fewer pastures for their livestock to feed on. What we see here is a struggle to maintain rural livelihoods and the issue of habitat loss due to overgrazing- which then leads to lions wandering out to the villages and eating livestock. This sparks retaliatory attacks by the Maasai, and the lions are usually killed by poison. This is what happened last December to the Marsh Pride lions, the stars of the Big Cat Diaries.

Lion-proof bomas, controlled grazing zones, greater regulation, and more incentives for the Maasai to live peacefully around lions can help to ensure that everyone’s livelihoods are maintained while lions are not unnecessarily killed. Efforts are underway, yet illegal grazing is still a common sight- and if it is, then it’s a sign that things aren’t working as well as they should.

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Thoughts on legalising the Rhino Horn trade in South Africa

Horn. Rhino. South Africa. Trade. Ban lift. It’s a divisive issue that has sparked quite the furore.

It is uneasy to accept the concept of legalising the domestic rhino horn trade in South Africa, due to a few areas: the fallible relationship between supply and demand in a complex context; the attitudinal and behavioural effects of those who purchase the horn and its resultant effect on demand; the people who participate in the trade, which can potentially include black market cartels and the potential funding of terrorism; and not least, the animal welfare issues inherent in mass breeding rhinos like cows and regularly tranquillising them- which carries many health risks- and then harvesting the horn in a commercialised fashion.

It’s very simplistic to assume that increasing supply and reducing the market value of horn will decrease poaching. This is true only if demand is constant or declining; and that the legal domestic trade will not leak back out to the black market anyway, and into the hands of China and Vietnam.

To stimulate a commercial industry in the name of conservation seems fraught with complications. Even if the money does go back to conservation- this may prove only to be a band-aid solution at best.

Other alternatives including greater on-the-ground enforcement by the state, and permanently staining the horn- if there’s the political will, which is where the conundrum lies.

Lifting the ban is a massive risk, and perhaps too large a gamble that the rhino may not have time to endure.

At the end of the day, harvesting horn for conservation is fraught with many questions. May the upcoming UN conference show strong leadership and initiative in moving this debate forward in a just and balanced way.

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Wild and free- not handbags

If these young ostriches didn’t live here in the wilds of Kenya, and instead on a commercial farm, they would eventually be turned upside down, stunned by electrocution, their throats slit, bled out, and then their feathers plucked to make Prada, Hermes and LV handbags. In true style- London, Paris and Gangnam- PETA protestors made the point at these flagship stores recently that ostriches shouldn’t be made into handbags.

Large families are led by Mother Hen, as this one was doing here. Along with all these beautiful, feathery youngsters, they walked peacefully into the sunset. Free from being made into handbags, and free to wander the savannah.

Wild, as they should be.

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“Will the ivory burn?”

“Will the ivory burn? You must be sure of that,” President Moi asked, cautiously.

In 1989, the President of Kenya worried about the reaction of Kenyan citizens at the idea of burning at least 3 million dollars worth of ivory. He was aghast when Richard Leakey approached him with the idea, fearful that Kenyans would think it would be an absolute waste of a well-traded commodity, amongst other things. After a lengthy period of persuasion, which was apparently met with much hesitation, he agreed. Moi may not have had the best track record in other fields, but I think this was one of the best decisions he made. For in July in 1989, 12 tonnes of elephant tusks were torched for the first time, making a bold statement that strengthened the country’s credibility in their war against the trade. Subsequently, after the burn, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, banned the trade. Worldwide.

Turn the clock forward 27 years, and President Kenyatta repeats the same event in Nairobi, only this time, it was met with raving support from Kenyans and international audiences, celebrities, the private sector and civil society.

How things have changed. Through the doom, gloom and anger that we see permeating the social media space, perhaps we should also take a moment to look back, reflect, and take stock of how much progress has been made since then.

There’s a time to angry- but it’s another thing to be able to effectively turn that anger into a driver of positive change.

We need a unified stance from all African countries in order to halt the trade altogether. CITES will be meeting 26 September at another roundtable in Sandton in Joburg to discuss the way forward. Here’s hoping they will reach a consensus that the trade should be banned once and for all.

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Ivory: what to do with it?

There’s a lot of it lying around, stashed away in safe houses under the tightest lock and key in Africa.

Kenya’s government burnt all of theirs in a very bold statement recently to drive home the point that there’s no use for ivory in an, ideally, obsolete trade. So just burn the things. And so they did. After all the black smoke rose into the skies and the tusks and horns reduced to ashes, there’s calm again and it seems like everyone’s on board.

But not quite so. A few African countries including S Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe wish to sell their ivory stockpiles. Their rationale is that the increased supply of ivory should lower the market price of tusks, which should reduce the killing because it won’t be as lucrative for the poachers. The funds could also be used for conservation, apparently.

It is all very interesting thinking, and applying rudimentary economic models to a complex situation might not work. Neither does assuming that funds generated from the sale will actually go to conservation. It is not new news that some of these countries could do with extra revenue to help national development either.

In September, big brother CITES will hold a roundtable in Johannesburg to determine what will happen.

At the end of the day, the real premise of why we should stop the trade should not be lost: that elephants are important, and that the trade must be stopped, in all cases and scenarios, and soon. Hopefully, Africa will reach a unified stance on how they view the trade so that a concerted effort is made to stop the elephants from being poached, once and for all.

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Mr Borsak, MP, eats elephants

Sliced elephant strips, fried in butter, anyone? Or dried elephant? Tasty, like biltong.

In any democracy you will get the occasional ‘surprise’ voted into politics. Mr Borsak, an MP of New South Wales, is one of those surprises and hopefully he only represents an extreme minority.

He’s admitted to shooting African elephants for fun, relishing in eating them fried in butter, and describing the taste as being delightfully similar to venison.

Need I say more?

With the Australian federal election coming up on July 2nd, let’s hope the ballot papers from the people will reflect balanced, progressive, just and forward thinking- and leave out the shoot-wild-elephants kind of people from Parliament.

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Smart, vocal and skilled hunters

We have come to adore the lion, and yet its fellow hyena neighbours have been placed in the ’not so pretty’ category. What a misunderstanding!

Usually portrayed as scavengers, the spotted hyena is, in fact, a highly skilled hunter and more often than not, capture their own meals. The large brains of these intelligent creatures enable them to engage in complex decision-making and to exist within complex social arrangements inside clans. And with an amazingly diverse range of vocalisations, these creatures exhibit high intellectual capability.

In saying this, the intelligence of a creature should not determine the level of respect it deserves. Perhaps there’ll be a day when all animals are treated equally. Regardless, I will continue to marvel at these creatures with awe. This particular beautiful hyena bounded along the savannah while the sun was just about to dip below the horizon. She headed straight for the vehicle along with her partner, highly curious, circling us and looking in intently for clues. The eye contact, the setting light of the sun, and this silent connection with her made for a moment I’ll never forget. Simple, yes. Beautiful? Utterly.

And I thank them, for some of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in the wild are undoubtedly due to their soothing night calls. May we come to respect all animals- we were all created to share the same planet.

Highly revered, highly endangered

A grey crowned crane forages for food on the plains. These elegant birds roam the savannah, nest in wetlands, and roost in trees. With white cheeks, yellow crowns tipped with black, and pale blue-grey eyes, these stunning birds have gained recognition in the political and elite rounds: they are the national bird of Uganda and are trophy pets for the Rwandan elite. Elsewhere, they roam wild, but significant habitat loss has seen populations plummet by 85% in the last 4 decades, to now a mere 30,000. While conservation efforts are underway to protect this highly revered bird, hopefully, things will change fast enough before this endangered species is wiped off the earth forever.

What if the Great Migration stopped?

We’re familiar with the Great Migration, where approximately 2 million beautiful beings move around within the Serengeti ecosystem, chasing what the fresh rains have provided: greener pastures. Comprised mostly of wildebeest, and some hundreds of thousands of zebras and antelope, they are constantly on the move, navigating the dangers of big cats and dogs on the plains, and the mammoth crocs and hippos wading in the river. It is declared one of the greatest wildlife shows on the planet. And what a grand spectacle it truly is.
Behind the scenes however, an ecological disaster is taking place.

The source of this magnificent Mara River, which provides the life-giving water to these wondrous creatures, is the Mau Forest- the largest forest in Kenya, up in the hills, and is rapidly shrinking. In the last 20 years, more than a quarter of the forest has been decimated by human development and agricultural activities. The water flowing from it is increasingly lesser and lower in quality, and in certain periods, droughts at the Mara ensue, resulting in widespread animal deaths. Last year the water flowing out of the Mau was at an all-time low.

A lot rests on this forest, which also powers the country’s hydroelectric plants, and fuels key agricultural exports such as tea.

The issue of resettling communities that live there, all of whom have land title deeds, remains at large. While it has been done before with successful partnerships between conservancies and the Maasai, time ticks along for the Mau Forest, and this issue remains one of the biggest threats to the Maasai Mara and the massive ecosystem in which it belongs.

We must ensure that all areas are protected soon enough, before the Mara River runs dry, and before the Great Migration won’t be so great anymore. It will just be no more.

Blood Lions

A lioness of the Serengeti plains, free to be wild.

While she experiences the wilds here- her natural birthright- elsewhere on the continent, her cousins are being bred on farms for canned hunting.

Purposely born in farms, raised inside cages and by the hand of the human, little lion cubs become conditioned to being in the presence of humans. As they grow, people will pay tickets to pet them, walk with them, take photographs with them, and cuddle them. When they are old enough, these lions are sold onto agents and released into confined areas to be targets of trophy hunting. The funds generated from these hunting adventures has nothing to do with conservation. Unfortunately, legislation allows canned and trophy hunting to continue unabated.

The film Blood Lions shows a small glimpse into this industry. While it is very difficult viewing- and I couldn’t bear to watch it a second time around- the message is clear: there is no place in this world for hunting of any kind. Because all lives matter.

The decline of the Red Colobus Monkey

In 1868, Sir John Kirk, the British Resident to Zanzibar, stumbled across this beautiful reddish, leaf, fruit and flower-eating primate and had it named after himself. I’m sure Sir John wouldn’t have thought that 100 years later, it would be endangered.

Classified as endangered by both IUCN and CITES, and with an estimated 1000-1200 left in the wild, the Kirk’s Red Colobus Monkey has been at a critical low for the last few decades due to commercial logging, charcoal production, agriculture, cutting trees down for firewood- the typical laundry list of things that lead to habitat loss.

While those that live in this forest of Jozani are protected by the authorities and are no longer shot for food, sport, or ‘pest eradication’, their highly fragmented distribution does not help their fragile existence. The rest of the population live outside the forest and on Pemba island, where they do not enjoy such protection and could, on any day, fall prey to a disgruntled farmer who faces an everyday battle to protect his precious crops and livelihood.This monkey needs and deserves full legal protection across all of Zanzibar to ensure numbers do not drop any further, and better management plans to ensure sustainable solutions to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss.

I am hopeful that this can one day happen. If the monkeys knew they were trending towards extinction- I’m sure they’d be hopeful too.