Category Archives: Conservation

The largest zebra of them all

The largest zebras around: the Grevy’s zebra. These beauties have thin vertical stripes and almost completely white bellies, bar a thick black stripe down its middle, a distinctive brown muzzle and round ears that are often floppy.

Beautiful, and endangered.

Their population fell by 50% over an 18 year period, and currently, there are only an estimated 2000 of these guys left. They once roamed the wilds of Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, but of the few that remain, they hang around small patches in the northern parts of Kenya and southern Ethiopia. Their endangered status in Ethiopia is directly attributed to hunting. Elsewhere, habitat loss is due to overgrazing and farming, as usual.While their zebra counterparts are in good healthy numbers, if due care is not taken, these guys will be wiped off the face of the earth in the next few generations.

Earth Day

A fringe-eared oryx stands in a shimmering field of gold in Samburu.

Today is Earth Day. Let’s appreciate nature, all the creatures on this planet, and what we have.

“We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us… We can never have enough of nature.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Dotted

Mara, in the Maa language, means spotted, or dotted across the landscape. Sometimes one word can encapsulate the feeling of an image. The rest can be spoken by the image itself.

Here is the Mara, lightly sprinkled with an acacia tree and a family of 9 elephants. Naturally beautiful, and perfect as is. May this land never change, be protected from human development, and may all the animals within it be safe here. For it is their land as much as it is ours.

Let us respect nature, and what the earth has given us; and may we respect all creatures, great and small.

Making space for giants

On April 30, 120 tonnes of seized ivory will be piled high and lit in a pyre at Nairobi National Park. These tusks are of course only a fraction of the ivory that comes from the 33,000 elephants that are killed every year.

The ivory burn is set to take place while movers and shakers from the continent will come together at a summit for The Giants Club, an initiative started by the presidents of Kenya, Uganda, Gabon and Botswana to save the African elephant from extinction. Hosted by Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, celebrities, global business leaders, senior conservationists and elephant-protection experts will be coming together over April 29 and 30 in Nairobi to discuss the way forward and to forge new plans to reach the goal of protecting at least 10% of Africa’s elephants by 2020.

This summit will strengthen the home-grown, African-led drive to stop the trade. May this create another boost to escalate the efforts from the continent to protect these giants, and hopefully complex issues including corruption and lack of enforcement can be addressed so that the murder of elephants can be stopped once and for all.

In the name of sport

A female bushbuck by the lake during the last light.

These antelope hang out in greener pastures, literally, in and around forests, bushland and water sources.

They are also frequently hunted for sport. Everything about how to successfully gun down one of these creatures is well documented: recommended calibre, ammunition grade, gun scope, shooting distance, shot placement. It is nothing more than a game and a scientific approach to destroying life. Whether the IUCN rank them as endangered or not, it’s an antiquated sport that robs innocent animals of their lives in the name of entertainment. How would we explain this to the next generation?

Trophy hunting needs to be banned because all lives matter.

Mohawk

It is with great sadness that I write about Mohawk, a male lion that was shot just over 48 hours ago after he escaped Nairobi National Park. He endured torment and heckling by crowds for hours in Kajiado county before a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger shot him 9 times. The 13-year-old lion was cornered and surrounded by a rowdy mob for 6 hours, stoned and taunted, and became highly stressed, which led him to swat a man on a motorbike- prompting the rangers to fire.

The first KWS team dispatched, interestingly, only had rifles. The second team were on their way with tranquilisers, but Mohawk was shot before they arrived. Moreover, for them to arrive 6 hours after the lion was first reported as being found raises further questions- Kajiado is only 30kms away from the Nairobi NP headquarters, and even with traffic, southbound, they would have arrived far faster than the time that they did.

Lions escaping Nairobi NP has not happened like this before with such frequency and in such numbers. Noisy construction work on a rail project that will cut through the park is assumed to be driving them away through an open migratory corridor in the south. I posted previously about Cheru, another male who had escaped only weeks ago- but I did not expect that a lion would soon lose his life doing so, simply to get to a quieter area.

There had to have been a better way. If any animal is stressed, it will react. Controlling the group, and educating society on the need to stay away from a wild creature, and not provoke it, is paramount to ensure safety for all. This death didn’t have to happen. But it did, and by it, we are all diminished.

The unspoken topic: Corruption

A quick reminder of the facts: Tanzania lost 60% of their elephants in the last 5 years; Central Africa, 64% in 10 years. Although market prices for ivory have halved, the demand for ivory, driven by the rising middle class in Asia, continues unabated. How is the ivory getting there? Mostly through the insanely busy port of Mombasa- one of the key mouths of trade for the continent. Neighbouring land-locked countries are channelling the tusks there by road, unfortunately with relative ease, and successfully loaded into cargo holds. From 2009-14, 170 tonnes of ivory were seized by international authorities. That’s 230,000 elephants.

Although Kenya has made the trade illegal, the ivory is still getting through. Why? A much-avoided issue, and obviously so, in bilateral and multilateral dialogue is this: corruption.

It’s there, it exists and it takes decades for it to trickle out of a government’s way of operating. While the policy is in place, weak governance creates a whole lot of gaps in implementation- gaps that act like wide open doors for the mass movement of tusks and surely keeps the trade alive.

If we wish to halt the trade, we need to halt corruption. Many countries have shown positive results in the pursuit. Sadly, it takes a long time, usually a few changes of office. Perhaps this won’t happen fast enough before the elephants vanish altogether.

Escape

Yet another lion was on the loose in Nairobi today. The lion, named Cheru, ‘escaped’ out of Nairobi National Park and wandered onto the chaotic Mombasa Rd, one of the major arterials that are almost always congested with traffic. He clawed a man- and then let the man go free- and was then captured shortly after by Kenya Wildlife Service and returned safely back to the park, which sits at the border of the bustling metropolis.

Last month, 6 other lions had reportedly escaped from the park and were found in the informal settlement area of Kibera and near Langata, near Karen- both residential areas. Many took to social media to express their panic and to also assist the KWS in tracking down these wild cats. Many pleaded not to shoot the lion as had been done once before- leaving orphan cubs in its trail- and deliver him back alive.

While the park is fenced on the city side, it has small openings on the south to enable wildlife to migrate through important corridors, which is allegedly where the lions wandered out of.

Gazetted in 1946 by British settlers, it is the oldest national park in Kenya, but sadly one that is under threat due to the need to manage the rapid development of this fast-growing nation. Plans are in place to build a Chinese railway through the park to improve trade routes from Mombasa to Nairobi and neighbouring countries.

While the Government prioritises development, and in the wake of this “escape”, protection of these areas of wilderness becomes all the more paramount. It is clear that we must prioritise the protection of these parks- for it is as much the lions’ land as it is ours.

Ashen plains

Behind this giraffe and this idyllic scene is Olkaria, a massive geothermal power plant at Hell’s Gate National Park. Behind the escarpment, big plumes of white steam, like billowing cumulus clouds, rise from the horizon and blend in with the sky.

Geothermal production in Kenya is massive- accounting for 5% of the world’s output- and is on the rise. The country sits on a fault that has small rips in the earth, exposing 300C/572F heat through its thin crust along the Rift Valley in the form of steam. The geothermal plants, owned and managed by KenGen, produce an abundance of cheap, clean electricity to power the burgeoning East African economy that is Kenya.

The Rift Valley is also where the majority of the pastoralist Maasai tribes live. One day, in an area along the Rift, a Maasai elder hands a document over to us about 100 pages thick in English. The air is hot, goats are bleating, and children mill about- just an ordinary day. He asks if we can help him to read it. After flicking through the first section, it’s government speak for: we want to build on your land to build a geothermal plant.

It’s never easy to balance the need to tap into clean energy sources while ensuring that people and wildlife are not displaced, livelihoods are not disrupted, and the sacred lands of the Maasai remain intact. The area around the plant looks otherworldly- barren, greyish white from all the sulphur, ash, and dust. While renewable energy is a sustainable way to power countries, it’s a fine balancing act to ensure that precious areas of wilderness also remain protected, for both humans and wildlife.

Turning our backs

Six days ago, 17 wild elephants were flown out of Swaziland to the U.S. to be placed in zoos for exhibit and breeding purposes, despite last-ditch legal attempts to prevent the transfer. Swaziland, a landlocked country, is currently experiencing severe drought and creating the usual food insecurity and malnutrition issues for humans and wildlife. The rationale for the move was that the elephants would be ‘saved’, as they were due to be culled to reduce competition for food and water for the rhinos who share the same space. Whether this claim is true can never be proven. However is this the solution? Was there an alternative? The move means significant health risks caused by long sedation, high stress of long-haul transport, artificial environments and separation from families, and no freedom to roam the miles that they usually do. It has been well documented that elephants in captivity have the tendency to exhibit abnormal behaviour, including depressive behaviour, become dissociative and sometimes aggressive. Infant elephants die in zoos approximately three times as much as in the wild. And it’s well known that elephants have killed their zookeepers due to frustration from a life of confinement. Swaziland is not known to have the most transparent of governments, and the 6-figure funds from this transaction will go back to the state. And while the majority of the population is suffering from poverty, the King of the land has purchased a new jet. Wild creatures belong in the wild.

Let’s not turn our backs on them. May these beautiful elephants have the best lives that they can inside 4 walls.

Topi extinct in 6 countries

Although numbers of the topi remain healthy, significant displacement of populations have occurred throughout the continent and are now extinct in 6 countries that they once used to roam. Again, this is due to the usual suspects: hunting for meat, and habitat loss due to cattle grazers.

Maintaining sustainable livelihoods and environmental conservation will always be a challenging balance to strike, and in many cases, the scale seems to invariably tip in favour of preserving the way of life of people, before animals. The question is not how we put animals first- but to ensure that in all our actions, we respect and consider the implications our actions have on the lives of other species and their habitats.

Beasts of Burden

Free and wild, as they should be.

On the other side of the world, a highly-stressed Asian elephant in India has recently ‘rampaged’ through Kerala, trampling on motorcycles and tuk-tuks and was eventually brought down by tranquilliser shots, amidst pandemonium. These elephants succumb to consistent, high levels of stress in chaotic, unnatural environments in densely populated and polluted cities, and forced to be beasts of burden as they have done for over 5000 years in India: to give rides, and to pull cargo. This unnatural life unsurprisingly leads to them being excessively frustrated, and will at some point come to a breaking point and lash out, as any elephant would do… or as any human would do.

In this area, the elephant is heralded as a God, yet they are forced to endure this kind of life, and in many cases, leads to their deaths because they are ‘uncontrollable.’ When this concept is juxtaposed with the freedom that these wild African elephants enjoy, it seems all the more absurd.

May there be a day where no animal should ever have to be a beast of burden for man. For our role is not to domesticate wild creatures- but to ensure they live freely and in the wild, so they can be free to be elephants.