Tag Archives: african wildlife

Why Nairobi lions are heading to residential areas

On March 18 this year, Cheru, a male lion, ‘escaped’ out of Nairobi National Park and wandered onto the chaotic Mombasa Rd, one of the major arterials that is 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.

In the month prior, 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, which had left orphan cubs in its wake- but instead, deliver him back to the park alive.

It wasn’t until March 30, when another lion, Mohawk, escaped from the park which led to its death. The 13-year-old male lion of Nairobi National Park and a popular tourist favourite, endured torment and heckling by crowds for hours in Kajiado county where he was found. The 13-year-old lion was cornered and surrounded by a large rowdy mob of roughly 400 people, for up to 6 hours, stoned and taunted, and became highly stressed, which drove him to swat a man on a motorbike- prompting a Kenya Wildlife Service ranger to shoot him 9 times.

The first KWS team that was dispatched to contain the situation, interestingly, only had rifles. The second team were on their way with tranquilisers, but Mohawk was shot before they arrived. The fact that rangers arrived 6 hours after the first report of Mohawk’s location came in 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. The park, gazetted in 1946 by British settlers, 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. A railway is currently being built through the park to improve trade routes from Mombasa to Nairobi and neighbouring countries. The noisy construction work is assumed to be driving lions out through an open migratory corridor in the south. The livestock that they find in the villages also draws them out of the park. It may only be a matter of time before another lion escapes, which could ultimately lead to its unnecessary death.

Ground control to Major Hornbill

As its name suggests, the Southern Ground-Hornbill stays on the ground for the most part. They’ll fly when required, flashing white feathers underneath the black ones, but when on solid terrain, they’re often looking for frog, lizard, and snake snacks, or if lucky, they’ll embark on a small sprint to catch an African hare.

Though if there was a race going on for these large birds, it wouldn’t be for a tasty meal- it’d be for their own survival. 

Severe habitat loss due to agriculture, and human-wildlife conflict, has led to a sharp decline in their numbers. Some tribal cultures believe the birds bring evil, and will be shot upon entering a community’s property. On the other hand, some think they repel evil. Either way, it’s important to be aware these beliefs exist in order to find ways for humans to live peacefully alongside them, for no bird deserves to be shot upon entering a piece of land.

The decline of the species isn’t helped by the slow rate at which they have chicks- every 9 or so years, it is estimated. 

There are only 1500 in South Africa, and around the rest of Africa it’s estimated their numbers are plummeting. Their IUCN vulnerable status lends a bit of weight to push conservation efforts along, but whether things will move substantially enough, and fast enough, is something that remains to be seen.

These long-eyelashed birds are often overlooked on safari, but the next time you see them, be aware that we may be one of the last generations to see them in the wild.


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Little pig, little pig, let me in. Not by the hair of my tusky, tusk tusk

The warthog, with 2 large upper tusks and 2 sharp lower canines, sleep in and flee to burrows, and back in bum first so they can guard the entrance with their tusks.

While they were made famous by the Lion King and given a name that means ‘stupid and foolish’ in Swahili- they aren’t foolish at all. These intelligent and highly adaptive creatures will change the time of their eating patterns if they assess that there is too much risk in areas during day/night; can last months without water, though will flock to water and enjoy a mud bath for a cooling session; and they live in all sorts of terrain, woodland, savannah and grasslands. Their solid adaptability makes them a resilient species with a high survival rate, with healthy population numbers around the continent- although it may not save them from the human and his/her gun while they continue to be targets of trophy hunting.

Generally flighty, they prefer to run away from danger than to fight, and can usually be seen dashing about with their tails held high like little waving flags, signals for others to follow them and/or that there is danger about. These ones saw no danger here, however, and were happily grunting and grazing on the green grass surrounding Lake Nakuru on one fine day.


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Vervet monkeys deserve a chance

A nonchalant vervet monkey peers down from his throne on a branch.

They have different alarm calls for different predators- including for humans too, I’m sure, that they use sometimes when I walk beneath them in forests. Although it is a sound for alert and caution, I find them remarkably peaceful as they echo and reverberate through the treetops, cutting through air.

In an experiment with species in the wild, researchers found that monkeys would change what kind of food they selected when in a new area based on what they saw others eat, even if the food they were used to eating was readily available. This high-level use of social cues and adaptability gives clues on how these species survived and evolved over time.

They usually hang out in trees in troops of about 5-50 other friends and family, but will come down to the ground to look for food, or to steal food from cars, picnic baskets, restaurant tabletops- anything. Their highly playful nature is entertaining to watch, however, not everyone sees them this way. Many locals have found them a recurring nuisance as they’ve been known to raid crops. The issue is addressed by trapping, poisoning or shooting them.

They may be common, and sometimes a nuisance, but they are as much a part of the African landscape as all the other creatures, and it is essential we find ways to live harmoniously with wildlife. From monkeys, to rabbits, to lions and elephants- because all lives matter.


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How big is the illegal wildlife trade?

INTERPOL values it at $20 billion a year. It comes just after the global drug and gun trade. This is no small thing.

The movement is not about the ‘bleeding heart lefties’ who tie themselves to trees and want to save animals. This is a highly complex network, fuelled with the kind of criminal intelligence that you would expect from war lords, terrorist groups, and powerful underground cartels. The trade has massive negative implications on a country’s economic and social development, political development, security- the list goes on. I.e., everything about it is just bad. 

With rising populations and more disposable income, the demand for a tiger paw, a bag of pangolin powder or an elephant tusk continues. It’s not over until demand = 0 and animal poached = 0.

We need to share intelligence, improve the judicial systems on wildlife protection laws, strengthen training of law enforcement agencies, and increase the drive to crackdown on people along the chain, from poachers to traders through smarter undercover operations and forensic science. We need to talk about this issue as it relates to human development- about people, society, in order for it to gain more support at world roundtables.

None of this is new news- but for any of this to make a difference, it needs to backed by unified political will and support from all governments, worldwide. 

Why poachers are winning the fight

Of all the monitoring going on, by radio collars, drones, helicopters, satellites, and even mathematical algorithms to predict where a poacher might be headed, all the highly-trained manpower down on the ground to protect these precious animals, and after all these decades, you’d have to wonder how poachers are winning.

AK47s, night-vision goggles, helicopters. You’d think I’m describing the kit of maybe a well-funded terrorist, or at least an anti-poaching outfit. Nope. This is the stuff that some poachers have.

Poachers come from all segments of society and are funded in different ways. Some have a little, some have a lot. At the end of the day it’s an opportunistic role, and chances are, they are well connected. Not just with the black market, which is a given, but with linkages back to professional money launderers.

The whole poverty-and-desperation-leads-to-poaching nexus doesn’t seem to hold true anymore, because there are far more accessible alternative livelihoods that communities can and have pursued.

It’s a well-organised crime, as organised as some terrorist groups, and something that needs to be treated and fought with the same level of intelligence as you would fighting ISIS.

It has to go beyond more monitoring or more brave, armed rangers on the ground- although they work tirelessly and do incredible work. It has to go beyond the efforts of civil society, for that’s not enough to win the war. We need the right policies from the top, public-private collaboration in order to utilise the grit and efficiencies of companies, combined with political will and enforcement from the state.


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Tsavo Man-Eaters strike again

The sons and daughters of the man-eating lions of Tsavo strike again.

Well- not really. Just a swipe.

We’ve heard about how in 1898 they killed and ate 135 Indian railway workers as they toiled on the Ugandan Railway. Today, as the railway is currently being replaced, the Chinese workers have been told to work with caution as a KWS ranger last year was attacked while guarding a section of the railway. Could it be a descendant of the famous Man-Eaters of Tsavo?

For those who like learning a little about history through movies, check out Ghosts in the Darkness starring Val Kilmer, a nice film that tells the story of probably the most notorious lions in history. For those who want to see these unusually large and short-maned beauties in the flesh- although they’re stuffed- they’re sitting there waiting to ea- I mean greet you at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. If you want to see their descendants, why not head to Tsavo, hang out with the railway workers and try your luck. 🙂

May these famous Man-Eaters forever remain notorious in our hearts, and may we learn from this that lions are not to be messed with.

Meet the most poached animal in Africa

Ian Douglas-Hamilton, the great renowned Kenyan elephant conservationist, counted the number of African elephants in the late 70s. He found that there were about 1.3million. He recounted again in the 90s and found that elephants had halved in number to 600k.

Where are we at now? 470k. 

The Great Elephant Census, which is currently being assessed as we speak, so far reconfirms the same bleak trajectory.

While results so far show that elephants are slightly growing in number in South Africa and Zambia, and flatlining in Botswana- which could have something to do with the EU & other states thinking that these increases in numbers justify once-off sales in ivory- let’s look at the larger picture. 

Tanzania: half of their elephants gone in 6 years

Mozambique: half, in 3 years

Total population of forest elephants, more than half gone in about decade

So, returning to the original global numbers.

1970s: 1.3 mil 

1990s: 600k

Today: 470k

It’s no new news that this is a grim picture. Though sometimes I wonder if we’re just watching a big failure taking place, and making, largely, no impact.

I’m a firm believer in maintaining a healthy level of optimism but this has to be balanced with reality. And as many who have worked very intimately with elephants have noted, it can be hard to keep positive when you witness disappointment after disappointment. 

Hopefully the final results of the consensus can be presented at CoP17 in September to show that elephants cannot be gambled with this to-ing and fro-ing of their classification in CITES and these far too risky policies on the ivory trade.  

Who says yes to the ivory trade? The EU.

The ‘forward’ Global North takes a step backwards in the fight to save the elephant in the Global South. The EU is proposing to permit some countries to manage their populations by allowing the ivory trade to go on.

Let’s break it down.

The EU says that ivory sale proceeds should be enabled to help manage populations.
Is that right?

Yes.

Hold on, wait- what? Isn’t that a paradox- kill them to save them?

Yes. Strange logic.

So why is the EU important on this issue? After all, shouldn’t this be an African-owned decision?

They’re reportedly the largest exporter of ivory and they make up a massive chunk of the voting bloc and so they have a powerful say in what happens to the elephants, basically

Is it surprising?

No. EU member countries have done similar things before. E.g. they thwarted efforts to place a global ban on trade for polar bear products.
So why is it important to move the African Elephant to an Appendix I listing on CITES for all countries?

Species in this category are classified as critically endangered and are given the highest forms of protection, including bans on trade of products made from them. This means there will be a complete and comprehensive ban on the international ivory trade. I.e., outlawed.

What’s the upcoming COP17 conference have to do with this?

At these meetings, member parties vote for what species goes in or out of the classifications. It’s the last chance over the next 3 years to make a concrete change in international law to protect the African elephant.
There is just no time to lose- their anticipated extinction is in 25 years from now.

Note:

African Elephants are currently in Appendix I except those in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

When a matriarch dies, the whole herd is affected

When a matriarch is killed by poaching, the older daughters of the herd step up to fill her place. Although they have big shoes to fill, they do so swiftly, something beautifully and naturally wired within them.

Alloparenting within a herd is instinctive for elephants. Sometimes cousins will lend a hand- or trunk- to take care of a little one, accompanying them into the bushes to have an explore, or ensuring they don’t stray while the herd moves together. Perhaps more importantly, they will guide them to ancient migratory routes, or to sources of water during times of drought, or how to handle predators.

However when the mother is killed, and there are no older elephants to follow, and worse, no herd to follow, the orphan is left alone. The lucky ones may be found and picked up by organisations such as Save The Elephants or the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, but the unlucky ones, of which there are many, are left alone to die.

The price that is paid for ivory extends far beyond that of the matriarch that is killed- the orphan is at high risk of premature death and there are lasting effects on the entire herd and their ability to survive.

With only 470,000 elephants left in Africa and 100,000 killed in 3 years, their expected time of extinction is a couple of decades. We just cannot afford to lose any more.


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Elephants approaching humans to ask for help

In the last few weeks we’ve heard about an elephant in Zimbabwe being shot in the head, and more recently about Tim from Kenya being speared in the head. The former was the result of a botched attempt at murder by a poacher- the latter, frustrations due to human-wildlife conflict. Both elephants reportedly approach humans that they were familiar with to ask for help.

That these stories are making the news on mainstream media is a relief, as it’s a sure sign that it is deemed relevant for mass attention. What is not a relief, however, is that elephants are continuing to suffer badly from the cruelty of humans.

Education, awareness, and political commitment can help to change behaviours and attitudes. Policy reform, adequate enforcement, and community programs can ensure this work is carried out properly and sustainably.

There are 470,000 African elephants left. Zero deserve to suffer. And zero deserve to die by the hand of humans.


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A few decades, 1 million elephants gone

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the Commonwealth Games were once held, seats 100k; Levi’s Stadium, where the last Super Bowl was held, 107k; FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, where the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held, seats 95k.

Imagine any of these stadiums being full of individuals- and then all of them being murdered: either by poison or shot, never knowing what hit them, or why. Now imagine these individuals being elephants. That’s the real number of African elephant deaths by poaching in 3 years.

I do not hesitate to use this word, murder, because that’s what it is. Poachers show a reckless indifference to life; have the intent to kill or inflict grievous harm; and there’s a high probability that their act will cause the death of another. These elements constitute murder. Formally, we can’t use the word ‘murder’ because nothing is ever heard or tried in court. And so soft words such as ‘killing’ and ‘poaching’ continue to be used as a default.

Back to the statistics. Imagine 10 of these stadiums filled with individuals, and you’ll get the number of African elephants that have been killed due to poaching in 35 years. 1,000,000 innocent lives, gone. This is the grand scale of death we are talking about. The magnitude of the issue should in no way be underestimated- they will be wiped off the face of the earth within decades if real change is not made soon. We need to stop the killing before the suffering and injustice continues.


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