Tag Archives: kenyan wildlife

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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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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What do chillies, tobacco smoke, bees and fireworks have in common?

Elephants don’t like them.

Recently it’s been found that if you fill a condom with chilli powder, mix with sand for bulk and rocks for weight, and then launch the thing at the elephant, they’ll turn and walk away. It won’t hurt them, but with their sensitive sense of smell, they’ll apparently cough and sneeze as the chilli is just too irritating for their liking. I’m still unsure why condoms were selected as the chill grenade casing, as empty rubber scattered all over the place would be a pretty disgusting sight.

Back to the point.

So there we have it: accessible and affordable ways to deter elephants from eating and damaging farmers’ crops.

That’s one small step towards reducing human-wildlife conflict, and one giant leap for helping to save elephants. Progress!


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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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What happens when an elephant doesn’t die after you shoot it?

Six weeks ago, Pretty Boy, an elephant in Zimbabwe, was shot in the head. It is believed he turned to flee, and the poachers fired another shot into his shoulder.

The vets found him wandering inside Mana Pools when he apparently approached them, as if he knew they were there to help. He was treated and thankfully survived.

The intelligence of these beautiful creatures should never be underestimated. They think, feel, and experience the world in ways that we will never understand.

With their incredible levels of intelligence and extraordinary memories, these elephants will never understand why they or their family members were shot; will never forget what the poachers looked like; and most lastingly, will never forget how it made them feel. But perhaps all of that doesn’t matter, because their ability to forgive humans, and still peacefully share the same space with them, enables them to stay strong and survive. This will never cease to amaze me. And perhaps their ability to forgive is something that we humans ought to learn from the elephants.


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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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Giddy up, Saddle Bill

The Saddle-billed stork is one of the tallest and vibrantly coloured storks around. With a 13” sharp beak in the same colour scheme as the Ugandan flag, this dashing bird has been named this way due to the yellow saddle-shaped section under its eyes. 

It can be quite a hard-to-see soul, preferring rarer places with both tall trees to nest in and wetlands nearby so they can go fishing, frogging, or crabbing. They’ll sometimes vomit water over their nest and eggs to moisten things a bit, crunch and swallow the egg shells of their babies after they’ve hatched for a quick high-calcium snack, and pair with a partner for life. Like the Sacred Ibis, vulture and the Egyptian Geese, they’re also represented in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What a fascinating bird. Giddy up, Saddle Bill!

Pocket-sized Antelope

The dik-dik: the second smallest antelope in the world.

Reaching 40cm/16in at the shoulder, these pocket-sized and dainty creatures can hide easily in thickets when under threat. When they bolt however, they can do so at speeds of up to 42kmh/26mph, and will leap away in a zig zag fashion. Females will also produce a whistling alarm through their nose to alert others of a threat, which sounds like ‘zik zik’. So that’s where the interesting name comes from…

Other interesting facts:

  • once they’ve found a partner in crime, they’ll stick with them for life and have one kid at a time;
  • they hardly drink, as they obtain most of their fluids from the vegetation that they eat and by staying awake in the night when it’s less hot;
  • they’ll elongate their snouts to pant, which helps regulate their temperatures;
  • and you could fit one into your handbag, but you probably wouldn’t be able to get one in there

This beautiful girl was peering at us curiously through the grass. Like a little Bambi.

Here’s to celebrating all of Earth’s creatures, great, small, and pocket-sized.

Hi, intelligent hyena

A spotted hyena at the Mara after the rains. This rainbow appeared almost magically, as they always do. Little did this hyena know how pretty the scene was, as it peered curiously into the vehicle.

These highly intelligent creatures have long been misunderstood. Recent studies have revealed their intelligence rival some primates- a test population in the wild were found to use trial and error to solve puzzles, and clans have been found to assess a competing clan that was invading their territory based on the number of calls they heard.

Further, contrary to popular opinion, these highly adept hunters, more often than not, carry out more of their own kills than they do scavenge. Interestingly, in a number of studies, it was found that lions regularly steal food from hyena clans. Now that’s food for thought.

Belonging to female-led clans and working in teams, their powerful jaws can crush bone to access nutritious marrow, important especially when feeding on leftovers of carrion. Their ability to digest rotting carcasses also helps to reduce the spread of disease in the ecosystem.

So, what’s not to love about the hyena? And for anyone who’s ever looked at a wild one in the eyes, they’ll tell you that they are truly, beautiful creatures.