Tag Archives: nature

Keeping the savannah clean- but they’ve only 100 years left on this planet

bee-elle-6049Botfly larvae, rotting skin, anthrax and rabies- you name it. They will clean it all up. If it weren’t for them, the savannah would be ridden by all sorts of bacteria and disease. But we might lose them all in under 100 years.

The largest vulture in Africa is the Lappet-faced, pictured here. They will aggressively swoop, pounce and caw at anyone getting in their way- including hyena and jackals- of a tasty meal of rotting flesh. Anyone except for humans, who are, ironically, the very reason why they are on the verge of extinction.

Vultures are reportedly the most threatened bird group in the world. About 2/3 of deaths of vultures are by poisoning by pastoralists protecting their livestock, and ivory poachers who don’t want vultures circling above their activities, which will give away their location. About 1/3 are killed for traditional medicine, which some locals believe can provide man with Superman powers. The remaining deaths are caused by them flying into power lines and wind turbines.

Back to the main reason for their deaths. A cheap, generic brand of Furadan, a pesticide, is being used by pastoralists to lace carcasses to lure in the lions to protect their livestock. Lions eat the poison, lions die, vultures eat the lion, vultures die.

A cow can fetch up to US$30- an understandably prized and necessary asset for pastoralists. But if proper management plans are not implemented immediately to address these issues, this will spell the end of vultures within the next century. If that happens, anarchy will ensue: ecosystems will be ridden with disease, the balance will be upset, and many other creatures will be killed in its wake.

Measures must be ramped up and implemented now to ensure humans can live peacefully and sustainably alongside wildlife. For this much is clear: Africa cannot live without vultures.


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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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This is Amboseli

This is Amboseli: the land of elephants.

The green swamps and marshes that exist alongside white dusty plains and dry salt pans make this place wonderfully diverse. The fact that elephants live here simply makes it magical.

Beyond here is the tallest mountain on the continent, Mt Kilimanjaro, who oversees not just the elephants, but all of Africa.

In the middle of some of the largest expanses of wilderness in the world, and near hundreds of some of the largest creatures on earth, I was drawn to this tiny stalk. It stood motionless, fragile- easily crushed by the next elephant that came chomping through the grasses. Though small, it was growing- and blooming- and had as much of a place in amongst these giants than the next acacia tree, kopje, lion, martial eagle or elephant. From small to large, everything in nature is perfectly connected and in balance.

The stalk reminds me of a Truffula tree from the film The Lorax. One of the quotes sprung to mind. The author had intended it to apply to the environment and all the creatures that we share this earth with. And how right he was. It’s in our hands to protect it.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot
Nothing is going to get better
It’s not.”
-The Lorax


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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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One shipment of 500 elephants to go, please

This time, the shipment is not for a circus, some foreign zoo, or to assist with diplomatic relations and/or to boost a nation’s GDP.

This time, it is to help save them.

500 elephants in Malawi are to be transported to a sanctuary to protect them from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. How? Dart them, winch them into a truck, and drive them for about 300km/185mi to have them delivered to a new sanctuary. This will be the largest elephant relocation in Africa’s history and will take over 12 months.

Slowly, but surely, they will move. And hopefully slowly, but surely, they will survive in a world where humans think that they can treat animals as a commodity.

Malawi is a small country and has 1.5k out of 470k elephants in Africa. But do not underestimate the country for its size- because although it is a tiny land-locked country, they have sufficient funds allocated for protecting elephants, plus the commitment of the government, who have a cooperative relationship with African Parks, an INGO that manages these reserves. That’s two golden nuggets right there- and probably enough to see it all the way through from start to finish.

And so the move begins.

Travel safely, safari njema, beautiful elephants, and hopefully, you will all flourish on the other side.


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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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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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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!