Related: Rhinos: strong but oh so vulnerable
Much of the wildlife news from Africa – as per mainstream media – is almost invariably negative. Of course I don’t argue at all with the need to focus public attention on the poaching of rhino horn and elephant ivory – not if it will put pressure on the nations (China, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam especially) that fund and fuel this wretched trade. But perhaps the overall effect of such reporting is to give people the idea that African nations do not care for their wildlife. This is not true. Such reporting also often overlooks the absolute heroism of African wildlife rangers (both men and women) who night and day risk their lives to defend their national parks and reserves against poacher predation, often within conflict zones such as DR Congo.
A nation like Kenya has vested interest (public and private) in maintaining and protecting its vast and varied wildlife areas. Tourism is a major income earner, although tourists themselves may at times pose a significant threat to the nation’s environment, both natural and cultural, as their every want is catered to. Also the majority of Kenya’s population are smallholder farmers and most game parks have few boundaries. The wildlife goes where it will, and one elephant can destroy a farming family’s livelihood in a few minutes of chomping and stomping about the place. Elephants kill people too.
In other words conservation has an awful lot of human angles beyond the protecting of particular animal species and their habitats. And while some species may be under threat, it seems that others such as the Cape Buffalo are causing problems by their rising numbers in small reserves. So: just to cast a brief light on the work of the Kenya Wildlife Service (and you can follow this link for more details) here is a current progress report.
Perhaps of greatest importance to the world at large is that in October Kenya’s effort in combatting wildlife trafficking, in particular ivory poaching, was acknowledged at the 70th meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Also in October the Kenya Wildlife Service hosted its Annual Carnivore Conference which explored the impact of the increasing spread of human populations into carnivore habitat. A quick scan of the topics covered give vivid insight into the multifarious issues involved at the big cat – herder-farmer interface.
And then a week ago Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala launched the National Recovery Plan For Giraffes. He pointed out that while attention has been focussed on rhino and elephant losses, many species of plains game have been increasingly under threat. Giraffes, in particular, are targeted for the bush meat trade. Climate change and loss of habitat are also issues. (I did a post about giraffe loss and their conservation a couple years ago). It’s good to see some concerted action between government and nongovernmental wildlife organisations.
Some cause for optimism then, though we can’t be as laid back on the matter as these cheetahs seem to be about my intrusion into their afternoon nap time.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
When it comes to the survival of orphaned elephant infants, loving friendship is the only thing that works. Baby elephants need continuous loving, tactile affection as much as they need food. Without it they quickly die.
Kenya’s Dame Daphne Sheldrick, pioneer in elephant orphan rescue and rehabilitation, learned this the hard way. For years she strove to create a rich formula to substitute for mother’s milk. But in her efforts to keep orphans physically alive, she also learned that the emotional ties between baby and surrogate mother were crucial to the baby’s survival.
At her orphanage on the edge of Nairobi’s National Park she has developed an astonishing survival regime for all the young animals brought to her. Every orphan has its ‘mother’ i.e. one of the green-coated keepers seen in the photos. Every keeper is on full time duty with his charge, and this includes sleeping with the baby in its stall.
By day there is feeding, mud bathing and playing to be done. The blanket strung on a line in the top photo is there to simulate the overshadowing side of an elephant mother. The keeper feeds his baby, holding the bottle down behind the blanket. The babies are also wearing blankets – at 5000 feet above sea level, Nairobi can be cool in July when this photo was taken, and in the wild small babies would anyway have the constant warmth and shelter of mother and aunts.
The ultimate objective of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is to re-introduce the orphans to the wild. This is a painstaking and precarious procedure, recreating communities in the absence of wild matriarchs who are the custodians of herd memory.
Tsavo East National Park is one of the main locations for the rehabilitation process. This is the park where Daphne Sheldrick’s husband, David, was warden until 1976. During their time together at Tsavo, the Sheldricks pioneered the rehabilitation of many wild animals that had been reared in captivity. On David’s early death in 1977, Daphne set up the Trust in his memory. Forty years on some 150 elephants have been saved, along with rhinos and other species.
If you want to read about the elephants in detail there are keepers’ daily diaries HERE. You can find out what is going on in the nursery with the youngest orphans, or discover how the adolescents are faring at various forest locations as they learn to live again in the wild. A study of dedicated friendship in action then.
If you are ever in Nairobi, then the orphanage is open to visitors for an hour each day. You can also donate to the Trust or foster an orphan. There are more details HERE.
We’ve been watching a very heartening series on BBC i-Player The Secret Life of Elephants. It followed the magnificent conservation work being carried out by Save The Elephants, a charity that operates in Samburu, Northern Kenya, and relies on the cooperation between the nomadic Samburu people, local smallholder farmers and scientists from Kenya and beyond. One of the key initiatives is to put tracking collars on the matriarch leaders of particular elephant clans, and also on the large bulls who, outside the breeding season, lead more solitary lives.
Elephants may cover vast distances in the course of their annual migrations. But once they leave the national parks they are more vulnerable to poachers, and also to irate farmers who are tired of having their year’s livelihood consumed in a single night. By tracking and mapping the herds’ movements on computers, and maintaining channels of communication with the pastoralists and farmers, Save The Elephants researchers are working out ways to lessen conflicts, and present solutions, and above all, to secure the future for wild elephants.
The Samburu pastoralists have always been wise enough to respect elephants, and are now anxious to do what they can to protect them. This is their view on the matter:
The first man said the elephant is like us, like our brother, and we have to live together, not hunt elephant. That’s what we say we were told at the beginning. That’s what we still believe. The elephant has always been, and will always be, special to us. This is why we protect it now.
Samburu people on the importance of elephants
For farmers it is a very different matter. People are often killed trying to drive elephants out of their crops. And so one of STE’s objectives is to work out the best place to erect elephant fencing so that elephants can be channelled away from farming communities as they pass by on their seasonal trek between the river where they congregate to breed, and the mountain forests where they go to browse.
Fencing, though, is not always the total solution it seems. Elephants are not daft. The old bulls have learned how to open gates onto the vast European wheat farms that lie to the west of Mount Kenya. But while the large-scale producers can tolerate some elephant grazing, smallholders cannot. For them it is a matter of living or starving.
One of the STE researchers, Dr. Lucy King has come up with a very simple, low-tech and productive approach to keeping elephants out of Kenyan farmers’ cabbage fields. It began with the discovery that elephants will move off if they hear the sound of bees buzzing. African bees are especially aggressive, and on a very short fuse temper-wise. She thus came up with the notion of placing beehives around farm fields.
Traditional African beehives are made of lengths of hollowed-out tree trunks that are then suspended in trees. These were hung at intervals on the field perimeters, and connected up by tripwires. When the elephants tripped the wires, the hives were duly shaken and out would swarm the angry bees. Elephants would then beat a retreat, leaving farmers with both their crops and a new source of income from the honey.
As Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith was so often wont to say in The A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.” In this case, though, it is clearly the work of the B-Team.
Copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
I’ve written more about elephants in Elecommunication: So Many Connections
And last but never least, thanks to Paula at Lost in Translation and her guest challenger, photographer Guilhem Ribart. TRIBE is the prompt. For more interpretations, please also follow this link. I should add that my photos here were taken in Lewa Downs which is part of Save The Elephants’ sphere of operations. The original negatives are very degraded, but seem to have a new lease of life translated into B & W. In fact they also seem to capture the elephantness of elephants rather better than the colour originals, which is interesting when you think about it.
These photos were taken in the Maasai Mara during a game drive. For more scenes of mischief visit Ailsa’s travel challenge at Where’s My Backpack
And now for a treat, and even more mischievous behaviour: a short film about Daphne Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. The baby elephants you will see in the film have all been orphaned, mostly due to ivory poaching or drought. Sheldrick discovered that orphaned infants will only survive if given 24 hours a day emotional support. At the orphanage each infant has a keeper who becomes its surrogate mother. The ultimate objective of the Sheldrick project is to restore these elephants to wild herds in Tsavo East National Park. This approach has had many successes, and in fact just before Christmas it was reported in the British press that one of Sheldrick’s former orphans had just given birth, back in the wilds with her own herd.
Three cheers for the cheetah. We need to protect their habitat if we want to keep them. Take a look at the Cheetah Conservation Fund site if you would like to help. This organisation, based in Namibia, tries to improve habitat for both animals and humans. You can visit, or go work as a volunteer. Check them out.
Also please visit International Cheetah Day for wildlife photographer, Paul Goldstein’s gallery of stunning cheetah photos
Today, 10 August 2014, is World Lion Day, and I’m posting this photo of a rather threadbare old lion. He might look world-weary lying here in the Mara oat grass, but he still conveys a sense of the powerful creature he once was. Of course in these days when humanity and wildlife increasingly compete for territory, it is wishful thinking to hope that all lions might live out their natural life span in the wilderness they have left to them.
“The earth is the mother of all that moves, and is the common bond between the generations that have been, are , and are to come.”
Happy Earth Day
There have been worrying reports this week that wild bumble bees are now catching deadly diseases from domesticated honey bees. Numbers are declining across Europe, North America, South America and also in Asia. You can read the Guardian article about the situation HERE. Then there are problems with pesticides that halve bees’ capacity to gather pollen. Last month the Guardian reported that:
“A two-year EU ban of three neonicotinoids, the most widely used insecticides in the world, began in December, following research that showed harm to honey and bumblebees. The neonicotinoids are “systemic” pesticides, being applied to seeds so that the chemical spreads within the plants. Over three-quarters of the world’s food crops require insect pollination, but bees have declined in recent decades due to loss of flower-rich habitat, disease and pesticide use.”
You can read the rest of the article HERE.
One thing is certain, without bees we will start going hungry. But if this is all too depressing, here’s a view of our Much Wenlock garden taken last summer where there were in fact very many bees. So for all of us who think that winter will never end, take heart. Summer will come again.
Weekly Photo Challenge: threes for more trios
I’ve been rifling through the Team Leader’s photo file again, and trying not to wish I had taken these shots. As I said in an earlier post about the Congo, Graham went on an Africa overland trip a long time ago. He calls this era TBT – Time before Tish. He knows that I am deeply aggravated not to have visited all the countries he travelled through back then. Still, it means that you and I can at least enjoy these glimpses of one of the world’s most magnificent creatures.
These photos were taken in the Virunga National Park, in the north east corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were taken in peaceful times. Tragically, in the last few decades since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, this vast park has become a haven for armed militias. (The background to this situation is covered in the Congo post). By 2008 it looked as if Virunga, one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, had been destroyed. But since then the park has been restored and much of this is down to the brave Congolese rangers who continue to risk their lives to protect the wildlife, including nearly 500 mountain gorillas. Parts of Virunga are even safe once more for tourism.
Photo: Gorilla.CD Virunga National Parks official website
The Gorilla.CD site is the best place to go for up-to-date reports on the Virunga National Park and its gorillas. Also see their gorilla blog for more fantastic pictures. And take a look at the fund-raising projects which need everyone’s support. Some one hundred and fifty rangers have been killed by militias. The most recently reported attack was in January this year (Virunga National Park Ranger Killed in DRC). Gorilla.CD has a project to support the rangers’ widows and children.
And yes, I did say it: tourism in this area is being revived. It takes place in part of the park where there is no militia threat. The Virunga National Park (3,000 square miles) is run by the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature and is a UNESCO world heritage site. May be one day I will go there too.
© 2014 Tish Farrell