Chilling Out Cheetah Style And Some Timely Wildlife Good News


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

Time Square #4

All Friends At Nairobi’s Elephant Orphanage

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.

Daily Post: Friend

Elephant tribe versus Man tribe: and how the bees are helping

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.

Mischief in the Mara


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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.


International Cheetah Day



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


#PaulGoldstein #InternationalCheetahDay

living textures: ageing with dignity



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.

World Lion Day

DP weekly photo challenge: texture


Panthera leo: top predator, or would that be us? Happy Earth Day!



“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.”   

Kikuyu ethic

Happy Earth Day

Frizz’s tagged ‘P’ challenge



Three bees, two bees, one bee, gone bees?




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

@guardian @guardianeco

Gorilla Guards in Virunga


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.

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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.

Virunga ranger

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

Frizz’s Tuesday Challenge: tagged ‘G’

In Much Wenlock An Inspector Calls


Much Wenlock, the place where I live,  is a small town with a big history. You could say it owes its existence to the discovery of some holy bones. And no, this is not the reason for the inspector’s visit.  I’ll get to him in a moment. (In fact his arrival in town relates to the making of some new history). But about those bones…

First of all, they are very, very old. In life they belonged to a Saxon princess, whom we know locally as Milburga, though she comes in other spellings. She was daughter of the Mercian King, Merewalh, who held sway over much of the English Midlands during the 7th century.  These were turbulent times – the spread of Christianity going hand in hand with securing territory. To this end, Merewalh was a man with a plan. Instead of arranging dynastic marriages for his three daughters, he established them as rulers of new religious houses across his kingdom. Even his own queen, a Kentish princess, in later life returned to faraway Kent to become Abbess of Minster. In this way Merewalh consolidated spiritual and political prestige, commanding both bodies and souls.

In preparation for the religious life, Milburga was sent for her education to the double monastery of Chelles in Paris. According to the historian, and her contemporary Saint Bede, this was common practice for English girls. Sometime towards the end of the 7th century Milburga then took charge of an abbey in Much Wenlock. This was also a dual monastery i.e. for both men and women, and each sex had their own church. It was also the most important religious house in the region. There she presided for the next thirty years, ministering to the people of her extensive domain lands. Many legends grew up: that she had the power of healing the blind and of creating springs of water. After her death in 725 AD there were more and more stories about her miracles, and so in due course she became Saint Milburga.

Fast forward to the Norman Conquest of Britain (1066), and now we have brow-beating Norman earls establishing their power bases across the land. Their plan was to use ‘big architecture’ to dominate the natives: castles, fortified manors, churches and monasteries – the bigger the better. In Much Wenlock, Earl Roger de Montgomery built a Benedictine priory on the site of Milburga’s abbey. It was affiliated to the monastery of Cluny in France, and so French monks came over to live in it. The building was an impressive enterprise too. Today, the picturesque ruins in the heart of the town do little to indicate the vast scale of the original.

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Wenlock Priory and the ruins of 12th century Benedictine monastery that was built on the site of Milburga’s Saxon abbey. In its day, this was one of the biggest and most prestigious religious houses in Europe. Photo: Creative Commons, Chris Gunns


But building big is not everything. The Normans faced a problem that every interloper faces: how to give their occupation legitimacy. Milburga was a much-loved saint and a Saxon saint to boot. It was essential to confirm possession, not only of her extensive lands (which was quickly achieved), but also of her remains.

The last proved less easy and, it may well be imagined, then, that when the French monks arrived in Wenlock and found the silver shrine of Milburga empty but for “some rags and ashes”, there was much consternation. Where were the saintly bones?


Bishop Odo unfolds the mystery in an account written after he visited the Priory in 1190. It appears that the nuns’ church of Milburga’s abbey (now our town church, Holy Trinity, above) still survived in Norman times, but lay in ruins. The monks decided on some restoration, and it was during work on the altar that a monastic servant found an ancient Saxon document. The monks, being French, could not read it and  so a reliable translator had to be found forthwith. Thus was discovered the testimony of a priest called Alstan who said that Milburga had been buried near the altar in the nuns’church.

Of course by now  nearly four centuries had passed since her death, but news of the document reached Anselm, Bishop of Canterbury and he gave the monks permission to excavate. But before this could happen, two boys playing by the dilapidated altar, caused the floor in front to collapse, which in turn led to the more rapid discovery of Milburga’s remains. This was in 1101 AD, and we know they were her bones because they were “beautiful and luminous” and accompanied by the requisite saintly fragrance deemed to be given off by such relics.

The discovery gave Much Wenlock instant pilgrim-appeal, and the monastic publicity machinery rolled. The Prior commissioned the leading writer on saints of the day, Goscelin,  to write about the life of Saint Milburga and so firmly establish the cult of miracles that surrounded her. From that time pilgrims flocked to Wenlock, and the town grew to cater for them. Some of the surviving public houses have their beginnings in the Middle Ages. The Priory itself was wealthy in land and employed a large workforce who were engaged in agriculture and early industrial development including coal mining and iron working. Artisans and merchants were attracted to the area. Trades and services developed to cater for the pilgrims and the Priory. And over all this human business presided the Prior, delivering both spiritual and temporal edicts. It was not until 1468 that the town was handed over to a secular authority.

And so here we have the little market town of Much Wenlock, continuously occupied for a thousand years and presently home of 2,700 souls. It sits below the long limestone ridge of Wenlock Edge whose geology is of international renown. After the monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540, the town continued to thrive as entrepreneurs moved in to develop the industrial potential of former monastic holdings. The cloth trade and tanning became important. Agriculture and quarrying continued as mainstays since Much Wenlock’s limestone was not only useful for building, but was also burned in kilns to use as fertilizer. Most importantly, as time went on, it became an essential ingredient in the making of cast iron, acting as a flux to remove impurities from the iron.

Indeed, it was at furnaces on Milburga’s former domains at Coalbrookdale, Madeley, and in Broseley that many breakthroughs in the iron industry were made, thus setting off the World’s Industrial Revolution. And the reason these technological innovations took place here was because the locality had all the vital ingredients:  limestone, ironstone, fireclay and coal. The tributaries of the Severn could be harnessed for water power, and the river itself provided a trading route down to Bristol. Not only that, generations of monastic workers meant there was a skilled workforce to be utilised when post-Dissolution entrepreneurs moved in to take over monastic mines, iron works and water mills.






We have other claims to fame too. The reason why one of the Olympic mascots was called Wenlock was because it was here in 1850 the town’s physician, Dr William Penny Brookes began the first modern Olympian games. For the next few decades people flocked to Wenlock in thousands to see them.  Brookes passed his ideas on to Baron de Coubertin who often visited the town, and so began the International Olympic Committee. The Wenlock Olympian Games are still held every year and provide a popular competition venue for sportsmen and women from all over the country. 

But back to the inspector who was left stranded at the top the page. Two years ago Much Wenlock was one of the seventeen front-runner communities in the country chosen by Government to create a Neighbourhood Plan. Since then, cohorts of Wenlock and other volunteers have worked with the community to produce a plan that sets out the kind of development we want in the parish over the next thirteen years. Last week the inspector, the man assessing the plan, came to the Priory Hall, the town’s community centre, to conduct a public hearing.

For reasons that may become apparent by looking at the next photos, large scale development is not a popular proposition in the community. Most of us feel that we have had more than enough. The town sits in a basin. Wenlock Edge and surrounding hills drain through it down a culverted medieval watercourse once known as the Schittebrok. The Victorians did the culverting and there have been so-called remedial schemes since. Some argue these ‘improvements’ have made the problem worse. The town’s footprint has increased some 300% in the last decades with much unsympathetic development that has covered agricultural land with hard surfaces that speed up flooding. Our narrow medieval street system turns roads into rivers during heavy rain. The other serious problem then (apart from traffic congestion) is drains.

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In 2007, after 91 homes were flooded due to a combination of flash flooding and poor drainage, the town held a referendum. The vote was 471 to 13 to have no more development until the town’s traffic and drainage problems were resolved. Nothing has been done to improve these matters, our sewage farm is under capacity. The bill for new drainage will cost millions and our private water company is unlikely to fork out. In the meantime the developers and major landowner informed the inspector that they are itching to build 85 houses in the near future, with a suggested total of 250 over all.

At the hearing the inspector gave them ample chance to make their case, and he himself gave no clue as to which side’s view would hold sway. The Neighbourhood Plan wants only small numbers of affordable homes for locals to rent, and a maximum of 25 market homes on a single low density development. But this is not how housing developers work. Much Wenlock’s property prices are high; it is a desirable place to live. They thus want to build up-scale houses with multiple bathrooms. Meanwhile our ageing community would like comfortable smaller places so they can downsize and release their homes to people with families. It is a divergence of objectives that appears to have no sensible resolution.

The British Government’s stance is that building houses is the only way to create ‘sustainable’ communities. So even if the Neighbourhood Plan is passed by the inspector, there is no knowing how far it will protect the town from inappropriate development.

As I said at the start, Much Wenlock is a small town with a big history. But perhaps our story has not yet been well enough told. Perhaps we are not shouting it loud enough. Events that occurred in and around Milburga’s former domain have helped change the world we all live in. A few miles away is the World Heritage Site of the Ironbridge Gorge (site of the world’s first cast iron bridge built in 1779). The iron, porcelain and decorative tile industries that grew up in this area traded their goods across the world. Monastic enterprise underpinned the development of  British industry.

Today if you visit Much Wenlock it may strike you as a Rip Van Winkle sort of place. It has a slumbering air, as if dozing under the weight of ancient timbers and stonework. But it can be lively too.There are some excellent shops including two excellent book shops and a gallery. There are small markets during the week, a museum, the church, the Priory, the Olympian trail, good pubs and hotels, many societies to join, a fully equipped leisure and arts centre. 

Above: glimpse of the Prior’s house, now a private home. Below: cottages on the Bull Ring

We have much  to protect and preserve here, and much to share with those who visit us. And we do want the town to grow and thrive, but on the community’s terms and according to their expressed needs. But looking over the last thousand years, this story does have a common theme. Whether we’re talking of Saxon kings, Norman earls or housing developers, those who have power and land do all the ruling, too frequently asserting their will over the wishes of the general populace. It remains to be seen whether the inspector will pass our plan. He said he would let us know in November. In the meantime, I, like others in the town, watch rainy skies with anxious eyes, if not for ourselves, then for vulnerable neighbours. Fingers crossed for Neighbourhood Planning and that it actually will serve our purpose.

© 2013 Tish Farrell


twitter: @Wenlock_Plan


W F Mumford Wenlock in the Middle Ages 1977 re-published under ISBN 0950561606

Vivien Bellamy A History of Much Wenlock 2001 Shropshire Books ISBN 9780903802796