Jumbo Jangles

Jumbo Jangles

eleClarity on how badly elephants may be declining is at hand. Wednesday scientists began the “2017 Selous-Mikumi Large Mammal Census” which will be conducted over a huge area of nearly 43,000 sq. miles in central Tanzania.

It will be the first such careful animal census of the area since 2014 but more importantly will help determine the much debated viability of the “Great Elephant Census (GEC)”, which tore through the continent a year ago. One of the great criticisms of that inflammatory report was precisely that it ignored areas that the current census will now sample.

Why believe this one?

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Michigan Plasticity

Michigan Plasticity

kenya plastic bagYesterday Kenya joined 40 other countries doing something the whole world — except Michigan — will likely soon be doing: ban plastic bags.

Significantly, Kenya’s law is the most wide-ranging and punitive of them all. Violators can be fined up to $38,000 and jailed for four years. Visitors to emerging nations are not surprised at the move, but they are often surprised when they understand the reasons.

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Rhino Ruse

Rhino Ruse

rhinoauctionThere are 65 world treaties governing such things as conduct in war, rights of the child and trade of endangered species (CITES). The first was in 1865 (governing the breakthrough telegraph) and the latest in 2006 (governing the rights of the disabled).

Getting the whole wide world to agree on something isn’t easy. It represents man’s greatest achievement: These treaties define mankind. Friday, one man in South Africa will defy one of these treaties with the blessings of a misguided South African court.

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The Hunting Horizon

The Hunting Horizon

neitheroneorotherAttitudes towards hunting are changing in the same way that they’ve already changed with regards to the LGBT communities. In remarkably short order hunting of all kinds may be curtailed.

This is a very widespread and expansive cultural change. It applies almost equally to sports hunting as to native society subsistence hunting and even to scientific culling. It is, in fact, the scientific community evincing the most dramatic change. The driver is climate change.

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Blast Away!

Blast Away!

LemurFriday the European Union announced an emergency program to slow the decline of African predators that will focus on mitigating the human/wildlife conflicts that are at the center of this problem.

It’s a pitifully small sum of money, less than $15 million, that I wonder may already have been spent in just creating the working groups, research, guidelines and publications that resulted in the announcement Friday. On the other hand, I really like their approach.

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Traffic Problem

Traffic Problem

bouldersHuman/wildlife conflict isn’t limited to dangerously powerful elephants walking over an impoverished Tanzanian farmer’s watermelon field. Several days ago in a thoroughly modern city in The Cape one of the world’s most endangered animals suffered a serious blow from … car traffic.

There are few animals in the world as endangered as the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), sometimes called the Jackass penguin.  Just over 25,000 breeding pairs remain of a sustainable population of 1.2 million birds that existed only a half century ago.

This is a far greater catastrophic decline than that of elephants or lions, and it shows no sign of abating.

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COP21 Obfuscation Detritius

COP21 Obfuscation Detritius

COP21Today on Earth Day only one major head of State (from France) attends the signing statement at the United Nations of COP21, the breakthrough global climate agreement negotiated in Paris last year.

French President François Hollande is the star. He was instrumental in negotiating African developing countries into the deal, but there aren’t any African Heads of State here to sign with him.

John Kerry signs for the U.S. Obama is not here as he’s telling Cameron who’s not here, either, not to leave the EU.

Should we worry?

COP21 is good, but its worst part is another acronym, INDC, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, that was created at the behest of the developing world and negotiated principally by Hollande.

The premise is that development cannot be compromised in the poorer countries of the world.

As Bolivia and Ecuador explained in a joint statement during the negotiations, “These climate reparations would give to economies relying on progressive extractivism the necessary resources to transition to clean energy without having to sacrifice their social and redistributive policies.”

Translate: pay us not to burn fossil fuels. The implementation in nicer language will be written in each country’s INDC.

In other words, Kenya will forge head with additional solar, wind and other non-fossil fuel methods of making power, but primarily only if Britain, the U.S. and Japan – its principal aid givers – pay them to do so.

I think this is remarkably fair. But it’s politically dicey.

Most Americans (69%) now support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, BUT … they do not believe (45%) that climate change is a “serious problem.”

What was that?

That’s the same position in 10 of the major 17 countries who pushed through COP21. Only in India, Germany, Canada (only barely, 51%), Mexico, Brazil, Italy and France does the public accept that climate change is a “serious problem.”

So that’s how dumb the world is, and that’s why Hollande is at today’s signing ceremony. France, he is saying, is not as dumb as America or China where (get ready to scratch your head) 71% of the public supports international treaties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only 18% believe that climate change is a serious problem!

I would love for some data from Africa, but except for South Africa (56% support reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but only 45% believe climate change is a serious problem) polling in other African countries doesn’t exist.

You see if you stripped out the motive for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, then what replaces it?

In developing countries it’s pollution. Pollution is as much an issue in Nairobi as Beijing.

In the developed countries it’s … what? Support for fracking? I just don’t know.

Here’s another take. It’s likely today that most Africans, and maybe even most Americans, recognize that climate change is real. Whether you elevate climate change to a “serious problem” is the key.

There are so many problems in Africa with greater priority, like food and water and poverty, that even if it’s plausible climate change contributes to these, it isn’t as important so the moving goal post of “serious” might not be reached.

In America I think it’s more contentious: it’s political.

Alas for the straight-talker Trump and the clear-headed Sanders, our only solutions to sweeping away the detritus of obfuscation?

Conservation vs. Development

Conservation vs. Development

Mom.gorillaIs conservation just? Not always, according to a study in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park.

“Conservation [needs] to get serious about environmental justice,” a September study from the University of East Anglia claims, one of the world’s top universities for developmental studies.

This is just one of lots of recent intellectual fistfights between sociologists and conservationists. Conservationists, on the one hand, are presumed to want to protect the earth at nearly any cost. Sociologists, on the other hand, put people first and claim that contemporary conservationists don’t.

The argument surfaced at the beginning of this decade but by 2014 the New Yorker called the debate “vitriolic.”

Finally at the end of 2014 the highly respected scientific publication, Nature, allowed two scientists to publish an article about the fight: “We believe that this situation is stifling productive discourse, inhibiting funding and halting progress,” they wrote.

Stop whining. This is an important debate and nothing that I’ve seen is offensive or immature. Quite to the contrary: The East Anglia study continues this debate on the side of sociologists, and I believe appropriately so.

I know Bwindi pretty well. It is the Ugandan section of the volcanoes national park in which the mountain gorillas live. Like the other sections in Rwanda and the DRC-Congo, mountain gorillas have enjoyed a wonderful rebound from near extinction at the end of the 1970s.

The main reason is tourism. It will cost you a hefty $750 for one permit to be with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda for one hour, and one of the 56 daily permits are often hard to get.

It’s less expensive in Bwindi, but that reflects the unsettled political situation in Uganda. But even in Uganda’s untroubled days, Bwindi’s operations were never on the up-and-up.

Bwindi was terribly corrupt. If you had trouble getting a permit, the right bribe to the right ranger would get you one, and if in fact the day was truly booked up, someone would find a way to take you to a gorilla research group which was technically off-limits to tourists.

The East Anglian study touches on this but in fact sticks mostly to the non-corrupt, stated policy issues. Their main criticism is that the original peoples of the area, the Batwa, have been intentionally excluded from the benefits of Bwindi’s growing gorilla population.

The main benefit to the growing gorilla population is tourism: revenues from the permit tax which supposedly go directly to the government; and jobs created in the tourist industry: staff for lodges and transport and guides.

The Batwa do not benefit from any of these. The Ugandan government has always been openly hostile to these progeny of “pygmies,” their land was never properly deeded to them so they were unable to participate in the leasing arrangements for the tourist lodges, and few if any tour companies hire them at any level.

Prior to the interest in conserving the gorillas, the Batwa’s lifeway was bush meat hunting in the forest – not gorillas, but mostly monkeys, and also duikers and other small forest creatures. This is now prohibited in the interests of gorilla and ecological conservation.

So without benefitting from the growth of tourism and conservation while being restricted from the forest which was their traditional lifeway, the Batwa have grown more poor and more estranged from modern society. Implicitly, of course, it’s presumed they become poachers.

“Successful” conservation policies lead directly to poaching.

The East Anglia study suggests that scientists should adopt certain principals of manifest justice that could delimit conservation goals, but which in all cases would ensure justice for the local peoples like the Batwa.

This no-brainer is often neglected, the authors claim, because conservation goals appear “to be driven by faith in a particular (utilitarian) model of justice that holds that conservation consequences justify their means.”

I’m glad to have this “vitriolic” debate: I’ve always believed in Africa that people must come first, that conservation is not anathema to that at all, but that stitching the two together is imperative.

Imperative to conservation, not to the peoples’ will and that’s the key. The people have the sovereignty. Conservationists do not. It’s clear who must sew the seam.

Guns & Climate

Guns & Climate

samburugunsMore guns make more war and less guns make less war and the truth is shown clearly today in Kenya’s Samburu district.

Since the incredible arming of Kenya by the Obama administration for the Somali Invasion four years ago, the number of weapons in northern Kenya has increased by a ridiculous amount. It’s particularly noticeable now that the war is winding down.

Guns don’t wind down.

So all the tens of thousands of unused machine guns and grenades have reached the black market and they’re available for a song.

The Samburu district of Kenya has always had a sort of wild west flavor, including messy cowboy entanglements. For one thing it’s where two historically antagonistic tribes, the Turkana and Samburu, meet.

Both tribes hold creation myths stating that God created cows only for them, so if the other tribe has cows, they must have stolen them. The young warrior class is charged with recovering as much of these stolen goods as possible.

So cattle rustling has existed at least for as long as anyone has written about the area, well back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s different, now.

To begin with, there’s more competition. There are more people, so more food and more cows are needed at the same time that climate change is exacerbating the desertification of these northern areas.

So while it used to be pretty much an ethnic conflict between two or three major tribes, today the issue of enough land for grazing is just as important.

The Kenyan government is moving perhaps too quickly to ameliorate this by generating new local revenue from deep-hole oil wells financed by the Chinese.

But the most important difference is how people fight.

Instead of using spears and clubs, the fights are now almost exclusively with very sophisticated guns.

Guess where they might come from? Amazing, isn’t it, that they cost less than fashioning a good spear?

In the most recent cases it appears the warring factions are better armed than the police.

Kenya has a strict firearm policy: it’s not easy as a private citizen to own a gun. But in the Samburu district of Kenya it’s hard to find a Samburu without a gun.

In an attempt to reduce the weaponry, Samburu authorities announced an amnesty several weeks ago for anyone who turned in an illegal firearm. That program expired Tuesday and “no firearms had been surrendered.”

It is, of course, a common argument promoted by arms manufacturers that peace prospers when more people have guns. This presumes that the vast majority of people are good and only use guns to defend themselves.

That argument is about as cogent as the idea that God created all cows for Samburu.

Queen to Pawn! Check!

Queen to Pawn! Check!

queenofivoryThe high profile arrest of a Chinese woman for ivory trading in Tanzania means a lot more than just the arrest of a Chinese woman for ivory trading in Tanzania.

Her arrest is proof that the ruling party in power in Tanzania fears losing the national elections in two weeks. Probably even worse is the naivete of conservation organization’s glee at her capture:

Yesterday conservation groups went ape over the arrest of Yang Feng Glan, the 67-year old vice president of the Tanzania China-Africa business council, a resident of Tanzania since the mid 1970s.

The Elephant Action League calls her the ‘Queen of Ivory:’

“She has been trafficking ivory since at least 2006, working with the most high-ranking poachers in the country and in the region.”

Glan is not new to Tanzanians and clearly her crimes have been known for some time. Remarkable, isn’t it, that the police superintendent announced yesterday that she’s confessed to everything.

This means that she won’t be presenting a defense. There will not be lawyers to assist her in allocating the blame. She won’t be “naming names.”

It was all her fault, all 30,000 elephants or so, all hundreds of thousands of tons of ivory, all immigration and customs passes … she did it all herself, and she’s confessed.

No need to question any officials now who might have approved such important matters as unmarked cargo bins, or police who never checked those giant warehouses down by the dock, or those wildlife officials who left butchered elephants lying in the veld to be investigated not by forensic detectives but striped hyaenas. They’re all off the hook, now. Fang confessed and so the issue of elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade…

… won’t disrupt the upcoming October 25 national elections.

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Mrs. Fang won’t be sentenced for her confessed crimes before the elections are over, and that the complexity of the deals over her “confession” will haunt politicians on all sides for years to come.

These idiot politicians are making deals with the devil, and I can’t wait to see how it pans out. For the time being, of course, all they can see are the ballot boxes on October 25.

That’s what I think is the key to all of this. The party in power is in trouble for the first time since independence. One of the greatest bastions of support for the opposition is in the country’s north where elephant populations are safe and well protected, where tourism is so important.

Last month a hastily arranged seminar by local conservationists and journalists followed the ruling party’s promise to double tourism revenue if elected.

It received wide publicity and finally elevated conservation and the elephant problem into the national consciousness.

“I need conservation and the future of tourism to be part of election issues,” said the Director of the Serengeti Preservation Foundation (SPF), Meyasi Mollel.

“Conservation is a key issue in Tanzania, because the country’s economy is entirely based on natural resources. So for political parties to ignore conservation is a grave mistake,” Adam Ihucha, a brave journalist for the East African, said while keynoting the conference.

Note that the ruling party recently banned then unbanned his publication.

So in the last month as the election heats up, so finally did the conservation crisis in the country. That crisis is nearly entirely composed of the decimation of elephants in the center of the country, which is a stronghold of the ruling party.

If the ruling party loses the center of the country, it loses the election.

So the Queen of Ivory is nicely behind bars, has confessed, and guess what, won’t have to say a single other thing.

At least not until October 26.

Get More, Obviously

Get More, Obviously

cornfieldbusiaKenya will end all restrictions on genetically modified agricultural seed, setting the stage for the largest production of GMO crops in Africa.

According to the country’s vice president, William Ruto, the end of the partial ban on a variety of GMO seed will “maximise agricultural production, improve health services, conserve the environment, and basically improve the living standards of our people.”

The back-and-forth suspensions of GMO seeds throughout sub-Saharan Africa this decade reached a turning point two years ago when Monsanto agreed to unlimited free use of its Monsanto 810 by sub-Saharan African countries, currently being distributed by the Bill Gates Foundation.

The drought resistant corn embodies the entire debate over GMO. While there is no doubt higher yields in stressed environments are produced when Mon810 is used, both bug and virus diseases seem to develop rapidly and powerfully against it.

As a result farmers using the seed also must use more pesticide.

The debate is whether this is because the GMO maize itself somehow nurtures super disease, whether it is simply more susceptible because it’s a relatively new genetic strain, or even whether it’s simply climate change.

The third possibility remains plausible because statistics gathering in Africa remains poor. While there are reasonable statistics to prove that additional pesticides are required for the use of GMO crops, there are not good numbers on what climate change is doing to traditional crops.

No matter the cause, new and tougher ways to suppress bugs and viruses is required whenever a farmer begins using Mon810.

South Africa has discovered that planting every fifth or sixth row of corn with non-GMO crops considerably reduces the need for added pesticide on the entire field.

But that’s an expensive proposition, especially for Kenya.

The net financial payoff, however, remains positive in both South Africa and Kenya. The question is what is the payoff to the overall environment and this question is a much longer term consideration than growing enough food next year for the local population.

I’m no scientist, and I remain very skeptical about altering genes for agriculture or medicine. But in the absence of any similarly efficient alternative for food production, it seems terribly crass to argue against the use of GMO in Africa.

Delta Destruction

Delta Destruction

DeltaDestructionThe battle between fossil fuel mining and the environment has moved into Botswana’s main tourist attraction, the Okavango Delta.

The photo above of a painted frog was taken by EWT client, Melissa Michel, this year. The background of a mining waste dump is compliments of Rio Tinto.

Tourism in the Okavango Delta is the second largest source of Botswana’s GDP, after mining (which dwarfs it, by the way: 40% vs 12%).

Exact figures are hard to confirm, because the government has not defined how government and ancillary industries like educational training and direct contributions contribute to or diminish the tourism and mining sectors. But clearly mining is 3 to 5 times as important as tourism.

Historically most of this was with diamonds. Botswana is the world’s largest diamond producer, but several years ago the government recognized that “diamonds aren’t forever.”

This led to increased fossil fuel exploration and bingo, there’s a lot of it. Relative to diamonds, coals lasts forever.

The largest Botswana owned company, Tsodilo, listed on the Toronto stock exchange, recently announced plans to mine more than 440 million tons of iron ore, and with less fanfare, a rather sizeable amount of coal.

Botswana’s chief mining official said that Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining company, would be the principal in coal extraction.

“The future of Botswana mining is going to be the coal and iron ore resources…,” he said before adding as an afterthought, “and of course diamonds.”

Botswana is already the 65th richest country in the world. This will likely push it up further.

Unfortunately, much of the iron ore discovered is underneath or close to the Okavango Delta.

Although Botswana has a variety of big game habitats, it is the Delta which is the draw. Unique on earth, it’s where a desert seasonally floods. This produces extremely unusual habitat as well as major deterrents to human settlement.

Over the eons vast numbers of endemic species have arisen in The Delta, many which remain to this area alone. These are mostly plants, amphibians and fish, but the area is also outstanding for more notable, rare and larger animals like sitatunga and wild dog. Many water fowl absolutely depend upon the Delta and many are extremely rare, like the Wattled Crane.

The world’s growing appetite for fossil fuels is as undisputed as the fact that most of them will come from Africa.

Why should Botswana be denied compromising its ecosystem for greater wealth, as Alaska and California did big time last century?

The answer is usually that the world’s just come too far. Time is not on their side, as it was with the Rockefellers and early gold diggers: The global warming apocalypse takes precedence.

That’s such a subjective argument it falls on deaf ears in Africa. South African environmentalists, however, are trying more clever answers.

Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Desmond D’Sa recently explained that the argument that mining will “create wealth for the people” was fallacious. “We’ve seen the mining industry in South Africa, hundreds of years, has created impoverishment and poverty… The majority, the 99 percent of us in the country, are poor, are living in abject, poor conditions.”

And that’s true and compelling … for the instant. But what happens if – as many of us hope – this changes and there is a real redistribution of wealth? Like in China?

Reversing the world’s poverty is going to take a lot of industry. Protecting the unique ecosystems under which that industry is fired will be no small task.