What We Worry?

What We Worry?

Shortly before my first group was to kayak up to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska’s Russsel Fjord there was concern that the glacier was growing so fast that it would seal the fjord.

Not only might the seal break unleashing an ocean over us kayakers, but a Hubbard calving would be catastrophic. We’d no longer be able to point our tips towards the 40-foot wave and ride it like a single hill as it diminished into the ocean. It’d bounce back and forth churning our kayaks like pine nuts thrown into mix master making pea soup. This is exactly what’s happening to global politics, evident today in Africa.
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Going Somewhere?

Going Somewhere?

If you’re planning to take an airplane sometime in the next month or two… well, consider driving… or swimming … or just using your xBox. I didn’t mention trains, because in London anyway, they’re on strike.

I’m not talking about traveling to safaris, either – that’s another story. Safaris are not rebounding as expected. The turmoil in air travel is all in the U.S. and Europe.
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Ma Lives Matter

Ma Lives Matter

The “unlawful and forced eviction” of up to 70,000 Maasai in northeast Tanzania has turned bloody violent. According to Canada’s Globe & Mail an initial tear-gas episode in early June has escalated into outright warfare resulting in deaths and injuries.

“Shocking in its scale and brutality” this tragic situation is hardly new: Maasai have been driven from their pastures almost continually since their ancestors fled the Nubians in the 4th century BC. This complex story is one of the lectures I give on safari atop the Serengeti ‘Singing Rock’ that overlooks what was once the paradise of the Maasai before they ceded it to the government a half century ago.

The current conflict has its contemporary roots in a relocation of about 4,000 Maasai from northeast Tanzania in the 1960s right before Independence. A generation later in 1992 Maasai leaders formally accepted the government annexation of about 1600 sq. miles of their prime pastures which until then had remained an unresolved ownership issue with the British colonial government.

It remains uncertain whether the Maasai elders who ceded this huge area (the entire “Loliondo” district) understood exactly what they were doing or whether there was a lot of sugar spilled into the chai.

The area borders Kenya’s famous’ Maasai Mara to the north and Tanzania’s famous Serengeti to the west. These truly spectacular quintessential rolling grassland savannahs are perfect for cattle grazing, the traditional lifeway of Maasai.

Following the 1992 “treaty” the Tanzanian government quickly formalized smaller portions of that 1600 sq. miles as hunting reserves for Arab royalty. They had regularly hunted the area during their own insufferable summers ever since first being invited down by the British long, long ago for who knows what nefarious reasons.

After sectioning out hunting reserves for the Arabs who to this day claim they were given the whole of Loliondo by the British, the government declared the remainder “Wildlife Management Areas” (WMAs).

WMAs were and remain (intentionally?) so confusing that everybody and their brother ran up to this beautiful, game rich area to plant their own kind of stake. Including a group I was involved with for seven years.

In the early 2000s I had an interest in a company that had a remote wilderness camp close to where the Arabs were hunting. The mostly Jordanian militias that constantly harassed us claimed we were infringing on their area, but our WMA certificate had clearly delineated boundaries professionally surveyed for our 50,000 acres. Nevertheless, anyone coming into our “private reserve” would get a little beep on their cell phone, “Welcome to the Emirates!”

Ours was not the only non-hunting camp in the Loliondo area. By my last count in 2008 there were six. No one was ever able, however, to get a written document from either the Arabs or the Tanzanian government that would substantiate their claims to the entire Loliondo area.

I never got inside the Arab’s perimeter despite several attempts. Those who did reported “a little city” with an airport that routinely accepted the most modern private jet aircraft as well as C47’s that would disgorge limos and Range Rovers.

Maasai development was soaring by the end of the last century. Casual stock herding became true cattle ranching. In 1992 the price of a Maasai cow was around $70. Today it approaches $2000, a testament to Maasai’s rapid development and professional use of modern animal husbandry.

So more and more Maasai are choosing to “stay on the farm,” turning the tide that began in the 1980s when every promising young Maasai fled to the city. There are more and more cattle, more and more homesteads and guess what, no more land.

Disputes grew more violent after we left the area in 2008. Serious “wars” with Tanzania security forces occurred in 2009, 2013 and 2019.

I began blogging about this controversy in 2009. I ended that first blog by saying, “My take is that this is not going to get better, soon.”

The largest number of physical fights — not as deadly perhaps but much more acrimonious and self-destructive — have actually been between Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai ranchers.

Originally, of course, there was no border splitting the Maasai into three countries (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania). When the rain in the south was better, the Kenyan Maasai moved their cattle into Tanzania. And vice versa. So many more ranchers much better educated and lawyered up with many, many better cows are all fighting for the same number of blades of grass that grew here when the Maasai first arrived nearly 300 years ago.

In 2018 Tanzanian Maasai prevailed in the totally powerless East African Court of Justice which affirmed their historic rights to grazing throughout the area. This has sustained an increasingly articulate and powerful movement led by several courageous, young and very professional Maasai lawyers.

I think that Covid explains much of the current battle. No one came to Tanzania for nearly two years. Maasai in this area just naturally started grazing all over the place, including into the Serengeti National Park and the Arab hunting areas.

Covid’s over, the sheiks complained. Sheiks are rich and powerful. Maasai ranchers are not.

The piles of faulty treaties, questionable agreements and coerced submissions to informal modern use of deeply historical use, all compounded by an inept government that mistakenly tried to manage the area with incomprehensible regulations has just piled mess upon mess.

Untangling it is impossible. It’s time that the Tanzanian government emulate Canada with its First Nation policy or America with its modern Athabascan Alaskan policy and recognize the historical first principle of Maasai ownership of the lands and send the Arabs back in a heat wave.

Is that likely?

Haiwezakani sana…

Gutting Democracy

Gutting Democracy

Some of the best legal scholarship of our times created Kenya’s new constitution 15 years ago and South Africa’s a decade earlier.

In the end both Kenya and South Africa adopted a three-branch federal government like the United States. But both societies established a creed practical for the modern age. And it’s the reason both countries protect the right for abortion and the U.S. no longer does.
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OnSafari: Last Drive

OnSafari: Last Drive

Many still considered him a youngster. Only 6-7 feet long he was little compared to the monsters of Lake Turkana, many photographed at over 25 feet. But he didn’t feel young, anymore.

Born on a buried sand nest on the edge of the great Mara River, he ate voraciously his first several years, swimming madly away from the large bull frogs the size of soccer balls that gobbled up little crocs by the dozens.

A few years later when he reached a couple feet long he had to eat only a few days each week. He lie motionless just under the water at the shoreline, jumping up twice his length to snatch a bird trying to flee. Soon, irony of ironies, he was hunting the frogs.

When he reached his early teens he was too big to hide any longer among the water lilies in the crags of the great Mara. He began to crawl out onto the rocks to get warmed by the sun like the big guys.

It wasn’t long ago that he started to sleep more and more. When he woke hungry he waited for a small impala coming to drink and that was only a few times every couple months. But back then he ate his hunger rather than the impala if there were any big guys around. He’d seen some buddies persist only to lose the prey to one of the Mara monsters, and sometimes even parts of their snout.

Now at a robust 7-8 feet he found himself with no appetite except twice a year. He slept the rest of the time behind a secluded and log hidden under a big leafed tamarila bush that hung over the river.

His hunger woke him the day we saw him. Perhaps, too, he felt the ripples of the big guys slipping into the river. Whatever it was he was famished.

So no longer junior he couldn’t hang back an instant longer, because the moment he started to swim again after his several month sleep his appetite grew extreme. He hurried out no longer deterred by the current, his sleek powerful body cutting through the turbulent Mara waters as if it were a still lake in the mountains.

Suddenly he was with others his size swimming but without any real direction, nothing to hunt in the deep middle of the river. Then all of a sudden he saw one of his buddies snapping at a head with horns that bobbed among three or four of his peers. The horns weren’t sharp at the end or shiny in the sun. They looked puffy and grey.

The four 7-foot crocs gnawed and slapped their jaws all over the thing but it didn’t soothe their appetites. Soon they backed off and encircled it like the spokes in a wheel.

Finally the 6-month old skeleton sunk back into the water. His appetite soared. He wriggled, challenging his peers, but they quickly swam away. He stayed right there in the middle of the river. He knew something was on the way.

By the end of our 8th day in the Serengeti, our 18th on the overall safari including Kenya we’d seen virtually everything but a rhino. Most travelers lack the inclination for spending so much time and money on an East African Safari today but it reminded me that in the old days I rarely guided a trip that was less than 23-25 days. Marlin Perkins’ first safari with supporters of the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1957 lasted two months and six days!

We intersected the migration big time two days ago in the western corridor. We spent a night at a beautiful camp on a hillside overlooking Seronera and the next morning watched a 5-mile long file of wildebeest race across the valley below. The migration has yet to reach further north, but our schedule had us the last two days in Tanzania’s far north just in case the migration had been early.

On our way up we saw our last group of lions, bringing our total to 46. The family of 13 was draped onto a very small kopjes in the middle of a vast flat prairie like bits of discarded bread dough thrown over a broken spatula. We left the rock of lions just a tad bit south of Lobo and continued moving north. Game became very scarce. The grass grew five feet high.

Our last game drive scoured the veld up to the Mara River and the Kenyan border. This is Tanzania’s Mara District, and the terrain looks almost exactly like Kenya’s Mara: gently rolling hills, verdant and bushy.

But here in Tanzania south of the great Mara it’s higher and drier than just north over the great Mara River in Kenya. There in Kenya the valley is much better watered, less rocky and has better grass.

So our last game drive was pretty scant. The drive was interrupted with a bit of excitement as we tried and failed to pull another tourist rover out of the black cotton soil in which it was stuck. (Not really a good idea to travel in these parts during the rainy season with only one vehicle. Moreover this one had a broken 4×4 system, so it was doubly doomed and got what it deserved.)

We offered the lovely couple from Barcelona a lift back to their camp but they opted to remain with their driver until another vehicle was sent from their camp. We confirmed this happened by radio before we returned to our camp later that day.

The other notable event was sighting about a dozen giant crocs in the Mara River. Generally these 12-18 foot beasts hide themselves for most of the year in a dormant state. But they know the wilde are coming. This is one of the two times in the year they eat: when the wilde come, and when the wilde go back.

So they were out on the sand banks waiting in the sun or slithering anxiously through the river, positioning themselves for the hundreds of thousands of beefsteaks that will arrive probably in the next 2-3 weeks.

We even saw four trying to devour the head of a wildebeest. We didn’t see the kill and it was possibly the skeleton of last year’s migration, pulled from its crag under water.

So it was a very soft ending to a great safari.

As Steve said to me at our last dinner in camp, it’s a bittersweet time. Everyone looks forward to going home, but no one wants to leave.

OnSafari: Bingo Beast

OnSafari: Bingo Beast

So by the end of our 5th day in the Serengeti we topped 30 lion including three kills, 3 cheetah, thousands of elephant and literally tens of thousands of gazelle. Oh, and a python, serval cat and an absolutely wonderful chocolate cake presented to us with song at our last camp!

But remember this safari is “chasing the herds” and we’d only seen a couple hundred wildebeest. No real surprise, but the pressure was on.

Radio chatter (which only reaches about 10k) wasn’t helpful. You call a camp and ask honestly, “Is any of the migration there?” and inevitably you’re assured that several million animals are right outside their mess tent. Incoming drivers insist that they’ve seen the whole kit and kaboodal because no one wants to admit otherwise. So even after five days gathering intel it’s sort of a crap shoot.

Tumaini and I decided that at least a portion of the great herds had to be in the western corridor, probably around the Musabi Plains. This would be a little behind normal, but the rains have been so good and extended for so long that it would make sense.

We were in the Moru Kopjes. The Musabi Plains was pretty far away, a good couple hours or more at breakneck speed. So everyone got excited and agreed to have breakfast at 630a and leave promptly at 7. So the stage was set!
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OnSafari: Where they go?

OnSafari: Where they go?

Hundreds of vultures. Mounted on the acacia trees, flying between the patches of thick forest, landing and taking off from the meadows within the woods. So we plowed back and forth through the high grasses trying to discover what they were scavenging. What dinosaur could bring so many birds together?

Radioing back and forth between our rovers we covered almost every inch of open ground and could find nothing, even as the shadows of their huge wings slipped back and forth across us. What was going on?
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OnSafari: Lion Story

OnSafari: Lion Story

It should have been the best day of his life. Instead, with every step he made walking away from the big black-maned pridemaster who was seated on the veld like the sphinx watching him, he pressed his eyes closed, lowering his head slightly. I wasn’t sure since I was looking at him through my binoculars from about 80 meters away, but I think he was in great pain.

Still, his belly wasn’t thin. In fact, it was pretty full. In fact all 11 in the pride including the kids had full bellies. The wilde must have been killed 2-3 hours before we arrived shortly after dawn, but it was already nearly licked clean.
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OnSafari: Endless

OnSafari: Endless

The unexpected night at Hemingway’s resort in Nairobi refreshed and rejuvenated everyone. I love Hemingway’s. I thought of Raffles in the Seychelles, an over-the-top property specifically marketed as a “fancy resort and spa.” I like Hemingway’s better.

The rooms are bigger, the bathroom is just aw large and gorgeous, the woodsy grounds with flowered landscaping a fine substitute for the Indian Ocean, and the dozens of chirping swifts, grunting colobus and melodic bulbuls more relaxing to me than the crashing waves on the beach.

Hemingway’s is where you go to rest up, not worry about which jewelry worn to dinner will perfectly reflect the candlelight. I ordered a hamburger.
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OnSafari: Gun Fire

OnSafari: Gun Fire

I haven’t delayed telling you. It’s just been an awfully busy time. Our two days in Samburu were cut short by automatic weapons and mortars. Everyone is fine, excited to keep going, we immediately returned to Nairobi and I’m infuriated that the Kenyans have wrapped this up. After one day of oblique reporting, the trouble in Samburu which we experienced first-hand is as if it had never happened.

That’s no way to boost tourism.
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OnSafari: New Nairobi

OnSafari: New Nairobi

Once I really liked Nairobi. But our two-day visit here was like walking back and through a time warp in an nondirectional universe. The pandemic did a number on a lot of things. I was here just before the pandemic and I swear some crazy aliens confiscated the city, goofed around with it and just now dropped it back down to earth!

There are highways, sometimes multistory, all over the place. The 27 km southern bypass is reported to have been built in two years, all of it elevated and on each of the four sides of the hundreds of concrete pillars on which the concrete sits three stories above the ground are at least 500 tiny holes each containing a live nasturtium plant kept alive by the rain drainage from the highway above!
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