WorkKing

WorkKing

Worldwide the pandemic response was a society — like a house with windows — pulling down all its blinds. As we cautiously pry open the levers what will we see?

In the developing world we’ll see how young societies fared without the heavy influence of world powers. In normal prepandemic times there was hardly a move that an African government made without first running it by a host of global powers. That didn’t happen the last two years.
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Not At Last

Not At Last

How times have changed! I love cliches. And the pandemic has helped refresh traditions and with that, nostalgia, and with, sentimentality and so now I’m terrified. In a few weeks I head back to my most loved Serengeti. What will it be like?

I drove my first safari vehicle into the Serengeti from Kenya’s Mara in February, 1972, and when I’m reminded that’s a half century ago I feel like putting on a toga and sitting on a park bench dribbling bread crumbs to pigeons.
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Brake-Through

Brake-Through

The malaria vaccine is continuing good news in the battle against disease in Africa, but it’s not a cause for great celebration. I’m a bit peeved, in fact, with the PR-rollout of Mosquirix by GlaxoSmithKline which strikes me more as an attempt by the pharma to remain relevant after the failure of its Sanofi–GSK Covid vaccine.

Here’s the thing. Mosquirix has been around in some form since 1987. Much improved, its efficacy is still as low as 26% (the highest in any study was 50%) and only for toddlers. It’s not effective against young adults and older.
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People Day

People Day

Technically today is a federal holiday called “Columbus Day” but it’s rather confused. Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont have all banned it and replaced it with “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Many more local counties have done the same or as President Biden did this morning simultaneously order the celebration of “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

NBCNews put it best, “Columbus Day is not a holiday the U.S. — and Italian Americans — should celebrate” …because?
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Ants

Ants

Almost a half century ago Kathleen and I drove into remote southwest Uganda sneaking precious, banned textbooks (on mathematics) to one of the few schools that until then had managed to survive under Idi Amin.

We drove past a football field littered with the bodies of 48 teens, their bodies torn apart by dum dums. Our hosts were in hiding. When one young teacher snuck into the room where we were he pleaded in whispers to steel him away. Did anybody read Eugene Robertson’s op-ed in the Washington Post today? “How Dumb Can a Nation Get and Still Survive?”
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Mr. 13173

Mr. 13173

Terrible, scandalous, hypocritical and immoral but never surprising. Africa leaders have feathered their beds ever since colonial masters bribed them into submission, ever since world powers bought their Cold War loyalties, then now when giant corporations and disreputable not-for-profits buy influence. Excruciatingly terrible but what’s new?

What’s new is Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta. The expose regarding Uhuru Kenyatta specifically published in the recently released Pandora Papers might just at long last make a difference.
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Should You Go?

Should You Go?

What’s the greatest risk to an international traveler right now? Obviously, Covid, but NOT for the reason you think! A vaccinated traveler is very unlikely to get sick from Covid. More vaccinated travelers are going to get hurt and some die from slipping on the stairs of the jetway than from Covid. More vaccinated travelers headed into wild jungles (who are taking malaria pills) will still get sick from malaria than from Covid.

The Covid vaccine is as much a game changer as Delta. Its efficacy is better than all the vaccines before it, better than malaria pills, better than attending daily mass, better than practically anything! So what’s the problem?
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Too Many

Too Many

There are too many elephants. So says, among others, the CEO of Elephants Without Borders, Mike Chase.

“Too Many” is awfully subjective. But many countries share Kenya’s just published wildlife census confirming its population of elephants increased 12% in the last seven years, Zimbabwe has revealed plans to cull up to 50,000 elephants, and Botswana is “deporting” thousands of elephants back to their home country in Angola, as absurd as this sounds. (Do they have ID cards or passports?)

There are somewhere between 450- and 500,000 elephants in Africa, almost all in sub-Saharan Africa and three-quarters of them in only five countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

This is probably about half what it was when I started guiding in Africa almost a half century ago. But consider this. The human population has more than doubled in that same time. Who should get the land?

The elephant population was actually very worrisome hardly three decades ago. The steep decline from poaching of the early 80s represented the peak of black-market ivory. It’s quite possible that the world population of elephants fell below 200,000.

That horrible trend line of the 80s and early 90s represented the abject stupidity of our species, concerned more with its immediate vanities than sustainability. Tens of thousands of wonderful individuals and countless excellent organizations responded by harassing world opinion, and global leaders were forced to create the CITES convention.

CITES was the turning point, not just in the decline of elephants but of many other species and as well, the great positive changes in the public’s perceptions of the wild.

I’ve written dozens of articles about CITES and its local law spin-offs, but several of my favorites were about a “dump roper” in Texas, another side-lining crook cowboy in Illinois and the end to selling Grandma’s necklaces on eBay!

All of these stories were of aggressive enforcement of local state laws essentially spun-off from CITES.

So the nosedive towards elephant extinction was stopped. The techniques were wildly successful and have probably contributed now today to the opposite problem: too many elephants.

By 2010 it was becoming apparent to me and many others that “poaching” was no longer such an evil enterprise as the criminal manifestations of local Africans with little or no hope for a decent future.

Instead of the giant corporate poaching of the 80s, with chartered helicopters and battalions of mysterious workers using bazookas and supersized nets, later poaching became a one-off affair of a group of disenfranchised and disenchanted young men.

One at a time the elephant tusks would find their way to some intriguing broker like the Queen of Ivory rather than dozens/hundreds of tusks packed into containers. Still the black-market was tenacious until China finally cracked down and forced its largest online retailers to remove all ivory products from sale.

At that point things turned quickly, and that was around 2016-2017. The trend line towards extinction was reversed long before, but the down line for annual populations clearly and unmistakably popped up.

And it’s been improving even more ever since, yet the “conversation about elephants” continued to be dominated by grandiose conservation organizations still panning the extinction theory! You can put practically every big conservation organization into this category.

This conservation pitch is woefully similar to the political “Big Lie.”

What was once a genuine plea to save our biggest land mammal has become the biggest conservation scam of the last hundred years. And guess what. It’s not helping elephants.

The Conversation. The conversation that we better start having is the natural competition between a growing population of humans and a growing population of elephants that is not sustainable without careful refereering.

“We need to take a holistic view of elephants and their long term effects on an entire system while considering changing landscapes, human beings living with elephants, anthropogenic changes to the land and the elephants themselves,” correctly states African Geographic.

And its pointless for Botswana and Angola to trade their excess back and forth, or for Zimbabwe to mass slaughter. What I think is needed is South Africa’s Kruger policies, which have changed over the last century always for the good of the overall ecosystem, including elephants. African Geographic’s excellent article linked to above details much of this successful strategy.

But it’s complex and sometimes necessitates a population decline. Sometimes, there’s culling. This is such an emotive issue that it’s hard to garner public support. It also becomes awfully divisive, pitting hunters against animal lovers.

Single issue politics is usually bad. Single issue conservation is, too.

When we migrate from “Save the Elephants” to “Save the Planet” we’ll discover quite quickly that elephants are an important part of that new mission and that the odds of saving both improve substantially.

Lion on Safari

Lion on Safari

Early this morning I finished a number of phone conversations with friends, staff and property owners in East Africa, mostly in Tanzania and Kenya. I’m encouraged … with caveats.

The small companies are dying like flies. The big, mid-market companies are also on life-support and some of them already hanging from the edge. Upmarket companies, or small companies owned by deep pocketed investors seem to be all that’s left. Even the bottom feeders seemed to have fled Dodge.
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God’s Will

God’s Will

No doubt that Paul Rusesabagina, fictionalized as the hero of “Hotel Rwanda,” supports the revolutionary group that successfully blew up tiny bits of Rwanda over the last five years. But was his tricked kidnapping by a wicked priest for a show trial in Kigali the right way to keep Rwandans from massacring each other?

Rusesabagina, now a Belgian citizen and permanent U.S. resident, was sentenced to 25 years in prison yesterday for treason against Rwanda. His story reveals better than most the extraordinary supremacy of authoritarianism over the complexities of truth and history.
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Pox on Vax

Pox on Vax

Is naming anti-vaxxers who die of Covid a moral strategy for promoting vaccination?

No, says Elizabeth Bruenig in this month’s Atlantic. Yes, counters University of Cape Town professor Nicoli Nattrass.

The “Death Shaming” controversy is on big time. It’s on because Delta is mowing down those who flaunt it, and it’s on because the madness that denies vaccine science can just as readily deny the anti-vaxxer’s obits.
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Missed Connection

Missed Connection

The week following Labor Day is always a chaotic one for the travel industry and African tourism in particular, and this one was no exception! Does that mean that the pandemic is over and everyone’s packing their bags?

Not exactly, but … close. The Delta variant is a game changer. Problem is that we really don’t know how much of game changer yet. And while uncertainty is often travel’s greatest nemesis, it just doesn’t seem to be the case, today. I really sense that the educated – especially veteran travelers – believe they understand more about the pandemic than they don’t, nudging uncertainty only a tad into the spotlight.
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20 Years?

20 Years?

Nine-Eleven is a bookmark for me as I’m sure for many others. Whether it deserves the attention Americans are giving to it is a hot question in Africa, where there are effectively nine-elevens quite often. The surprise hurt, loss and lasting grief from a strangers’ act to individuals and communities occurs at the same or greater scale all over the developing world with a frequency many Americans deny.
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Really Lost

Really Lost

Yes, I’ve found a connection between the Serengeti and right-wing propaganda. Didn’t expect it would be so easy, but the take-home is that somebody out there – governments or dictators or god incarnate – needs to control social media. The wild west of information dissemination is destroying truth and I worry it may never be restored.
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Labor Day Lies

Labor Day Lies

RaisedFist1Today marks the extended “Labor Day” weekend holiday in the United States, Thursday-Monday. America’s ‘May Day’ is officially Monday but everyone takes the whole long weekend off.

Vacations end, schools reopen, the fall sports season begins, the culture season with operas and symphonies begin in the great cities… Well, not now. Covid continues to wreck havoc on America; only about half the country is fully vaccinated. Some vaccine is going to waste. How could this be?
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