Clarity 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?
A video going viral was given leave to emerge into the public consciousness because of the news gap between Irma dissipating and Trump beginning to, again. It was of two stately white reticulated giraffe found in an unusual forest in Kenya.
The excitement provoked a massive use of smiley emoji not used so often, anymore. How ironic this isn’t really good news. So sorry, folks, white animals aren’t unusual. And it’s anything but good news.
There’s no more beautiful place now than Kenya’s Maasai Mara. Sweeping landscapes of dramatic hills and jagged mountains; valleys lush with acacia, fig and muratina forests and so many clear-running streams and rivers – it’s impossible to beat.
So guess what we saw this morning?
A good safari is an adventure, and an adventure takes effort. I keep thinking of the phrase, “No Pain – No Gain.” Sure, we can end the day at an unbelievably luxurious place with bubble bath and champagne. But just take a look at a successful safari traveler stepping out of her vehicle at the end of the day:
You won’t see the Belle of the Ball.
As usual for this time of year it was bone dry. Mornings were still and cold. Saturn twinkled above in the ink blue predawn sky almost as brightly as the half moon which had set in the middle of the night. The sun rose as a giant orange ball behind a charcoal grey curtain of dust and the first breezes tossled the fields of dead, blonde grass. By noon dust devils twisted across the veld. By afternoon strong winds obliterated the cloudless sky with layers of dust.
Pundits like to advise potential safari travelers that this is the best time to see cats. To a certain extent that’s true. But what they see isn’t often what they expect:
Politics are changing lightning fast and climate is changing lightning fast, and now it seems that wild animal behavior is also seriously changing.
I’ve written about the catastrophic decline of lions, but recently we learned of one of the weirdest wild animal behaviors ever: inter-species nursing! Combined with several years ago, when a lionness adopted an oryx (!) in Samburu, I think we’re seeing nature desperately trying to evolve as fast as earth’s temperatures warm.
Why are professionals from zoo directors to scientists – much less you! – less interested in the lion decline than the elephant decline? Why are you donating to Save The Elephants but not Save the Lions?
Lions-Wild estimates there were more than 100,000 lion living in the wild when I started my career. Today there are 15-20,000. That decline is greater and much more alarming than that of rhino or elephant. Worse yet the world’s most important lion researchers say another 50% decline will occur in just the next few years? Why is there so much less interest in the lion decline? I think I know the answer.
NPR’s fuzzy wuzzy reporting in the last few days about the northern white rhino is high school journalism. I’m not suggesting that this story needs the due diligence of Jared Kushner’s Russia contacts, but what is an important battle between science and performance NPR has reduced to a smiling emoticon.
NPR reported as if it were new a crowdfunding campaign for in vitro fertilization to save the last three known surviving northern white rhino. In fact the campaign has languished for more than sixteen months. And there are good reasons it’s languishing.
After a decade of successful recovery by a worldwide effort to save wild dogs they are threatened once again.
Enough habitats have been secured and enough bred in the wild and reintroduced that except for one obstruction, they would currently be thriving. That one obstruction is human: farmers whose stock has been taken down.
I hate to say it, but lions are climbing trees more than ever before. I’ve got to figure this one out.
Lions have always climbed trees, but honestly not as much as people report them doing, now. On my own safaris I’ve noticed it, and blog and after blog today confirms the behavior as if it were as normal as strutting across the veld to find a piece of shade to flop down into. So how come?
World authorities were unable last week to adequately address the “elephant problem” at COP17 even as more and more elephant attacks are reported.
Conservationists focus on saving elephants from further population declines, but you can’t save anything that large and powerful if you don’t first protect the human beings that they threaten.
COP17, the CITES treaty working group, is winding down like a firecracker with the biggest boom possibly yet to come. Southern African countries prevailed in a bitter fight to keep all elephants from being listed as imminently going extinct, and the fight over lions begins today.
CITES was absolutely fundamental in saving elephants from extinction 30 years ago. But times have changed. Has it lost its power to politics?
More than two thousand ardent scientists and advocates are in Johannesburg today preparing for next year’s CITES. Historical treaties like the Geneva Convention may actually effect our daily lives more noticeably but only CITES has attracted such global consensus that enforcement is aggressive and routine.
Today horse trading like you’ve never seen is going on, but in the end unlike so much else in today’s troubled world, everybody really will come together.
Sound nice? Yes, it is, but there’s still this one thing….
The great King of Beasts might soon be something less. It’s not just the statistical decline. It’s losing its glamor. It’s important that we outsiders don’t force this issue. Africans are handling it just fine.
But you’d never guess which Africans.
There is not just one giraffe animal. There are four giraffe animals. Open your mind. Get yourself comfortable. This is incredible news.
Using astoundingly advanced DNA typing, scientists last week announced that the tall, slender-necked animal that all of us blithely call “giraffe” may not be. Or rather, may be several times over. Let me explain.