Update on UP

Update on UP

Africa is breaking as covid cases surge.

Data collection and compilation varies so dramatically one country to another. Moreover collection and compilation has improved equally dramatically since the start of the pandemic, so each country’s numbers may be inflated by their improved collections. Suffice it to say that not a single African country reports the situation improving and many are sounding the alarm.
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Everything Dies

Everything Dies

The mysterious death of 330 elephants in May and June in Botswana is the result of cyanobacteria, according to the Botswana government.

“That’d be nuts if it turned out there was an exclusive elephanticidal” caused by cyanobacteria, according to Chicago bacteriologist, Dr. Peter Sullivan who specializes in cyanobacteria. “My guess is it’s something behavioral amongst the animals.”

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Elephant Bus

Elephant Bus

Suspend your belief. I found an African charity that doesn’t boil my blood.

The human/wild animal conflict in Africa is almost as politically volatile as climate change throughout much of – especially rural Africa. Elephants in particular are the problem and a tour company has done something admirable about it.

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OnSafari with Hurricanes

OnSafari with Hurricanes

Cyclone Kenneth was the strongest hurricane ever to hit Africa and only the fourth on record. It plowed into Mozambique on April 21 with 143 mph winds.

Then, just three weeks later Cyclone Ida crashed into the same place! With winds of 127 mph it refused to move like Kenneth or normal hurricanes. It sat over Mozambique for more than three weeks wrecking untold destruction.

Like drunken gluttons these two disasters seemed to have sucked away Africa’s moisture for years to come. Terrible unpredicted droughts have popped up all over the subcontinent. My safari just ended in Botswana, a thousand kilometers west of where the hurricanes struck. It was a mess, an utter drought.

African agriculture has tumbled. Local currencies have tanked. Mozambique and surrounding areas of Zambia and Tanzania have been utterly destroyed. Millions remain displaced.

This is not the screenplay for an apocalyptic movie. It happened six months ago. The two hurricanes are the worst natural disaster in the history of Africa but unfortunately that record is not expected to stand very long.

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OnSafari: Drought Strategies

OnSafari: Drought Strategies

We spent seven days game viewing in one of the most brutal droughts Botswana has ever seen. First-timers thought it was wonderful, because the cats are having a heyday. There was blood everywhere.

There are few pools of water left in Chobe or the Makgadikgadi that aren’t artificial. Elephant dug a few tiny pools in parched river bottoms, but it was only the drainage from camps and national park boreholes (wells) that have kept total disaster at bay.

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OnSafari: Wifi?

OnSafari: Wifi?

Friends, it’s been years since I’ve been cut off for a week from the internet, regardless of where in Africa I might have been.

The three camps we used last week all advertised internet then apologized when we arrived that it wasn’t working. Not having something — especially something promised and expected — is really hard. My blogs were written and will post starting next week. Stay tuned!

Bungling Baggage

Bungling Baggage

As I see it it’s unbridled capitalism really giving us a headache, now, and I’ve got a whopper of a story to tell you.

I’m guiding ten people in a few weeks to Botswana. The Botswana aircraft company that we use to get from camp to camp has described exactly the type of suitcases that we can’t bring, because they claim it can’t be safely stored in the plane’s belly.

Meanwhile down the line in Johannesburg (through which we have to fly to get to Botswana) airport authorities have told us that type of bag is exactly the ONLY type of suitcase that their employees will handle!

Such nonsense doesn’t happen when the times are such that “customers are always right” and everybody is vying for everybody else’s business. But that’s not the moment.

I know we’re headed into a global recession so I’m absolutely amazed that the employees and managers and representatives of safari companies in southern Africa are so blind to what’s crashing into them in just a few months that they are flaunting customer stress.

They’re all acting as if the customer can’t be right and should be foiled at every attempt to be so. For the last several years safari bookings have been at near all-time highs. I can imagine the difficulties and frustrations that poses the types of small companies which provide safari services.

But they don’t have to take it out on us!

We gave both the Botswana company, Desert ‘n Delta Safaris, and the Joburg airport authorities advance warning of this blog and asked them for comment. Neither did so.

The details actually are interesting. In the last decade there have been an unusual number of small plane crashes in Botswana. For some reason, as vibrant a tourist industry as Botswana has, their charter aircraft industry remains in the dark ages.

Like much of Alaska they tend to use very small, old single prop planes. In part this reflects a lack of building proper airstrips but it also reflects greed. The travel industry globally is ridiculously volatile. So in good times when you’d expect enthusiastic investment, it’s just the reverse. Professionals know the heyday will end and never gently. Only in safari country, for example, are investment properties guaranteed a three year R.O.I.

Ditto for planes, I guess. In any case one of the culprits identified (after a very long time and without much study) as the cause of low Botswana air safety was hard-sided luggage. It makes it difficult to pack in the very small bellies of these very small planes.

So, no hard-sided luggage.

In Joburg, meanwhile, the O.R. Tambo International airport has just racked up some of the worst statistics for an airport its size. Among those were delays caused by baggage handlers. According to airport authorities (after little study) one main reason was soft luggage that got caught in automated baggage delivery systems. So now the airport requires at least one side of every piece of luggage to be hard.

So what are we to do?

Naturally, we contacted both parties and advised them of the others’ regulations. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that neither revised their original regulations.

So what are we to do? Well, we really don’t have a choice. We’ll try to comply best we can with the Botswana requests, but we won’t even get to Botswana with our luggage if we don’t first comply with the Joburg requests!

Stay tuned. This should be interesting.

Culling Politicians

Culling Politicians

Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe claim to have 250,000 elephants – which is a bit high – and their Heads of State met yesterday to decide how to handle “too many elephants.”

Botswana has a hotly contested election in five months. Elephants are a hot button issue in that election with the president decrying “too many elephants” and offering absolutely useless but provocative methods to reduce them. He hopes this glitzy gathering of mostly unpopular Heads of State will help his cause.

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Elephant Woes

Elephant Woes

The Botswana elephant story is out of hand. Elephants Without Borders (EWB) has gone bazonkers, the Botswana government is unnecessarily defensive, October elections are driving false emotions, and exaggerated claims on all sides have damaged elephant conservation for years to come.

Animal rights activists were always easily ticked off by any poaching, but the current tense global situation has managed to raise their decibel level to unheard levels. Usually good media like the BBC aren’t telling enough of the story, thereby just making things worse.

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Dusty Kalahari

Dusty Kalahari

dalai lama and botswanaIf you can’t believe the Dalai Lama, who can you believe?

This past weekend the “chosen leader” of Tibet canceled a very important visit to Botswana, a country that is increasingly trying to become relevant on the world stage relative to its increasing wealth from diamonds and rare earths. He lied about why he canceled.

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OnSafari: Elephant Explosion

OnSafari: Elephant Explosion

eleTitleTwenty-five elephants exploded out of the forest about 400 meters away from us and cantered quickly directly at us. We were in open Landcruisers. No sides and a simple canvas top.

They stopped about half way. Not having had the time to look at the area with our binocs none of us at first realized it was a watering hole. My heart slowed down a bit. They weren’t coming at us; they were headed anxiously to water.
eleBAR
After light and late rains constrained by El Nino Savute has enjoyed some heavy rainfall recently. We were in an open meadow, but the grass was high and green and camouflaged the pond.

We watched them for a number of minutes as they sucked up huge amounts of water with their trunks then squirted it into their mouths, jostling for position. It was likely 3 or 4 families.

During our entire time in Botswana we hadn’t seen many elephants. At Savute we’d seen a group of about 20 scattered across a field, but they were all male! Before us now were real mixed families, although I noticed there were only a few juveniles and no babies at all in the group.

Then again out of the forest to the right exploded another group! This group had two youngsters under one year old. As they all gathered and jostled at this little watering hole I counted 67 elephant, with a couple huge bulls hanging slightly behind.

They didn’t linger drinking for very long. In fact I imagine many didn’t drink at all. As anxious as they seemed to get to the water, they now were equally anxious to leave.

Past us.

Our excellent driver/guide, Metal, had briefed everyone to keep quiet. The wind was in our favor. Most elephant can’t see very well or at all after they’ve reached their teenage years, but their sense of hearing and smell are acute. Our being quiet and the fortunate direction of a strong breeze meant they probably didn’t know we were there at first, or at least that we were anything too unusual.

There were two cars from our group about 70 meters apart on the road, pretty equidistant from the watering hole.

The assembled group began moving … quickly towards us. One family immediately pulled away to the right, but the big majority of them headed straight for the space between our two cars. The group to the right then circled back behind our car, and within moments, we were encircled.

When they realized that we weren’t trees or mountains or abandoned vehicles, there was some hesitation and confusion. We could hear a loud of rumbling. Humans can hear only 10% of elephants’ normal vocalization: the remainder is below our decibel level of hearing.

The big mamas pushed the babies forward anxiously with their trunks, and younger males flapped their ears at us. One very large matriarch stopped in the road and faced us as the great line of pachyderms moved quickly passed us.

Then, with a slight step or two towards us that made all our hearts stop and a flip of her ears, away she went, too.

There was no trumpeting and no real panic … on either side! It was an absolutely splendid event for our last game drive in Botswana!

Readers of my blog know that I believe there are too many elephants in Africa, today. This is particularly true in East Africa, but even here in Botswana the evidence is mounting.

Normal elephant behavior does not include large males congregating as we saw. Those males looked like residents, animals who had settled in to their environment and made peace with what normally would be a stressful living condition.

This happened during the years of heavy poaching in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Then the big tuskers took refuge in the caldera which was a safe haven from poaching. They learned to live together and never left, even when the poaching ended.

I don’t think this group in Savute has congregated for safety from poaching. It may have something to do with climate change and the radical weather all of Africa is experiencing… or something else. But it isn’t normal elephant behavior, and whatever the explanation I think a root cause is … too many elephants for whatever unusual situations exist today.

The beautiful group that passed between our two vehicles were not residents. They were traveling as elephants have been doing for millennia. When they travel it is normal for families that would normally stay well apart from one another to congregate as we saw.

The mystery remains why of so many elephants there were only 2 babies and no juveniles. The next youngest elephant I found in the group was in his teens.

Wild Africa is a never-ending source of drama and beauty. How lucky we’ve been!