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.

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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