OnSafari: Rains

OnSafari: Rains

We’d had an 8-hour morning game drive, followed by a wonderful lunch al fresco and everyone was enjoying the afternoon in their tents or in the tree house overlooking hundreds of miles of the western Serengeti. When the storm came.

The reputation of the start of the November rains will never be actually achieved, but for sure our experience in both the eastern and western Serengeti explains it. After thunder and lightning like you’d never imagine, the water came down like a river falling from the sky.
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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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Still a Pig

Still a Pig

Did you bathe recently? Use any body creams or lotions? Cream cheese or margarine on your bagel? Drive your Corolla to work? Then you’re one of the 4+ billion world-wide users of palm oil.

Today palm oil comes mostly from Africa. Ten times the value and quantity of oil is produced from a single acre of palm trees as from an acre of soybeans. And for the time being, anyway, it’s cheaper.

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New Day

New Day

In the runup to Earth Day a leading bank in Africa convened some of the world’s most provocative if controversial financiers to foretell Earth’s future.

ABSA may not have the assets or power of Deutsche or CitiGroup but it has the unique advantage of being untied to the world’s toughest institutions like The Fed, Exxon or the Trump Family. Unfettered from a world economy that is about to massively change, ABSA’s Daniel Mminele is probably a better convention organizer for the view of a future world economy than Jamie Dimon.

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Covid Conservation

Covid Conservation

Wild animals and wildernesses are seriously endangered by the pandemic … not from disease, but from humans.

Poaching is increasing worldwide… not as in the past for black-market animals, but for food. Equally important communities worldwide are reducing their support for wildlife conservation, because wildlife authorities are ignoring the increasing human/wildlife conflict.

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Climate Conflict

Climate Conflict

The worst locust outbreak ever seen in Africa, the most insidious virus ever known to man, the most flooding and worst earthquakes in history… then, bloodshed.

All Africa journalist Jerry Chifamba has just completed a series of in-depth reports on how accelerating conflict in Africa is directly linked to climate change. No surprise, or is it just that we don’t want to be surprised, anymore.

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OnSafari: Flowers

OnSafari: Flowers

Extremeley few Americans come to South Africa to do what my nine travelers and I are doing right now in Clanwilliam in the Cedarberg Mountains. Most Americans believe “Africa” means “lion” and little else.

Lions are one of my principal passions, but particularly when pursued in southern Africa I actually think there are other kinds of attractions that are more interesting and exciting. Like …flowers.

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OnSafari: Panoramic Route

OnSafari: Panoramic Route

Monday we spent touring what many South Africans consider the most beautiful part of their country, the “Panoramic Route.”

The route covers a part of the northern Drakensberg Mountain Range in the eastern part of the country. These are very small mountains by North American standards. The highest point, Thabana Ntlenyana, is just under 11,500′ on the border with Lesotho.

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Endangered ESA

Endangered ESA

The evisceration or even outright repeal of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of the best illustrations of what’s going on in America, today.

The ESA is a socialist policy initiated by Richard Nixon and enacted because of proactive Republican support in the face of considerable Democratic resistance. This exact mirror image of today proves that politics, not ideas, generate American policy.

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Twinkling Twain

Twinkling Twain

Our universe is composed of the natural world and our human imprint on it. Rarely the twain shall meet in a modern world. But from time to time they do: look at northern Kenya, today.

Conservationists who believe Kenya is moving too recklessly to develop oil in its northern deserts, and the neglected people who live there who stood to benefit, are today allied in opposing the development.

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