Klassy Kruger

Klassy Kruger

Kruger National Park in South Africa remains the best managed large wilderness on earth. (Yellowstone is close but suffers from too little regulation because consumer demand is so high and ranchers so powerful.) But “best managed” does not mean most “spectacular” or “awe-inspiring” and definitely not “wildest.” Those attributes belong absolutely to the Serengeti.

And it’s the reason the Serengeti is so much more threatened than Kruger. The wildness of the Serengeti just doesn’t fit in with modern life.

Poorly managed and under-resourced kids are still being trampled by elephants, farmers are victimized by diseases like hoof-and-mouth and yellow fever that run rampant in a truly wild environment, and necessary dams and structured catchments essential for agriculture can’t be implemented without random destruction to the wild.
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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.

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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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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Defining Riches

Defining Riches

Next week the Zambian High Court might obliterate one of the last great remote wildernesses on earth.

One of the most difficult and expensive and pristine natural wildernesses in Africa is the Chiawa reserve on the Zambezi river in south central Zambia. After years of bribing, subterfuge and international challenges, this remote wild might be sacrificed for copper.

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Lost Charities

Lost Charities

The West is less trusted today than at any other time in modern history; this shouldn’t surprise anyone. What is surprising is that the mistrust extends from governments to non-governments, even into wildlife organizations.

The arrogance of Western wildlife organizations is now bared to African anger. There was always suspicion: why do “Mzungu” pay so much money to save elephants? (“Mzungu” is roughly translated from the Swahili as “white man” or “European” and less so as “non-African.”)

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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: Mokala NP

OnSafari: Mokala NP

Yesterday I saw more endangered big game species in four hours than I usually see in a decade of safaris in Africa. Add to that a manipulated zebra species but frankly, I’m going to have to work on having enjoyed this.

Mokala National Park is South Africa’s newest national park. It’s a massive big game wilderness laboratory. Fifteen years ago there was nothing here. Today it contains the largest concentration of near extinct big game on earth.

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Hunting or Survival

Hunting or Survival

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What wildlife authority in Africa recently issued this edict:

“Many wild animals in (?) have become displaced as the result of urban growth and habitat loss. [They] are becoming more common in urban areas and are frequently seen by people. These animals can cause problems. A resident landowner or tenant can legally capture some species of wild animals without a permit if the animal is discovered damaging property.”

Kenya, South Africa?

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Elephant Controversies

Elephant Controversies

When I defend zoos to my clients on safari I point out the structural shift zoos began three or four decades ago away from public entertainment. Most zoos have shrunk in physical size. Most now have fewer animals on display and most spend increasing amounts of their revenue on field conservation and scientific research.

I enjoy telling safari visitors that almost all animals born today in zoos come from parents that were born in zoos. There is an exception, elephants, and that’s erupted into a major controversy.

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PeekABoo

PeekABoo

Hours ago a Botswana government report was released recommending that the ban on elephant hunting and culling be revoked, because there are too many elephants.

“Too many” is, of course, a subjective determination. I argue vigorously that the vast majority of deer culling in the United States is wrong including most hunting, but I agree with the Botswana government that there are too many elephants. Culling might be the only answer. Hunting is not.

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World Lion Day

World Lion Day

Today is World Lion Day, an unofficial designation employed by wildlife organizations. In the last quarter century the population of The King has declined dramatically. World Lion Day is intended to focus public interest on The King’s travails.

Needless to say public interest in The King is the highest among wild animals and that directly translates into interest at academic and public levels. Unfortunately, the huge amount of consistent data gathered on The King’s decline is not generating enough correct public policy. Most field efforts by the big-name conservation organizations fail to show sufficient consideration for the local people.

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Wildly Privileged

Wildly Privileged

Rwanda was first: hike the hourly fee for visiting a mountain gorilla to $1000. Tanzania followed: Two years ago the fee was $35/day in the Serengeti. Today (linked to where you’re staying), it’s $100.

The wilderness has been reserved for the rich. You know the rich don’t like to mess around with the hoi-polloi. Clear the Serengeti of teachers, laborers and clerks, and the parade of Gucci clad inbreds will arrive. And the eminent conservationist, Craig Packer, is thrilled.

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WIld & Diverse

WIld & Diverse

YellowstoneYellowstone, Kruger, Ngorongoro Crater, the Mara – four of the most precious ecosystems on earth – are becoming as crowded as Disneyland. Is this right? Is it necessary?

I never intended to visit an American national park in the high season, but I completely forgot about the Memorial Day weekend. It was an eye-opener. Yellowstone is a beautiful, healthy, diverse wilderness. We saw good game and the explosion of spring wild flowers is astounding. But there were so many people I had a very difficult time.

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