Doesn’t Falls

Doesn’t Falls

Victoria Falls without falls is disturbing enough but there are even more disturbing aspects to the viral dissemination of the falls turned off.

More than several times I’ve seen the falls this way. It reflects a severe drought to the west. But right now really destructive torrential rains are destroying large towns and major agricultural areas to the west as the drought breaks. In several months the falls will be running wild. No one seems to mention that… this time.

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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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Extreme Responsibility

Extreme Responsibility

A Florida woman canoeing down the Zambezi nearly lost her leg after being attacked by a hippo and undergoing hours of surgery in Johannesburg earlier this week.

Kristen and Ryan Yaldor were celebrating Kristen’s 37th birthday on one of my most favorite trips when I was younger. The guide noticed something unusual to the right, told the couple to paddle to the left, and moments later Kristen was in the mouth of an angry mother hippo.

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Stick it to ’em!

Stick it to ’em!

elephant tusk ban rescindedHere’s the thing: we should all be upset with USFW’s reversing a ban on importing elephant tusks, but it’s not quite the story you think. As described below I could see a Hillary administration doing the same thing.

What Ryan Zinke did (please let’s stop pinning everything on the moron Donald Trump who doesn’t even know the difference between African and Indian elephants) will definitely set back wildlife conservation in Africa, but in the panoply of so many other anti-conservation actions in the last few years, it’s minor. It’s the panoply which is major, which makes every minor move that much worse.

You need to focus on the facts. Stick with me.

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Death by Elephant

Death by Elephant

elechargeAnother two tourists were killed by elephant Saturday.

There are conflicting accounts of the deaths. The official Zambian police report claims that the 57-year old Belgian woman walked “too close” to take photos. But family members of the two killed told the Lusaka Times “the duo were looking at the giant mammals from a distance” and were charged unexpectedly.

In the big scheme of things, here’s why the details matter less than you might think.

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Jumbo Politics

Jumbo Politics

luangwaselesAfter elephants “terrified” a Kenyan politician campaigning near Tsavo National Park, the candidate told supporters the government has done “Very little… to make sure human-wildlife conflict is addressed.”

A few weeks earlier Kenya’s proud new SGR train plowed into a cow in the same area because elephants had torn down the fence along the rail line.

In the last few months I’ve seen first-hand the increasing human/wildlife conflict.  It’s not a pretty scene.

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OnSafari: Sand Rivers Wrapup

OnSafari: Sand Rivers Wrapup

chinzombo889The middle of sub-Saharan Africa, about a million square miles, includes the “sand river” big game wildlife parks. We’ve just finished 16 days exploring these less visited areas, and we had a ball and some incredible successes game viewing.

This entire swath of Africa, roughly from mid-Tanzania south to the Zambezi River, is mostly vast, sandy scrubland that reminds many Americans of the midveld near the “Four Corners” where Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico meet. The big difference with Four Corners and this area is its namesake, the great sand rivers that drain so much of the continent.

Here’s a quick summary of our trip:

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OnSafari: Walk or Not

OnSafari: Walk or Not

dogandhyaenaluangwaFinishing our first extraordinary dinner on the banks of the Luangwa River, the best of South African wines were still pouring into our glasses. Hurricane lamps lit our elegantly set table and the southern cross with a million other twinkling stars bounced off the river like fireflies.

The robust conversation ebbed with the last of the chocolate-laced profiteroles washed down with still more Shiraz, and the African symphony which of course had never abated took over the night.

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OnSafari: Mchenja, Luangwa

OnSafari: Mchenja, Luangwa

hippobabyluangwaThe rains north of the Zambezi were good and normal as they had been the year before. So the wild highveld of the valley was saved from the devastating drought just south. There was nothing unusual that the great Luangwa was slowly drying up, pulling in from its sometimes third-mile wide caked sand banks. This was normal. It was the solstice. Winter was here and all was still well.

The cloudless, mostly windless vistas of the valley seemed to expand as the river shrunk. The landscapes of the Luangwa Valley are massive, reminding me of the vast Serengeti plains in an odd way because here the river dominates everything, not the plains.

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OnSafari: Sand Rivers

OnSafari: Sand Rivers

Rufiji.selous.aerialOnSafari: Going into the bush, again! A wonderful small group of people, and joined for part of the time by the most important person in the world, my wife!

We’re truly heading off the beaten track to the sand rivers of central Tanzania and Zambia. How will this differ from a more traditional safari in East or southern Africa?

First of all we’re likely to encounter fewer animals overall, but more kinds (species) of animals. This is because we’ll be far removed from the popular and heavily used game parks that abut newly developing areas in northern Tanzania and Kenya, and the eastern “Transvaal” of South Africa.

That human/wildlife conflict that flares so often on the periphery of the great, traditional parks buffers wildness from seeping into the human populated areas. When wild animals and their habitat is more seriously confined, they tend to accelerate their own survival behaviors and this increases the ecosystem tensions.

What this has meant in places like the Serengeti or the Kruger area is that herbivore populations are exploding. In Kruger they cull. In East Africa they do nothing, but in both cases it tends to put at serious disadvantage many smaller animals and animals with fewer numbers to begin with.

I think several species of antelope provide the example. Both sable, roan and oryx were once seen regularly in the big parks, but they are no longer. This in part is because the exploding populations of the more common antelope like wildebeest and partner species like zebra have simply squeezed out these more specialized antelope. I hope to see some of these on our safari, now.

Now don’t jump to too many conclusions! The Serengeti is still my favorite place in the world. It is normally these big, popular parks that a first safari should choose to visit.

But many factors should be considered in deciding where to go, and where we’re going is little seen, very very wild and with great biodiversity. Perhaps most importantly of all, it is a cohesive group of friends with similar hopes and anticipations.

We start in The Selous which vies with Etosha Pan of Namibia to be the largest wildlife park on earth, exceeding 20,000 sq. miles. This is the same size as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware combined!

The Selous is mostly a giant wetlands, defined by great rivers which become sand rivers as they stretch away from the coast. What is particularly urgent about visiting The Selous is that one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects is being built here. The great Rufiji River will be dammed up. No one is sure how this will effect this massive wilderness.

We then go into the center of Tanzania to the great Ruaha National Park, another massive wilderness with the lowest density of tourists in any of Tanzania’s major big game parks.

We’ll then have an exciting stint in Zanzibar before going to Zambia and visiting it’s most important wilderness, the great South Luangwa.

Stay tuned! I’ll blog as often as wifi allows.

Tribalism Exploding

Tribalism Exploding

VicFallsTrblFor the moment, there is no part of Victoria Falls comfortable for tourists. The Zimbabwean side of Africa’s greatest tourist attraction is ready to explode as President Mugabe’s health fails. Livingstone on the Zambian side Tuesday was filled with the smoke of burning tires and tear gas.

Britain issued new travel advice for Zambia this morning, but it was hardly severe urging its citizens simply to stay abreast of current news. The U.S. currently has travel warnings issued for 39 countries and “Europe as a Whole” but nothing this morning for Zambia.

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Click or Bang

Click or Bang

NorthLuangwaThe tug between conservation and hunting has reached a crescendo in Zambia where 30 years of effort by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) is in jeopardy.

The vast wilderness of eastern Zambia is divided into two great reserves, North & South Luangwa. Like the Serengeti some of the land at the periphery of the these national parks is used for sports hunting.

But unlike the Serengeti Luangwa can well nigh afford hunting. While it contains the richest biomass in Zambia, it’s scant compared to the Serengeti. So as tourism demand increased over the last thirty years Zambian officials correctly reduced leases for hunting.

But in the last 4-5 years tourism has declined continent-wide while there has been a marked increase in demand for sports hunting. So Zambian officials are reversing themselves and allowing more and more hunting.

The most dramatic reversal came in August, 2014.

There was an outcry from the public. This remark taken off the Zambia National Park’s Facebook page is representative:

“Trophy hunting for rich foreigners will not bring tourists to Zambia, it will deter them from coming… I can assure you, I will not visit any country which squanders its wildlife for the pleasure of a few disturbed individuals.”

Immediately the parks authority reversed the reversal, but immediately after that the umbrella state agency above tourism reversed back to the original reversal. The state of confusion has never been resolved.

I see two obvious forces at work here: The first is that sports hunting is on the increase, particularly from Russia and the United States, with very strong increases from a number of South American countries like Argentina. The revenue lost from tourism hurts. From a business point of view, it makes sense to increase capacity in response to increased demand.

But second is probably more significant: the rank confusion reigning between Zambia’s various authorities suggests corruption is rampant. Hunters tend to be quite rich and professional hunting guides are the government pay masters.

Three weeks ago the German embassy hosted a party in Lusaka to celebrate three decades of partnership between FZS and the Zambian government conserving North Luangwa.

A recent elephant survey showed that North Luangwa has the densest elephant population in the country and the most promising black rhino programs.

“I think it is fair to say that 20 years ago no one would have anticipated this development,” the project leader, Ed Sayer, told the guests.

In fairness one of the reasons North Luangwa’s elephant population is the most dense is because there has been so much poaching in the country’s other reserves.

According to Katarzyna Nowak, a South African elephant researcher, Zambia’s Kafue reserve lost almost half its elephant population to poaching since 2004.

North Luangwa is the most remote of Zambia’s reserves. That applies equally to tourists, hunters and poachers. Kafue is much more accessible.

Moreover, hunters themselves are disparaging of Zambia’s reduced game:

“…the quality [of lion and leopard hunting in Zambia] is on the decline due to hunting pressure and one needs a good deal of time to be sure of a good trophy,” writes safariBwana.com which labels itself “The African Hunting Authority.”

Last year neighboring Botswana banned all hunting, and until then it had been a significant hunting destination.

Scraping the old barrel to get the last bit of honey out of it might just crack the barrel.

No Vote Can Change This

No Vote Can Change This

AfricaDroughtWeather events – like football – keep getting nastier, and the more we comment on them the less attention we pay.

El Nino is flooding away America, but it’s also drying to a crisp much of southern Africa. That’s what severe weather is all about: When part of the world burns up another part freezes solid.

FEWS, the world’s early famine warning system, issued a severe drought alert last week for portions of eastern southern Africa. FEWS is not a weather forecaster per se, but an organization that anticipates what the weather will do:

In this case, a “food security crisis … is considered likely in the latter half of 2016 and early 2017.” ‘Food Security Crisis’ is just a step above “famine.”

Absolutely the world’s best forecaster globally is America’s own and proud NOAA. (That’s only since the Obama administration, by the way. Previous Republican administrations had eviscerated its funding.)

NOAA predicts a moisture deficit crisis for all of Zimbabwe, more than half of Mozambique, much of Zambia, some Botswana and nearly the entire eastern half of South Africa.

NOAA’s predictions further out suggest a return to normal. From FEWS perspective, though, that’s not good, because starting in March “normal” in southern Africa is the start of a long dry season.

Combined with the failure of rains in the past rainy season because of El Nino, food production will be lost over much of the area.

Tourism may also be effected. Earlier this year a number of Okavango Delta camps suspended their water-based activities because the water levels were so low.

There’s been some improvement, but not enough according to the University of Botswana:

“Tourism activities have so far become the first casualties of the on-going drought as water levels go down in the Okavango Delta,” a professor of tourism from the university warned last week.

My own sources suggest it’s not quite that bad yet, but water-based activities are being assessed on a daily basis.

More critical to the wildernesses of southern Africa, though, antelope populations like sassaby, wildebeest, hartebeest and zebra are declining. These great herds are less adaptable to drought conditions than other ungulates like giraffe and buffalo. (From a tourist point of view, by the way, dry conditions usually mean better predator encounters.)

Further east, though, including the great Kruger National Park, its equally famous surrounding private reserves like Sabi Sands, and almost all of Zambia’s reserves could face real trouble next year. When elephants start dying tourism isn’t exactly boosted up.

Humans can’t handle a drought as well as animals.

“Now that the drought has become even more severe, [food] production has nosedived,” the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board announced a couple weeks ago.

South Africa’s third largest city, Durban, began water rationing last July, and the situation has worsened considerably. By November publicly provided water systems were cut back 50% to both residences, businesses and farmers.

Sunday Durban began distributing bottled water to more than 2 million residents.

Compared to those in the South we in the North handle climate change pretty well, at least so far. Despite the headline news of apartments in mudslides, entire cities flooding down the river and beachfront eroding away, we aren’t starving and we aren’t likely to.

That’s not the case in the South. South Africa is the exception, although the climate situation there is so severe that it’s likely to put the country into a recession. But even that academic economic term carries a certainty that while dinners-out will be fewer, dinners-in will still happen.

Elsewhere in Africa’s south, that’s not the case. With each new climate change event there is greater hurt put on the world. Building walls might prevent the pain from getting to us right now, but someday it’s just going to get too severe.