Linda and I are scheduled to take three morning and three evening safari rides in the area around Laikipia Wilderness Camp. In the last 18 months, special cameras have managed to photograph the elusive African black leopard in the area. Perviously believed to be completely absent in Kenya, a team of biologists have managed to shot rare footage of the sleek big cat after spending months watching and waiting.
About 11 percent of leopards globally are black. These beautiful leopards, with their sleek black coats, are more commonly found in tropical and humid Southeast Asia. Black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. We now know that melanism, the cause of the leopard’s dark coloring, can also be found in leopards who live in semiarid climates, like that of Laikipia.
Despite being called black leopards, they are usually very dark brown and have the same pattern of spots as other leopards.
The total extent to which the leopard population has declined is unknown. Three subspecies of the leopard are classified as “critically endangered,” and two others as “endangered.”
Earth Suds is an eco-friendly startup whose goal is to eliminate all single-use plastic amenity bottles (containing shampoo, conditioner and bodywash) and replace them with sustainable tablets that dissolve and lather like traditional soaps.
Although EarthSuds tablets started as a solution for hotels, the tablets are now being offered to the general public.
I first tried their Starter Pack, containing 5 tablets each of their shampoo, conditioner and body soap. More than satisfied, I went back for more of their shampoo and conditioner. I also ordered their larger (and reusable) travel case.
The tablets are not inexpensive, which stops me from using them on a regular basis. Still, they will be a forever item while traveling.
It’s a simple product with huge ramifications. The simple part: Crush the tablet, then along with a small bit of water, work up a nice lather in your hands, then wash like any other liquid soap. The huge ramifications: Earth Suds have the potential to eliminate the 5.7 billion amenity bottles sent to landfills every year in North America alone.
Earth Suds was named a top 10 global finalist in the National Geographic Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge.
The product achieves all three dimensions of sustainability: economically it generates and re-invests profits, socially it employs adults with developmental disabilitie, and environmentally it eliminates single-use plastics.
RUNNING LIST OF ITEMS purchased in preparation for the Kenya/Uganda trip (some I may use again, some probably not)
Lions live in grasslands and plains. They do not live in the jungle.
The lion is the only member of the cat family that displays obvious markings (its mane) that distinguish the male from the female. A male’s mane grows darker as it ages. Female lions prefer males with fuller, thicker, darker manes.
The roar of a lion can be heard from 5 miles away. Lions use their roar as a form of communication. It identifies individuals, strengthens the pride’s bond, and lets other animals know of the pride’s domain.
A new-born lion has dark spots, which fade as the cub reaches adulthood.
Daughters stay with their mothers for life and may eventually have their own cubs. Sons will leave the pride at maturity in search of a pride of their own.
Unlike most other cat species, lions live in large groups called prides. A pride consists of multiple related females, their dependent offspring and two or three unrelated males. In the wild, lions rest for around 20 hours a day.
Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters. The males are first to eat when the female lions return with their kill. The kill is not shared equally within a pride, and at times of prey scarcity, cubs might experience higher mortality rates as hungry females may not even share with their offspring. A pride isn’t formed primarily for catching dinner or sharing parenting chores. They also need each other to ward off the dangerous advances of other lions.
A tuft at the end of the tail is a distinct characteristic of the lion.
African Lions May Be Extinct by 2050.
African lions may be facing extinction by the year 2050. The reason for the decline of the king of beasts can be summed up in one word: people. As more East Africans take up farming and ranching, they push farther into lion country. In just two decades, populations decreased by 43 percent. It’s estimated that as few as 23,000 remain today.
Linda and I have plans to join Jacob Rothschild and his son for breakfast in late August. Lord Jacob, 4th Barron and member of the prominent Rothschild banking family, lives here in his palatial manor, 35 minutes outside of Nairobi, Kenya.
No, wait! This is not his home, and he and his son are not the Rothschilds we’ll be joining for breakfast. We’ll be eating breakfast with the Rothschild’s giraffes at Giraffe Manor.
The manor house was built in 1932 as a hunting lodge. In 1974, the lodge and surrounding grounds were turned into a giraffe sanctuary when the new owners learned that Rothschild’s giraffes were in danger of extinction. (The apostrophe is in the right place, by the way.) Since then, Rothschild’s giraffes have thrived, with 140 acres of indigenous forest to make their home, alongside warthogs, dik diks, waterbucks and over 180 species of bird.
There are more than ten giraffes on the property these days. They’re very used to the manor’s guests. In the morning, they put their heads through the open windows in order to eat the pellets that are served alongside each guest’s breakfast order.
Rothschild’s giraffes are one of the most endangered populations of giraffe, with 1,669 individuals estimated in the wild in 2016. They display no markings on the lower leg.
They are the only giraffes to be born with 5 ossicones. Two of these are the larger and more obvious ones at the top of the head, which are common to all giraffes. The third ossicone can often be seen in the center of the giraffe’s forehead, and the other two are behind each ear.
The Rothschild’s giraffe was named after Walter Rothschild, the above mentioned Jacob Rothschild’s great uncle. Walter Rothschild, 2nd Barron was a London banker, politician and zoologist. One hundred fifty-three insects, 58 birds, 17 mammals, three fish, three spiders, two reptiles, one millipede and one worm also carry his name.
Kenda Mutongi, a professor of history at MIT, writes about the development of the matatu bus business amid the backdrop of a developing country with all the inevitable problems associated with a neophyte nation.
She tells of the ingenuity and tenacity of Nairobi’s mwanainchi (true citizens) despite the racist policies, economic oppression, and political corruption that permeated their world.
Though I lack even the tiniest bit of knowledge concerning urban development, Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi offered me a way to navigate the socioeconomic and political themes that play out in a newly developing, fast growing city.
I’m captivated by today’s matatu culture. Perhaps that’s why Professor Mutongi’s book, which might otherwise have been a long, laborious educational workshop was, for me, a fascinating adventure. The professor describes how Nairobi’s rapid growth ran in parallel with the evolution of the matatu transport business, as she chronicles both events from the time Britain relinquished colonial control, on into the twenty-first century. The two processes intertwine so completely that her claim that the success of one could not have happened without the success of the other, appears indisputable.
Matatu: A History doesn’t read like a dry, slow-moving textbook, but rather an engrossing tale of exploding urbanization, poverty, racism, bribery and exploitation, along with entrepreneurship, upward mobility, artistic expression, pop culture and a city’s sputtering lurch toward democracy. It’s all there for the reader to absorb.
Need something lighter? Try The Matatu by Eric Walters.
From the Forward by Ruth Kaytha, Director of The Creation of Hope
“Every culture has its own folktales and stories. Among the Kamba of Kikima, Kenya there is a story told about animals and matatus. Eric Walters and I were driving around when I told him a brief version of the story about the goat, the sheep and the dog. He decided to expand it and create a picturebook. We believe Kamba stories should be told by members of our tribe. In June of 2009, Eric was made a Kamba elder. It is only fitting that Eric has expanded and retold this Kamba story, as we consider him one of our own.”
A number of internet sites warn tourists against using Nairobi’s matatus, citing their utter disregard for traffic laws, lurking pickpockets and eager conmen. Other travel guides tout the buses’ quirkiness, with one detailing how to take kids on a tour of Nairobi using matatus as the singular mode of transportation.
I’m not remotely interested in cars of any kinda, but I became fascinated with these mobile works of art, and quickly found myself caught up in the matatu culture.
Matatus started as rickety, wired-together junkyard vans and pickups with wooden benches meant to accommodate commuters and farm animals. They were merely functional (when they functioned!). They have evolved into luxury mini buses blaring hip-hop music out into the streets while sporting snappy slogans and images of popular national and international stars. They are now fashionable as well as functional.
Each matatu is built entirely from scratch, usually from the stripped chassis of a new truck. Fabricators weld the skeletons and attach the side panels.
Upholsterers often work in tandem with the fabricators. Wiring for souped-up speakers and high definition TVs is installed.
Once the blank canvas is ready, matatu artists embellish the buses with graffiti and bold designs, covering them with images of movie stars, politicians, religious icons, cartoon characters, war heroes and humanitarian champions. A customized paint job can easily cost up to $20,000.
Sarafina Mumbi is a young Nairobi woman who is using her talents to break into the male dominated graffiti business. She began breaking ground as Kenya’s only female matatu artist in 2013. Despite overt prejudice and ill-treatment, she is now creating some of the most colorful matatus on the road.
Part of her break-through into this multi-million dollar industry was due to a 14-seat bus, commissioned by UNICEF, that she painted for International Women’s Day 2018. The text and images on that bus promoted Women’s Empowerment.
The matatu industry is a source of employment for hundreds of thousands of people, mostly youths. It employs garage, car wash and parking lot attendants, welders, system engineers, car dealers, upholsterers, drivers, conductors, mechanics and, of course, graffiti artists. Matatus aren’t simply modes of transportation. These Art Galleries on Wheels are a way of life.
– “The best word to describe Nairobi traffic? HECTIC! After hectic, it is CRAZY.” – “You know you’re in Nairobi when the main topic of conversation is the terrible traffic . . .” – “Woe unto you if any part of your day involves getting from one side of the city to the other.”
Comments like these pop up whenever a newspaper, internet site or travel book discusses transportation in the city of Nairobi.
In September 2019, Nairobi was ranked as the fourth most congested city in the world, an improvement over its 2017 second place ranking.
Knowing we’ll be visiting several tourist sites while in Nairobi, I looked into public transportation. Along with taxis, Uber, auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks), motorcycle taxis (piki pikis) and city-run buses, there are privately owned vehicles called matatus.
Matatus are minibuses that weave and bounce around the city, blaring music and displaying 60s psychedelic-like art as they nimbly steer alternate routes, connecting the city more adeptly and more frequently than other types of transportation. Turning a blind eye to reckless driving, they’re able to dodge traffic jams, something only the single-seat motorcycle taxi can emulate. They’re cheap too, costing no more than $1.50 to go just about anywhere in the city. And they run well after dark.
Each matatu, as required by law, has a crew of two; a driver and a conductor. The driver’s job is to get the passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible. If that means driving on the wrong side of the road, speeding down a busy street, or reeling around blind up-hill corners, so be it.
The conductor performs many tasks, acting as a circus barker beckoning commuters to choose his bus, collecting fares and signaling the driver when to pick up or drop off passengers. He does all this while he hangs outside the matatu, even when it’s moving.
It is estimated that there are 18 thousand matatus connecting every inch of the city.
Individual matatu buses and routes are privately owned and operated, which means schedules and ticket prices can change at the whim of whoever’s in charge. Pick up and drop off points are called stages. It’s best to locate your boarding stage well in advance if you’re new to the city. Even finding the right stop can be tricky. As one travel book put it, “You just kind of have to know.” If you choose the wrong line, you could waste half a day on an already long trip.
As with any free market, price alone is not enough to attract customers, particularly the youth. Competition among matatu owners is high. They need to ensure their minibuses are top notch, spending up to $70,000 for the over-the-top amenities alone.
Matatus offer high speed internet connections and comfortable seats. (Seatbelts are now required by law.) Many have flat screen TVs, both inside and out, that continually play movies, music videos and sporting events. Some provide power sockets and USB outlets at every seat. iPads are available upon request. There are even Matatus with disco balls, fish aquariums and airline-type TVs on the back of every seat.
For longer trips outside the city, matatu owners have introduced hostesses, who offer services like those you might expect on a plane or train, carrying luggage or lounge waitressing.
Matatu culture is loved and loathed in equal measure. Some prefer the less pimped up versions, hoping to avoid the mayhem of loud music and questionable driving, but the urban youth continue to view them as part of their African identity.
There are roughly 11,000 species of birds in the world. During this week in which we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, it is especially alarming to hear that nearly 40 percent of the world’s birds are facing significant decline. Among the threats to these creatures are habitat loss, deforestation, climate change and severe weather, plastic and pesticide pollution and illegal trafficking.
Despite Covid-19’s grip all around the world, professor, author and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham finds that birds give us one of the best tools we have for coping in today’s oppressive environment: hope. When speaking of his bird/hope connection, Lanham will sometimes cite a first line of Emily Dickinson. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
In 2018, Lanham was the recipient of the National Audubon’s Lufkin Prize for his tireless advocacy to protect birds, his lifelong dedication to environmental health and his efforts in building a new generation of conservation leaders.
Some might view an Earth Day celebration amid a worldwide pandemic as a nonsensical, pointless exercise, but Dr. Lanham sees an optimistic future from back of his binoculars. He observes his beautiful birds, knowing that the things they need to survive (clean air, pure water and healthy, balanced ecosystems) are the same things upon which people rely. So he continues the work of protecting our planet, believing that it is a solid, smart investment that will pay off for generations.
“Conservation really means feeling deeply enough for something that you’re willing to save some for others. I think the word for that is ‘love’. And I think conservation is ultimately an act of love.” – J. Drew Lanham, PhD
Birds symbolize wisdom. Just ask an owl. Birds define grace and strength. Watch as they lock their outstretched wings and soar effortlessly overhead. Birds epitomize freedom, migrating to where they please, when they please. Birds are our first musicians, and they all play a different tune. They’re our link between heaven and earth.
We should be doing a better job maintaining that link.
“Stop and listen for the birds,” instructs Lanham. “If you can’t hear the birds, something is amiss.”
* Why feature all birds?
It’s Earth Day Week. That’s why.
BirdLive International is on a campaign to make a healthy natural environment a human right.
In an open letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Birdlife International marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by calling for the UN to take a bold and unprecedented step: declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right. The letter calls on the UN, as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, to add an ‘Article 31’ to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – enshrining a universal right to a healthy natural environment, guaranteed by public policies, governed by sustainability and by scientific and traditional indigenous knowledge.
Edited from The New York Times, April 8, 2020 By Annie Roth
Threatened and endangered animals are becoming casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rhino 911 is a nonprofit organization that provides emergency helicopter transport for rhinoceroses. Since South Africa announced a national lockdown on March 23, Rhino 911 has had to respond to a rhino poaching incident nearly every single day.
In neighboring Botswana, at least six rhinos have been poached since the country closed its borders.
These recent incidents are unusual because they occurred in tourism hot spots that, until now, were considered relatively safe havens for wildlife. South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Kenya rely on tourism to fund wildlife conservation, but thanks to border closures and crackdowns on international travel, foreigners can’t visit national parks or conservancies.
This shines a light on the fact that Africa’s wild animals are not just protected by rangers, they’re also protected by the presence of tourists.
Poachers have normally avoided places where there are lots of tourists, but now they are feeling free to move into locations they’ve previously avoided.
Besides empty parks, no tourists means no money. National lockdowns have severely constricted Africa’s $39 billion tourism industry, which funds wildlife conservation all across the continent.
Without revenue from tourism, many parks, private reserves and community conservancies are finding it difficult to pay employees. Paid protection has dwindled. Rangers and private game guards have found their jobs in jeopardy. Many are being laid off. Those that are still employed are working alone.
If the economic situation doesn’t improve, not only will the poaching of rhinoceros, elephants and other iconic animals escalate, but poaching for the purpose of obtaining bushmeat will increase as well.
In the hopes of alleviating the situation, the Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental organization, recently began raising money for cash-strapped parks, conservancies and private reserves in Africa that need help paying rangers and guards.
For the occasion, National Geographic created its first-ever “flip” issue – essentially two magazines in one. With an eye on the today’s world environment, National Geographic examines the trajectory of The Earth’s health 50 years into the future. Half of the magazine’s pages present a hopeful scenario, while half lay out a truly dark destiny.
The editors refer to this issue as “magazines of divergent realities.”
One side celebrates the optimistic view of Planet Earth’s future health in which the peoples of the world have harnessed technologies to feed a larger population, provide energy for all, prevent the extinction of plants and animals and start reversing climate change.
Spirit-lifting articles and stunning images tell of the ingenuity and persistence used to find innovative solutions to the planet’s biggest problems.
There are several pages devoted to introducing a generation of conservationists who are set to take up the environmental torch.
Progress seems inevitable.
When the reader turns the magazine over, a Dooms Day view is presented. There are stories of the flooding of Venice and low-lying U.S. coastal cities, massive fires that wipe out entire towns, longer droughts, deadlier heat waves, disappearing species, and scared, strip-mined landscapes.
Humans are changing the planet – and not always for the good.
Questions remain. How far have we come to date? How far can we go? Is it already too late?
In 2008, Africa’s Northern White Rhinos were considered extinct in the wild. In the years that followed, the situation got worse. But scientists had a plan.
PHASE 1: GATHER UP THOSE THAT REMAIN
The Ol Pejeta Conservancy, at the base of Mt. Kenya, houses the only 2 remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world: Fatu, 30, and her daughter Najin, 19.
They live there under 24-hour armed guard.
In 2009, they were moved to Ol Pejeta, along with two males, Suni and Sudan, from a zoo in the Czech Republic. Of the eight Northern Whites left in the world, these four rhinos were thought to be the most fertile.
The rhinos were packed in special wooden crates built to support their weight for the flight to Kenya.
But first they had to be crate trained so that they’d enter the crates on their own. Those of us with dogs know how easy that must have been!
The rhinos were moved to the conservancy in hopes that a natural environment would encourage them to mate and reproduce. They did mate. They did not reproduce.
It was discovered that neither of the females were able to carry a calf. Fatu has degenerative lesions in her uterus and Najin has weak hind legs which could cause complications if she became pregnant.
A final blow was delivered in 2018 when Sudan, the last remaining male, had to be euthanized.
While Sudan’s death was devastating, scientists were prepared. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists had been collecting and freezing semen from Northern White Rhino bulls for years.
At the same time, the team was devising an in vitro fertilization process for the endangered whites (where an egg and sperm are fertilized outside the body).
This was an amazing undertaking. Artificial insemination had successfully produced white rhino calves, but in vitro fertilization had never been completed with rhinos before.
PHASE TWO: HARVESTING THE EGGS
In August of last year, the team was able to harvest a total of 10 oocytes (immature eggs), five from Najin and five from Fatu. Both the technique and the equipment had to be developed entirely from scratch. The cost in time and research was in the millions of euros.
The eggs, which cannot be frozen, were immediately flown to a laboratory in Italy to eventually be fertilized with the frozen sperm from four deceased males.
PHASE THREE: FERTILIZING EGGS
From the ten eggs, two embryos were created in September 2019, and the third was created in December. The embryos are being stored in liquid nitrogen, with conservationists planning to implant them in a southern white rhino surrogate mother in the future.
PHASE FOUR: SET THE STAGE FOR A ROMANTIC ENCOUNTER
One of the things the scientists are struggling to work out is the timing to implant the embryo. They need to know exactly when the female’s body is best ready for the embryo to attach to the uterus lining.
Scientists are hoping that the chances of the surrogate carrying the pregnancy through to birth may be increased if they implant the embryo right after she has mated.
This hunch has led them to set the scene for the next stage in their elaborate plan. Four wild female southern white rhinos have been enclosed with their offspring in their natural habitat.
The next step is to put a sterilized southern white rhino in with the females (would-be surrogates). As soon as they see the sterilized bull mounting, they dart the female, put the embryo in and hope for the best.
In the best case scenario, only a handful of calves may be born from Najin and Fatu’s eggs, and the lack of genetic diversity between the half-siblings could make it impossible to create a viable breeding population. To tackle that problem, stem cell research will have to be done, and that brings up the question of medical ethics. Nothing is easy about this entire operation.
If all this work miraculously produces babies, the first northern white rhino to be born should be named Lazarus.
Rhinoceroses are large herbivorous animals identified by their characteristic horned snouts.
They have been living on Earth for nearly 12 million years. Although they were probably a lot woollier back then.
There are five species of rhino. Two species, the Black Rhino and the White Rhino, are native to Africa.
There is actually very little color difference between black rhinos and white rhinos. They are both dark grey in color. The color of both species can vary greatly depending on local soil conditions, as all rhinos tend to roll about in the dust and mud.
Rhinos like to wallow in mud in order to create a protective layer on their sensitive skin. This prevents sunburn and insect bites, and helps to keep them cool.
The white rhino is the larger of the two African species. They can grow to 6 feet in height and weigh more than 5,000 lbs. Appropriately, a group of rhinos is called a crash.
Typically, rhinos live in crashes of 3 – 10, relying on each other for protection. Black rhinos are solitary animals and must take responsibility for their own well-being. They tend to be the more aggressive of the two species.
African rhinos only have hair on their ears, tail tips and eyelashes.
Rhinos have three toes, making their closest relatives tapirs, zebras and horses. They have poor eyesight, but a heightened sense of smell and an excellent sense of hearing.
While out on safari, one of the ways to distinguish between the black rhino and the white rhino is by looking at the animal’s top lip.
A black rhino has a specialized (prehensile) upper lip that is capable of grasping and browsing.
A browser is a herbivore that specializes in eating leaves, fruits of high-growing woody plants, soft shoots and shrubs. A browser doesnot feed on grass or other low growing vegetation.)
The white rhino has a wide, flat upper lip that’s perfect for grazing. (A grazer is a herbivore that feeds on plants such as grass and other low-lying vegetation. You know, they graze just like cows and sheep.)
Both species have two horns which are made of tightly woven filaments of keratin, not bone. Keratin is a protein found in human hair, fingernails and animal hooves. The horns are not attached to its skull.
The longest horn on record belonged to a white rhino and measured just under five feet.
Rhinos need to drink once a day, so they stay within 5 km of water. In very dry conditions, they can dig for water using their forefeet.
Rhinos have been hunted nearly to extinction. Their horns are sometimes sold as trophies or decorations, but more often they are ground up and used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Remarkable recoveries have been seen over the past ten years for several species, including the black rhino in Africa but poaching remains the largest threat. Until just months ago, only two Northern White Rhino remained in the world.
According to a not too recent Weekend Edition on NPR, Kenyans are crazy about country music. They enjoy songs from the 70s and 80s best, and are particularly fond of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. As much as you’re apt to hear Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle and Vince Gill playing in the local bars, Kenyans don’t follow U.S. country singers exclusively.
“My Land is Kenya,” by Nairobi-born folk artist Roger Whittaker, makes even the young hip-hop crowd stand a little bit taller. (If you take time to watch and listen to the video, you’ll note that his signature whistling skills come through loud and clear.)
The song isn’t in danger of becoming a hit in my house anytime soon, but it does have some nice lines:
“My land is Kenya, so warm and wild and green. You’ll always stay with me here in my heart. My land is Kenya, right from your highlands to the sea. You’ll always stay with me here in my heart, here in my heart.” (Whittaker. Roger Whittaker in Kenya: A Musical Safari, 1982)
Try not to compare it to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and just think of it as a musical warmup to today’s rather boring topic.
My Land is Kenya and it’s covered with more than savanna grasslands.
While providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.
Sadly, Kenya is still allowing its forests to disappear. From 1990 to 2015, forest cover declined by 25%.
Agricultural cropland refers to that share of land suited for crops where there is no need to replant after harvest (e.g. coffee, rubber, fruit trees, etc.). Cropland has increased exponentially in the last 25 years.
The Kenyan wetlands are resources of great economic, cultural and scientific value.
Wetlands provide critical habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna, including a large number of aquatic plants, resident and migratory birds, fish, and herbivores.
Wetlands are areas of great scenic beauty. They are a tourist attraction, form important recreation sites for game and birds watching, swimming, photography and sailing.
They’re important sources of water for human consumption, agriculture and the watering of livestock. They recharge wells and springs that are often the only source of water to some rural communities.
Savanna grasslands are found where rainfall between 20-50 inches is concentrated into a few months.
Kenya’s rainy season is March-May and September–October, with long periods of drought in between. Once it rains in March, the grasses grow very rapidly, sometimes as much as an inch a day. Lots of animals are born at this time. In a good rainy season, there’s plenty of food for animals like the antelope, and mothers will have plenty of milk for their young.
In Kenya there are only three incorporated cities but there are numerous municipalities and towns with significant urban populations.
NAIROBI, THE CAPITAL CITY
Nairobi, the capital city of the Republic has grown from a simple Uganda Railway construction camp to a modern center of commercial, financial, manufacturing and tourist destination in eastern Africa.
It replaced Mombasa as Kenya’s capital in 1907 and became a city in 1950. Today, the city population stands at about 4 million. Both the Great North Road (Cairo to Cape Town) and the Trans-African Highway (Mombasa to Lagos) pass through the city.
Mombasa is the second largest city in the country, with a population of about 600,000. It is the official gateway to the country by sea. It has a history dating back to more than 2,000 years, when the Persians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans visited the East African Coast and carried out trade between the Coast and the Mediterranean Lands.
It is built on what was formerly an island, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel until a causeway was built at the beginning of this century, connecting the island with the mainland. Tourists come to Mombasa Island to enjoy its calm beauty, once described by Winston Churchill (1908) as “alluring and delicious”.
The following is part of a Birdlife International Newsletter dated April 9, 2020, 7:05 am
A Look Back at BirdLife Africa’s World Wildlife Day Celebrations 2020
On 3 March every year, people across the world gather to raise awareness of the world’s wild flora and fauna. From films and exhibitions to nature walks and face paining, Birdlife International looked back at the diverse ways its various partnerships marked the day across Africa. Special mention was made of the activities in Zambia, the island nation of Mauritius, Nigeria and Uganda (our last stop before returning home).
Nature Uganda, in conjunction with conservation groups and local governments celebrated World Wildlife Day with special focus on the Grey-crowned Crane. The Grey-crowned Crane is Uganda’s national bird. It is facing extinction.
The celebrations included a Conservation Conference in the Kampala, a Crane Festival in Kabale Town, primary school competitions and the launch of the National Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Grey-crowned Crane.
NAIROBI, Kenya — A white female giraffe and her 7-month-old calf, whose rare pigmentation mesmerized wildlife enthusiasts around the world, were discovered to have been killed by poachers in Kenya on March 11 of this year. Conservationists estimated from the state of the carcasses that the animals had been killed four months ago. This tragedy illustrates the challenges of conservation and the persistent and devastating impact of poaching.
Twiga Nyeupe White Giraffe
With the deaths of the mother and her baby, only one white giraffe is left roaming freely in Kenya’s wild. Mohammed Ahmednoor, conservancy manager in northeastern Kenya, said “We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe.” He added, “This is a very sad day for the community … and Kenya as a whole.”
The killing of the white giraffes highlighted the threats facing these animals. They were most likely killed for their meat and hide.
These imposing creatures look like giraffe ghosts!
With this worldwide pause, a travel ban has been implemented which will restrict hunters from North America to fly to Botswana. Thus, it is possible that the majority of the hunting permits will go unused.
Siobhan Mitchell, UK Director of Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, reported; “We welcome the fact that foreign trophy hunters cannot kill elephants in Botswana, and hope that the government takes the time to reflect on and rethink its deadly strategy towards elephants and shake off this colonial pastime altogether.”
I am thrilled to share with you a new film, released today, which takes you into the heart of our extensive wildlife conservation projects in Kenya.
As a foster parent, you perhaps know us best for our Orphans’ Project, which has over many decades seen us rescue and raise more than 262 orphaned elephants, as well as rhinos, antelopes, giraffes and a plethora of other species. As our orphans gravitate towards a life in the wild once more, keeping them and Kenya’s wild herds safe is of equal importance, ensuring a viable long term future for all.
We are proud to be able to showcase in this film the many indispensable aspects of the SWT’s work, each so important to the whole.
During these unprecedented times for us all, I hope you feel as inspired as we do seeing what we can achieve together. We humans are facing one of our greatest global challenges ever, however, the wild world has been facing challenges created by us for thousands of years and the threats they face are as real today as they were a few months ago.
Despite all that is unfolding, our teams are out there in the field right now, walking with the orphans, flying our planes, patrolling to prevent illegal activity, and seeking out and treating injured animals. You help make all this happen and I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to you all. Your steadfast support is hugely appreciated.
Gardeners of Eden is about the operations of Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust , the vision of its founder Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the dedication of the keepers who raise the orphaned babies. The film covers some of the successes and the tragic losses that occur while trying to save these fragile babies. (Yes, it’s hard to imagine “fragile” as being a descriptive word for an elephant.)
Gardeners of Eden exposes the slaughter of elephants for the valuable ivory they can provide and the reluctance of countries to stop trading in ivory trinkets. There is a plea at the end of the film that goes something like this: “We will either be a witness or the solution to the unfolding of an ecological disaster. What will we say to our grandchildren when they ask us why there are no elephants remaining in the wild? Will they be proud of us when we say it was more important for us to own beautiful things than for beautiful things to roam in spectacular places?”
There is no storybook ending here. These magnificent animals are in serious trouble.
Daphne Sheldrick passed away April 2018. Linger long enough to listen to the closing song during the credits.
The following was taken from a Change.org email dated March 25, 2020
– Welcome to Botswana – Where Rich People Can Kill Elephants
Kenya has banned the practice of trophy hunting. Botswana had formally joined in the ban, but has now chosen to reinstate elephant hunting. Foreign hunters will be allowed to kill 202 of its elephants.
Most of the foreign hunters who go to Africa are from the United States. The average cost for foreign trophy hunters to purchase hunting rights, travel, hire a professional to accompany them and pay for taxidermy is approximately $71,000.
Elephants help support the health of our planet. They spread the seeds from the plants they have eaten, dispersing plant life to other areas. They dig water holes in dry river beds that other animals use as a water source as well as creating trails that serve as fire breakers. Elephants help the local economies through eco-tourism. Eco-tourism is a $2 billion-dollar industry, while reintroducing hunting contributes to only 1.9% of tourism.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has held Crush Ivory Days in various sites over the years.
In Colorado, U.S. officials destroyed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the U.S. “blood ivory” stockpile — and urged other nations to follow suit to fight a $10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year.
There are two bills that have been introduced in U.S. Congress (the CECIL and Protect Acts) that will ban trophy hunting imports from crossing American borders. The fate of these bills is unknown at the time of this posting.
Change.org is asking everyone to consider contacting his/her representative in support of these bills.
*facts and images collected from all over the internet
The African Elephant
1. It’s true that elephants never forget (sort of).
Elephants can remember the locations of water holes hundreds of miles apart, and return to them every year. Their brains are very advanced, like humans, dolphins and chimpanzees.
2. African elephants are the largest land mammals on the planet. One of the largest known elephants was Jumbo, whose name is thought to be derived from the Swahili word for “boss” or “chief.” He is the reason we now use the word “jumbo” to mean “huge.”
3. Elephants commonly show humor, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, tool use, playfulness, sharp learning abilities and frustration.
According to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, temper tantrums are common among baby elephants, who are known to throw fits by throwing themselves down into mud when upset.
4. Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families and take care of weak or injured members of the herd.
They greet each other by hugging with their trunks.
5. No matter what you’ve heard, elephants don’t care much for peanuts.
6. Elephant herds are matriarchal. The oldest female elephant will decide where and when the herd moves and rests, day to day and season to season. She will only leave the group if she dies or is captured. Males leave the herd around the age of 12.
7. Elephants can have babies until the age of 50. The gestation period for elephants is 22 months. Female elephants have been known to induce labour by self-medicating with certain plants.
8. Baby elephants are initially blind and some take to sucking their trunk for comfort in the same way that humans suck their thumbs.
9. Elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, joining only humans, apes and dolphins as animals that possess this kind of self-awareness.
10. Elephants are very good swimmers. They move all four legs to swim and use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
11. As important an appendage as an elephant’s trunk is, it has no bones!
Its trunk, capable of lifting 700 pounds or plucking a single blade of grass, contains over 40,000 muscles, divided into 150,000 individual muscle units.
12. Elephants are herbivores and can spend up to 16-hour days collecting and eating tough, fibrous foods, most of which pass through their bodies undigested. All that undigested fiber can produce as much as 300 pounds of poop each day! Some of the poop can be harvested to help produce sellable products.
13. Elephants are one of a few (possibly the only) animals who can understand human pointing, without any training.
14. The total global elephant population is currently estimated at 650,000, and they are very much in danger of extinction. The main risk to elephants is from humans through poaching and changes to their habitat.
Poachers in Kenya have enjoyed lenient sentences and few have been successfully prosecuted. The global ivory trade was worth an estimated $1 billion over the past decade, with 80% of ivory from illegally killed elephants. The street value of elephant ivory is now greater than gold, running to tens of thousands of dollars per tusk.
On the 2nd of January, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust rescued a calf from the Masai Mara. The little female baby was about six months old. They named her Naleku.
After the trauma of losing her mother, followed by the noise and handling necessary for the rescue, Naleku was very restless, and paced her room all night.
The following day she sensed the presence of the other elephants in the Nursery and constantly cried out while pacing in her stable.
Although still weak and a resident for only a single day, the decision was made to let her out with the other orphans.
Naleku was greeted with reassuring trunk cuddles and showered with love and affection. It’s amazing when one considers that the older elephants giving comfort and emotional support are only babies themselves, yet instinctively they know to offer a tender trunk hug.
I adopted Maktao in order to get a closer look at SWT’s elephant babies, in a less crowded setting. I adopted Naleku because I couldn’t resist.
This is part of an edited phone conversation. The journalist’s questions appear in bold text.
Jane Goodall is in isolation these days along with everyone else, since a fund-raising tour was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. She is staying at her family home in England, not in Tanzania, her primary home when not on the road.
Dr. Goodall changed the way the world views chimpanzees with research that began when she first went to Africa 60 years ago this July.
She later became a tireless advocate for chimps in captivity. When she began her work, chimps were routinely used in medical research, a practice Dr. Goodall helped stop in the U.S.
So this pause has let you step back a bit? It’s catching up, you know. But there are some things that are so unbelievably worrying. In the U.S. you have people who can apply for unemployment or something. But what about in Tanzania, for example? The people running the bars, the restaurants, selling food at the side of the road — all banned now. And they make just enough to keep alive for a week and pay the rent and there’s no social security, nothing for them.
Being isolated has made me think of what it must be like for chimpanzees who were isolated in captivity, who depend on physical closeness and touch. I think about it all the time. I’ve thought about it ever since I saw secretly filmed footage of these social beings in medical research labs in 5-foot by 5-foot cages. The first time I went into one of those labs. It was horrendous. And solitary confinement. As you say, it’s bad enough for us, but we have all these other ways of distracting. And what about these animals who have nothing? But you know the other thing is, it has reactivated the discussion about animal trafficking – selling wild animals for food or for medicine. Everybody’s pointing fingers at China, but already the government’s made a total ban on the markets, selling animals for food and on trafficking – importing wild animals. So we just have to hope that because of the magnitude of this pandemic they will keep that ban. At the moment it’s temporary, but let’s hope they enforce it forever.
Animals, although not chimps, will be used in testing treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. What is your stance on animal experimentation?
My stance is that ultimately there will be a time with no animal experimentation. What pleased me about the chimp situation is that I was in it from the ethical point of view, but the fact that the chimps were put in sanctuaries because the research was not useful was a far better outcome than if it had been done on ethical grounds. It’s like fossil fuel. People say we want to stop using fossil fuel now. Well that’s clearly impossible. You can’t just suddenly stop something. And this medical research on animals won’t suddenly stop, although I wish it would. The trouble is that people working on alternatives just don’t get the right support.
“In Unbowed, A Memoir, 2004 Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage.” It was, by no means, an easy journey.
Maathai was an inspirational, hard working woman (driven, actually), who set out to correct the effects brought about by prejudice, inequality and ecological destruction in her native Kenya.
Much of the book covers the conflicts resulting from environmental devastation – how it started and why it continued. Maathai recounts her efforts to fight a corrupt government bent on scaring her country, both through ecological destruction and gender discrimination. She was punished for her actions. Yet, despite her many trials in life, she remained unbowed, believing that what she could not overcome, she could at least get past.
More books! Share one or two of these with a short person you know. The illustrations alone will make it worth your while.
What does the following art project really have to do with anything I’ll be doing or seeing on safari? Well, it sort of has to do with Kenya stuff. Sort of.
I stumbled upon this Teachers Pay Teachers art project while searching for material on Wangari Maathai and thought it might be of some use to someone during our Time of Social Distancing. It’s a wonderful project with excellent instructions. The hardest part is gathering all the materials before you begin.
Wangarĩ Muta Maathai (1940 – 2011) was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. She became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It was awarded for her contribution in the field of sustainable development, democracy and peace.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote, “Peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”
More than most others, Maathai recognized the connection between the health of the land and the health of the people.
In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in response to the needs of rural Kenyan women who reported the streams were drying up, food supplies were less secure, and firewood for fuel and fencing was becoming more scarce.
GBM encourages women to work together (while receiving a small monetary token for their work) to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater and provide food and firewood.
Maathai’s work in this area eventually earned her the nickname “Mama Mici” or Mother of Trees.
“If you destroy the forest,” Maathai said, “then the river will stop flowing, the rains will become irregular, the crops will fail and you will die of hunger and starvation …. Planting trees breaks the cycle. When we can give ourselves food, firewood, and help to nurture soil for planting and clean water, then we begin to roll poverty back”
The Meru Oak is endemic to Kenya and rarely found outside its borders.
It is a deciduous tree capable of growing to a height of 100 feet or more.
It can be recognized by its very thin, rough, hairy bark, full of vertical groves.
The Meru Oak’s wood is hard and durable. It is commonly used for the production of furniture and decorative veneers. As a consequence of its highly valued timber, it has been severely over-exploited and is becoming very rare.
The conservation of giraffes has been overlooked for decades and as a result giraffes are in the midst of what some call a “silent extinction.”
Unlike the attention lavished on the disappearance of great apes and elephants (There are four times as many African elephants as giraffes.), people have ignored the disappearance of giraffes and assumed they are doing just fine in the wild.
Mercifully, the world is beginning to wake up. Last December, the State of New York became the first in the nation—and the world—to ban the trade in their body parts.
Kenya is the only country in Africa that hosts three different species of giraffe. (See their markings below.) Of the three, the Reticulated and the Masai are endangered.
Across Africa, the general giraffe population has declined by almost 40 percent over the past three decades. Estimations as of 2016 indicate that there are approximately 97,500 giraffes in the wild, down from 155,000 in 1985.
While a great deal of this decline is due to disease and both legal and illegal hunting, the loss of large-scale habitat plays a greater role, fragmenting and degrading the giraffe’s preferred habitat.
Despite the difficulties encountered by some well regarded offsetting groups, I am completing my carbon buyback commitment today by covering my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi and the return from Entebbe back to Amsterdam.
The “Gold Standard,” a classification backed by the United Nations and dozens of environmental groups, sets necessarily rigorous regulatory standards for carbon offsetting projects. It follows, therefore, that meeting those standards is not easily accomplished. Many companies who sell offsets have been exposed for intentional fraud, while reputable organizations struggle with finding projects that can attain the strict Gold Standard of quality. One study shows that a number of effective offset programs had no real impact because they were scheduled to have been implemented even without offset funding.
So, why continue with the buybacks?
Even with such discouraging reports, I will complete my earlier commitment to help fund potentially successful projects. If the legit projects go up in smoke (pardon the polluting expression), then I shall hold on to the fact that even failure may teach us something.
Tomorrow I may say, “Not one penny more,” but not today.
I heard or read this travel tip just lately, but can’t remember where.
It addressed how to deal with the candy wrappers you remove from snacks you brought onto a flight, the used tissues you accumulated when you had that sneezing fit over the Atlantic, and the coffee cup you didn’t hand back to the steward because you hadn’t quite finished your coffee yet.
I stuff all my flight trash in the elastic pocket on the seat in front of me. I try to be as neat about it as possible, but honestly, that pocket can get a little disgusting after hours on an international flight.
A tipster suggested bringing a plastic bag to use as a wastebasket, and when you depart, take the bag with you and dump it into the nearest trash bin as you make your way to the luggage carousel. I don’t know why I’d never thought of it before.
Plastic trash bags are no longer allowed in Kenya (Thank, God!), so I’ll be taking a few small recycled gift bags to use on each leg of my flight to and from Africa.
Nice for the Earth’s environment in general. Nice for my immediate environment on the plane. Nice for the custodial staff that services the plane’s cabin after touchdown.
East African nations that are already experiencing a dangerous shortage of food are now witnessing large areas of their crops destroyed. The United Nations has called for international aid to “avert any threats to food security, livelihoods, and malnutrition”.
If reading The Guardian’s description of the effects of the plague didn’t give you the willies, then try watching this video. It’s a segment from BBC’s Planet Earth, posted on YouTube two years ago. The stars of this video are the same nasty buggers that are plaguing Kenya right now.
On page one of The Elephant Whisperer, the author writes, “. . . to be clear, the title of this book is not about me . . . Rather, it is about the elephants – they whispered to me and taught me how to listen.” I tend to judge a book by its cover, which includes its title. The title is misleading, or at least it misled me. Still, I was entertained and learned a thing or two.
Lawrence Anthony, famed conservationist, writes about his experiences when he accepts seven unpredictably dangerous elephants onto his South African reserve. Had he not accepted the challenge (and he was offered a great deal of money not to), the animals would have been shot.
Yes, of course, the book speaks of elephants – and one receives quite an education. They’re curious yet cautious, warring yet loving, powerful yet gentle, intelligent, clever, and loyal. Elephants unite. Elephants celebrate. Elephants grieve. It appears that their enormous bulk masks the fact that there’s even more to these creatures than first meets the eye.
In addition, the reader learns about what it takes to care for these animals. The constant struggle against soaring heat and torrential rains, the doctoring, the engineering skills, the equipment, the war against poachers – all are present as Anthony risks physical as well as financial safety to protect the pachyderms.