120. From Lion Dog African Safaris Newsletter

The following is taken from Lion Dog African Safaris Weekly Newsletter, #18 / 2020.

Archaeology Shows How
Ancient African Societies Managed Pandemics

Every so often, a pandemic emerges that dramatically alters human society.

Source: NewBigFive.com


The Black Death (1347 – 1351) was one.
The Spanish flu of 1918 was another.
Now there’s COVID-19.

Archaeologists have long studied diseases in past populations. To do so, they study settlement layout, burials, funerary remains, and human skeletons. The insights from these studies expose some of the strategies that societies adopted to deal with pandemics. These included burning settlements as a disinfectant and shifting settlements to new locations. Social distancing was practised by dispersing settlements.

Findings unearthed in southern Zimbabwe show that it was taboo to touch or interfere with remains of the dead, lest diseases be transmitted in this way. Social distancing and isolation formed a critical part of managing pandemics in ancient African societies.
In what is Zimbabwe today, the Shona people in the 17th and 18th centuries isolated those suffering from infectious diseases – such as leprosy – in temporary residential structures. In some cases, corpses were burnt to avoid spreading the contagion.


There were multiple long-term implications of pandemics in these communities. Perhaps the most important was that people organised themselves in ways that made it easier to live with diseases, managing them and at the same time sticking to the basics such as good hygiene, sanitation and environmental control. Life did not stop because of pandemics: populations made decisions and choices to live with them.

Some of these lessons may be applied to COVID-19, guiding decisions and choices to buffer the vulnerable from the pandemic while allowing economic activity and other aspects of life to continue. As evidence from the past shows, social behaviour is the first line of defence against pandemics: it’s essential this be considered when planning for the latest post-pandemic future.

102. Matatus, Art on Wheels

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.

Source: Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi, pg. 28, 1964 Matatu





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.

Source: efe.com

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is airbrushmatatu.jpg
Source: William Oeri (Nairobi), Graffiti artists put finishing touches to a matatu at the Dodi Body Builders garage.


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.

Source: Kenya CitizensTV, YouTube

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.

Source: CNN Inside Africa Feature, Matwana Matatu Culture, YouTube (10:22)



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.

99. From Nat’l Geographic Photography Newsletter

The following is taken in part from an article in National Geographic’s Photography Newsletter, April 24, 2020.

The New Big Five


Years ago, colonial game hunters created a list of five of the toughest animals to hunt and kill on foot. Forever after, the list became known as The Big 5.
It’s time to reorient our notions of The Big 5 and highlight the struggles that so many animals must endure to simply survive.

Source: NewBigFive.com

The New Big 5 is an international initiative to create a new list of five endangered wild animals from all over the world. The list will be The New Big 5 of Wildlife Photography.

Source: graeme-green.com


The world’s wildlife is in crisis. The next ten years are critical.
Moved by a sense of urgency and love for his subjects, Graeme Green, a British photographer, journalist and travel writer, created The New Big 5 project.

The project is a celebration of wildlife photography, and it pushes for recording with a camera instead of shooting with a gun.

More than a million species are currently at risk of extinction, from large mammals like elephants and polar bears, to the “unsung heroes” and little-known frogs, cats, birds, lizards and other species, each too valuable to lose.

The New Big 5 of wildlife photography might include koalas and orangutans, or tigers and grizzly bears, or sloths and pangolins or any other animal from any continent on earth whose future existence is in doubt.

Source: NewBigFive.com



With the support of Jane Goodall and 100 of the world’s top photographers, New Big 5 is asking everyone to vote.
Before compiling the list, the creators want YOUR INPUT.

Use the link below to vote for your favorite five animals.

 
Cast your ballot for your favorite five animals.

Source: YouTube

98. Friday’s Flyer: Birds Everywhere

Consider Them All*

Source: Public Radio International, Photo credit:Amir Cohen/Reuters

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.

Source: The Newsstand.com, Clemson University


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.

Source: The Nature Conservancy, On Earth Day, Nature is a Part of Us


“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.”


Source: The Nature Conservancy, Birds are Why He Flies Free and Stays Hopeful, YouTuve (Time: 2:47)

* 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.

75. Cattle Egret

“As our city streets quiet, as people hang back from parks and paths,
and the busy noise of daily life recedes,
listen for the birds.”
David Arnold, President of the Nat’l Audubon Society


Cattle Egret *

The cattle egret has a relatively short, thick neck, a sturdy bill, and a hunched posture. It spends most of its time in fields rather than streams.
The cattle egret’s breeding plumage highlights its beautiful peach feathers, and it often appears to be wearing spiked topknots. Its legs and feet even change from black to a dramatic orange.

Cattle egrets feed on a wide range of prey, particularly insects, especially grasshoppers, crickets, flies (adults and maggots), and moths, as well as spiders, frogs, lizards and earthworms.
They forage at the feet of grazing cattle, heads bobbing with each step, or ride on their backs to pick at ticks.

Sonyanga Ole Ngais, a Maasai Warrior Saves a Cattle Egret

* Why feature the Cattle Egret?

This is the last day of what has turned out to be Elephant Week, and elephants have a special relationship with the cattle egret.
The cattle egret, while relieving the elephant of parasites, receives a free meal and a free ride as the elephant walks along. But the egret enjoys this same kind of relationship with a number of different mammals.
Elephants, on the other hand, aren’t involved in any other symbiotic relationships except that of the cattle egret. For the elephant, it’s the cattle egret only.

73. Gardeners of Eden

Rent on Apple TV

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.

Source: Terre de Licorne, Daphne Sheldrick and the Baby Elephant orphanage – Part 2, YouTube (Time: 18:24)

66. Jane Goodall Is Self-Isolating, Too

The following is taken from The New York Times, March 25, 2020

This is part of an edited phone conversation.
The journalist’s questions appear in bold text.

Source: New York Times

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.

One of Project Chimps’ indoor-outdoor enclosures, used as a temporary home to former laboratory chimps until other facilities were renovated.
Source: New York Times

65. Wangari’s Story

“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.

62. Wangari Maathai, Mother of Trees

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” 

42. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes

I love the woman who loves giraffes.
Who wouldn’t after watching the documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.

Source: NY Times

The film shines a light on Anne Innis Dagg’s foundational research which was previously hidden from most of the world because of her gender. In doing so, it brings awareness to the devastating reality that giraffes are facing today: Extinction.

In 1956, four years before Jane Goodall studied the chimpanzee and seven years before Dian Fossey worked with mountain gorillas, 23-year-old biologist Anne Innis Dagg journeyed solo to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. Her story is one of far-reaching scientific discovery, sexual discrimination and environmental alarm.

The Woman Who Loves Giraffes will appeal to zoologists, environmentalists, ecologists, animal lovers, dreamers, bravehearts, human rights activists, feminists, adventurers, and every female, young or old, who has ever been told, “Sorry, no. You’re a girl.”

Prepare to be inspired.

A 30 minute interview with the film’s remarkable star and its director, Alison Reid, and can be seen on YouTube.
YouTube also offers a way to view the film (for a fee), if it doesn’t play in a theater near you.

(Find a list of screenings for The Woman Who Loves Giraffes in New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and elsewhere on the film’s website.

The day after I viewed The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,
National Geographic emailed the following short article to subscribers.
The article doesn’t speak to safaris or giraffes, but it aligns perfectly with one of documentary’s themes.

TODAY’S BIG QUESTION:
WHEN WILL SCIENCE CELEBRATE EVERYONE EQUALLY?
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

PHOTOGRAPH BY NASABy Victoria JaggardSCIENCE Executive Editor

Science, as a discipline, is somewhat obsessed with the notion of due credit. Woe betide the news writer who does not note which person is the lead author on a study. That’s one reason I’ve been personally fascinated with recent efforts to bring so-called hidden figures in science into the spotlight.

Stories highlighting marginalized people’s contributions to science have been trickling out for decades, but the term “hidden figures” leapt into our shared consciousness thanks to the incredible 2016 book, and subsequent movie, about the Black women who made vital calculations to send early NASA astronauts into space. Both works catapulted NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (pictured above) into international stardom in her mid-90s—even though she made her contributions to the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs decades earlier. Johnson, who died this week at the age of 101, was a true pioneer, and her story will resonate for decades to come.

The exponential increase in stories about other hidden figures can be inspiring stuff, although sometimes the patterns that emerge are heartbreaking. The more I read, the more I see two common narrative arcs: People who did the work loud and proud and were persecuted for it (looking at you, Hypatia), and people who did the work quietly and went consistently unrecognized for far too long (over to you, Eunice Foote and Rosalind Franklin).

Still, I have hope for scientists working today, thanks to the efforts of people like Jessica Wade. A woman working in physics, Wade has been adding biographies of notable women and people of color to Wikipedia’s bounty of scientist biographies. And writers such as Angela Saini are really hitting science where it hurts, uncovering the dark history of inaccuracies, biases, and downright bad research practices that led to so many good scientists being stifled. Maybe, as more people like them champion inclusion in science, the need to celebrate hidden figures will become a thing of the past.

22. Leila Janah

After reading Leila Janah’s obituary in the NYTimes last Friday, I needed to pause and recognize her in a post.

Lelia Janah dedicated her professional career to providing jobs that pay a living wage to thousands of marginalized people in Africa and India. She was the founder and CEO of three organizations, all of which had one common mission – to “Give Work.”

Leila Janah died of a rare form of cancer on January 24, 2020 at the age of 37.


As a high school student, Janah participated in an international exchange program in Ghana where she taught blind students. “I had never experienced anything like the poverty I saw there,” she said. “It helped me understand how poverty oppresses people.”

Image source: Samasource.com


After graduating from Harvard in 2004, she developed an impressive resume that reflected her commitment to providing financial solutions to the world’s health problems and the creation of decent jobs for the poorest of peoples – which she called “the biggest untapped resource in the global economy.”

In 2008, she started Samasource, based in Nairobi, with the aim of employing the poor in digital jobs and providing them with a living wage while working at those jobs. At present, Samasource operates throughout Kenya, Uganda and India. At least half the people hired by Samasource are women. It has helped an estimated 50,000 people — 11,000 workers and their dependents.

A statement posted on the Samasource website spoke of Ms. Janah’s impact on environmental sustainability and her dedication to ending global poverty.
Cancer doesn’t care who it cuts down.

13. Born Free

Meru National Park is about 200 miles north east of Nairobi.
We have a 3-day safari planned in Meru.

Meru National Park is where Joy and George Adamson reintroduced their beloved lioness Elsa back into the wild. The Adamsons wrote a book about their experience which was made into the feature film Born Free.

Rented Born Free on Amazon Video last night.
The first time I saw it (which was also the last time) was in 1966, when it was originally released.
I haven’t read Born Free, but I understand the film is a decent adaptation of the book.

8. She was beautiful. She was notorious. She loved Africa.

At Linda’s suggestion, I’ve begun reading West with the Night. It’s another memoir by a strong-willed woman who called Africa her home. Both Beryl Markham and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) lived their lives with great independence – independence rarely afforded women at that time – taking risks in the face of fear, taking up arms against stuffy social norms, and taking paths previously forged only by men (not to mention taking on a few lovers along the way).

Early in her memoir Markham writes, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla , an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations . . . To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home. It is all these things but one thing. It is never dull.”

And I am eager to go!

5. Out of Africa

We plan to visit the Karen Blixen Museum while in Nairobi.

Yesterday I read Blixen’s memoir, Out of Africa. I opened to the first page in the morning and didn’t go to sleep until I’d come to the end. It begins, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills .” It is that farm that we shall visit.

— Deeper into the book, she describes the flight made so famous by the movie. —

“To Denys Finch Hatton I owe what was, I think, the greatest, the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm: I flew with him over Africa. . . You have tremendous views as you get up above the African highlands. Surprising combinations and changes of light and coloring. the rainbow on the green sunlit land, the gigantic upright clouds and big wild black storms all swing round you in a race and a dance. “

Source: Screen Themes, YouTube (Time: 3:29 – and worth it)

And then there’s one of my favorite lines:
“. . . You may at other times fly low enough to see the other animals on the plains, and to feel towards them as God did when he had just created them and before he had commissioned Adam to give them names.”