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.

118. Friday’s Flyer: Masai Ostrich

Masai Ostrich *

The Masai Ostrich, also known as the Pink-Necked Ostrich or the East African Ostrich, is one of the 4 species of ostriches.
It’s found in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is one of the largest birds in the world, second only to the Northern-African Ostrich.
It has loose, soft, smooth feathers, which are black with white on the male, and grey brown with white on females.


The Masai Ostrich has a pink neck and thighs, that become brighter in males during the mating season.

It’s a flightless bird, as its wings are too small to lift its heavy body into the air. But it’s fast, reaching speeds up to 45 miles an hour.

Like other ostrich species, the top hen lays her eggs first, then other females put their eggs in her nest. After that, she discards the extra eggs from the nest and gives hers the priority. In most cases the nest doesn’t contain more than 20 eggs although every hen can lay 7 – 10 eggs.

The male Masai ostrich usually incubates eggs during the night shift and the female does the incubation during the day shift.

Masai ostriches are almost entirely herbivorous. Their diet consists mainly of grasses, bushes, herbs, succulents, and leaves. Occasionally they will consume flowers, fruits, seeds and small lizards.

Today the Masai Ostrich is hunted and farmed for eggs, meat, and feathers. Interestingly, a 2009 study found that illegal hunting of ostrich meat did not significantly affect the Masai Ostrich population density within the Serengeti National Park.

Source: National Geographic, YouTube (Time: 1:06)

The Masai Ostrich is listed as a species of “least concern” under the IUCN Red List, although the wild ostrich populations are acknowledged to be in decline.


 Why feature the Masai Ostrich?

A couple of posts this week centered on Maasi handiwork, so I picked a bird with the word “Masai” in its name. Simple as that.

117. Rare Black Leopard Photographed in Kenya

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.

“For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive,” says Will Burrard-Lucas, who shot the images of the black leopard.

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.”

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.

79. Z is for Zebra

Kenya has two kinds:
Grevy’s and Plains

Zebras are native to Africa. They are social animals and live in herds. Zebras can be found in a variety of habitats, such as grasslands, savannas, woodlands, mountains and coastal hills.

Their black and white stripes make them a safari goer’s favorite. No two stripe patterns are alike.

Zebras can rotate their ears 180 degrees, and can turn them separately so that one ear faces front, while the other listens for sounds back of them.
They have excellent eye sight, a dangerously strong kick and can run up to 35 miles per hour.



Zebras are very closely related to horses and donkeys. Although they’ve been ridden, they are small, with rather weak backs and cannot support very much weight. They’re much wilder and more aggressive than horses or donkeys, which makes domestication difficult.

Zebra’s are herbivores and can survive for a week without water. Peak birth periods for the Grevy’s are usually July through August, so I should be seeing a few babies when we go on a game drive.

Of the three species of zebra (Plains, Mountain and Grevy’s), both the Plains and Grevy’s reside in Kenya.


The Grevy’s Zebra

Grevy’s Zebras are the largest of the three zebra species. They have short manes and thin stripes that do not go all the way around their stomachs.

Grevy’s Zebras have large, round Mickey Mouse-like ears.

In the late 1800s, Kenya was home to between 20,000 and 30,000 Grevy’s Zebras. In the early 1980s, there were 15,000. Loss of habitat has dwindled their population to less than 2,500, making them one of the most endangered of wild animals.

Ninety percent of Grevy’s are found in Kenya.
They are hunted for their striking skins.

Source: mbzFund, Grevy’s Zebra Conservation in Kenya, YouTube (Time: 5:39)

The Plains Zebra

The Plains Zebra is the commonest of Africa’s three species and the one familiar to most safari goers.

Plains Zebra


The Plains Zebra has a striped belly. The stripes on its neck continue onto its mane, which has stiff, erect hairs.

Zebras nibble each other’s mane and neck to reinforce social bonds during mutual grooming.

They live in small family groups consisting of a male (stallion), several females, and their young. These units may combine with others to form awe-inspiring herds thousands of head strong, but family members will remain close within the herd

Source: Young Zebra’s Dangerous River Crossing | Life Story | BBC Earth (Time: 5:40)

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.

74. One Email, One Newsletter


The following is a Sheldrick Wildlife Trust email dated April 2, 2020, 8:59 am

Dear Supporter,

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.

SWT 2020: Saving Wild Lives – Securing Wild Spaces

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.

Stay safe, with gratitude,
Angela Sheldrick

Copyright © 2020 David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, All rights reserved.
Official emails from the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Our mailing address is:
David Sheldrick Wildlife TrustPO Box 15555MbagathiNairobi 00503Kenya

The following was taken from a National Geographic email dated April 2, 2020, 11:56 am

National Geographic Picture of the Day

You’re upside down.
No, you’re upside down.
No, you’re upside down.
No . . .

After two days of trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, photographer Cristina Mittermeier caught this resting gorilla peeking at her as he laid on the forest floor.

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)

71. Welcome to Botswana

The following was taken from a Change.org email dated March 25, 2020

– Welcome to Botswana –
Where Rich People Can Kill Elephants

Image Source: Change.org

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.

70. NEVER FORGET these Elephant Facts*

*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.”

Jumbo and his trainer, Matthew Scott


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.

Source: Herd Of Elephants Saves Another Family’s Baby, The Dodo, YouTube (Time: 3:05)

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.

69. Tusker Tim

“The world is mourning an icon.”
allAfrica.com


Tim, one of the last surviving super tusters, died in Amboseli National Park early last month.
According to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), he died of natural causes.
There was evidence that his wild animal friends had tried hard to resurrect him.

Famous for his rare majestic tusks, Tim was a very popular sighting for tourists who visited Amboseli National Park. He was considered an ambassador for his species.

Source: Lifegate.com, Tim in a mud-pit in 2018.


The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which helped save Tim from a swamp in 2018, sent out a statement saying, “Kenya lost a giant today. Our hearts are heavy as we remember a magnificent elephant who we grew to know and love.”

“Our hearts are broken,” said Wildlife Direct, a Nairobi-based conservation campaign group. “Tim was one of Africa’s very few Super Tuskers, and an incredible elephant whose presence awed and inspired many. He was one of Kenya’s National Treasures.”

Kimana Gate, Amboseli National Park


Tim was 50 years old. He called the Amboseli ecosystem (which spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border) his home.
His body was found not far from the Kimana Gate.

Elephant tusks never stop growing, so enormous tusks are usually a sign of an old elephant. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks.
African elephants are referred to as “tuskers” when their tusks grow so long that they reach the ground. Due to poaching, conservationists estimate only a few dozen such animals with tusks that size are now left on the continent.

Tim’s tusks were said to weigh more than 100 lbs each.


Tim’s body was moved to a taxidermist in Nairobi so that it can be preserved for display in the national museum for exhibition and education purposes.

Source: Wild Eye, YouTube (Time: 2:57)

68. There’s a New Addition to Nairobi’s Elephant Nursery

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.


The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Source: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, YouTube (Time: 3:38)

59. Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird *

Adult Secretary Birds have a featherless red-orange face and black coloring on the wings, thighs and elongated central tail feathers. They also have very long eyelashes.
The Secretary Bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens office workers tucked behind their ears in the 1800s.

Secretary Birds walk up to 20km a day in search of vipers, cobras and other snakes.
They are good fliers and nest and roost high up in acacia trees at night.

Source: American Scientist

Researchers in Hampshire, England have been studying the kicks of a male bird called Madeleine. They’ve found that when a secretary bird kicks a snake in the head, the killer blow can transfer five times the bird’s own weight in a hundredth of a second.
They say that studying extreme examples of animal movement could help design fast-moving robot limbs or prosthetics.

*Why feature the Secretary Bird?


I was drawn to the bird because it reminds me of how one of my aunts used to apply her make up.

Its kick is pretty impressive too.

Feathers the Bird and Aunt Gertrude

55. Coffee Trees

Coffee is Kenya’s third most valuable export (behind tea and ornamental flowers). Although Kenya is 16th in world coffee production, its beans are among the most desirable.

The country has areas of acidic soil that, when mixed with the right amount of sunlight and ample rainfall, help ensure delicious, productive crops.

There are small coffee farms and co-ops as well as large corporate coffee producers in Kenya.



Farmers look through their plants when it’s time to harvest, and choose the red cherries.

The video below, edited from the original, describes a bit of the coffee processing procedures.

Source: taken from COFFEE PROCESSING IN KENYA, Parallel Media, YouTube (Time: 3:18)
flowering coffee tree

Due to global coffee price instability and property boom in the areas that were previously used for cultivation, coffee production is in a state of decline.

52. Saddle-Billed Stork

Saddle-Billed Stork *

The Saddle-Billed Stork is one of the more easily identifiable birds in Kenya. Instant identification is made possible by its brilliantly colored kneecaps and bill.

The beak is red with a black band going around the middle, and on the upper side is the yellow “saddle” that includes small wattles that hang below the underside of the beak at the base that look like stirrups.

It is the tallest stork in the world with an 8-1/2 ft wingspan.

The saddle-billed stork has a diet based on fish, crustaceans and amphibians. Because the storks will use their beaks to stir up the water to flush out the fish, this causes the water to become muddy as well as the fish so they often wash their fish before consuming them whole.

The saddle-billed stork is silent because it doesn’t have a syrinx (the vocal organ of birds). Baby chicks must make a hissing sound when wanting their parents’ attention, but in adulthood they are mute. The following video a very quiet view of the saddle-billed stork.

Source: Saddle-billed Stork Fishing in Kruger Park, African Adventures, YouTube (Time: 2:35)

*Why feature the Saddle-Billed Stork?

Even for a novice birdwatcher, this bird should be fairly easy to identify.

Plus, you’ve got to love its built-in orange knee pads.

48. Highlighting the Hippopotamus

I certainly know one when I see one.
They eat . . .ummm . . plants, I think.
They’re big guys.
They can walk on the bottom of a riverbed.
It’s fun to say the plural — hippopotamuses.
They have twitchy ears.

Even though my bank of knowledge was already pretty impressive, I suspected there was more to learn.
Here’s what a little bit of googling got me.

Hippos are gregarious, living in groups of up to thirty animals. A group is called a pod, herd, dale, or bloat.

You should worry less about lions and Nile crocodiles and instead keep an eye out for hippos.They’re the biggest people-killers on the continent. And they give no hint as to when or why they might attack.


There are two species of hippos — the large/common hippo and the smaller relative, the pygmy hippo.

The process of surfacing every 3 – 5 minutes from the river’s floor to breathe is automatic. Even a hippo sleeping underwater will rise and breathe without waking!



Hippos can open their mouths to a massive 150 degrees to show their razor-sharp teeth, capable of biting a small boat in half.

Hippos mate in the water — with the female sometimes fully submerged. (Female hippos need a #MeToo movement.)
Hippo calves are born underwater.

Their closest living relatives are cetaceans (whales, porpoises, etc.) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago. (Never would have guessed that.)

There are a number of very informative videos on YouTube, two of which I have embedded here.
The second video (1 minute in length) will be of particular interest to any 7-year-old boys you may know.

Source: The Secrets of Nature, YouTube (Time: 5:02)
Source: Natural World, BBC, YouTube (Time: 0:53)

46. Oxpeckers

Oxpeckers *

There are two species of oxpecker, the yellow-billed and the red-billed. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker (image 1) is the more common of the two in Kenya.
Both species, also called tickbirds, have olive-brown or grey-brown bodies, wide bills, stiff tails and sharp claws. They cling to cattle and big-game animals to remove ticks, flies, and maggots from their hides. When alarmed, the birds hiss, alerting their hosts to possible danger. Though they rid animals of pests, oxpeckers also take blood from the sores, which may be slow to heal.

Source: WildEarth, The Oxpeckers Role in the Animal Kingdom, YouTube (Time: 2:33)

The oxpecker populations have been adversely impacted by relentless poisoning, but they live in such a wide range across Africa that they have not approached the classification of Vulnerable.

The Curious Case of the Giraffe and the Oxpecker

Oxpeckers are commonly seen riding along on large mammals while they search their hosts for ticks or open wounds. What’s not so common are the camera-trap images of giraffes at night with these birds using them as movable roosting spots. It is thought that this habit is an adaptation to save the birds time looking for the right animal the following day.

Night images of giraffes show that yellow-billed oxpeckers seem to prefer settling between the hind legs of the giraffe. This may be because it’s a warm spot in winter and keeps them safe from any nocturnal predators.

*Why feature the Oxpecker?

This week’s posts have a sort of Giraffe Week feel to them. Oxpeckers, having a rather important connection to giraffes, fit the theme.

45. Necking



For Homo sapiens, the word “necking” has a somewhat romantic connotation. But for giraffes, it’s just the opposite.

Male giraffes fight with their necks because it’s the most powerful and maneuverable weapon they have. This type of fighting, known as necking, is unique to their species, as most hoofed animals kick, bite or head-butt with lowered horns.

The giraffe bull will fight to establish dominance or to win the right to mate with the females in a particular area. Sometimes the fight is short-lived; on rare occasions, it’s to the death.

Source: Good Morning America, YouTube (Time: 1:58)

Their spot patterns and their super-long dark tongues make giraffes a curiosity, but it’s their long necks that make them the subject of wonder and amazement. Although their necks measure up to eight feet in length and weigh over 600 pounds, they contain only seven cervical vertebrae (neck bones) – the same number as we humans have. The difference is, each giraffe vertebra can be up to one foot in length.

An seven-foot-long neck means that a giraffe’s heart must pump blood 7 feet straight up. Such work is hard on an animal’s heart, and is partly responsible for a 20 – 25 year life span, which might otherwise be longer.

43. Giraffes

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.

Kenya is at the forefront of giraffe conservation. Last September, in an effort to better understand their spatial movements and habitat use in the wild, scientist fitted 28 solar powered GPS satellite tracking units to endangered reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya. Tranquilizing a giraffe to hook it up with a GPS tracker is a lot harder than it sounds – and it sounds hard! 

Source: The Giraffe Conservation Foundation (Time: 1:47)

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, and is protected by law.

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.

41. African Hornbills

African Hornbills *

There are 24 species of hornbills found throughout Africa.
They are characterized by a long, down-curved bill which is often found to be brightly colored.
Hornbills are omnivorous and use their beaks to pluck fruit and forage for seeds, small insects and spiders on the ground.
Most all species of hornbills are monogamous. A pair will bond for a single season. Upon bonding, the male will courtship feed the female with either solid items or regurgitation. (Yucky, but true.)



They nest in natural cavities in trees and sometimes in cliffs.


*
Why feature Hornbills? 

Zazu, the prim and proper bird in The Lion King, was a red-billed hornbill.  His character, who acted as advisor to the king, had a great sense of self-importance. Hornbills can’t be overlooked after one of their species has found Hollywood stardom.

36. Red and Yellow Barbet

Red and Yellow Barbet *

The Red and Yellow Barbet is a smallish bird with black, red and yellow plumage. It lives in low woodlands, scrubby savannas and rugged, semi-arid terrain. It’s omnivorous, feeding on seeds, fruit, and invertebrates.

Red and Yellow Barbets are very tame wherever humans feed them.

* Why feature the Red and Yellow Barbet?

It has polka dot wings for heaven’s sake! Hard to beat that.

31. Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher *

 The Pied Kingfisher, with its black and white plumage, hovers over clear lakes and rivers before diving down sharply to spear a fish with its beak. The video below shows this amazing skill in slow motion.
Males have a double band across the breast while females have a single patch of color on the throat that is often broken in the middle.
They’re usually found in pairs or small family parties. When perched, Pied Kingfishers often bob their heads and flick up their tails.


The Pied Kingfisher is the largest bird in the world
that can hover in still air.

Video source: BBC Studios

* Why feature the Pied Kingfisher?

This bird is one smart athlete. The whole hovering/split-second timing/vertical diving thing is incredible.
He’s shaped a little like a blue jay which might help me to recognize him in a perched position.

26. Lappet-Faced Vulture

Lappet-Faced Vulture *

The Lappet-Faced Vulture is Africa’s largest bird of prey. It has a pink head, blue and ivory beak, and heavy wings. The feathers on the upper part of its legs make it look as though it’s wearing a pair of white trousers. Like many vultures, it has a bald head, which is advantageous, because a feathered head would become spattered with blood and other fluids, and thus be difficult to keep clean.
The Lappet-Faced Vulture is a scavenging bird, feeding mostly on animal carcasses, which it finds by sight or by watching other vultures. Its vision is practically unmatched in the animal kingdom.
Ranking among the world’s most powerful flyers, the Lappet-Faced Vulture is capable of soaring on upward air currents for hours.


The Lappet-Faced Vulture is the most aggressive of all the African vultures, and other vultures usually cede a carcass to the Lappet-Faced if it decides to assert itself.
The first few seconds of this video remind me of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Source: DougNorrisFam, YouTube

Lappet-Faced Vultures are considered endangered, mostly due to habitat loss. In some cases, dozens at a time are poisoned by poachers who fear the presence of vultures will alert authorities to their illegal killing of protected species.

Source: BirdLife International, Saving Nature’s Clean Up Crew, YouTube (Time: 1:22)

 Why feature the Lappet-Faced Vulture?

These guys are the stars of every safari movie’s After-the-Kill Clean-up Scene that has ever been produced.
Their ill-gotten fame shoots them to the top of the Friday Flyer List.

21. Lilac-Breasted Roller

We’ll be visiting a country that boasts 1,137 species of birds.
I can identify an ostrich, a penguin, a chicken and a flamingo. Clearly, I’m going to need a bit of preparation to take advantage of this birdwatcher’s paradise.

Every Friday, a single bird, said to be common to Kenya, will be highlighted on this blog.
I don’t imagine for one minute that I’ll be able to shout out, “Look! There’s a Northern Long-Crested Hornbill on our left!”
But I’m thinking that some familiarization with just a few of these winged creatures might cause me to stop and take in the beauty of all that I see.
I’ll start with the National Bird of Kenya.

Lilac-Breasted Roller


The Lilac-Breasted Roller is considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world with its pastel colors and long tail streamers. 
Although mostly silent, it announces itself with a harsh, raspy call during the breeding season or when it feels its territory is threatened.
These large-headed birds are often found in a grassy clearings, atop a tree that serves as a hunting perch.

The Lilac-Breasted Roller does not migrate. It stays right in Kenya and breeds there. I guess what happens in Kenya, stays in Kenya.
It nests in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2-4 eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs.

All rollers, including the lilac-breasted, are known for their acrobatic, agile flight, aided by their tail streamers which they use as rudders while flying.

Source: YouTube, SafariLive 10 30 How the Lilac-breasted roller got his name

Next week: A Bird of Prey.

18. Walking With Elephants

I was poking around Amazon last night, looking for a good read,
when what to my wondering eyes did appear,
but a video suggestion with a place to Click Here.

It was free with my Amazon Prime subscription. So I figured, “What do I have to lose?”
Turns out, 49 minutes of my life. Well, not 49 minutes, as I just couldn’t sit through the whole thing.

How can a documentary entitled Walking With Elephants be boring?
Go onto Amazon’s site, “Click Here” and find out.

17. Kenya and Locusts – Yikes!

Knowing that I’m planning a trip to Kenya, my friend Robin sent me a link to an article in The Guardian (Jan. 25, 2020):
Kenya suffers worst locust infestation in 70 years as millions of insects swarm farmland
The enormity of the infestation, the pitifully few solutions to end the problem quickly, and the damage already done to the lands are of biblical proportions.

Source: New York Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Telegraph

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.

Source: Associated Press

The Associated Press explains one of the reasons why this is happening
How climate change feeds Africa locust invasion.”

Is anyone surprised?

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.