Tag Archives: Conservation

African Wildlife Encounter #2: African Wild Dogs with Puppy

On this day while in Tembe Elephant Park we were working to habituate three African Wild Dogs (also called Painted Dogs) to the sound of the vehicle. The goal was to get them used to our vehicle so that we could both identify all the members of the pack, check their health, and eventually dart them for translocation to a safer area. To do this, we routinely had to locate the alpha female which wears a radio-collar and place parts from a dead Nyala or Impala on the ground, chained or tied to a tree.

A recording of Painted Dogs making a kill was played and usually after 10-20 minutes the pack would have found us and sniffed out the free food. This was the first time that we saw the puppy come out from its den.

Painted Dog pups typically den for their first several weeks, suckling from their mother and, when they’re old enough, eating food regurgitated to them from their older pack members or small bits of food brought back for them. After only a couple of months they must be strong enough to follow the pack’s nomadic lifestyle and keep up on the exciting hunts. Once old enough to keep up with the pack, Painted Dogs typically let the youngest eat first to make sure that they have enough nourishment, which is why we see the adult deferring to the youngest member. The twittering sounds heard int his video mostly come from this feisty pup who is excited to have this feast and also bravely guarding his meal!

Like their canine cousins, Painted Dogs give birth to several pups per litter. Unfortunately the little pup in the video, probably 8-12 weeks old, was the only survivor. While it’s not uncommon for pups to be lost due to weakness or disease, it’s most likely that predator persecution by lions was the cause of this pup losing its siblings.

The pup was very strong and active during the observation period, as shown in this video. The high-pitched vocalizations that are heard are characteristic of Painted Dogs and serve as a means of expressing excitement over their meal and letting others in the pack know that there is food to share.

More Information:

Many people have mistaken the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus) as a diseased Wolf, Domestic Dog, or even Jackal. However there are several defining visual characteristics which set the African Wild Dog apart from its distant relatives in the Canidae family. The most obvious feature is the coloration of its coat. Often they have three distinct colors represented: white, black, and tan, although there are some dogs with little or no white. Close-up, it’s also easier to make out their ears which are larger than a similarly-sized dog’s or wolf’s and much more rounded than triangular.

African Wild Dogs are better described by their other name, “Painted Dogs,” because they are naturally wild and evolved independently from the other extant species in the Canidae family, which includes Wolves, Jackals, Coyotes, and Domestic Dogs. Painted Dogs live in packs with usually around a dozen members, but packs have been observed with three times that many members. They are among Africa’s most successful hunters. Painted Dogs achieve their goals at least 30% of the time, about twice as often as large cats including Lions which may hunt as a pride.

Unlike Lions and other species that live in a close-knit group, Painted Dogs often let their young eat first. This suggests that the dogs are not only grouping for social reasons, but because they are stronger as a pack and only as strong as their weakest member.

Great Books on Adventures and Wildlife Conservation (2014 List)

Listed below are some fascinating true stories about incredible individuals creating their own adventures, overcoming adversity, and discovering themselves and the world around them. These books and memoirs make great gifts for adventurers, people interested in wildlife conservation, and animal lovers for the holidays! Check the Back Country Gear page for other books and gear recommended by Red Hawk Adventures!

Note: All synopses are from GoodReads.com and are property of their respective owners. All links are to GoodReads which has ratings, synopses, and user-created reviews of the books listed below as well as books on related subjects.

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

   When the Iraq war began, conservationist Lawrence Anthony could think of only one thing: the fate of the Baghdad Zoo, located in the city center and caught in the war’s crossfire. Once Anthony entered Baghdad he discovered that full-scale combat and uncontrolled looting had killed nearly all the animals of the zoo.

  But not all of them. U.S. soldiers had taken the time to help care for the remaining animals, and the zoo’s staff had returned to work in spite of the constant firefights. Together the Americans and Iraqis had managed to keep alive the animals that had survived the invasion.

 Babylon’s Ark chronicles the zoo’s transformation from bombed-out rubble to peaceful park. Along the way, Anthony recounts hair-raising efforts to save a pride of the dictator’s lions, close a deplorable black-market zoo, and rescue Saddam’s Arabian horses. His unique ground-level experience makes Babylon’s Ark an uplifting story of both sides working together for the sake of innocent animals caught in the war’s crossfire.

The Elephant Whisperer: Learning about life, loyalty and freedom from a remarkable herd of elephants by Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

   When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of ‘rogue’ elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in South Africa, his commonsense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised, dangerous, and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape…As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about life, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.

Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick

  Daphne Sheldrick, whose family arrived in Africa from Scotland in the 1820s, is the first person ever to have successfully hand-reared newborn elephants. Her deep empathy and understanding, her years of observing Kenya’s rich variety of wildlife, and her pioneering work in perfecting the right husbandry and milk formula have saved countless elephants, rhinos, and other baby animals from certain death.

   In this heartwarming and poignant memoir, Daphne shares her amazing relationships with a host of orphans, including her first love, Bushy, a liquid-eyed antelope; Rickey-Tickey-Tavey, the little dwarf mongoose; Gregory Peck, the busy buffalo weaver bird; Huppety, the mischievous zebra; and the majestic elephant Eleanor, with whom Daphne has shared more than forty years of great friendship.

    But this is also a magical and heartbreaking human love story between Daphne and David Sheldrick, the famous Tsavo Park warden. It was their deep and passionate love, David’s extraordinary insight into all aspects of nature, and the tragedy of his early death that inspired Daphne’s vast array of achievements, most notably the founding of the world-renowned David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Orphans’ Nursery in Nairobi National Park, where Daphne continues to live and work to this day.

    Encompassing not only David and Daphne’s tireless campaign for an end to poaching and for conserving Kenya’s wildlife, but also their ability to engage with the human side of animals and their rearing of the orphans expressly so they can return to the wild, Love, Life, and Elephants is alive with compassion and humor, providing a rare insight into the life of one of the world’s most remarkable women.

Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family by Cynthia Moss

   Cynthia Moss has studied the elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park for over twenty-seven years. Her long-term research has revealed much of what we now know about these complex and intelligent animals. Here she chronicles the lives of the members of the T families led by matriarchs Teresia, Slit Ear, Torn Ear, Tania, and Tuskless. With a new afterword catching up on the families and covering current conservation issues, Moss’s story will continue to fascinate animal lovers.

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith, Richard L. Proenneke

  To live in a pristine land unchanged by man…to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed…to choose an idyllic site, cut trees and build a log cabin…to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available…to be not at odds with the world but content with one’s own thoughts and company.

   Thousands have had such dreams, but Richard Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country. One Man’s Wilderness is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature’s events that kept him company.

   From Proenneke’s journals, and with first-hand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond.

The Wilderness Family: At Home with Africa’s Wildlife by Kobie Krüger

   Everyone warned Kobie Krüger that being the wife of a game warden at a remote ranger station in South Africa’s largest national park would be an arduous move. The heat was unbearable, malaria would be a constant danger, her husband would have to be away for long stretches, there were no schools or nearby doctors for their three daughters, and of course the area teemed with wild animals. Yet for Kobie and her family, the seventeen years at South Africa’s Kruger National Park were the most magical of their lives. Now, in The Wilderness Family, Kobie recounts the enchanting adventures and extraordinary encounters they experienced in this vast reserve where wildlife has right of way.

  […] But nothing prepared the Krügers for the adventure of raising an orphaned lion cub. The cub was only a few days old and on the verge of death when they found him alone.  Leo, as the girls promptly named the cub, survived on loads of love and bottles of fat-enriched milk, and soon became an affectionate, rambunctious member of the family. At the heart of the book, Kobie recounts the unique bond that each of the Krügers forged with Leo and their sometimes hilarious endeavor to teach him to become a “real” lion and live with his own kind in the wild.

  Writing with deep affection and luminous prose, Kobie Krüger captures here the mystery of untamed Africa–its fathomless skies, soulful landscapes, and most of all, its astonishing array of animals. By turns funny and heart-breaking, engaging and suspenseful, The Wilderness Family is an unforgettable memoir of a woman, her family, and the amazing game reserve they called home for seventeen incredible years.

The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures by  Lawrence Anthony, Graham Spence

    When Lawrence Anthony learned that the northern white rhino, living in the war-ravaged Congo, was on the very brink of extinction, he knew he had to act. If the world lost the sub-species, it would be the largest land mammal since the woolly mammoth to go extinct. In The Last Rhinos, Anthony recounts his attempts to save these remarkable animals.

   The demand for rhino horns in the Far East has turned poaching into a dangerous black market that threatens the lives of not just these rare beasts, but also the rangers who protect them.

   The northern white rhino’s last refuge was in an area controlled by the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most vicious rebel groups in the world. In the face of unmoving government bureaucracy, Anthony made a perilous journey deep into the jungle to try to find and convince them to help save the rhino.

    An inspiring story of conservation in the face of brutal war and bureaucratic quagmires, The Last Rhinos will move animal lovers everywhere.

The Cowboy and His Elephant by Malcolm MacPherson

   In the late 1980s, a female baby elephant was born on the plains of Southern Africa. In a “cull,” her family was slaughtered. Only the newborn female’s life was spared. Terrified and bewildered the young elephant was transported to America to be sold.

   Bob Norris is a cowboy with an enormous empathy for animals. Handsome as a movie star, he was the Marlboro Man, with his face appearing on billboards around the world. But something was missing. When the hurt, vulnerable little elephant, Amy, came into his life, an incredible bond between the most unlikely of friends was forged.

  Bob adopted Amy and through close observation, gentle training, humor, and endless perseverance, this accomplished horseman gradually coaxed Amy into overcoming her mistrust of humans, and her fear of the world. Amy became a beloved member of the Norris family, and partner to the ranch hands, but Bob knew from the start that the ultimate goal was for Amy to regain her confidence “and” her independence – even, if it were possible, to go back to the savannahs of Africa.

   Amy may have left the cowboy’s life, but she never left his heart. “The Cowboy and His Elephant” is a story of mutual friendship, of genuine love and compassion, and foremost, this is an American story with roots that run deep in the values and traditions of the American West.

Check out these and other books, memoirs, and nature and adventure documentaries on the Back Country Gear page recommended by Red Hawk Adventures and buy them direct from Amazon.com!

African Wildlife: Hyaenidae Family (Hyena and Aardwolf)

Hyenas and Aardwolves play an integral role in their habitats and show tremendous diversity between species. Interestingly, Hyenas are categorized in the feliformia suborder of the carnivora order due to a physiology and behavior more similar to cat-like species. Each species has shown unique adaptations that allow it to be individually successful in specific environments and they have all out-lasted the dog-like species that had similar bone-crushing adaptations millions of years ago.

While not typically called a Hyena, the Aardwolf is classified in the same suborder, but is not a descendant of the same ancestors of its bone-crushing relatives. The name Aardwolf is derived from the Afrikaans words “earth” and “wolf” because it primarily feeds on termites rather than on large animals or plants.

The other three species in the Hyena family are known for their ability to crush bones, one of several specializations that evolved millions of years ago and allowed the ancestors of modern Hyena to succeed in varied environments and compete successfully with rival species in their region. Spotted Hyena have the strongest jaws of any mammal and are capable of exerting enough force (1140 lbf/in2 ) to crush elephant bones.

The Spotted Hyena, also known as the Laughing Hyena because of its trademark vocalization, is one of Africa’s largest predators and the largest of the four species in the family. Another interesting aspect is that Spotted Hyena females have high levels of testosterone which plays a role in the hierarchy of the clan as it is females that are dominant, with an alpha female taking precedence in the clan and taking the largest share of any group kill. Females also are typically the most aggressive and largest. High testosterone levels may also be responsible for the development in female Spotted Hyena of ambiguous genitalia.

Conservation Status & Threats
Injured female Spotted Hyena by the side of the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Injured female Spotted Hyena by the side of the road in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Spotted Hyena and Aardwolves are listed as “least concern” by IUCN, with the Striped Hyena listed as “near threatened” and the Brown Hyena as “vulnerable.” Habitat loss may represent the largest threats to the Hyaenidae species, but pesticide use in agriculture and pest control also plays a role in harming Aardwolves which eats primarily insects. In addition, there is a lot of misinformation and folklore which harms the relationship between humans and Hyena, furthering beliefs that the animals are ugly and evil.

This mistreatment and misunderstanding has in the past been exemplified in South Africa where the Aardwolf has been mistaken by land owners as a vicious carnivore and killed to protect livestock. Incidentally, overgrazing leads to a suitable habitat for termites, which Aardwolves can then control through predation, without impacting the livestock. This mutualistic relationship has helped farmers understand the utility of local Aardwolf populations.

However predator persecution, demand for traditional medicine, and poaching-related wildlife crimes can still present a noticeable impact on local populations. In particular, scavenging vultures are being increasingly targeted by poachers, who know that circling vultures act as a beacon that there is a newly dead animal. Anti-poaching rangers use such insights from the environment and quickly respond to a potential threat. To counter this response poachers have been poisoning the remains of animals to intentionally target vultures, however the poisons affect all scavenging species in the ecosystem including Brown and Striped Hyena and juvenile African Sea Eagles.

Various Hyena species have been blamed for livestock attacks or theft but only Spotted and Striped varieties have been known to kill humans and potentially livestock. Whereas the Brown Hyena is more likely to have been found scavenging remains that it finds and not be the culprit. However scavenging behavior, including digging for recently buried remains, have made many people regard Hyena with suspicion and fear. But that hasn’t prevented some individuals, and even warlords, from keeping Spotted Hyena as guard animals or exotic pets. However due to the nature of the animals, this relationship does not work out very well and many adult Hyena become too aggressive to be domesticated and lack opportunities to manage its hygiene, impacting its long-term health.

In some areas the species are killed for their parts for use in traditional medicines. These practices are evident in many old cultures, including ancient Romans and ancient Greeks, where specific parts of the Hyena were believed to aid in fertility or protect against evil. Hyena also have negative associations in both Middle Eastern and African folklore and mythology, partly due to the perception of scavenging animals being evil or related to the occult because they interact with dead bodies. However with scavenger animals to “clean up” the remains of dead animals, even if they are rotting or toxic, their habitat and human habitats would be at much greater risk of disease.

Habitat & Life

Distribution of species in Hyaenidae family, by Craig Pemberton (CCA-SA3.0)

All species in the Hyaenidae family are capable of vocalizations, although some barks are more reminiscent of a laugh than others, particularly in the Spotted Hyena. All species also bear a similar shape, with the forelegs being longer than the rear. It’s thought that this trait allows the meat-eating Hyena to more easily pick up carcasses or bones and carry it to their den, which could be kilometers away, or stored in one of their hiding spots.

The Spotted Hyena and Striped Hyena have the greatest ranges, each dominating significant portions of Africa. The Spotted Hyena is found in most open plains, bushveld, and rocky areas of sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the majority of South Africa. Spotted Hyena can travel up to 80 km (50 miles) a night as they search for food or a new clan. The Striped Hyena is the only existing species of the genus found in the Middle East through to India, but also survives in North and East Africa. The Brown Hyena is confined to a much smaller area, but has ranges throughout most of southern Africa due to its hospitable bushveld and grassland. Aardwolf populations are divided between parts of East Africa and the majority of southern Africa.

Clans of Spotted Hyena rely on several hierarchies to establish dominance over one another. Females are at the top, but an alpha female leads the clan and may kick members out. Her female relatives are typically the other top members of the hierarchy. Males establish their own dominance hierarchy that may determine which male(s) are allowed to mate with females. Clans of Spotted Hyena may range from 2-10, but hunting packs are typically 2-3 individuals.

Striped Hyena are more solitary than other Hyena and typically live in monogamous pairs and it’s the responsibility of the male to defend the den and young while the female forages for food. Alternatively they may hunt or scavenge in a family unit along with their young for one or more years.

Brown Hyenas may create a clan out of a family unit of many young, or organize into a small group of males and females with one alpha male dominant. Foraging may take individuals upwards of 50 km in a night as it looks for something to scavenge. Because kills are not always abundant, Brown Hyena may prey on rodents, eggs, and even eat fruits and vegetables to significantly supplement its diet.

Relatives

“Aardwolf taken at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.” by Greg Hume (CCA-SA3.0)

The Aardwolf (Proteles cristata), an insect-eating species that looks similar to the Striped Hyena, is also in the Hyaenidae family, but is in its own subfamily (Protelinae), while remaining a part of the overarching Hyaenidae group because of many similarities to the common ancestors of the Hyena. The Aardwolf specializes in eating termites and is predominantly nocturnal, when it will digs holes into sandy soil or termite mounds and may eat two hundred thousand termites and larvae in a single night, but may leave the nest intact so as to preserve the population for future predation. There is evidence that the Aardwolf will also eat small rodents and birds to supplement its diet.

Aardwolves are notably smaller than Hyena, standing 40-50 cm (1.3-1.6 feet) at the shoulders and weighing only 7-15 kg (15-33 pounds). They can be distinguished from their Hyena cousins by their slender build, coloration, and the five toes on their front paws.

Identification

Brown Hyena. Source: South African Tourism (http://www.southafrica.net)

Striped Hyena and Brown Hyena are about the same size, but their different markings make them easy to distinguish with the shaggy hair of the Brown Hyena very distinctive among the Hyaenidae. In Brown Hyena the males are typically a little larger than the females. Both sexes have large manes, the largest of any Hyena species, with long guard hairs that can stand on end to make themselves look larger to potential threats.

Spotted Hyena females have ambiguous genitalia which can make identification between males and females difficult. However female Spotted Hyena are typically also larger than the males as well as more aggressive, particularly in keeping their fellow clan members in line. Both males and females lack a significant mane, which differentiates them from the Aardwolf and Striped and Brown Hyena.

Comparison (Figures are approx.)

Attribute Brown Spotted Striped Aardwolf
Head and body length 1.1-1.3 meters (3.6-4.2 feet) .95-1.65 meters (3.1-5.4 feet) 1.0-1.1 meters (3.2-3.6 feet) .5-.8 meters (1.6-2.6 feet)
Shoulder height 64-88 cm (2.1-2.8 ft) 70-92 cm (2.3-3.0 ft) 60-95 cm (2-3.1 ft) 45-50 cm (1.5-1.6 ft)
Mane length 30 cm (1 ft) ~0 cm 20 cm (0.66 ft) ?? cm (?? ft)
Tail length 18-27 cm (0.6-0.9 ft) 25-36 cm (0.8-1.2 ft) 26-47 cm (0.8-1.5 ft) 20-30 cm (0.6-0.9 ft)
Male weight 37-45 kg (81-99 lb) 40-86 kg (88-189 lb) 25-55 kg (55-121 lb) 7-15 kg (15-33 lb)
Female weight slightly less than males 46-93 kg (101-205 lb) 25-55 kg (55-121 lb) 7-15 kg (15-33 lb)
Litter size 1-5 1-5 1-3 1-5

Sources

“Proteles cristata”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

“The National Audubon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife” by Peter Alden, et al. (Copyright 1995 by Chanticleer Press, Inc.)

“The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals” Revised Edition, by Richard D. Estes (Copyright 1999 by Chelsea Green Publishing Co.)

“Walker’s Mammals of the Modern World” Sixth Edition, Volume 1, by Ronald M. Nowak (Copyright 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press)

Further Reading

Hyena Conservation

 

The Aspects that Affect Conservation and Anti-Poaching Initiatives: Introduction

Many improvements can be made in the way that conservation and wildlife protection is provided in Africa and Asia, however there are a number of reasons why these improvements are not easy to make or readily accessible to the people on the ground. Education and technology are interwoven in their ability to aid conservation efforts and improve understanding and support worldwide. Future articles in this cross section of conservation and anti-poaching technology will relate ways that current and future technologies can and do influence conservation efforts.

Politics

Africa is a massive continent composed of roughly 55 countries, some of the wealthiest and poorest, and is home to more than 1.1 billion people from many cultures speaking thousands of languages. Additionally, the lower half of the continent tends to observe Christianity while in the upper half varieties of Islam are more common. Because of these immensely diverse aspects represented by so many countries it’s not the easiest place to unify or push towards a singular goal. And due to decades of regional turmoil many governments lack the strong democratic foundations and liberties that many western nations enjoy.

Many of these problems stem from residual effects of colonization by various European powers. The country of South Africa for instance includes land that was at one time colonized or settled by the English, Dutch, Germans, and French — sometimes simultaneously. Administration of these territories by foreign powers created boundaries that divided existing governments and cultures and sometimes reconsolidated disparate groups in one region which led to violent conflict. Similar post-colonial issues affect the current borders and cultural groupings of Middle Eastern and Asian countries which feature much more prominently in the news today.

Colonization and world wars had devastating affects on some African countries and slowed their progress to becoming self-sufficient and strong countries. For instance Libya gained independence from Italy in 1951 and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) was only recognized as independent from the United Kingdom in 1980. As with many other countries that sought independence but lacked the guidance to achieve a form of government representative of the people they quickly devolved into military dictatorships and repressive regimes. Perhaps worst off were the countries like Angola and Mozambique (located on opposite sides of the continent) which both fought wars for independence from Portugal then succumbed to internal political turmoil and violence that allowed for post-independence civil wars to ensue and envelope adjacent regions in further conflict. Many of the top-tier poachers in Africa are veterans of these wars with extensive paramilitary and even special forces training and modern equipment.

“Rhodesian geopolitical situation in 1975; Green: Rhodesia; Blue: Government allies; Red: Nationalist allies.” Attrib: Cliftonian, Wikipedia.org

This instability is not entirely the fault of western influence, but European colonialism as well as Cold War power-plays by Russia, China, and many other countries have contributed to a suspicion of many westerners and foreigners in general among many African governments. This has a profound effect on western conservation organizations and individuals that want to lend assistance but are turned away because of past disagreements and continued distrust at a national level. Importing goods from overseas, such as vehicles and other large pieces of equipment essential for effectively securing private reserves becomes difficult if not impossible when the host government is skeptical of the intent of the equipment. For this reason many already militarized governments, such as Zimbabwe’s, make it extremely difficult for foreigners to license vehicles, firearms, drones and other items that could be turned on the government.

People and Culture

The most important aspects of conservation that people tend to overlook are the existing people and cultures of the region which must coexist with wildlife or which already suffer from human-wildlife conflict. These people, usually in small towns, must also coexist with the Non-Governmental Organizations that have conservation efforts in the area and the foreigners that come into the country to support it.

As with any situation that brings together people from different cultures, backgrounds, and financial situations there can be hostility or wariness of the other group, slowing the progress of working together towards a common goal. Bringing in members of the local community to support conservation efforts can be a great way to strengthen that relationship; provide jobs; and find reliable, skilled individuals that know the terrain, wildlife, and will work for reasonable wages. It’s common knowledge in the tracking and anti-poaching community that locals in many of these regions have excellent tracking and hunting skills which in some cases are identical to covert or guerilla warfare tactics. The special forces of several countries, including the United States and United Kingdom have trained with and developed their tactics from certain groups of African natives that have generations of experience operating covertly in the bush.

Economy

Many people generalize that Africa is an impoverished region and while there are extreme situations of poverty represented in a number of African countries, Africa has its share of wealth with approximately 100,000 known millionaires, as well as some of the largest economies in the world. However many African nations still have a large income disparity between the people making the most and the least money, and interest in caring about the future of the country and its natural resources are left to those who can exert the most power, while the disenfranchised have to work constantly at not slipping into abject poverty. Few people seem to have time to care about the health and long-term considerations related to the natural resources and wildlife of their country.

In Tourist Traps, Wildlife, and Sustainable Tourism I mentioned how the tourism industry relates to the local and national economy and can effect conservation efforts.This has a large effect on the way countries view foreign tourists (usually with the minimum amount of politeness), but it also relates to the way governments see conservation efforts and wealthy private donors that may lease reserves or contribute large amounts of funding to specific conservation programs such as elephant conservation or lion rewilding. Governments and businesses see these programs as great ways to improve the health of local wildlife and ecosystems at little or no cost to the programs that exploit wildlife — often with no long-term plan to cope with dwindling lion and rhino populations which are major attractions for photo safaris and hunting reserves.

Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, all countries in southern Africa, generate about 10% of their respective Gross Domestic Product through the tourism industry. Even South Africa with its strong mining industry sees around 10% of employment from tourism and travel industries. This also contributes to a large portion of employment in these countries, particularly Namibia which has nearly 20% of its workforce employed in the tourism sector. Much of the tourism industry is centered around the abundant wildlife and natural beauty of these countries, but as poaching has lead to more human-targeted violence and a steep decline in the most popular wildlife species tourists have been scared away.  It’s the role of conservation groups to not only revitalize the environment in these regions but to also explain the importance of long-term investments in environmental health so that lucrative tourism industries can again thrive in the future.

Size and Scope

One of the largest obstacles is how wide-spread poaching is and how much land would have to be actively protected in order to substantially reduce poaching by locals, subsistence farmers, commercial poachers, and other groups with an interest and association with animal trafficking groups.

However modern technology is playing a large role in more effectively applying skills and improving time and resource management. Just as farmers are able to more effectively track their livestock with aerial surveillance equipment conservationists are finding utility in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles equipped with basic, reliable, and inexpensive equipment that can be used and abused in the field without too much concern over operational costs.

St. Inigoes, Md. (June 27, 2005) – A group photo of aerial demonstrators at the 2005 Naval Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Air Demo held at the Webster Field Annex of Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Pictured are (front to back, left to right) RQ-11A Raven, Evolution, Dragon Eye, NASA FLIC, Arcturus T-15, Skylark, Tern, RQ-2B Pioneer and Neptune. The daylong UAV demonstration highlights unmanned technology and capabilities from the military and industry and offers a unique opportunity to display and demonstrate full-scale systems and hardware. This year’s theme was, “Focusing Unmanned Technology on the Global War on Terror.” – Wikipedia.org

These technologies can create an advantage for the conservationists and anti-poaching organizations that often operate against superior numbers of poachers. However poachers are not without technology and the groups funded by criminal syndicates, rebel governments, and even state militaries are exceptionally well outfitted with supplies, weapons, vehicles, and even internet-enabled devices such as laptops and tablets. This rise of technology has become particularly problematic for areas such as Kruger National Park where civilian-developed wildlife sighting apps are being used by poachers to find the geo-location of recent rhino and elephant sightings and home in on those animals, sometimes killing them the same day they’re photographed and marked by the app.

But conservation groups with the help of outside experts are able to use their own tools to protect those same animals by creating advantages in tracking, observation, and even development of informant networks that cross political boundaries. All of this information can be assessed and translated into to useful data that can help predict where poaching hotspots will develop and what types of people are doing the poaching. By using these distinct advantages against an opponent the effectiveness of an individual or group can be focused and even exceed the expected effectiveness of the normal unit. The military has a term for this: a force multiplier. Conservation and anti-poaching groups that success in exploiting these advantages will be effective in their goals but also save money and lives.

In the end all conservation efforts, including those to restore the natural balance of wildlife, will depend upon financial and personal support by the people that are most affected by conflict, political instability, economic recessions, human and wildlife rights, and environmental changes: all of us.

Southern Africa 2014: What I enjoyed most about volunteering in Zimbabwe

The most enjoyable aspects of volunteering in Zimbabwe break down into three simple parts: the people and culture of the region, the great food that made every meal a morale-boosting focal-point of the day, and the incredible experiences gained through encountering the wildlife we were there to learn about and help protect.

People & Culture

Overall I had a great experience volunteering with the IAPF in Zimbabwe. The opportunity to work and camp alongside experienced anti-poaching rangers was phenomenal and gave me a lot of insight into what everyday life is like in the wild of Africa as well as what the local people are like. Everyone that I met during my adventure was very welcoming and friendly, even those not affiliated with the tourism industry. I also had a great time with the other volunteers and we interacted well with the many rangers at camp and as we participated in their patrols and training.

During day-to-day interaction with the rangers we learned a tremendous amount from where the best place to stand in camp to get cellular coverage to how to select elephant dung to burn in the campfire to keep mosquitoes away. Learning bush survival tips from the rangers was one of my favorite aspects of the entire trip and allowed a chance for the volunteers to interact casually with the rangers while still learning the ropes. We also had opportunities while on some of the patrols to get to know the rangers personally and find out whether they were married, how many kids they had, and what their aspirations for their children were. Many of the rangers wanted their sons to be involved in conservation as well.

Over the course of my trip I had a couple chances to experience the local culture and way of life, but much of that required cutting through the tourist-friendly façade. Most of the white Zimbabweans that lived locally and worked in the tourism industry worked in the area of wildlife conservation or in high-value occupations, like helicopter pilot, that require education and experience most easily gained in expensive foreign universities. Most of the black Zimbabweans that lived locally were either unemployed (officially, unemployment in the country is 80%) or working at all levels of the tourism industry from making carvings, running shops, and operating safaris. It was sad to see such income disparity dividing the people of Zimbabwe and due to its past of being a colony and a minority-ruled country Zimbabwe now has strict regulations relating to operating a business and the way that ownership is shared. Despite these vastly different lifestyles and the political and economic problems in the region Zimbabwe was still a great place to visit.

Great Food

Africa has some great traditional foods and with the strong tourism industries in many of the countries in southern Africa there is a huge fusion of cuisines catering to tourists from all over the world. Indian food has a strong following, as does traditional western fare, but the fusion of African and western foods blended together exciting flavors and made for a great dining experience.

Nsima Relishes (mealie pap or corn meal with relishes) by Jpatokal on wikipedia.org

The above photo shows three relishes or flavorful toppings and in the top-right corner is nsima in the Chichewa language, but also known as sadza in the Shona language, and mealiepap in Afrikaans. Because Africa has over two thousand recognized languages there can be a lot of different terms for a single dish and often the most popular and common languages are understood across language borders.

In the region I was in we called it sadza and sometimes mealiepap, but its name also depends on how its served. While in Zimbabwe we had sadza, which as a staple food was served the traditional way: as a side to virtually any main dish. Since sadza is just corn-meal it acts like potatoes would in the west: as a heavy starch that goes well with fish, pork, red meats, and all kinds of vegetables. In South Africa it’s commonly made into a breakfast porridge and served with only a bit of butter or peanut butter. Any way you have it, it’s a great way to get some long-term energy and is especially great for long days outdoors.

While volunteering with the anti-poaching rangers we were camped more than an hour away from the nearest town. We didn’t and couldn’t partake in the tourist food and restaurants while on duty and couldn’t afford the expense, either. However when we were near our main area of operation we were able to have the majority of our meals at a central facility and there was a chef dedicated to the task. This benefit our time management by streamlining our schedules to make sure that we never went hungry before going out on patrol and by keeping us focused on our duties rather than shopping, preparing, and serving food. Of course, we were responsible for cleaning up after a meal, which followed my thoughts on Meal Planning, Cooking, and Cleaning in the Field.

We were very lucky to have the luxury of a dedicated team member to prepare and cook for us. Good food, including fresh-baked bread and fresh vegetables, helped to keep morale high and our chef knew exactly how large our portions should be to keep active people well-fed and healthy. He had a great sense of taste and while he wasn’t always able to use the most diverse ingredients due to cost and our remoteness to a grocery store he always created meals that we looked forward to eat. That the volunteers in the group represented four continents didn’t pose a problem and every meal the chef made for us was excellent and familiar to our varied tastes.

Amazing Wildlife

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As volunteers we had the opportunity to go on game walks — hikes through the bush to observe wildlife — provided to us by professional game guides. These were very different than our patrols or snare sweeps and didn’t carry the ominous feel of walking into the unknown that sometimes hit us as we ventured through thick brush or climbed up rocky hills. Each game guide’s duty was to help us move through the wilderness safely and remain respectful of any animals that me might encounter indirectly through their tracks or directly. Understanding animal behavior, being able to read tracks and sign, and having the clear-headed view and insight to keep our group out of harms way takes years to learn and only a few individuals can be certified as game guides, a role that we all deeply appreciated. We also had at least one ranger with us as an extra set of eyes and ears, but who was also trained and legally allowed to use the right amount of force in the event of an encounter with a dangerous individual.

Our game walks provided a great experience to move freely through the region, taking in the changing terrains as much as possible while learning about the plants and trees that are used by the animals but also for wilderness survival. Many of the game guides offered up a lot of fascinating information on how different plants could be used for making rope, which leaves and bark were used as traditional medicines, and how different flora affected the environment around them. Having the game guides around was a fantastic learning experience and they helped to keep us from walking into trouble. Just as important, the opportunity to walk with these qualified individuals didn’t cost us anything beyond what we had paid for the program, which saved the volunteers a lot of money and didn’t put pressure on us to “get our money’s worth.”

Zim14_zebra_family_02

The game walks and game drives also allowed us to get close to wildlife in a safe and respectful way. Many safaris that tourists experience in quick tours of the bush end up startling the animals that people are paying so much to see, ruining the opportunity to take photos and see animals in their natural element. But by approaching elephants and buffalo, two of the most dangerous animals on the continent, with respect and with the guidance of the game guides and rangers we were able to observe much longer than most tourists.

If you’re interested in participating in conservation adventures jump over to the Get Involved page. If you’d like to learn more about the importance of wildlife conservation and anti-poaching methods that can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife and improve standards of living for humans please view our Objectives page. To make a financial commitment to preserving our wildlife please take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Conservation Groups page for featured recommendations and details.

Fence Lines: Dividing Africa and its Wildlife

In the first week of April there were a pair of articles that came out, one on Phys.org with the somewhat sensational title of “Fences Cause Ecological ‘Melt-Down’” and an article published in Science Magazine titled “To Fence or Not to Fence” both of which have the topic of partitioning land through the use of immense wire fence lines — some of which are electrified with a moderate current.

There are four groups that may use fences: private game reserves may provide tourists safari opportunities, legal or semi-legal hunting; private properties may offer private tours, guest houses for entertainment, or illegal hunting, but is not run as a business; conservation groups may build or inherit fence lines on their property or a property that they operate on; and public parks (especially national parks) may use a fence to distinguish the ultimate perimeter of the park.

While it’s easy to point to one possible solution and say “this is the way to fix the problem!” we must remember that every potential solution has its benefits and drawbacks. Putting up fences was one of those original solutions. And there are groups that rely on fences in order to conduct their activities. Now we find that fences have a number of ecological drawbacks. We must be careful with any solution proposed and implemented, that it meets with our current environmental and human needs, as well as future needs.

I can’t propose any definite solution to any of the problems caused by fences which I outline below, nor do I support all of the perceived “benefits” of having a fence. My only goal is to further inform and education people on this topic which may prove to be a key piece of the recovery of endangered wildlife in Africa and Asia.

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The above photo of a fence line in Africa has the characteristics of most fences one would see around a private game reserve: 3 or 4 meter (10-13 feet) tall steel poles at long intervals with stakes or smaller poles in between. Steel wire or cable then runs the length of the fence at varying heights, depending on what the fence is designed to keep in (or out).

These fence lines run the entire perimeter of properties, which can be tens of kilometers or more. Land, especially in northeastern South Africa, is parceled out in increments as marked on a map: nice, straight, and square, often bisecting large natural barriers such as rivers or mountains. This political demarcation fails to take into account the geographic obstacles, segregation of people, and environmental and ecological aspects of the animals — and people — that live in the area.

As pictured in the Phys.org article animals like the elephant will push over fences that would be obstacles to smaller, less powerful creatures. The fence shown above would not stop a 6,000 kilogram (13,000 pound) African elephant. Even if it were electrified, it would not prove a reliable obstacle: at best the elephant would find somewhere else to cross, at worst it would rip apart the fence and electric cable(s). So this obstruction has a very limited use in deterring animals. Fences will also vary in their design, with some having numerous posts and cables, making it difficult for even a human to casually slip through. Other fences may have fewer cables, leaving more space for agile antelopes to pass through, and even humans, but still restrict access to giraffes and large antelope such as wildebeest or African buffalo.

Ecological Impact

There are many ways that the local ecologies are impacted by the artificial boundaries that fence lines can represent. Migratory herds may have to travel different routes and territorial herbivores and carnivores could have their social structure impacted by their freedom of movement.

These impacts play a role in the way that humans view wildlife, the impact of human development in areas that were once wilderness, and changes our understanding of these animals that may not be behaving in the same way that their ancestors did. These changes to the local or regional ecology may be hard to detect and even more difficult for the average person to care about, but there are more obvious impacts as well.

Electrified fences can be a danger to humans, rangers, or poachers, as well as small animals or those that have more primitive systems like snakes, which will wrap themselves around threats or curl up in defense. Some animals will even unconsciously strike back at assumed threats, which again brings them into contact with the electric current. I’ve seen a couple of tortoises and snakes that have died this way and not only is it a painful death, it can also short-circuit some electrified fences, disabling them, and putting the rest of the wildlife at higher risk of being poached.

I’ve also seen animals that have adapted to fences, even electrified lines, that still manage to move between properties. I’ve seen a steenbok fleeing through the brush come out onto a dirt road. It threw the side of its body — a less sensitive part than its head or hindquarters — against the fence to see if it would receive a shock. Then, after a few more gallops, it leaped between the cabling of the fence and escaped into another property. I’ve also seen lions stalk large prey towards a fence line, trapping it for an easy kill. As humans interfere with nature by building fences or other artificial structures some animals find ways to adapt. Whether or not forcing this adaptation is “right” becomes a question of morality and a situation that affects every aspect of our relationship with the environment.

However not all animals are directly impacted by electrified fence lines. Many animals such as warthogs, porcupines, and small cats can slip under some fences, while wildlife like baboons and leopards will climb trees or other objects to safely get over a fence. Animals with broad territorial ranges or the ingenuity to adapt to these artificial obstructions will find ways around almost any fence system. But there is still an element of risk to the animal circumventing the fence as they attempt to cross tree branches or other obstacles. It’s important to remember that even structures like fences that have an obvious impact on the environment also have a more subtle, long-term impact on the behavior and risks of the animals in that environment.

Human Impact

Below are two satellite images of an area of South Africa adjacent to Kruger National Park. The faint lines are mostly two-lane dirt roads, while the rambling lines are dried-up waterways during the dry season and vast rivers during the rainy season.

The second image is edited to show where fence lines are or have been placed decades in the past when land allotments were in large increments (over 10,000 hectares each) and private reserves, private game reserves, and “farms” were massive enterprises largely dedicated to keeping the abundant wildlife within their property for the sake of tourism (safaris and hunting).

As property changes hands and the economy deteriorates this allows the larger private game reserves to buy out the smaller properties. Sometimes the intermediate fence lines are torn down to increase the available property, but this does not affect the status of the perimeter fence around the entire reserve.

Note that there are fences in Kruger National Park, but these are typically deeper into the interior where parcels of land are leased to organizations who are tasked with maintaining the land in exchange for paying for that maintenance. Fences also exist around some of the lodges and other major tourist points within the park to reduce the amount of animal-human contact.

Roads_in_South_Africa_from_satellite_view Fences_in_South_Africa_from_satellite_view

Fence lines can divide populations, wildlife, and resources, particularly in areas that rely on tourism and agriculture. But it also segregates the disenfranchised and destitute who live in nearby towns. As these towns grow they expand and, as seen in the bottom-left portion of the second image above, find a barrier at the fence line of a private game reserve.

In many parts of Africa fence lines are the most frequently patrolled areas: private property management or anti-poaching rangers check for intrusion attempts, wildlife tracks, and potential threats. As many of these perimeter fences are along existing dirt roads, it makes patrolling on foot or vehicle easy, and also makes it easy to discover signs of forced entry at these points.

Where towns and reserves meet, however, there will be an increased risk of needy people trespassing into the reserve and poaching small wildlife like fish or impala. These are not the sort of people that poach high-value wildlife such as rhino, leopard, or elephant. As a deterrent to would-be poachers, and to animals that would migrate elsewhere, many reserves use and maintain electrified fences which may have from one to four electrified lines added to the fence itself.

Security & Economics

Whether or not maintaining a fence, electrified or not, is worth the expense is a question of economics and security for the private game reserves or conservation groups that use fences.

Private game reserves must evaluate whether their wildlife, which they profit from, are likely to remain on the property without the fences. They must also consider the expense of maintaining existing fences, building new fences when powerful floods destroy them, and the prospect of taking down fences to open up the land so that the wildlife may range free.

The security of the staff, as well as trustworthiness of the laborers hired to take down the fences, comes into question. The security of the animals after they have been “freed” would also be of concern to a private reserve, especially one that is near a population center that might see a plurality of impala as an opportunity to eat well, rather than as food for a leopard that draws in tourist dollars.

On larger private reserves there will typically be individuals hired to assess the quality of life for the animals to insure that there is enough land, vegetation, and that there is the correct vegetation for species that are picky eaters. But it is unlikely that these people would be in a position to dictate environmental improvements in a for-profit business. Their job is only to maintain the wildlife.

On smaller properties it is less likely for any employees to be qualified to assess the impact of removing fences. And it’s even less likely that the property would have the funds to remove the fence lines even if they wanted to, especially on shared borders with other properties that might not cooperate.

Unique Problems Faced by Conservation Groups

Organizations specializing in conservation, animal rehabilitation, or ranger training or operations face a set of problems not totally unique, but which pose a particular juxtaposition to what may be their underlying ideology.

The largest problem is that a single fence line that acts as a division between the conservation group’s property and another property is technically the responsibility of both groups. This poses a problem when one group wants to remove the fence and the other does not, or does not want to contribute to the cost of taking down kilometers of steel cable and rods. This can leave morally upstanding conservation groups in a fix and unable to practice their ecological and environmental objectives.

Animal rehabilitation centers may need to use fence lines in order to retain certain animal species if only to deter them from wandering into a less-safe area. Big cat sanctuaries necessarily keep individual animals separate for their own safety from one another, but may also keep a large section of the property simply for breeding antelope for use in feeding the cats that are being bred or rehabilitated. The use of fences becomes an imperative of their activities, but may negatively impact the local environment or the goals of neighboring properties.

If you would like to learn more about efforts to stop poaching, please take a look at the Objectives page and learn why conservation is important and how anti-poaching methods can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife and improve standards of living for humans. If you’re ready to make a commitment to preserving our wildlife, take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Donate page. If you’re ready to get involved in your own adventure then jump over to the Get Involved page.

Southern Africa 2014: Activities of a Volunteer

As I approach the departure date for my adventure in southern Africa here are a few activities I’ll be participating in on a daily or irregular basis throughout my time volunteering. It won’t be all anti-poaching, nor are anti-poaching efforts exclusively policing actions.

Anti-Poaching Roles

  1. Identify potential threats, strengthen existing support roles or develop additional deterrents.
  2. Practice tracking of both wildlife and humans.
  3. Routinely patrol at-risk areas which include tracking wildlife to know their locations and make wildlife management and security easier; detecting potential intrusions into the property by animals or people; and reporting at-risk areas.
  4. Map specific areas for better future patrols; surveying and providing reports to property owners relating to their property lines and potential threats.

Conservation Activities

  1. Identify wildlife tracks and learning about behaviors.
  2. Identify native and invasive species of plants.
  3. If time permits removing invasive species of plants and laying out a basis for continued environmental improvements that benefit local flora and fauna as well as terrain and climate.

Adventures

  1. Camping and cooking as related to anti-poaching operations or vacation time. We should have some great opportunities to visit scenic areas and wildlife reserves.
  2. Down time: time to explore on our own, shop for local foods and supplies, and relax. Some people keep journals, read books, play cards, or sit around the camp fire.
  3. Going out to eat: occasionally it’s nice to sit down at a local restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere, regional foods, and have a nice meal with the entire team and leadership.
  4. Tourist activities as time permits and with the guidance of wildlife experts on our team for a friendly and casual safari.