Sustainable Consumption & Behavioural Change

Leaving Consumerism Behind – Back to Basics in the Bush

 “There is a language beyond human language, an elemental language- one that arises from the land itself.”  (Linda Hogan, Chickasaw writer)

Silence, solitude, serenity. Remoteness, peace, tranquility. The simplicity of nature. Even adventure and adrenalin. A list as long as the wilderness is timeless. But for me, the single most pervasive magnetism of the African Bush is the tugging anticipation of the unknown. What lies around the next turn, beyond the next bush or koppie. Or just over the next crest?

And every time I experience the beauty of the wild, become captivated by a new experience, a new adventure, and I think there’s nothing further to match, so just then along comes something new. Something unexpected – something beyond anticipation.

We made a jovial team as we rolled into the camp that evening, criss-crossed by a lattice of lengthening dusk shadows. Inside the flimsy meshing gate, Oupa our tracker, shut-off the engine and unlatched our doors. One by one we jumped down onto the dusty white soil – home for the next three weeks.

Our lead ranger Nick welcomes us, points to the perimeter fence: “To keep people in,” he smiled, “not to keep the animals out.” He was right. There were clods of dry elephant dung all about, and a slew of broken branches left behind by a recent visitor made it clear that local guests needed no invitation.

Then an oddity. Just inside the fence line at the back of the bush camp three or four men were grouped around a rectangular wire cage – a trap of sorts it seemed. One of the men, the tallest, was bent inquisitively across the sliding door, inspecting it closely as he triggered the release mechanism and it dropped into position. An awkward banter permeated amongst the men, equal parts uncertainty and expectation. Because a leopard had been seen in the camp late one night. Well perhaps a leopard, because it had been dark. Almost routine it seemed, and so we thought nothing more of it. Absolutely.

Dawn breaks. At first light, Nick and Oupa lead our group out from camp in search of lion, walking us through the dawn chill to where the lion were thought to be, and hopeful we might just find them. Sure enough, in the dew-damp morning sand, Oupa soon picked-up the definitive spoor, a large solitary male he explained, kneeling to circumscribe the prints with a twig; the shape, the spacing, the distinguishing features from other cat and predator tracks; the fine detail and direction of movement. Even the freshness of the impression – perhaps just an hour or so.

We followed the spoor for a kilometre or more, before they came to an abrupt halt, disappeared in fact, marking the spot where this King of the Jungle had paced off into the undergrowth. And for us at least, had slipped anonymously into the unknown – the end of his trail.

As we relaxed that night beneath the stars around the dinner table, the evening was still sharp-edged with winter chill, but the once unusual sounds of the night had become more comforting now – almost familiar friends in fact.

An awkward silence hung on the air as Nick sprung sharply to his feet and disappeared behind the slatted kitchen screens. Seconds later he was back, only now he wore a distinctly pained expression of concern. He stood at the end of the table and addressed us very directly, very precisely. “I don’t want to alarm you, but there’s a leopard in the camp. He’s lying in the grass just beyond the kitchen hut”.

A preponderous disbelief gathered quickly and thickly, entangled with vacant glances of uncertainty. There was an immediate sense of caution, uneasy mumblings.  I stepped away from the table and moved behind the kitchen screen to find Oupa standing with his rifle and wearing his ammunition belt; unusual in the camp. His face creased with concern when I caught his eye, not his usual smile I could sense. With one hand he trained a spotlight across a patch of short grass, carefully casting the peripheral light to frame the mottled outline of leopard but ensuring not to blind or antagonize him.

In the patchwork darkness of the night I could see the leopard resting on all fours in the grass, forepaws outstretched – if you could sensibly call them ‘paws’. His head was upright and he stared towards us, nonchalant and unpeturbed. And there he sat, this fierce hunter, unrelenting predator, just yards away – about the length of a cricket pitch I remember thinking and for all we knew he might have been lying close-by for hours. But there was no doubting it now, this leopard was very definitely in the camp!

The glint of his glassy golden eyes was chilling, even menacing as he stared. But in the darting light from the kerosene lamps and the dim aura from the spotlight, the leopard presented a magnificent sight. A proudly untroubled creature, bold and bristling with presence, he had quietly helped himself to our hospitality – a self-invited visitor to our camp. Or were we the visitors?  I couldn’t help but loiter a while and stare at the unexpected dinner guest admiring his poise and imposing presence as he lay quietly at rest in the grass – almost peacefully at one with the night, with the camp.

But Nick was entertaining no such romantic illusions, and Oupa held his rifle close to hand – both hands in fact, as Albino took the spotlight. As I looked on, uncertain and somewhat in awe, Nick paced hurriedly across to the Land Cruiser and called-up the Ranger Station to explain our predicament. There was no disguising the obvious concern in his voice.

“Hello Rob, it’s Nick. We have a leopard in the camp here. He’s inside the fence – sitting about twenty yards away. He looks pretty calm at this stage.”

The pause hung like molten lead before the radio crackled back through the night.

“Hi Nick, that’s understood. We’ll get down there right away. It’s your call, but I’d get that leopard outta there,” came the reply.

“And get everyone inside quickly Nick. We’ll be there now.”

I sat in the feint yellow glow of the bedside lamp, silhouette flickering on the thatch. Beyond the shutters lay the blackest of African nights and an itinerant leopard. I felt somehow intoxicated by a naïve sense of adventure. Then came the distant rumble of an approaching vehicle. The engine noise grew louder, drew closer and then stopped, followed by the steely slam of heavy doors and muffled voices – assistance from the field station. Seconds seemed like minutes, minutes like hours. And the hours that followed seemed long indeed.

I kept the oil lamp burning throughout the night, for cold comfort really, like whistling in the dark. I lay and listened and thought about what the rangers were planning to do – or hoping to do ? Capture the leopard? Chase it away from the camp? Perhaps even shoot to kill? I tried dozing under my blanket, and drifted in and out of a false sleep – the same kind of interrupted slumber when mosquitoes whine around in thick summer humidity. But there were no such reassuring mosquitoes for company that night, just the repeating mind’s eye image of a leopard roaming about the camp – out there somewhere. And the familiar tug of anticipation.

Dawn arrived with the milky orange hue we had come to welcome each day. Just a feint wash through the canopy of winter branches – but dawn nonetheless. Then came a muffled knock at the door.

“It’s safe to come out of your hut,” said a voice. It was Nick. “We’ve caught the leopard.”

The placid pearly-eyed cat I had seen lying plaintively in the grass the previous night had long since vanished into memory. And just a few metres from that very same spot but now trapped inside the steel cage, was a ferocious animal, infuriated by his capture and heaving his might around like a crazed beast.

He could scarcely turn in the trap, but he thrashed savagely against the meshing, jarring the cage inch-by-inch across the sand. Roaring like thunder, he took swipes at the cage with his Herculean claws, and bit at the steelwork with a frenzied sabre-toothed ferocity. He snarled visciously in despise of his captivity, so my eyes too were centered very firmly on the cage and on the captive. The leopard contorted with an incontinent savagery and we kept our stare locked directly on him. Nick told us how the vet had been called from the field station, some sixty kilometers away.

The vet surveyed the cage from a distance, then approached a little closer with caution. Then he drew his rifle from the cab, loaded a single sedative dart and shot at the rosetted inmate through the meshing. The dart struck its target centre and square on the left forepaw. Pained or startled I wasn’t sure at the time, but it didn’t really matter because the leopard woke the dead that early winter’s morning as he thrashed his leg to and fro and tossed out the dart like a bothersome wasp.

The vet was little surprised. Working quickly, he reloaded and shot a second dart that spiked neatly into the leopard’s rump. This time Hell’s own fury knew no bounds as the animal roared and snarled, hissed and spat. But as seconds ticked to minutes and the sedative did its work, his violent protests quelled to spasmodic growls, then eventually to slumber.

Within minutes the monster was tamed and sleeping silently, and the rangers pulled the dozing patient from the cage. Straining with the sheer weight, together we heaved him onto the lowered tailgate of the bakkie, a large male we could see.

The vet drew blood and injected it into a glass phial for testing , and I spoke to him as he worked. The leopard was maturing well into old age he explained, his teeth and the battle scars showed that clearly.   As he lay anaesthetized on the tailgate, I stroked the leopard’s shoulder, rubbed his ears like a kitten. Cautiously, for the fur can carry bacteria, transmit viruses and disease. But the first time I found myself stroking a fully grown leopard nonetheless – quite possibly the last.

Then respectfully – because the leopard had quickly come to command our respect – we slid him safely up against the cab of the bakkie, where he lay fast asleep, still motionless and silent but ever mighty and proud. I looked on in admiration, and as he lay like some sleeping beauty of the wilderness I realized that I’d come to understand this leopard as something much more than a wild marauding predator.

“How long will the sedative last?” I asked the vet.

“About an hour” he thought.

“How long is the drive to your camp?” I asked.

“About an hour” he said, with an exaggerated grin.

Years on, particularly when I’m walking in the Bush, I often think about the events of that night, and I always find myself asking the same question – ‘What if?’

What if’ the leopard had been waiting close to the huts when we retired to bed in the darkness? ‘What if’ the leopard had settled down outside the ablutions during the night, unseen and unheard? Or even inside? ‘What if’ the leopard hadn’t been spotted in the grass that night, just a few yards beyond the kitchen? Or if the leopard had ventured into the kitchen or the storeroom, lured by curiosity or the scent of our provisions?

In the hurried minutes that rushed past as the leopard lay in wait that night, there was no way of knowing how the animal might react. In those tense moments, perhaps intuitively, Nick had best marked the urgency of a tense and unpredictable situation;

“This is not good news I can assure you” he told me emphatically as we stared at the leopard in the grass.

“That animal will kill you. He’ll rip you to pieces like you wouldn’t believe.”

So I still ask myself ‘What if?’, and happily I can find no answer. And that’s the anticipation that forever brings me back to the wilderness.

Always will.

The green and the gold – Illegal mining in the Amazon Forest

Amazon slowly eaten away by gold rush’s illegal mines (news24.com)

Ever flown over the Amazon Basin ? Most have not, but it’ll come as no surprise that it appears as a carpet of lush green velvet. Yet scarred by brown stains – the sites or remnants of illegal gold mines and revealing the scope of a global gold rush that threatens the lungs of the planet.

“The loss of our natural resources is incalculable,” reports Antonio Fernandez Jeri, Peru’s high commissioner on illegal mining. Each lost hectare represents unique flora and fauna species,”

In Peru, 55 illegal mining sites have been closed since mid-July in the Madre de Dios region, where some 60 000 hectares of forest have already been lost due to illegal mining. Peru leads South America in gold production and ranks fifth globally, but some 20% of Peru’s exported gold comes from such clandestine mines. Not unique to Peru, the largest forest in the world is being gnawed-away by an explosion of tiny, unlicensed mines.

Deforestation – According to a study published in January, in the British Journal of Environmental Research Letters, approximately 415 000 acres of tropical forest were cleared for potential gold mining sites in South America between 2001 and 2013.

“Although gold mining deforestation is usually less extensive than deforestation for agriculture, it happens in some of the most bio-diverse tropical regions,” said lead author Nora Alvarez-Berrios of the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, who she says up to 300 different species of trees can be found in a single hectare of Peru’s Madre de Dios region. Her study refers to the region as “one of the most biologically rich areas on Earth.”

“Like drug trafficking, illegal mining activity is widespread,” Fernandez Jeri said. In Brazil too, illegal mining activity is taking place in nine of 26 states

Mercury pollution – In Colombia, flying over the Puinawai reserve reveals the extent of damage, as trees are cut and brush torn out to get to the precious metal. There is other, less immediately obvious damage as well. To extract one gram of gold, miners have to use two to three grams of another deadly metal – mercury – which pollutes surrounding soils and streams and threatens those living nearby.

No permits – In Bolivia, mining sites are increasingly operated by cooperatives with their work papers in order but no environmental permits, according to a report from the Peruvian Society of Environmental Rights. In Peru, permit applications for 60 000 mining sites are already filed, but, according to official estimates, there are still 100 000 unreported sites in the country, destroying a little bit more of the forest ecosystem each day.

We all have a gold rush perhaps…what’s yours ?

Waiter…there’s a pangolin in my soup….

‘Beef, chicken or duck, Sir ?’   ‘And then  of course we have pangolin’.

Ever really worry about what you’re eating ?  If not, then maybe now’s the time to start reading between the menu lines.

The enigmatic pangolin, or scaly anteater, is literally being eaten out of existence according to a recent update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which shows that all eight species are now threatened with extinction.

Resembling an artichoke with legs and a tail, the pangolin is the world’s only truly scaly mammal. Their scales act as armour against natural predators but offer no defence against poachers. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group, which is hosted by IUCN Member the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), warns that pangolins are now the most illegally traded mammal in the world, with more than one million individuals believed to have been snatched from the wild over the past decade.

Despite a commercial trade ban for wild-caught pangolins in Asia, the illegal trade is thriving. Consumers are willing to pay increasingly high prices for their meat, which is being plated up at banquets across the East as a luxury food. In traditional Chinese medicine, pangolin scales are also believed to treat a wide variety of conditions including psoriasis and poor circulation.

The illegal trade in pangolin species has reached an epic scale, with the Chinese and Sunda pangolins now classified as Critically Endangered. As the populations of the four Asian pangolin species plummet, traders are now looking to Africa to meet the growing demand.

“All eight pangolin species are now listed as threatened with extinction, largely because they are being illegally traded to China and Viet Nam,” says Professor Jonathan Baillie, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group and Conservation Programmes Director at ZSL. “In the 21st Century we really should not be eating species to extinction – there is simply no excuse for allowing this illegal trade to continue.”

The IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group is today launching a conservation action plan which lays out the steps that need to be taken to clamp down on the illegal trade and secure the future of pangolins in Asia and Africa.

Dan Challender, Co-Chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, says: “Our global strategy to halt the decline of the world’s pangolins needs to be urgently implemented. A vital first step is for the Chinese and Vietnamese governments to conduct an inventory of their pangolin scale stocks and make this publically available to prove that wild-caught pangolins are no longer supplying the commercial trade.”  The new action plan ‘Scaling up Pangolin Conservation’ focuses on protecting pangolin strongholds in Asia and Africa, helping local communities move away from poaching, the strengthening of legislation, and most importantly, understanding and reducing consumer demand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shocking Reality

Poaching the creature that’s more valuable than gold – By Leana Hosea BBC 4 April 2015

Last year a record 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa – and at the same time, 42 poachers were killed by rangers and police. This bloody conflict is fuelled by the mistaken belief in Asia that rhino horn cures cancer, and it’s growing more intense every year.

“The gunman advances close to the animal, against the wind. He shoots. After if falls the other two join the killer, this time to extract the horn. Then we go to our hideout and wait for the cover of night before we walk to the border.”

Eusebio lives in one of many small Mozambican villages scattered along the South African border. It’s a desolate, impoverished area. Most people live by farming small plots of maize and vegetables – but 27-year-old Eusebio had other ideas.

“I met up with my friends to discuss how we could escape our lives of poverty. We decided to go and poach a rhino. First we went to see the witchdoctor to find out the safest route to take. Then we left home and headed for the mountains.”

There are no more rhinos in Mozambique – the last were killed two years ago – so his destination was South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a pristine wilderness where animals can roam freely. It’s home to the majority of the world’s rhinos, which makes it the number one target for poachers.

“We wait and watch the movement of the rangers and when it gets dark we walk long distances to a place where the rangers rarely go. There we sleep. At dawn we start the hunt. When there’s no police around then you can kill it, but it should die on your first shot or it’s dangerous. Cutting the horn is hard, but we in the countryside are used to cutting wood with a machete, so it’s not difficult for us.”

Poachers usually work in groups of three. One shoots the rhino, one cuts off the horn and the other acts as a look out. Eusebio was the shooter on his four successful trips into Kruger Park, making him about $10,000 (£6,740) in total.

This is a fraction of the value of a rhino horn in Asia, where, where – falsely thought to be a cure for cancer among other things, and an aphrodisiac – it can fetch $250,000 (£170,000). But to Eusebio it meant he could move his three wives and children out of their stick hut into a small house of brick and concrete, buy some cattle and set up a small bar.

Though he’s not proud of killing rhinos, he says his family might otherwise be going hungry.

As the number of slaughtered South African rhinos has shot up – from 13 in 2007 to more than 1,000 in 2013 and 2014 – a whole industry to protect the animal has arisen.

One example is Protrack, the first of a number of private anti-poaching security companies that have been set up in South Africa.

“You’ve got heavily armed gangs coming in to kill,” says its founder, Vincent Barkas, who hires out his rangers to private reserves in the Greater Kruger area.

“We’re teaching our guards to protect themselves, which unfortunately means teaching them to use a semi-automatic weapon, which can potentially kill a person.”

The rangers live out in the bush and sleep under the stars when on patrol. To protect themselves from wild animals they make little enclosures with the branches of thorny bushes and spend the nights inside them with the comfort of a small fire.

Protrack’s star ranger, Tumi Morema, who has caught more poachers than anyone else, says his wife is convinced he will be killed one day – either by poachers or wild animals. And the risks also follow him home.

“I do get threats,” he says. “On the street I meet people who say, ‘Tumi we’re going to get you.'”

Despite this, he says he understands what drives the poachers, beyond poverty and greed.

“Many years ago there weren’t fences and then white people came and put up fences. Now they own the animals and black people feel like their access to the wild has been taken away,” he says. “So they don’t respect it. They feel like they’ve been robbed. That’s the biggest problem. That’s what causes poaching.”

  • Wildlife crime is the fourth largest global illegal trade, according to WWF, after drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking
  • Rhino horn is one of the world’s most expensive commodities, fetching about $60,000 (£40,500) per kilogram – it’s worth more, gram for gram, than diamonds and gold
  • There are about 20,400 southern white rhinos in Africa – but campaigners warn that the number of rhinos poached may soon to exceed the number being born
  • In southern Africa, European hunters brought the rhinoceros to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s and there are no longer any in Mozambique
  • Some rhinos are pregnant when killed, others may leave orphans which later die; “There’s a lot of collateral damage… of the 1200 that were killed [last year] you can probably add another 400,” says vet Peter Rogers
  • Half of Mozambique’s population lives on less than $1 a day

One of the 42 poachers killed in South Africa last year was Eusebio’s younger brother, Sebastiao. He left behind two widows, two children and heartbroken parents.

Until last year poaching was not even a crime in Mozambique, and there still seems to be a reluctance in some quarters to stop the lucrative trade.

“The police and soldiers bring the weapons here for us to go and poach,” says Eusebio’s father, Jeremiah. “So the first step is for the government to stop the police and soldiers bringing guns from the capital Maputo – but if the guns continue to come here, our children will continue to go poaching because they have nothing else to do.”

 

 

 

What’s a giraffe Grandad ?

Go on – give us a kiss

 The total number of giraffes in Africa was estimated by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) in 1999 to exceed 140,000, of which 40% were in or around protected areas and private lands.  Such numbers were thought capable of being maintained if they could be adequately protected.

Current estimates by the GCF (Giraffe Conservation Foundation) have the population at less than 80,000 individuals across all species and sub-species – a significant drop in the last 15 years highlighting the real plight of the giraffe.

Today, important populations of giraffes exist in African parks in Cameroon, Chad, southwest Niger, Uganda, Kenya-Tanzania, Zamibia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  Efforts are underway to establish an accurate census of the entire population, but with the exception of the Angolan, Cape and West African giraffe, all other sub-species are either decreasing or unstable.  The usual suspects – poaching, human population growth, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, and lack of awareness –  continue to harpoon the giraffe’s distribution across the continent.

Unfortunately, this decline has occurred with little fanfare or public attention. Surprisingly, even scientists haven’t given much attention to giraffes until the past five or so years. “We’re learning a lot more about their ecology but what we know is still way behind what we know about other species,” says David O’Connor, research coordinator with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.

When conservationists have paid attention to giraffes, some populations have responded well.  For example, the West African giraffe (G.c. peralta), which lives only in Niger, has rebounded from 50 animals in the mid-1990s to 400 today. “That’s because the Niger government started to put policies in place to really protect giraffes and backed them up with good governance.  You can put policies in place but unless you have solid governance and the support of the people, none of that will work.”

Why have giraffes been so poorly studied and the threats they face so rarely discussed? “I think they’re just overlooked,” O’Connor says. “They’re so pervasive. Giraffes are everywhere. Look at kids’ books, which are full of giraffes. They’re always in zoo collections. They’re easily visible, so you don’t think we have to worry about them. But we do.”

O’Connor predicts that several other giraffe subspecies will be recommended for endangered listings next year or the year after. After that maybe the world will finally start to take notice of how endangered these iconic giants have become. They’re really not getting the attention they deserve.” As a result, he says, “giraffes are in peril.”  (John Platt, Scientific American, November  2014)

 

 

 

The long and the short of it……

Fawlty Towers Lodge - Livingstone, Zambia's photo.

It had been a long flight.  So my mind was elsewhere when my daughter asked ‘Daddy, why do giraffes have such long necks ?’

I pondered a while and mused an answer. ‘So they can browse the lush tasty leaves from their favourite trees’.  Silence.

‘Like monkeys you mean ?’ she asked.  ‘Yes in a way,’ I ventured  ‘although monkeys don’t have long necks of course’.

‘So why do giraffes have long necks ?’ she repeated.

I had to think.  ‘So while they eat, they can keep a sharp lookout for any dangerous animals hiding in the grass.  Lions or leopards perhaps’.

‘Like eagles ?’ she suggested innocently.

‘Camels also have long necks Daddy.  What do they eat ?’ she persisted.

I thought perhaps dates.  Or palm leaves.  But I didn’t say anything.  Certainly not acacia leaves.

‘Time to tighten our safety-belts, we’re approaching the airport’ I instructed.

‘And why do you think a giraffe has such a long neck ?’ I asked – cleverly it seemed to me at the time, not knowing for certain what camels eat.

‘That’s easy’ she said.  ‘To reach it’s head’.

 

 

But it’s no laughing matter…..Cheetahs under threat.

Cheetahs once ranged the entire African continent, except for the Congo Basin, and into Asia from the Arabian Peninsula to eastern India.  Nowadays, cheetahs are found in only 23% of their historic African range and are extinct in their Asian range, except for a small population in Iran of about 100 cats.

As with all other species fighting extinction, the problem facing the cheetah is complex and multifaceted, but for the cheetah’s endangerment can be grouped into three categories:

  • Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation
  • Conflict with human interests
  • Illegal trade in cheetah cubs

Habit Loss, Fragmentation, and Degradation

Cheetahs require large tracts of land with suitable prey and water to survive.  As wilderness is gradually destroyed and fragmented by human expansion and intrusion, so the cheetah’s habitat is  destroyed, fragmented, and degraded thus reducing the carrying capacity of dwindling  (number of animals an area can support) of cheetahs and their prey.  Numerous landscapes across Africa that could once support thousands of cheetahs  – now struggle to support just small populations.

Human-Wildlife Conflict

In protected areas of national parks and wildlife reserves, cheetahs do not always compete well with high densities of other larger predators – lion, leopard, and hyena – which compete with cheetahs for prey – cub mortality amongst cheetahs is extremely high.  Many cheetahs range beyond the protected areas – and thus often come into conflict with their greatest foe, people, and suffer high rates of persecution, one of the leading causes of the cheetah’s endangerment.

Illegal Wildlife Trade

For thousands of years, the ancient world’s rich and royal kept cheetahs in captivity. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt kept cheetahs as close companions; Italian nobles, Russian princes, and Indian royalty used cheetahs for hunting and as a status symbol to trumpet their wealth and nobility.  Cheetahs do not breed well in captivity, and were captured in the wild to support the exorbitant demand – the principal reason that the Asiatic cheetah is extinct throughout most of Asia.

Today, there is still a high demand for cheetahs as pets.  To supply this demand, cheetahs are illegally captured in the wild and smuggled to destination countries.  In transit, of all cheetah cubs smuggled from Africa, an estimated one in six survive will survive the journey, prompting the capture of greater numbers from the wild to meet the demand.