South Africa Safari – Day 3

Day 3 rolled around and it was another great day in the bush. Within the first hour we had already seen and photographed impala, a crocodile, a malachite kingfisher, an Egyptian goose, a fish eagle, a lilac breasted roller and a spotted hyena. Not bad for the first hour.

Click on any image to enlarge

Then Richard got a call on the radio that one of the other rangers had spotted a female leopard with 2 cubs. The opportunity to see leopards was one of the primary reasons that we had come to South Africa, so we were very excited.

When we arrived at the location we found out that the cubs were hiding and that mom was out hunting. This was disappointing because the rules in the preserve state that if cubs are unattended you can only stay for 10 minutes. To hang around longer than that might draw attention to the cubs and put them at risk from other predators. However, just at that moment we saw some movement and up popped one little head. The cubs were moving. For the next 5 minutes or so we got to watch as they climbed around on the rocks and through the heavy brush. These two were just beautiful. However, we had to leave.

For the next couple of hours we continued our explorations. Shortly after leaving the cubs we came across some steenbok, the smallest antelope in South Africa. They are also very skittish and take off quickly when approached. White-backed vultures, impala and warthogs rounded out the first part of the morning.

Each morning we would finds a nice shady spot, that appeared to be devoid of man-eating carnivores, and pull over for some coffee and a bush breakfast. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat. Our boxed breakfast usually consisted of a croissant, yogurt, juice, a few other items and coffee. It was always tasty and enough to stave off starvation until we returned for lunch.

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

Bush breakfast with Tom, Richard, Like and Cathy

We heard of the radio that the mother leopard had returned to her cubs so we headed back to where we had left them earlier. We arrived to find that mom was back and she had brought a kill back with her for the cubs to eat. Only mom and one cub were visible and they were both under some bushes and hard to see. We were also the 3rd vehicle on site and really could not get a very good angle to see them. We found the best spot that we could, parked and observed. Even though we weren’t in a great spot for photography we were able to watch the mother and cub interact. After a while the other cub came out of hiding and began to nurse.

Eventually mom decided to move over to a large rock and rest. She was posed perfectly for a photograph but once again we were at a bad angle. Richard put the land rover into gear and crashed through the under brush and over some sizable trees to get us to where we could have a good view.

And there she was in all her splendor. We had the opportunity to photograph her unimpeded by branches and bushes. Eventually she left. It was time to go hunting again.

The other two land rovers left first and then Richard started ours. Problem! In driving over the trees to get us into position they had wedged at an angle under the vehicle making it impossible to back up. Unfortunately in front of the land rover was a sand filled wash. If we went forward we would almost certainly get stuck in the wash, but backing up was impossible.

Richard put the land rover into its lowest gear and struggled forward. After much lurching and bouncing about we freed ourselves from the trees and dropped into the wash…where we promptly became stuck in the sand. Richard and Like tried for about 10 minutes to get us out with no success. Richard asked us to get out of the vehicle and walked us through the brush to the nearby trail that served as a road and told us to wait there for them. He then went back and he and Like pulled out a Come-Along hand winch to try and pull the land rover from the wash. I thought about asking him to leave his rifle with us but he was already gone.

So Tom, Cathy and I are left standing in the middle of the road all by ourselves wondering if momma leopard is going to return at any minutes. I was also thinking “why don’t they just call one of the other land rovers back to pull us out of the wash.” I figured that it had something to do with male bravado and a code of independence in the bush. However, having tourists eaten by leopards couldn’t be good for business.

Finally we heard the land rover start up and saw Richard come bouncing through the brush and out onto the road. On the drive back to camp I asked Richard why he didn’t call for help to get out of the wash. His reply was along the lines of what I expected. Apparently there are no consequences to getting stuck at Londolozi, as long as you can free yourself. However, if you have to call for help the leather ammo pouch that each ranger carries on his belt is replaced by a pink ammo pouch for a month!

Our afternoon game drive could be named the day of elephants. They were everywhere that we went. We did see some other animals such as nyala, cape buffalo, a maribou stork, giraffes and wildebeest, but largely the afternoon was devoted to observing elephants.

We saw several herds of elephants that afternoon. There were large bull elephants and young ones too. The young ones were cute. One was so young that he had not yet figured out how to control his trunk.

We stayed out past sunset on this day. It was already dark as we were heading back to camp when Richard stopped the land rover and turned the key off. We looked ahead of us and about 30 yards away was another herd of elephants, walking down the road directly toward us. Richard whispered to remain silent and to not move. The elephants continued to come directly toward us, lead by a large bull. As the elephants approached the land rover they split into two columns, one on each side of us. As each one passed, it turned its head slightly to look at us, and continued on. What was amazing was that this all took place in almost complete silence. All we heard was the slight rustle of grass from the elephants walking by. These huge animals passing silently by us in the dark,only a few feet away was one of the most spiritual moments of the trip.

sunset, elephant, LondoloziThe evening meal at camp was always an elaborate affair with gourmet food and wine. Every two or three days we would have a bush dinner to create a special atmosphere. These were indeed special (although sometimes a bit cold) and memorable.

Dinner at Londolozi Game Reserve, South Africa.

Are We All Poachers?

First of all, to those of you that follow this blog I apologize for my absence the past couple of months. I’ve been busy with a myriad of tasks but hope to settle back into a routine now.

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What does the future hold for this young rhino?
Copyright Cathy Pemberton 2012

Are we all poachers?  This of course is, and was meant to be a provocative question. As many of you know I am extremely concerned about the rampant poaching that is occurring in Africa. Elephants are being slaughtered by the thousands for their ivory tusks[1]. Reports are now coming in about the killing of rhinos. Powdered rhino horn is a valued “male enhancement” and medicinal product in much of Asia. Just 2 weeks ago the western black rhino, a subspecies of the African rhinoceros last spotted in 2006, was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.[2]  Those of us in the western world that would never consider purchasing artworks carved from ivory or consume powdered rhino horn to improve our sexual prowess are rightly offended by the killing of endangered species and the destruction of habitats that is occurring today in Africa.

However, reality is seldom so neat and clean. Saturday’s issue of the San Francisco Chronicle contained a front page article by Meredith May titled “PAWS helps aging elephants.” [3] This article describes the work of Pat Derby (dec. Feb. 15, 2013) and Ed Stewart in operating the Performing Animal Welfare Society. Today PAWS operates three animal sanctuaries in Galt, Rancho Seco and San Andreas, California. Pat and Ed were originally animal trainers and created PAWS as a rescue sanctuary for abused performing animals.

mercury-cougar-1a

Mercury – Sign of the Cat

I first met Pat in the mid 1980s shortly after she opened the first sanctuary in Galt, just outside of Sacramento. As a trainer she had worked on television shows such as Daktari, Gunsmoke, Lassie, Gentle Ben and Flipper. She also trained Chauncey and Christopher, the cougars that starred in the Lincoln Mercury “Sign of the Cat” car commercials. The facility in Galt was small, only a few hundred acres, but it was clear that Pat was passionate about correcting the abuses of animals that she had seen and giving them a place to peacefully live out their lives. She campaigned relentlessly until the time of her death to eliminate the abuses of performing animals that were (are?) rampant in the industry. Does public demand for animal entertainment represent a form of “poaching”?

Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna

The article in the Chronicle got me thinking about the role of zoos in the world today. Most people will attend a zoo and find it to be a very enjoyable experience. And there is no question that seeing an elephant up close is infinitely more impressive than seeing one on television. In fact, zoos today pride themselves on their scientific breeding programs, their educational programs and their wildlife conservation efforts. We even have celebrity zookeepers such as Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, with their own TV shows proclaiming the value of zoos in promoting environmental awareness and conservation.

Paul Chinn - SF Chronicle

Paul Chinn – SF Chronicle

Yet I’ve always had an uneasy feeling that such proclamations contained a good deal of self-serving  rationalization. Zoos are centers of civic pride in many communities. We remember catch phrases such as “the world famous San Diego Zoo”. Are we really maintaining zoos to educate our populace and preserve the species? Or are the educational programs simply there to justify what already exists. Zoos have dramatically improved over the years, eliminating the confined metal cages and replacing them with simulated natural environments. Yet these are still woefully short of what wild animals, such as elephants, need and would experience in a natural environment. While there are still some animals captured in the wild and placed in zoos, most of the animals are bred in captivity and transferred between zoos. But as Ed Stewart of PAWS stated “Each time I hear another baby elephant is born in a zoo, I think, “That’s another 50-year jail sentence.'” 3 Some zoos have in fact shut down their elephant programs. The latest to do so is the Toronto Zoo. With a donation of $800,000 from game show host and well know animal rights activist Bob Barker the last 3 elephants will be transferred from Toronto to PAWS Ark 2000 facility in San Andreas. Is it time we shut down all of them?

Hence our ethical dilemma. Is the keeping of wild animals in zoos the ethical equivalent of poaching? In terms of numbers of animals certainly not. And the fact that the zoo animals are alive while the poached animals are dead is an important difference. Even though I can’t help but feel that the promotion of zoos perpetuates the acceptability of captive wild animals, at the end of the day, I must reject my conjecture that we are all poachers for enjoying the captive animals in the zoo. However, we must be cautious. We must continuously examine our actions and motives and make sure they withstand rigorous ethical scrutiny. At the first whiff of rationalization we must sound the alarm and take action. You can start by checking to see if your zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) by clicking here:
http://www.aza.org/current-accreditation-list/

A list of non AZA accredited facilities can be found here:
http://www.zoology.msu.edu/uploads/documents/nonAZAaccredited2012.pdf [4]

If you are interested in supporting conservation and efforts to prevent poaching there are many fine organizations. If you are interested in PAWS their website is: http://www.pawsweb.org/index.html

A few of my other  favorites are:

World Wildlife Fund,
http://worldwildlife.org/

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,
https://www.facebook.com/thedswt?hc_location=stream


[1] Record poaching drives African elephants into decline
For Release: Jun 21, 2012
Jennafer Bonello
jenna.bonello@wwfus.org

[2] Western black rhino officially extinct
By William Holt | Yahoo! News – Thu, Jun 27, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/news/western-black-rhino-officially-extinct-150259423.html

[3] PAWS helps aging elephants, Meredith May, San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 2013

[4] The presence of a facility on this list does not assure that the facility is inadequate or non-compliant. It is a starting point for investigation.

Tanzania Government Displacing Maasai Off Land

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Henry Miwani – © 2012 Mark Pemberton

One of the great pleasures that Cathy and I had when we visited Kenya in 2012 was our visit with a Maasai Village. Henry Miwani, one of our guides, took us to visit his village. The villagers performed their traditional dances and songs for us and taught us about their traditional way of life. We were then free to wander around, observe and talk to those you spoke English. We got to go into their small huts and learn about how they make their living by herding.

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

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© 2012 Cathy Pemberton

For hundreds of years, the Maasai have roamed across Kenya and Tanzania with their herds of cattle and goats. However, more and more land has been set aside for animal preserves, thus reducing the area available to the Maasai. One of the greatest concerns of conservationists is the reduction of habitat for wild animals due to the encroachment of man. Here is an example of the encroachment of man causing a reduction in habitat for man!

In a coup de gras that has raised the ire of the Maasai and conservationists alike “Tanzania announced last week it plans to evict 30,000 Maasai herders from a hefty swath of their ancestral lands in order to create a game reserve offering exclusive access for a Dubai-based hunting company.” 1

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© 2012 Mark Pemberton

“Maasai activists say the proposal, which reduces their space here by 40 percent, will destroy their traditional cattle-herding livelihood. …The government says the corridor is a necessity for conservation in the northern Loliondo region bordering the Serengeti, and charges that Maasai cattle are overgrazing the land.” 1

Reports from the Christian Science Monitor confirmed the information reported by AP.

“Tourism Minister Khamis Kagasheki said last week the government will not budge from its plans, described as a compromise that would divide current Maasai territory by giving about 40 percent for a wildlife zone and the rest to the Maasai for grazing.

“There is no government in the world that can just let an area so important to conservation to be wasted away by overgrazing,” Mr. Kagasheki said.

Benjamin Gardner, a cultural geographer at the University of Washington who has studied the Maasai since 1992, says he doubts they are harming the environment. “The way the Maasai manage the range actually encourages wildlife,” Mr. Gardner says, citing their aversion to hunting, and prescribed burns that regenerate grass.

But Tanzania is also in need of foreign investment. Livestock rearing, although economically productive for people in Loliondo, is less lucrative for the government than tourism. The OBC hunting firm’s clients include the United Arab Emirates royal family, and pay so well that in the past,  Tanzania’s president Jakaya Kikwete has dispatched troops to keep the hunting grounds free of cattle and locals.” 2

The question is, who will be the better steward for the land, the Maasai or the Ortello Business Corporation? There is little question in my mind.

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Maasai Village – © 2012 Cathy Pemberton

It is very discouraging that in the 21st century, trophy hunting is still occurring. But it is. There are private game preserves throughout Central Africa that cater to private game hunters.  These preserves are highly profitable for the countries in which they reside.

According to the Christian Science Monitor a mass protest rally by the Maasai was planned for this week. In support, about 50 politicians threatened to resign their jobs. Ultimately the politicians reneged on their promises (can you believe that?) and the local police outlawed public gatherings. Soldiers were sent in to disperse the demonstrators.

“Maasai women, dressed in traditional red shukas with shining jewelry, are now resisting on their own. Defying both the ban on gatherings and the patriarchal Maasai culture, by midweek they began holding small sit-ins under wiry acacia trees in villages across Loliondo, where they debated whether they should go to court or march on OBC’s camp.” 2

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Maasai Women – © 2012 Mark Pemberton

I will try to keep track of this issue and let you know of future developments.

Mark

1Groups: Tanzania gov’t kicking Maasai off land
By JASON STRAZIUSO | Associated Press – Fri, Apr 5, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/groups-tanzania-govt-kicking-maasai-off-land-134348511.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

2Maasai face eviction from ancestral lands to make way for Dubai hunting firm
Yahoo News, By A correspondent | Christian Science Monitor – Fri, Apr 5, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/maasai-face-eviction-ancestral-lands-way-dubai-hunting-160806860.html

Polar Bears – Edge of Existence

Last Wednsday I watched the 2 hour special documentary “Polar Bears – Edge of Existence”. The program was produced by Animal Planet and wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan. I was very excited about the program. Ever since Cathy and I spent 5 days photographing the polar bears in Churchill we have had a great interest in these massive carnivores of the north. In recent years Gordon Buchanan has become a bit of a celebrity filmmaker due to his daring exploits while filming dangerous animals close up.  One website referred to him as the Indiana Jones of wildlife filmmakers.

Buchanan’s stated intent was to integrate himself with a female polar bear and cubs and follow them for a year to learn more about the ways of the polar bear and about their struggles for survival. There is no question that Animal Planet spared little expense in funding this documentary. A ship and crew made several visits to Svalbard off the coast of Norway over the course of a year.

Checking Us Out

Okay, sometimes they get curious! ©2008 Mark Pemberton

One of the things that I have been taught over the years by wildlife photographers and naturalists is to keep your distance from the animal you are observing. The more invisible you are, the more likely you will capture authentic behaviors. One of the things that bothered me about “Edge of Existence” is that Buchanan appeared to intentionally provoke the polar bears at times. This was never more true than when they brought out the “ice cube”. The cube was a massive polycarbonate and steel enclosure that contained Buchanan. It’s only purpose was to lure a polar bear close up and film him as he attempted to extract the tasty morsel inside. Try as I might, I could not think of a valid scientific reason for using the “Cube”. And it certainly had nothing to do with integrating himself with Lyra and her cubs Miki and Luca. To see for yourself the encounter between Buchanan and the polar bear check out this YouTube video.

There is no question that polar bears are fascinating creatures and that Gordon Buchanan is an excellent filmmaker. The first time that we see Miki pop her head up out of the den is a real “aww” moment. The photography is good but we see very little polar bear behavior. And there seemed to be an excess of close up shots of Buchanan peering through the viewfinder of his camera offering up pithy comments in his Scottish brogue such as “Look at that one, aww, very, very cute”, “That is wonderful”, “Gosh” or “Incredible”. The film seemed to be as much about him as it was about polar bears.

At the current time there are no scheduled re-showings of “Edge” on Animal Planet. If you are interested in polar bears I highly encourage you to visit Polar Bears International at http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/. They have tons of detailed information available on their website.

Waiting

Waiting ©2008 Mark Pemberton

Do Fences Really Make for Good Neighbors?

It is interesting that yesterday I was writing about the inventiveness of  a young Kenyan boy, and how his flashing light invention kept lions away from his families fenced in herd of cattle. Today I read a report published in the New York Times by James Gorman of a study by Dr. Craig Packer and 57 colleagues that concluded the best way to save the lions is to fence them in.

Joao Silva/The New York Times

There is no question that the lion population in Africa has taken quite a big hit. According to Dr. Packer lions in Africa have lost 75 percent of their range in the last 100 years, problems between people and lions have increased, and some populations suffer from genetic isolation. Panthera, a conservationist organization devoted to big cats, estimates that there are 30,000 lions in Africa today, down from 200,000 lions 100 years ago.

After 35 years of field research in the Serengeti plains, Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota, has lost all patience with the romance of African wilderness. Fences, he says, are the only way to stop the precipitous and continuing decline in the number of African lions.

“Reality has to intrude,” he said. “Do you want to know the two most hated species in Africa, by a mile? Elephants and lions.” They destroy crops and livestock, he said, and sometimes, in the case of lions, actually eat people.

Dr. Packer’s goal is to save lions. Fencing them in, away from people and livestock, is the best way to do that, he believes, both for conservation and economics. He made that argument in a paper this month in Ecology Letters, along with 57 co-authors, including most of the top lion scientists and conservationists.

To be sure, not eveyone agrees with Dr. Packer that fencing is the best solution. it seems sad that things may come to this. Perhaps we need to get Richard Turere, the 13 year old Kenyan boy that I wrote about yesterday, involved and see If he can come up with a better solution.

The complete NY Times article can be found here.

One World Project

Welcome to our new blog. For some time now Cathy and I have been changing the focus of our photography. Our trips around the world have made us more aware of the changes that are happening to our planet. It is disappointing that everywhere we go we can see the negative consequences to our environment, wildlife and habitats brought about by man. However, we are still inspired about the great beauty that we see everyday and hopeful that things can improve. As a result, we have created what we call our “One World Project” whereby we will use our photography as a medium to document the inter-related nature of climate change, loss of habitat, poaching, etc. We have just One World, and we are the stewards of it.

There are many sources of information about doom and gloom scenarios of environmental destruction. Unfortunately, the consequence of such unrelenting bad news is that people become discouraged and “tune it out”. The subtitle of our One World Project is to “Inform and Inspire”. We hope to Inform by bringing the news from the environmental front in an easy to understand manner. But we also hope to Inspire people to see the beauty and magnificence that exists and to contribute to the causes of conservation and preservation.

Lion eating cape buffalo kill

Two lions devouring the carcass of a Cape Buffalo on the Masai Mara.

I would like to initiate this blog with a wonderful story that made the news a month ago. It is the story of a 13 year old Maasai boy, Richard Turere,  from Kenya. Despite his young age, Richard had the job of protecting his family’s herd of cattle. However, the many prides of lions in the area inevitably killed many of his herd. Richard hated lions as a result. In situations like this, many cattle owners will kill lions that they come across to protect their herd. In some cases entire prides have been killed or poisoned. It is a classic example of man’s encroachment into the territory of wild animals and the wild animal suffering the consequences of this loss of habitat.

Richard, however, was a smart young fellow. One evening when he was patrolling the area with a flashlight “I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light.” This got him thinking and over the course of a few weeks he rigged up a series of flashing LEDs onto the poles of the cattle enclosure. The lights were connected to a switch box, car battery and a solar panel and were designed to flicker on and off in a way that simulated a person walking with a flashlight.

And it worked. Since Richard rigged up his “Lion Lights,” his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts. It is a small victory but an important one. Today there are about 2000 lions in Kenya, down from 15,000 only 10 years ago. We need many more people like Richard Turere to help preserve our wildlife.

To read the entire article about Richard’s invention click here.

Personal Experience

During our visit to Kenya in January of 2012 Cathy and I had a chance to briefly visit with the Maasai and learn a bit about their way of life. The village that we visited was filled with wonderful, open people. They raised primarily goats and some cattle. They were clearly good stewards of the land but had to worry about the constant presence of predators.

The following are a few of the photos that we took during our visit with the Maasai.

Maasai Village

Maasai woman with child and the family’s prized livestock.

Maasai Village

Cathy demonstrates the wonder of digital photography to Maasai children.