Sunday, May 9, 2010

Northern White Rhino – a last ditch try.

Good news, or a desperate move? That is the question that we can surely ask about the move of four of the world’s rarest mammals to Kenya from the Czech Republic. The answer is both.

The January-March issue of Swara, the Nairobi-published magazine arm of the East African Wildlife Society that bills itself as “The Voice of Conservation in East Africa” has two stories about the Northern White Rhino. One of these is by Kes Hillman, who, with her husband spent 22 years in Garamba National Park in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo working on a variety of conservation issues, with a huge focus on the few remaining white rhino there, the last place on earth where they were known to exist.

I have no pictures of this race of rhino, but they look very much like the Southern race, with which I have had a fair amount of experience. Here is a picture taken in Kenya’s Nakuru National Park.

While the article implies that the poaching of rhino in the region was worst from the 1960s, rhino poaching in Africa has a much longer history than that. In the very early 20th century armed gangs were sent out by colonial Europeans to shoot as many rhino as possible, simply to harvest horns for the dagger handle market in Yemen or the oriental medicine trade. By the1960s there were thought to be about 1300 animals in Garamba. Then came civil wars in Congo and the Amin regime in neighbouring Uganda which wiped out all the rhino, both black and white, in that country. When Douglas Adams, he of the five volumes in the trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy visited Garamba the 1980s there were 22 northerns left. In 2008 when The Trouble With Lions was published, the number was down to three. In her article, titled “Could Ol Pejeta Be A New Start For the World’s Rarest? Kes Hillman tells of the inevitable end of that remnant.

The other article by Berry White is titled World’s Rarest Mammals Fly To Sanctuary In Kenya. In it she recounts how four white rhino were moved from a wintery, snow covered Dvur Kralove zoo to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near my old home town under the shadow of Mount Kenya. In a well coordinated move that involved training of the rhino, specially designed crates, trucking, aircraft and a great deal of TLC, four animals, a female named Najin and her nine-year old calf Fatu, together with males Sudan and Suni made the journey. Naturally the Ol Pejeta’s Conservancy’s web site carries the story and gives more details.

This is really the last chance for this species of rhino. From the thousands that ranged across northern Africa in the days when the only records were in cave paintings, to the demise of all wild ones anywhere, we are left with eight captive ones, four of which are either too old or uninterested in breeding and live in two zoos. Will Najin or Fatu be the mothers of a new generation? Let’s hope we see a photo like this one (a Southern) in a forthcoming issue of Swara or on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy web site.

Friday, May 7, 2010

New Saskatchewan Literary Award

We have had an exciting development tin the literary world of Saskatchewan. On May 3 the Saskatchewan Writers Guild and Cheryl and Henry Kloppenburg announced the launching of the Cheryl and Henry Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence. This new literary award will recognize Saskatchewan writers who have written a substantial body of literary work. The award will be made annually and is for the sum of ten thousand dollars, which makes it the largest such award in any province in Canada.

Each ward recipient will also receive a signed limited edition copy of a watercolour by renowned Saskatchewan artist Dorothy Knowles. Dorothy has gifted the original to the Guild.

Henry & Cheryl Kloppenburg are Saskatchewan folks, through and through. They are generous supporters of the arts, both nationally and provincially, and have supported writing and the SWG for almost 20 years through their gifts to the SWG’s Grain Magazine. Here they are, flanked by the Guild’s past-president, Bob Calder and me, next to the painting.

The great Canadian man of letters, the late Roberson Davies, admonished a cure-all of “massive daily doses of art, music and literature. On Saturday evening at his book launch Yann Martel was the latest of many authors to state that without reading one cannot be a writer. Both make the point that reading is a vital part of our culture, so this award is for those who have given us the chance to read and enjoy good writing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Yann Martel book launch

Saturday night was book night. I attended the “at home” (Saskatoon) launch of Yann Martel’s new novel Beatrice and Virgil. and of course purchased this copy that you see resting on my Mac. Beatrice and Virgil are the main characters in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and hell features throughout those famous works. No wonder Yann chose them in a story about the Holocaust. Even the “howl” in howler monkey fits the theme.

Martel studied philosophy at university and when one learns this one realizes why his work has so many layers and depths to it. Even the names of the animals in the story have significance. Not just the donkey and the howler monkey, that are the names in the title, but the dog and cat, which are respectively named Erasmus and Mendelssohn. Erasmus was the remarkable humanist and theologian who lived during the Reformation and was, as Yann put it, very practical. The Mendelssohn he used was neither of the great composers Felix or his sister Fanny, but their grandfather Moses who was a prominent German Jew during the 18th century’s “Age of Enlightenment” during which reason and common sense were held to be the primary source and legitimacy for authority.

As most know the book is a novel about the Holocaust, and when he was questioned as to why he wrote a novel about those horrible events he replied that non-fiction needs to become stories in order to survive. There are all kinds of stories in film plays and book about the Second World War and the Vietnam War, but few, beyond the TV series M.A.S.H., about the Korean War, which is maybe why it has faded in the collective memory.

Yann also told us that the novel he is now working on is features three chimpanzees in Portugal. With the two published books and one in the works, he has covered a gamut of the animal kingdom, especially the great apes. Apart from its famous tiger Life of Pi has an orangutan, the new one chimps. Someone else is writing about bonobos. What next? Will a silverback feature in number four?

Images from Wikipedia and