Thursday, September 20, 2012

Conservation, chimps and rhinos

I have been a member of the East African Wildlife Society for over forty years. In the early days they published a magazine called Africana. Some time in the early 1970s there was a rift in the organization. For a while both Africana and a new magazine, called Swara  (which is Swahili for antelope) ran side-by-side, but then Africana, of which I still had a few copies until we recently moved house, disappeared.

The latest issue of Swara is a reflection of what is happening to wildlife across Africa. There are eight articles under the general heading of Conservation and four Spotlight pieces. Two of those four are also about conservation.

Two of the conservation articles report in-depth examinations of the trade in wildlife and wildlife products. One of these, by professional photographer, author and long-time conservationist and bushmeat activist Karl Amman covers the latest development in oft-studied SE Asia, particularly as regards rhino horn. The other deals with things that have gone on in Morocco for ages but have not been much reported upon.

All the authors bemoan the massive decline in wildlife numbers, and by wildlife I don't just mean animals. Forest have been under threat for may years, mostly due to the fact that the populations of these countries are expanding at unsustainable rates and people want land to cultivate their crops. The Mau forest, on the western side of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya is but a remnant, and now the Kijabe forest has taken a beating.

Karl Amman also has an opinion piece that follows right on the usual editorial and administration material and gives something of a taste of things to come. He does not mince words. Even the title tells the tale: Conservationists should carry condoms, ‑ not GPSs. I have written similar sentiments in the past, but the meat of Amman’s article was a shock. In it he tells of the illegal and growing trade of live baby chimps into China and to a lesser extent to the Middle East. He reports “some 130 chimps and 10 gorillas were smuggled out of Guinea [West Africa] during the last three years.” As he writes further “That’s a horrific number, considering how many adults were most likely killed to generate the orphans for trade.” It would be at least ten adults per orphan. As there are a reported 95 dollar billionaires in China, and over a million millionaires, money is no barrier.

It is obvious that Amman is not impressed with the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) staff involved. He criticizes them for completely ignoring the China connection and even ignoring the written offer of a Kenya-based chimpanzee sanctuary to house them in new facilities.

In his book What I tell You Three Times is True Ian Parker, who knows more about ivory and elephants than almost anyone considers CITES to have become “a top-heavy bureaucracy that is held up by its own inertia;” he describes it as “an orgy of silliness.” Sad, but based on these and other reports, probably true.

Amman makes an interesting point. He compares the effective campaign to interest the media in the rhino horn trade and the increase in smuggling to SE Asia. I have written about this on a few occasions and the Swara editors have been a part of this effort. In the same July-Sept 2012 issue as Amman’s piece they provide a table showing the increase in poaching of rhino in South Africa. In the year 2000 only 7 rhino were poached, none in the Kruger NP. By 2011 the number had risen to 448, of which 252 went from the Kruger. The 2012 figures to June show a continued increase. As Amman points out, even in the face of these events rhino numbers are on the increase.

To quote him again, Amman states, “the ape conservation community could learn a lot from the rhino community in terms of lobbying, campaigning and activism.”

Try and find a Guinea Ape Traffick story on primate blog sites. Not easy. I found three.

This was the third item on the Google list during my search today. It is by Jeremy Hance but it is headlined Cute Animal Pictures of the Day. I see nothing cute at all. Just desperately sad. 

This picture of a young chimp, that I took in 1997 in Cameroon, is a more realistic reflection, but it won’t win any “cuddly” prizes. He was in the grim cage 24/7 in the forecourt of a hotel near the coastal town of Limbe.

You will find Amman’s story (in a slightly different version) here where you can read about his thesis on the need for condoms.

Amman’s final paragraph, both in the magazine and on-line begins “The fact is that when it comes to wildlife conservation the animals are not the problem. The humans are.”

How true.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Elephant Problems and Solutions

Elephants and humans compete for many of the same resources, and for years now the competition has been fierce, with the humans “winning” most of the time. I enclose winning in quotes because of course the victory is a tainted one.

Last year, when we took our granddaughters (and their parents) to Kenya we saw the results of one such conflict at the elephant orphanage outside Nairobi. 
A tiny calf, no more than a week old had been rescued in the Imenti forest a scant three kilometres from our old home in Meru. His mother had been killed in what was termed “Human wildlife conflict.”

My own direct involvement with the war, for that is what it is, goes back 37 years to Rwanda, where elephants had started to kill people and destroy their homes. At the time this was the most densely populated country in Africa. Peasant farmers, scratching a living on their small plots by growing some maize, matooke, beans or other crops would wake up in the morning to find the entire year’s supply of food for the family had been wiped out. An adult elephant needs tons of food every day, and those crops would have been a perfect source of readily available groceries.

The solution, at the time, was to cull the entire Rwandan population of what was certainly viewed as a major predator. I got involved when President Habyarimana persuaded the African Wildlife Foundation that monies they wanted for the gorilla project should instead be used to save human lives. At first all the elephants were to be destroyed, but then it was decided, for political reasons, that an effort should be made to save the younger animals and translocate them to a national park.

Several people who have read my account of the project in WrestlingWith Rhinos, during which we moved twenty-seven young elephants to the Akagera National Park  have quizzed me on why we did not drive all the animals to the park. Short answer – Mission Impossible. The herds were in small family units and widely dispersed; they would have had to move through hundreds of small farms and plantations and would have destroyed everything in their paths, crops, buildings, vehicles and of course people. 

The Rwandan skirmish was but one chapter in a conflict that has gone on for at least a hundred years, and perhaps much longer. It continues today, and not just in Africa. Elephants and people in India and their close cousins in South Asian countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Borneo and others are under similar pressures.

Several solutions have been tried. Desperate famers in India and Indonesia have tried to drive the huge beasts away with fire. That is, at best, a temporary measure and fraught with risk for the people. Fire baskets run back and forth on overhead wires work for a while to keep the marauders out. With illegal logging and massive development of palm oil plantations crushing the hungry giants into ever-smaller areas the famers and the elephants are losing ground.

Moorlands at 13,000 ft. Mt. Kenya from the north
The peaks from the forest edge
Kenya’s northern agricultural area around Mt. Kenya, the Aberdare Mountains and the grasslands of Laikipia at least two attempted methods have ended in failure.
Wide, brush-covered ditches were dug at the Aberdare forest edges, where farms come right up to the trees. They worked for a while as the elephants were fearful of stepping on the brush when they could not see what lay beneath. Once the huge job of maintenance declined the elephants figured it all out, and were back into the maize and other goodies.

As elephant numbers increased on the open plains attempts were made to drive them back with helicopters and flash guns. This also failed as the elephants soon returned and took no notice of repeated attempts to drive them. Some elephants were captured in family groups and translocated. 

We even saw some of them in their new home in Meru National Park, our favourite among all the parks of Kenya. 

This was fine and dandy, but one cannot capture elephants that hang out in the forests.  Too bushy, too difficult, too dangerous.

Two modern solutions have been developed. One is ideal for the individual small holder and particularly applies to families living outside the forests. This is very definitely a case of “thinking outside the box.” Of course this is a cliché, but it is also a pun.

The box in this case is a beehive. Zoologist Dr. Lucy King, working in Kenya, figured it out. Rural Kenyans, particularly the Ndorobo, are avid honey eaters, and they make hives for wild bees from hollowed out logs.

One thing that elephants do not like is bees.  If African bees are disturbed they are likely to swarm and attack. The elephant skin is probably impervious to the stings, but around the eyes, and especially inside the very sensitive trunk, bee stings obviously hurt.  One semi-tame bull elephant was described as “going berserk” when stung there. They may not get ‘bees in their bonnets’, but ‘up the trunk’ obviously does the trick.

Dr. King has taken these two facts and writes about her research in her own website

The ‘outside the box’ idea was to use actual beehives as part of a crop-protection fence after Lucy and her supervisor found that elephants could even be driven off if they heard the sound of buzzing bees.

As you can see in this photo that Lucy took, and has released to the media, farmers can construct a fence that has beehives strung on wires every few metres around their plots of crops.  Any touch of the wires by an elephant (or a careless human) will set the wires a-twanging, and the hives a-swinging. Ouch!

While the technique is not 100% effective it has helped reduce elephant incursions considerably.  The by-product is delicious honey that the farmers can sell.

While this elegant solution will work most of the time for a number of smallholders it is obviously not practical for the hundreds of kilometres of forest boundary around the two massifs of Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares.

Corner construct on the Aberdares
This electrified fence around the Aberdares was completed in August 2009, twenty years after the first posts were driven. It was done at enormous (but unstated) cost, all funded through the charitable trust Rhino Ark whose byline is Humans in Harmony with Habitat and Wildlife. The trust describes the fence as “an ecosystem conservation tool.” You can read some fascinating detail about it at their website. A couple of things that caught my eye were that much of the labour was done by local folks and at least a hundred scouts patrol the fence on a regular basis.

Kazita river gorge. Mt. Kenya
With that fence all done and dusted, the next project, as reported on the BBCwebsite is a similar structure on Mt. Kenya. It will run for at least 400 km across many river valleys and take an estimated 5 years to complete and current cost estimates are $11.8 million. Here are a couple of pics that illustrate the density & complexity involved.
Trout fishing on the Kazita river above Meru

The elephants will not be completely cut off from their traditional migrations. One corridor has been constructed on the north side of Mt. Kenya that allows them to migrate up and down the slopes. They can start in the world-famous Lewa Conservancy and move up through the corridor that lies on land donated by our friends the Murrays at Marania farm into their high-altitude homes. There is a downloadable map here  

The rose bed at Marania, before the elephant arrived
The fences, also electrified, work most of the time although last year the family had a bit of a scare when one old and very wise bull found his way outside the constraints of the wire. We saw the evidence of his nighttime passage a couple of days later as enormous footprints indenting the lawn.

Bongo bull at the Mount Kenya Game Ranch
It is not just elephants that will be controlled by the fence. Several other species live both in the forest and on the wide-open moorlands above the tree-line. I have seen buffalo, waterbuck, zebra and lions up there even at altitudes above 12,000 feet (3600 metres). There were once rhino both in and above the forest and the most striking of  all forest antelopes, the bongo, used to live on both mountains, although no wild ones have been seen for many years.

There is one other species that will at least be deterred. Humans will not be so ready to cross into the forest for poaching activities or for firewood.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Percy Haigh and the Shortest War in History

Frances Evans Percy Haigh joined the Royal Navy on the 29th of June 1894. Little did he know that he would be a photographic witness to the aftermath of the shortest war in history just two years later. By that time he had sailed to the Indian Ocean on HMS Bonaventure and he recorded some of his adventures with his new camera, as I showed in last week's post.
On the 13th of July 1895 my granddad transferred to the HMS Cossack, the third of six British naval vessels named after the Cossack people of Eastern Europe. This one was launched in 1886 and sold in 1905. Like the Bonaventure she too cruised in the Indian Ocean. To get the exact dates and locations of either ship I would have to get hold of the their logbooks, which I cannot do without either going to Kew and the National Archives, or maybe the naval museum in Portsmouth.  I suppose I could pay someone to dig through the millions of microfilm pages for me. Kew is in Richmond, Surrey and Portsmouth even further from London’s Heathrow, both a long way from Saskatoon.
I have searched the National Archives but had no luck. The references to HM ships named Cossack are for later reincarnations.
We do know that one of the 1886 Cossack’s stops was at Aden, and we also know that this visit occurred in April 1896 because of a fascinating tidbit about a rescue. The only reference I could find to this little event comes from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 15th April that year. You can read the scratchy copy of the scanned newspaper article, just one 59-line single colum article here,  It is headlined A GALLANT OFFICER OF H.M.S. “COSSACK.” It tells how an officer on the Cossack went for a sail with a carpenter’s mate and how he saved the man’s life by tying him to a buoy with his jacket after he had fallen overboard.  The original report was written in the Times of India and obviously caught the attention of the editor in Singapore, perhaps because it was a maritime event. Was Percy that “gallant officer”?  Maybe the logbook would reveal the truth, but for now, who knows?
We know that HMS Cossack sailed into Zanzibar harbour a short time after that remarkable war had ended. Again, I have no exact date.
The war had started because of the ill-advised decision by Seyyid Khalid-bin-Barghash to declare himself Sultan after the death of his cousin H.H. Seyyid Hamed-bin-Thwain at 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday 25th August 1896. Within half an hour Barghash had seized the palace.  Consul General, Mr. A. Hardinge, Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s representative on the island, disapproved of Khalid and suggested that he “retire quietly.” He refused and must have foolishly failed to realize that Mr. Hardinge had the backing of five of Her Majesty’s Royal navy ships under the command of Rear Admiral H.H. Rawson. They were the Philomel, the Racoon, the Thrush, the Sparrow and the St. George and all were anchored in the harbor. 

This plan comes from a Wiki article I found. These next ones are also from that article. On the right are a some marines standing by one of those old cannons.  Barghash obviously had no idea how outmatched he was or what high explosive shells could do to to buildings.

The St. George and the Philomel in harbour
 The third picture comes from an Italian source and I'm not sure if it is a B&W photo that has been re-touched or a painting. Either way is shows what a mess those naval guns made of the palace.

The “new” Sultan mustered his supporters, some seven hundred in all, in the palace courtyard, where he had the ancient cannons primed and shotted. He also had a warship. This was the three-masted HHS Glasgow, which he had “inherited” from his predecessor. The Glasgow had been built near Clydebank not far from where Percy would end his career as a captain after being in charge of the torpedo factory at Greenock. She was equipped with 9-pounder guns. However, Barghash must have failed to recognize that his ship would be a sitting duck for the Royal navy’s little fleet.
Edward Rodwell, Kenya historian and long-time newspaperman, tells the story of three ladies who were eye-witnesses to the events that followed, as the whole thing became a bit of a spectacle and breakfast was being served aboard the flagship, the admiral’s wife as hostess. One of them was Mr. Hardinge’s wife.  The sultan had been warned that failure to capitulate would lead to a bombardment that would start at 9.00 am on the Thursday morning.  It did, with one minute’s grace. The cease-fire was ordered at 9.45 after the palace flag was shot down.  The Glasgow had returned some fire but her guns were quickly silenced.  By 10.45 she had sunk.  That is Rodwell’s version. There are others that differ only in minute detail.
For instance the author of an extended Wiki article states “The variation is due to confusion over what actually constitutes the start and end of a war. Some sources take the start of the war as the order to open fire at 09:00 and some with the start of actual firing at 09:02. The end of the war is usually put at 09:40 when the last shots were fired and the palace flag struck, but some sources place it at 09:45. The logbooks of the British ships also suffer from this with St George indicating that cease-fire was called and Khalid entered the German consulate at 09:35, Thrush at 09:40, Racoon at 09:41 and Philomel and Sparrow at 09:45.”
The charitable view must be that the ship’s captains did not coordinate their ships clocks or watches before the battle, as logbooks are meticulously kept in the navy.
The specific time hardly matters as the record will likely stand. The outcome was of course that Khalid became persuaded that he had made a false move and he fled to the German Consulate, whence he was removed to German East Africa.  On August 27th  Hamed-bin-Mahommed, a brother of the late Sultan, was installed as Sultan.
That same Wiki article has several interesting pictures from the war, but Percy Haigh took two that do not seem to appear anywhere else. Using that same Schoville Dry Plate camera with which he took pictures in the Indian Ocean he took two that are now in the British Naval museum in Portsmouth. Along with the ones I showed in my last blog they had lain hidden in Percy’s old tin trunk for over a hundred years. My cousin Sue Langford found them when she went though our grandmother’s treasures and at once realized their significance.
HHS Glasgow and some British naval ships off Zanzibar
The first shows the masts of the sunken HSS Glasgow. As contemporary accounts have it, “The three masts of the Sultan’s steamship Glasgow – which was sunk during the engagement – still stand up out of the water and form to this day a picturesque memorial of this revolutionary step.”
The second was captioned by Percy as being of slaves chained as they walked past the ruins of the harem and palace that the navy had so quickly reduced to rubble. 
I do wonder about this one a bit as slavery was officially abolished in Britain by Slavery Abolition Act 1833. But the Act did not do all it might have and others were passed at later dates, at least up to 1873.  It would not surprise me if these men were actually prisoners captured after the war or perhaps they had been incarcerated by the Sultan in some hell-hole and are on their way to another prison under the watchful eye of the men behind and to side of their little column. However, Zanzibar was an infamous market centre for slaves for many years and when my wife and I visited Zanzibar a hundred and one years, almost to the day, after Percy’s photos were taken we saw the horrific low-ceilinged dungeon where slaves to be sold were crammed like sardines and also the place, now inside the Christ Church Anglican cathedral where, it is alleged, slaves were chained. The altar is said to be in the exact place where the main "whipping post" of the market used to be. Chilling!