Sunday, October 26, 2008

War in the DRC and gorilla survival

More desperate news from the DRC. An email this morning describes how rebel soldiers have completely taken over thePark Headquarters at Rumangabo in the of the Gorilla Sector of Virunga National Park. The fighting between the rebels of Laurent Nkunda and the army has engulfed the park. One reason for the continued war in this region is that it is incredibly resource-rich. One of the most important minerals is Coltan, which contains tantalum, used the world over in electronic equipment, particularly cell phones, DVD players and computers. Miners have been forced to work at gun point, in a grim return to the Heart of Darkness days of Conrad. For more details on Coltan you can go to the Wikipedia site.

The park rangers have been forced to flee en masse and so there is now nobody to keep an eye on things. For a map of the region you can go to the blog. Of course this blog is rightly concerned with the fate of the 200 or so mountain gorillas that make the park home, but with that level of human incursion it will not just be gorillas that are being hammered. Hippos have taken a huge hit over the last years (down from over 20,000 to a few hundred) , and anything that moves in the forest is going to be considered as fair game (bad pun) for hungry soldiers looking for bush meat.

Anyone wishing for more information can send a message to this email

Friday, October 24, 2008

Teddies for Uganda

We are setting up for our Uganda trip in several different ways.
On Monday I spent time with the ladies of Teddies For Tragedies, a group of women who have knitted little Teddy Bears for kids in many countries. Last year that gave us a bunch of Teddies for the schools we support, and of course we sent them a thank you note along with a photo. This year they have outdone themselves and asked me to come and collect what they had. Not unreasonably Edna Jennings, the group's coordinator, asked me if I could show them a few pictures & tell them a story or two. Of course that was a pleasure, and so I did.
Imagine my delight when I came home with 157 Teddies, with promise of 30 more to come. That evening I had a call from Edna's sister, who loves in southern Saskatchewan, in the town of Weyburn. Guess what! There are 50 more Teddies on the way by bus. The good news did not stop there. Edna had asked the Saskatoon Star Phoenix newspaper to send a photographer, and the next day this image appeared. That evening I had a call form an old friend, Lesley Avant of the Saskatoon Zoological Society. We now have a bunch of 't' shirts to take as well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saskatchewan Writers Guild and Book Awards

Just off a good weekend at the Saskatchewan Writers Guild AGM. The overall theme of the gathering was For The Love of Words and a stellar cast of invited speakers took us through sessions on Romance Writing, Writing About Sex, Loving Language, and Writing About Love in Poetry. There were also sessions titled Love Your Guild (which told us all about the Guild’s many programs) and Promoting Your Writing.

A new board was also elected at the AGM, Here is the group photograph of most of us. From left to right, Lisa Wilson, Bob Calder, Cathy Fenwick, Susan Hogarth, Gloria Boerma, Paula Jane Remlinger, Jerry Haigh and Danica Lorer. Susan is the executive director of the Guild, and all the others are elected. There are two board members missing from the photo. Scott Miller, who comes from Estevan had a five-hour journey home on his motorbike, so did not hang around, while Michael Trussler had not been able to get to any of the events.

Despite my concerns about the amount of travel that I do, and the lengthy absences from Canada, mainly in Africa, the members saw fit to ask me to stand as the incoming president. I would not have taken it on had it not been for the fact the several members of the board are staying on, and both Bob Calder, the past-president, and Susan, will be around to guide me through patches where I don’t know the ropes, while other board members have also volunteered to do what they can. It will be a great group to work with.

The other good news is that the folks at the Saskatchewan Book Awards have invited me to “read” at the Saskatoon brunch for short-listed authors on the 23rd of November. The event takes place in the city’s Bessborough hotel. Just like the other four authors who are listed in different categories I will have ten minutes on the podium. That will make for an interesting challenge! I will almost certainly take less than two minutes on actually reading, and use the rest to skip-stone through a few bits as brief stories.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book awards, The Trouble With Lions

Exciting news!
The Trouble With Lions A Glasgow Vet in Africa has been short-listed in two categories for the Saskatchewan Book Awards, of which you can read more here. This year there were 113 entries, which is a record and also an amazing stat when you think that the province has only just reached its peak population EVER of 1 million people. The official number on July 1, 2008 according to the Saskatchewan Bureau of Statistics was 1015985. That is a published author, in the 2007/2008 year alone, for every 8991.017699115044 people! I guess that on July 1st the stats people guessed that one woman somewhere in the province was just a teeny little bit pregnant.

Now for the wait. The actual awards do not get handed out until November 29th at a gala evening. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

West African chimps and the bushmeat trade

The bushmeat issue continues to strike hard at wildlife populations in Africa. I was tempted to write “strikes again” but at would have been wrong, as it has never stopped. This story from the Wildlife Disease News Digest is about the virtual disappearance of chimps in West Africa, specifically Côte d'Ivoire, and details can be found here.

Here is one example of the consequences of the bushmeat trade. This juvenile chimp was locked in a tiny cage in a hotel forecourt near the town of Limbé on Cameroon's coast. It is likely that the entire family was taken out by hunters, and that they figured out that the value of this one alive was greater than as meat, so they sold it to the hotel.

The disappearance of the chimps is but one layer. The forest itself is vanishing as well, and with it precious resources that include medicinal plants.

In 2001 Ghanaian journalist Vivian Baah wrote a series of articles under the title "Guess What’s Cooking for Dinner?” and “Confessions of a bush meat journalist” in The Evening News of Accra in which she not only stated her love of bush meat, particularly grasscutter (cane rat), but also described in detail how she joined a group of hunters who were finding it increasingly difficult to obtain meat for market, and who were resorting to the burning of forests in order to improve their success rates.
Here is a picture that I took in Cameroon several years ago that shows a cane rat, and some unidentifiable smoked monkeys. As you can see the “storefront” is a broken-off tree branch on which hangs, in pride of place, a francolin.

Ms. Baah speculated that the long-term effects of all these activities and the likely effects on the plants used in traditional medicine and the environment in general could not be anything but decline and disappearance.

Noted wildlife photographer Karl Amman, whose website is a must visit for those concerned with bushmeat issues has documented the bushmeat trade with a series of images that are as striking as they are detailed. Take a look.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Flying Eagles

There’s a neat story and video clip on the BBC web site this morning. It is titled Man 'shows bird how to fly' and will be particularly heartening to wildlife rehabilitators as it concerns the training of a 14 year-old American Bald eagle that has been in captivity all its life. A party of handlers took it all the way to the top of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain and then the falconer paraglided down while the bird flew for the first time in its life. Take a look here.

The bald eagle is a close cousin to the African Fish eagle. It is only the amount of white on the body that gives them a clear difference on the surface. Here are a couple of favourite fish eagle pictures. The first from Uganda, which was taken by one of our WCVM wildlife rotation alumna, Karen Kemp. The second is my own from Botswana.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death of Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri

Some sad news in from Kenya. Samuel Maina, who writes a periodic newsletter called Wildlife Direct News has reported about the untimely death of Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri, a wildlife vet in Kenya who was well-known and much called upon in many areas of East Africa. Dr. Kashmiri was killed by an elephant in Ethiopia when he was there working on them. Here are some pictures taken from the header of the page about him. He wrote, in his own blog
"I have faith in life and I think I have had more then my share of good life for which I am more than thankful to God. I have had a more than full life. I think I have reached my destiny and it is now for me to help others where I may still enjoy the fringe benefits I get. Of course a bonus comes by sometimes"
A fund in his name has been established to support wildlife vets.

The Wildlife Direct News, which focuses on Africa, Asia and South America can be found here and you can subscribe to the newsletter by simply filling in the appropriate box. There are numerous links to conservation issues in many countries and Samuel has collated a large number of blogs under one main page. One of the most recent comes from Zimbabwe and has some great pictures of two new litters of African wild dogs. The blogger is Rosemary Groom and she has written about the dogs on today’s date in her latest post. If you go her blog you will also find a personal perspective on the problems of day-to-day living in that troubled country.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Kenya Rhino back to the wild

There is a fascinating report on today’s BBC web site It is about the return of black rhino back to the wild in Kenya. For those who know the scenery it is pretty obvious where the animals were caught, and the story contains four short video clips featuring BBC reporter Karen Allen and the Kenya Wildlife Service team who did the translocations. I use the plural here, as at least two animals are shown, and they are really the stars. What is important is that the report does not contain any indication of either the capture or the release site.

The first clip has only very minor difference form my own footage shot almost 40 years ago on my own Super8 Canon camera when working with Tony Parkinson, John Seago and their team. Of course my footage suffers badly by comparison because it was shot by an amateur (me), and sat on its tiny celluloid film for 30 years before I had it transferred to a DVD, from which it was again transferred to Youtube. You can see the old footage here on my web page.

And note some important differences. First, my own footage opens with a rhino being pulled over with a long lariat that was placed around its neck with a bamboo pole. Second,. And probably the only thing that is better than the BBC stuff, is the shot down the barrel of my dart gun as a rhino is about to be darted. I got the shot by taping the camera to the fore-end of the gun with what was then called Gaffer’s Tape (now known as Duct Tape). The reason that the ground team were there with the lariat was that the country we were working in in the early 1970s, not 30 km from the BBC spot, was riddled with deep luggahs (dry gullies that fill with water during the rainy season). They are often almost invisible in the long grass and as we worked from the helicopter we would warn the ground crew and they could prevent a darted rhino from falling into one, which would have been disastrous.

Here you can find the new footage of the darting, for comparison.

Then comes the monitoring. In the BBC report it has been edited into a second short clip Other than the placement of the transmitter and the cutting off of the horn the process is identical to my old footage (it could hardly be any different.)

It is in the 3rd BBC clip that things differ a lot from the old techniques. Since the 70s it has been shown that captured rhino do much better if they are allowed to stand during the transport phase. After all the processing they are given a partial antidote and allowed to stand in a somewhat dazed state. At least that is what everyone hopes they will be. They are then pulled into a waiting crate, where the trap door is quickly dropped before the final dose of antidote is given. I have been involved in this process with White Rhino when working with Dr. J.P (Cobus) Raath in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The first of these three pictures shows a rhino struggling to get to his feet a few minutes after that partial dose. That's me at the left in the second picture, and everyone is puling hard in the third one.

The BBC footage, which shows a little of this technique, is on the 3rd clip here.

When I was translocating rhino we often had to take them large distances – up to 100 km in some cases, and so we held them in bomas (corrals) before we moved them. At that time there were about 20,000 black rhino in Kenya alone and some rhino were not released but were captured for sale to zoos. That was show Tony & John earned their fees. Now there are less than 600 left in the country, victims of a poaching war, for reasons that you can read about in several places, including chapter 15 of The Trouble With Lions. I hope nobody thinks it has anything to do with aphrodisiacs for old oriental men. That is a print media myth that sells articles, (it’s an eye-catching headline, sex, animals and humans) but is far from the truth. The real reasons relate to traditional oriental medicine and human vanity.

In this new story I am pretty sure that the release sites were within 50 km of the capture site, and so release could be immediate, and much better for the rhino, as you can see here in the very short 4th clip.

I never did get any of my own shots of a release, but the front cover of Wrestling With Rhinos show Peter Beard’s extraordinary photo of just such an event. It contains all the drama in one shot.

As the BBC site clearly sates, this effort shows a real desire on the part of the KWS, and their helpers, the Zoological Society of London, to reverse an ugly trend. Let’s wish them al the very best in the efforts.

However, no one should imagine that wildlife poaching has ceased in Kenya. The Lewa Conservancy web site carries this story dated Sept 16th of the arrest of four poachers who have allegedly been involved in ivory and rhino poaching for years.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

2009 Bird Calendars for Uganda Schools

There have been several different methods to raise funds for the two little schools that we support in Uganda. Every year we have been selling calendars showing birds of Africa. Here is the front picture for the 2009 issue. The proceeds are all used as funds to support the schools program at Kasenyi and Equator Highway primary schools in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Equator Primary has a large number of registered AIDS orphans. You can see some of what we have done in the student blogs from the years 2007 and 2008, or from chapter 27 of The Trouble With Lions. You can find out more about the book here, where several pdf pages and part chapters can be read.

This year I have gathered enough photos to do one with the theme Black, Grey and White Birds of Africa. Here are some of the images from it.

To make the link to the schools more clearly I have added photos taken by Tessa Leena who accompanied us as videographer on the trip in February 2008. She took dozens of pictures at both schools and I have included a few that show the kids and their school surroundings.

One of our activities was to paint a mural in a classroom and artists Vivian Lau and Tyler Stitt spent a good hour with the landscape that depicts the park, the Lake George and some of the Giant Euphorbias. We also painted, or re-painted, the school blackboards, which looked more grey than black when we began to work on them. Here are Jo Haigh and Jill Meacher hard at work.

Calendar sales have been brisk so far, at $20.0 each, which gives us a profit of under $8.00 towards the school programs. If you would like one, or a whole lot, please contact me through the comments section below. They make great Christmas presents and Sandy Farber, of Jubilee Travel in Saskatoon (details here) has just purchased one as a birthday present for her bird-watching sister. Sandy has been our go-to travel agent for all the arrangements for the trip.

We cannot offer a discount on the price, as every cent goes to the schools, and we do not have a charitable tax number. We can only take payment by cheque or cash, and we would have to add postage, as we do not want to cut in to the money we raise. This has been a low-key operation over the years, but 100% of our proceeds go where they are needed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Canadian Vet Students to Uganda -1

Met last evening with the new group of ten Canadian final year vet students who will be coming to Uganda next February. Of course there was a mass of things to discuss, not least of which was the whole issue of travel safety & insurance that the university requires them to cover. They have to take three on-line tests and keep a sharp eye on the Canada government's Foreign Affairs web pagethat has travel reports for every country especially of course for us about Uganda. If the worst came to the worst and something really bad cropped up in Uganda the trip would be canceled. Right now the biggest threat posed by a Ugandan occurs in the DRC where the leader of the self-styled Lord’s Resistance Army continues to terrorize villages and kidnap children. If the past is anything to go by these youngsters are turned into child soldiers and sex slaves. It seems as if Joseph Kony and his cronies have not operated in Uganda for quite a few years.

Enough of that stuff. Our Canadian group members are already making plans for fund raising to supper the two schools that we have helped in the last several years. School supplies, cash for new desks and textbooks and lots of gifts have been given out.
Generous donors in Saskatoon have supplied soccer uniforms and lots of other sports equipment. The boys have reveled in the uniforms and they first time they put them on it seemed as if they had grown about two inches in as many minutes – as this picture shows.
Of course we have to then play them at their own game, and we are usually thrashed, although we did manage a 1-1 tie one year.

Girls do not pay soccer, but they do have uniforms for volleyball and netball, and one year we played after a huge downpour when there was about an inch of water on the outdoor court. A messy experience, as you can see.

In February 2008 each child in grades 1-4 of the Equator Highway Primary School, which is an AIDS orphanage, received a teddy bear that had been lovingly knitted by members of the Saskatoon ladies group who call themselves Teddies for Tragedies.
Most of these kids had never had a gift or a doll before in their lives, so you can imagine the reception.

More to follow in this one as the fund raising continues.