Saturday, January 31, 2009

Solar technology & TV/Video in QEP

Cannot find a high-speed dialup service here, so no chance of photos.
However we have had a productive two days.

It started with a visit to a solar tech company called Ultratech, where Abhay Shah is the director. We discussed the pros and cons of several solar set-ups and agreed that his team would build a system for us at Kasenyi Primary School in Queen Elizabeth National Park, on the shores of Lake George. We plan to install a system that will run four low energy light bulbs, a 32" LCD television, and a DVD/Tape deck that can play either PAL of Europe or VHS of North America. As Abhay pointed out we also need to tell the headmaster, Kiiza George, that the system will charge up to 3, but only 3, cell phones at one time.

All the funds for this endeavour have come from three sources. These are team members of the Uganda Wildife Rotation at the Western College of Veterianry Medicine, alumni of our program, Veterinarians Without Borders / Veterinaires Sans Frontieres (Canada) and generous corporate donors, of which more in future posts.

The best thing is that the installation will take place while we are in the park in mid-February. We will make sure that the community local council will be represented, as well as the park authorities and of course the children and staff.

Of course the solar stuff will not be of any use without the TV & deck, and today Jo & I did some sleuthing and found the ideal set. We had taken pre-emptive action and have some conservation videos to take and give to the school.

Hopefully we may have found a decent Internet connection by then and will post a picture two

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Monkeys and sunbirds in the garden

Have had very slow connections and cannot download pictures, so the mention of them here will have to be left to the imagination.

Safely arrived in Nairobi to be greeted by a heavy rain storm. The November rains failed, and with it an entire crop season, and it took no time for our taxi driver to tell about the latest corruption scandal, which involves the sale of maize to Sudan, the emptiness of maize silos here in Kenya and his opinion that the members of parliament involved in the scam should be dumped en masse. Will it happen? Not likely.

The rain lasted several hours, and over 25 mm fell in some places around Nairobi. Much welcome of course, but of no used to the crop sector as nobody will have planted and the proper rains are not expected until March.

Dropped off copies of The Trouble With Lions at five book shops and have lined up two more for tomorrow. We also visited Jean Hartley of ViewFinders Ltd, who acts for film crews in Kenya. She told us that she had acted for 78 such crews last year and already has 19 under way this year, and it is only January! While were with her, a lone colobus male sat in a tree in her garden and looked at us, while a troupe of very troublesome Sykes monkeys raided the sugar water feeders that she had hung up for the sunbirds. This green-headed sunbird, looking a bit like a character from The Muppets, was one I snapped a few years back. (What green-headed sunbird, I hear you ask)

Jean’s dogs tried to chase the monkeys, a futile effort of course and she worried about them as an aggressive male Sykes can make a mess of a large dog, and she has only Jack Russells. She took this picture of the colobus. (another non-download!) All this primate activity was taking place within a kilometer of Westlands, one of Nairobi’s busiest shopping areas.

Jean has also written a review of TTWL, but I have not seen that yet. Meanwhile we purchased copies of some of the classic Alan Root Films such as Castles in Clay that set the bar for wildlife films. We hope to show these to the children at Kasenyi as we endeavour to build up the conservation side of their education.

I will try & get the colobus and the bird on later, but don't hold your breath

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gorillas, snares and wildlife blogs


One of the very best blogs on which to keep abreast of developments in gorilla conservation is the one run by the park staff in the DRC’s Virunga National Park. This blog is regularly picked up by the BBC and features on their main web site

While this blog is specific to gorillas and particularly gorillas in the DRC, a more general blog is that at Wildlife Direct which collates news from around the world. Today’s Wildlife Direct post covers good news about wild dogs in Zimbabwe, news about snares and the capture of poachers, and a post from the Lion Guardian program in Kenya’s Masailand. The post on gorillas issues goes wider after the arrest of the rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, which, it is hoped, will bring the killing to an end. Not just the killing of gorillas as reported in last year, and which showed this ugly picture credited to Altor IGCP Goma, but the death of a ranger after an attack by Mai Mai geurillas

The snare issue is unlikely to go away any time soon. I have written about it in The Trouble With Lions, and like any visitor who delves a bit into Africa’s wildlife scene we have seen snares ‘up close and personal’. There is a blog that covers snares in the Masai Mara and has not yet appeared on the Wildlife Direct site. Thelatest post is headed Entries in Poachers & Snares (34). I’m not sure if this means that there have been 34 snare reports, but it is of course under the more general Mara heading.

The whole snare thing needs highlighting. I’ll have a go at that in a day or two, but right now we are getting ready to head out for the airport en route to Nairobi.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rinderpest in Victorian Britain

Been researching a new book on a topic that fascinates me. Know today as Rinderpest, it was the scourge of cattle owners for centuries. Former names included The Steppe Murrain, The Asian Murrain, Cattle Plague, and Cattle Typhus. If susceptible cattle became infected by this highly contagious disease then almost 100% of them would die. It swept across Asia in wave after wave of pandemics, wiping out millions of cattle every time. It got into Africa when traders brought cattle across through the Horn of Africa and then swept down and across the continent over a few years, leaving utter devastation in its wake, killing not only cattle but a host of other cloven-hoofed animals like buffalo and many antelopes.

My working title is The Virus and the Vaccine: How Cattle Plague Changed World History.

I could not have come to a better place for my research of the history of the disease in UK because the entire collection of James Beart Simonds writings, and all the material he collected. This portrait is the frontispiece of his very brief and modest autobiography. The staff at the College library have been brilliant, and I have had access to then entire collection of material that Simonds gathered during his very distinguished career. He led the charge on Rinderpest control in the mid-1800s, speaking to veterinary, agricultural and government groups all over Britain.

I was allowed to scan all of this collection – which ran to over 90 volumes of material – and it will take a long time to digest. Here is just one example of the many of the sort of thing I found. As the saying goes “watch this space”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Storytelling in London

Fun storytelling at London’s Royal Veterinary College last evening, but of course up against a much larger & more important world figure with Kenya connections. Despite that, about 40 students from the college turned out and we shared some fun, some serious conservation issues and then some pizza.

My theme was the use of the book title The Trouble With Lions as a symbol of wildlife in general. I was able to add one more symbolic to my collection when I was in Bali, which is far from any known lion range. These two statues are placed right at the gates of our hotel there, and the intriguing thing is their sarongs. These are not covers to protect drying cement, as I had at first thought, but are serious spiritual garments. Statues all over the island are similarly dressed and the black and white cheques are designed to keep the bad spirits out, and the good spirits in.

Apart from the students there were friends and family there as well. Then a few of went out for a pint and a pub supper. We did not find a Red Lion, but went instead to The Prince Albert on Royal College Street. This name will resonate with Saskatchewan readers as this is also the name of an important city in my home province. I had bangers and mash. Very English, pretty good. Filling.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

UK stop-over

Safely arived in UK
Still no pics from the school, so we shall have to wait on that one.
Cannot get my Mac linked up with the wireless here, so will have to wait until working hours tomorrow to get the details.
Then I might be able to post some pictures.
Meanwhile have been tweaking my storytelling content a bit for the session to take place at the Royal Veterinary College in London on Tuesday. Realized a few days back that this was a poor choice for timing as a certain high-profile politician and iconic figure will be in Washington starting his new job. Too late for him to change it now, and I booked months ago.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Storytelling about Africa.

It’s been an interesting 36 hours.

I’ll go backwards.
Right now I am in Toronto Aiport, waiting for a flight to London as we head to Africa.

Last evening I was telling stories to the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners. The title of the session was Rhinos Cattle and Sex. The cattle part is what is new to these ages, and the pieces I cited came from both of my Africa books. I think that what created the most buzz was the footage of Ankole cattle entering a plunge dip.

Here it is. Old Africa hands know that this is for tick control, but folks who have not had to think much about tropical diseases, including most of the students we have taken to Uganda over the lat 8 years are amazed at the sight. Of course our hosts are just as amazed to think that we have no cattle dips in Canada, anywhere. I suppose that winter, snow, and severe cold have some advantages!

On Wednesday evening I told stores to the Calgary Academy of Veterinary Medicine in the Africa pavilion at the Calgary Zoo. My title for this group was The Trouble With Lions and other Animals in Africa. Footage was again a big hit, and I ran the edited piece that I have already got on You Tube that shows me capturing rhinos in the early 1970s with the team led by Tony Parkinson, my old tennis partner. There is no sound track - this footage was shot with a Super8 camera in the late 60s and early 70s.

I’m waiting for pictures on the 3rd gig, which was to the children in grades K thought 4 at the Chaparral school in Calgary.

‘nuff for now. I’ll be back with the story of the school soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Plastic menace, again


Have you heard of the North Pacific Garbage Patch? It is where circulating currents meet in that ocean. According to Australian Seabird Rescue spokesman Keith Williams it is also covered in a mass of garbage the size of Texas!
I found this reportabout a horror story that highlights the world’s plastic menace through the Wildlife Disease News Digest blog that I tap into regularly at
To summarize and quote
“an albatross chick has been found dead with 272 pieces of plastic in its gut. The haul included a cigarette lighter, nine bottle tops, 10 lids, a lollipop stick, twine, fishing line, a fork and a toy wheel.
It was found at Dunedin, New Zealand, but Australian wildlife carers said the 250g load was no surprise.”
This picture that I got from the report tells it all.

The report mentions New Zealand, but does not actually state that the bird was a Royal Albatross, which it almost certainly was. These amazing birds breed at Taiaroa Head on New Zealand’s Otago peninsula. The place is well worth a visit, one we have made a couple of times. You can find out more about it hereand see the images that I have lifted from their site.

To quote from the web page about the colony
“The sight of a soaring albatross is unforgettable - held aloft on slim wings up to 3 metres (9'6") across, the great Albatross is capable of swooping speeds of more than 115kph. Viewing these majestic seabirds in their natural environment is not to be missed.”

As Taiaroa Head is the only place in the southern hemisphere where albatrosses – of any species – have a mainland breeding site it is also just about the best place to see them.

There’s an added benefit, at least for those who enjoy a moderate dose of hedonism. You cannot drive to the colony site without going past the 1908 Café, and that in itself is worth a visit. Here is the picture from their web advert. Cream teas, delicious scones and real tea made properly. Yeah!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Guard Dogs and penguins

Another encouraging story about guard dogs and wildlife, once more reaching me through the Wildlife Disease Network a blog I regularly scan here. In this case the protected animals are about as far from what one might imagine as possible. They are fairy penguins! These are the smallest penguins on earth, and nest in burrows close to shore. They are also known as little penguins, but the fairy name is more attractive, at least to me.

In an intriguing report from Australia published on-line in the Earth Times of Jan 5th that you can find here comes this report. For those who want a précis here is mine.

Guard dogs, in this case Maremmas sheep dogs from Italy, that bond to their charges just like the Anatolian and Pyrenees that I mentioned a few days ago on this blog, have been introduced to a small south-coast Australian island called Middle Island. The results have been very positive, and the population of penguins, which had declined (crashed?) from an original 5000 to 100 four years ago has crept back up to 180. Twenty-six chicks were counted in one night according to project manager Ian Fitzgibbons.

There are no pictures of either the penguins or the dogs in the report, so I have gone looking for them on the web and found a picture of the attractive dogs at here. They look very much like the Pyrenneans.

As for the penguins, here is what I found. The first one came straight form Google. The second picture (found here) looks very much like the ones we tried to take in Australia a few years ago. I fancy that the photographer was allowed to go much closer to the birds than we were, as ordinary tourists.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Uganda trip & silent auction


Gearing up now for our Uganda trip with ten vet students from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

They are holding a silent auction throughout the college in 2 weeks time, so here are three items that will be entered. One is a tray that I made from several different hard woods. Then there are two photos that generous business people in Saskatoon have agreed to mount in large format for the events.
The first one is of vulturine guinea fowl and was taken in Samburu Park in Kenya’s northeast. Brad Hoffman of Early Mailing and Printing is enlarging a high-resolution version of this one for us. Brad has supported the program for a long time, by producing calendars for us at cost. They have all been calendars depicting birds of Africa, photos that I have taken over the years. Some of these can be seen on my web site. I have shown Trudy Janssens of Photography one-2-one four photos, and I am not sure which one she will choose to run. These are a speckled mouse bird one of two alternatives of Klaas's cuckoo, and one taken at the oasis at Sussusvlei in Namibia where we saw two pied crows and I managed to catch them in what I have labeled yin and yang crows

All the proceeds go to two small schools in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park that we have been supporting in a variety of way for several years. The last six chapters of The Trouble With Lions cover many of our activities in that country, and you can also get some different perspectives by having a look at the student blogs from 2007 & 2008.

If you want to bid on any of the items you can do so by emailing me at but you had better do so soon. If you want a particular photo either one of these, or one from the small gallery that you find on the web, let me know and we can get it printed up, but I will have to get cost estimates, including shipping, to you before we close a deal. All profits will go to the schools.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Anatolian Guard Dogs - follow-up

As I composed my previous blog about guard dogs and cheetahs in Namibia, and their presence in Kenya, I wrote an email to the folks at the Kilimanjaro Lion Projectto see if they had any news on this front. Amy Howard has just replied, and the answer is yes.

In a nice blog (which you can find here) titled None-lethal Predator Control veterinarian Asuka Takita has written about the program in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

I have lifted two of her pictures, as they nicely show the relationship between the dog and the livestock, and make the important visual point that the dogs need to be bonded with the stock as pups.

One quote says most of what matters
"In Namibia, ancient breed of Turkish livestock guardian dog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, has been used since 1994 to reduce cheetah-livestock conflict by Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), defending livestock against baboons, jackals, caracals, cheetahs, leopards and even humans."

Good luck to all involved, from Asuka to all at the Kilimanjaro project, to the herders, who have so much at stake. Have a look at Asuka's blog

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cheetah conservation with guard dogs

Fascinating report on the BBC website at this URL about guard dogs & cheetah conservation.

In brief, Anatolian Kangal guard dogs are being used to protect flocks of sheep & goats. This picture is right on the site, but the photographer is not named. Pity.

The Anatolian Kangal is related to other livestock guardian dogs like the Great Pyrenees which shows the same guardian and bonding behaviour if raised with the stock from about the age of 8 weeks.

“We have had amazing results," Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund told the BBC. She added that Livestock loss has been reduced by over 80%. Obviously these results have a marked impact upon cheetah survival, as they are determined predators of small stock. They can kill many sheep in a single night, as I have documented in The Trouble With Lions.

In the ranch land south of Etosha National Park in Namibia (learn more here) they are considered a real pest by some livestock owners.

Laurie Marker, in a banner quote on the BBC site says
“If the farmers are losing livestock they will track every predator down. But if there are no livestock loss then harmony is developed."

The Cheetah Conservation Fund, which has representatives in several countries, also has a presence in Kenya where it is based in the Nakuru-Naivasha area.

I wonder if these dogs could be used to guard against other species – like lions. They might be useful as sentinels if kept with the flocks at night in bomas where they would raise a ruckus if a predator came close. Trouble is they would be very expensive to feed. They would also have to be thoroughly and regularly vaccinated. If ranging free they might just become lion dinner, especially if a pride goes on the hunt.