Sunday, April 26, 2009

Masai Mara Wildlife Populations


A report on the BBC website (here) shows once more how wildlife populations in Africa continue to decline in the face of human population expansions. With annual increases in the human populations continuing to be over 3%, and in some cases even over 4% this is not a big surprise. When you put those numbers on to a spread sheet you soon learn that the number of people will double roughly every twenty years. The increase in human settlement has a direct effect jupon the wild animals
Of course these people need a place to live and so the number of dwellings increases, and also the number of cattle, as cattle are the main currency for the tribes in the area and even more, for the Maasai, they are the reasons to live.

Here a herd of wildebeest in the foreground is living almost cheek by jowl with cattle that are linked to the Maasia manyatta in the middle of the picture.

Hunting, although illegal inside the reserve, is another factor. It is conducted for food and profit as the bushmeat trade lends significant income for some families.

A study telling the story and conducted by a team from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has recently been published in the May 2009 issue of the British Journal of Zoology.
"The situation we documented paints a bleak picture and requires urgent and decisive action if we want to save this treasure from disaster,"
said Joseph Ogutu, the lead author of the study and a statistical ecologist at ILRI.

“Numbers of giraffe, warthog, impala, topi and hartebeest fell by 50% or more between 1979 and 2002.”

"The numbers of lions are going down. The cheetah numbers are declining. The wild dogs in the Mara system have become extinct."

By 2002, numbers of giraffe in the reserve had fallen to 20% of their 1979 levels, the bulk of those losses occurring before 1989. Topi and hartebeest in the reserve fell to less than half their 1979 levels, and almost disappeared in some of the neighbouring ranchlands where they once grazed. Impala fell by 70% in the Mara itself, while warthog fell by more than 80%, although their numbers appeared steady since 1989.

Is there any chance that human population increases will flatten out? Not much, when all the elements are factored in. The Pope has again condemned the use of condoms, and for many people large families are simply a fact of life. The doubling effect is relentless and the pressures on the ecosystem will continue.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Food for sex among primates


This picture of a chimp feasting on wild figs is one of many from Uganda that I have in my collection. It was taken as students went "chimp tracking" with guides in Kibale National Park.
The report on the BBC website about chimpanzee behaviour and the exchange of meat for sex that you can see here reminds me of those teaching trips. In Kibale, which is a tropical rain forest that holds thirteen species of primate, and is our first destination after leaving Kampala, we are privileged to spend time with a remarkable professor from Makerere University. It is Dr. Gil Basuta (seen here) who tells us a great deal about the primates in the forest, and particularly about chimpanzees. When it comes to their behaviour he refers the students to Dutchman Frans de Waal ‘s book Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes.

Gil’s teaching talent make it possible for his audience to imagine themselves as alpha male chimps, and in his words “stand hunched like NFL linemen” as they wait for the spoils of a monkey hunt to be passed to them. He has often speculated about the food for sex business, and now there is solid evidence from researcher Cristina Gomes and her colleagues, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. It was Cristina Gomes who took the photos that go with the story, and here is one of them. One of the study’s most fascinating elements is not so much that meat is exchanged for immediate sex, but that the sharing will lead to opportunities for copulation at a later date. She is quoted as saying
"Males might share meat with a female one day, and only copulate with her a day or two later."

When I passed this BBC story URL along to groups of students who had been in Uganda with me one of them responded “and there are still people who do not believe that we are descended from apes.” A further thought: Why do dates among people often involve nice meals?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book awards, The Trouble With Lions,,

Another book nomination – Yeah!
The Trouble With Lions has been nominated as a finalist in the Alberta Book Publishing 2009 Awards in the category of Trade Non-Fiction. The awards will take place at a Gala evening in Edmonton on May 8th. There are three other books in this category, so once again, it’s fingers crossed.

When I asked David Leach of the University of Victoria, who manages the Canadian Non-Fiction Collective's very active and useful Listserv to make a brief announcement about this he asked how I had managed to get Jane Goodall to write the foreword. Jane and I chatted at Saskatoon's Hotel Bessborough on one her visits and inevitably found that with our years spent in East Africa, and on wild animal work, we had many friends in common. We also have a shared passion about conservation, and Jane was happy to oblige when I asked her to write the piece.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Furadan sales stopped in much of Africa

Link,,, http//,

Television can have a powerful effect, especially when it comes to wildlife. The CBS program 60 minutes about lion poisoning in Kenya that aired on the 30th of March produced a powerful response.

From the Wildlife Direct blog comes good news. An official announcement from FMC, the company that manufactures the insecticide, has stated that all sales of Furadan to Kenya will be stopped, that a buy-back program will be started, and that conservationists will be contacted to find out more about lion poisonings.

While this is undoubtedly good news, it may not go far enough, if a call from the CEO of FMC, Mr. William G. Walter is accurately reported. In a letter to the Wildlife Direct team Dr. Richard Leakey sates that:
They (FMC) are discontinuing supply
to all African countries where there are predators including South Africa, all of Eastern Africa. He has directed
Juanaco in Kenya and other distributors in Tanzania to buy back all stocks held by retailers and he believes
that within 8 weeks it will be done with.

Given the size of the problem, and the freedom with which commodities move in Africa, I hope that the ban does more than control Furadan sales in South and East Africa. If not, the chemical will not disappear, but simply go underground.

The situation in Kenya has been somewhat farcical. Paula, the Executive Director of Wildlife Direct states in her message of

"the authorities here refuse to take responsibility, the Kenya Wildlife Service blames the agrochemical association and agricultural minsitry, the ministries blame the people for illegal ‘mis-use’ of the pesticide while the PCPB, the Pesticide Control and Products Board deny that the pesticide is even being misused despite all our evidence"

I have written to the media officer at FMC, and here is part of my letter.

Dear Mr. Fitzwater
I was delighted to read on the blog of the very strong action that you are taking on the Furadan issue in Kenya.

I have posted a few Furadan accounts in my own blog (I am a wildlife veterinarian who works extensively in Africa) and most recently have related accounts of deliberate bird poisonings, in one case for the acquisition of meat, the other for crop protection from red-billed queleas.

I have also published two books about wildlife, the most recent titled The Trouble With Lions: A Glasgow Vet in Africa. (Here I quote the opening para of my book, which I did a couple of blogs ago)

Then back to the letter to Mr. Fitzwater:
As you will no doubt have guessed, the poisoning was with Furadan, which is just as readily available in Uganda as it has been in Kenya. The lions in QEP were not the only victims, a large number of vultures also died and were found within a few metres of the carcasses. In the epilogue to The Trouble WIth Lions I also relate the destruction of an entire clan of hyaenas from this deadly poison. Dr. Luke Hunter of the Wildlife Conservation Society also reported lion, hyaena, bird and other casualties in Uganda .

I do hope that your Kenya-based ban will not only have a very rapid effect, but will extend across the continent, as the threat to wildlife in general from this compound is considerable.

I will keep an eye on the progress of your ban, and in my capacity as a storyteller I will add the good news of your action to the accounts of poisonings.

I intend to post this letter on my blog.

Yours sincerely,