Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ivory poaching increase

Attempts to curb ivory poaching are certainly well-intentioned, but I fear that they may be futile. If you go to this site you can find testimony before the US senate, including a well-reasoned submission from Ian Douglas-Hamilton.

As Douglas-Hamilton points out, the Chinese are becoming ever-more powerful in many ways. 

I decided to check out information on the number of seriously rich people in China, and I'm talking US dollars, not local currency. This quote from news shows the remarkable numbers and the growth of this sector of their society. 
"The Hurun rich list, which has been tracking China's tycoons since 1999, on Wednesday said it had counted 271 dollar billionaires in China last year, up from 130 in 2009." 
This post was dated 7th Sept 2011. You can be sure that there are more now. Maybe 275? As for millionaires, as of a year ago, there were more than a million of them!

One way that really rich people like to show off their wealth is to get nice things, including status symbols. Ivory is one of the ultimate symbols.

It comes as no surprise that shark fins are another major consumer product in China. This essay in a blog by contributor Donald Frazier shows up what is happening with attempts to control that ugly scene.

It is not a pretty picture, and very hard to know what to do about it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tame cheetah and an attack

Last week a report appeared on my basic news home page (BBCnews) about an attack on a British woman named Violet D’Mello. She had been mauled by a cheetah and some difficult-to-watch video footage was also out there. The story was picked up by many media outlets all over the world. It’s gory and so on, but it does have a happyish ending. Despite nasty injuries to her head, particularly to her eyes, Mrs. D’Mello survived and by now will be well on the way to recovery from the physical injuries.

I’m not here to recap the unfortunate story, but I am interested in the whole business of keeping wild animals as “pets.” It is something I have real problems with, for a variety of reasons.

Cheetahs have been “domesticated” for at least three thousand years. Tame cheetahs were used as hunting animals during the seventeenth and eighteenth Dynasty (1550-1292 BC) in Egypt.  The best-known examples date from the time of the Moghul (or Mughal) emperors in India during the 16th and 17th centuries AD. They had large numbers of these beautiful cats that they used for hunting, especially of the Indian blackbuck.

This picture, in the public domain, was painted by the famous Englishman, George Stubbs, best known for this many depictionsof horses. 


Akbar the Great (1556 to 1605) was reputed to have about a thousand cheetahs tamed in this way, although it is not clear if they were all owned at one time.  Adult cheetahs, that had already learned hunting skills from their mothers, were preferred to cubs, which took a lot longer to train. The cheetahs were blindfolded and “carted.” When potential quarry was seen the blindfold was removed and the hunt was on. It all sounds very much like a falconry exercise. This picture of Akbar, which I got from an intersting site on the web here
dates from the 16th century and shows him with a large retinue in attendance.The cheetahs are hunting gazelles and blackbuck.
During my intern year I used to see a tame cheetah at the small animal clinic at the vet school Kenya. It was really tame and would purr away as one examined it.  I’ve told the full story in my book Wrestling With Rhinos ( 

Joy Adamson and Pippa, photo taken by Andrew Botta

 I also had to deal with a tame cheetah named Pippa that conservationist Joy Adamson “owned” and claimed to be returning to the wild. That is open to question, as she did not want to lose contact with it (something she wrote in her book The Spotted Sphinx) and continued to feed it an inappropriate diet even when it had shown that it could hunt successfully and had mated with a wild cheetah and was raising a littler. That story is also told in WWR.

There do not appear to be any other accounts of a cheetah attacking a human, so I do wonder if an important element of Mrs. D’Mello’s experience was the presence of children. I have watched, with fascination and concern, as all three of Africa’s big cats have shown an unhealthy interest in small children. I wonder if they simply see them as a bite-sized snack in some sort of atavistic return to the time when humans would have been one source of prey on the open plains. 

My first experience with this phenomenon was in George Adamson’s camp at Mughwango, in Kenya’s Meru National Park. One of the several lionesses came over as we sat and drank a coffee with George. Luckily we were inside his somewhat secure chicken-wire enclosure, part of which you can see here on the left in this paicture taken by colleague and friend Roger Windsor. Two lions are asleep on and beneath the platform in the centre. The big cat simply stared us down, concentrating entirely on the three-year-old daughter of our friends. Her eyes had that scary Yumyum look.   

Another of Roger Windsor's photos of George.
It is not widely known that even George’s very tame lions would occasionally maul and in one case kill a human. George was himself attacked on one occasion.

A few years later I was with friends at the Pretoria Zoo in South Africa and their small daughter was sitting on her mother’s shoulders. As we stood by the cheetah pen one of the cats came over, stretched up the wire and took a very close look at the two-year old from about a metre away. It was spooky.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rhino farming in China. What next?

I have written before, on several occasions, about the poaching of rhino. Now comes this story. Check it out. It's not my blog, but it is imporant enough to repeat.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Equipment and Supplies for a Ugandan Field Trip


For several years I took students from Saskatoon's Western College of Veterinary Medicine to Uganda on a month-long field trip. We met people from the Makerere University veterinary school and in particular the Department of Wildlife and Animal Rescource Management.

During the trip we worked on the human x wildlife x livestock interface, which, in Africa is a very complicated matrix.

One thing I always prepared for our students was a check list.  First of course was the list of essentials. Then the basic supplies. Some I considered essential, others less so.  

Even today, three years after I retired, students come to me every year for advice. This year another group  of 2nd year students are off to Kenya and Uganda on a Global Vets program. Here is the blog from the WCVM 2008 group.

Here is a slightly edited version of the list that I used.

Equipment and supplies required for Uganda

Ensure that your travel insurance covers medical emergency evacuation. 

Must , MUST Bring
  •   Passport; 3 copies of passport ID pages
  •   international student card (park entrance)
  •   money (US $), use high denomination notes. The Forex bureaus don’t like 20s. (watch date, this changes every year. As a general rule bring no notes that are more than 5 years old)
  •   Credit card or bank card
  •   vaccination records
  •   travel insurance
  •   ticket...for airlines
  •   malarial prophylactics


Take old clothes that you don’t want to bring back. They can be left behind as gifts.

  •   jackets
    wind/ waterproof, LIGHTWEIGHT
    fleece/ sweater – it can drop to +15 at night
    (rarely, a bit colder)
  •   shirts
    •   long sleeve shirts (2)
    •   cotton shirt
    •   quick dry/ wicking shirt (i.e. polyester)/ short sleeve?
    •   tank top?(1) –
      Spaghetti strap shirts are OK (for certain folks)
    •   no white clothes (red dust everywhere)
  •   Pants
    bug pants/ nylon pants cotton pants (1-2)
  •   shorts
    respectable (e.g. hiking) shorts (1)
  •   socks
    hiking/ wicking socks (3-6 pairs). Long enough to allow you to tuck in your trouser
    bottoms in mosquito & tick areas – prevents ankle bites
  •   unmentionables (used to be known as “smalls”)
    you decide
  •   My wife (who came along on all these trips) suggested loose cotton (drip dry) dresses or skirts as they are cool (to wear, if not sartorially splendid)
  •   shoes
    •   hiking boots or similar for field work.
    •   sandals – for use in showers etc) Shoes tend to be bulky, so keep them to minimum. If you really want to bring runners as well, that’s fine.
  •   extras
    •   swim suit – almost everyone takes to the pool on the day off in Queen Elizabeth NP
    •   camera & good sized card (4 or even 8GB)
    •   If camera is digital, I have a card reader and can download (as long as my laptop doesn’t
    •   Someone needs to make sure we have plenty of CDs for downloads
  •   Cell phone and charger (almost essential) SIM cards can be purchased locally. Air time is cheap and renewable almost everywhere. The network is superb. Everyone texts as a routine matter (known locally as sms). Land lines are either very unreliable or non-existent. Incoming calls are free, so get family members to call from Canada
       toiletries
    towel (divers/ swimmer’s towel→ wring & it dries fast), face cloth  
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, floss etc
    lotion: unscented, vit E lotion (99%) for people who sunburn easily  
  • shampoo, soap (unscented)
  •   sleeping bag and sheet/ liner (It will not likely get any colder than about +10C at night)
  •   therma-rest – bulky, but as there are only a limited number of dense foam mattresses it will prove useful if you have to camp.
  •   Treated mosquito net for sleeping - available in Uganda and can be ordered ahead at about $15 per, compared to about $40 for ones purchased here. Can be left behind as gifts or for the next lot of students.
  •   bug dope: DEET approx 20% (we use 33%)
  •   sun screen; at least 25 SPF. Higher the better. Lip balm with sun screen (not with Camphor/menthol)
  •   sun glasses with UV protection
  •   hat→wide brim for ear coverage
  •   canvas duffel bag/ back pack for day-to-day use. If you have a backpack that has an extra outside daypack compartment, it might well prove useful. If not, the sort of thing that is used for folks to bring lunch & books to school would suit
  •   Money belt or fanny pack
  •   Head lamp and spare batteries. Essential (or flashlight if you want).
  •   Personal first aid (headaches, a few bandaids (blisters) etc)
  •   crib board, cards, backgammon or whatever takes your fancy
  •   At least one book to read. Try and liaise ahead and make sure no duplication. Then swaps can
  •   Swiss army knife/ multi-purpose tool
  •   Some sort of hardy water bottle (You will get thirsty – frequent re-hydration is essential –
    probably at least 1.5 L per day of water, maybe 2.5 on hot days (it can get up to almost 40 Celsius)

    Bring some sort of snacks (Granola bars for instance) BUT - not ones that melt in heat (This is bad luck for chocaholics). Your biggest challenge will be not to eat them all in the first 2 days. These will act as what is known as comfort food as you find yourselves in a strange environment.

      mP3. I have a solar iPod charger (will also charge the phones) 
      Binoculars
  •   H2O filter - bottled water is available everywhere, but tends to run out.
  •   Lonely Planet Travel Guide
  •   For anything electronic, bring plug adapter. Most systems are on 240 V.
  •   Note book(s) with water proof paper, pencils & eraser for those who wish to keep a journal
  •   Water purification tabs – no need to go overboard - (bottled water is widely available, but
    may be difficult to get in camp at Lake Mburo NP).
  •   Motion sickness pills if needed
  •   When at swimming sites, or relaxing around camp in the day time have a sarong type wrap
    for going to the bar, or away from the pool. These are known as kikoi for men, kitenge for
    women. Obviously worn at different levels. Readily available in Kampala if you lack one.
  •   String & clothes pegs (not everyone needs this, but 3 sets or so will prove useful)

    Malaria prophylactics, antibiotics (at least one full course), headache meds,
    bandaids, wound ointment, laxative, diarrhea med, powder (Johnson’s baby or equivalent). Consult your physician or health centre well before you leave. Some vaccination courses require 6 months for complete coverage..
    Eyeglass prescriptions (glasses can be replaced in Kampala at much less cost than in Canada).
    For those who wear contacts, bring a pair of glasses – dust, etc can be a problem, also bring some eye ointment, as conjunctivitis can be a problem if you wear contacts
Folks not used to travel in developing countries and tropical environments may be surprised by the fact that flush lavatories are rare and almost non-existent in remote spots.   This is the more likely option.

You will not be surprised that after a month of teaching and "mother henning"  almost 24/7 I got tired, or even exhausted. Someone in one of our groups caught me out in a day-time nap.