Listen …..

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During one of our frequent discussions about life, the universe and everything, Msomi asked:

“Why do we have two ears and only one tongue?”

“For once, Msomi, I can answer, now you will see that I do know something.”

He tilted his head to one side, inviting my response.

“Because we should listen twice as much as we should speak.”

“Yebo, yes. No-one listens properly. And stories are dying because no-one listens.”

This is so true.

In Africa, listening is the guiding principle, one that’s been lost in the constant chatter of the Western world where no-one seems to have the time or even the desire to listen to anyone else.

It’s as if we have all lost the ability to listen, and listen well.

Everybody talks, and everybody seems intimidated by silence.

As a story-teller myself, I am struck by the differences in narrative style. The Western approach, and one I am also partially guilty of, is one of linearity. It proceeds from beginning to end without major digression in space or time.

That is not the case in Africa.

Instead of a linear, well-ordered story, there is unrestrained and exuberant story-telling that skips back and forth in space and time, blending past and present.

The San people, during their day-long wanderings in the quest for food and water, tell stories as they search.

They can have three or four stories running in parallel, told with conviction, humour and skill.

As they get close to home, or to the place where they will spend the night, they manage to either skilfully intertwine the stories to a common ending, or split them apart, giving each its own ending, and all at just the right time.

When I was looking for ways to get surrounding communities involved in caring for the wildlife, I would visit the local people to talk of my plans for community involvement.

On one occasion I had to wait a while for the previous meeting to end before I would be heard.

On a simple wooden bench, in the shade of a rather splendid tree, sat two elderly, grey-haired men. In typically civil fashion, they shuffled a bit closer together to give me room to sit and immediately switched to English so that I could follow the discussion. I was touched by their innate politeness and desire to include me, a stranger, in their world.

They continued their story, talking about a third man, an old friend of theirs.

One of them took up the tale:

“It was when I was visiting him at his house. He was telling me a wonderful story about something that had happened to him when he was a young man. But it was a long story and it was getting late, so we decided to leave the story there and I would return the next day to hear the rest.

“But when I got there the next day, this old friend of mine had died in the night.”

The old man fell silent.

His friend looked like he was about to speak, but just at that moment I was told that I could enter the meeting room to talk to the community leaders.

I was torn. On the one hand the community meeting was of tremendous importance, but on the other hand I desperately wanted to hear what the other old man had to say.

Fortunately, he spoke before I had to make the difficult decision.

“Eish. That’s not a good way to die ……. before you have told the end of your story.”

Walking across the dusty forecourt I pondered that homo sapiens should perhaps be reclassified. Homo narrans – the story-telling person seems much more descriptive.

Over eons we have branched away from the other animals, gaining the capability to listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires and defeats – and they, in turn, can listen to ours.

Many people make the mistake of confusing information with knowledge. They are not the same thing.

Knowledge involves the interpretation of information.

Knowledge involves listening.

So … as story-telling creatures, and as long as we permit ourselves to be quiet for a while, now and then, the eternal narrative will continue.

Many words will be written on the wind, and in the sand, but story-telling will go on until the last human being stops listening.

Then we can send the great chronicle of humanity’s tale out into the endless universe.

Who knows ….. maybe someone is out there, and willing to listen.

 

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The Beginning of the End?

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The lifting of the moratorium on rhino horn trade raises more questions than answers.

A full bench in the high court unanimously made the ruling to overturn the moratorium in favour of a couple of “breeders”.

Are these members of the judiciary really so uninformed? Do they have any interest at all in the plight of our wildlife heritage?

Do they care?

One has to wonder how much money changed hands to arrive at a decision like this, a decision that is so blatantly wrong that there are few words to describe the injustice of an act like this.

The “breeder” stated way back in 1997 that rhinos would be bred to ensure the continuation of an iconic species. On good authority, I discovered that, in 1997, 30 rhinos were purchased at auction to be gathered at John Hume’s “farm”.

Now then – rhinos look after their young for some considerable time, up to 4 years, before mating again. For ease of calculation, let’s assume that all 30 rhino produced young, that all brought their young up successfully, and the original 30 were used to breed as often as possible. This would have brought the numbers up to about 135.

I know that some of the progeny would have gone on to breed, but let’s ignore that for the moment.

The breeding operation must have been successful beyond Hume’s wildest dreams as he apparently now has 1200 captive rhinos on his property. It is unknown as to how many his side-kick, Johan Kruger, has on his “farm”.

The original intention, apparently, was to produce a number of these animals to perpetuate and maintain rhino numbers in South Africa.

Yeah right.

If that was the case, why haven’t rhino been relocated to other parks, reserves and protected areas?

Why are they being bred in the first place?

For their horns.

The horns are removed regularly and stored. Rhino horns, unlike ivory, will regrow and can be “harvested” again from the same animal.

So why is this being done?

Why are there massive stocks of horn being kept by these individuals?

For money of course.

At an estimated $65 000 per kilogramme, it is an obscene amount of money being kept in the form of rhino horn.

Due to the moratorium, Hume and his mate, Kruger, could do nothing with them, hence the court application, which, tragically, was successful.

Lifting the moratorium only for domestic trade, when there is no local market for rhino horn, is another idiotic ruling. This of course will open the floodgates to illegal smuggling by the powerful crime syndicates and corrupt officials.

Once again South Africa is responsible for the criminal activity surrounding the trade. Once again, South Africa is seen as being totally uncaring. Once again, South Africa’s officialdom reaps the financial benefits.

The lifting of the ban will have disastrous consequences because there are not enough rhinos left on the planet, wild or captive, to supply even the smallest percentage of demand from the Asian countries.

Who would Hume and Kruger be selling their rhino horn to?

Hume also refers to his 1200 rhino as a “herd”. Well haven’t we all learned something new? That’s the first time that I have ever heard of a “herd” of rhinos.

A shocking, ill-informed decision from three men who should know better.

Judges Francis Legodi, Vivian Tlhapi and Myron Dewrance should hang their heads in shame.

And as for Hume and Kruger – there are no words to describe just how low these people have travelled in their quest for money at the expense of our African heritage.

I sincerely hope that the appeal to be launched by Minister Edna Molewa will be successful and fervently hope that she will carry this through and that it is not simply “hot air”.

This just in:

Please take a good look at the photo with this post, special attention to the rhinos’ horns. This is a photo of Mr. John Hume’s dehorned rhinos.

He is the largest private rhino farmer in the world with more than 1100 rhinos. He is also the major drive to get rhino horn trade legalized. NOW FOR THE QUESTIONS THAT WE WOULD LIKE HIM TO ANSWER:
1. Mr. Hume, you state in the mentioned article that you do not have one rhino on your farm with a horn. All are dehorned.

WHY THEN, IN THIS SAME ARTICLE, ARE YOU SO UPSET BECAUSE 4 OF YOUR RHINOS HAVE BEEN POACHED THE PREVIOUS WEEK? I put it to you Mr. Hume that dehorning did not stop the poachers. (“They came in here, shot two rhinos here and two here,” he said, pointing to a map of his ranch on the wall. “Three adult cows and one calf. Hacked off the horns and came out the same way. Security didn’t hear the shots. How the hell that’s possible I don’t know.”)
2. ISN’T IT TRUE MR. HUME THAT WITH DEHORNING, THEY CAN’T CUT THE HORN TOO SHORT OTHERWISE THE HORN WILL FAIL TO GROW OUT AGAIN, IT CAN ALSO CAUSE THE DEATH OF THE RHINO? I put it to you Mr. Hume, if you care to look at the photo of your own dehorned rhinos, there is enough horn left to spark a huge interest with the poachers. IN FACT: The largest and heaviest part of the horn is left.
3. MR HUME ISN’T IT TRUE THAT IN FACT 10 DEHORNED RHINOS HAVE BEEN POACHED ON YOUR PROPERTY IN A COUPLE OF MONTHS? DO YOU STILL BELIEVE DEHORNING WILL SAVE THEM? (“With the new killings, 10 rhinos had now been poached on Hume’s ranch over the prior year. In the yard outside his office sat half a dozen men, one of several groups Hume was subjecting to polygraphs to see if it was an inside job.”)
4. Mr. Hume, you state in this article that anyone who is opposed to dehorning is an enemy of your rhinos. WHY IS THAT MR. HUME, WHEN CLEARLY DEHORNING IS NOT TO YOUR RHINOS BENEFIT? I put it to you Mr, Hume that the dehorning is to the benefit of your own pocket. There is absolutely NO benefit in this for the rhino. (“Rhinos today are worth more dead than alive,” Hume said, adding that if trade were legalized, the animals would have more allies than ever. “Nobody would ever kill a rhino if he was getting money from the horn.” A smile spread across his face, and he cupped his hands together as if holding an imaginary prize: “It produces like a hen—and who the hell would kill the hen that lays the golden egg?”)
5. MR. HUME ISN’T IT TRUE THAT YOUR CURRENT STOCKPILE OF HORN, 4 TONS, WILL EARN YOU 40 MILLION USD? 560 MILLION RAND AT THE CURRENT EXCHANGE RATE? I put it to you Mr. Hume that you are your own rhinos sole enemy.
6. ISN’T IT TRUE MR. HUME THAT POISONING OF THE RHINO HORN WOULD HAVE STOPPED ALL POACHING ON YOUR FARM, BUT IT WOULD HAVE MADE THE HORN UNSELLABLE? Adam Welz, who represents South Africa for WildAid, a non-profit organization, that fights illegal wildlife trading, agrees: “The second you legalize it, you’re sending a very powerful message. You’re endorsing this product—and you’re immediately going to get a lot more people interested in buying it.”
7. ISN’T IT TRUE MR. HUME THAT POACHING WILL ESCULATE IF TRADE WAS LEGALIZED, FOR THE ABOVE MENTIONED REASONS BY ADAM WELZ? Your own misfortunes with poaching incidents is the proof that dehorning does not stop poachers.
8. WHY WOULD THAT STOP AFTER TRADE WAS LEGALIZED?
STOP LYING MR. JOHN HUME!!!

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Dehorned rhino on Hume’s “farm”

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Hunting

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The thing about hunting is that the topic is so polarising that it prevents meaningful discourse between people who probably have more in common than they care to admit to. And, while the protagonists battle it out, the grim reapers continue to harvest Africa’s wildlife and other natural resources.
We humans tend to compartmentalise information to suit our personal requirements, and make enemies out of those who feel differently. We might agree on 99% of things, but the 1% apparently makes us enemies.
Let’s face it, we either hate Kendall Jones or Walter Palmer, or any number of other high-profile hunters, or we adore them – there is no middle ground. So the chatter around them tends to be angry, emotional, defensive and meaningless in the greater scheme of things – which is of course what they want: the more attention they can generate the higher they rank in the race for social media fame. And while we bolster their fame, the process of turning Africa’s incredible biodiversity into trophies, trinkets, medicine and lifestyle products continues apace. The enemies of conservation are well-resourced, focussed and not distracted by the chatter about who has the moral high ground.

I find myself discussing hunting with people from all walks of life. I make a point of speaking to hunters to try and understand their motivation. In my experience people are mostly either rabidly for or rabidly against hunting. This rabid focus results in an inability to see facts or opinions that are not directly in line of sight, and this kills the opportunity to learn from each other and work together towards a common goal.
Many of the NGOs that tend towards emotional campaigns and demand-side strategies to solicit donor funding are from the “developed” world, while many of the more practical approaches and supply-side campaigns come from within Africa itself. While some “developed” world protagonists call for tourism boycotts on African countries that offer trophy hunting, they tend to ignore the fact that it’s largely their fellow countrymen who are doing the hunting, and that hurting the tourism industry will remove livelihoods, reduce protected areas and drive more people and resources into hunting. Try explaining that to a rabid anti-hunting campaigner.

Tourism boycotts on countries that offer trophy hunting cause more harm than good.
Personally, I find the act of hunting for pleasure or trophies unconscionable and I find it sad that many trophy hunters resort to the default argument that killing animals is good for conservation. There are indeed examples where community-based hunting programs, in remote areas that are not suitable for tourism, do provide meaningful funding for communities and, ironically, do lead to the recovery of the targeted species (Namibia has a few such examples), but this is by no means the norm. And many trophy hunters get upset when it is suggested that these examples are few and far between and that the overall picture is not pretty.

One of the problems with hunting as a topic is that it’s a complex issue. People are by and large lazy, so little research is done outside of a narrow range of personal interests. There are so many types of hunting, such as subsistence hunting by communities on their own land; hunting on fenced private farms that choose wildlife over sheep; trophy hunting in unfenced areas near national parks; canned hunting and so on, and each has its own set of implications. And there are the moral/ethical considerations to weigh with the conservation implications.

In my view you shouldn’t lump all hunting debate into one pot and stir, you should rather try to understand each situation and then debate based on its merits. In that way you avoid generalising and insulting large groups of people (on both sides of the debate).

When intelligent probing questions result in insults, what chance does conservation stand?
I was invited to attend the preview of a rhino horn pro-trade documentary film, and to provide constructive feedback. The documentary was put together by a group of experienced, respected people (some of whom I know personally and have great respect for) and I was one of an audience of about 50. The documentary makes a passionate plea for CITES to permit the trade in rhino horn – and some of the content is compelling. Unfortunately the documentary came across to me as one-sided, with some claims being made that were rather ambitious and others that were simply not accurate.

For example, it claimed that Kenya’s wildlife has been decimated since the ban on trophy hunting in 1977, and that hunting is therefore essential for the survival of African wildlife. I stood up and pointed out that both Tanzania and Mozambique have ongoing hunting industries and yet their wildlife has also been decimated, therefore the attempt to position hunting as the cure for poaching was disingenuous and did not cater for the complexity of the situation.

I was hoping for intelligent debate, but sadly the panel of experts shied away from the issue, folding their arms and avoiding eye contact. Even the chairman tried to move me away from my question. It was awkward. I stood my ground and requested clarity on the issue.

A well-known hunter, who remained silent that evening, subsequently described me on social media as an “animal rightest” – I think he meant it as an insult. And therein lies the problem – when intelligent probing questions result in insults, censorship and cessation of discussions, what chance does conservation stand?

The only thing separating him and me in our respective pursuits was the act of killing.

In my discussions with hunters, I find that the reasons they commonly give for pursuing their passion just don’t add up as being exclusive to hunting. They relate to being outdoors, the bush-skills required, the thrill of being close to danger etc. – all of which I get in spades when I walk in remote areas and track wild animals to observe them up close. During one recent fireside discussion a hunter called me “ignorant and stupid” for doing all of that without a weapon – without any knowledge of my bush experience. When I suggested that the only thing separating him and me in our respective pursuits was the act of killing, he became defensive and insulting. But after a while he admitted that it was in fact the act of killing that gave him the ultimate rush, and that my strategy of bush walking without weapons just can’t measure up. I respect him for coming clean on that issue and suspect that it was a cathartic discussion for him – it certainly was for me.
On the other hand, in my discussions with anti-hunters, I have found that many of them have the same knee-jerk response and mentality. It seems impossible to get them to accept that there are examples where hunting does work to keep communities gainfully employed, relatively free from animal-human conflict and that the target species even recovers and grows in numbers. The anti-hunting lobby seems to rely largely on emotion to win votes, and contradicting facts seem to be an inconvenience.

Lets take on the threats as a united force and face the real enemies.
It’s a complex situation, but the facts deserve to be taken into account. The Kruger National Park, South Africa’s flagship conservation and tourism draw-card, is a classic example of how complex the situation is, but the facts are compelling. Afrikaner “Voortrekkers” moved into the Kruger area in the mid 1800’s, utilising the wildlife to survive – there seemed to be no limit to the available wildlife. The arrival of gold prospectors also put pressure on wildlife, with active trade in horns, tusks, skin and meat, and the arrival of “sportsmen” (trophy hunters) from Europe finally resulted in the decimation of most of the wildlife by the early 1900’s. The government at the time tried to implement a series of laws to regulate hunting, none of which were successful. Eventually a number of game reserves were proclaimed, the beginnings of what is now the Kruger National Park.

Today many nearby farms and reserves offer hunting, even some that are fenced into the greater Kruger and recognised as tourism brands. Much of the Kruger wildlife can migrate into these areas, putting them at risk, but not as much risk as they face on cattle and citrus farms where there is little tolerance for wild animals.

And so the Kruger area has recovered from historical plunder and there is an uneasy truce between hunting, tourism and conservation. There are examples of foul play, but broadly the system works and it stands as an example of how things can progress if different groups co-operate for a common good.
My parting thought is to challenge you to get involved in the debate. Whatever your views please try to respect others and their opinions and harness your emotions to fuel your energy and not to override your common sense. Those of you engaged in hunting, do your best to rid your circles of abuse and illegal practices. Let’s take on the threats to Africa’s biodiversity and wild areas as a combined, united force and face the real enemies.

Keep the passion.

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Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, Durban

3rd October 2015

We all know why we’re here, so I’m not going to bore you all with statistics and horror stories about poaching. We’re all aware of them, and the facts are easy to find.

But …… it was with total horror that I heard the news of nine rhino poached in Hluhluwe last Sunday night, the night of the full moon, eight dead, one seriously wounded. All had the horns removed.

My problem with this is …… if the poachers were aware of the location of the animals, got to them, attacked them and removed the horns in savage action, why weren’t the rangers there as well. Surely they too knew where the rhinos were.

It’s indicative of the fact that the authorities are not doing their jobs properly. This should never have happened.

  1. Let me get back on track here …..

Let me tell you why it is imperative that we do all in our power to keep these animals alive and well and living free.

Nature is wonderful. Here in Africa, there is a marvellous diversity of animal and plant life, all, in one way or another, dependent on each other for their existence.

Everything simply works, and works well. There are just enough predators to ensure that the number of prey animals stays in balance. There are just enough prey animals to satisfy both predation and their own numbers. There is just enough vegetation to ensure the continued survival and well-being of the grazers and browsers. It’s truly magical, and has been for millions of years …. Until modern man’s greed-gene kicked in.

And our precious wildlife is fuelling that greed, destroying our heritage and seriously upsetting nature’s carefully established balance.

The seeming lack of action by government and others, makes us wonder why this is going on with such regularity. We now have to demand accountability and that there be seen to be political will to actually do something concrete. There must be total transparency as to what the authorities are actually doing on the ground, rather than silly little statements that a committee is going to be set up to investigate the matter. Sitting around a table does nothing!

If the situation continues as it is, this country will be a very different place.

You know ……. In this modern world of ours, there’s really no such thing as silence.

There’s a lot of background noise. It surrounds us, it’s always there and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Try to imagine a place that is silent.

Try and tune out all the sounds around you. I know it’s not easy, but give it a go.

If there was a place, such as our imaginings have taken us, it would be an eerie and sombre place.

Let your mind take you there.

Can you hear the silence?

It is deafening.

And that is what our game parks, reserves and wilderness areas will sound like in the very near future.

Silent. Totally silent.

I see some bewildered expressions:

“Why silent?”

Well ….. it’s simple really…..

Rhinos and elephants are mega-herbivores, right at the top of the pile, with no natural predators to deter them from doing their job.

What’s the job?

They are Africa’s landscape artists.

For a long time, elephants were considered to be extremely destructive.

They seemed to enjoy pulling up young trees by their roots, eating the leaves, munching on the twigs and then casually tossing away the remains.

Those remains would rot away, thanks to an awful lot of small bugs, beetles and bacteria, putting nutrients back into the soil, and helping maintain the grassland.

If those young trees were not removed, the grasslands would become forests.

White rhinos are grazers, they eat grass.

The white rhino is quite good for the grassland. The longer grass is trimmed down, stimulating new growth and providing sweet new grass for all the other grazing animals.

Black rhinos are browsers.

They very neatly prune and trim the shrubs and bushes, keeping them contained and very effectively stopping the heavy bush from encroaching on the grassland.

All three of them are very, very good at what they do.

Take the elephants and the rhinos away and the landscape will change in dramatic fashion, and in a remarkably short period of time.

The grass would be over-run by bush and trees.

Savannah will become forest.

Shrubs would run wild, growing prolifically.

Without the grass, grazing animals starve to death.

Without the antelope, zebra, buffalo and other prey animals, the predators starve to death.

And that’s when we say goodbye to the lions, leopards, cheetah, jackals, wild dogs and hyaenas.

For ever.

Never to be seen again.

A few of the browsers would survive for a while, but increasingly dense bush would make it more and more difficult for them to move around and feed, and without predation, their numbers would increase to unsustainable proportions and they too would begin to die out.

Very small animals, the rodents, mongooses, and so on, will thrive for a while, but they too, without predation, will suffer from a population explosion and they too will disappear as their numbers exceed the capability of the bush to sustain them.

So what have we got left?

A total, eerie, deafening silence.

A silence that will be difficult, if not impossible, to explain to our children’s children.

A silence that will, in all likelihood, be permanent.

We must not let this silence happen.

With every fibre of your being, please, do as much as you possibly can to ensure the survival of these iconic, dramatic and very special animals.

Finally, here’s a statement from Sir David Attenborough for today’s event:

“As the dominant species on this planet, it is our moral duty to protect and preserve all forms of life.

“For species such as elephants and rhinos to be fighting for their very existence due to human exploitation and interference is unacceptable, and we must do everything within our power to turn this dire situation around.

“We are responsible for the problem and we must be held responsible for the solution. It will indeed be a sad indictment on our species if rhinos and elephants are no more. And that day will come much sooner than we think if we do not take action.”

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From Dr. Goodall

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“The elephants and rhinos need YOU.

As I am sure you know, the increase in poaching has been horrific. In Africa, elephants and rhinos are killed every day – simply for their tusks and their horns. If this cannot be stopped soon they will become extinct.

On October 3rd & 4th concerned citizens, young and old alike, will march in a show of solidarity to demonstrate their concern for this slaughter.

August 12 was World Elephant Day and September 22nd was World Rhino Day. I posted comments about both of these days on my blog atwww.janegoodall.org/category/blog-category/-road-jane
Rhinos, in Africa and Asia, need help. Along with the shrinking of their habitats, the killing of rhinos for the illegal trade in their horns is bringing the various species close to extinction.

Rangers on the ground risk their lives to try to protect the wildlife in their care, but when huge sums of money get involved the international criminal gangs come into the picture with helicopters and assault weapons. Many rangers actually lose their lives. It is desperately important to support efforts to educate the local people in the range countries. And desperately important to work on eliminating the demand for rhino horn, especially in Vietnam, for its supposed medicinal benefits – which, of course, is not true. Fortunately more and more people are waking up to their plight. There are many organizations around the world that are helping to protect rhinos, supporting efforts on the ground, raising money, raising awareness.

I hope that you will do your best to help. I have not seen rhinos in Asia, but I have spent many hours watching both black rhinos and white rhinos in Africa They are part of the African landscape, and it would be a tragedy if we allow them to become extinct.

And one other thing – people think rhinos are lumbering and stupid. Not true. My first ever safari in Africa, in 1957 was travelling with the Leakeys to the now famous Olduvai Gorge. At that time none of the famous fossils of early hominids had been found there, no one knew about the place, it was wild, untamed Africa. And one rhino, named Gertrude by the Leakeys, was always hanging out in one spot – and she LOVED pineapples! So we stopped and put them on the ground and watched, from a distance, as she approached to enjoy her once a year treat!

And if you want to be really amazed, Google “Mechi the painting rhino” and watch the first posting. Recently I was allowed behind the scenes to visit a newborn white rhino in Lion country Safaris. As we watched mother and child, two adults approached to see what was going on. They are really curious animals. When they got really close, our guide threw a small rock just in front of them. Of course, they had to stop to investigate!

If you can, do try and join a march near you. (http://www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org/2015-cities.html)
And if there is no march near you – perhaps you can organize something – anything. Get a group of your friends and hold up signs.

Find a t-shirt with an elephant or rhino. There will be a good deal of traffic on the internet about this – learn about the horrific situation and spread the message. You can use Facebook, you can tweet and twitter. Social media is a powerful tool. We must NOT let them go extinct without doing our bit to help save them.

If I could join one of the groups marching I most certainly would.
I shall be with you all in spirit, and will be thinking of you.”
— Dr Jane Goodall

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How To Help The Rhinos ……

Social media doesn’t really seem to be working for my purposes.

Posts about my books are rarely seen, even when I’m trying to raise money for great causes like the rangers on the ground, Project Rhino and so on.

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I’ve tried all of the tricks, tagging others, engaging memes, contests, blogs, videos, book-centred groups, I even paid for a promotion a couple of times (complete waste of money).

Maybe Facebook, for instance, is no longer what it set out to be and I should look for other places to introduce my work and talk with readers about what they like and want to read more of.

I know that I have a great body of work that resonates with people and that is truly relevant to the times, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t get the word out.

Books like “Msomi and Me” , “Elephants Are People Too” –  both gathering outstanding reviews.

One Chance” the third book in the Nokuthula series will be published real soon.

You can also have a great deal of fun with “Colour Me” a colouring book for children and adults alike, depicting the animals that roamed around Nokuthula. And there will be more colouring books coming as well ……

The sad thing is, I’m not the only author that feels this way.

Many other independent authors have given up because they simply cannot get their books into readers’ hands.

On top of that, there is the weird idea that books should be free or 99 cents, which nets the authors practically nothing. I don’t know what happened to skew this.

Back before Kindle, we happily paid a fair amount of money for paperback books and didn’t bat an eye. Even though we now have ebooks, please keep in mind that it takes the author just as much time to write those as it did for a printed book, and if you want to keep getting books that challenge the mind and bring new things to the table, you’re going to have to be okay with paying a little more for real books.
It just saddens me that many authors that I started this journey with a few years ago, have just not been able to take it. They crafted great stories and now the world will never know what else they could have produced.

If you like to read and you don’t want some large corporation deciding what’s available, you have to support the independents.

It’s just that simple.

How can you help?

Well, you can start by clicking the link below and ordering a book. Whatever you do, do something.

Tales from the African bush web-site.

WE NEED YOU.

30% of all proceeds goes to Project Rhino. So you get the best of both worlds – get a good book to read and keep and contribute to assisting the rangers on the ground.

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Ian Johnson – Guest Blogger

Ian Johnson is the CEO of Mokolodi Wildlife Foundation. Now that all the furore about the death of a lion in Zimbabwe has died down somewhat, this seems a good time to publish Ian’s piece.

cecil

Over the past few weeks I have found myself saddened by the whole lion incident in Zimbabwe. Saddened by the event itself, by some of the reactions and by what seems to be a failure on our conservation efforts to educate people on pressing conservation issues, those issues beyond the ones such as Cecil the lion or those that easily appeal to people’s emotional sides.

To this extent I hesitate to refer to the lion, as “Cecil” as this alone, seems to focus the issue at hand on the individual rather than the larger issues at stake. The naming of wildlife, is something that I battle with in general. But that is my own quandary – is it wild if I have named it? Anthropomorphize the animal to suit our need to achieve what? What about Jenny the cow? Or Tony the chicken? Or, do we go as far as to also look at Lucy the pear? Silly? Perhaps. But the point is where is the boundary of where we personalise things?

What has transpired following the shooting of this particular lion is to say the least, incredible. The manner in which the “World”, primarily through social media, has reacted to the incident, and rallied behind the lion is impressive.  But it is perhaps the manner in which people are responding, the blood lust for the individuals concerned, where I start feeling despondent about where we are in conservation and social development.

At a point in time where wars, conflict, racism, drought, famine, deforestation, terrorism, dictatorships, climate change and the like, reign supreme, we somehow manage to overlook all of that and ignore what is happening on our own doorsteps. We ignore what our own people, our own communities and our own governments are doing and, we manage to somehow find the moral high ground to dictate how others should manage their lives and their income opportunities. We offer short sighted “expert advise” on how to deal with for example, hunting, without any consideration at all for the thousands of individuals and families that rely on income from this industry.

There have been literally hundreds of thousands of people across the globe providing “expert” opinion on this situation. Hunting as a conservation tool, as a sport and those that do hunt have all been lambasted by emotional outbursts, by armchair conservationists, by opportunists promoting their own agendas (good marketing for a few formally unknown wildlife photographers, people promoting their “legitimate” wildlife research projects etc) and by those who simply have no clue (and sometimes this includes the so called experts too!). And I do not say this to antagonize anyone – but the “facts” that are been thrown out by “experts”, the garbage that people are regurgitating and the damnation by certain individuals and governments is nothing but sad. In many cases arrogant and ignorant. Frequently naïve. One expert, a well known global “conservation” figure stated that the tragedy about the “Cecil” incident is that the meat didn’t go to any use! Is that really the only benefit people can see from hunting? And this from someone who not only should know better, but does know better!

Every second “article” on social media has been about “Cecil”, then his brother, then hunting and so forth. And while the world offers their Facebook likes and expert opinions on conservation, hunting, poaching, Africa, Zimbabwe and the like, the real issues behind the scenes go unchanged. Westerners wanting to save Africa! Westerners opposed to hunting! Emotional beings expressing themselves! Shouts of “stop hunting all together!”,  “It’s Africa, what do you expect!” All the commentary, yet no solutions being offered. None.

Those shouting the loudest are not educating themselves. They are not reading up on the challenges that modern conservation and more specifically, modern African conservation faces. It is not black and white and clear cut. I have read article after article about how hunting supports conservation. I have also read likely the same number of articles about how it doesn’t and how proceeds do not go to the people on the ground. The reality however is that in our current situation…our current (and past) conservation models, hunting does play a role. It does bring in much needed revenue to the communities on the ground. It does support a number of other industries. It plays a very important role in managing protected areas. Hunting as an industry creates benefits through job creation, skills development and, community development. It has a ripple effect through local, national, regional and international economies – think arts and crafts, hotels on route, booking agents, flights etc. Changing the status quo is perhaps development and the evolution of conservation, but it needs to change with a plan and with sound alternatives in place.

And, this is perhaps where the “debate” becomes interesting. It is not about Cecil the lion. Conservation is not about the individual. Conservation is about the species, the systems …the bigger picture. We should be looking at the species level, populations and the like.  As sad as the demise of one lion may be, in the greater scheme of things, regardless of how insensitive this may sound, it is not about that lion but rather about lions as a whole and the role that they play in ecosystems etc.

To quickly get my opinion out the way relating to this specific incident of “Cecil the lion”, I believe that the hunter, Professional Hunter (PH) and landowner are all in collusion in the actual event itself and that there is no chance that it happened by accident. The PH in my books is ultimately to blame (but, this does not remove the burden of guilt from the others) as, the whole reason that PHs exist, is to manage the hunt. Period. They are required to “guide” the client and through their registration as a PH are obliged to operate under a certain code of conduct. The debate on a person’s want or need, or what ever it is, to hunt is nothing to do with conservation. That is a psychological debate relating to a person’s frame of mind and best reserved for a different discussion.

Okay – so that is my opinion. What does my opinion state? Simple – there is likely gross misconduct in the whole event and no doubt various laws transgressed. Enter the law.

Moving on…

Going back to the bigger picture. If we (the world, conservationists, bored housewives or househusbands etc) manage the world’s wildlife, ecosystems and the like on an individual basis, we would simply fail. There are simply not enough human and equipment resources to do so.  And we do need to manage the natural resources, in all the ecosystems of the world. There are no longer any natural areas that are exempt of our influence. We can be negative about people and population growth and all things human….however, we need to look at the reality. Our impact exists. Ignoring the responsibility of managing that impact is both naïve and irresponsible.

People love to shout about poaching and hunting and and and.. – yet their contribution is the Facebook “like” (..and for those out there that take things literally, by the like, I mean very little is actually done and it is representative of the norm! “I’ve done my bit! – I’ve liked the post! Africa and Africa’s wildlife should now be safe! Now I can go back to my Cafe latte, or carry on buying designer clothing outfits, or video games or [fill in your own life filling activity here] ….! Oh – and I’ll do this while consuming vast amounts of food, driving a 4 litre engine car, spraying insecticide on those annoying mosquitoes and leaving my tap to drip.)

What if these same people actually offered a solution? What if they covered the short fall in the income generation that disappears if hunting stops? Do the people sitting on their iPhones and in air conditioned offices understand the reality on the ground?

For those that don’t, here is a picture of the “normal, average” hunting concession in southern or eastern Africa:

A large, fairly inaccessible area, sometimes with black cotton soil, making access difficult and or seasonal. Often, but not always, with malaria mosquitoes and tsetse flies. Frequently an area that is on marginal land (marginal meaning it is of poor quality for agricultural, development and in this sense, also photographic tourism use). Marginal land is land that the average tourist doesn’t want to visit – they don’t want malaria nor tsetse fly bites, they don’t want to look at mopane tree forests for hours on end.

What does this mean? Simple. These areas are generally areas where hunting takes place. Hunting outfitters have a vested interest in preventing illegal harvesting of natural resources (grass, trees, animals etc) as these resources are what their livelihoods are made of (yes, they do make money out of hunting!). Having this vested interest means that they actively protect the land and what is on the land. The same way you and I protect our houses by installing burglar bars and alarms etc. We protect what has value to us. Taking this a step further, in many situations this land falls under a form of land tenure that results in the local community (or communities) benefiting through land rental fees, concession fees (from the hunter), job creation and social upliftment (guides, chefs, hospitality staff, mechanics, game scouts etc). And through this, they too participate in protecting the land and its resources that has value to them as it brings direct benefits. Photographic tourism can do similar, but keep in mind, in reality not all areas are suited to photographic tourism (see above re marginal areas).

My point? Take hunting away and the knock on effect is significant. Communities (perhaps better referred to as people!!??), conservation areas, wildlife and other natural resources all suffer. Look to countries that have in the past or are currently banning hunting, such as Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and more recently Botswana, to see the impact that this has had. Many of these countries, despite propaganda and what you may read on social media and on the news are now reaping the “benefits” of banning hunting. And these benefits include massive increases in subsistence poaching, increased harvesting of grass and firewood, decreased per capita income (at the community level) as a result of decreased (totally removed?) income from jobs, land rental and concession fees and the like.

The debate on hunting itself is quite frankly boring. There are two sides of the argument and mud slinging from either side simply doesn’t resolve any of the issues. Extreme pro hunting individuals seem to enjoy antagonizing and extreme anti hunting refuse to allow anything but emotion to prevail. While I respect other’s opinions, I struggle with listening to people on either side of the fence who in fact are not willing to consider anything else but their own pre-conceived ideas and versions of events that in all reality, they have no idea of.

The bottom line is this: By all means, ban hunting, but have an alternative land use in mind. Provide the additional resources needed. Provide the institutional and financial support that is needed. Provide jobs, income and social upliftment. Provide solutions and alternatives. Because without viable on the ground solutions that are realistic and sustainable, the problem is merely being shifted around and not solved. Hunting will be replaced by poaching as communities no longer receive income and are not able to buy food etc, and ultimately turn to what is frequently large scale and often indiscriminate subsistence hunting. Wildlife areas will become farming areas as wildlife loses its value to local inhabitants.

I understand the frustration. And yes, I understand the value of awareness being generated through social media.  However, the voices condeming hunting (or any other activity that an individual may not like) does not on its own protect the wildlife on the ground. It doesn’t provide the anti-poaching units needed. It doesn’t put food in the mouths of people living with the wildlife.

Much of what I have read comes across as whining and moaning. Perhaps its time to stop that and to stop patting ourselves on the back for clicking “like”.   Stop signing “arbitrary” petitions unless the reprecussions have been thoroughly thought through.  Every action has a reaction. Again, stopping hunting without a plan (I am not saying don’t try and stop it if that is your aim and or preference) will simply create a void, inviting other perhaps more destructive practices  unless there is a well thought out “something” to take its place.  Support genuine conservation organizations and individuals to achieve what needs to be achieved (not necessarily financially, as it is not all about money). Help ensure that we educate those in need of education with facts and information that portrays real life scenarios. Become part of the solution and not part of the problem……come up with solutions and alternatives.

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