Posts Tagged With: safari

Kenya or Bust

masai mara game driveMy trip to Kenya is fast approaching. . .

Travel vaccines – check

Itinerary – check

Spending money – working on it

But what I don’t have ready is my mindset. I know it will be what I imagine, and probably more. Yet, what’s on my mind, as it is everyday, is poaching. In a previous close encounter, a tour guide ran into just such an occurrence (see previous post Tour Guide Gives Eye-Opening Safari).

What would I do stumbling across poachers at work? I know it’s not common. Most of them are not so brazen. They prefer the cover of night, to slink through the darkness like the snakes they are. But it’s a haunting scenario none-the-less.

I do not fear for my safety, I fear the lack of power or control over stopping it. Even as the tour guide told his kifarustory, I  felt a surge of rage cloud my brain,  imagining myself  jumping out of the vehicle charging at the poachers. Logical?  Probably not.

But I can fully empathize with the feelings of helplessness and frustration the  tour guides, game rangers, and everyone working to protect the rhinos and elephants must feel on a daily basis.

Finding a poached carcass is bad enough. Knowing it happened, the animal suffered, the bad guy won..utter heartbreak. But catching them in the act?!

The trip agenda? Game drives, the Masai Mara, Ol’Pejeta, Samburu Reserve,  meeting new friends and LOTS of photos to share with you all when I get back.

Being on guided tours, things are well planned and prepared,  unlikely to turn into a full-scale wilderness adventure.  Yet on every trip there is  a smattering of the unforeseen. Who knows, if a poacher and I happen to cross paths…look out!

Because while, most of my friends’ daydreams consist of winning the lottery, mine is taking out poachers. ….. Rhino Girl…standing in the savanna, cape blowing back in the breeze, ready to swoop in and rescue the rhino from poachers lurking in the shadows!

ACPP44  Sign to deter poachers

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Tour Guide Gives Eye-Opening Safari

February 2013,  Tanzania/Kenya area  The day started like so many others for the tour operator (name withheld to protect his identity). He was driving his clients on a jeep safari through a lovely isolated area in the highlands near a river. They spotted  a herd of elephants with young ones across the river.  Suddenly there was a commotion; the elephants all started to trumpet and run. The matriarch stopped and started doing mock charges toward a bush in the riverbed.  Then they noticed about 15 tribesmen running and throwing spears at the elephants.

not actual elephant from that incident

not elephant from that incident

For a moment, the operator and the clients were all in shock. But then the operator started to yell and shout at them until they ran away. He made it back to their start point where he contacted the game warden.

safari

I spoke with the Tour Operator (T.O.) about his surprising experience.

How long have you been running your tour operation?

T.O. -For six years

You are in an isolated area, without many other game drivers around. Why did you choose this location?

T.O. – I wanted a challenge and to try to promote the “real” African experience.

Have you ever run into a poaching attempt before?

T.O. – No.

I know you are not allowed to carry guns in the park, so what can you do to stay safe?

T.O. – Yes, only licensed rangers can carry weapons.  It seems with the new Game Warden, they are taking it more seriously and are adding more anti-poaching units.

Who do you call if there is an issue?

T.O. – The Park officials.

Poachers are getting so brazen. They don’t seem to care if it is night or day or if there are people around. Are you worried this will happen again?

T.O. – Yes we are. All we can do is have more APUs (anti poaching units) set around the game drive routes.

I believe you mentioned rhino are gone in that area. Are there many elephant left?

T.O. – Yes that’s right. Elephants are still here, but declining.

Do you think the  government is doing enough to combat poaching?

T.O. – I feel now there is more publicity.

What was the reaction of your clients on the drive?

T.O. – They were speechless.

Do you now tell your clients this could occur? And if it does happen again, what will you do?

T.O. – I do talk to them about it so they are aware. I would again try my best to make noise.

What would you like to say to the poachers?

T.O. – Many things!!! Stop killing innocent creatures is one (to be polite).

Do you have any advice on what people can do to help?

T.O. – STOP buying ivory and other materials. Be aware and report any incidents you encounter. Support wildlife!

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It Takes a Village

How far would you go to help your neighborhood? What would you do to protect it? In the US we have “neighborhood watches” for that very purpose. In northern Kenya, they have a watch group- a grass-roots squad of rangers  formed to protect the elephants and rhino from poachers.apu

Essentially a conservation militia, these volunteer villagers are fed up and taking matters into their own hands. The ordinary citizens are arming themselves and taking to the bush to fight back. Not necessarily out of a “Have you hugged an elephant today?” attitude, but to protect the money the elephant (and rhino) bring to their villages.

The safari/tourist industry is a successful and integral money-maker for Kenyans. An economic staple, tourists bring in more than a billion dollars a year. Much of that money is contractually bound to go directly to impoverished local communities, which use it for everything from pumping water to college scholarships.safari

The safari industry also provides 500,000 jobs for the community; everything from cooks to safari guides to accountants. Contrary to the general belief the safari jobs can pay quite well.

In addition to the poachers “robbing” the community of its wildlife, villagers are also turning against them because the illegal wildlife trade fuels crime, corruption, instability in the community. Here in northern Kenya, poachers are diversifying into stealing livestock, printing counterfeit money and sometimes holding up tourists. Some are even buying assault rifles used in ethnic conflicts.

Is this key to future conservation efforts? Nothing else seems to be working. Everything from high tech drones and military deployment to removing or poisoning horns and tusks is being tried; yet poaching rates are still soaring. Perhaps with the local people appreciating and protecting their wildlife, the elephant and rhino still stand a chance.

no poaching

Categories: Making a Difference, Rhino Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dreaming of Africa

Since I was a kid, I’ve always welcomed the company of animals over people  (I’m sure some of you can relate). Growing up my life revolved around the pond and fields near our house. Summer days were spent collecting snails and tadpoles, trying to see how close I could get to the rabbits, climbing trees and looking under rocks to see who might be there; while at night, I was lulled to sleep by the crickets and frogs; and on the lookout for fireflies.lion on plains

When I couldn’t be outside, I watched animals on tv. In particular Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. THAT was my  introduction not only to Africa, but to reality; to the fierceness of nature.  Watching the lions hunt and capture a gazelle…it brought me to tears. Yet it also fascinated me-the savannah grass, the acacia trees, the strength and beauty of the lions; I couldn’t look away.

Sometime in the 90’s I made a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio. I fell in love with Emi, the Sumatran Rhino. THAT is when my passion for  rhinos began. (See previous post: Emi the World-Famous Sumatran) The more I learned, the more I loved; and simultaneously it brought back that feeling of awe and fascination with Africa.

Africa: my ultimate destination,  a lifelong goal to go.  My husband and I have talked about it.  I’ve even taken out  every library book  I can get my hands on to “plan” my trip. I have notes, ideas, and itineraries. A girl can dream. But like the movie UP, there are never enough coins in the piggy bank, something else always comes up. Life gets in the way.

Then after years of depriving the rest of the city of the African books in the travel section, one day my mom calls and asks me to think about the possibility of taking a trip with her…a bucket list thing, that one BIG trip neither of us have ever taken…to Africa.

Of course there’s a lot to consider. I don’t have the funds, I don’t want her to have to foot the bill, there’s time off from work, my husband won’t be going…then after a few days it hits me… How can I say no?rhino mom n babe

To be on the savannah, to see a rhino where a rhino belongs, before it’s too late, before they’re gone-to be connected to the place that lives in my heart!  The opportunity to look under rocks, see how close I can get to animals, and be lulled to sleep by lions..my dream is coming true.

October 12, two weeks in Kenya. Photographs, a travel journal, and as much insight as my brain can absorb! It’s sure to be the most unforgettable two weeks of my life.

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Who ARE the Bad Guys?

Veterinary team prepares to dehorn a rhino.

Veterinary team prepares to dehorn a rhino.

*Night vision goggles

*Silenced weapons

*Darting equipment

*Bullet proof armour

*Helicopters

With a checklist like this, we could be talking about an army. Yet it is also the equipment used by the modern-day poacher. With the horn fetching more on the black market than cocaine or even gold, everyone wants a piece of the pie. The low-level men who DO the poaching are being funded by higher level organizations with whatever supplies are necessary to bring in the “goods”.

The level of corruption runs far and wide. Militias, rebel groups, intelligence officials, Irish gangsters , Vietnamese diplomats, Chinese scientists, copter pilots, antiques dealers and recently an American rodeo star who used Facebook to find  horns, are all getting their hands dirty with poaching. Even Thai prostitutes and pimps are getting involved. The prostitutes were hired by a criminal syndicate to obtain hunting permits (through some loopholes) and got “professional” hunters to make the kill and bring in the horn.

Of course poverty-stricken villagers often turn to poaching to support their families. A corrupt minority of game farmers, professional hunters, and safari operators are involved as well. But what I believe is the highest level is betrayal is the involvement of veterinarians. 

The veterinarians who work with large mammals have access to M99-a drug that is 1000 times more powerful than morphine. The supply is restricted, and supposedly only accessible by vets. Yet somehow poachers are getting their hands on this potent tranquilizer.

The majority of vets work tirelessly and fervently , giving the victims of poaching round the clock care and treatment to save their lives. Along with the rangers in the anti-poaching units, veterinarians ARE the foot soldiers in this war, an integral part of rhino and elephant survival.  As a former member of a veterinary staff, I know all too well the highs and lows of the job. There is no 9-5, no glory, and certainly not a high level of pay. But where is their passion? Their hearts have hardened, their patients betrayed in the name of greed; an unforgivable evil.

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