Monday, December 27, 2010

A little christmas irreverence

The short rains never truly arrived, so KP is nearly as dry as ever, much to the chagrin of the animals.  In fact, most of them have given up and gone in search of greener pastures, quite literally.  No more elephants stomping through camp, no more giraffe pruning our bushes.  The dirth of food has hit some harder than others, but that just gives us more opportunities to get closer to the wildlife. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Even the Selous has sad days

I've put off writing this post for more than a week.  The truth is that the subject is far too daunting and expanisve to properly tackle in just a blog post, but it's worth starting the conversation, which I truly hope this will become. 

About 10 days ago, our guides came across an elephant carcass.  With legs splayed beneath it and its head lying in the still waters of Lake Tagalala while lions lay atop it gorging themselves, the body had a cartoonish aspect...except for the fact that its face had been cut off.  The elephant had been killed by poachers and the ivory taken.  This is far from the first time this season that such an event has occured. 

There is no question that the Tanzania Wildlife Division, which administers the Selous, downplays the poaching.  But it would be unfair to say the WD deny the poaching.  In fact, the number two warden for the northern Selous came out to investigate the crime himself. 

But I think there is a tendency in the safari industry, as well as in government, to downplay poaching.  Afterall, no body wants guests to have their perfect holiday marred by acts of loxodonticidal killing sprees.  But it's a reality that I think we have an obligation not to hide from. 

A year ago I would have said that poaching was waning as tourism and revenue increased.  Then I started paying attention again and doubt began to grow.  Next I moved to the Selous, and all doubt vanished.  We had 7 WD-confirmed cases of elephant poaching in one week in September here in the Northern Selous.  And that's just about the most positive statistic I can present.  Even the seemingly positive news about busts and arrests really just demonstrates the scale of the carnage.   

But there is at least one very postive and constructive argument I will offer in conclusion.  The best thing you can do, if you want to put a stop to the poaching, is show up.  No one is stealing ivory from Ngorongoro crater.  Tourism is the best anti-poaching tactic available.    

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dreams and Reality

A few days ago, I had a dream that was fairly easy to interpret.  I dreamed that I was watching lions, hyenas, and wild dogs fight over a wildebeest carcass.  I have never seen a kill and I was still trying to get over the disappointment of just missing some wild dogs when they passed about a mile from camp the previous week; though I had rushed out to find them at my earliest opportunity, they had already moved on.  So clearly the dream was just a manifestation of deepest desires.

Fast forward to this morning when Vianney, one of our guides, radios me at 8:00 AM to say that he and his guests had found a pack of wild dogs.  Just 30 minutes from camp.  I dropped what I was doing, hopped in a vehicle, and went out on a "reconnaisance mission" (a manager always has to know what's going on out there!).  Sure enough, the guests led me to a pack of 15 dogs lying on the road.  Though they didn't quite let me crawl up to them, they were quite cooperative and when they did begin to wander off, they made sure to stick to the road. 

I followed them from a distance while they eyed some waterbuck but never seemed to fancy their chances.  They continued running up and over a hill...and then came tearing back down the other side barking and growling like mad!  I rushed up to the hill to see what had scared them and found a pair of mating lions. 

The lion, one of the two scarred, shaggy, territorial males in the area, couldn't even be bothered to get up from his shady lair.  The dogs, after retreating to the top of the hill, gave it a lot of bark before realizing they had no bite and ran off to lie in some shade themselves.

Compared to my dream, one might be inclined to say that the real-life version was a bit anti-climactic.  Fortunately for me, there's no such thing as an anti-climactic wild dog sighting, or lion sighting for that matter.  I'm just thankful that the Selous is so considerate of my dreams.  Since I missed my family's Thanksgiving tradition of saying what each of us is thankful for, I offer up the following picture as evidence of my 2010 submission.