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This vital anti-poaching school needs our support (Kenya)

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Education, Illegal trade No Comments
Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor to The Hill | February 27, 2020

See link for photos & 4-minute video.

“I do not want to live on a planet where there are no lions anymore.” —Werner Herzog

I had the honor of finally meeting Bill Clark, an honorary warden of the Kenya Wildlife Service, at the first global march for elephants in New York in October 2013, initiated by the world beloved Dame Daphne Sheldrick who has rescued rhino and elephant orphans from the bush in Kenya for half a century. Bill has been at the forefront of anti-poaching for two generations and has invested utter dedication to combating the world’s ivory syndicates and black marketers in Africa and worldwide.

Some 60 percent of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in our lifetime, including one-third of its remaining elephants in the past decade. Bill has helped major operations against poachers and personally helped oversee the latest phase of one of the top law enforcement agencies in all of Africa, the Manyani Law Enforcement Academy in Tsavo, a life-support system for rangers in Kenya, which has the best anti-poaching record of any country on the continent. It trains rangers in countries bordering Kenya from Sudan to Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and even far away Gabon. Started in the 1980s by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the battle for what remains of Africa’s and the world’s wildlife is now being waged.

Original photo as published by The Hill. (Photo: Cyril Christo)

The ivory trade has decimated elephants continentwide. Some 130,000 elephants, a third of Africa’s elephants, were massacred last decade, 55,000 or so in Tanzania. Yet perhaps no other species has had such a widespread ecological impact or is so necessary for savanna and forest rejuvenation and indispensable to countless other species.
But the rhino, too, stands on extremely fragile legs and the great roar of the lion could within 15 years be silenced forever. Depraved trophy hunters worldwide, whether they have a tiger in their sights or a giraffe, are abetting the destruction of the innocent. As Romain Gary once wrote, “On an entirely man-made planet, there will be no room for man either. All that will be left of us is robots.”

The Manyani school is fighting so that never happens.

The Manyani school, which means “many baboons” in the Wakamba language of southern Kenya, seeks philanthropic individuals who can address the decline of wildlife populations with donations. From the decimation of orangutan habit in the forests in Indonesia for palm oil, which ends up in our shampoo and cookies, to the flaying of the Amazon for cattle and soybeans, to the expansion of lumber extraction and palm oil plantations in the middle of the Congo, to imposing dams that threaten chimpanzee habitat in Guinea and the entire Selous reserve in southern Tanzania, the largest in Africa, humanity has totally imposed its will on the planet.

The sixth extinction, fueled by climate change, is becoming our legacy to future generations. Poachers and the illegal wildlife trade add a diabolical dimension of loss to already severely reduced wildlife populations, which will now be impacted by climate change. What will remain in a generation or two?

When rangers go out in the field they need to have the proper equipment, they need to have been trained so their presence acts as a major deterrent to would-be poachers. But the Manyani school needs financial support with infrastructure and curriculum development. There is a powerful and unique ethos the Manyani school seeks to instill that can be a model for Africa as a whole. When elephants are damaging corn fields and locals ask for help from Kenya Wildlife Service, the response is based on benevolence that seeks the best results with the least damage to elephants. Its institutional spirit is second to none and its ethos is one of trust. Its ethic seeks to lean away from a military boot camp to one of disciplined law enforcement.

Patrol aircraft also serve as deterrents, so that criminals realize resistance is futile. Good aircraft which can cover thousands of square kilometers from the far north to Tsavo and Amboseli in the south cost many tens of thousands of dollars. For most of this decade it has been a war, a war waged for what remains of Africa, and it is a war that must be won.

Already in the past decade, a third of Africa’s elephants have been lost, mercilessly destroyed by wanton criminals looking to sell ivory at the highest price. Even though China decided to close its markets in late 2017, Hong Kong and other south Asian countries have yet to do so. The illicit trade continues. The Manyani school serves as the highest example of what is possible to commander operations in the field and to protect what remains of the wild.

It is fair to say that without the elephants and whales humanity will collapse upon itself. We will have become another species. One ranger who daily risks his life to protect elephants — despite having lost his grandfather to an elephant — told us he is dedicated to saving the species. He said, “A world without elephants is a world without oxygen.” The Manyani rangers have received some support for the barracks they need to live in and train. They need more: field equipment, night vision goggles and even airplanes for patrolling the wilderness. Better facilities and running water is needed as never before. Those sacrificing their very lives and families to protect rhinos, lions and elephants in the bush are the heroes of our time.

It is a strange period of history when indigenous activists fighting for the future of their forests, their very environment, for life on earth are being killed by the dozens every year from the Philippines, to the Congo, Brazil and Mexico. It is sobering to realize that these people are fighting not only for their homeland, but also for our very place on earth. If we lose the other species it will no longer be worth being on this earth.

I invite those with conservation interests to contact Bill Clark working with the NGO Friends of Animals. He can be contacted at bill.clark.oasis@gmail.com. The next generation of children cannot be told we lost the lion or the cheetah or giraffe because we did not have the vision or fortitude to fight. One Samburu elder told me, “Without the elephants and the other species, we will lose our minds! There will be nothing to return to. All that will be left is to kill ourselves.”

It is time to fight and take a stance and give for the children of the future, both human and nonhuman. The Manyani school, with no equal in Africa, is fighting for what remains of the great Pleistocene megafauna that still inhabit the cradle of man. The Manyani school houses and trains those very rangers who will help Africa hold on to what remains of her priceless treasure, her wildlife.

When I was first in Kenya as a teenager of 15, the massacre of the innocents, the devastation that was imposed on Africa’s elephants had not yet begun. There were more than 1.2 million elephants then. Today, no more than 350,000 savanna elephants remain and poaching continues.

Some 40 percent of the giraffe population has been lost in the past 20 years and over 90 percent of the lions. The rhino is holding on for dear life. Supporting the Manyani school is a concrete vote for the future, because without the other beings, we will have no ballast. We will self cannibalize.

Those who have the means must support the rangers dedicating their lives to the animals, beings who were our first teachers. We have been awed by their power and grace, emotionally and spiritually for millennia. If the machine is the only thing we as adults will be able to bequeath the next generation, we will have lost the children. Without the animals, as the ecologist Paul Shepard expressed, the horizon on our future will close.

Manyani is a unique model for rangers across the continent. Extinction is the most unholy definition of our time. The only extinction created by man. We have to be held accountable. Because in the end, all the money in the world won’t bring back the tiger, the whales, the frogs, the elephant and yes even the insects whose populations are diminishing across the globe.

We must forge a clear vision of what we have become on this small planet and what we ultimately want to be as a species, because our very place on earth lies in the balance. The window to reverse course is closing fast and much depends on this decade, perhaps the last in which we can salvage not only the countless species that make up the tapestry of life, but also our souls. We won’t be given a second chance.

Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson’s work at their website.


Locust invasion threatens wildlife and livelihoods in Kenya

By Conservation No Comments
Tim Knight, Fauna & Flora International, for Phys.Org. | February 4, 2020

Read the original story here

Kenya is bracing itself for a humanitarian and conservation catastrophe in the wake of a desert locust invasion on an unprecedented scale. The infestation is already affecting more than a quarter of the entire country and in danger of wreaking havoc nationwide.

While the size of these swarms has not yet swollen to apocalyptic levels, there are fears that numbers could reach plague proportions if the insects are not effectively controlled, with potentially dire consequences not only for community livelihoods but also for some of the continent’s most iconic wildlife.

The swarms now invading Kenya arrived from Somalia and Ethiopia, where they have already caused widespread devastation of crops and grazing land before moving south and then west on the prevailing winds.

Original photo as published by Phys.org. Credit: Vladimir Wrangel/AdobeStock

Sera Wildlife Conservancy, a long-standing partner of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), recently found itself directly in the path of these insatiable invertebrates.

This community-run conservancy is a key member of the wider Northern Rangelands Trust consortium that FFI helped to establish in 2004. It harbors a small but crucial population of the critically endangered eastern black rhino, happily augmented when a new calf was born there in late 2019.

The locusts descended on Sera shortly before dusk on January 22nd, and roosted overnight in the trees before flying away around noon the following day, much to the relief of conservancy staff and nearby communities. Rangers who witnessed their arrival described the flying swarms as “moving clouds” and ‘thick, white smoke.” The damage caused during their mercifully brief feeding frenzy has yet to be fully assessed, but the main concern is what might happen if they return.

“We’ve never witnessed anything like this before,” said Reuben Lendira, Sera’s Conservancy Manager. “This is the first invasion since the establishment of the conservancy. Though the locusts have only been in the conservancy for a few hours since their arrival in northern Kenya at the end of last year, we remain concerned as they are present in neighboring areas and there are chances that they will keep visiting us.”

A single desert locust consumes its own body weight in food in a day. Half a million of these insects—a tiny percentage of the average swarm—will devour as much vegetation as ten elephants in just 24 hours. It is easy to see how quickly an entire landscape could be denuded and defoliated, posing a serious threat to the survival of large herbivores throughout Kenya, included those at Sera. In addition to serving as a vital rhino sanctuary, the conservancy also provides protection for other threatened wildlife, including African elephant, lesser kudu and reticulated giraffe.

Locust outbreaks are a natural phenomenon—triggered by abundant rainfall and the plentiful vegetation that results—but there seems little doubt that a prolonged spell of extreme weather has played a role in this instance. Unseasonal torrential downpours in the Arabian Peninsula precipitated by a series of cyclones (a symptom of our changing climate) were followed by further extended bouts of heavy rain, creating ideal conditions for successive generations of locusts to breed within a very short timeframe.

The sheer scale of the infestation in Kenya is difficult to comprehend from the ground, but one swarm alone was estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to cover 2,400 square kilometers—an area almost the size of Paris.

But even swarms of this size are just the tip of the antenna compared to what could be in store. It is conceivable that locust numbers, if unchecked, could increase 500-fold within six months, with cataclysmic consequences for crops, pasture, people and wildlife.

To date, localized aerial spraying—using chemicals that are purportedly safe for other wildlife and humans—has failed to contain the invasion. As a result, people on the ground are taking things into their own hands, using more harmful pesticides that could have a serious environmental impact.

Despite reassurances, concerns remain about the possible health implications for wildlife—and humans—when they feed on sprayed vegetation, or drink from water sources contaminated by pesticides. The invasion has not yet spread to Kenya’s food-producing regions, but pastoralist communities including those in and around Sera are understandably nervous about losing the grazing land on which their livestock depend.

The locust invasion poses a real threat to conservation, livelihoods and security in northern Kenya, according to FFI’s Josephine Nzilani: “Under conservancy grazing plans, pasture is divided into dry and wet season grazing areas, but the locusts could upset this regime. If wet season grazing areas are plundered, herders may be forced to resort to dry season grazing areas, meaning they won’t have areas to graze when the dry season comes. They will have to migrate to other areas, and this often leads to grazing conflicts.”

It is hoped that control measures will be escalated nationwide in the coming days and weeks, before the swarms multiply to the point where they are unmanageable. In the meantime, Sera remains on red alert.