TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates via Twitter @whthome or on my blog: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com
Fourth edition March 2011
NO INJUNCTION ON MUSEUM CASE BUT HEARING SET FOR THURSDAY
The High Court in Kampala declined to grant an injunction which several building conservation and heritage societies had sought, to stop government from interfering with the integrity of the Uganda Museum. The judge however advised the petitioners that a hearing of the main case would be scheduled for Thursday this week to expedite the matter and reach an early decision. Should government however try to create facts on the ground between now and Thursday the petitioners should revert to him so that an injunction could be considered at that stage.
Other sources meanwhile pointed out that government simply has no money to build a 60 storey high tower on the site and more likely than not would the responsible ministry seek a private investor in form of a partnership. Two individuals associated with the group which has taken government to court also suggested that ‘this minister is notorious for his rash decisions. We cannot trust him that he will respect the provisions of the PPDA [public procurement and disposal of public assets act] and transparently advertise for a private sector partner or that their decision is now flawed or influenced by other factors we all know about. And what percentage will government get in such a partnership anyway, it will be another give away to well connected people. Leave this matter to the new government to discuss again when it is appointed by the president now that he has won his re-election. This minister is no longer suitable in our opinion to be allowed pursue this any further’.
Watch this space for updates, as and when available, from the court proceedings and the outcome of the suit.
LONE ELEPHANT ‘SETTLES’ IN KATUNGURU
Tourists and Ugandan travellers alike are reportedly now able to ‘greet’ a lone elephant who has made it a habit to come out of Queen Elizabeth National Park and take strolls through Katunguru, a village located at the Kazinga Channel bridge and the turn off into the park’s Mweya Safari Lodge.
Uganda’s leading newspaper the New Vision has over the weekend broken the story, accompanied by a picture via http://www.newvision.co.ug/D/8/13/749641.
Residents at Katunguru reportedly confirmed that the elephant regularly ‘visits’ but has not shown any hostility towards people and property nor behaved in an aggressive fashion. One UWA official in regular contact with this correspondent, under usual condition of anonymity, confirmed that ‘we are aware of this and our staff at QENP know that animals at times stray from the main park area, so we try to lure them back into the park. In this case it is monitored as the elephant is not violent, otherwise it may have to be properly relocated to avoid damage and claims against UWA’.
It is noteworthy that the Katunguru bridge was brought after the second World War from the UK, where it had been used during the war years as an alternative bridge across the river Thames and a commemorative plague reminds visitors to the site of this historic fact. The Kazinga Channel connects lakes Edward and George, both part of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
MORE HYDRO POWER COMES ON LINE
A ‘mini hydro electric plant’, feeding some 6.6MW into the national grid, has been commissioned over the weekend, when the Sri Lankan owned Ishasha Eco-Power ended its test phase and started commercial power generation. Located near Kanungu, the main township in that part of the country and not far from the Southern entrance to Queen Elizabeth National Park, the new power plant is one of several licenses ‘mini plants’ which are either already complete or under construction at select parts of the country, where the parameters are conducive to harness a smaller river without having to go into the construction of a major dam. This method is considered environmentally more friendly, cost effective and long term sustainable and can provide rural populations, at times through a ‘stand alone grid’ with affordable electricity, helping to reduce charcoal and firewood use plus bringing the opportunities of social and business developments into such areas which without electricity would not be possible.
A further four such smaller hydro electric plants are due to come on line this year with a combined output capacity of over 40 MW, while the main Bujagali plant is now expected to commence power generation by late this year with an initial 50 MW. At that stage it is thought that the added capacities will be ending the long and often harsh ‘load shedding’ regime Ugandans have suffered from since 2006, which has impaired economic growth considerably and driven the cost of doing business up. The Electricity Regulatory Authority has already indicated that it will enforce lower tariffs at that stage, bringing relief to millions of ordinary Ugandan households, manufacturing and industries.
WETLAND CONSERVATION – A CHAIN OF BROKEN COMMITMENTS
One of Uganda’s Ramsar Wetland sites, Lutembe Bay, has been in the media once again, and once more for all the wrong reasons. Initially extending over nearly 100 hectares of forest patches, swamps and reed grass covered shallow water, the area has over the years shrunk, shrunk and then shrunk some more still, with none of the culprits responsible ever being charged in court or fined.
Once the resting place for myriads of migrationary birds and a haven for bird watchers – incidentally visitors spending a lot more in average than ‘ordinary’ tourists – the shrinking and polluted habitat has led to a substantial reduction in bird numbers coming to Lutembe over the past years. A number of environmental watch dogs and conservation NGO’s, together with well reputed individuals, have time and again highlighted the plight of Ugandan wetlands, not just Lutembe but many outlying areas around the capital city and across the entire country, which in past years were drained, turned into land for crops and buildings and to no surprise for informed onlookers regularly flood after heavy rains, as the general drainage from between Kampala’s hills towards the lake continues to be blocked off, keeping runoff water stationary and inundating ‘shambas’ and houses located there.
Lutembe is being eyed by developers, to expand flower farms and create real estate ventures near the lake shores and almost inch by inch, day by day, more and more of the former Lutembe Ramsar Site is lost with about half of its original size ‘gone for good’ according to a regular conservation source who is particularly conversant with birdlife.
NEMA, the national environmental watch dog of Uganda, has become notorious for acting erratically on such developments, depending on who is behind those, and while often swooping down on the ‘splinters’ equally often they tend to overlook the ‘logs’. This correspondent for instance has now given up writing emails to NEMA about the daily encroachment at the Konge valley, between the Kansanga and Bunga areas of Kampala where the wetland is now being built over and cultivated across the entire area. Years ago NEMA shut down ‘Swampies’, a bar and nightclub allegedly built in the wetland, but when looking at the remains of that site, it has by far been overtaken deeper into the wetland by little farms and new buildings, which are normally advanced at night time using spotlights – some allegations have been made that even the electricity is being ‘stolen’ as was of course the land itself – to avoid, if any are dispatched at all, NEMA inspectors who only operate during day time. To add to the woes of this site, water is being extracted for use in building sites elsewhere in the city, and tankers are a frequent sight along the road reserve, using pumps to extract water from one of the narrow channels, again violating NEMA regulations.
One source within NEMA claims this has all been caused by the lack of support by government to actually operationalise the special environmental police force, but that can only be part of the true reasons, as NEMA seems to find manpower and muscles when it intends to swoop down on someone or something but seemingly cannot when they do not want to act. This has left the organization open to a range of allegations over favouritism, political expediency and even corruption, frequently emerging in the daily papers, letters to the editors and in conservation fora, yet no change has come about.
Observers claim that the time should be up for the top managers of NEMA and a radical overhaul of management is now called for to inject a new lease of life into the organisation, and going by the report in the Daily Monitor earlier this week about the fate of Lutembe, this indeed seems long overdue.
Last year I wrote a story about the restoration of a wetland in Northern Uganda, where villages had initially drained the water off only to then find that neither did their crops grow nor did their livestock find water with ease. Eventually, as hunger hit the area, several villages came together, restored the wetland to its original format – assisted by NGO’s but notably not NEMA – and now they benefit from having both water and healthy crops again. Unless and until conservation laws and regulations are therefore strictly enforced, there will be a growing threat of environmental damages and disasters, and where near protected areas it will also eventually have an impact on wildlife and nature based tourism, which crucially depends on keeping our biodiversity and environment intact.
However, conventional wisdom tells a different story, where profit comes before environment and biodiversity and who, I ask, dares to stand in the way of the all powerful individuals promoting and advancing their businesses at the expense of nature? Few will stand up to be counted!
KASUBI TOMB RECONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY
Over a year after a fire destroyed Kampala’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient Kasubi Tombs of the Buganda Kingdom, did reconstruction finally go underway earlier this week. Kasubi, where four of the former kings of Buganda have been laid to rest, was also featuring priceless artefacts and art collections which were on display and burned to ashes together with the huge thatched dome which dominated the site.
The cost, thought to be ultimately in the several million US Dollars range, will be met through a contribution of UNESCO but also collections given to the fund government set up to assist in the rebuilding of the prized heritage site which upon completion is expected to draw in even more visitors than before. Central government has pledged funding towards the reconstruction, which will – when completed – see a range of better facilities for visitors established including a perimeter wall, paved parking and new outbuildings, while the tomb structure itself will be as close a ‘replica’ as is possible, though with the latest fire prevention systems installed. Exhibits and artefacts lost will be partly replaced from the kingdom’s collections kept elsewhere, as well as from items donated by well wishers, to give the ‘new Kasubi’ as authentic a look as will be possible.
Tour operators in Kampala have expressed their regret over the loss of the site for their city tours, as many tourists were keen to get an insight into the ancient customs of the kingdom and vowed to include Kasubi again in their sightseeing tours just as soon as it has re-opened. No exact timeframe was given as yet by the contractors or kingdom officials how long work will take.
The cause of the fire (16th March 2010) has not been conclusively established inspite of a commission of enquiry investigating the blaze and immediate aftermath of it and no prosecutions have so far been brought to court in the absence of clear evidence as to culpability and individual responsibility for the fire.
ECONOMIC WOES GROW
The Uganda Shilling yesterday hit a record low when it broke through the psychologically important threshold of 2.400 versus one US Dollar, sending jitters through the local currency market and adding to fears that the country has to brace herself for more price rises in coming weeks, as fuel and all other imported goods will cost a lot more again.
The Bank of Uganda is thought to have tried to boost the value of the shilling, by conventional economic wisdom undervalued now by as much as 10 to 15 percent, by injection of an estimated combined 200+ million US Dollars from their reserves into the market, but like a drop of water on a hot stone the effects were short lived and literally evaporated within days, at times hours after the intervention.
Inflow of foreign capital and major aid packages has been slow in recent months, some say because of the elections while others point to the failure of government to act on CHOGM corruption, which has prompted a number of donor countries to withhold or scale back financial support.
News before the elections that the ministry of finance had run short of money too added to the capital flight, as international companies with branches in Uganda were busy scooping up the dollars to pay dividends and loan repayment instalments to their ‘mother companies overseas’ with some saying that even the Bank of Uganda’s own financial instruments, for long valuable and internationally sought after investments, had been sold off.
As already previously mentioned, the effects of a sliding shilling value has driven up fuel prices across the country and inflation has started to accelerate once again to levels not seen over much of the 15 years, prompting yet more concern over the economic outlook under the storm cloud of inflation. Watch this space.
KING OR CHIEFS – BUSOGA SAGA CONTINUES
Since the passing of the last Busoga King in 2008 has the Busoga Kingdom in the East of Uganda been without a monarch, as every single attempt to have a new king elected by the kingdom’s chiefs so far has failed, overshadowed by wrangles, claims and counterclaims and courtcases upon courtcases. Lack of quorum, lack of the required number of chiefs’ votes, venues and dates were all featuring in the local media as reasons of failed election attempts and even the attempted intervention by President Museveni, himself a great friend of the late monarch, did yield little progress.
The latest chapter in this saga is now out in public, with the chiefs apparently and surprisingly agreeing that they would not, for the time being, elect a new king but first strengthen their respective chiefdoms in Eastern Uganda while mulling over the issue and having sufficient time to ‘consult’ with their subjects on the way forward. In fact it appears that some of the chiefs are trying to use the ‘vacuum’ to become themselves more powerful again, supported by the call of some to call a ‘general meeting’ to discuss the abolition of the kingship in favour of stronger chiefdoms. There have been quotations of legal precedence over a similar scenario earlier in the last century, when for a long time there was no king, but only time will tell how the Busoga people will react to these ongoing wrangles by their cultural leaders, who are now set to put their own interests and themselves above the good of their top institution.
Watch this space for further periodic updates.
UWA TO FORK OUT A BILLION TO MURCHISONS FALLS ‘NEIGHBOURS’
As much as a billion Uganda Shillings has accumulated in accounts set aside to give communities neighbouring the Murchisons Falls National Park their 20 percent share from gate receipts, according to information becoming available to the Uganda public today. This unusually high bank balance, meant to be directed towards approved community projects aimed to bring benefits from wildlife based tourism to the park neighbours, has been blamed on various reasons and an official of UWA cited delayed project approvals and the recent election campaign. Another regular source however quietly pointed to the upheavals at the Uganda Wildlife Authority in recent months, which according to the source ‘unsettled staff and disturbed our activities calendar besides the uncertainty over senior staff being in a position to call meetings and take decisions while under the spotlight of the media and our political oversight ministry’.
However, other parks did receive revenue share contributions in recent months, as incidentally reported here, but keeping a billion Shillings in a bank account instead of releasing much or all of it to the intended beneficiaries is only fueling suggestions that not all is well within UWA and likely to cause misunderstandings with the communities and their leaders over the delays.
What is to be commended though, and an ongoing source of pride, is the legal provision in the Wildlife Act that 20 percent of gate receipts must be set aside to benefit the neighbouring villages of protected areas, something in fact now copied by many other wildlife management bodies across the African continent after Uganda paved the way for it over a decade ago. So it is ‘well done’ for one part and ‘do better and faster’ on another.
FUEL SHORTAGES HIT UGANDA ONCE MORE
‘It is the bureaucratic red tape and interventions into the market mechanisms by constantly changing rules and goal posts for procurement and processing of crude oil and fuels by the Kenyan government’ was the explanation by a top executive of a leading petroleum company in Kampala, when asked to comment on the current rise of fuel prices and ongoing shortages across the country. ‘The shortage is also felt in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and for instance South Sudan, all depending on imports into the region via Mombasa and then onward transportation to Uganda and beyond’ he added before turning to the price rises. ‘The fallen value of the Uganda Shilling in recent weeks and months combines with very high prices on the spot market which supplies much of East Africa’s requirements. The crude oil price has risen a lot and the crisis in Libya has depleted the supply chain worldwide so the spot market is hardest hit. Add these factors and it explains why we are now facing such a difficult situation’.
Other sources however blamed the government over not forcefully demanding from their Kenyan counterparts that imports of fuels via Mombasa destined for Uganda are exempted from their bureaucratic red tape or else shift greater import volumes to the port of Dar es Salaam and use the railway and lake ferries from Mwanza to Port Bell for transportation. This suggestion however has been made in the wake of every single shortage situation over the past years and little if anything has changed, as neither the existing rolling stock of the Tanzanian and Uganda railways – the latter anyway managed by struggling Rift Valley Railways – are sufficient nor would the available ferry capacity permit to ensure the uninterrupted flow of imports.
The Libya crisis has also taken another dimension on the local scene, as they were the main financiers and partners to construct the pipeline extension from Eldoret in Kenya into Uganda, a project which is now for all practical purposes delayed indefinitely until the political situation is resolved, still leaving the issue of sanctions and asset freezes for the Libyan regime leaders and their cronies to be dealt with. The same applies for the Ugandan national reserve storage tanks in Jinja, which inspite of assurances to the contrary remain empty, causing anger and resentment amongst businesses and citizens depending on the availability of fuel at all times. At times of a supply crisis the content of the national reserve could be released into the market to stabilize both prize and supply levels, while at present the country is again held at ransom by speculators and forces beyond their control across the national borders.
A litre of petrol according to an upcountry source, is now being sold for as much as 5.000 Uganda Shillings, if available that is, a price which is likely to add further increases in the cost of food too as transportation costs have risen already sparked by the shortage of fuel.
A few leading safari operators also admitted the shortage and cost increases to be a source of concern for them and while a few have secured enough fuel in their own storage facilities to get through the immediate crises another said ‘I hope my cars will find fuel along the way, they carry some jerricans but to complete a safari they will have to find fuel along the way’. A car hire company executive also told this correspondent that self drive safari clients are presently warned to expect a problem when seeking fuel along their planned route and are cautioned to add fuel wherever and whenever they find it to be able to complete their journeys. Watch this space.
NEW GRADING OF HOSPITALITY BUSINESSES TO START BY END MARCH
The Kenyan ministry of tourism has yesterday advertised in the main print media their intent to commence a major grading / classification exercise across the country, using the East African Community guidelines now in place to review the results of previous exercises done under local rules and give the tourism industry the confidence of a ‘true outcome’.
The long delayed exercise, due to lack of funding, is now finally going underway by March 25th and will initially concentrate on the capital Nairobi and its environs, the entire Kenya coast and also the Masai Mara, where government may also have a second agenda of capturing unlicensed establishments during the high season, which has proved difficult to achieve during previous attempts to identify them and shut them down. The rest of the country, especially the Eastern, Western and North Western regions, will follow thereafter when the manpower used can be shifted to new locations.
The Hotels and Restaurant Authority, under the political oversight of the Ministry of Tourism, will be the body responsible to carry out the grading through inspections by teams of specially trained assessors. Until the new results are reconciled – there is an appeal mechanism in place should hospitality owners not agree with the outcome communicated to them – the previous grading results will remain in force, but once the new results have been published and gazetted, thought to be before the end of the year, the industry and consumers will have an entirely new framework of certified quality standard as a reference base.
Said a regular source from Nairobi: ‘this will enhance our tourism products and will separate performers from those who do not meet expectations and standards. It is good for tourism and I believe it will be an incentive for hotels, resorts and lodges to improve and aim for even better standards. We promote tourism on quality of our product and this is a key cornerstone to show evidence we mean business and have a superior range of facilities for our visitors’.
LAKE NAIVASHA COUNTRY CLUB COMPLETING LONG OVERDUE UPGRADE
The ‘Lake Naivasha Hotel’ as this correspondent remembers the lake side resort from his early days in Kenya, has a long history going back into the early first half of the last century, when the palatial homestead at the shores of Lake Naivasha originally opened as a ‘guest house’ with only 3 rooms available for guests. Those were the days of the ‘flying boats’ by British Imperial Airways, the predecessor of what became the famous BOAC before emerging as British Airways. These – for those days at least – giant aircraft took off from the Thames in London and then made their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt, up the River Nile with a stop in Khartoum and on to Kenya, where they ‘landed’ at Kenya’s first international aviation entry point on Lake Naivasha. The trip, which took several days to complete, had passengers then undertake an arduous journey from Naivasha to Nairobi, up the winding road of the Great African Rift Valley, and the Lake Naivasha Hotel, now the Lake Naivasha Country Club, was swiftly becoming ‘THE’ place to take to before and after flights.
Now under the management of Sun Africa Hotels the property now features 50 rooms and suites plus a Presidential Cottage, and the ongoing renovations which started in October last year have at last seen the public areas and rooms regain their former shine. The resort has two sister properties, the Masai Mara’s oldest lodge Keekorok and the Lake Baringo Club, incidentally all from the former Block Hotels stable, while the Nairobi based ‘Sovereign Suites’ is due to join the group shortly.
Group General Manager is by the way none other than Rahul Sood, past president of the Skal Club of Kampala and former GM at Kampala’s Metropole Hotel – incidentally still very much missed by many of his former staff and most of his patrons – who after a spell in Dar es Salaam moved to Nairobi where their gain remains Kampala’s loss. Visit www.sunafricahotels.com for more information on the group’s operation or join them on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates.
NOT ANOTHER DROUGHT PLEASE
When in late December 2009 a long and harsh drought finally broke in Kenya, the Masai’s traditional way of life had been shattered along with their herds of cattle and goats which were decimated to a small fraction of their pre-drought numbers. Pastures and feeding grounds had at that time long ceased to yield any sustenance for the herds, water holes had dried up alongside the rivers and even boreholes were hardly giving enough water to keep the people alive.
The earth was scorched and baked hard as concrete in places and where the herds and the herdsmen once found water only cracked mud remained.
Even the national parks were affected and wildlife herds too were suffering the same fate as cattle, many of which were in fact driven into parks like Samburu and others in search of a few shreds of pasture and water. The wildlife managers, for a while at least until the tourism trade demanded decisive and immediate action from them, stood by and allowed this to happen, having no answers themselves as to where the cattle and goats were to go before eventually evicting them under the threat of use of force.
Now, less than a year and a half later, it seems that another cycle of drought is descending again on parts of Eastern Africa and the Masai clans and elders are reportedly consulting on the way forward, to prevent yet another major loss of their livestock, which had just started to recover from the last drought.
A few, foresighted enough, had already years ago come to realise that continuing their age old lifestyles and habits could no longer sustain them in the long run, as their nomadic movement was being hemmed in more and more by ‘development’ from outside their sphere of life.
The big question was then and it still is, how to gradually move from an exclusive cattle and goat herding ‘business’ to complementary and more sustainable activities and being able to hold on to their extensive grazing grounds owned by the clans and survive the drought cycles, which in the past were marked by an almost total loss of their livestock and left many of the proud tribesmen on the verge of poverty.
Those lucky enough to choose the right partners ten, fifteen and more years ago to ‘branch out’ into other activities are now an example for other clans to consider doing the same, and wide consultations are reportedly taking place to assess the available options, aimed at preserving heritage and lifestyles while embracing economic alternatives.
The success of joint venture conservancies in Kenya has surprised many and confirmed to a few what they have been saying all along, that uncontrolled and poorly managed herding practices destroy pastures, aid soil erosion and deplete water sources. A non-scientific survey by sampling opinions of affected parties in early 2010 and during the cause of this week showed that generally conservancies ‘survived’ the drought in much better shape with substantially less loss of wildlife due to lack of water while the traditional pastures of the Masai herds had the appearance of a moonscape, barren, dusty and scarred.
The ‘traditional’ thinkers were of course swift in pointing out that in most conservancies the cattle and goat had to leave the designated ‘wildlife areas’, thus aggravating the pressure on the pasture land left for them, but options are being pursued and a fine example has emerged in the central highlands of Kenya, where Ol Pejeta, initially a sprawling cattle ranch, was converted in a ‘game only’ conservancy before three years ago gradually opening up for cattle again, which now coexist alongside the wildlife.
However, key of this success at Ol Pejeta was the strict veterinary oversight by the managers to keep the cattle disease free, and the use of certain parts of the ranch with more emphasis on cattle while keeping other parts of the ranch more but not exclusively to wildlife. Another measure aiding the success of this school of thought at Ol Pejeta was the nightly ritual of barricading the cattle into secured ‘bomas’, keeping the big cats out and reducing losses on the cattle herds by predators. These measures, combined with other ‘techniques’ are now being studied by many ‘strict’ conservancies too and the findings will undoubtedly be taken into account by both conservancy and wildlife managers and the Masai clans in order to determine the right strategy of ‘co-existence’ in coming years, which would leave the clans to keep well managed and cared for herds of cattle and goats – probably giving them also much better financial returns – and making survival during droughts at least a little easier. On the other hand the conservancies incorporating the lessons learned from Ol Pejeta may well also become financially stronger and in the process draw in the ‘doubting Thomases’ from amongst the Masai still holding out and ‘hanging on’ to their traditional ways of life without much thought about the future.
Meanwhile – and turning back to the lucky versus the ‘unlucky’ partnerships – there are compelling examples of excellence to be mentioned in making conservancies a success story. The unlucky ones fell prey to ‘business vultures’ with no ethics and no compunction to ‘cut and run’, leaving clans unpaid and reluctant to give it another go, while for instance Gamewatchers / Porini, the hard times after the 2007 elections AND the drought at the time notwithstanding, held up their bargain, employed young Masai and trained them, paid their royalties and ground rent on time, all the time, and only a few months ago had reason to celebrate their success with their partners when their Amboseli Selenkay conservancy contract was renewed ahead of time and a substantial extra portion of land added. More or less at the same time they also managed to close the gap between their exclusive Ol Kinyei and the ‘shared’ Olare Orok conservancies, after the local Masai clans offered the ‘missing piece’ to them for wildlife based tourism.
Said Jake Grieves-Cook, Managing Director of Gamewatchers / Porini and immediate former Chairperson of the Kenya Tourist Board to eTN last week:
‘We are still getting occasional scattered showers over the conservancies in the Amboseli and Mara which means we have some green grass and still have grazing for herbivores but the drought is beginning to bite in the surrounding areas and there is virtually no grazing left for the Maasai livestock outside so this will put pressure on the conservancies and the reserve.
The pastoralists cling to their traditional ways, maintaining herds as big as possible but they no longer have their original dry weather refuge areas as these have disappeared over the years and are now all under cultivation and so the pressure on the rangelands is steadily increasing which, coupled with climate change and increasingly severe droughts, means there has to be a change in livestock rearing practices for the people to survive. `But old practices die hard…’
Considering the importance of wildlife based tourism to the Kenyan economy, and the importance of the livestock trade to both the Masai and the country at large, it is now part of Kenya’s daily prayers to spare them from drought and give them ample rain for good harvests and enough water for livestock. Yet, climate change has been probably more intense here than in many other parts of the world in recent decades and average temperatures in Eastern Africa have risen by a degree over the last 30 years. This has brought malaria to higher elevations previously spared from the killer disease, when temperatures were simply too low for the anopheles to survive, but has also accelerated the drought / flooding cycles which have taken their hold on the region. Those aspects however are more than enough for some separate articles, so for now I can only join my fellow East African in their prayer of ‘Not another drought please’ …
AIR ARABIA TO GO DAILY FROM APRIL
Information was received from Nairobi that the UAE’s main low cost carrier Air Arabia, presently flying four times a week between Sharjah / UAE and Nairobi, is all set to ‘go daily’ as of first week of April.
The no frills airline has become hugely popular with both East African expatriates travelling back and forth on a tight budget but also with visitors from the Gulf wanting to spend their money in the destination and not as much on the tickets to get there. The three new flights will have different departure times, compared to the present ones operating on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, so passengers are well advised to be certain when they have to be at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for their check in.
It was also mentioned that Air Arabia will actively promote travel to Kenya through their extensive network across the Middle East and the Arab world, offering ‘through fares’ to Nairobi in order to attract more tourist visitors. The airline commenced flights in October 2008 with initially three frequencies, before adding a fourth last year due to growing demand, which continues to show a sharp upwards trend as companies and individuals are keeping a close eye on expenditure.
Watch this space for the most up-to-date aviation information from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region with regular daily updates via Twitter @whthome
PRIVATE SECTOR BLAMES POLITICIANS ON SLOW PACE OF MOMBASA BYPASS
Politicians were blamed squarely for the aborted meeting of stakeholders to discuss resettlement and compensation issues for the planned ‘by pass’, which is aimed to link the main highway from Nairobi to the coast and the Moi International Airport in Mombasa to the South coast, avoiding the problem riddled Likoni ferry crossing and the traffic jammed drive through Mombasa city.
However, a former member of parliament tried to hijack the meeting, ostensibly to remind his former constituents that he was still around and had something to say too, prompting administration officials to then rather postpone the important meeting than risk turning it into a political platform.
The private sector, most notably the tourism representatives, were understandably hugely upset over the delay and told administration officials to keep politicians out of future meetings, as it was primarily them who over the past 20 years squabbled over the project and got it nowhere to the detriment of the entire coast’s economy and the benefit of commuters, travellers and trade.
The Likoni ferry crossing is notorious for breakdowns of the ferries and subsequent long delays for commuters, and has often caused departing tourists to miss their flights, while those arriving after a long flight from overseas had to endure hours upon hours of delays before reaching their beach resorts.
It was only last year that the principal decisions were taken to proceed with the highway construction and financing offers are on the table but subject to first resolving resettlements of affected individuals and their compensation. Watch this space for further updates as and when available over how this very important new road to some of Kenya’s most stunning beaches progresses.
AFRICAN SAFARI CLUB HALTS FLIGHTS TO KENYA
News have just emerged that the African Safari Club, and integrated operation of selling safari and beach holidays to Kenya from European gateways, has apparently gone under.
Once an untouchable giant, when in the 70’s and 80’s they managed hotels owned by former first lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the company sold holidays in Europe, operated a fleet of branded ‘zebra striped’ DC 8 before switching eventually to wide bodied aircraft, handled them in destination and operated a number of beach resorts north of Mombasa. This type of vertical and horizontal integration made the company ‘rich’ in its hey days and with their political connections in Kenya they were often thought to be above the law applicable for other hotel chains and safari operations, even managing to keeping African Kenyans out of their resorts by questionable means, while visiting ‘muzungus’ generally had the right of way.
From information now at hand from the UK it seems that the company has folded and it is understood that the UK’s tour operator insurance mechanism is now swinging into action to assist in bringing affected passengers back home to Europe, while those with paid for outbound tickets are neither going on holiday nor in much likelihood getting any of their money back.
It is not at this stage clear what impact this development will have on the resorts in Kenya and if maybe other hotel chains may step in and take over the prime properties, or else if they will be tied up in court battles and shut down for the time being.
LAMU CONSERVATION GETS BOOST FROM NEMA
The recent public outcry over encroachment into protected areas in Lamu and attempts by the council to sell or lease off key adjacent public land has been re-enforced by an order from NEMA declaring that all waterside developments in Lamu as well as encroachment into wetland and riparian areas around the ancient town must stop immediately and those concerned pack up and leave. Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and any developments within the municipality and surrounds must meet most stringent standards of planning and approval, in order to preserve Lamu and its rich history for future generations. The NEMA order now gives added protection to about 1.000 hectares of land including most of the famous sand dunes where no construction can now take place.
However, ‘investors’ have already vowed to take matters to court with one company claiming that they have fulfilled all legal requirement to commence major construction, and it also seems that opinion about some of the planned projects is split even amongst the residents of Lamu.
It is also noteworthy that the planned second major sea port and railway link to Lamu remain under environmental and social scrutiny too and here in particular NEMA and other governmental and non-governmental organizations will have to meet their litmus test over best international practice and clear enforceable mitigation measure for the long term in order to protect this unique ecosystem and the biodiversity found around Lamu for future generations.
POLITICAL ANGER ADDS TO ATCL WOES
The recently reported failure of Air Tanzania to secure a leased plane to maintain operations while their Bombardier turboprop Q300 was first grounded for quite a while and then flown to South Africa for heavy maintenance, has now also caused repercussions from the political side of things.
The transport minister in Dar es Salaam over the weekend condemned the airline’s management for literally putting the carrier out of business while constantly begging for money from government, yet they could not generate any income towards meeting even their monthly recurrent expenses.
C-checks, in form of an added explanation, are not just happening but are part of an ongoing maintenance programme to keep an aircraft ‘airworthy’, and take place after either a certain number of hours flown by the craft or else come due when a maximum period of time has lapsed since the last such check. These details are known to management as part of the regular reporting by respective department to the Managing Director, and an airline source in Dar es Salaam minced no words when he called this situation: ‘totally avoidable and totally negligent’ before adding that ‘in any privately owned airline those responsible would be sacked for cause’.
To make matters worse however the minister then recited past assurances that government would soon find a strategic investor in ATCL, leaving however the key question unanswered who in his right mind would wish to invest in a company which has lost all its market share, has a troublesome reputation in regard of union influence, is facing multiple lawsuits from suppliers and travel agents and is, and has been, for all practical purposes totally broke.
Hence the parting comment of another aviation source in Tanzania who said: ‘it is time government faces reality here. They [management] are unable to keep this thing flying, they have lost to Precision and Fly 540 Tanzania and even other smaller airlines like Coastal Aviation, and they have no place in our skies any longer. This company has time and again eaten our taxes and we got no value in return, so they should close it down wind it up’.
SAUTI ZA BUSARA 2012 DATES ANNOUNCED
East Africa’s most popular and globally best known music and art festival, Sauti Za Busara, has just announced the dates for the 9th edition next year. Lovers of traditional African music and of African contemporary groups are invited back to Zanzibar between Wednesday 08th February 2012 and Sunday 12th February. Considering the success of last month’s 8th edition it may be wise to make early arrangements this year to visit the ‘Spice Island’ as reports from Zanzibar talked of ‘full house’ and aircraft fully booked for the few trying at the very last minute to get to the festival.
Artists will have until 31st of July this year to apply for participation, and those places are in greater demand than ever before, considering that Sauti Za Busara has established itself as THE music and art festival in Eastern Africa with the spotlight of the entire globe on it for the duration. Music films will have an extended application and submission deadline of 30th September.
Visit www.busaramusic.org for on line application details and information on past festivals as well as draft programme outlines for next year or write to firstname.lastname@example.org through which you can also subscribe to regular updates from the organizers. Sauti Za Busara is now also on Facebook where some of the spectacular pictures of this year’s festival have been posted.
INTERNATIONAL SERENGETI DAY
It was in May last year when investigations carried out by eTN led to the disclosure of advanced plans by the government of Tanzania to build a highway across the migration paths of the great herds of wildebeest and zebras in the UNESCO recognized Serengeti National Park . Initially disputed, but in the face of growing evidence finally confirmed, it became also known that many of Tanzania’s own wildlife and conservation experts from TANAPA and SENAPA were dead against the plans but outranked by politicians, led by sycophants aimed to please their president – who at the time was on the elections trail – and when attempting to publicly voice their opposition told to shut up, put up or get out. Disheartened by such totalitarian methods did a number of them eventually provide details to the media, often through third parties to prevent detection, as it is not uncommon to end up in court with framed up charges simply for opposing government, even if government is entirely wrong about something.
38757 individuals and NGO’s from around the world are now members of a still growing coalition, aimed to have the highway moved to the Northern side of the park – not opposed, as has been portrayed by Tanzanian officials, to be against any road nor aiming to deny the Tanzanian people ‘services’ – and UNESCO, the World Bank, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, WWF, AWF, IFAW and many other globally renowned conservation groups have joined that call for moderation and reflection but all fallen on deaf ears so far.
The father of the Tanzanian nation ‘Mwalimu’ Julius Nyerere had pledged to leave the Serengeti intact and stood side by side with the late Prof. Dr. Grzimek, whose books, articles and films ‘Serengeti Must Not Die’ made the Serengeti known around the globe to protect and preserve the national park. Those ideals though are now being trampled into the dust, and when government’s initially well concealed traffic projections were leaked and became widely known, it was clear that this highway would radically change and then eventually destroy the world’s largest migration. Estimates from experts who have studied the migration for many years are projecting a loss of 70 or more percent of the herds, as their migration, feeding and breeding cycle faces disruption and when the initially several hundred cars a day rise to the projected figure of 3.000 cars a day, including trucks and busses, the fate of the Serengeti will be sealed and one of the world’s great natural wonders taken from mankind forever.
Tomorrow, 19th of March, will see events unfold around the globe, dedicated to the Serengeti and its future survival, and here is a short breakdown of key cities where conservation friends will be active tomorrow:
- In Kenya several organizations are holding a youth march in downtown Nairobi and a nature center in Kangundo is planting trees.
- In Melbourne, Australia, there will be a Walk for a Wildebeest in Melbourne.
- Zoological societies in the United States are putting up posters.
- The Chicago Field Museum will be holding a special lecture.
- In France, many school teachers are presenting programs using a special Serengeti Day curriculum and children are writing letters.
- In Tanzania there are talks scheduled in schools, two schools are doing a tree planting, and there will be a seminar.
- Posters are being placed around Spain.
- In Grahamstown, South Africa, there will be a poetry reading. In other parts of South Africa students will be putting up posters.
- In Germany and the UK, people are sending petitions and postcards to Tanzanian Embassies.
- In Canada, there is a mass letter writing campaign.
Check on Facebook with the administrators of the ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ site with happenings near your own location and participate if and as you can. For ease of reference here is the FB link which puts the site only a click away: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/pages/STOP-THE-SERENGETI-HIGHWAY/125601617471610
In closing, this correspondent is proud to have been the small stone which triggered this global ‘avalanche’ and is particularly grateful to his colleagues at eTN for continuing to keep the spotlight on these developments.
AIR TANZANIA ‘ON THE GROUND’ AS LAST PLANE GOES FOR MAINTENANCE
Sources in Dar es Salaam have confirmed that the erstwhile national airline’s last operational plane, a Bombardier Q300, was sent to for heavy maintenance to South Africa, leaving ATCL literally stranded. Having failed to plan forward and have a suitable aircraft leased for the duration – heavy maintenance can take months if major additional workscope is discovered when ‘opening’ the aircraft up in the hangar – the airline’s executives are now belatedly scrambling to rectify the situation. However, at present this seems an uphill challenge as the financial situation of the airline is grave to start with and any other airline willing to provide one of their turboprops to ATCL would require substantial prepayments of the lease fees, unless they too want to risk having to go to court to recover their dues, as is presently the case with many suppliers and travel agents suing ATCL.
Meanwhile, Precision Air and Fly 540 Tanzania both are taking full advantage of this situation and are expected to diligently serve those destination the sole aircraft of Air Tanzania has been flying to from Dar es Salaam, in order to make a return to the skies for ATCL even harder. The privately owned airlines are now operating a wider domestic and regional network and more frequencies than ATCL has done in the more recent past and have swooped the market with better service and competitive air fares.
The Tanzanian government has also been notably shtumm on the development although a reaction is expected sooner rather than later, considering that the powerful aviation and transport workers union only two weeks ago called for the dismissal of the ATCL management. Will this airline survive, considering also the rising fuel cost, heavy financial commitments to staff and for recurrent expenditure and creditors snapping on its heels without a single Shilling coming in – time will tell, so watch this space.
STIEGLER’S GORGE / SELOUS HYDRO PLANS TRUE AFTER ALL
In a startling development were news, broken here some weeks ago, confirmed today in the Tanzanian media, that indeed the plans from the 1970’s to build a hydro electric dam and power plant at Stiegler’s Gorge in the Selous were to be dusted off and revived. The Selous is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the third threatened more recently by politically inspired developments in Tanzania, alongside the Stone Town in Zanzibar over a disputed hotel project and the Serengeti over the hugely controversial highway plans right across the main migration route of the big herds of wildebeest and zebra.
At the time of breaking the story this correspondent was called names and for all practical purposes a liar, but this report http://www.dailynews.co.tz/home/?n=18149&cat=home in a leading Tanzanian newspaper finally does confirm that something has been afoot already when the story broke and that the reactions then were probably caused by anger and frustrations how eTN had once again gotten hold of details, by the way ahead of the mainstream media. Tanzania’s government has become notorious of shrouding such plans and project in utmost secrecy and the local media, far from being able to report freely, often complain quietly – most recently at the EAC Media Summit in Nairobi – of being muzzled as government tries to suppress the extend to opposition to controversial projects, which while ‘sold’ on the lines of benefits to the country and jobs for the people often really only bring profits to few, as is alleged with the Serengeti highway project where mining companies and politicians are said to be the true ‘beneficiaries’. The ‘leak’ at the time also shows that there is opposition to such plans within government circles, and that they are ready to get the information out, albeit often via multiple waypoints, to avoid being detected. Not quite a ‘WikiLeaks’ scale but good enough to alert the conservation fraternity and begin to mobilise a well argued and formulated counter position in order to save the Selous, similar to the Facebook and related campaigns of ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway. Watch this space.
TANZANIA GETS AIR AMBULANCE
In a ground breaking development was Tanzania’s first ever fully equipped air ambulance service launched. A French built Dassault Falcon aircraft, converted into an airborne medical centre and ICU, was commissioned by the owners African Medical Investments from South Africa. The ‘medivac’ option will initially be extended to Tanzania’s international airports and domestic aerodromes capable of receiving such an aircraft, but it is understood that requests for evacuations from the entire East African region would be handled, subject to availability. The rescued patients will then be flown to South Africa for treatment in a state of the art hospital, details of which together with an exact location were not available by the time of going to press.
Previously it was mainly the Wilson Airport (Nairobi) based Flying Doctor service or privately operated air ambulances from Kenya which could be called to come to the assistance of critically ill or seriously injured people and in fact many safari clients habitually take out seasonal or ‘temporary’ membership at the Flying Doctors or else are covered for airlifts by their respective travel insurance companies.
The addition of the locally based service however will add an important ingredient to the list to be ticked by prospective travellers to Tanzania, who can now be assured of an in-country medivac service at their disposal. Well done and happy landings.
RWANDA TOPS EAST AFRICAN TOURISM DESTINATIONS
The latest Word Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report has just put Rwanda ahead of her neighbours in the East African Community, reaching the best marks. This is a glowing endorsement of the Rwandan government’s policies towards tourism and conservation with lip service being overtaken by action and growing funds allocations for marketing, unlike in neighbouring Uganda which slipped a few places backwards to the chagrin of the country’s private sector.
Rwanda’s impact on the global tourism scene has many reasons, apart from the country’s natural attractions, but the main cause for the impressive sectoral performance is thought to be rooted in President Kagame’s direct and keen interest in all matters pertaining to conservation and the tourism sector, which has grown into the number one foreign currency earner and become the economic locomotive for the country.
Said one regular source in Kigali: ‘our government appreciates that tourism is spreading good news about Rwanda around the world. Many of our visitors are of substance back home and can act as conduits for us when it comes to trade and investment promotion, because they have seen us in action when visiting as tourists. The Rwanda Development Board gives tourism and conservation a very high priority and government takes many measures to ensure our continued competitiveness in tourism in the region. Our latest re-forestation policies will create more biospheres where it is needed and allow more tourism products to be launched, besides Nyungwe which became a national park a few years ago and is now a magnet for visitors besides our gorillas.’
Kenya’s success in making 2010 the ‘best year ever’ for tourism is rooted in spending ‘big bucks’ abroad in existing, new and emerging markets, and yet the private sector there continues to insist that more funding is needed to match the country’s main competitors from the African continent. Said a senior stakeholder from Nairobi to this correspondent: ‘Egypt has had a bad spell, but you just wait and see how much money they will pour into promotions and marketing this year and next year to make those bad memories of demonstrations etc go away. We must match this dollar by dollar if we want to continue grow our tourism industry. South Africa is still on a high note after the World Cup last year, and they are also spending a lot of money, and they are now close to introducing a SADC common tourist Visa. We here in East Africa need that also to make our region attractive to visitors and I only wish our neighbours could have matched our reduction in Visa fees. But the main issue is a good budget to go out and promote Kenya to the world at every opportunity and we are lobbying government to increase allocations in the next budget.’
In Uganda though the mood is one of bewilderment, considering the many natural attractions the country has to offer to visitors, the improved infrastructure and the increased connectivity by air to the four corners of the world. Commented one stakeholder in regular contact: ‘how can Rwanda get ahead of us. We had a head start on them and still they overtake us. We have more parks, more air connections, more birdlife and still? Maybe it is because of fragmentation of the sector, too many cooks so to speak, and few with capacity to create the vision we need to succeed in coming years. And of course our government has been deceiving us over their financial support. It is lacking everywhere, the tourist board does never have enough money to pay for much more than running their office and go to a few trade fairs. UWA is in crisis because of the minister’s actions. The school in Jinja is without a governing law after over 3 years. All we get is once in a while a ‘big event’ which has not even been very broadly discussed with the sector and then they claim that ‘we support you’. Some years ago we had a 6 month CNN campaign and it worked very very well, but then there was never any follow up at all and the benefits went out of the window. Maybe we can get an active new minister who can support the sector in cabinet?’
Rwanda though is rightly proud of their continued growth and achievement and as one senior stakeholder put it: ‘we require no Visa from most countries visiting us. That means no hassle for them, open doors and a friendly welcome. Our main attractions can all be reached easily from Kigali. Our road network has very much improved and the new parks are making a big impact. I think our message that we are committed to biodiversity and put the environment first has taken hold. We are increasing competence and skills very deliberately amongst the tourism workforce and our national airline has helped to spread Rwanda’s message further and further abroad. All in all we deserve our ranking and it is an incentive to do even better next year. Well done indeed, land of a thousand hills!
KIGALI CONFERENCE ON ‘DOING BUSINESS IN AFRICA’ OPENS
The World Bank and Regional Centre for Excellence supported second ‘Doing Business in Africa’ Conference has yesterday opened in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali with over 100 participants from across the continent, development partners, multilateral organisations and even the business community from overseas. The World Bank country director emphasised that the decision to hold the second such conference in Rwanda was to showcase the country’s achievements in terms of a new legal and regulatory regime and who making it easy for the private sector doing business contributes greatly to the economic advance of a nation. The formation of the Rwanda Development board as a multidisciplinary governmental body aimed to support all sections of the economy in a transparent and non-discriminatory fashion too was cited as one of the cornerstones of Rwanda rising from the ashes of the 1994 genocide, like the proverbial Phoenix.
Tourism in particular, together with a conservation philosophy second to none, has driven growth in Rwanda in recent years and the success of this sector is now being copied to agriculture, the ITC sector and other future looking industries.
Participants who came to Rwanda for the first time reportedly expressed their positive image of the city, from their arrival at the Kanombe International Airport to their hotels and beyond, confirming that Rwanda’s deliberate investment in conference facilities, tapping into the MICE travel segment, is already bearing ample fruits and returns.
NEW FORESTRY BILL IN PARLIAMENT
And amendment and major re-write to the outdated 1988 forestry bill was sent to parliament this week in Kigali, aimed at creating a modern legal framework on forest protection and conservation through sustainable use of the country’s timber resources. It also spells out measures of implementation of the updated law, something the initial bill largely lacked as well as fines and penalties for offenders. Over 550.000 hectares of land are presently fully or partially covered by trees and forests, including plantations for specific timber use and firewood. The country has in the recent past embarked on an aggressive re-forestation exercise, hoping to close gaps between previously connected forests and turning many of the tropical rain forests into nature reserves or national parks to exploit their tourism potential and add attractions to the safari circuit, which presently is considered too narrow. Alongside conservation measures will run a campaign of civic education and sensitisation for the affected populations, including teaching them the use of alternate and renewable sources of energy for cooking and heating.
Forest plantation owners were told they could expect a streamlined regulatory regime with specific guidance of how best to exploit their investments and to sustain it in the long term, relieving doubts that purpose planted trees and forest could be declared ‘conservation areas’ too. Way to go Rwanda, way to go!
MORE TOURISM AMBASSADORS TO ‘SPREAD THE GOSPEL OF SEYCHELLES’
Last week did the Seychelles Tourist Board announce the appointment of 10 more tourism ambassadors in diverse countries, aimed to promote tourism to the archipelago and be the ‘link’ between the local travel trade and the home islands.
This innovative and unique initiative now has first time representatives in Algeria but also added more ‘ambassadors’ in the UK, the US, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.
The idea was implemented in January 2010 during the tourist board’s annual marketing conference and has taken not just root but the travel industry by storm, with reportedly other countries ‘copycatting’ the concept, proof enough that the Seychelles have struck ‘gold’ by having their own nationals living abroad take ownership of prompting and marketing the Creole Islands. Well done indeed and best of success to the new appointees.
AIR SEYCHELLES PROMOTES LOCAL ART ‘IN FLIGHT’
The archipelago’s national airline has started to feature local Seychellois art on board of their B767 fleet, using the bulkheads to display original art pieces, presently four from renowned artist George Camille. Portraying island life, and of course the trade mark ‘coco de mer’ George used both water colours and acrylic collages, giving passengers enroute to Mahe a fore taste of what to experience during their holiday.
The menu cards too and other literature will for the time being feature local art works and the airline has already invited young Seychellois artists to get in touch with them if they too want to make their way ‘around the world’, wherever HM carries the flag and ‘Flies the Creole Spirit’.
ANOTHER ANTONOV CRASH IN CONGO KILLS 14
The series of air accidents in Congo simply does not seem to end, when yet another Soviet era Antonov crashed yesterday in Point Noire / Congo, reportedly killing a crew of four, five passengers and several people on the ground as the plane hit a residential area.
Congo has one of the world’s worst records with aviation accidents, and is largely responsible for the poor continental rating by ICAO in regard of aviation safety. Over the past years, as readers will recall, a chain of accidents was reported here in the Congo, involving passenger and cargo aircraft, the latter often in fact also offering seats – allegations are that such passengers often in fact have no seats and have to squat on the floor amid loaded cargo – to improve the profitability of flights and make a quick buck.
Aviation oversight, inspite of the periodic government statements following such disasters, has remained patchy at best and none of the promised fundamental overhauls has taken place, leaving ‘flying coffins’, as the Soviet era planes are often dubbed in Congo and other countries in Africa, in operation. Prosecutions of culprits, or companies being shut down following accidents, is sadly NOT the norm in Congo, one of the reasons why the European Union has blacklisted ALL Congolese airlines from flying into their airspace.
While several more enlightened [in terms of aviation safety and oversight] African countries have banned operations of old Antonovs and Iljushins to and from their territory, as well as overflights, mainly due to the high rates of accidents such stone age planes suffer from, others like Congo have not. Maintenance oversight, a crucial element in keeping aircraft ‘airworthy’ is often neglected by the aviation regulators, and allegations of corrupt practices emerge time and again, especially after accidents.
Undoubtedly calls will again emerge now to finally and completely ban such aircraft from the African skies, but more likely than not economic and political influence peddling will again succeed, at the expense of yet more African lives to be lost in the future. Condolences are expressed to the families and friends of those who perished in the crash.
And in ending today some interesting reads from ‘The Livingstone Weekly’, courtesy of Gill Staden, reporting on both successes and the downsides of wildlife conservation in Southern Africa:
From Africa Conservation Foundation
SPOTTED hyaena packs in the Kwando Core Area of the Bwabwata National Park and in the forest in the Mudumu North Complex (MNC) are stable but exist at low density, a recent study has found.
The study on Spotted Hyaena Ecology and Human-Wildlife Conflict in the Caprivi Region was conducted by the Caprivi Carnivore Project (CCP).
Project leader Lise Hansen said it appears that the spotted hyaena population around human habitation areas of the MNC was fragmented and unstable and this was likely due to persecution and trophy hunting, which under most conditions cannot be practiced sustainably with this species due to the population dynamics.
“It is likely that trophy hunting of spotted hyaenas in conservancies is impacting on clan structure within the protected are of Mudumu National Park (MNP). The density of spotted hyaena throughout the Caprivi Region appears to be far lower than originally calculated,” said Hansen in the report.
The report suggested that present management practices like trophy hunting of spotted hyaenas should not be conducted within the boundaries of protected areas, particularly the Bwabwata National Park, which is the only stable habitat for the long-term conservation of spotted hyaenas in the region.
It said the present method of setting trophy-hunting quotas per conservancy to maximise benefits to the members rather than the sustainability of the hyaena population should be reassessed for spotted hyaenas.
The report argues that there is no scientific basis or justification for the present off-take, which is driven by community pressure and negative perception and is likely to be extremely damaging to the species.
Hansen said research efforts for 2011 will focus on areas adjacent to the core conservation areas of the Bwabwata National Park, to examine the impact of continued trophy hunting of spotted hyaenas within the park as well as in the vicinity of human settlement areas to assess the extent of human-wildlife conflict.
Additional hyaena clans using the Kwando Core Area will be identified. During the field activities, five months were spent attempting to capture, collar and monitor spotted hyaenas within the park conservancies.
Approximately two months were spent monitoring changes and activities of the original long-term study clan (Kwando Clan) within the Kwando Core Area of the park.
Other activities, says the report, involved assessing predator-related human-wildlife conflict through the Conservancy Event Book System for the MNC and BNP as well as monitoring livestock practices within the different conservancies of the MNC in the East Caprivi.
Spotted hyaenas are a unique and vital component of most African ecosystems and understanding the mechanisms that regulate or limit their population should be taken into consideration when developing management plans for protected areas.
“There is little data from the Namibian population, including the Caprivi Region,” said the report.
W: At last some action against the incessant poaching of rhinos for their horns – fueled as correctly pointed out, largely by Chinese, where the laws are totally inadequate to severely punish anyone found with rhino horn, blood ivory or any other products from wild animals smuggled from Africa.
The South African National Parks (SANParks) has welcomed the conviction and imprisonment of three rhino poachers by the Nelspruit Regional Court on Monday. The three, Renaldo Franchesco Masiki, Joao Sendelani Malangute and Elvis Mdaka were found guilty of illegally hunting rhinos and imprisoned for five years without the option of a fine.
The three Mozambique citizens were arrested in October 2010 at the Crocodile Bridge Section of the Kruger National Park. Masiki and Mdaka were further found guilty on charges of possession of illegal fire arms and ammunition and were sentenced to an effective nine years of imprisonment without an option of a fine.
SANParks spokesman Wanda Mkutshulwa told the state BuaNews agency the organisation is very pleased with the sentencing “and hopes for even tougher sentences to be meted against such criminals.”
She said the last time a harsh sentence was handed down was when a Vietnamese man was sentenced to ten years in prison after been caught trying to smuggle 18kg of rhino horns from the OR Tambo International Airport in July last year. South Africa has lost 71 rhinos so far this year with 46 in the Kruger National Park, nine in Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and Western Cape each losing one rhino and KwaZulu-Natal lost six. To date 64 suspected rhino poachers have been arrested, BuaNews added. …
It has been widely reported that crime syndicates are behind the rhino killings, fuelled by demand for horns in Vietnam and China, where horns are ground up and used in traditional medicine – often as aphrodisiacs. According to South African National Parks (SANParks), in 2010 alone, 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa. In 2009, 122 rhinos were killed in the country, compared to only 13 that were poached in 2007, BuaNews said.
Some media reports have suggested that Mozambican nationals are crossing from that country into the east of the vast park to poach the animals, taking advantage of the open border created when the fences were removed to create a transfrontier park incorporating the KNP and sister parks in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The South African National Defence Force will from next month deploy an infantry company into the KNP to re-assert South African sovereignty along the border line. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu have said this will include action against poachers. It is known Special Forces, with specialist surveillance equipment, also deployed in the KNP last year to support park rangers in arresting poachers.
W: and another sad story about the impact of poorly controlled hunting and the damage it is causing to African wildlife
African lions under threat from a growing predator: the American hunter
American hunters are emerging as a strong and growing threat to the survival of African lions, with demand for trophy rugs and necklaces driving the animals towards extinction, a coalition of wildlife organisations has said.
Demand for hunting trophies, such as lion skin rugs, and a thriving trade in animal parts in the US and across the globe have raised the threat levels for African lions, which are already under assault because of conflicts with local villagers and shrinking habitat.
“The African lion is a species in crisis,” said Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “The king of the jungle is heading toward extinction, and yet Americans continue to kill lions for sport.”
Two-thirds of the lions hunted for sport were brought to America over the last 10 years, a report released by the coalition said.
The organisations, which include IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife, called on the White House to ban the import of lion trophies and parts by listing the animals as endangered species.
The number of wild African lions has fallen sharply in the last 100 years, the organisations said. A century ago, as many as 200,000 roamed across Africa. Now, by some estimates, fewer than 40,000 remain in the wild; others put the figure for survivors at 23,000, and they have vanished from 80% of the areas where they once roamed.
Lions have become extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries – Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are believed to contain more than 1,000 lions each, according to the Panthera conservation group – which is not part of the coalition making the appeal.