Author Archives: thequestforhope

11,000 KM: ON With the Quest

The Quest For Hope has now taken me over 11,000 kilometers.  It’s led me from Port Elizabeth down to Cape Town, then up the west coast of South Africa to Elands Bay. From there through the length of Kgaligadi, across into Namibia and up into Kaokoland, the home of the Himba.  Then around Etosha and into Zambia at Katima Mulilo and east to Livingstone. Then to my childhood home, Ndola, and from there up through the Copperbelt to Chingola and on to the world renown chimpanzee orphanage, Chimfunshi. From there up the Great East Road to north eastern Zambia and Luangwa Valley, an absolute must for everyone’s bucket list.  Then back south and down to Sinazongwe on the edge of Lake Kariba, the ancestral grounds of the BaTongas who were forcibly displaced when the lake was first created.  As I write this I’m camped in the shade of a weathered fig tree looking out over the lake under the watchful eye of a curious troop of monkeys all hoping I’ll leave the camper door open long enough for them to sneak in for a banana or two.

To date its been a wonderful albeit very challenging and eye opening trip, one that has taken me on an emotional roller coaster with remarkable highs and some very sad lows. The Colonial Africa of my youth has gone never to return and many will say that’s a good thing. Regardless of your view the continents unique wildlife, soaring vistas and colorful people still put Africa very much in a league of her own. I’ve now had the privilege of meeting with some of its leading conservationists and I’ve been tremendously impressed with their commitment, courage and dedication and a sense that there is still some hope for the future of Africa’s wildlife; that its still possible to fan these faint embers of hope back into flames if, and its a very big if, we can persuade the powers that be – most especially Africa’s leaders – that the future protection of their countries wildlife must become one of their top priorities and not merely a useful sideshow for the promotion of tourism.

They need to understand that at the end of the day it’s the wildlife that make Africa so special. Indeed it is the only thing that truly separates Africa from the world’s many other unique and special places. Nowhere else on the planet can you sit on the banks of a river watching elephants graze along its banks, marvel at hippos grunting and bellowing in its shallows while the sound of a lion’s roar cuts through the air. Where you can watch giraffes browse on treetops, hear the thundering hooves of buffaloes, zebras and antelopes of all shapes and sizes, and gaze in wonder as leopards and cheetahs follow the same hunting ritual that their forebears have for thousands of years.  This doesn’t happen anywhere else but in Africa.  It’s a rich and special heritage, but its in as fragile a state as its ever been in, and without a concerted, concentrated effort and strong political will, it will most certainly disappear.

Perusing through all my Facebook posts it may well appear that I’m on an extended vacation touring all the national parks. The fact is that’s where all the game is.  Tragically outside of these parks very little wildlife is left at all.  So if one wants to help save the wildlife then visiting these parks and meeting with the conservationists based in and around them is the best way to proceed.  That’s what I’ve been doing and will continue to do as I gradually make my way back down to South Africa.  I’m now a little over half way through my trip and I’d like to believe that I’m accomplishing what I hoped I would when I first came up with the idea of The Quest – finding, promoting and helping the conservation groups and individuals doing the best work and most worthy of support – and helping to catch some poachers while I’m at it. But as anyone whose been here knows, nothing in Africa happens quickly.  You could change the Mexican “manyana” to “manyana would be terrific” and you’d be right on the money.

Amongst other things the trip has served to reinforce many of my existing opinions while introducing me to new lines of thought as well including the fact that when the first explorers arrived over three hundred years ago Africa must have been as close to the Garden of Eden as anyone could imagine. They discovered a continent where wildlife roamed freely from one tip to the other with an indigenous people who understood and valued their relationship with the animals.  But we couldn’t let well alone and instead we hunted, enslaved, and divided the continent until it bore only a faint resemblance to what it once was.  We paid no attention to traditional tribal boundaries creating countries with the stroke of a pen and a royal edict.  We imposed our will, our religions and our laws on the indigenous Africans and when we finally handed them back the keys, either reluctantly or by force, we had already destroyed much of the fabric that had held the continent together for millennia.

Judging from a western viewpoint but as someone who was born and raised here, I think its fair to say all of Africa is in a dreadful mess.  Much of what we created or insisted on when whites ruled the continent has either been thrown out, destroyed or changed, but too much time has passed and too much has changed for Africa to revert to what it once was before our arrival.  Instead Africa was left with power vacuums that were all too quickly filled by despots only interested in lining their own pockets and those of their immediate tribal members.  We’d left them with guns and wire and plastic all of which they quickly used with deadly effect on each other and with horrific consequences on the wildlife.  They gunned down wildlife by the thousands, entrapped it in wire snares that crippled and maimed it, and poisoned the landscape with hundreds of millions of plastic bags that now blanket every city and many rural areas with a kaleidoscope of non degradable color.  Every natural resource that Africa was blessed with was and is now being exploited to an unsustainable level. Because they were uncertain of their own future wellbeing, Africa quickly became – or maybe it always was – a continent of short term thinkers versus long term visionaries.  Of course there were exceptions to the rule with Nelson Mandela quickly coming to mind.  But its a sad truth that if you give an African a choice between a dollar today or ten dollars in a week, they’ll take the dollar almost every time.

In our rush to make up for our past ill-deeds we have flooded the continent with money and volunteers all hoping to solve or at least mitigate the consequences of our past actions.  This has proved to be equally ill advised and Africa is now awash is NGO money that never seems to make it into the right hands, and well intended programs that have failed miserably because not enough forethought was given to them before they were launched.  In the process we have created a culture of dependency and expectancy.  Not only have they come to depend on foreign aid, they have come to expect it as if it’s their birthright.  For example Zambia’s roads have been allowed to deteriorate to a horrific level and the only reason any good ones exist at all is because they are funded by foreign aid, e.g. the portion of the Great East Road from the Luangwa Village turnoff to Chipata which is currently the best road in the country complete with solar powered street lighting through villages which still lack running water and electricity.  It’s crazy!!

Zimbabwe has gone from being the breadbasket of Southern Africa to pauper status with an economy that is in a complete shambles and a country that lies in ruins while the iron fisted Mugabe still holds all the reins of power. Namibia is really two countries. South of Windhoek huge private hunting reserves are the norm while in the north the country is as horrible an example of polluted, ill constructed and poorly maintained villages that you’ll see anywhere.  And even Etosha, the supposed shining jewel of their wildlife reserves is very poorly maintained and managed.  South Africa, once the richest country in Africa, faces serious social and political issues.  Huge squatter camps ring every city, pollution is everywhere, political nepotism is rampant, and poaching in their game parks has reached such a high level that their managing agency no longer releases any figures at all.  Many of the country’s top politicians have been implicated in poaching schemes and attacks and murders on the rapidly dwindling ranks of white farmers are spiraling out of control.

I’m hoping that Botswana will prove to be the exception to the rule and I’m headed there now to see for myself.  All hunting has been banned in the country and if you bring a gun into the country you are putting your own life at risk as their army has been instructed to shoot suspected poachers on sight.  Amazingly even the elephants appear to know that they will be safe in Botswana as the reports are that hundreds of them have made the long trek from Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola to join the ranks of the thousands already there, so much so that the country runs the risk of being overwhelmed by them.

It’s taken me a while to formulate all these thoughts and to write them down in a reasonably coherent fashion.  If they sound terribly negative then I apologize.  Frankly it’s hard not be but if some of the country’s leading conservationists are determined to remain optimistic then the very least I can do is to remain so as well.  One thing I know for sure.  Africa’s wildlife is amazingly resilient.  Give them even the smallest of survival chances and they’ll manage to find a way.  Addo Elephant park started with just eleven elephants and now they have a population that ranges between four and six hundred!  All we have to do is to find a way to give them that small chance.  It’s time for all of us to do a bit, however small that bit might be – trust me every bit counts!

Thanks for reading and my best to you all……..on with The Quest.

South Africa: Wonderful Heritage – Special Responsibility

In my ongoing Quest For Hope I have spent the past month driving over 5000 kilometers around much of South Africa, the country of my birth and a place that I love very much.  As I write I’m in northern Namibia headed for Etosha but I offer the following observations about South Africa. (Photo above: This may well be one of my all time favorite lion photos. Taken  in Northern Namibia on the road to Etosha).
By anybody’s measure it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a geographic diversity that matches the United States, and that’s saying something.  Added to that is the appeal of its people, a multi- national, multi-lingual, multi-racial, multi-tribal blend that is colorful, artistic, unique, and very definitely South African.  And then of course there’s the wildlife.  Where else in the world can you sit at a watering hole in the middle of the bush and watch hundreds of elephants cavorting in the mud?  Or be woken to the sounds of lions roaring in the night?  Or of hippos bellowing their love songs at a remote bend in a river?  The answer quite simply is nowhere but Africa and anyone who tells you differently simply hasn’t been there.

But with this unique and wonderful heritage comes a special responsibility and in that regard I fear that South Africa is failing miserably.  The national euphoria that accompanied the end of the apartheid era has long since gone leaving behind the reality that for the vast majority of its people, life is a long hard grind.  Millions – no one knows for sure quite how many – live so far below the poverty line that any talk of the gains they have made now that everyone has the right to vote, are quite simply laughable.  Or would be if it wasn’t so tragic.  Squatter settlements ring virtually every city and town of any size with no running water, no sanitation, no legal electricity (there must be more illegal hookups in SA than in any other country on the planet), and no hope that they’ll ever get to enjoy anything that is even marginally better.

Their governments, both national and local, have failed them and show no signs of doing any better in the future.  Many of their mandates and proclamations make no sense at all and reek of bribery and corruption at the very highest level, to wit the recent 180 degree turnabout they made with regards legalizing the sale of rhino horns, a move which every major conservation group in the world has condemned as the death knell of the species.  The only time they even acknowledge their electorate is at election time when they promise them the world and then leave them to wallow in the dirt and the sewage once they’re voted back into office.  Everyone, both rich and poor, appear increasingly desensitized to the poverty and pollution that is drowning this gorgeous country.  No one seems to have a viable solution and as thousands of rural Africans continue to flood into the cities in search of illusionary work and a better life, the problems worsen by the day.  Take a drive from the very affluent Somerset West to Cape Town and you’ll pass an uninterrupted mass of squatter hovels which is impossible not to notice unless you’re wearing blinders.  Or drive through the Motherwell township of Port Elizabeth – or better yet don’t – and you’ll quickly realize that its the equal of New York’s Harlem or Los Angeles’ Watts back when they were the worst of the worst.

Talk to these people about wildlife conservation and they’ll look at you as if you’re from Mars.  It’s an elitist subject reserved for those with the time and the means to enjoy wildlife viewing as it should be done, at a leisurely and relaxed pace.  They have neither the means, the time or the inclination to give wildlife a second thought.  Amazingly there are those wonderful exceptions who serve willingly on the front lines in the fight against poachers, bribery and corruption, risking life and limb to do so with no chance of ever making a fraction of the money the poachers flash about like drug lords – which they all too often are as well.

South Africa has a major social problem and until they recognize how badly they are doing, and how much they need to revamp the whole system, then the country’s magnificent wildlife will play second fiddle while the politicians, and poachers and drug lords burn the country to the ground.  Is there reason to hope?  Can this all be reversed before its too late?  Yes – I have to believe that it can.  I’ve spent countless hours discussing these very issues with several of the country’s top conservationists and security experts and they all say it can be done.  And if they’re convinced then I am too.  South Africa needs our tourist dollars and our investments and we must condition this support upon their improved performance.  Simply handing them money, as we have done to the tune of billions of dollars over the years, has done nothing to improve the lot of the common man or the critically threatened wildlife.  We would be well advised to follow the old adage “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
When I complete this phase of the Quest I’ll be happy to share my thoughts at greater length, either with you individually or to your groups and clubs and organizations.  For the sake of Africa’s wildlife this is a fight we must win.  Thank you for your continued support. Onwards!

Game Farms, Preserves and Challenges

February 10, 2017: I have spent much of the past week touring some of the areas many private game parks and reserves, and have spent many hours discussing poaching issues with the owners and their heads of security, including Lombardini Game Farm where three adult rhinos were poached and a youngster, the much beloved Hope (now tragically deceased), had her face hacked off. (More details of the story here)

Several common themes have emerged from conversations at game farms and preserves. First they would all like to see the South African government make anti poaching measures a top priority. Right now very few resources are devoted to it. For example there are 1,700 detectives actively working crime in the Eastern Cape and yet only 3 are assigned to wildlife crime!!

Secondly poaching is conducted by highly organized criminal syndicates who spend months beforehand checking out potential targets. They have become experts in their disgusting line of work and the only way to provide the rhinos with any real protection is to increase the number of armed guards patrolling the areas 24/7. This is something most private owners simply can’t afford to do.

Third – they all actively promote the fact they have rhinos as they are their star attractions at their facilities. They understand it’s a double edged sword but they’re willing to take the risk as they really need the income the animals generate. Some of them post regularly on Facebook and authorized me to do the same. It’s one reason why a number of them favor legalizing rhino horn sales which in their view would generate significant funding for their operations.

Just yesterday the news broke that the government is now seriously considering allowing the sale of “domestic” horns – whatever that means – but there’s a very determined and passionate number who feel such a move would be fatal. I agree with them but have to admit that the supporters of legalization offer some very compelling arguments.

I’m headed south later for my meeting with Ian Michler, the man who risked his life to produce the documentary “Blood Lions” the dramatic expose of the canned lion hunting industry that is big business here in SA.

Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation

February 11, 2017 A big mahalo to Steven Hendricks and Peter of Tenikwa for giving me a wonderful tour of their wildlife rehabilitation and awareness center. If you have the chance to visit with them be sure to plan a trip that will put you right in the midst of their Wildlife Research ECO-VOLUNTEER Learning opportunity.

The  cheetah pictured above is a diabetic and can never be released back into the wild. A truly magnificent animal whose survival in the wild is critically endangered right now.

With a thorough commitment to education and awareness they follow a work culture that preserves the environment while doing great work. Follow the link to learn about their green initiatives. Help support them if you can – they’re doing great work. Here is a short “wish list.” tenikwa2

FOLLOW Tenikwa on Facebook

Video below:

The Cheetah Preservation Foundation

February 18, 2017

ccf6I covered a lot of ground in the past couple of days. Overnighted in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world and by far the cleanest city I’ve visited so far. I was especially happy to be able to spend time with the The Cheetah Preservation Foundation which is based at the Cango Wildlife Park. (Visit the link for more info and how to volunteer)

I wanted to make sure their breeding and volunteer programs were legit as opposed to the many canned lion breeding facilities which are horrific.ccf3

Blood Lions is just now being released in SA and is sure to cause some major waves in the hunting industry – and rightfully so. I came away very impressed with the work the foundation is doing to increase cheetah populations while protecting their genetic diversity. I definitely feel that they’re a worthy cause to support.

ccf2

Enter a captionDuggie was a great guide – knowledgeable and passionate

 

They have a full time staff of over a hundred locals and the whole place is immaculate. Their guides, like Duggie pictured to the right,  are well versed on conservation issues and management are happy to discuss their various programs at length.

cccf4From its origins as a crocodile farm under previous owners, the facility has evolved into a world class organization and I hope they will continue to evolve and grow.

Africa Week One: Addo Elephant Reserve

I’ve now been back in Africa for a little over a week, and what a week its been.  Last Tuesday I drove out of Addo Elephant Park by the southern gate, a far more pleasant route than the one I took to get there.  I’d entered through the main gate which required driving past several litter strewn townships which was very depressing. The poorer urban areas of South Africa are drowning in a sea of plastic that is growing by the day.  I believe the best way to resolve the plastic litter crisis – and it is a very real crisis – is to monetize it.  Pay local children a few rand (cents) for each pound of plastic they collect, then compress it and ship it to some of the country’s very impressive recycling centers and businesses.  Thato Kgatlhanye and Rea Ngwane founded Repurpose School Bags which is a fabulous concept, and up in Kenya Lorna Rutto started EcoPost which makes fence posts out of recycled plastic (Thanks to my webmaster extraordinaire Judy Shasek for bringing these to my attention). And in Jeffrey’s Bay the JBay Recycling Project is doing great work.  These are just a few examples. But we need to do more, and we must act soon or this scourge may just overwhelm the whole country.

That said the real object of the past few days was to give the vehicle (aka Assegai) a good test in some off road conditions. Happily she performed really well.  She handles like a charm and the extra shocks and springs she’s outfitted with made for a stable and relatively smooth ride.  There are a few puzzling electrical issues that the staff at Schroeder Motorhomes are working on but I’m hopeful they’ll have everything resolved soon and I’ll be back on the road sometime shortly.

addo-rhinoWith a surface area of 630 square miles Addo is South Africa’s third largest park and is the only one that includes a marine conservation area as well.  Their claim to be Africa’s only Big 7 Park is based on the fact that within its boundaries it has lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, elephant, great white sharks and whales. It was certainly an eye opener in many different ways.

It’s run by SAN Parks, the government entity responsible for running all of the country’s nineteen national parks. It’s a big organization that is not without its problems and maintenance of the multitude of park facilities is not their strong suit.  However they’re working on it as evidenced by the fact they have now contracted  out all of their restaurant operations to Cattle Barons who are doing a much better job, certainly offering far better fare than we had during our last stay in Kruger. addo-wb

What’s truly amazing about Addo are the number of elephants that congregate together in huge numbers.  Each day I counted herds of well over a hundred and twenty all eating, moving and watering together – by far the largest herds of elephants I have ever seen anywhere.  It’s hard to believe that when the original section of the park was founded in 1931, there were only eleven elephants left in an area where they had been hunted almost to extinction.  These days Addo is home to over six hundred of them which is an amazing success story and a testament to the ability of wildlife to recover given the right surrounds and decent protection.

On one hot afternoon I arrived early at Hapoor Dam, a favorite watering and bathing hole for many of the park’s elephants. At first they came in groups of ten or so, and then the groups grew larger and larger until there were literally hundreds of them. Anyone else hoping for a drink at this spot – named after the most dominant male elephant in Addo’s history – was out of luck as the ele’s completely took over.  In addition to a concrete lined drinking pond, there’s a fairly large and deep muddy swimming hole that most of the larger elephants played in with wild abandon, squirting each other and mud wrestling with great glee. addo-elephants1

The smaller ones, and there were lots of them including some that couldn’t have been more than a couple of weeks old, watched anxiously from the banks, unable to negotiate the slippery mud slope down into the water.  Although some of them came close to trying I was relieved that none of them did as clambering back out would have proved too much for them.  As it was it took a real effort from all but the very biggest to get out and it was very amusing to watch all the different techniques employed. The most successful was the “drop to your front knees and slither out” method using their splayed out back feet to propel them along. Hilarious!

After several hours of drinking, playing and standing idly in the hot sun flapping their ears to cool off, some begin to head off up the distant hill from whence they came.  More and more followed and within a relatively short time they were all gone.  With my binoculars I spotted a glint of white half way up the hill and when I focused in on it I discovered an enormous old bull and his guardian mate watching the returning herd.  The white glint I saw was an enormous pair of tusks, several feet in length, quite possibly the biggest I’ve ever seen.  He’s obviously lived a long life by following the mantra discretion is the better part of valor, and I doubt very much that he’d make his way down to the watering hole until well after sunset.

The previous day’s highlight started just after first light. I was one of the first out of camp at 5:30 and just by chance decided to take a small dirt road I hadn’t driven down before.  Coming over a small rise I almost ran into a spectacularly well muscled female lion walking along the road followed by her two large cubs, about six months old I would guess.  Upon seeing me she headed up the bank followed at a distance by the two youngsters.  Then I heard a grunt off to my right and looking up the hill I spotted a magnificent black maned lion watching us all intently from the prone position.  I’ve not seen that many black maned lions and he was spectacular!  A huge specimen in the prime of his life with a long flowing mane that framed his huge head as he looked down of us.  The female passed behind him and disappeared into the thick brush while one of the cubs headed directly up to him and gave him what could only be described as a huge hug before he followed his sibling and mother into the brush.

Now all my focus was on the male and I determined I might get an even better view of him if I backed up and took an alternate route up the hill that would give me a good side view of him.  Just as I got there he started roaring followed seconds later by more roars from another location up above and behind him.  There were two of them and from my new position I could now see them both! He too was adorned with a fabulous black mane leading me to think they are probably brothers.  Both of them were quite content to lie and watch the action augmented every now and then with some hair raising exchanges of roars and grunts.  Happily I was able to record the end of one such exchange which I’ve attached for your enjoyment.  Trust me if you’ve never heard a lion roar while you’re out in the bush, its sound and an experience you’ll never forget!

I left Addo – as I often do after spending time up close and personal with this continents incredible wildlife  – feeling absolutely blessed.  Seeing these animals in their natural habitat is such an extraordinary experience it never gets old.  It reinforces my desire to do everything I can to help preserve them for future generations to enjoy as well.  It’s no easy task as their habitat is under increasing pressure from human encroachment not to mention the poaching epidemic that continues to decimate the ranks of rhinos, elephants, lions, cheetahs and pangolins, and sadly many others too.

It seems to me that there are three priorities that we need to address if we are to save our wildlife, and they all have equal import.  We must dry up the demand for poached animals of any kind.  The demand is primarily fueled by the Chinese and Asian market many of whom continue to believe that rhino horn has medicinal qualities which is patently false, and also by those who see ownership of a small bit of horn as a status symbol which is even more repugnant.  There are several prominent Chinese athletes and celebrities doing all they can to persuade their fellow countrymen that their insatiable appetite is driving these animals to the brink of extinction.

We must protect the animals from the ruthless poaching gangs that operate almost with impunity in some areas.  People on the front lines risk their lives as they confront the poachers who all too often have officials in the highest offices, including the very security forces running the anti-poaching squads, on their payroll.  Payoffs, bribery, and corruption are commonplace throughout Africa but nowhere is their impact felt more than in the wildlife conservation arena.

We must persuade the indigenous African youth that the wildlife of Africa is a unique and special heritage that exists nowhere else on earth and that it is well worth preserving. Many of them grow up in poor urban households that have no exposure to wildlife at all.  Others in rural areas regard it as a threat; a snake bites a family member, an elephant tramples their crops, a leopard or lion kills the family’s only goat.  Persuading them to take a benevolent approach to wildlife requires providing them with alternatives to killing it out of hand.  They need to reap the rewards through increased employment opportunities and profit sharing plans.

In my travels around Southern Africa and my meetings with leading conservationists and local leaders, I plan on discussing these issues to see how they feel and what they believe can and must be done.  It’s all a part of The Quest For Hope and I’ll be doing my best to keep you all updated on my progress, no easy task for an old man who is anything but a technophile!

Thanks for following along, and thank you for all your support and encouragement. Onwards…..

 

 

The Quest for Hope: Tour the Assegai

Spent the last two days provisioning the camper (aka Assegai) and applying the decals created by Andrea and Clark of Wilmington’s Southern Sign Company. Very pleased with the way they look – they’re a real nice finishing touch. Many people have wondered what the inside of Assegai looks like, check out the slideshow below.

She’s a very sweet ride! Tonight I’ll spend my first night in her trying to remember the function of all the various switches…..there’s lots of them!

After enjoying a breakfast prepared by the lovely kitchen staff at African Perfection I will be cooking for myself for awhile. At African Perfection  even the place mats reflect the surfing lifestyle that dominates all of Jeffrey’s Bay. I couldn’t have picked a better spot for my first days of The Quest for Hope. 

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