Plane Crash Memorialized In The Deep Sahara

Google Earth

In a lonely corner the Sahara Desert, Google Earth shows what looks like a tattoo on the sun-parched sands: a dark graphic blot amid the vast remoteness of Niger’s Tenere region. The negative space in the center of the dot forms the shape of a DC-10 jet plane. Four arrows outside the circle point in each direction, like a compass.

The dark mass large enough to register on a satellite is actually an arrangement of boulders improbably hauled to the desolate area and hand-placed to create the precise image of a DC-10 – a memorial for the 170 victims of the UTA 772 plane crash on Sept. 19, 1989. A terrorist’s bomb downed the aircraft in Niger en route from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Paris, leaving no survivors.

Fifteen years later, victims’ relatives from the group Les Familles de l’Attentat du DC-10 d’UTA used some of their $170 million settlement to fund the memorial. (Last year, another commemorative site opened at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.) This photo gallery offers an up-close look at the arduous labor of love, illustrating such daunting tasks as excavating one of the wings, later incorporated into the design. Parts of the wreckage remained in the sand when the work began (a testament to the remoteness of the crash site), and the gallery includes stirring images of loose, twisted aircraft seats and other debris. Other striking photos show how the group spent two months moving stones by hand to outline a circle 200 feet in diameter and then fill it in with rocks, leaving an empty space in the shape of the aircraft with remarkable accuracy. Broken airplane windows ring the circle, one for each of the 155 passengers and 15 crew members who perished.

Considering that Lonely Planet describes the Tenere as a classic “endless, empty desert,” the photo gallery will be the closest look most of us ever get of this amazing memorial.

10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas

pirate

A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirate pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute namedpirate Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp

Mountain gorillas making a comeback

gorilla, gorillas, mountain gorilla, mountain gorillas
In the latest in a spate of good news about wildlife conservation in Africa, BBC Earth reports that mountain gorillas have increased their numbers on Virunga Massif, their core habitat stretching across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a population of only 250 thirty years ago, their population has almost doubled to 480 today. Another 302 live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park .

The rise is attributed to increased cooperation between the three countries to protect the gorillas and stop poachers.

Safaris to see mountain gorillas have become increasingly popular with adventure travelers. Uganda has expanded its gorilla safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwanda is also offering safaris to see the gentle giants.

African nations are getting better at preserving their wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe are clamping down on poaching and last year we reported how Niger has pulled a unique subspecies of giraffe from extinction.

[Photo courtesy user KMRA via Wikimedia Commons]

One in five vertebrates face extinction


The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.

The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.

That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.

Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.

Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.

[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]

“Obama Effect” helps African tourism

Last year was a bad year for travel in most places, but a continent that has generally been overlooked by the majority of travelers is seeing boom times–Africa.

Africa is the only continent to see a rise in tourism last year, up 5 percent when most other places felt the pinch. The UN World Tourism Organization revealed the figures this week and said Africa had “bucked the trend” of the worldwide travel recession. Part of the boom is attributed to the “Obama Effect”, a new curiosity about Africa thanks to the U.S. having its first African-American president. Obama, seen here playing basketball in the African nation of Djibouti, has family in Kenya. The tourist board there says visitors are flocking in to learn more about where the president is from.

The other big factor is the World Cup, due to take place in South Africa this year. Not only will that bring a huge number of visitors to South Africa, but it helps put the entire continent on the map.

Not all countries are doing well. The Gambia has been hit hard, with the usual crowd of beach-loving Europeans tanning closer to home. Meanwhile, Chad and Niger are struggling to expand their tiny tourism industries by protecting and promoting their wildlife. The overall picture, however, looks rosy.

Will this be the decade Africa comes into its own as a tourist destination? There’s no shortage of natural wonders, ancient civilizations, and interesting cultures to explore. Our very own Stephen Greenwood is having an incredible time in Madagascar right now, a friend of mine is crossing the entire continent on a motorcycle, and later next month I’ll be sending dispatches from Ethiopia.

Have you been in Africa? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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