Is Illegal Poaching In Africa And Asia A Threat To US Security?

Illegal poaching is now seen as a potential threat to U.S. national securityThe U.S. intelligence community has been issued a new charge from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Organizations such as the CIA and NSA are being asked to assess the impact that illegal poaching across Africa and Asia is having on U.S. security interests abroad. This shift in policy indicates that the administration may be preparing to get tough on the underground black market that has been built on the bones of thousands of slaughtered animals over the past few years.

While meeting with a group of conservationists, environmentalists and ambassadors at the State Department last week, Clinton called for a unified strategy across a host of regions to help combat the illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns. Those two items in particular have sparked the recent rise in poaching in Africa as suppliers look to fill the rising demand in parts of Asia. In launching this new initiative, the Secretary of State pledged $100,000 to help get new enforcement efforts off the ground, but perhaps more importantly was her announcement that the U.S. intelligence community would lend their talents to the fight for the first time.

At first glance, using U.S. intelligent assets to fight illegal poaching doesn’t necessarily seem like a good use of resources. But much of the poaching is done by rebel forces and local bandits who then use the funds to purchase better weapons and more advanced equipment. Well-armed and funded militias can be a direct threat to the stability of allies throughout Africa and Asia, where a number of fledgling governments are struggling with so many other important social and economic issues. Additionally, because poachers move across borders with impunity and ship their precious cargoes around the globe, the U.S. intelligence community seems best suited to track their movements. Their efforts could lead to not only finding the poachers while they are in the field, but also tracking down buyers in Asia who are funding these hunts.This move comes at a time when poachers are becoming more armed and using more sophisticated tactics. It is not uncommon for the illegal hunters to employ the use of helicopters, night-vision goggles and sophisticated weaponry when stalking their prey, and when confronted by local authorities, they are generally packing bigger and better guns than their foes. That has made combating the poachers extremely difficult, as they are often in and out of a game preserve before anyone knows they are there, and when they are caught in the act, it frequently turns into a deadly firefight.

Secretary of State Clinton’s announcement also takes illegal poaching out of the realm of conservation and puts it squarely into the national security arena. That is a definite change in tone over what we’ve seen out of past administrations, which generally seemed more focused on bigger international issues. Obama may consider poaching a big enough issue to take on in his second term, particularly since he has deep family ties in Kenya, another nation hit hard by poaching.

The Washington Post says that an estimated 10,000 elephants are killed each year in Tanzania alone, which gives you an indication of just how bad this problem has become. In some parts of Africa, rhinos have already been hunted to extinction and if this wholesale slaughter continues, the elephant may not be far behind. I don’t care if the U.S. government did have to come up with an excuse about national security to get more involved, I’m just happy they are taking steps to crack down on this awful trade.

[Photo credit: Kraig Becker]

Tanzania Planning To Sell 100 Tons Of Ivory

Elephants in TanzaniaTanzania has formally applied to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species requesting permission to sell off its massive stockpile of ivory. The East African country has more than 100 tons of ivory in storage and wants to conduct a one-time sale to China and Japan. Proceeds from the sale would help fund elephant conservation efforts throughout the country, but the plan has drawn sharp criticism from conservationists.

The sale of ivory is banned in most parts of the world but demand has been on the rise across parts of Asia over the past few years. That has led to a thriving black market, which is supplied by the illegal poaching of elephants throughout Africa. In the past decade, poachers have slaughtered thousands of elephants to harvest their tusks. As a result, the creatures are now endangered across much of the continent.

Tanzania’s stockpile is the result of tusks being collected following the natural deaths of elephants throughout the country, but conservationists say they still shouldn’t sell off all of that ivory. Critics of the plan fear that flooding the market with 100 tons of ivory would only serve to confuse consumers, many of who aren’t even aware that it is illegal to purchase in the first place. They say it sends the wrong message at a time when they are trying to educate people about poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Instead they recommend that Tanzania destroy its hoard of ivory, something that the country Gabon did earlier this year.

As if the sale of ivory wasn’t enough to draw the ire of conservationists, Tanzania has also said that it would like to remove elephants from the list of the most endangered species. That move would effectively reduce the level of protection given to the animals and allow for commercial big game hunting and even the trade of hides and live animals.

For a cash strapped country like Tanzania, the sale of this ivory would bring in millions of dollars in revenue. But if it further fuels the ivory trade and could potentially increases poaching, the price of the sale could ultimately be much higher than anyone wants to pay.

Want To Mountain Bike Down Kilimanjaro?

Mountain bike down Kilimanjaro in 2013At 19,340 feet in height, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in all of Africa. Over the years, it has become one of the top adventure travel destinations in the world, drawing in thousands of hikers on an annual basis. But next year, for the first time ever, a small group of travelers will actually get the unique opportunity to bike down the mountain thanks to a new itinerary offered by Trek Travel.

Having secured the first ever permit to mountain bike Kilimanjaro, Trek Travel will launch its inaugural WorldServe Kilimanjaro Bike Tour on February 22 of next year. The 12-day trip will include a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti to witness the Great Migration, a visit to a traditional Maasai village and, of course, a climb to the top of Kilimanjaro followed by a mountain bike descent.

The trip is limited to just 20 travelers, each of whom will be shipped a brand new mountain bike courtesy of Trek. That bike will come in handy while training prior to their departure for Tanzania and they’ll also use it on their ride down the slopes of Kili. On their return home after the trip, the bike is theirs to keep.

While this sounds like an amazing excursion, the trip isn’t being conducted simply for the adventure itself. Trek Travel’s goal is to raise funds for several projects designed to bring fresh drinking water to as many as 150,000 Tanzanians. With that expressed goal in mind, the prices for the trip range from $25,000 up to $85,000, with 90% of the funds going directly to one or more projects specifically focused on generating clean water. Those are steep price tags, of course, but this is a cause that an industrious traveler might be able to use to raise funds of their own.

For more information on the Kilimanjaro Bike Tour, check out the video below and visit the Trek Travel website.


KiliClimb Trek Bike Video from WorldServe International on Vimeo.

Soaring Over The Serengeti In A Hot Air Balloon


This video shows two of my lifelong dreams: I’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon and I’ve always wanted to take a balloon ride over the Serengeti.

Kym Elder has done both, and captured her experience in this beautiful video. She soars over zebra, giraffes, gazelles and many more animals. Flying over the herds on a near-silent balloon must be the best way to see them. You can get in close without bothering them or getting in any danger. There’s an especially nice shot of a herd of bathing hippos. When my wife and I spotted hippos on Lake Tana, Ethiopia, the boatman wouldn’t get in close for fear of getting capsized – a wise move.

Kym tells us that after the ride they sat down to a champagne breakfast in the bush. Nice!

Have you flown in a balloon over an awesome destination? Make me jealous by sharing your story in the comments section!

How To Have Good Luck Around The World

llama fetus Do you carry a lucky penny or have a rabbit’s foot attached to your key chain? For some new ideas on how to keep your luck running high, here are good luck rituals from around the world.

Bury A Llama Fetus In Bolivia

Walking around the Witches’ Market in La Paz, Bolivia, you’ll see myriad mummified llama fetuses. These aren’t just for decoration, but are actually a good luck charm from ancient Andean culture. Before a new house is built, a llama fetus is buried under the foundation to help give the owners good luck.

Paint Your Door Red In China

In China, it is thought that painting your door red is not only welcoming, but will also bring good fortune and happiness. In Feng Shui, it is believed the door is the mouth of the house, and a bright red color can draw positive energy to the home. There are many other rituals for good luck in China, such as keeping a paqua, or small octagon mirror, above the bed or by the front door to keep bad energy away from your home and out of your dreams. Moreover, having a water source on the property is thought to bring wealth and happiness.

pots and pans Throw Your Old Appliances Out The Window In Italy

Traditionally, throwing your old appliances, clothing and housewares out of the window on New Year’s Eve in Italy is thought to bring good luck for the future. According to Walks of Italy, the thought is that you are letting go of the past and ridding yourself of any negatives you may have experienced. While the custom isn’t practiced by everyone anymore due to safety reasons, there are those who are still keeping the tradition alive for the country.

Some other good luck practices in Italy include tossing coins on the floor or under your bed, exchanging sweets on New Year’s Eve and lighting a Christmas log on the last day of the year to ward off evil spirits. Additionally, at weddings the groom will often carry a piece of iron in his pocket during the ceremony to keep evil spirits away, while the bride may rip her veil a bit to bring the couple good luck.

Toss A Baby From A Temple In Southern India

Yes, you read that right. In southern India, it is an age-old tradition to toss a baby off a 30-foot temple balcony, to be caught on the ground by a giant blanket. The ritual is said to bring the newborn good luck. According to Ian Garland of the Daily Mail, the practice was banned by the Indian government in 2009 but returned in 2012 to the Nagrala Village, as many locals believe it is their religious duty to carry out the ceremony.

A less shocking ritual in India is people exchange sweets for good and prosperity when they visit a home during a festival.

bedHave A Young Boy Roll In Your Bed Before Your Wedding In Singapore

In Singapore, there are many good luck traditions that revolve around weddings. First there is an chuang, or the setting of the bed. Before the wedding, a prosperous man will come to help determine where to place the marrying couple’s bed. A young male relative will then come and roll on the bed, to bless the couple with fertility. Foods like green beans, red beans, oranges, dates and other fruits are then scattered around the bed for good luck.

There is also shang tou, or hair combing, that takes place on the eve of the wedding. The hair of the marrying couple must be combed four times, usually by a female relative. The first round of combing represents the continuity of marriage, while the second stands for a harmonious union into old age. The subsequent stoke is a blessing of fertility, and the final combing is a wish for prosperity in a long-lasting marriage.

Wear Yellow Panties On New Year’s Eve In Colombia

While it may sound funny, Colombians like to ensure good luck for the entire year by taking some precautions on New Year’s Eve. They first ensure good fortune by wear yellow underpants. And to help bring even more luck, they consume 12 grapes at midnight on the special day. Additionally, Colombians don’t “pass the salt” to other people, as they believe this brings misfortune.

chameleon Burn A Chameleon If You’re Unmarried In Morocco

For unmarried women in Morocco, it is often believed that burning a chameleon in a glass will erase their bad luck, and increase their chances of getting married. Likewise, before a wedding ceremony the groom will often send his bride-to-be gifts, such as boxes of milk and Henna plants, to bring good luck for a happy and successful marriage. Also in regards to weddings, the woman getting married, who is traditionally expected to visit a hammam to be purified, will be soaked with water seven times by her close girlfriends, in order to bring good luck to her new life.

It’s not just brides and grooms who participate in good luck rituals. If you have a turtle in your garden or your home, and you keep it, you will also be brought good fortune.

Carry A 5-Yen Coin In Your Wallet In Japan

While 5 yen ($0.06) may not sound like a lot of money, this coin, pronounced “go-en” in Japanese, is close to the pronunciation for the words for destiny, karma or good luck. It is also the only coin with a hole in the center, making it easy to turn into a charm. In Japan, many people carry it in their wallet or purse, or wear it on a ribbon or chain for good luck.

Another way to procure good luck in Japan is through Daruma dolls. The papier-mâché figures are egg-shaped, and bare the likeness of Bodhidharma, the monk credited for founding Zen Buddhism. The dolls are sold with blank white eyes, and locals will add the first pupil when a goal is set and the second when a goal is achieved. Moreover, the dolls are considered a symbol of good luck by the Japanese.

tattoo Get A Tattoo In Tahiti

The word “tattoo” actually comes from the Tahitian word tatu, so it’s no wonder that this form of body art is so important to the culture. In fact, getting a tattoo is a ritual to bring luck and protection, as the tattoo represents your history, family background and often includes symbols that represent good fortune.

Another good luck ritual in Tahiti occurs during a wedding ceremony. This is when the priest will offer a blessing with a sacred auti flower and coconut milk. While doing this, the priest joins the bride and groom’s hands together and reads from a certificate of tapa cloth, usually made from a hibiscus tree.

Hold Lead And Boiling Water Over Your Head In Turkey

In Turkey, one way many people rid themselves of bad omens is through the ritual of lead pouring. To begin, the lead-pourer melts a tablespoon-sized piece of lead in a pan, while the person who is looking for good fortune sits with a cloth on their head for protection from the hot metal. From there, a small pan of boiling water is held over the person’s head, while the liquid lead is added. Most times, a prayer is chanted during the ritual. When the lead hits the water, it immediately turns solid, absorbing the person’s bad omens.

Another good luck tradition is to visit a special church that is open for just one day a year: April 23. Aya Yorgi, a Greek Orthodox church, receives hundreds of people on that day annually. These visitors tie multi-colored threads to trees at the bottom of the hill leading up to the church, in an attempt to bring good fortune.

baboon Wear Baboon Skin On Your Head In Tanzania

According to Fair Travel Tanzania, who kindly interviewed the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania, Africa, there is a ritual performed to help hunters who do not have luck catching animals. First, the elders advise them to wear baboon skin on their head and body, while putting beads on their shoulders. This is done at night, either under a baobab tree – the most sacred tree for Wahadzabe – or in the camp where they live. The whole community participates by singing and dancing and smearing the unlucky with herbal medicine to clear their misfortunes. Then, elders take the bows and arrows of the participants to bless them: “Haine (or God bless) these bows and arrows and make them shoot better,” is repeated over and over again. The unlucky also get to chew herbal medicinal plants, and should be good and ready for hunting the next morning.

Play Traditional Instruments For Friends And Family In Aruba

In Aruba, they try to ensure good luck for the new year through a ritual known as Dande. The tradition has been going since around 1880, right after the slaves were liberated. Groups made up of five or six people visit the homes of their families and friends, wishing these loved ones good luck and happiness for the upcoming year through music. Traditional Aruban instruments, like the tambu, wiri and raspa are played, along with the cuarta, guitar violin or the accordion to produce the upbeat rhythms of Dande. Lyrics for the songs usually incorporate well wishes for each person present. After the music is over, the head of the household will offer the performers a drink. What’s really interesting is the tradition is very local to the culture, as no other islands in the Caribbean participate in Dande.