Criticized Or Applauded, Presidential Travel Is One Great Job Perk

presidential travel
ep_jhu/Flickr

This week, President Obama and family fly to Africa for what has been described as both “frivolous spending” and a trip that brings “a great bang for our buck.” The estimated $60 – $100 million trip comes at a time when Americans face a decidedly different flying experience caused by government furloughs and cutbacks. Approve or not, presidential travel and moving the first family around the world is in no way inexpensive.

Traveling to sub-Sahara Africa from June 26 to July 3, the Obamas will be accompanied by hundreds of Secret Service agents and staff, adding to the cost of transportation and accommodations. Still, this is the leader of the free world and protecting him, his family and staff is not going to be a cheap road trip no matter how they do it. When President Clinton visited Africa the price tag was said to be $42.7 million plus the cost of Secret Service protection.

As the trip to South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania gets underway, a reported 56 vehicles ranging from limousines to trucks full of supplies will be flown in via military cargo planes. When the Obamas are on the ground in Africa, U.S. fighter jets will be ever-present in the airspace directly above them. That’s in addition to the cost of operating the President’s ride, Air Force One, estimated to be slightly less than $200,000 per hour.
“It is no secret that we need to rein in government spending, and the Obama administration has regularly and repeatedly shown a lack of judgment for when and where to make cuts. The American people have had enough of the frivolous and careless spending,” Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) said in a RT.com article.

But the cost could have been higher. The Obama’s original plan called for a Tanzania safari, which would have required a team of sharpshooters to protect them from wild animals. But President Obama, the first sitting president to visit Cambodia and Myanmar, is visiting African countries that reportedly need attention.

“Frankly, there will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa, because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you can have very long-standing and long-running impact from the visit,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Hill, reports RT.com.

Still, let’s keep these numbers in perspective. The expense of flowers for the White House alone run up a tab estimated to be $252,000 per year. The Presidential limousine is a $300,000 Cadillac that is clad with 5 inches of armor, has its own oxygen supply, a blood bank of the president’s type and can shoot tear gas and smoke grenades.

10 Interesting Facts About Air Force One

Elephants May Be Extinct In Tanzania In A Few Years

elephants, TanzaniaJumbo Elephants may disappear from Tanzania within seven years if current poaching trends continue, Sabahi news service reports.

The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute counted 109,000 elephants in 2009. In 2012, the number had sunk below 70,000. This is due to a surge in poaching. Elephant ivory commands high prices on the international black market. If current trends continue, the elephants could be entirely wiped out within seven years.

The decline in elephants is a step backwards. In the 1980s, during a period of heavy poaching and lax enforcement, the population dipped as low as 55,000. Thanks to better legal enforcement and protection, elephants made a major recovery. Now all that hard work may be ruined.

This comes after sobering news that rhinos are now extinct In Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park. These localized extinctions make it hard for species to maintain a viable population. Groups of animals get smaller and further separated, reducing the available breeding stock.

More detail on the elephant situation in Tanzania can be found in this government report.

[Photo courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim]

Tanzania Government To Fishermen: ‘Stop Catching Dolphins, It Upsets The Tourists’

Tanzania
The government of Tanzania is urging fishermen to stop hunting dolphins, a report in the Daily News says.

The report says dolphin hunting has become common practice in the Dar es Salaam and Tanga regions. It’s often done by “dynamite fishing,” in which explosives are chucked into the water to kill all marine life in a large area. Dolphin meat is used to bait sharks, which is what the fishermen are really after. Shark fins are a delicacy that sell for high prices.

Tourists have even spotted fishermen catching dolphins in Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park. Tourism is big business in Tanzania thanks to its diverse wildlife and being home to the Mt. Kilimanjaro part of the Serengeti. Seeing Flipper being blown up, hauled into a boat, cut to pieces and used as shark bait would definitely ruin an ecotourist’s vacation.

Dolphins have been a protected species in Tanzania since 2009. It’s not clear how well this is known among fishermen, however. Even if fishermen do know they’re flaunting the law, the need to be breadwinners for their families may outweigh any concerns about conservation or the health of an industry of which they are not a part.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user hobbs_luton. There is no indication that these particular Tanzanian fishermen are engaged in dolphin hunting]

Mount Kilimanjaro Defeats Jordanian Princess

Mount Kilimanjaro
It looks like money and privilege can’t buy everything.

Princess Sarah Princess Sara bint Al Faisal of Jordan, niece of King Abdullah II, failed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the Tanzania Daily News reports.

The 18-year-old princess tried to scale the famous mountain last weekend with a large entourage of assistants and Jordanian international students. She reached the Kibo point at 4,700 meters (15,420 feet) but developed altitude sickness. Doctors climbing with her advised her to descend instead of attempting to reach the mountain’s highest summit, Uhuru point at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet).

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and more. For full coverage see this PDF document. To prevent altitude sickness, it’s best to ascend in stages, staying overnight at an intermediate altitude to give the body time to adapt. The only cure of altitude sickness is to descend to a lower altitude, which should be done immediately.

It’s difficult to predict who will get altitude sickness. When I climbed to similar elevations in the Himalayas the only symptom I noticed was a need for more breaks. On the other hand, a couple of other trekkers who looked far more fit than I was got very sick and had to descend.

The princess hoped to get a certificate of achievement for scaling the mountain. Only three of her party made it to Uhuru Point and got the certificate. She said that she enjoyed her trip to Tanzania and would try to climb the mountain again.

[Photo courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim]

Tourists Amazed By Serengeti Wildebeest Calving

wildebeest, Serengeti
February is a special time on the Serengeti. Right now its population of some 1.5 million wildebeests are giving birth to an estimated 8,000 calves a day, the Tanzania Daily News reports.

The East African nation has seen some 16,500 tourists come to watch the event in Serengeti National Park, including 5,800 domestic visitors who are part of a growing African middle class that’s boosting tourism across the continent.

This mass calving happens every year. All the pregnant wildebeests give birth within the same period of a few weeks, a process called “synchronized calving.” The animals give birth while standing up or even moving around, and wildebeest calves are walking within a couple of minutes. Once all the pregnant wildebeest have calved, the whole herd heads out.

These adaptations help protect the calves from predators. You can bet that hyenas, lions and other sharp-toothed critters are flocking to the area along with the tourists. Wildebeests are also hunted by humans to make a kind of jerky called biltong. This is legal in some parts of Africa although, of course, not in the park. One Tanzanian scientist estimated that half the calves will get eaten or die from other causes during the wildebeest’s 600-mile migration.

[Photo courtesy user zheem via Flickr]