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]

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]

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!

Heritage sites in Cambodia and Tanzania get preservation grants

Tanzania
Two UNESCO World Heritage sites have received major funding to save them from decay, Art Daily reports.

The sites are Phnom Bakheng in Cambodia and Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania. Phnom Bakheng temple is part of the famous Angkor Archaeological Park, which includes Angkor Wat temple complex. Phnom Bakheng was built in the late ninth to early tenth centuries AD.

Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image, is less known but historically important. This trading center was founded at the same time that Phnom Bakheng was being built. The site includes a fort, a grand mosque, palaces, and lots of other buildings. This entrepôt brought together Africans, Arabs, and Europeans and created a blend of cultures that can be seen in its crumbling architecture.

Both sites are feeling the weight of time and are in desperate need of preservation. Phnom Bakheng is in special danger because of the large number of visitors it gets. The World Monuments Fund has received grants for both from U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation to the tune of $450,000 for Phnom Bakheng and $700,000 for Kilwa Kisiwani. The World Monuments Fund is earmarking an additional $150,000 for Phnom Bakheng.

While a world-famous place like Angkor Archaeological Park getting funding isn’t a huge surprise, the fact that a lesser-known but equally important site such as Kilwa Kisiwani is getting preserved is good news. The majority of visitors I’ve met in Africa went there for the wildlife and culture, both of which are fascinating, yet are generally unaware of Africa’s rich and complex history. The lions are lovely and the gazelle are great, but you also need to see the pyramids of Sudan and the cave paintings of Somaliland.

Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Serengeti
Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]