Magic at a waterhole in Etosha

I was having an afternoon lie-down, relishing the stream of cool air-conditioned air after a scorching hot Namibian day. But hardly 10 minutes later and I was woken by low gurgling reverberations, like the Earth’s belly rumbling, followed by sounds of sloshing water… ellies drinking at the waterhole! 

  It’s a sound you don’t only hear, but also feel in your bones. I had only to open the door of my little hut and walk a few metres to see a whole family of these white salt-crusted Etosha earth giants.

Those who have been to Etosha National Park will know that, EVERYTHING – all the action – happens at the waterholes. And, if you’re lucky enough to be staying at Okaukuejo Rest Camp, that means you don’t even have to leave camp to get a front row seat!

The name ‘Etosha’ (spelled ‘Etotha’ in early literature) comes from ‘Oshindonga’, meaning Great White Place, referring to the Etosha pan. For most of the year the pan is dry and animals survive by drinking at waterholes fed mostly by man-made bore holes.

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I only just managed to squeeze onto one of the many benches lining the viewing deck. As well as watching the ellies, I  found myself feeling so fond of the people around me, all complete strangers but with faces lit up by knowing smiles and matching eyes which seemed to say: I know. How wonderful is this moment! How lucky are we?…

Have you ever felt that? A  love for complete strangers because you are sharing a beautiful moment together? It felt good to be human, united by a collective awe of the elephants and the glowing sunset slowly melting over the Great White Place. 

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The name "Etosha" (spelled 'Etotha' in early literature) comes from Oshindonga,  meaning Great White Place, referring to the Etosha pan. For most of the year the pan is dry and animals survive by drinking at waterholes fed by man-made bore holes.

As two young male ellies began to play, I could hear a soft collective uttering of ‘ahhh’ and ‘ooooh’. A little girl sitting on her Daddy’s shoulders to get a better view gave a little gasp and whispered wildly into his ear.  

The sweet old lady next to me asked, ‘would you like to see through my binoculars?’ I smiled, ‘Yes please’. I  really didn’t need to because the elephants seemed right in front of my nose, but I couldn’t refuse her kind offer. I just love how waterholes bring together, not only animals, but people too.

(Visiting Etosha was made possible by Africa Geographic and Namibia Tourism as part of the Go Big Namibia tour in 2013)

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Rhythm of the Wild – an Eco-training adventure

My mind is often like a humming-bird. Busy thoughts flit in and out, buzzing and dithering from flower to flower – sometimes it’s wonderful, but it often means I’m not completely living and embracing the present moment.

This is one of the reasons why I loved my adventure into the art of tracking. To follow the paths of animals in the wild you have to adjust your mind to a steady rhythm, surrendering to the immediate sounds, smells and sights of the bushveld. It’s leaving the world behind, and, in doing so, entering into it more fully – into nature, where we all came from and truly belong.

 Last year I had the opportunity – along with an amusing, delightful bunch of media persons – to go tracking with two of South Africa’s most accomplished trackers, Alex van der Heever (founder of The Tracking Academy), and right-hand-man Robert Hlatshwayo. They have partnered with Eco-training to develop their Animal Tracks and Tracking course – an exhilarating 7 day experience with the only prerequisite being a genuine love for the African bush.

Eco Training’s Mashatu wilderness camp in Botswana’s Tuli Game Reserve is unfenced and wild – nothing more than a few canvas tents, unobtrusively nestled amid bushy fever berry trees, linked by a sandy footpath. The rustic dining room area, also serving as an outdoor classroom for afternoon lectures, is shaded by a magnificent Nyala berry or ‘Mashatu’ tree, a common feature of the area, from which it’s name originates. The site is permeated with the musty-sweet smell of sage, a scent of nostalgia for many a Botswana-lover, and alive with the happy-chattering of an abundant array of birdlife. The reserve, also known as the ‘Land of Giants’ is a 105 000 hectare privately owned stretch of land, dominated by thousand year-old baobab trees and herds of elephants that stride the vast open landscape. Could there be a better place in all the world?

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Rustic Mashatu camp
© Eco-training – www.ecotraining.co.za

Sipping tea and watching the first rays of warmth flood the dry sandy riverbed in front of us, the group met and recounted sounds from the night before – lions roaring, hyenas whooping, baboons barking, impalas alarm-calling, branches crackling (elephants perhaps?), and the unmistakable series of scaling whistles from a Pearl-spotted owlet.

It was with great anticipation that we set out, in single file, for our first tracking experience.  We had barely left camp when Alex began pointing out marks in the sand, many of which I would have trodden straight over without a second glance! There were paw prints the length of my thumb belonging to an African civet, heart-shaped impala hoof marks, and the unique kidney-shaped impressions made by the first and fourth toes a hyaena. The latter was of great interest to Shangaan tracker Robert, who, at first shy, soon came into his element. ‘Hyenas are Africa’s master tracker’, he told us. ‘If there is anything going on in the bush, the hyena will know all about it. They can follow scent trails up to 3 days old.’

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Setting out for a morning of tracking

Having grown up in one of Africa’s last remaining pockets of land where the traditional art of tracking is still practised, Robert began developing tracking skills without even knowing it. ‘At the age of eight I began looking after my father’s livestock, sometimes a cow or goat would go missing and there would be no supper for me unless I found it, although I didn’t realise it then, I was learning to track.’

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Expert tracker Robert Hlatshwayo

Sadly though, rapid urbanisation in our modern world has led to a swift decline of the original hunter-gatherer tracking skills. According to Alex, 80% of indigenous tracking knowledge has been lost over the last 30 years. “There are literally only a handful of skilled Khomani San trackers in the Kalahari. Isolated pockets of skilled trackers exist in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Northern Cape and a few other African countries such as Botswana (Kalahari) and Namibia.’  Today, tracking is an important skill, aiding research projects, equipping anti-poaching patrols, and providing authenticity to a safari experience. ‘Tracking is about restoring a forgotten art and reclaiming a heritage of intimacy with the African wild’, said Alex.

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Discovering nature’s rhythm

 Adrenalin kicked in as my foot landed beside a large pug-mark in the damp riverbed sand. This was what we had been searching for, a track I knew well… lion. ‘A male’, informed Alex. ‘A male’s tracks are larger and broader than a female’s, and the toes of a female are more slender.’ Although the tracks weren’t fresh enough for us to follow, the thrill of trailing the big five on-foot is a large part of the allure of tracking. Following a potentially dangerous animal on foot can be a rewarding challenge, but it’s not easy. ‘Every detail is important, for example, there is very little difference between the spoor of a sub adult white rhino and its more aggressive cousin the black rhino – getting this wrong could be very serious.’

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Lion!!!

Relying on Alex and Robert’s vast bush experience, many Eco-training students have been afforded the opportunity of a close encounter with a big five member. But tracking is just as much about the little things. Walking, as apposed to driving through the bush, is an opportunity to appreciate small wonders – the fresh trail of a shongologlo (millipede) crossing a road, the splintered match-stick impressions made by a grasshopper, and the minute cross shaped mark left by a butterfly’s feet.

Staring at the ground intently, Robert motioned for us to gather around him. I could barely make out the tiny nondescript markings that he traced in the sand with his finger. ‘A Tok-tok beetle’, he announced triumphantly. I smiled at the sight of the little creature, which would, I thought, probably never again enjoy this much attention!

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Tok-tok beetle getting lots of attention
© Eco-training – www.ecotraining.co.za

Gradually we began to ‘get into the animal’s skin’, and I came into my element, trying to get to grips with the endless variables of shape, size and arrangement of tracks on the ground, at the same time not wanting to miss other clues – dung, rubbing posts, nests and hollows, animal’s alarm-calling, smells, territorial markings and signs of feeding. The bush is wild with possibility!

The day ended in true African style – ‘sundowners’, good conversation, a renewed sense of wonder for Africa’s wilderness, and a view of the setting sun cradled by an enormous baobab tree.

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© Eco-training – www.ecotraining.co.za

Thank you Eco-training for making this adventure possible.

Categories: Animals, Birds, Botswana, Insects, Travel Adventures, Trees, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 lessons from the life of Jane Goodall – Part 2

Unlike part 1, this is a collection of direct quotes from Jane’s presentation at the press conference I attended with thanks to Africa Geographic. There are way too many juicy bits that I doubt I would have justice to had I used my own words!

 6) Embrace technology

 “With highly sophisticated technology, like high resolution GPS mapping, we were able to help all the villages around Gombe to do a land use plan. The high-resolution maps are so wonderful – women are able to point and say, that’s the tree I put my baby under when I’m working in that field!

“Technology alone will not solve every problem, but it is part of the solution. Let’s use technology as a way to amplify our voices in support of the environment … to extend the reach of our personal influence in support of the planet we love.”

7) Be obstinate, don’t give up!

“I was born obstinate. If you’re going to do something absolutely terrible, there are two ways you can respond – you can say, well it’s not up to me, nothing I do makes any difference so I’ll retire. Or you say, Damn you, I’m going to fight you!!! And I’m going to get all the young people all around the world into a critical mass, young people who understand that we’re not the only beings with personalities, minds and feelings.”

8) Let your heart be moved, and keep your feet moving too

“In 1986 I attended a conference bringing together, for the first time, all the people studying chimps across Africa. We had a session on conservation, which was utterly shocking. Everywhere forests were disappearing, chimpanzee numbers were decreasing, and it was the beginning of the bush meat trade so people were catching wild animals for food, and chimps were being caught in snares, dying or losing hands. We also had a session on conditions in some captive situations and I can never forget seeing secretly filmed footage of our closest living relatives in 5 foot by 5 foot cages in medical research labs.”

“I went into that conference as a scientist, thinking this is how I would live the rest of my life. I left as an activist and I haven’t been three weeks successively in any one place since.”

9) Empower others

“It was in 1991 that I had the chance to fly over Gombe National Park. I knew there was deforestation around the park, but I was unprepared to look down on completely bare hills … it was very clear in that moment that there was no way we could even try to save the chimps while the people were living in these dire situations. That led to our program, which has been hugely successful, called ‘Take care’ or TACARE. It’s a very holistic way of improving the lives of people by suggesting alternative livelihoods. But it wasn’t a group of white people going to a village saying, ‘hey were really sorry for you, and these are the things we’re going to do to make your lives better’ (which has been the unfortunate way that so much well intentioned aid is being parcelled out).”

“I think the most key for me has been microcredit opportunities for women. As well as empowering women, we provide as many scholarships as possible to keep girls in school and provide family planning information.”

Training at the central nursery in a TACARE village near Kigoma, TZ. © the Jane Goodall Institute

Training at the central nursery in a TACARE village near Kigoma, TZ.
© the Jane Goodall Institute

10) Build small groups with strong roots

“When I look at what we’ve done to this planet since I was the age of my youngest grandchild, who is 13, I just feel so ashamed. This led to the start of our program called Roots and Shoots with young people. It began with 12 high school students in Tanzania and it’s now in 134 countries. Every group choses 3 projects – one for people, animals, and the environment. Running through it is a theme of lets learn to live in peace and harmony with each other and with the natural world.”

“We equip young people by empowering them. We listen to their thoughts and ideas, that’s why Roots and Shoots has been so successful because it is youth-driven. Young people choose their projects, we don’t tell them what to do. We may make suggestions because sometimes they may not know where to start, but the actual nitty gritty projects that they do, they get to choose . Onced you’ve listened to them and encouraged them to do their projects then they become completely different. I go around and meet these groups – everyone’s always saying that it’s changed lives.  It doesn’t end when you they university, they take it with them. These are the next parents and teachers and lawyers and politicians. These young people get really excited! They are also influencing their parents.

“The key thing is for people to feel that their lives do make a difference, and that’s the key message of roots and shoots. The way I see it the whole world is like a jigsaw, and each of us have our own piece. You look around and see the blank – which is horrible and dreadful and there’s nothing you can do about it – but you take your little piece, and work on it. Put it in place and know that all over the world there are other people working on their little bits of the jigsaw, that’s what gives you hope.”

Dr. Jane Goodall and Roots & Shoots members plant trees at the  Shanghai Zoo in China. © www.janegoodall.com

Dr. Jane Goodall and Roots & Shoots members plant trees at the Shanghai Zoo in China.
© Jane Goodall Institute

 

Categories: History, Inspiring People, Tanzania, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 Lessons from the life of Jane Goodall – Part 1

Thanks to African Geographic I recently had the opportunity to attend a press conference at the University of Cape Town, to listen to an address by Dr. Jane Goodall. I left wishing I could be just like her! Here are just a few lessons I am learning from her extraordinary life…

1) You can do great things with gentleness

Apart from the wondrous achievements that Jane has accomplished in her life, there is something else that had a truly mesmerising effect on me. Although not as easily put into words I think it’s her femininity – her gentle, soft, serene beauty that makes her seem delicate – yet is exemplified through her exceptionally brave and resilient spirit. Being feminine does not mean being weak. Femininity is it’s own strength. Jane’s disposition and attitude to her work is the perfect example of the harmony of gentleness and strength.

Although the two women faced different circumstances and personal challenges, Jane is often compared to Dian Fossey, who studied gorillas in the mountain forests of Rwanda. Instead of building trust and an amicable relationship with local inhabitants to combat poaching (like Jane) Dian reportedly, in her understandable anger and heart-break, frightened and tortured poachers, which, in the end, led to her tragic murder. Dian is still considered to have be one of the foremost primatologists, yet her approach was not nearly as far-reaching or as transformative as Jane’s.

Jane Goodall Portrait  © StuartClark

Jane Goodall Portrait
© StuartClark

2) Don’t let a University degree get in the way of your dreams

A university education is of tremendous value, yet it does not guarantee success or happiness. Many young people are not able to, for whatever reason – finances, health or academic prerequisites – have the privilege of a tertiary education, Jane didn’t. Yet she knew from a young age that she would go to Africa and study wild animals; of this she was absolutely sure.  She worked as a waitress and as a secretary at Oxford University, saving just enough money for her first trip to Africa.

Young Jane had no formal training of any kind. Instead, she had a tenacious spirit, a gentle, patient temperament, and a passion for animals and Africa. It was these qualities, as well as her unaffected mind free of the pre-existing biases that come from a formal University education, that impressed world famous paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, when he hired her to observe the behaviour of chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park (Tanzania). Only years later, having already made ground breaking chimpanzee behavioural observations, she returned to England to get her PhD at Cambridge. 

3) We all need a hero

 When Jane was 10 years old and said, “I’m going to grow up and go to Africa and live with animals and write about them”, everybody laughed – girls just didn’t do that sort of thing! – except for one person. That person was her Mum, Margrette ‘Vanne’ Morris-Goodall. Vanne nurtured and encouraged Jane’s love for nature saying, “If you really want something, work hard, take advantage of situations, if you never give up, you find a way.” 

Jane did find a way. However British authorities didn’t want a young girl travelling on her own in wild Tanzania, so Vanne accompanied her daughter and together they set off to begin Jane’s new life in Africa.

Like Jane, I have a wonderful Mum, Shannon. She has believed in me my whole life, and together we have delighted in my hopes and dreams. It’s a gift to be cherished. If you didn’t have a hero – be one to your children. Take them seriously, believe in their ideas and aspirations, encourage their curiosities, and lovingly support their adventures.

4) Patience 

Looking at early pictures of Jane, it’s easy to see how she became such a fascination – a beautiful young girl living in wild exotic Africa with chimpanzees seemed outlandishly romantic to folks back in England. But in reality, life was tough. When Jane began observing Gombe’s chimpanzees, they were wild and fled at the sight of her. Whole days were spent trudging many kilometres through thickly forested mountains with steep slopes. Minimal supplies and resources, as well as malaria, only made matters worse! Any ‘normal’ person would have given up, but not Jane! Her admirable patience and perseverance kept her going.

It seems to me that all good things in life – the really important ones – don’t happen overnight. They take hard work and patience. With the immediacy of technology and instant gratification in our modern world, it’s easy to lose our patience when things don’t happen as fast as we want them to. Nature is a wonderful example of patience and Jane was lucky to have been surrounded by such beautiful trees and animals, something I think we all need more of in our lives!

Jane and Freud Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud © Michael Neugebauer

Jane and Freud
Dr. Jane Goodall with Gombe chimpanzee Freud
© Michael Neugebauer

 5) It’s ok to be a rebel

 At Cambridge University (where Jane eventually did her PhD), she was considered quite a rebel. When talking about the chimpanzees whose lives were so intimately entwined with her own, she was told it wasn’t scientific. Her professors warned her that animals should be given numbers, not names. And definitely not personalities…

 “I couldn’t talk about their vivid personalities, or the fact that they had minds capable of solving problems, and I especially couldn’t talk about them having emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, despair.” (Jane Goodall )

Yet Jane stayed true to herself, determined not to be destroyed by her scientific colleagues.

“Fortunately as a child I had a wonderful teacher, who made me understand that the professors, with all their knowledge, were completely wrong when they told me these things. That teacher was my dog, Rusty. You can’t share your life in a meaningful way with a dog, a cat, rabbit, horse – I don’t care what it is – and not know that those things are true.” (Jane Goodall)

Part 2 of this blog post to soon follow…

* All photos used are pre-approved images from www.janegoodall.org

Categories: Animals, History, Inspiring People, Tanzania, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

What happened to Nicky the baby rhino?

If you watched the last episode (‘The Future’) of BBC’s Africa series, you will remember the moving scene where David Attenborough ‘has a little chat’ with a blind black rhino calf called Nicky (if you have forgotten, you can watch it here).

The Future

© BBC

Nicky’s Story

While they were out on a routine patrol, two of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy‘s rangers noticed that a young black rhino calf was bumping into things and wandering away from his mother’s path. The rangers expressed their concerns and Lewa’s veterinary team conducted an examination, confirming that the little rhino was blind (most likely the result of congenital cataracts). Lewa decided that leaving him with his mother would be too risky because of the high probability that he would get lost and wander into danger. The Watson family (Mike Watson is Lewa’s Chief Executive Officer) ‘adopted’ him. They named him Nicky after a generous sponsor who helped to fund some of his day-to-day care.

I emailed the folks at Lewa, which is in Laikipia, Kenya, to find out how Nicky is doing. This is what they had to say…

‘He is now 16-months-old, thriving in the care of his care-takers, Yusuf and Tonga. He now weighs between 300-350kgs. Nicky has been blinded by cataracts since birth and earlier this year vets carried out an ultrasound to establish whether the condition could be corrected. Sadly, the results were not what we had hoped for- the ultrasound results showed that surgery would not help him gain sight.

 Luckily, young Nicky has the company of two other baby rhinos that are being hand reared alongside him. He is great friends and a ‘big brother’ to 10-month-old Hope and Kilifi, who is the youngest of the trio at 5 months. The three male rhinos are now popularly known as “The three musketeers”, always trailing each other, feeding, playing and even rolling in the mud together!’

A photo of Nicky taken on December 10, 2013

A photo of Nicky taken on December 10, 2013

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Nicky going for a daily walk with his very protective care-taker at Lewa.

Nicky going for a daily walk with his very protective care-taker at Lewa.

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Could there be a more beautiful place for a rhino to live?

Nicky with his friends

Nicky with his friends, Hope and Kilifi

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The three musketeers

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Two of Nicky’s friends live on the conservancy with their parents – what lucky kids!

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Nicky with his human family, the Watsons

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It’s fun having a baby rhino as a friend!

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What started out in the 1980s as a 5,000 acre rhino sanctuary on the Craig family cattle ranch has now become one of Kenya’s most successful private wildlife conservancies and a model for community based conservation worldwide.

Nicky, Hope and Kilifi are acting as ambassadors for their species and are helping raise funds for rhino conservation via a CrowdRise campaign. Last year, Nicky’s campaign raised $50,000! Lewa is very grateful for the generous contributions (raising a baby rhino is not cheap!)

Where does the money go?

It costs Lewa an average of $1,265 per month to pay for Nicky’s day-to-day care, veterinary costs and salaries for his keepers. On top of that, it costs more than $10,000 to protect each individual rhino on Lewa every year. If you would like to contribute, here is the link to their ongoing campaign-  http://www.crowdrise.com/RhinoMusketeers.

Furthermore, if you would like to join Lewa in their conservation vision and help secure Lewa’s commitment to conservation and their surrounding communities contact ruwaydah.abdul@lewa.org

More about Lewa’s rhino here 

 

Categories: Animals, Kenya, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The importance of eating insects – Biodiversity SA conference

I will never forget arriving home after a two-week family camping trip, to find that our wonderful cook Solly – who grew up with my Dad in the Limpopo Provence – had made us macaroni and grasshoppers! Mum and I are squeamish with out-of-the-ordinary food, but my Dad and siblings were enthused by the novelty, generously declaring the deliciousness of Solly’s dish!

Humans have eaten insects for thousands of years, but in modern industrialised Western countries, this is no longer the norm. Because it isn’t part of the culture I grew up in, the idea of eating grasshoppers, termites or beetles is not appealing to me. Yet nutritionally, edible insects are high in protein and compare well to beef, fish and poultry. Contrary to common belief, most people don’t eat insects primarily because they are poor and can’t afford to buy other food, but because they find them tasty, and because it is something that has been done by their parents and grandparents. During the recent Biodiversity SA conference, scientist Bronwyn Egan presented her thesis – an investigation into the cultural and economic importance of edible insects. I found it fascinating. She chose Blouberg, in the Limpopo Provence (close to where Solly grew up) as the site of her study.

Bronwyn explained that with growing concern over the global food security crisis, investigating edible insects as an alternative food source is very important. In January 2012, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed the importance of this kind of research, yet little has been carried out in South Africa, where there’s a rich heritage of insect eating (especially in Northern areas by the BaSotho and San people). “Research into the species of edible insects utilised in South Africa and the attitudes and perceptions of the insect harvesters will provide policy makers, government organisations and NGO’s with the knowledge to implement the FAO’s call to investigate edible insects as a means of enhancing food security.” she said.

For her thesis, Bronwyn put together in-depth questionnaires and interviews, held group discussions in nine different villages and recruited Blouberg community members (mainly subsistence farmers and livestock owners, who collect wild food and medicine from the surrounding vegetation) to help her collect and study insect specimens. Bronwyn identified 29 species of edible insects from the area. Here are some more of her findings…

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Edible insects in general are collected from the beginning of November until the end of February when they are most numerous.

Mmmmm, what's on the menu today?

Mmmmm, what’s on the menu today?

In Southern Africa, the best-known commercially available insect is the mopane worm ( labeled 5), which is the larva of an Emperor moth. During the summer, when the caterpillars feed on mopane tree leaves, locals love to eat, preserve and sell the worms.One of the things that Solly most looks forward to about going home to the Limpopo Provence is eating mopane worms.

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According to Solly, this is how you cook insects:
1) Pull off wings
2) Let them boil at the bottom of a pot with a little bit of water and salt until the water has evaporated
3) Put oil in the pot and fry them until golden brown
4)Eat them with pap

 Unfortunately, the number of insects available in Blouberg seems to be declining. Thus Morongwa (72 yrs) one of the community members that Bronwyn spoke to said, “Nowadays there is no rain, so many children will not eat insects because they don’t know some of the edible insects”.

The decline of this traditional knowledge is worrying and sad. The region has, for a long time, retained it’s strong traditional roots, due partly to marginalization of the area as a homeland during apartheid, which created a tight-knit community. Many of the people that Bronwyn spoke to said that young people think eating insects is ‘old fashioned’ and only for poor people who can’t afford modern Western food. Solly’s comment on this was, ‘yes, that’s true, but my kids still love them.’ 

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 I hope that Bronwyn’s study (which is a lot more detailed than I could write in just one blog post!) will be put to good use in the decision making process of future campaigns about the benefits of edible insects. Perhaps If I was born eating them I would feel more comfortable with it, but it’s still something I struggle with. Bronwyn says that, “developed and developing countries should meet to discuss and re-evaluate the resource of edible insects in the developing world and to evaluate technologies to develop insects as a more acceptable food source in western countries.”

“In light of recent interest in the effect of climate change on agriculture and in the search of alternate land use practices that are sustainable in the face of prolonged drought and elevated temperatures, it’s really important to document ways in which natural resources have been used in the past and how these techniques can be modified for future use. In addition, rural communities give valuable insight into the customs of past generations that, if not documented, are bound to be lost as younger generations move away from traditional ways of life.”

(Bronwyn Egan)

Do any of you eat insects? I would be interested to find out…

Categories: History, Insects, South Africa, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

South Africa’s hero – The man who loved us all

Because pictures say a thousand words… 

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Photo Credit: Benny Gool/Oryx Media Archive/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Nelson-Mandela with children

Nelson Mandela enjoying his 89th birthday celebrations at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg. Photo credit: Denis Farrell/AP

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Nelson Mandela with an Afrikaner child shortly after his release from prison in 1990. Photo credit: Nigel Wright

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Nelson Mandela, left, greets former inmate Andimba Toiva Ja Toiva as they reunite on Robben Island to coincide with the fifth anniversary of Mandela’s release from the jail in South Africa on Feb. 10, 1995.

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Nelson Mandela, right, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa, celebrate Mandela’s 1994 presidential victory. (Dudley Brooks / Washington Post / December 5, 2013)

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Mandela with supermodel Naomi Campbell

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September 25, 1998 file photo shows South African then-President Nelson Mandela (C) embracing two of the 40,000 youths who attended the “Canadian Friends of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund” lunching ceremony the Toronto’s Sky-dome

Mandela and Blind Child

Mandela and a young blind boy

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Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk

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South African rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar (right), is congratulated by South African president Nelson Mandela after South Africa won the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand 24th June 1995 in Johannesburg. Photograph: Jean-Pierre Muller/Getty Images

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Mandela with two of his children

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On his first trip to a foreign country after being released from prison, South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (l), in Zambia to attend a meeting of the ANC National Executive Committeee, warmly greets PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on his arrival in Lusaka, Feb. 27, 1990. (Philip Littleton/AFP/Getty Images)

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Nelson Mandela gives Suzman a hug during a visit to his home in Soweto in 1990

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Nelson Mandela boogied a little to an African song from the Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board Choir beside PM before receiving his citizenship. Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen PHOTO: ALEXANDER JOE, AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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Goodbye Tata Madiba!

Categories: History, Inspiring People, South Africa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A young scientist is bringing the ocean ashore in False Bay

It’s hard to believe that Lauren grew up so far from the ocean, in the city of Johannesburg. In fact, I would sooner have believed that she was brought up with mermaids and seals…

As Lauren began her talk at the Biodiversity South Africa Conference, organised by the University of Cape Town’s Department of Biological Sciences, I had the privelage of seeing the deep blue wilderness through her eyes, where even the most discreet of fish is noticed and admired. Lauren’s message is clear – we need to find research and management solutions that are sustainable and kinder to our planet and pockets. New methods of education and communication are key, especially for kids.

As a Save our Seas funded researcher at UCT’s Marine Research Institute, Lauren is currently conducting an innovative study of False Bay’s marine life using baited remote underwater cameras (called ‘BRUV’s). ‘BRUVing’ has been quite an adventure for Lauren!

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Baited remote underwater video (BRUV) surveys were developed in Australia, and are now being used around the world (and now, for the first time, in South Africa). Fish, attracted by bait, swim into the field of view of a remote-controlled video camera (Lauren uses GoPro’s). Over time, the BRUV video footage can be compared and analysed to understand the diversity, behaviour and abundance of the different fish species.

“Many of our marine species are in trouble, yet few are being monitored properly. The logistics and expenses usually associated with monitoring make these procedures unsustainable. Yet, understanding the behaviour and population of different fish species is paramount if we are to know how to protect them.” she says.

The method seems so simple, almost too good to be true – yet Lauren is opening is opening our eyes to how very real and effective this research method is. She has been working with BRUV’s for nearly three years now, and already seeing some patterns developing with some fish species more prevalent in certain seasons.

“Reef fish are still of enormous conservation concern in False bay, and many marine protected areas along our coastline”, says Lauren. She is particularly interested in species of conservation concern, such as the red steenbras and the red stump nose (both endemic to South Africa).

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 What really struck me during Lauren’s talk was the huge potential that her study has going into the future, especially in terms of its translatable value. “Having video footage to back up stats means that tangible evidence can be made available to the very people who use False Bay, and whose behavioural changes we are trying to induce.” she says. She’s absolutely right – unless people actually see with their own eyes what is going on down there, will they really care about protecting it?

Although fragile after a long history of fishing activity, False Bay is infinitely more beautiful than I had imagined! Looking at Lauren’s pictures and videos makes me feel proud to live so close to this corner of the ocean. It makes me want to just put on a mask and fins and get out there…

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“Capturing these sharks on camera is not about providing hair-raising entertainment, but about adding to the growing body of knowledge that allows us, through improved understanding and perspective, to better protect this magnificent species and indeed, live alongside it in adequate respective for its own existence right.”

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It takes a lot of dedication and patience to count all these fish!

Me: It must be quite an ordeal going through all that camera footage Lauren! I bet your eyes get really tired?

Lauren: [smiles] Actually, I remember having to spend all day identifying insects under a microscope, that was tiring! But this is different – it’s exciting, it brings me a thrilling sense of satisfaction! I can also listen to TED talks at the same time … my eyes are really well trained now.

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“False Bay is a good place to test out our BRUV method, most of the reef fish are territorial residents and present throughout the year.”

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“The cameras were showing us things that would make any fish nerd’s pulse quicken”

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As Lauren continues her work as a passionate scientist and ocean ambassador, there is one thing I know for sure – the world needs more Laurens in it! We need more young and passionate scientists eager to explore and communicate the wonders of our diverse ocean ecosystems in creative easily accessible ways, especially in Africa.  There is hope for our rich and colourful ocean ecosystems. 

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Photo by Steve Benjamin

Need any more convincing that False Bay is awesome? I love this little video that Lauren put together here and read more articles on her research in False Bay here

Categories: Inspiring People, Ocean, Photography, South Africa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Scientist Fantasy – Biodiversity SA Conference 2013

It’s no secret that Africa is home to a startling variety of life. In fact, it completely boggles my mind!

South Africa alone is home to 10% of the world’s known bird, fish and plant species, and over 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species. South Africa makes up only 1% of the world’s entire land space so this is pretty impressive don’t you think?

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Learning about Africa’s fascinating creatures (including the human ones) is something I’ve always delighted in. Sometimes I even find myself wishing that I was a marine biologist or a primatologist, or whatever you call a scientist who studies elephants? …if only my brain was less ‘artsy’ and more ‘sciency’!

But next week I’m living out my scientist fantasies. For four days I’m going to be surrounded by brilliant minds, learning about ground-breaking research at the Biodiversity Southern Africa conference, hosted by UCT’s Department of Biological Sciences from the 2nd to the 7th of December.

I might (just in my own mind, of course) pretend that I’m really a scientist. I’ll be bringing you live updates to let you in on all the fascinating titbits that I learn about Southern Africa’s mind-boggling biodiversity. I can’t wait!

If you’re interested, follow the action on twitter #biodiversitySA and right here on my blog.

Captonians are also invited to attend two open talks on the evenings of the 3rd and 5th of December

  • Madagascar’s Biodiversity: Origins, Patterns and Future is the title of a talk by Dr Steven Goodman (Field Museum, Chicago, USA Association Vahatra, Antananarivo, Madagascar) It’s being held on Tuesday 3 December, 17H30 – 18H30, at the University of Cape Town’s Upper Campus, LT1, in the John Day Building.
Prof Steve Goodman holding a rufous vanga, Schetba rufa, Analavolona, Southwest Madagascar.  ©

Dr Steve Goodman holding a rufous vanga, Schetba rufa, Analavolona, Southwest Madagascar.
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“The biodiversity of Madagascar is one of the splendors of the natural world and its preservation deemed a conservation priority. In this presentation, aspects of why the island holds such a unique biota, the role of continued biological research, capacity building, and new discoveries are described and illustrated. These different aspects are important to put into context certain evolutionary patterns and how these can be used for logical and scientifically sound conservation programs. The current plight of the island, specifically social-economic-political problems, is a critical aspect for what the future holds. Degrading conditions, both for humans and forest-dwelling organisms, is discussed.”

  • Jika ne Langa – Turn with the Sun – Like a Dung Beetle by Assoc. Prof. Marcus Byrne (University of the Witwatersrand) Time: Thursday 5 December, 17H30 – 18H30, University of Cape Town Upper Campus, LT1, John Day Building, Upper Campus, UCT
Prof Marcus Bryne  © Chris Collingridge

Prof Marcus Bryne
©Chris Collingridge

“Dung beetles are small insects with tiny brains, but they can perform feats of navigation most humans would struggle with. By asking the beetles simple questions we can get direct answers on how they orientate, including their use of the Milky Way as an orientation cue – the first animals ever shown to use edge of our galaxy to find their way. This presentation explores ways of doing science with a model animal.”

Prof Byrne has also given an awesome TED presentation that you can watch here 

To rsvp email  Sarojini.pillay@uct.ac.za

“Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variation in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.”

 E.O. Wilson

 

Categories: Animals, Birds, Insects, Inspiring People, Ocean, South Africa, Trees, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering the Otter Trail by Kelly Kidson

It’s been about a year since we took on the mighty Otter Trail Hike in the Eastern Cape, but the memories of the experience live on in our minds as fresh as the taste of sherry around those campfires at night.

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“Those views just seemed to get awe-inspiringly better and better as we strolled along.” © Kelly Kidson

Happy Hikers

There were 9 of us friends with adventure in our bones, aching to throw ourselves into the most famous of South African hiking trails- The Otter Trail. It was September 2012 and we conquered that trail and relished every step of it. In retrospect we even loved the seemingly endless inclines that punished our legs to the brink of collapse and made us complain and curse like a waddle of ducks in single file being “shoo’d”  up a hill. But the views from the top of each of those vistas were reward aplenty and we began to look forward to what was in store for us after the next bended climb. Those views just seemed to get awe-inspiringly better and better as we strolled along.

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“There were 9 of us friends with adventure in our bones” © Kelly Kidson

Marathon of a hike

The Otter Trail traverses over 42 kms of Tsitsikamma wilderness. It’s quite literally a marathon of a hike in its distance. So basically I can tick “doing a marathon” off my to-do list too. Well that’s a relief.

It follows the intensely- glorious Eastern Cape coastline from Storms River Mouth to Natures Valley in the Tsitsikamma National Park. The 5 day hike took us under its spell, lead us through diverse environments and showed us natural beauty unbounded. We were absolutely amazed by the untouched wild setting we found ourselves in each day. Each night, we rested at a new camp with accommodation is in 2 raised, wooden cabins, each boasting sea views from balconies. Cabins are set just steps away from the shoreline and the sound and smell of the sea was part of the magic.

We only needed to pack sleeping bags as beds were provided in the cabins. Triple decker bunk beds in fact. Everything is extreme on the Otter Trail.

I have to mention the loos at each camp too. They’re not just ordinary loos. They’re “loos with a view”. From the throne we looked out towards the horizon and watched the ocean through one way glass. That’s something I’ve definitely never done before and I was even lucky enough to see dolphins swim by from one such viewpoint.

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“Everything is extreme on the Otter Trail.” © Kelly Kidson

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“Cabins are set just steps away from the shoreline” ©Kelly Kidson

 Zig Zagging Route

During our hike we were shown mercy by the weather fairies and ambled on through clear, mild days made for walking. It was perfect. The route zigzags up and along the coast. We were constantly standing in wonder at the heights we were at and the views they afforded.  The plateaus reach elevations of up to 200m and those cliff tops we stood on plummeted straight into the ocean below. A contrasting, dramatic and an incredible landscape to be part of.  We walked through Fynbos dominated sections, coastal forest and inland indigenous forests as part of the ever changing route. I still remember that feeling of sheer freedom and wonderment at being immersed in that scenery.

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“We were constantly standing in wonder at the heights…” ©Kelly Kidson

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“I still remember that feeling of sheer freedom and wonderment at being immersed in that scenery.” © Kelly Kidson

Every day is a highlight

I’ll never forget what my fiancé Graham said when we were half way through the hike. He said, “I had thought the only thing to look forward to about the long hike was the Bloukrans river crossing. But once we got going I realised that every day is so different because the trail and scenery changes constantly. Every day is a highlight.”  I think this puts the essence of the Otter Trail in perspective. It has the power to surprise and showed us an experience we couldn’t have expected, no matter how much we read up about it beforehand.

Sweet Reminiscing

Even now, when our happy hiker group gets together around a braai, at a wedding or even on email, we can’t help ourselves. We reminisce about our journey through rivers, up staired, steep inclines, through forests and absorbed in that cuttingly-crisp fresh air of the Tsitsikamma National Park, with backpacks bigger than us as company. There are even mumblings amongst a few of us that it might be nearly time to do it all again. The Otter Trail seems to have us in its claws.

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“The Otter Trail seems to have us in its claws” ©Kelly Kidson

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“Every day is a highlight…” ©Kelly Kidson

Some more things you may like to know about the trail:

  • Animals and Birds

Some of the wildlife you may come across on the hike include, lots of dolphin and whale sightings (we saw them daily), genets (that visited our braai areas at night hoping to score a snack) and the Cape Clawless Otter (which eluded us but we did see their footprints). There are also honey badgers, bush pigs, duiker, baboons and even leopard in the area so you might be lucky.

Some of the birds you could tick off include the rarely seen Narina Trogon (which we heard and 2 of us saw as it flashed past in flight), cuckoos, cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, sunbirds, Knysna Woodpeckers, Knysna Loeries and many more.

River Crossings

There are a few river crossings to conquer on the route. Bloukrans is the biggest of them but not the only one.  It’s exhilarating to get across these and a big part of the adventure. Bloukrans is not as difficult to cross as you may think so don’t let the thought of it stop you from doing the hike. With proper planning around the tides and team work it’s really one of the highlights.

Tip: Take water-proof bag covers so you can keep your packs dry as you swim them across the water. Also bring aqua-shoes or strops along to wear as you cross. These are life-savers once you scramble up the rocks on the other side of the rivers.

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“With proper planning around the tides and team work it’s really one of the highlights.” © Kelly Kidson

  • What to pack

Hikers need to take everything they may need for the 5 day hike, except for shelter. All food and water needs to be carried from camp to camp.  Snacks will be your best friends while hiking. Don’t skimp on these. Fill up your water bottles at every water source you find as it’s not guaranteed that there will be water available in the taps at the camps. We found this out the hard way one night. Also don’t forget the booze. You’ll cherish that cup of sherry, wine, whisky or Amarula around the campfire at night as you recall the stories of the day with your mates.

"So basically I can tick “doing a marathon” off my to-do list..." © Kelly Kidson

“So basically I can tick “doing a marathon” off my to-do list…” © Kelly Kidson

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“There are even mumblings amongst a few of us that it might be nearly time to do it all again.” ©Kelly Kidson

Contact

Book your Otter Trail hike directly through SANParks.

For reservations and more info click here:

http://www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/camps/storms_river/tourism/otter.php

Categories: Animals, Birds, Ocean, South Africa, Travel Adventures, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment