Galapagos wows again…

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Home after an incredible month in the islands where the magic of Galapagos Islands never fails to deliver. (Thank you Ginny for the beautiful artwork!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having led or guided hundreds of trips to the archipelago over the decades this last one stands above the rest. We knew the Super Group were all as keen as mustard from day one but had no idea we would have 100% participation in all activities every one of which was pushed to the max. The bar has been raised to new heights.

 

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Just being on the beautiful sailing vessel, the SS Mary Ann eating meals on deck under clear skies with frigates flying around and the sounds of sealions calling from the shore already seemed enough. Spending so much time out on deck is the perfect platform to view a host of cool wildlife.

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Highlights on land were as diverse and wonderful as the islands themselves. Where everything seemed to happen within a meter or two. We watched a short-eared owl feeding on a Galapagos petrel, oyster catchers changing the guard on their nest, tortoises lumbering past to their mud wallows. All 12 of the possible Darwin’s finches. Carpets of marine iguanas (many of them bright red and turquoise), flightless cormorants performing a courtship ritual. Penguins braying like donkeys. Sealions suckling new born pups. All three species of boobies and the magnificent waved albatross.

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This trip however it was the ocean that came into its own and surprised us continuously while snorkeling or viewing from the vessel. Our encounters included a squadron of more than 100 spotted-eagle rays. The dark stain in two feet of water that turned out to be about 40 white-tipped reef sharks, mobula rays leaping synchronously next to the boat. A once in a life time encounter with oceanic sunfish in the deep waters off Isabela Island. Huge pods of dolphins, some taking turns to bow-ride below us. Some rare whales. 30 turtles in a field of view underwater while snorkeling. Penguins and flightless cormorants pecking at us and looking into our masks.

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It was hard to say goodbye to the group but such a pleasure to have found new life-long friends. Thank you ‘Super Group’ (and the ‘Rat Pack’) and the crew and Captain of the Mary Ann.

A bientôt,

Fair winds… Pete & Reneé

Ecuadorian Volcanoes

Over the past few weeks we have been doing something that perhaps we should all do more often: take time out and explore locally! Lucky for us, here in Quito, Ecuador our ‘back yard’ includes Cotopaxi National Park, Antisana Ecological Reserve and the Chimborazo Forest Reserve. We have photographed, hiked, cycled and actually relaxed – all in the company of these Ecuadorian volcanoes!

Cotopaxi National Park

We were lucky at Cotopaxi National Park to have a beautiful clear day in a typically cloudy season. The perfectly symmetrical volcano was fully exposed, spewing clouds of vapour from its caldera, there were blue skies above and even the occasional puffy white cloud. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world and a personal favourite of ours. Many a fond memory returns as we set foot into the biome. We remember spending a lot of time camping with Chagras (Andean, poncho-clad cowboys who range the high paramos to round up fighting bulls). Indeed we published an entire book on the Chagra culture, entranced as we were with their incredible unsung way of life. This visit was no exception, we got to ‘hang’ with them again, marvel at the horse tack, the stirrups and longest lassos in the world.

Cotopaxi Volcano currently active Errupted in mid August 2015 but intermittent explosions continue with the release of gas, steam and ash. Larger erruption expected at any time. 5,897meters high. Highest active volcano in the world. Cotopaxi National Park Avenue of the Volcanoes Andes ECUADOR, South America Ecuadorian Volcanoes.

Antisana Ecological Reserve

The Antisana Ecological Reserve is an area well known for having a healthy population of Andean condors. Incredible birds they have a rich history in Inca and Ecuadorian culture. During our time in the park the low cloud cover, brought the condors lower to the ground. Once almost extinct in Ecuador, condors are thankfully beginning to make a comeback, I have even seen one over Quito before now! Nevertheless our highlight of this trip was in fact another bird – the carunculated caracara. These curious and intelligent birds of prey were seemingly everywhere. We were even able to walk up to one with a freshly killed Andean lapwing that it was ripping into. The peak of Antisana Volcano teased our visual sense as it shyly offered glimpses between the clouds, enticing our promise to return again soon.

Carunculated caracara (Phalcoboenus carunculatus) feeding on Andean Lapwing (Vanellus resplendens). 5,753 meters high or 18,874 ft. Avenue of the Volcanoes Cordillera Real, Andes Condor Bioreserve as part of the Antisana Ecological Reserve ECUADOR, South America. Last erupted between 1801 and 1802

Antisana Volcano & cyclists 5,753 meters high or 18,874 ft. Avenue of the Volcanoes Cordillera Real, Andes Condor Bioreserve as part of the Antisana Ecological Reserve ECUADOR, South America. Last erupted between 1801 and 1802. Ecuadorian Volcanoes.

Chimborazo Forest Reserve

Our most recent trip brought us into the home of indigenous people living in the shadow of Ecuador’s tallest volcano. Chimborazo which stands at over 6,200m and is in fact the farthest point on the planet from the centre of the Earth! Not only were we welcomed by such a warm community but in our travels we were also greeted by another group – though this one much more tentative. We were very pleased to see the population of wild vicuña now thriving after a reintroduction to its native landscape some twenty-seven years ago. The vicuña, for those of you that may not be familiar is a species of camelid which was bred by the Incas to create a famous domestic hybrid – the alpaca. The only wool collected from a vicuña is from its wispy chest hair, one of the finest wools known from the animal kingdom, it is extremely valuable and soft. As opposed to the other domesticated camelid from South America, the llama, (which was bred from the more coastal guanaco to be used as a pack animal) the alpaca also has an abundant fleece of fine, soft and warm wool.

Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) Chimborazo Volcano wild South American camelid. Chimborazo Forest Reserve Andes ECUADOR, South America Habitat & range: High alpine areas of Andes, Argentina, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile & Ecuador. Ecuadorian Volcanoes.

Now, we admit that part of the reason for visiting these areas was purely selfish – we love being outdoors and any opportunity to take new photos of Ecuadorian volcanoes is always welcome. However, there are ulterior, Focus Expeditions motives at work as well. In just under 3 months we will be leading a couple of 14 day expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, and we have been scouting potential pre or post expedition adventures to share with our friends that are coming! I would say that any of the above would serve as an exciting balance to any Galapagos itinerary, now the challenge presents itself: which do we choose?

As an aside we have only two spots left on the November Galapagos expedition so jump aboard the S/S Mary Anne with us, spend 14 days exploring the landscape and wildlife that inspired Darwin and then maybe explore mainland Ecuador for yourself for a few days in the Avenue of the Volcanoes all close to Quito.

Until next time, keep exploring!

Pete & Renee

Sailfish – Ocean’s Ambassador

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

I was just inspired by a similar piece published by Paul Nicklen, a good friend and hero of ocean conservation. Below is a similar piece I wrote some five years ago, and have to concur with Paul that my experience with Sailfish was as surprising, emotional and exhilarating as anything I too have ever experienced in Nature.

We must learn to respect and conserve our ocean’s predators.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

“Don’t end up as a kebab!” my friend Pete Atkinson Skyped me after I’d told him about my upcoming adventure.

It was March, in Mexico, off the Yucatan Peninsula on Isla Mujeres, and it was six o’clock in the morning. I was on the dock, ready to board one of the fleet of a dozen high-tech, game-fishing boats, each bristling with fishing poles, out-riggers and antennas. Clients and crews were cocky with anticipation. Fishing was good – the annual migration of sailfish was in full swing.

Sailfish are one of the most highly prized gamefish in the world. The sport fishing industry sells them as “providing thrilling leaps and a powerful and acrobatic fight”. Personally, I have to admit that I just don’t get it. I fail to understand how the terror of a magnificent, hooked fish, in its desperate attempts to evade death can be entertaining, whether it leaps out of the water or not. Nor do I understand how we view the fish as “providing” such a show as if it were doing it obligingly to please a human audience.

Nevertheless my three compañeros and I were no exception, we were also there to get amongst the sailfish. Our intentions however were different. We wanted to peel back the barrier and witness one of the world’s most incredible fish in its natural environment – from underwater.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

Sailfish are members of the billfishes, Istiophoridae, family (which includes all the marlin, the spearfish and sailfish). They are a designated Highly Migratory Species (HMS) and will swim an average of 200,000 miles, through international waters, in their 16 year lifetime. They can grow quickly in their first year reaching up to five foot in length but from then on their growth slows considerably. They are one of the most inshore ranging of the billfish feeding on flying fish, halfbeaks, sardines, small tuna, squid and octopi.

The problem of course is how do you find a few sailfish in a vast expanse of open water. Despite their size of up to nine feet in length and in excess of 120 pounds, they remain elusive. Except that is when they gather to feed.

We slipped away from the dock, scanning the surface out to the horizon in earnest as we motored into blue water. We were not in fact looking for the sailfish themselves – but frigatebirds. With a 6-7 foot wingspan and only a 2-3 pound body weight these aerial masters dotted the sky, lazily cruising on outstretched wings. They were hungry and they too were, indirectly, looking for sailfish.

Then, a mere hour into our day, on the horizon we spotted what we were looking for – more frigates. This time, the birds were flying in a concentrated funnel, swooping down to the surface to snatch sardines from the water. We were already kitted up in wetsuits, weightbelts, long fins, masks and cameras and excitement levels were high. By the time the skipper had reached the meleé and turned our stern into the action, we were lined up on the back rail, filled with anticipation ready to jump.  ‘Délé, Go, Go!” shouted the skipper and we launched ourselves in to the water. The difference between what we had seen in air, watching the frenzy of the frigatebirds, coupled with the occasional, tantalizing glimpse of action below, to what we witnessed as we passed through the invisibly thin surface, was, quite literally a world apart.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

A large, living, silver ball of polarized sardines was being kept pressed against the surface by as many as 50 swift, dark shapes criss-crossing below and to the side. Sailfish! We kicked frantically, cameras at arms length aiming at the action and firing away with super wide lenses. We were lucky so far but this could well be our only encounter of these elusive fish. The sardines were trapped and the frigates were maximizing on the bonanza held within their reach by the hunting sailfish. As we sped forward, the closer our approach, the more awesome the spectacle became. The whole group was working like a pack of wolves, they were cooperating in the hunt in the typical manner of other apex predators. Lions cooperate, wolves do and so do wild dogs and hyenas, yet for some reason we don’t normally associate fish with any character or individuality but merely within the limitations of ‘tasty’, ‘tonnage’ or ‘something to hook’ – let me tell you, now is the time to take another look.

Indeed, humans largely view fish as a resource. We continue to pull them out of the ocean as if the old adage were really true “That there are plenty more fish in the sea.” That may have been true a century ago when fishing pressure was low and the playing field was more level, when we did not totally outcompete the fish with advanced technological capabilities to find and catch them by the hundreds of thousands of tons, and, also, in a time when there were only 2 billion not 7 billion people on the planet. Today however all the billfish populations are at an all time low, several species may already be close to a non-viable population number and may not recover sufficiently once the present long-lived adult population begins to die off while the current kill rate is maintained.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

As we moved in yet closer to the hunting pack we began to make sense of the apparent chaos. The prey were being herded into a tight bait-ball. Sailfish would swim close and flick up the huge sail-like dorsal fin like a fence to consolidate the sardines, another would work the opposite side while others stayed below. Colour patterns instantaneously flashed on the bodies of the hunters from a purple-with-blue-spots, to a dramatic silver-and-blue-striping, to a stunning coppery-bronze colour; the revelation was that they were actually communicating. Reminiscent of squid or cuttlefish (mere mollusks), they appeared to be using a kind of chromatic semaphore. The meaning was lost on us except that as they turned in, one at a time, to the bait ball to feed, they most often lit up with a metallic bronze as if signaling “It’s my turn, I’m going in!” Their sails would erect explosively with the whooshing sound of a zip fastener and they would swim until their bill was inside the bait ball. I had been told that they would slash at the sardines with their rough-edged bill and stun a few fish to pick up later. The truth was so much more elegant as, with an almost imperceptible sidewise motion, (virtually only a vibration) it was enough to knock a sardine senseless which was scooped up there and then on the fly. The satisfied sailfish pulled out, the sardines baled up tighter and then another hungry hunter would flash bronze and move in effortlessly to the bait ball to grab itself a bite to eat. Through close observation one could see that the whole process was in fact ordered, refined – gentlemanly almost.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

In all my travels and close encounters with nature, to be in the intimate company of 50 Atlantic sailfish, in blue, oceanic water was already, after 45 minutes, a major wildlife highlight in my life. Part of the beauty of the experience was the fact that these top predators, who knew exactly that we were there, accepted us completely and let us simply observe.

Yet, these ambassadors of the high seas are threatened, like so much else in the oceans of the world. Even before humans have learned enough about their basic biology, from the moment we have been able we have rapidly and very effectively, been systematically ridding the planet of sailfish. Nor do we understand the consequences. We do know that apex predators in general are the keystone species of ecosystems and without sailfish being present in their pivotal role anything could happen. Maybe no billfish would mean that baitfish numbers exploded, just as no lions results in too many grazers and bush turning to desert so, an explosion of baitfish might eat all the plankton. But, guess what, 50% of the planet’s oxygen comes from oceanic plankton. Who knows what will happen? Whatever happens, if the trend continues, it will not be good.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

Why are they threatened? Throughout their range sailfish regularly encounter 30-40 mile long lengths of monofilament nylon, laced with tens of thousands of baited hooks. Easy prey, the sailfish take the bait and drown on the line. The cruel irony is that these highly NON-selective fishing methods are actually targeting tuna and swordfish, yet alongside the dead sailfish may hang a drowned turtle or albatross. Sailfish have a rather tough, undesirable meat and are not even allowed to be landed commercially in the USA. When the fisherman comes to haul in the longline he berates the catch of “trash” fish, turtles and birds as a waste of hook space and they get tossed overboard to pile up on the sea floor. Unbelievably these incredible fish are caught for no other reason than to be thrown away as “by-catch” – a politically correct euphemism meaning carnage and waste.

I could no more imagine killing one of these animals as I could a lion. Of course there are people who would like to do both and I would say to those people “What’s the point? Haven’t we done enough damage to the planet, our home, already?” “Why not just trash your bedroom, your living room or your back yard – surely it’s the same?”

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

As the bait ball was being eaten smaller and smaller, the desperate sardines became individually more and more vulnerable. Occasionally one would break out from the ball and try to take sanctuary in our wetsuits or use us as a shield. An alert sailfish would soon swerve in perilously close to catch the errant sardine and, as thin as a knife would flex its body and shy away at the last instant in a supreme show of athleticism, the long, pointed bill missing my face by a foot or less. It was then I remembered Pete Atkinson’s comments and knew that if a sailfish had the will it could pierce my body with it’s sword, like a hot knife through butter. Malice was absent however and I felt guilty on behalf of those of my species whose only thought was to wrangle a hooked one.

‘Tag and release’ is the cry from all the would-be conservationists amongst the anglers. Yes, of course, it is better than bringing ashore a dead sailfish just to have it weighed and I applaud the goodwill and common sense of the initiative. We even spotted a tagged animal swimming happily with the crowd and joining in the hunt. I also witnessed however, underwater, from a few feet, the effort, stress and damage (as the taut monofilament continually raked the animals flank) of a sailfish with a hook in its mouth at the end of a line while the oblivious topside crew waited for it to provide the “thrilling leap”. It was not an easy thing to watch.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) hunting Sardines Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

The fastest fish in the sea, not to mention one of the most beautiful, sailfish are a supreme blend of wolf, cheetah and chameleon. The time has come that they deserve our respect and understanding. Time too that we ban all indiscriminate long-line fishing and gill netting giving the sailfish, indeed all billfish, a chance to recover.

Atlantic Sailfish (Istiophorus albicans) Hooked by Fisherman Isla Mujeres MEXICO RANGE: Atlantic Oceans & Caribbean SEa

I give them “honorary mammal” status.

Text & Photos, Pete Oxford and Reneé Bish

Every 15 Minutes

Elephant poaching is real. Some are saying that ivory is being used to fund Al Queda and other extremist terrorist group activities.  Our Focus Expeditions groups are able to experience the effects of poaching when they come to Kenya with us and visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Orphanage in Nairobi. Focus Expeditions adopts an elephant calf for every person who joins one of our Kenya safaris. The Sheldrick Center shuts down to the public so that our group has a private visit.  We are able to spend one hour with our newly adopted elephant calves.

These calves are orphans. Most of them have lost their mothers to poaching. One elephant is being killed for its ivory every 15 minutes in Africa.

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Daphne Sheldrick and her team of “Keepers” take these orphaned elephant babies in and desperately try to coax them to stay alive. They arrive traumatized, alone, starving and sometimes injured. They have little will to live after the traumatic ordeal of losing their mothers.

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Once they are out of danger of dying, they start to thrive again and are taken into the care of the Keepers, Daphne and all of the other young orphans.  After we adopt them, we are able to spend a precious hour with these sweet, little characters. They each have their own personalities and character traits.

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We then come back in the evening when they are put to bed. Each little elephant baby has its own Keeper who sleeps all night with it in its stall. They are given milk out of a bottle every three hours. These little ones are never alone once they reach the Center.  The Keeper covers the calf with a blanket when the calf lays down to go to sleep.

Roi was not ready to go to bed yet. She was a funny, energetic girl who fought sleep while trying to keep her eyes open.

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All of Kenya works with Daphne to save each little elephant calf. The Center visits all of the tribes who now know to call should they discover an abandoned elephant calf. Yes, one elephant is being killed every 15 minutes, yet there are some who are doing everything that they can to save one baby at a time.

~ Jami Tarris

The Migration is Great!

Just a quick post while on the fly to say that the migration is peaking early this year. It is overwhelming to see over a million wildebeest plus other antelopes moving en masse. This is where the term “the grass is greener on the other side” MUST have been coined! The predators have also arrived. We are witnessing action on a daily basis – some of which may not be the best to post here!

It is difficult to take awe-inspiring images that capture the essence of the migration. I took this image with my drone in order to give one an idea of a wildebeest river crossing. I managed to capture some video footage as well and I will try to edit it down for my next blog.

The Great Migration is truly great – so much wildlife that embodies this amazing continent called Africa. I am still here for a while, but I already miss Kenya – its people, its open landscape and its wildness!

 

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~ Jami Tarris

Two for One

By day two we had traveled north and started to head east around the top of Svalbard. We meandered through various fjords and saw lots of walrus – mostly females with young calves which was really special. We had some broken drift ice where we photographed bearded seals which are the largest of the arctic seals. They have large “cigar-shaped” bodies with small heads and long bushy moustaches.

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It wasn’t until we entered “Raudfjorden” (Red Fjord) that we had a surprise. Rickard came down from the bridge to tell us to get out to the zodiacs – our first polar bear was spotted on the beach. Everyone quickly threw on their gear and grabbed their cameras. We launched the zodiacs and headed for shore. Immediately and without binoculars,  the King of the North was spotted. He was purposely walking down the beach. It took a few minutes until I noticed that there was another bear! It was a smaller bear – a female – and this male apparently was in pursuit of her. I pointed her out to everyone and we were lucky to have two bears to follow – a mating pair. We were able to stay with them for almost 45 minutes while observing their mating behavior. Through observation, we guessed that they were already several days into the mating period. The male struggled to keep up with her expending a great deal of energy beneath his heavy coat. He panted, ate snow and lumbered heavily over the rocks of the beach and the deep, wet snow. Occasionally, the female would stop, and turn around to wait for him. She even would walk back to him allowing him to catch up but not approach closely. It was interesting to watch. We left them just after they walked over remaining pack ice below a massive blue glacier. I wasn’t able to get a nice image of them together for a few reasons – they were far away at this point and photographing sharp images from a moving zodiac with a long lens is a challenge. Also, the female was collared by scientists AND had a large number spray painted on her back side for easy identification from a helicopter. This destroyed any chances of her being ideal subject matter for photographers – a shame. She also had two ear tags as well – the Norwegian Polar Institute certainly covered all of their bases with this female.

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~ Jami Tarris

Bon appetit or as the leopard says: “Bone up a tree”

_L7K3891We just finished a 3 week long amazing Focus Expeditions safari in Tanzania and Kenya. It started with rain and tall grass in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Nobody had expected to find this scenic park about 2 driving hours south of Arusha to be so lush this time of the year. Zebras and wildebeest, usually in high numbers, avoided the wet terrain and had moved to the drier areas around Lake Manyara. Yet will still enjoyed exciting sightings with elephants, giraffes and buffalo for 2 days before heading to world famous Ngorongoro Crater where we spent 2 days photographing four of the Big Five with the majestic back drop of the crater rim. From our lodge at an altitude of 2300 m down to the crater bottom we covered a drop of 600 m driving through lush acacia forest on the crater slope.

On the way to our next stop, Ndutu, we passed tens of thousands of wildebeest that had followed the rains in order to give birth in this fertile grassland. It is here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where the wildebeest migration begins its yearly cycle. Due to the mineral rich volcanic soil the grass is full of important nutrients that are essential for producing strong and healthy calves.

In Ndutu we were not disappointed by big cat action. Here we saw the first cheetahs on this trip and even witnessed a cheetah taking down a lone wildebeest calf directly in front of one of our vehicles. On the same day everybody in the group “chimped” when 7 small lion cubs suckled at their mothers a few meters away from us. All 4 days in Ndutu were filled with excitement and the 8-9 hours per day we spent in our game drive vehicles seemed much too short.

Our next destination was Seronera in the central Serengeti. Again we were surrounded by tall grass and wildlife sightings were not as frequent as in Ndutu. But because of the tall grass big cats preferred spending the daytime in shady trees. Never have I seen so many leopards and lions in trees.

From Seronera we took a plane to Kilimanjaro Airport and continued via Nairobi to Samburu in the northern part of Kenya. We hadn’t seen a leopard yet but I promised my guests that the chances to spot this beautiful cat, the last of the Big Five, here in Samburu were good. And they turned out to be better than I have ever experienced before. We saw a young leopard pulling an impala kill up a tree while the mother was watching. The next day we found another female in a tree and later in the afternoon on an impala kill. The next morning her cub had joined her for breakfast – 4 leopards in 2 days! Not too shabby!

_21Z1500Although we had already seen rhinos in Ngorongoro Crater the distance was too great for decent photographs. But the private reserve, Solio Ranch, kept its promise to be one of the best places in Kenya to get up close to these powerful animals. Again we were surprised by a spectacular sighting of a black rhino and white rhino fighting each other for hours.

Yesterday we came back to Nairobi from our last stop – Nakuru National Park. Until a few years ago it was famous for its large numbers of flamingos; today the lake hosts only a few of the graceful pink birds due to high water levels. But even without a sea of pink, Nakuru National Park is well worth a visit. We had fantastic giraffe sightings of the Rothschild’s giraffe, the rarest of the 3 giraffe species, not to mention large herds of buffalo, zebras, impalas and the ever present olive baboons.

_21Z1753I am writing this blog from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam waiting for my flight to Atlanta. Despite a very exciting safari I can’t wait to finally be back home again with Jami and Gershwin.

You are in the BEST of hands today!

A touching moment as an infant orangutan lays its small hand ( Pongo pygmaeus ) in the big hand of its mother, Borneo, Indonesia

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You are in the BEST of hands when you open this link to today’s blog!

Margaret Mead wrote, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have”.

Jami Tarris

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A “Trimate” is a unique and wonderful phenomena that has occurred only thrice on this planet. But what is it? Well, there were three of them (thus the prefix “tri”). Now there are two. The Trimates are “the Founding Mothers of Primatology”. They were three women researchers who were so named by Dr. Louis Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and archaeologist born in 1903 and educated at the University of Cambridge. He is famed for his study of human evolution and his early pioneering work in the field of paleotology.

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These “Mothers of Primatology” were no less than Jane Goodall (for chimpanzees), Dian Fossey (for gorillas) and Birute Mary Galdikas (for orangutans). Both Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey worked with the African Great Apes. Their work became well known “Hollywood style” as both have been featured in films (‘Gorillas in the Mist’ – starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey) and various documentaries.

Documentaries have also been made about the lesser-known Trimate Birute Mary Galdikas – but she has not been sensationalized as much as Goodall and Fossey. For one her work has been in Borneo Indonesia and not Africa. Orangutans only occur in two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia – but more specifically in Sumatra and Borneo. And also, she doesn’t strike one as a person wanting or needing stardom. She has a tendency to be shy and is very soft spoken.

She has also worked with the only semi-solitary Great Ape – the other three African apes (chimps, gorillas and bonobos) live in social groups. The orangutan however, is semi-solitary in that it has the longest childhood dependence on its mother than any other animal in the world. The babies nurse until they are about 6 years of age. The young females may stay with their mothers until they are into their teens allowing them to observe mothering skills as they watch their younger siblings being raised by their mother. But other than the mother/child relationship, these apes are solitary. And they have been the long time companions and focus of Birute Galdikas’ life work for over 40 years.

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with her during my time in Borneo. Stay posted for more on the work of Dr. Birute Galdikas. I will be diligently working to get her here to the States for speaking engagements. If you have a viable venue for her to raise donations, please let me know. Borneo and Sumatra are anticipating more deliberately set (by palm oil plantations) forest fires in 2016. They are in dire need of raising funds to fight the fires next year. They are also in need of funds to help with the cost of the huge numbers of orphaned orangutan babies (mothers killed by palm oil plantation workers during the deliberate setting of fires and then the babies sold into the illegal pet trade business). Please visit: https://orangutan.org/ to foster or adopt an orangutan, or to donate to the palm oil fire fund.

Jami Tarris

King of the Jungle? Maybe not for long!

Lion (Panthera leo) Addo Elephant National Park Eastern Cape Province SOUTH AFRICA RANGE: Throughout sub-Saharan Africa

Lion numbers are now down to a tenth of where they were 35 years ago. With only 20,000 left in the wild, are we going to sit back and watch them go down the same path as the tigers? From 100,000 in the1900′s, to less than 4,000 in the 1970′s. Today the move in the U.S.A to Protect African Lions Under Endangered Species Act is a step forward but not nearly enough to save them in the long term. Lions in Central and West Africa will be listed as endangered, but in southern and East Africa they will be classified as threatened. Trophies could still be imported from nations where lions are listed as threatened — as long as they meet the standards set under the special rule and the animals were killed legally.

Cecil was not the first male lion to suffer the fate when straying outside of a protected area and falling prey to a hunter. Thanks to social media it finally got the world’s attention. Two years running when we visited Hwangi NP in Zimbabwe, we learned that the dominant male we had photographed the previous year had since been hunted. This has been an ongoing problem in South Africa too.

While I was sitting in the departure lounge in OR Tambo Airport, Johannesburg a few months ago, I was sick to my stomach listening to hunters recall their exciting adventures while visiting my country. “And while we were waiting (probably at a baited site or waterhole) a hyena came in so we shot that too…”

Man is living outside the laws of nature with trophy hunting and always going for the prime individuals, but hunting is only a small part of the equation in the demise of the lions.

It takes years for a fragmented lion population – either from hunting, contraception or miss management to establish themselves as a functioning pride. Lions living in small, fenced reserves, who regularly come in contact with other lions do not always behave the same as those that have more space to roam. They change between groups frequently. They don’t always kill the cubs belonging to other lionesses. Many of these reserves don’t have hyenas or nearly enough of them to help maintain lion numbers either. Lions eat a lot! Small reserves don’t always have the numbers of plains game to feed them. Some of these excess old males land up on canned hunting farms.

Pete and I lived in a reserve in South Africa for 2 years and lion management was an eye-opener to us. It was horrific to me to learn how casually this is undertaken. No science behind who dies or who gets moved and basically they’ll ship them off to who ever will take them. There are reserves that are culling lions. Believe it or not – it is easier to cull a lion than to obtain a permit to relocate it. With a species now listed as endangered – how can we even consider culling healthy lions. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP) – our biggest park – tests show that both antibodies to the viruses that cause feline Aids (Feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV) and the bacterium (Mycobacterium bovis) that causes bovine tuberculosis are present in their lions. KNP is home to about 2,000 lions, basically a tenth of the lions left in the wild and potentially they are all sick! Again, I ask myself – how can it be possible that we are allowed to cull healthy lions in other areas? The alternative is contraception. But after several years on contraception the females become sterile so that is not the answer either.

The range of lions has shrunk. There is a move to repopulate lions into areas where they have been hunted out.

In 2013 we photographed the relocation of 4 lions to Malawi… One died in the airplane but the others are now doing well in their new home and have bred.

Lion darted for relocation to Malawi (Panthera leo) Veterinarian Andre Uys and anaesthetized lion for flight transportation Pilansberg Game Reserve North West Province SOUTH AFRICA

This year 7 lions were successfully trans-located to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. The cost of relocating lions is enormous but worth it. We must persist and facilitate this.

We are at a point with world lion numbers where every single one counts. We have also been fortunate to see the Asiatic lions in the Gir forest of India. Their numbers are so low they are barely a viable population but they do know every animal. With African lions we need a database of every individual in the world so they can be managed correctly. We need habitat for these animals to roam freely and severe punishments for poaching – where the end use is in Asian medicine, as well as a total ban on hunting. With today’s new protection act we are one step closer to shutting down one of the problems. With social media we all have a voice so let’s shout about it…

Anybody who is still not convinced should watch the movie Blood Lions.

“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us — not just the people of Africa and India — to take action,” –Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

With Christmas around the corner let us consider donating to a conservation organization to protect lions in place of buying presents. I would be happy to recommend some.

Reneé Bish