Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

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Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

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The Hairy Princess

Botswana’s Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta is home to some spectacular wildlife, and if you are lucky enough to visit you may even get a glimpse of some very special big cats. The Lion prides that call the Delta home contain some rare and unique female pride members who just happen to have manes.

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A maned lioness in the Mombo area of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Photograph courtesy Deon De Villiers. Image – National Geographic.com

Maned Lioness and a safari favorite known as Martina, was last seen in 2002 in the Mombo region of the Moremi Games Reserve in the Delta but, since then the area seems to have been a hot spot for these unique felines. It is thought that the Lions in this area carry a genetic predisposition towards the trait and could be related. Mmamoriri, or The Hairy Princess, who resides in the same region, has garnered a lot of attention and has also become the first maned Lioness to be studied.

While maned females look different they are still seen by their prides as a Lioness. In fact, they may be seen as both providers (who bring down prey) and protectors (predators see them as male Lions).

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Mmamoriri, the maned Lioness, being greeted affectionately by the other Lionesses in the pride. © Robynne Kotzee – Image Africa Geographic

Theory suggests that the trait can be attributed to a disruption of the embryo at either conception (genetic contribution from the sperm was abnormal and caused a female to have male characteristics) or, when in the womb (the fetus was exposed to high levels of male hormones). In 2013 Simon Dures a PhD researcher on the genetic diversity of Lion populations in northern Botswana, and Dr. Erik Verreynne conducted the first ever physical examination of Mmamoriri. At the time of the study her pride consisted of a “single male, five females and two cubs approximately three months old.”

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Mmamoriri the Lioness, being darted for study, demonstrated both male and female behavior. Image – Wilderness Safari’s

Mmamoriri was sedated and her measurements taken along with a blood sample for a full genetic and hormonal analysis. During the examine it was noted she had fully intact female genitalia, however they could not determine if she had undescended testicles.

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Mmamoriri also has a slightly larger body size than other females – Image Simon Dures via Wilderness Safari’s

The research around Mmamoriri is still ongoing but the blood work revealed that she is ‘genetically’ a female (that happens to have male features). Simon Dures told Africa Geographic that the trait could be due to a genetic condition which resulted in exposing the developing fetus to excess male hormones in the womb. This would also lead to male characteristics like a mane or larger than average body size.

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Mmamoriri is the maned Lion hanging onto the back of the buffalo – her larger size was reported to be an advantage while hunting large prey and defending kills from hyenas. © Kai Collins – Image Africa Geographic

Data from the study has revealed that Lions in the Okavango Delta are more isolated than other Lions in Botswana which means there is a limited amount of new genetic material coming in. Over time the isolation may cause traits like Mmamoriri’s to increase and if she, and any females like her, are proven to be infertile it could become a problem for Lion populations in the area. Simon Dures states that “any Lions with the condition are essentially removed from the gene pool, reducing the breeding population, and thus increasing the risk of population decline.”

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Mmamoriri resting on Chief’s Island in the Okavango Delta. © Robynne Kotzee – Image Africa Geographic

Lions in the Okavango Delta face pressures from human-wildlife conflict outside protected areas, retaliatory killings for cattle predation and, in the northern section of Chief’s Island they also have to contend with rising water levels which play a role in keeping them isolated.

While this unique and fascinating trait exhibited my Mmamoriri and those like her is not an immediate threat to the Lion population, it will be vital to ensure wildlife corridors are properly maintained to allow these predators to move freely to and from new areas bringing with them fresh genetic material that will enable their survival.

Video of the Western Pride at Little Mombo on Chief’s Island with their two cubs, about three months old, and the maned lioness, Mmamoriri seen on the right.

Maned Lionesses have been documented in the Serengeti and also in captivity. In 2011 a 13-year-old Lioness at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa began growing a mane. The Lioness, named Emma, was examined and it was found that she had elevated testosterone levels, after her ovaries were removed (the cause of the extra male hormone) she gradually lost her mane.

Insights

Wildlife conservation in Africa, like elsewhere, is vast and complex, as many people are just starting to learn. For those of us who reside outside of the continent it can be confusing, frustrating and at times devastating. The intense scrutiny it has come under lately has exposed us to some of the challenges that must be overcome, as well as showing us we still have lots to learn.

Awareness, with regards to the status of lions and all Africa’s wildlife, has been steadily building and the call to action has never been stronger but, how do we continue to move forward and, what is it we are not seeing? Even though the movement to change the system is getting stronger it sometimes can feel like it’s one step forward and three steps back. Recent events this year have forced all us to face the demons behind wildlife conservation and by this I mean the corruption, the ties to trophy hunting, the fact that money trumps science and ethics, and, the realization that even though we want the killing to stop it doesn’t look like there is an immediate end in sight which for most, including myself, is one of the toughest pills to swallow. While I have and will always be against sport hunting I have come to understand that it is going to take a collective shift in our way of thinking about wildlife in general and a massive effort by everyone to back that shift up. This also means we will need to get a better grasp of the complexities involved in conservation in Africa by looking more closely at the way it is viewed and operates from the inside. Along with what we are already doing, this could be a useful approach that may help us better understand how to help. Of course it doesn’t mean we are always going to like what we see, or that we will necessarily always agree with the ideologies, but if it enables us to get a better handle on the underlying issues to ultimately do better for lions, for wildlife (and put a stop the the killing) then maybe it’s something we embrace rather than ignore.

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So with more questions, than answers, floating around in my head I reached out to Safari Guide, Naturalist and Zimbabwe resident Rob Janisch to obtain his insights and opinions on conservation in Zimbabwe and Africa, in a post Cecil world. There are many sentiments you will find familiar, points you may agree with and others you may strongly oppose, either way this is intended to provoke thought by demonstrating that the solutions we are searching for are more complicated than we think.

From the perspective of a resident and Safari Guide, what is the state of wildlife conservation presently like in Zimbabwe and has it changed much over the years? 

RJ Firstly, it is important to give you a bit of background to Zimbabwe.  Whilst the country has hit the headlines in the past 15 years largely as a politically unstable, unsafe and ‘unfriendly’ country, the reality on the ground is very different to the picture portrayed by the media.

Zimbabwe has had some very challenging years since 2000, and has suffered some major economic and political turns. However, as with many aspects of life in Zimbabwe, the results of many decades worth of sound management, excellent legislation, good infrastructural development, and high levels of education prior to 2000, has left the state of wildlife conservation in the country today in a much better state than it could have been given the circumstances.

So, has the state of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe changed since the heydays in the early 1990s?  The answer is yes, unfortunately, somewhat towards the negative in much the same way as is being witnessed across other countries in Africa, often on a much bigger scale elsewhere. For example the dark cloud of corruption at all levels that is leading to what-once-were good environmental controls, governance and legislation being flouted for ‘the quick solution’ with immediate financial returns.

Having said this, Zimbabwe’s parks and wildlife estate land (protected areas managed by a state-governed authority) is still relatively well-managed on the whole, especially in areas where innovative co-management plans with independent conservation agencies have been put in place such as Gonarezhou National Park, in partnership with Frankfurt Zoological Society.

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Gonarezhou National Park – Image Frankfurt Zoological Society

The main issue facing conservation in Zimbabwe is exactly the same number one issue facing the state of conservation on the continent of Africa as a whole: widespread corruption and poor governance with respect to wildlife and ecological crime, both in the public and the private sector.  However, there is still a semblance of order, legislation and control that exists under the layer of corruption and, if ways were found to eliminate or drastically reduce the corruption it would bode well for Zimbabwe and its wildlife in the long run.

Was the news of Cecil the lions death really news considering hunters from the US have been taking lion trophies long before this story broke?

RJ Cecil’s story is an interesting one and, he was just one of the many illegal, unethical and ‘dodgy’ hunts carried out in Africa this season by the sports hunting fraternity. U.S. hunters as well as others from across the world, are involved in this sort of thing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis in many different countries all the way from the U.S. to Mozambique.

In Cecil’s case corruption and bad governance of an industry, which had allowed for an unethical hunt to be carried out in an area where such a hunt is in theory illegal, is directly to blame. Who was responsible in terms of the actual hunters both in the U.S. and in Zimbabwe is not really the issue here, despite social media’s best attempts to point fingers at Palmer or the Zimbabwe professional hunter or whoever else is villain of the month.

Unlike the trade in illegal ivory or rhino horn, the sport hunting world is not a case of demand driving supply. For example, the total number of lions that the sports hunting trade puts on quota (i.e. allowed to be hunted, whether the permit was attained legally or not) across Africa per year is not a very significant number when compared to the number of lions lost through habitat destruction due to land turned to agriculture, or the number lost to snares aimed at more appealing bush-meat (protein) source, or even the number of lions lost to diseases linked to human interference, such as domestic dogs and cattle-borne diseases.

Bottom line is the news of Cecil’s death due to an unethical sports hunt was not the real issue.  Neither was the hatred and vitriol that arose due to the ‘crime’ being committed by an American dentist.  No, the issue really doesn’t even extend just to the sports hunting fraternity although, obviously the system there does need some serious re-structuring as we are seeing in countries like Botswana and Kenya to great effect.

The issue that should be raised and shouted from the rooftops as a result of Cecil-gate, is that lions in Africa, and almost all other species within the continent, are under huge threat from the impacts and negative effects of too many people; poor education programs; not enough governance and control; and, unchecked corruption at almost every level of the ‘protected areas’ authority in Africa – an authority that also happens to include the sports hunting trade as one of its constituents.

The death of Cecil seemed to be a wake up call for many people around the world, in terms of local reaction was it business as usual?

I think locally it might have actually had an opposite effect, I think people in Africa were perplexed that so much energy and noise was created in the naming and shaming of the dentist for his role in the Cecil killing with little regard for the bigger conservation picture that a story like this could have helped focus our collective lenses on.  In Africa, we don’t get to see mass consciousness at work that often, like we saw with the social and mainstream media response to Cecil.  It’s a pity that this mass-energy could not have unlocked the message that really did need to get out.  Instead of the ‘hang the lion killer from our own backyard’ response, I guess we were hoping more for a headline that read “Cecil’s death is just the beginning of a universal movement towards better understanding of and, action against conservation issues across Africa”. Business as usual will continue with respect of wildlife crime and ecological degradation in Africa as well as across the world, as long as the world is not actively aware of it and, vehemently and incorruptibly against it.

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Cecil and his pride in Hwange National Park in November 2012 – Image The Telegraph

What do you see as some of the key issues facing wildlife in reserves/parks in Zimbabwe and Africa?

RJ Some of the key issues facing wildlife in Zimbabwe and other areas of Africa are mostly not very new or different from those we have seen in the past. This includes the massive slaughter and trade in both wildlife parts of species alive or dead, unchecked bush fires, over-fishing and illegal logging. The weather, in the form of climate change, is another factor damaging ecosystems across Africa, and off its shores, in the form of unscheduled periods of drought, floods and rising temperatures.  Areas we used to know as very wet are now semi-arid, and many of the exquisite coral reefs off Africa’s east coast are showing signs of ‘over-heating’ due to higher sea temperatures. The human species, who gives very little back to the planet we rely on for our entire existence, has a hand in contributing  to all of the above by way of our ever growing population. I will refer to a few examples of this:

  • Early on the demand for Ivory and rhino horn in China and SE Asia was still high, but not at the levels it is now with more people ascending to the middle class wanting items of status such as ivory in their homes.
  • In the 1800s and early 1900s when European hunters traipsed through Africa killing anything that moved but, we were still only talking about a couple of hundred people, at most, with basic muzzle-loaded weapons leading the sharp-end of the species slaughter wedge.
  • Rising populations later meant a need for more meat for protein to feed everyone, more space required for agriculture to grow crops, more water required, more fires, more fishing, more mining, more of everything that directly affects wildlife conservation in the continent.
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A government official picks up an ivory tusk to crush it at a confiscated ivory destruction ceremony in Beijing, China, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

  • Before a reserve like Hwange, Cecil’s home ground, was first set aside and protected not 100 years ago, there were very few people living in the immediate area and so wildlife was free to move from neighboring Botswana to the waterways of the Zambezi during the dry season, pretty much as they pleased.  Huge herds of elephants for example made the migratory journey of several hundreds of miles every year to find water and food which helped to reduce the impact the huge populations had in the region.
  • Interestingly, as human population grew around the area in the first half of the 20th Century, the Hwange reserve was proclaimed and the wardens went with a system of artificial water wells to try to entice the animals, especially the elephants, to stay in the reserve. This was done to encourage the elephants not to wander out towards the Zambezi looking for water or to graze and risk being killed or bumping into the ever-expanding communities of people and their crops nearby. In time, all the animals, including thousands of elephants, made the reserve their home but, over 50 to 60 years we have seen massive devastation of vegetation around these artificial water points due to an overpopulation of mega-herbivores. Basically one area is having to cope with the density and impacts that was previously spread over an area four or five times the size.
  • As communities grew, reserves and parks were now having to be set aside to keep wild animals safe from humans complete with the myriad of challenges that this creates in itself like access to water, anti-poaching, fire, etc…Any of those ‘protected’ animals who wandered out of the park boundaries faced the risk of either being illegally poached for meat and the likelihood of bumping into a ‘legitimate’ sports hunter who wanted a trophy.

So it is a double-edged sword all borne from the fact that there are too many people and not enough wild spaces to cope with them all. Ironically, these same communities surrounding the national parks and reserves like Hwange, were subsequently given hunting quotas, to benefit from (mostly), as part of an innovative natural resource management program named CAMPFIRE. Unfortunately it was the unethical trading of such quotas that resulted in the unlikely scenario that a lion could be hunted where it was when Dr. Palmer arranged his hunt earlier in the year.

Tourism has been proven to bring in more money than trophy hunting, however there are many organizations and individuals that still support it as a means of managing land and helping local communities. Why do you think this is still the case?

RJ Sports/trophy hunting is an incredible tool for managing large areas of land that are not as appealing or attractive to tourism… IF it is carried out ethically and under strict management and monitoring. An example of this is in one of the bigger conservancies in south-central Zimbabwe which has one of the highest wildlife densities, including rare and endangered animals such as rhino and sable, in Africa.  The area is operated by a handful of professional hunters with decades of experience and who seem to have a sound conservation and land management ethic.  Due to its high wildlife numbers, such an area could also be used for non-hunting (photographic) tourism. However this is generally the exception to the rule.

Most hunting blocks are large areas of mostly low-density wildlife and, if hunting were to stop on these (by legislation, public pressure, low demand), it is doubtful the areas would be suitable as tourism areas as, access to pretty scenery and good relaxed wildlife is essential for the latter.

There are good examples of former hunting areas turned to tourism and eventually paying for themselves and doing a great job at creating a sustainable conservation management system such as Great Plains’ Selinda Concession in northern Botswana, and Lugenda Wilderness in northern Mozambique but again, these are sadly the exceptions as they require massive investment and a long time frame before the tourism is able to cover the operating costs of the block.

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Just encouraging more and more people to travel for photos, not hunting trophies, to Africa is not going to cut it sadly. There needs to be a healthy, long-term and significant investment in the land if it is to be transferred from hunting to tourism, AND THEN the need for a higher demand in tourists traveling to these places.

As an example, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe itself does not receive enough tourists annually to fill all its tourism camps, let alone raise enough money, as a national park body, to support the ongoing operations within the park.  So the neighboring hunting blocks (like the one Cecil was hunted on) are never going to be able to attract the tourism required or raise the funds necessary to manage these areas as tourism conservation areas without hunting currently. Until that time the funds and governance are in place to move more hunting blocks away from hunting and towards tourism, sports hunting – if well-managed, controlled and ethically conducted – is one of the better options still available to manage these blocks.

So the focus should not be on removing all hunting, but rather on cutting out all corruption and bad-ethics from the industry to promote a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable system where special animals, like the large tusked old elephant bull recently shot in southern Zimbabwe by a German sports hunter, and other species like Lions or black rhino for example, can be awarded specially protected species status and not be able to be hunted.

The theory behind cleaning up and making the sports hunting industry more sustainable with better conservation practices is not as difficult as it seems.  Certainly not as difficult as the thought of stopping or removing hunting all together and then watching as these large tracts of wild land are invaded by people for farming, tree cutting, burning, poaching of wild animals that are then replaced with domestic ones, etc… If there was enough money and demand, I would be all in favor of turning all these areas to tourism or just plain conservation areas, but that simply is not viable or possible at this stage.

Predators like lions have proven benefits to ecosystems so losing them can have major consequences ecologically speaking. How do Safari guides like yourself engage and educate people about the value of protecting wildlife like Lions?

RJ You’re so right about lions – they are a keystone species in the ecosystem that hold significance if removed, would have major and devastating impacts on the rest of the ecosystem.  The same can be said of most of the apex predators such as sharks, lions, tigers, jaguars, hyenas and polar bears. As a guide and naturalist, the issue of engaging people and educating them about the importance and value of protecting Lions, and other wildlife, has to be a 3-pronged approach.

Firstly, we have to engage with the people on the ground, the communities, those most likely to come into contact with lions as well as other wildlife, in conflict and in fear.  They need to be educated on the importance of lions in the greater system, secondly we need to engage with the people of influence in the world – tourists, hunters, anyone who is able to use their money to influence lion conservation for the greater good. The key here is tourists who take guided safaris with me whose visit to see the lions, and to take photos of them, will fund the ongoing protection of the land and species themselves.

Finally we have to engage with the local authorities which include the government, and parks bodies, and chiefs and all who have influence over decision-making regarding land use, management of wild lands and wildlife.

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What do you think guides and tour companies based in Africa can do better to support wildlife and help local communities who are directly linked to the survival of the animals?

RJ Educate. Educate.  Educate.  It’s the old adage: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  TEACH a man to fish sustainability, and in line with the planetary limits, and to reduce the number of mouths to feed in his family through careful family planning, and his kids’ kids will eat forever. Also, they need to lobby more as a unified group against the corruption and bad governance at the higher authority level. After all, it is taxes and revenue from these tourism streams that is paying those same authorities’ salaries.

What organizations in Africa stand out to you as helping by encouraging local communities to co-exist with wildlife?

RJ There are a couple here, but the best community-based conservation project I have come across in all my travels across Africa is the Niassa Lion Project or Mariri Education Centre in Niassa Reserve, northern Mozambique.  The Kenyan conservancy approach is a brilliant and proved method of combing indigenous practices, socio-economic support and wildlife conservation.  Great Plains Conservation have a very interesting model and one that seems to be getting good results, especially in Botswana.  Finally, African Parks and its various partners such as WCS and Frankfurt Zoological Society, are doing a brilliant job at bringing back wild places and trying to conserve those few remaining biological hot spots.

The face of tourism, along with Africa is likely to change in the coming decades, how do you see your role as a guide changing?

RJ I already have seen it change in the past 15 years as the world moves along at an exponentially rapid pace. Social media and the internet has driven this into a new realm. Safari camps and lodges must look at, and in many cases are, changing their approach from one of high profit business for the benefit of the principals of that particular business, to a conservation tourism model that sees any and all funds raised through tourism or donations being put back into conservation projects and initiatives.

So too, the safari guides of today are not just “jeep jockeys” showing folks from overseas local wildlife to get photos, and hopefully a good tip at the end. No, the safari guide of today is the ambassador, a role model, who can influence and inspire. Often guides are also the conservators themselves, as in the Kenyan conservancy model, within the world of wildlife conservation.

I already see more of guides these days presenting talks to influential audiences across the globe on important conservation topics – not simply to attract people to travel with us, but because I think we realize that we have to be a major part of the conservation revolution that seeks motivation, funds and support to protect and conserve all wild places, for without these places there will be no “we” to worry about.

What are your personal recommendations to help first time or return visitors to Africa get the most out of their trip while still contributing in a good way?

RJ This question is a little like the topical “green” question.  Sure you can use local guides, places, products and travel less to countries that have unethical conservation practices and corruption, however, if we are to make a REAL difference in wildlife conservation ultimately we have to somehow be part of the greater movement that attacks the root causes of the problem and not just fights the symptoms with seemingly quick and easy wins.

If that visitor is planning a safari to Africa – book with someone who will at least expose you to the realities of conservation in Africa, amazing and tragic. Make sure you visit innovative projects and operations that are trying to address the bigger picture and not just ‘green-washing’ with a few Facebook posts and empty promises.  Most of all, expose and inspire your kids and young people to the natural world as it should be, not as it is heading.

What do you hope for the future of wildlife in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa?

RJ That it survives… seriously.  But also that people might soon discover, on mass, that they are not the top-dog in a human centric hierarchy in Nature, but are in fact a rather fragile primate that is hanging out on a very wobbly branch in the greater tree of life. Only then will wildlife anywhere be able to continue along its way up the branches of the same tree of life.

As a father what values are you trying to instill in your children for wildlife and places?

RJ If my little girls are a) exposed to wonderful wild places and things, b) brought up to care for, respect and be passionate about them, c) understand the bigger picture of the genius of Nature with her cycles, life lessons and inspiration, and, d) able to inspire others around them to have the same passion and care for their planet… then I will feel we’ve done a good job at instilling conservation and planet-friendly values in them.

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Any Final thoughts on lions or other wildlife that you would like to address?

RJ I think what is critical with all these sorts of things is to not focus on individual species like Lions or rhinos, or individual conservation cases only like Cecil.  We will never get anywhere like this. Activism demands a holistic approach to exposing the masses and the authorities to the issues at hand.  I think it is key for us all to realize that the concept of cause and effect is huge here, like a small butterfly wing flutter that can have huge ripple effects down the activism chain.

As such, I really would encourage anyone who cares deeply for the planet to think carefully before diving into this or that petition, social media frenzy or similar response to any one conservation issue. Fundamentalism has yet to work as a system. Tipping mass consciousness is what is required, and this requires lots of hands involved in the bigger picture – reducing human impact on the environment through cutting back on our population and the methods we employ to live on this planet.

The current models we use will not see us surviving much beyond the Lions and elephants on this planet, we all need to change our ways. That is more important than chasing down oddball dentists from Minnesota.

A huge thank you to Rob Janisch for contributing to this piece and sharing his insight and thoughts on wildlife conservation in Africa. Rob is a specialist nature guide, a co-trainer with biomimicrySA and he operates private guided Safaris in Africa, Into the Wild with Rob Janisch. Rob can be contacted directly at www.robjanisch.com.

Love/Hate

Now for something completely different…I was recently tagged by Cat9984 Adventures in Cheeseland for a Love/Hate challenge.

The rules are:

  1. List 10 things you love
  2. List 10 things you hate
  3. Tag other people to take the challenge…if you like

Love

Love hate challenge

1. Cats, Big Cats small cats everything about them

love hate challenge, cats

  love hate challenge

 2. Summer, I love the heat, sun and the light

love hate challenge

3. The sound of the birds early in the morning before the traffic starts

love hate challenge

4. Africa, all the wildlife – especially the cats

love hate challenge

5. Traveling, that usually involves some connection to wildlife and nature

love hate challenge

6. Crystal clear blue water and white sandy beaches

love hate challenge

7. Donuts, good vegan donuts…or any baked good

love hate challenge

8. Having free time with a wide open schedule

love hate challenge

9. Books, I can’t imagine using an e-reader

love hate challenge

10. People who are kind to animals

love hate challenge

Hate…or dislike

love hate challenge

1. Cold, long freezing winters

love hate challenge

2. Animal abusers, people who hurt or exploit other species

love hate challenge

3. Working 9 to 5 and the wonderful fun that goes with it

love hate challenge

4. Time again, I don’t have enough of it in a day…it’s a theme for me right now

love hate challenge

5. Commuting, taking public transit being stuck in traffic…it’s very frustrating

love hate challenge

6. People who don’t respect or appreciate the Earth and all wonderful that comes with it

love hate challenge

7. This is love hate thing….how much time I now spend on a computer and how dependent I am on a laptop, iPhone…

love hate

8. That I can’t save all the cats

love hate

9. Slacking on my exercise because….

love hate

10. Not getting to my blog as often as I would like because of 3 and 4

love hate challenge

The Center of The Cativerse

For two days in June, Los Angeles will become the center of the ‘Cativerse’ when it hosts the first ever convention and expo for cat lovers.
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No this isn’t a dream, this is real.

When I first read about CatConLA last fall I knew I had to go, so I booked off vacation time at work and redeemed my frequent flyer miles. The tag line “It’s like Comic-Con but for cat people” said it all. This was the ground-breaking and litter-box shaking event cat lovers everywhere had been waiting for.
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The event takes place June 6 and 7 at The Reef in Downtown LA

“Part expo, part symposium, CatConLA showcases the world’s top cat-centric merchandise including furniture, art, toys and clothing for those of us who possess a great love of the feline, as well as conversations with some of the top cat experts in the world.”

The weekend is guaranteed to be filled with fun but it will also be about giving back. CatConLA will be donating a dollar for every ticket sold, as well as a portion of the proceeds from CatConLA merchandise, to benefit FixNation a non-profit organization committed to helping cats in Los Angeles. FixNation provides a free, full-time spay/neuter clinic for cats as well as low-cost spay/neuter services for owned pet cats.

Lil Bub or Pudge the Cat Meet and Greet packages, that include a two-day pass to CatConLA, are available for fans who want a little one on one time with their favorite internet cat. Lil Bub will donate a portion of the ticket price to both Lil Bub’s Big Fund and FixNation, while a portion of the ticket price from the Pudge the Cat Meet and Greet will go to FixNation.

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Lil Bub

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Pudge the Cat

The event will offer numerous seminars on both days and the Speakers list includes, among others, Simon Tofield creator of  the cartoon Simon’s Cat, Mike Bridavsky the human behind Lil Bub, Will Braden creator of Henri, Le Chat Noir and Ben Huh Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Cheezburger.
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Simon Tofield and Simon’s Cat

CatConLA will also have Best Friends Animal Society on site with day-of adoptions and, If all this isn’t enough the extensive list of vendors selling cat themed merchandise will keep you busy shopping for yourself and every cat lover in your life. Be sure to bring a big shopping bag and your credit card, I guarantee you will be going home with a much heavier suitcase.

For more info and to purchase tickets visit CatConLA, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest updates.

Be sure to stay tuned for my full report when I head out to LA in a weeks time. Let the countdown begin!

Japans Cat Man

Japan is well-known for its love of cats and cat culture. They were the first to pioneer cat cafes, which have since popped up all over the world, and they even have their very own island where cats dominate and outnumber people 6 to 1.

Japan also has Masahiko Suga, a 53-year-old retired electronics company worker who has become the countries first official cat man.

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Masahiko can been seen walking his nine cats around Kitakyushu’s central shopping district area in south-west Japan. His daily walks have earned him the name of ‘Cat Man of Kyushu”, or Cat Uncle.

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Image – The Happy Lab

Masahiko rescued his first stray cat in 1999 and he said that they relieved his work stress but started taking them outside when they began to damage his furniture. Masahiko tells The Asahi Shimbun that he is happy if he “can give an opportunity for cat lovers unable to have one as a pet to feel comforted by playing with his cats.

Japan, Cats, Japans Cat man, Japans Cat culture, Cat cafes, Cat Island, Equality for Cats, Masahiko Suga,

His little pride of well groomed cats includes Himalayan and Chinchilla Golden who are known for their laid back nature.

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Image – Rocket News 24

Japan, Cats, Japans Cat man, Japans Cat culture, Cat cafes, Cat Island, Equality for Cats, Masahiko Suga,

Image – Rocket News 24

Normally taking cats outside without being safely supervised is not something I would suggest, however from all accounts and comments by people who have actually met him the cats seems to be cozy and content.

Japan, Cats, Japans Cat man, Japans Cat culture, Cat cafes, Cat Island, Equality for Cats, Masahiko Suga,

Image – Rocket News 24

So what exactly motivates Masahiko to walk his cats? Besides not being something you would see everyday, he says “I hope society will eventually give cats the status it gives to dogs” and, in a world where our feline friends often seem to get the short end of the stick, asking for cat equality sounds pretty good to me.

You can check out a short video of Masahiko on his walks or friend him on Facebook where he posts more pictures of his cats.

What do you think cat equality or cat-ploitation?

Global March For Lions

On March 13 and 14, people in cities around the world will once again bring awareness to the canned Lion hunting industry in South Africa. Last year was the first Global March For Lions (GMFL) and with 60 cities worldwide participating it was truly a historical moment, no gathering had previously raised awareness for Lions like the GMFL did.

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“Last year’s Global March for Lions created unprecedented public awareness world-wide about the plight of the lion. It was really extraordinary. During my almost thirty years fighting for the lion, never before I had I seen such a public outpouring of concern for the King of Animals. It was so heartening, and is making a difference. With this year’s demo we must build on this. The lion needs us like never before.” – Gareth Patterson, Author of My Lion’s Heart.

How the average person contributes to the canned hunting industry

For some it starts as a dream, traveling to Africa to volunteer on a conservation project  where the placement includes interaction with Lion cubs. Most of these placements, which can be found in South Africa, sell themselves to unwitting volunteers who think that they will be doing a good thing by helping raise, bottle feed, and play with lion cubs. Volunteers are told they are helping with “conservation” of the species and that when the Lions are grown, and thus to large to interact with people, they will ultimately be released back into the wild.

This could not be further from the truth

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Ask yourself if this looks fun or natural for these cubs?

Cubs, once able to feed themselves are turned into props used to provide photo and petting opportunities for paying visitors. There is nothing more unnatural to a Lion cub than being handled by humans all day long and being separated from their mothers. It is unhealthy, cruel, extremely abusive and exploitative. Most of these cubs are in very poor condition and are a product of FACTORY FARMING. These human-imprinted Lions have NO conservation value and therefore can never go back to the wild.

This industry is in it for money – there is no other reason

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The stuff of nightmares, the majority of these “projects” are commercial lion breeding farms that supply Lions for Trophy Hunting outfits – All Images – Global March For Lions Facebook

The reality 

Once the cubs are too large and dangerous to interact with people most end up in the canned hunting industry. The Lion cubs that were hand-reared by volunteers, used for photo-ops and habituated to people are then killed by trophy hunters. The Lions are baited, drugged, shot with guns, rifles and crossbows resulting in a horrible lingering death for the animal. All this done in an enclosed area with little or no chance for the lion to escape. Lions now an easy target, betrayed by humans that they had once trusted and grown dependent on.

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Big business. The majority of trophy hunters, who hail from the EU and USA, will pay well over $10,000 and sometimes up to $38,000 per kill

Breeding captive Lions helps wild Lions

  • Breeding of lions in captivity is NOT an important scientific necessity for the survival of Lions in the wild and it is certainly not a recognized conservation practice
  • To date almost NO captive reared Lions have been successfully introduced into the wild and, the gene pool in wild Lions is still sufficiently wild
  • Inbreeding is very prevalent in captive bred Lions and wild Lions are captured to breed with those in captivity to improve their genes
  • Luke Hunter (President of Panthera and someone who has worked on the conservation of wild African cats since 1982) and other experts recently published a paper demonstrating this “Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions – Panthera Leo in species restoration
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Captive breeding of lions involves very significant unregulated welfare issues

  • Stress to cub and mother caused by separation at an early age
  • Habituation to human contact, abuse and in some cases lack of adequate nutrition (to keep them small)
  • Restriction of freedom to express appropriate behavior and protection from fear and distress
  • Finally, Lions are sold into the canned Lion hunting industry
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Cub petting kills, make the connection

Many volunteers who take a placement at these facilities may not always be aware of what they are getting into. However some will defend placements even when presented with the facts, denying and refusing to believe that the cubs they once “played” with have since been sold into the canned hunting industry.

Thankfully, some return from their experience wanting to prevent others from making the same mistake. I urge you to read www.claws-out.com a blog where volunteers recount their time at Ukutula Lodge in South Africa. A cautionary tale, these volunteers are now  advocating against the cub petting and canned hunting industry.

Where have all the Lions gone?

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It is impossible for all these Lions, let alone one, to find a proper and reputable placement.

Believe it or not Canned Hunting Is NOT illegal in South Africa

Campaign Against canned Hunting (CACH), a South African charity working to stop canned lion hunting in South Africa, has had no success yet in changing the law. However since the industry relies on hunters being able to take their trophy home CACH, along with UK-based charity Lion Aid,  are working on changing the laws so to ultimately prevent  the importation of lion “trophies” into most countries like the EU and the US. This makes it less desirable to trophy hunt an animal when you can’t take the trophy.

Please visit the Global March For Lions Facebook Page for a complete list of cities and events this year, check back here for more updates and be sure to share this information to help educate others on the status of the African Lion.