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ICC Fails to Bring Uhuru Kenyatta to Trial in The Hague: The Story Continues….

20 Jan



On Wednesday December 3rd, 2014 amidst public grumblings that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would lift the indictment against the current President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda did just that. On Friday, December 5th she withdrew all five counts of “Crimes against Humanity” against the newly- elected President of Kenya. Kenyatta had been previously indicted under the tenure of former ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo for funding and orchestrating the violent actions of a secret sect known as Mungiki and inciting its members to perform crimes of rape, arson, and murder within Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, the city of Kisumu, and the municipalities of Nakuru and Naivasha during the 2007 Presidential elections. An estimated 1,300 people were killed as a result of this organized brutality while an additional 600,000 lost their homes or property and were moved by the government into displacement camps. It was determined that Kenyatta’s primary objective in inciting this violence among the tribes was to ensure the election of then incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a close political friend and fellow member of the Kikuyu tribe. Mr. Raila Odinga, member of the Luo tribe and opposition leader from the Lake Victoria Region had been steadily gaining in popularity and Kenyatta was eventually accused by the court of creating and maintaining this civil unrest during 2007/2008 to ensure that Mr. Kibaki, not Mr. Odinga won the election. Mr. Odinga stated publically immediately after the 2007 election that he had been “cheated of victory” claiming that the voting “had been rigged.” Supporters of Mr. Odinga continued to riot well into 2008 causing President Kibaki to create a new position for Mr. Odinga appointing him Kenya’s Prime Minster in order to help stem the violence. Ms. Bensouda cited “lack of evidence” as the reason for her withdrawal but warned Kenyan officials that she reserved the right to re-file these charges if and when “substantial evidence” emerged to support the indictment.

Mr. Fergal Gaynor, the ICC- appointed lawyer for the victims of the 2007-2008 presidential election violence informed a host of foreign news agencies that the Kenyan government did not cooperate and “did everything it could to withhold information as well important documents such as bank statements and telephone records” that would have shown Kenyatta’s specific role in planning the bloodshed. He claimed that witnesses in this case had either been bribed to change their statements or threatened with death if they testified against Kenyatta and his associates at their trials. He went on to say that government officials “had systematically undermined the court’s ability to conduct a full and just investigation of this matter.” According to Gaynor, Kenyan politicians shielded their president from prosecution by “conducting a well- organized and united effort, planned to undermine the judicial process”. Ms. Bensouda supported Gaynor’s claims also accusing the Kenyan government of “failing to cooperate” and admitting that their actions had had a “severe impact on the court’s ability to carry out a complete investigation.”

Kenyatta, son of the first President and Liberator of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta had voluntarily appeared before the court on April 8, 2011 to attend the Information of Charges hearing at The Hague in order to learn about the five counts brought against him. With the indictment against him withdrawn he will no longer have to suffer through a long drawn-out trial in Belgium and spend many months away from his office in Kenya. He took the news graciously at first then admonished the members of the court for displaying what he believed was a clear example of “political persecution”. He pointed out that the ICC prosecutor had incurred “a certain loss of respect” as a result of conducting what he deemed was “a very hurried and disorganized investigation”. And he wasn’t alone in feeling victimized just for being African. In September 2013, Kenya’s National Assembly passed a resolution to withdraw from the ICC in protest over the indictment of both their President and Deputy President. And in October of the same year the African Union organized a special summit to consider the current actions of the ICC. A motion was made that “every country in the Union immediately withdraw from the ICC” but was not acted upon. Yet the African Union did make their position on this matter perfectly clear in all subsequent communiques to the ICC stating that “standing heads of state in all African countries must not be placed on trial” and by November, 2013 the ICC had promised to consider the African Union’s request. Unfortunately, this was not the first time African nations had called for a mass exodus from the ICC. In June 2003, the countries of Comoros, Djibouti, and Senegal called for all African countries to withdraw from the ICC in protest over the fact that only residents of African nations “had been indicted, brought to trial, or convicted of Crimes Against Humanity” and were especially outraged over the indictment of Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created in July of 1998 after the ratification of the Roman Statute the treaty which established the global mission of this court. The statue delineates the court’s goals, structure, and jurisdiction. It began its official judicial operations in The Hague, Belgium as of 2002 by establishing definitions for the four international crimes used in identifying and prosecuting all cases. The specific crimes have been listed as: 1.) Genocide, 2.) Crimes against Humanity, 3.) War Crimes, and 4.) Crimes of Aggression; although the court cannot prosecute anyone for Crimes of Aggression. None of these crimes are subjected to any Statue of Limitations and defendants can be tried freely at any time well into the future. This international tribunal is only permitted to investigate and prosecute individuals who have engaged in the first three crimes in countries who are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. The ICC may also be directed to investigate specific allegations of any one or all of these three crimes by the United Nations Security Council. By 2014 the ICC had a global membership of 122 countries, 34 of which are located on the continent of Africa. Since its inception it has publically indicted 36 individuals and convicted two. Thomas Lubanga Dyllo was tried and sentenced to 14 years in prison while Germaine Katanga was tried and sentenced to 12 for crimes committed during the two wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Had Kenyatta’s indictment not been dropped he would have been the second standing President to be charged by the court. Muammar Gaddafi was indicted for Crimes against Humanity as well in June of 2011 but was killed on October 20, 2011. Omar al- Bashir, President of the Republic of the Sudan was the first. Mr. Bashir was declared a fugitive by the court for not responding to his indictment or summons in 2009. He is still President of this country and lives openly in Sudan even traveling to other sympathetic countries in Africa when he chooses. The ICC has no standing army or police force of its own to enforce arrest warrants so must rely on the United Nations and/or host countries’ troops to locate and arrest indicted fugitives.

So why wasn’t the ICC’s indictment of Kenyatta able to stand on its own merit? Well, according to David Kaye, a specialist in international affairs it had little to do with Ms. Bensouda’s actions and everything to do with those of the previous ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In his 2011 article published in the Journal of Foreign Affairs entitled, “Whose Afraid of the ICC?” Mr. Kaye goes on to explain Moreno-Ocampo’s “poor management and decision-making style that alienated subordinates as well as court officials”. He describes Moreno-Ocampo’s “ petty battles over turf and resources”; “erratic decision-making; brash behavior; and charges of politicization,” all undermining his success as the ICC Prosecutor. He believed that “Moreno- Ocampo’s recurring judicial setbacks have cast doubt on his role as Prosecutor.” And Mr. Kaye was not the only one who’d demanded Mr. Moreno- Ocampo’s resignation.

In November 2009, Human Rights Watch sent a public letter to the ICC expressing their deep concerns about Moreno- Ocampo’s role as the ICC Prosecutor. They criticized his performance accusing him of “grandstanding and holding press conferences rather than collecting the evidence needed to support each indictment”. They added that in the case of Darfur he had not “adequately protected his witnesses from the Sudanese government.” Luis Moreno- Ocampo, an Argentinean lawyer started his position as first Prosecutor elected by the governing body of the ICC in June, 2003. His term ended in June of 2012 when he left to head the new FIFA’s ethics committee. There is only a Prosecutor serving the court at one time at the ICC. He/she serves for nine consecutive years and cannot be re-elected to this position.

On June 11, 2011, according to ICC court records Moreno – Ocampo was admonished by court officials for missing the deadline that would have ensured that all 59 victims of the Kenyan election violence who had applied to appear before the ICC were given the opportunity to testify in court. This was after he arrived in Nairobi swearing to the media that he would not quit until he saw that justice had been done on behalf of these victims.

And that was not his only blunder. In 2008 he tried to fire a subordinate in his office after the man accused Moreno-Ocampo of sexual misconduct. Moreno-Ocampo was eventually cleared of this charge but then had the man fired for unprofessional conduct. The staff member appealed to the internal disciplinary board at the ICC and won his case. The court found that Moreno had served on the committee that had fired the man and that had been a definite conflict of interest on Moreno- Ocampo’s part. The media spokesman was reinstated to his former position plus received a monetary settlement from the court of $181,362 (US).

Then unexpectedly on January 22, 2014 during an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) Mr. Moreno-Ocampo completely changed his story stating that” the Kenyan indictments brought by him in the name of the ICC were trumped -up charges engineered by Western diplomats who asked him to bring these indictments against Kenyatta, and Ruto to keep them from running in the 2013 Presidential elections. And as a result of this admission Ocampo revealed for the first time that despite statements to the contrary, he’d never intended to seek justice for the victims of the 2007 election violence after all but was just one more puppet working for the west that’d freely allowed the USA and Great Britain to pull his strings.

What a movie this story would make! Are Kenyatta and Ruto really guilty? We may never know. But what we do know as fact makes a certain sense when you view it as a mystery novel. Kenyan Justice Philip Waki is appointed Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into the Post- Election Violence of 2007. No one expects too much from the man or his committee. They will take their lead from President Kibaki and will not uncover any more or any less than he wishes them to discover. Eventually the commission releases a public report stating for the record that it found there was not enough evidence to support any legal indictments in this matter at this time but if more information is discovered at a later date the commission will re-convene to consider it. And it seems like the issue has finally been “put to bed” like the good citizens of Kenya had expected it would. But then something unusual happens Justice Waki surprises everyone by personally handing a sealed envelope to Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General in October 2008 during one of Amman’s visits to Nairobi. Inside this envelope rested a paper on which six names have been written- the names of the men who were behind the 2007/2008 Presidential election violence: Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, General Mohammed Hussein Ali, Francis Muthaura, Henry Kosgey, and Joshua Sang.

By July 2009 Annan hands the contents of this envelope, the names of those six men over to Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo. Ocampo declares that he will right this injustice by making an example of these six Kenyans and by December 2010 he releases the names to the media and prepares to serve each man with an indictment. After he leaves his position as prosecutor in 2012, Ms. Bensouda takes over the individual cases and all of the evidence supposedly gathered by Moreno- Ocampo. Ms. Bensouda forges ahead with her investigations and actually serves the indictments.

Then five years later Ocampo goes public once again -only this time he tells a much different story. In this second version he was never a superhero after all, and that despite all his bragging and bravado he was merely a pawn pushed around by diplomats from the USA and the UK whose only objective was to frame Kenyatta and Ruto for crimes they did not commit in order to keep them from running in the 2013 election so Raila Odinga would win. So why this change of heart- you ask? Didn’t Annan personally hand him those six names? He could claim the envelope never existed but too many people working at the ICC and living around Nairobi at that time knew that it did- including Kofi Annan. And what leverage could those diplomats possibly have had over him to make him do their bidding- he’s a citizen of Argentina? And why would an ICC prosecutor bend to their demands so easily? But I’m sure you can write the ending to this particular story. Who stands to gain the most now that Mr. Moreno- Ocampo has conveniently changed his mind? And what could he possibly stand to lose or gain by doing so? And how does Mr. Moreno-Ocampo currently spend his time?

And what about the six names on that list? Did Justice Waki make them up? I think not. I think he risked his life and those of his family when he gave those names to Annan knowing full well that his role in this matter would eventually come to light. So why did he do it?

Well, I’m praying he’s the true hero in this story, not the narcissistic Mr. Moreno-Ocampo who already admitted he was more than willing to bring false charges against innocent men. Just maybe Judge Waki is a man of real integrity who had no choice but to see that justice prevailed and that one day, no matter how far into the future, those six men would be held accountable for their criminal actions- but maybe not…..

As of January 2015 the ICC has withdrawn the indictment against Uhuru Kenyatta. The charges against Henry Kosgey and Mohammed Hussein Ali had already been dismissed in 2012 but the trials of Joshua Sang, a journalist and William Ruto, Deputy President of Kenya did begin as expected on September 9th, 2013 and continue.

And one more setback! Omar al- Bashir, President of the Republic of the Sudan proudly claimed victory over the ICC after Prosecutor Bensouda revealed in December 2014 that she was “shelving the investigation into his crimes in Darfur because of a lack of support from the United Nation Security Council.” Omar al- Bashir had been previously indicted by the court on five counts of Crimes against Humanity, three counts of Genocide, and two counts of War Crimes as a direct result of his actions in Darfur. This region of the Republic of Sudan has been decimated by violence beginning in February, 2003 when over 300,000 residents were systematically killed and another 2 million displaced from their homes then forced into refugee camps. The Republic of Sudan, especially al- Bashir, have been continuously supported by China who occupies a permanent seat on the UN’s Security Council and has blocked all attempts to bring al- Bashir to justice.

According to al- Bashir, “The Sudanese people have defeated the ICC by refusing to hand over any Sudanese to the colonial courts.”

Because of withdrawals such as these the ICC’s reputation has suffered greatly among the people of Africa who question the real motive behind its formation. Is The International Criminal Court truly a global forum where victims of a cruel world can come to be heard and evil men punished for their inhumane actions or is it merely a ruse, a kangaroo court invented by the first and second world in order to placate the third?

The story continues….


Kat Nickerson                           Kingston, Rhode Island










How Not to Catch Ebola: A Wise Traveler’s Guide

26 Oct West Africa 2014
West Africa 2014

The sign above warns people in West Africa: Attention Ebola!,  Don’t  Touch Anyone,  Don’t Manipulate Objects, The Animals You’ll Find Dead in the Forest

Last week a dear friend and neighbor called to ask about her chances of contracting the Ebola virus if she was traveling back from West Africa on an airplane. She had no intention of taking a flight to anywhere in Africa but it bothered her that she had no idea what to do if she ever encountered this situation while traveling abroad. She had heard me talk about living with the threat of Ebola while traveling through East and Central Africa and felt that the media in the United States had not told  the American public the entire truth. After I answered her questions and told her what steps she could take to keep herself safe she felt somewhat better and  more in control of her life. Then she begged me to write this post in order to educate anyone else who felt as she did. So this one is for you Diane, I truly hope the information I’ve included in this post helps save lives one day. I have meticulously researched and referenced all of the factual information presented in the post and matched it to that cited by the World Health Organization as well as the Center for Disease Control. I have also included direct  links to each of these web pages so my followers can check out this information for themselves.

So what have I learned about Ebola during my summers in East and Central Africa and what do I do to keep myself safe? First, out of all the diseases one can catch in East Africa, like AIDS, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Blackwater Fever, Tuberculosis and hundreds of parasitic illnesses – it’s Ebola that terrifies my African friends and colleagues the most. “ Three Days,” ( the time they believe it takes the virus to kill them) they whisper after I ask about Ebola then either make the sign of the cross over themselves repeatedly or shake their heads back and forth in absolute dread. When travelers meet on back roads throughout the bush, its news about Ebola they ask for first and the name, itself has the power to turn a cheerful, laughing Ugandan into a silent, nervous wreck. But knowledge is power and so there are certain things you can do to protect yourself against bringing this virus into your body and infecting you with the disease.

Ebola has been classified as a virus and as such there are a few things you need to remember about this virus in particular when traveling that can keep you safe. A person can only spread Ebola if they are in the active symptoms stage. That means they are either running a high fever, vomiting, experiencing diarrhea, severe headaches, muscle pain, weakness, abdominal pain, or unexplained bleeding around or from any opening in their body. And they don’t have to have all of these symptoms – one is enough. But these symptoms also describe other illnesses such as influenza so a blood sample must be taken and examined by a laboratory to confirm whether it’s actually Ebola or not. This makes the disease very difficult to detect and confirm especially in rural districts where lab reports are not readily available and by the time competent medical staffers have been called in an entire village could be infected. Doctors have determined that there is a definite incubation period between 2 to 21 days (time between becoming infected and the actual onset of the physical symptoms) but it is not the same length of time in all patients so this has caused a lot of confusion in the past. How would I even suspect I had the disease if I didn’t show any symptoms until 21 days later? By then most people who had come in contact with Ebola would feel they were free from the disease. Plane travel from Africa to the United States usually takes two separate flights and between twelve to sixteen hours depending on the European airport selected for the second flight. Hypothetically I could travel through the first flight symptom-free but develop stage one symptoms like a high fever during the second flight. That means I could become contagious while in-flight and have no idea what’s happening to me. And now you’re sitting next to me. So what can you do to protect yourself?

A person demonstrating active stage one symptoms of Ebola can transmit the virus through all of his/her bodily fluids like sweat, mucus, tears, saliva, urine, feces, and blood. You infect yourself when you come in contact with my Ebola-rich body fluids and bring them into you own body through any open cut/wound or bring your contaminated fingers to your eyes, nose, or mouth. So I advise when on an airplane where there is reason to suspect Ebola that you wear a surgical mask and either sunglasses that thoroughly surround/cover your eyes or clear glasses that do the same thing. You may not look like the sexiest person in Coach or Business Class but you’ll go a long way in protecting yourself from this debilitating disease. Before you hit the airport remember to examine your body closely especially any exposed areas like hands and feet making sure that all cuts, no matter how tiny- even hangnails have been thoroughly covered up by Band-Aids or adhesive strips. Make sure to bring extra ones with you and if you have a deep wound on your hand I would wear a pair of gloves while traveling. Make sure to pack these things in a carry-on bag when leaving the US for any country in Africa- you’ll never know when you’ll need them. Remember, “ an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I heard a newsman on television say that you can’t catch the Ebola virus from a sneeze. Wrong, wrong, inexcusably wrong!!! Technically you can’t catch the virus from airborne particles released through your nose during a sneeze but when people sneeze they usually release some saliva from their mouths as well. Think about your last hearty sneeze- I know I do and I bet you do too. That means that saliva from an infected person’s mouth could be sprayed out onto your hands, shoulder, head, lap, or even food depending on how close he/she was when the sneeze occurred. If a person with active symptoms sneezes on you, spits on you, vomits on you, bleeds on you, or you come in contact with his/her urine or feces you’d better have any wounds covered up and your eyes, nose, and mouth covered too or you’re at risk for infecting yourself with the virus.

Now this virus can live for hours outside its host’s body so carry disposable wipes soaked in bleach with you and use them to wipe down the tray in front of you, both metal side arms; then give the cloth seat a quick swipe too before sitting down. Wipe down any earphones and touch screens before using them as well. I always take a large African scarf with me and wrap myself up in it during the flight. No airplane pillows or blankets for me. Using the bathroom can be especially dangerous if you have bleeding hemorrhoids or any other open wounds in that area of your body. Make sure to take your bleach wipes with you and make a thorough swipe of the toilet seat before sitting down. Wash your hands well with plenty of soap and make sure to wipe your hands with fresh wipes before and after using the toilette and sink. When eating your meal watch what the people on either side of you are doing. If for some reason they sneeze on your food leave it alone!!! It’s better to go hungry than sicken yourself with Ebola. And watch where you put your hands. Do not put them anywhere near your eyes, nose, or mouth without wiping them off with bleach wipes first. Once you arrive home take all clothes off immediately and throw them in the washing machine. If you have worn a suit or “dry clean only” garments place them on a hanger and put them outside in the sunlight for a day or two. Other things that can kill the virus once it’s outside of its host- hand soap, detergent, hand sanitizers, heat, and alcohol- the kind you drink as well as rubbing alcohol and hydrogen- peroxide. Remember people who tend to sick Ebola patients can be infected by handling bedding, clothes, cups, dishes, or utensils so they must take the proper precautions as they minister to them. Following these steps may make you feel embarrassed at first- even look like you suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but who cares? Would you rather be pretty or dead? Adults traveling with children will have a more difficult time enforcing many of these protocols but remember they work and have been designed to save you and your family members from a terribly painful illness you might not survive.

Stage two of the disease according to one friend, “is a journey into hell and back”. The infected person suffers from extreme bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, agonizing rashes, and gradually his/her liver as well as the kidneys slowly shut down. There’s lots of bleeding from every orifice in the body and much more pain. The very old and the very young succumb first as well as anyone in poor health at the onset of the disease. Many East Africans will tell you that anyone who catches Ebola dies but WHO maintains that the average fatality rate is more like 50 %. It all depends on the general health of the person at the onset of the disease. And according to the CDC, those people who do manage to survive develop personal antibodies that remain in their blood stream and protect them from further infection from Ebola for up to 10 years; although scientists are not sure if these survivors are immune to the four other species of Ebola or mutations of each strain as well. There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola at the moment although blood transfusions and a serum called Z-Mapp was used on the doctors who became infected with Ebola in West Africa but  is still in the experimental stage.

And now the most crucial fact in preventing epidemics like the one that occurred in West Africa. People can fully recover from the Ebola virus and still remain infectious (that means they can still infect others) as long as their blood and/or other body fluids including semen and breast milk contain the Ebola virus. Men who have recovered from the disease and demonstrate no symptoms whatsoever can still transmit the virus to others in their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery. Doctors who have been treating male patients in West Africa who survived Ebola are advising them to abstain from all forms of sex for 30 days and to wear condoms after that. According to Mother Jones, in one 2000 study a woman who recovered from Ebola still had the virus in her breast milk weeks after she made a full recovery and her infant eventually died from the disease. It is not clear if she transmitted the virus to her infant and more research needs to be conducted before scientists can establish a direct cause –effect relationship between breast milk and the transmission of the virus.

As of October 24, 2014 five countries located in West Africa have had outbreaks of Ebola Hemorrhagic Virus in the past several months: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal. Of these, Nigeria and Senegal have been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014) as “Ebola –Free” with no new reported cases of this disease for six weeks in a row. This was the largest and most complex outbreak of Ebola ever recorded with more deaths than all other outbreaks combined. To show you how contagious this virus can be according to the CDC the first case in West Africa was confirmed in March of 2014. It started in Guinea then was spread by land to Sierra Leone, after that one traveler was responsible for spreading the virus by airplane to Liberia, then one traveler spread it to Nigeria by land, and one traveler spread it to Senegal by land. It seems that the world’s attention was focused exclusively on West Africa when in fact there had also been an outbreak of Ebola in Central Africa, in Lokolia, south of Equateur Province in the northwestern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as of September, 2014 with a confirmed tally of 68 cases of Ebola and 41 deaths. But Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the past in the DRC, Uganda, South Sudan, and Gabon.

According to historical data on Ebola supplied by the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2014) the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced 7 outbreaks of Ebola in the last 38 years- more than any other country in the world and the Congo Basin has been identified by scientists as the source of several major pandemics. As far back as 1976 the first recorded cases of Ebola came out of the Congo Basin in the DRC, the second largest tropical rain forest in the world. What’s more, it is now believed that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) emerged from the same rain forest sometime in the late 1920’s after that virus crossed from chimpanzee into human blood streams.

This has also made the doctors serving the populace of the DRC some of the most knowledgeable “ Ebola Doctors” in the world. And one of the very best is the virologist and professor Dr. Jean- Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, who heads the Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale, at The University of Kinshasa in the DRC’s capital city of Kinshasa. It was Dr. Tamfum who identified the Ebola virus 38 years ago. According to Dr. Tamfum, “Ebola is the most dangerous virus in the world at this time classified as a ‘level four’ virus and there are more just like it out there.”

Five species of the virus have been identified so far: Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston, and Tai Forest. And each of these has the ability to mutate. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has been attributed to a mutation of the Zaire species which according to the CDC is the most deadly strain.

According to Jonna Mazet, global director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) “Predict Program,” a five year project charged with identifying viruses before they become a threat and building a global database to store this information, “most of the global epidemics in the world originated in these same forest ecosystems. The three areas in the world currently classified as “Virus Hot Spots,” the Amazon Basin in South America, the Congo Basin in Central Africa, and Southeast Asia- all three have the heat, the water, and the tree cover to act as pathogen incubators. According to the latest version of the Thorndike- Barnhart Dictionary- a pathogen is “any infectious agent that can produce illness in its host and can appear in the form of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms.” The medical community at large knows by now that viruses mutate easily enough inside their host, some can live outside of their host for hours on end, and all are not easily treated. Mazet goes on to say,” In the last five years we have detected over 800 viruses globally and 540 of these viruses have never been seen before. Many could be just as deadly as Ebola.” This means that a good 68% of these new viruses have the potential to be as destructive to humans and animals as Ebola and AIDS have been. Scientists have also determined that 60% of the emerging diseases that infect humans worldwide are “crossovers” that originally came from animals, especially wild ones.

An estimated 270 species of animals and 40 million people call the Congo Basin home. In a country identified by the United Nations Human Development Index as 186 out of a total of 187 countries (only Niger was given a lower score) it has the poorest quality of life in the entire world. Locals around the Basin eke out a living from the forest each day or literally die of starvation. As I discussed before in my blog on Ebola after the Ugandan outbreak of 2012 while traveling through the infected area of Uganda near the DRC/ Uganda border, primates such as monkeys and apes can catch Ebola just like humans who are also primates. Because Gorillas share 95% of their genetic code with humans it is extremely easy for the virus to cross over between the two causing prolonged outbreaks of the disease. Contrary to Americans’ preferences for red meat, the Congolese will hunt and eat wildlife in any form they find it. Animals such as bats, monkeys, chimpanzees, forest antelope, and porcupines are caught and sold in outdoor markets as fresh or cooked meat and eaten by a community that truly enjoys this cuisine. Unfortunately, these are the same animals that have been identified as the culprits responsible for spreading the Ebola virus in the Congo Basin especially into hunters who handle the infected blood, bodily fluids, and feces of the wounded or dead animals before they’re cooked. The CDC currently believes that it is a species of fruit bat living in the Congo Basin that’s primarily responsible for holding the Ebola virus in its blood stream between outbreaks.

Jonna Mazet warns that the Congo Basin is home to millions of viruses and many of them could be far more virulent than Ebola or HIV. As the rain forest in the Congo Basin is being destroyed to accommodate a growing population of Congolese citizens they in turn are coming in contact with new and deadlier microorganisms like never before and who knows what the repercussions will be for the global community at large? And for those who doubt me! In 2009 a new virus was discovered in Mangala, a small village deep within the Congo Basin’s rain forest. Three people had been stricken with a mysterious fever that suddenly spiked and began to vomit up blood. Two of the patients died within three days of demonstrating active symptoms and the third survived the disease going on to develop preventive antibodies in his blood stream. It was first thought that they had contracted the Zaire species of Ebola virus but then it was confirmed through laboratory tests that the villagers had become infected by a totally new virus. It was eventually named the Bas- Congo Virus and there have been no reported cases of the Bas- Congo Virus since. Virologists finally determined that it had been spread by insects.

Voyons ce que demain nous, mes amis!

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI   USA


Massacre in Mpeketoni: “Pwani Si Kenya”, Political Retribution, or Terrorism?

29 Jun


On the night of June 15, 2014- less than two weeks ago, witnesses observed several vans filled with men enter the town of Mpeketoni and stop at the local police station. Subsequent reports now claim that these same policemen had been notified of a possible attack upon the residents living in the area earlier in the day making what eventually occurred a most tragic event indeed. After the masked gunmen who carried AK-47’s and spoke Swahili secured the station they divided their original group of 50 into smaller units then headed off to terrorize the nearby neighborhoods of Mpeketoni and Kibaon in search of infidels; shooting those who declared they were Christians and sparing those who could recite verses from the Qur`an accurately. While some of these brigands engaged in cold- blooded murder others set fire to local hotels, restaurants, and an assortment of administrative buildings creating orphans and widows in their wake. Two nights later a group of similarly armed, masked men appeared in the villages of Majembeni and Poromoko intent on looking for Christians while setting the homes of many longtime residents ablaze. By the time this killing spree had ended 58 people lay dead and another 30 had been declared “missing persons”.

Then in the aftermath of this slaughter things became doubly confusing. At first local media attributed these horrific events to the Islamic terrorist organization al- Shabaab claiming that the Somalia extremist group had assumed credit for these attacks claiming they were in retaliation for the presence of Kenyan military in Somalia and for the wanton slaughter of fellow Muslims there. But then Uhuru Kenyatta appeared on national television to give a much different explanation of the massacres. He declared that the attacks were the work of disgruntled politicians and opposition parties living in Lamu Province instead. Men who had sought to do some ethnic cleansing of their own in retaliation for past grievances over property rights and illegal land transfers. Not only that, Kenyatta claimed that these attacks were purposely directed at the descendants of some 30,000 Kikuyus now living along the coast who had been brought there by his father in the 1970’s as part of the Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme. In order to house his Kikuyus, the first President of Kenya took ancestral lands away from the Oromos and the local Muslims living in the area at that time who had laid claim to this territory for centuries. According to Uhuru Kenyatta, these were revenge killings carried out by fellow Kenyans who wanted the Kikuyu off their land and out of their villages. The Kikuyu tribe is one of the largest tribes in Kenya today whose ancestral home is located in central Kenya at the base of Mount Kenya. And to prove this, by the following week Wednesday, June 25, 2014 the Lamu County Governor himself- one Issa Timamy was arrested on charges relating to these heinous attacks.

And things became stranger still as Kenyatta and other members of his cabinet hinted that somehow former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga was linked to these attacks. Cabinet Secretary of the Interior & Coordination of the National Government, Joseph Ole Lenku went as far as to blame the current opposition party, The Coalition for Reforms & Democracy (CORD) for the attacks knowing full well that Mr. Odinga is the current leader of this party. On Friday, June 13, 2014 Odinga held the first in a series of rallies planned throughout Kenya to force Kenyatta’s government to address three of the most critical issues facing the country as of 2014: the rising cost of living, the escalation of terrorism within the country, and the reform of Kenya’s present electoral body.

Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe from the Lake Victoria region, had failed at his third bid for the Presidency of Kenya during the March 2013 elections while Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country’s first President Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu himself, had won the election. But with only a 50.5% margin of victory; he had not won this election by a considerable landslide leading many to believe that he was not the “people’s choice” as he’d previously described himself in campaign speeches.

In the 2007 Presidential election after running and losing to the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, also a member of the Kikuyu tribe, Odinga refused to accept the electoral commission’s decision and riots soon erupted on the streets of many major cities pitting Kikuyus against Luos and Kalengins. Finally in order to restore peace to the country President Kibaki resurrected the position of Prime Minister for Odinga making him the second Prime Minister in the country’s history since its independence from Britain. But in all fairness, Odinga’s claims of political wrongdoings during the 2007 elections were proven to be valid. Uhuru Kenyatta, even though he is a standing President, has since been indicted by the International Criminal Court and is expected to stand trial for crimes committed during the 2007 elections where over 1,000 people died and thousands more lost their homes and were forced to relocate to refugee camps.

So who is really behind the senseless slaughter of local residents in coastal Kenya? Many Kenyans would tell you that the new and improved Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) has had a hand in this brutal violence. This separatist organization was first established in 2008 as a platform for Muslims and Christians living along the coast especially in and around Mombasa to express their unhappiness with the substandard economic and social conditions they feel have been caused by the Kenyan government and their desire to secede from Kenya in order to create their own independent state. There is a catch-phrase in Kiswahili often bantered around the streets of Mombasa, “Pwani Si Kenya,” which means, “The coast is not Kenya.” Many residents there are convinced that the creation of a new country along the coastline would give the local tribesmen possession of their ancestral lands once again – those same lands that had been stolen away from them by any number of conquerors from the British and Persians to the Portuguese and Arabs.

The MRC is currently based in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya and the oldest with a history steeped in warfare and violence. Recently the MRC reshaped itself aligning themselves to Islamic interests which has caused many residents of Mombasa to wonder if it’s also connected itself to Islamic terrorist organizations such as al- Shabaab or Kenya’s own al- Hijra as well? It’s common knowledge around the city that the current leadership of the MRC is being funded by wealthy and influential Arabs living in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It’s also no surprise that Yeman’s considered one of the foremost training centers for al- Qaeda-connected terrorists, Results of a current survey conducted by the researcher, Paul Goldsmith on the influence of the MRC found that the organization had almost “universal” support among the people living along the coast.

In July 2012, the current Chairman of the MRC, Omar Mwamnwadzi, made this dire prediction concerning the future of Kenya’s coastal belt. “There will be no peace, this I cannot hide from you. The coast will have no peace at all.” Although he was referring to the 2013 elections which did take place in Mombasa without considerable violence his warning has never appeared more true than in the year 2014. Mwamnwadzi also stated that the people of the coast have a perfect right to secede from Kenya now because Kenya no longer has any title to this 11.8 mile strip of land. He bases his claim on a June, 1963 accord document supposedly signed by then Prime Minster Jomo Kenyatta and Mohamed Shante, Sultan of Oman granting the newly independent country of Kenya a 50 year lease on the 19 km strip of coastline known as Zanj of which Mombasa is a central part. He also stated that the MRC is in possession of physical documents and signatures that prove his claim. According to Mwamnwadzi, Kenya’s lease expired in June of 2013 meaning that Kenya has no legal right to Zanj anymore.

Government officials have taken a different view of the situation especially their interpretation of the supposed lease. In their version the 1963 Lancaster Negotiations as they were called at the time, recommended that this same strip of land be made a permanent part of Kenya and that the Sultan of Oman was compensated with money and other favors for the transfer of his land at that time once all of the documents relating to the negotiations had been signed. But members of the MRC have remained firm on their intention to create a separate state in order to right the wrongs done to them over the past centuries. Their goal- to take back the land belonging to the indigenous peoples of the coastline from those who currently control it- namely people from “up country” ( inland Kenya) the bulk of whom are Members of Parliament and government officials living in Nairobi. They remind everyone that until recently only the President of Kenya could approve of the sale of beach property along Kenya’s 300 mile coastline and that Jomo Kenyatta appropriated large parcels of land along the coastline for himself as soon as he became President of Kenya. This same property continues to be owned by his descendants. And members of the MRC are correct in claiming that most of Kenya’s shoreline belongs to the political elite of Kenya rather than the people who’ve lived there for centuries.

There is a strong Islamic influence throughout this island city and the mainland coast evident in its architecture and daily routines. Although Muslims make up only 11 % of the total population of Kenya, 60% of them live along the coast. And so, delicate, white minarets dot the winding landscape while muezzins use loud speakers to call the faithful to prayer, (adhan) five times a day. According to historical records Mombasa is an ancient settlement founded by Shehe Mvita, a Muslim of great learning, in 900AD. Eventually his descendants transformed the city into what it is today. There are still direct descendants of Shehe Mvita living in Mombasa enough so, that they actually have been given a name- “ Thenashaw Taifa” or The Twelve Nations.. Control of Mombasa alternated between the Sultan of Oman and the Portuguese from1593 until 1824 then the British took over in 1826. The Sultan of Oman returned again from 1826 – 1887 and the East African Protectorate (Britain) from1887 until Kenya’s independence in 1963. For many years Mombasa served as the capital of the East African Protectorate until the British finally made their capital city Nairobi in 1906.

I visited Mombasa with friends during the summer of 2007, lived in a white, stucco villa located on Shelly Beach and can still recall how the sensual odor of fresh jasmine mingled with the scent of the Indian Ocean as I made my way through the small shops located around Fort Jesus. In my mind there is no finer city in the world and I can understand why its residents would give their lives to keep it that way. Which is why it bothers me greatly to think that Mombasa may never experience a peaceful day again- not until the government of Kenya really starts listening to its Muslim constituency?

Mombasa has been called, “Kisiwa Cha Mvita” in Kiswahili meaning “island of war”. This is an apt description lately whether because of riots between Christians and Muslims or violent retaliations by Kenyan police. Mombasa has been on the verge of revolution for a full decade now and it seems that the current violence has pushed it far closer to the “edge of no return” than ever before. In my previous blog post I discussed the formation of Kenya’s terrorist organization- al- Hijra and the reasons young Muslim boys are attracted to terrorist organizations in the first place. Kenyan Muslims have claimed for five decades now that they have been systematically swindled out of land and businesses by inland Kenyans especially politicians who own large shares in the many resort hotels lining the coast plus they see little monies from a most profitable tourist industry which fills only the government’s coffers. And although Mombasa is the major shipping port supplying all of East and Central Africa with goods, the port itself is controlled not by locals but by a government which excludes Muslims from its employ.

I think that if history has taught us anything it’s that happy people make poor terrorists. People who are respected by the community, have good jobs, earn enough money to make personal plans and fulfill their dreams don’t go around causing trouble. But them that have no hope of building a better future for themselves and no means of improving their lot in life- they’re the ones capable of carrying AK-47’s in the streets and hiding bombs inside matatus. Until the Kenyan government understands this nothing in Mombasa will change- in fact it will only get worse.

Give these boys good- paying jobs where they can master skills that expand their horizons and watch their attitudes change. Respect their choice of religion and culture by seeing to it that tourists staying in the many resorts clothe themselves decently when walking through the streets or visiting the local marketplaces. See to it that alcohol and drugs are kept away from children and adolescents- not sold out on the streets as so much candy like they are now. Help plan a peaceful future for these young men or they will plan a much more violent one for themselves. And intolerance will only exasperate the situation no matter your belief in the effectiveness of a heavy hand. People who have no reason to hope  are a dangerous breed indeed – undeniably prone to anarchy. In the words of the conscience of 60’s, poet/ songwriter Bob Dylan “When you got nothing- you got nothing to lose.”

So who’s responsible for the massacre around Mpeketoni? What does it matter when the outcome’s sure to be the same? Whether or not the current killings are the work of opposition parties, Somali terrorists, or a disenfranchised Muslim population in the end more violence in response to these actions by the Kenyan government will only divide coastal loyalties further and push people into using more violence. The MRC claims that it has not yet joined forces with terrorist organizations but as more and more young men return to Mombasa from the training centers in Somalia thoroughly skilled in the art of terrorism and join the MRC what then?

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014 Sheikh Mohamed Idris chairman of Kenya’ Council of Imam and Preachers was shot to death by armed men driving by on motorcycles as he left his house to attend morning prayers. Idris had been threatened by members of al- Hijra and al- Shabaab for urging Muslim youth not to join with terrorist groups. He had been run out of the mosque he had served for the past 35 years by young men armed with knives because of his stand against violence and the fourth cleric to be assassinated in Mombasa in the past two years. Out of a total population of 1.2 million people now living in Mombasa, over 300,000 or 37% are Muslims. Their high numbers alone ensure that they can provide an unlimited amount of warriors willing to participate in open rebellion. Young Muslim men have demonstrated that they have become a force to be reckoned with and whether it’s due to their lack of education, meaningful employment, or zealous beliefs they will be the ones leading the revolution as Mombasa erupts and it surely will.


Kat Nickerson                                                     Kingston, RI

Kenyan Terrorism Evolves: The Emergence of al- Hijra (Muslim Youth Center)

1 Jun


On Friday, May 16, 2014 hand- made bombs left inside a matatu (mini-van) exploded In Gikomba Market located on Jogo Road, Nairobi, an outdoor market famous for the sale of second-hand clothes. Gikomba is frequented by working- class Kenyans trying to stretch their paychecks by buying their clothes on the cheap. This time 10 Kenyans were killed and upwards of 70 people injured- ordinary citizens on their way to work or engaged in bartering for goods and services together. Store fronts were destroyed and several cars demolished during the fray as people fled the scene seeking to avoid the flying shrapnel intentionally packed inside the bombs. Sadly this has become a common event in Nairobi during past year. According to the United States Embassy Kenya has witnessed a dramatic escalation in home-related terrorism during the past two years. An estimated 100 people have been killed in terrorist-related mass shootings, grenade attacks, and bombings in the past eighteen months alone.

Gikomba Market is a mere four miles away from the Westgate Mall but culturally its wooden kiosks are a world away from the sleek, ultra-modern multi- level designer stores frequented by British and Americans residing in the Westlands. In September 2014, 67 people were killed in a terrorist attack reportedly carried out by a group of young Somali men and women- part of the youth group known as al- Shabaab. But days afterwards, subsequent eye-witness accounts of this bloody massacre painted a much different picture of the terrorists responsible for shooting non- Muslims on the floor of the mall that day. According to several first-hand testimonies the armed combatants did not physically resemble Somalis, spoke Swahili like Kenyans, and knew their way around Nairobi quite well- in other words these were home-grown terrorists rather than the imported kind. The name al- Hijra, a Kenyan affiliate of al- Shabaab suddenly entered the media pool and its reputation as a Kenyan organization of Islamic terrorists spread throughout the country. These latest attacks did not target Europeans living in Kenya or tourists on safari at the Mara or sunning themselves on the shore. No, these attacks were deliberately made against the Kenyan people by disgruntled Muslim youth seeking to harm the rest of Kenya in retaliation for injustices that have brought on this rage as a result of religious intolerance.

To understand why one needs only consider the current unrest out on the streets of Mombasa namely the open hostility between police and Muslim youth especially those residing in Majengo, a crowded Mombasa slum. 4.3 million Muslims make up 11.2 % of the total population of Kenya with the largest population of Muslims living along the coast especially within the city limits. Mombasa is the second largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Kenya’s most famous seaside resort area. Mombasa, is also a very ancient island of trade, only 575 miles from the Somali border which has always supported a multi-national population but in recent years this hodgepodge of cultures has become divided down the middle into Christian – Muslim groups after a myriad of shootings and riots have left its citizenry on both sides distrustful and afraid of one another. Muslim clerics around Africa have openly called for a holy war (jihad) against Christians continuously during the past five years and where in the past both sides displayed a modicum of tolerance when interacting with one another spontaneous church shootings of communicants during Sunday services have left Christians resentful and more than willing to support the actions of the police.

And so the Kenyan police – never a proponent of tolerance in the best of times has now targeted the entire Muslim population of Mombasa in their attempt to rid Kenya of terrorists rekindling memories of the KweKwe Death Squad – a special police force created to rid Nairobi of the fearful mungiki sect during the 2007 presidential elections. Dozens of Muslim families have reported the mysterious disappearance of loved ones- husbands and sons to the police only to receive no response or little information on their whereabouts. Human rights activists have accused Kenya’s Anti -Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU) of holding men in secret locations after charging them with crimes of terrorism without adequate proof to substantiate these charges. The Mombasa Republican Council has publically accused the Kenyan government of deliberately marginalizing Islamist citizens. Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) have voiced their position that the police have deliberately targeted Muslim youth in Mombasa for arrest continuing to violate their human rights throughout this secret “No Justice” campaign.

Three Muslim clerics suspected of supporting al- Shabaab and recruiting young boys have been systematically assassinated in Mombasa as a result of mysterious drive- by shootings beginning with the well- respected Aboud Rogo in August 2012 who was shot dead in his car while his wife was wounded in the leg. In October 2012, Ibrahim Omen suffered the same fate while Abubakar Shariff Ahmed renamed “Makaburi” died from gunshot wounds only last month, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, sprayed with bullets from a passing car on the steps of a north Mombasa courthouse as he waited for a ride home making violence and retribution the order of the day.

On February 2, 2014 police raided Musa mosque in Majengo on a Sunday morning after hearing that worshippers had raised a black and white flag in honor of al- Shabaab decorated with two automatic weapons pointing in opposite directions. This mosque has served as a center for Somali terrorists where young Kenyan boys have been recruited to leave for Somalia to train with al- Shabaab. Outside of al- Shabaab itself , Kenya sends more young men to Somalia to train as terrorists than any other country in Sub- Saharan Africa. The inhabitants of the mosque defied the police’s orders to disband and quickly became violent throwing stones at the police who eventually shot into the crowd. This heated altercation quickly turned into a riot after one man inside the mosque was killed by the police during the raid.

On March 23, 2014 6 Christians were killed and twenty others wounded in a Sunday morning church service in Likoni (near Mombasa) only days after two Somalis were charged with terrorism once police determined a car in their possession had been filled with explosives.

The Kenyan Muslim Youth Center (MYC) now called al- Hijra was originally founded in the Eastleigh slum, a Somali- rich section of Nairobi in 2008 by Ahad Iman Ali who has since changed his name to Abdul Fatah and moved his entire operation to Kismayo, Somalia. Sometime in 2012 al- Shabaab, established as a Somali youth group reached out to al- Qaeda establishing much tighter relations to all North- African Islamist terrorist organizations. At the same time al- Shabaab began creating closer ties with its neighboring affiliates- uniting smaller cells in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi while training their members in the art of terrorism within its camps in Somalia using seasoned instructors trained by al- Qaeda to do this. These teachers imparted a certain sophistication that had been lacking in their previous attempts producing more qualified terrorists and adding the use of social media to keep members sufficiently informed and on the move. Their choice of weapons and techniques gradually improved as well. Although al-Hijra began with a barrage of clumsily planted grenade attacks they soon learned these explosions would not produce the desired results. They soon moved on to more lethal explosions building home- made bombs easily stored inside backpacks and left in public vehicles and highly traveled places. Members of al- Hijra were even linked to the Kampala, Uganda bombings that killed innocent party- goers during the World Football Finals in South Africa during July of 2010. In 2011, The United Nations Monitoring Group on Eritrea/ Somalia warned that a home-based terrorist group trained by al- Shabaab was planning to carry out large scale attacks in Kenya and other areas around East Africa.

Most of the animosity visited against Kenya has been motivated by its military involvement in Somalia. On Sunday, May 19th, 2014 al- Shabaab militants killed at least 12 people as a result of an ambush in northern Kenya right after Kenyan jets bombed an explosives compound southwest of Mogadishu and three of al- Shabaab’s camps nearer to the border with Kenya. Kenya’s troops have also pushed al- Shabaab from the coastal city of Kismayo costing the terrorists millions of dollars in potential fees and business deals. Both terrorist organizations al- Hijra and al- Shabaab have vowed to keep up their violent attacks against Kenyans until the Kenyan government withdraws its troops from Somalia even threatening to implement “kidnapping for ransom” schemes on Americans residing within the country. What effect this will have on Kenya’s economy only time will tell? Recent unrest in Mombasa has led European tour companies to pull tourists out of Mombasa at one of the peak times of the year. Safari season will begin soon as well. The United States government has issued a travel warning against Kenya but this has been in place for a very long time ever since I began serving there in 2005. I fear things will only get worse for the Kenyan people unless the Kenyan military is able to defeat and capture the remaining members of al- Shabaab and very soon. So far the border between Kenya and Somalia is much too easily crossed for my liking.

Kat Nickerson                                Kingston,                Rhode Island

East African Leopard: Victim or Victor?

28 Feb

As I investigate the steady decline of the “ Big Five” game animals throughout East, South, and Central Africa: Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Buffalo, and Leopard only the leopard has developed the ability to adapt to the urban sprawl and the human population growth occurring throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Even the Cape Buffalo herds that once roamed freely over the African savannahs are now confined to wildlife preserves because it was found that they contaminate domestic cattle with diseases like Anthrax, Foot & Mouth Disease, Rabies, and the dreaded Rinderpest and that is only a partial list of maladies. And although the total subspecies of African Leopard, Panthera pardus, pardus has decreased due to civil war, poaching, land conversion, and irate farmers it has not suffered the critical decline in numbers that the lion, elephant, or rhinoceros have.

In 2008 The International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN) classified the African Leopard as “Near Threatened” on their Red List of Threatened Species rather than “Endangered” like that of the lion, elephant, and rhinoceros but warned that it could soon be changed to “Vulnerable”. The African leopard was declared officially extinct on Zanzibar, an island belonging to the country of Tanzania in 1996 where there have been no confirmed sightings of any leopards since. And while the African leopard is not considered endangered in East Africa, there are sections of West Africa where the leopard population is in critical decline as well as in Asia, where subspecies such as the Snow Leopard approach extinction.

What makes the African leopard so able to survive when other species have not? Well first of all, it’s a loner with no need for an extended family and does not seek out the company of other leopards except to mate. Although females stay with their cubs from birth to around eighteen months of age and sometimes the fathers remain nearby to protect the infant cubs from strange males for the most part, leopards are not social animals. The female leopard gives birth to two to three cubs at a time then stays with them until the cubs are large and strong enough to accompany her on the hunt. Infant cubs are born with their eyes closed preventing them from moving beyond the den. The mother leopard typically keeps them hidden for the first eight weeks of life changing her den’s location often so that the cubs scent is not detected by lions or hyenas on the prowl. Under ideal conditions the mother suckles her cubs for at least three months introducing them to freshly-killed meat around six/seven weeks of age. She will remain with her cubs up to 1 ½ years but then she leaves them and resumes her previous nomadic lifestyle. As attentive as she had been as their mother the female leopard will never look for her children again

Secondly, the leopard is an intelligent animal forced to depend on its wits. The leopard or “chui” in Kiswahili is called the “ghost” for many reasons. For the most part this medium- sized cat occupies the same territory as lions. It cannot expect to confront these larger predators and win so has learned to outsmart them by demonstrating a higher level of stealth and guile. It spends most of its time hidden from view especially during the day stretched out across tree limbs high up in the air. A Maasai hunter once told me that leopards have the souls of ancient warriors inside them and still remember how it feels to be human. Maybe he’s onto something there and that’s why they’ve acclimated so well to the presence of humans beings on their land? It is whispered around the fire at night that by the time you see a leopard it already has you in its grasp and that is so true. It is as silent and capable a hunter as ever lived.

I have been on safari many times and have yet to see a leopard in the wild and am not alone. It is the only “savannah mammal” I have not seen. During my most current safari to Murchison Falls, Uganda we drove for a full seven hours looking for leopards and spotted none but sometime later that evening on his way to dinner my safari guide saw a large adult male rummaging through the garbage heap behind the lodge. I began to suspect that this mysterious creature might have adjusted far better to the presence of tourists than they had to him. As I asked around I heard stories about leopards roaming the area near the building at night so much so that guests of the lodge were warned away from entering the woods surrounding the lodge after sunset. Contrary to popular belief, leopards hunt during the day as well as at night but seem to do their best hunting and cover the most territory during the hours between dusk and dawn.

The African leopard might have a reclusive nature but it also has a curious one. Rather than fearing man and avoiding civilization it seems to be quite willing to exploit  human settlements to meet its own needs. According to wildlife biologists it has easily made adjustments in its previous routines as man’s pushed further and further into its natural habitat changing its hunting patterns and acclimating to new food sources. According to the latest research on the movements of East and Central African leopards there has been a significant increase in the number of sightings near villages and cities lately. Official sightings of leopards have been reported in the urban areas of India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Nigeria, China, and Saudi Arabia as well. In a study conducted by the World Wildlife Federation in Pakistan, (2005 -2007), 97 out of a total of 125 leopard sightings – were in and around human settlements. Traditionally leopards do not actively hunt human beings for food but a starving leopard will devour any source of fresh meat and leopards have had no reservations attacking humans when threatened in the past. During 2004, 14 people in Mumbai, India were killed as a result of what were officially identified as “leopard” attacks.

Leopards are not picky eaters and are more than willing to select their food from among a wide range of prey. They are not even reluctant to scavenge off the carcasses of dead animals when provided with the opportunity to do so. According to wildlife biologists 92 different prey species have been found in the stomach contents of deceased African leopards including insects, birds, rodents, large and small antelopes, and baby herd mammals. Infrequently, adult males have been known to hunt adult wildebeest or zebra and although they are much smaller than the average adult lion they have great strength for their size and can haul victims weighing three times their size up into the trees. This willingness to select food from such a diverse range of living things helps ensure they will survive no matter the extent of the changes in the local fauna.

African leopards can call almost anywhere on the African continent home easily acclimating to most types of terrain from high- altitude mountainous regions, forests (woody and tropical) grasslands, savannahs, to hot semi-arid deserts. In 2005 a study conducted by Ray et al. estimated that the African leopard has disappeared from at least 36.7% of its previous historical regions with the worse losses occurring across the Sahel belt (from Mauritania to the Sudan), Nigeria, and South Africa but its populations have not dramatically declined in other regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Darwin’s discussions on “Natural Selection” he explained that “in the punctuated equilibrium model of environmental and biological change, the factor determining survival is often not superiority over another in competition but the ability to survive dramatic changes in environmental conditions” If so, my money is on the African leopard.

And then as if fated to support my point of view on the adaptability of the African leopard, an Indian leopard showed up on the streets of Meerut, India two days ago where it thoroughly terrorized the residents there. By all accounts this was no frightened animal although it seemed a lost one entering a hospital, apartment building, and then of all places, a movie theatre in its attempt to escape. I am including a link to the original article. Well worth reading and the photos are spectacular especially the one showing the leopard breaking through a wall into the street.

Why the animal appeared in a crowded district during the day is unsettling and gives some indication as to how comfortable the creature had become around human beings. And its willingness to enter buildings filled with the scent of human beings is even more unnerving. According to statements from bystanders in the crowd it appeared confused but never panicked. Who knows how many nights it prowled the streets of Meerut feeding on garbage, small dogs, and large rats as it developed a “feel” for the area? And according to the article this is only the latest in a series of visits by leopards to other urban areas in India.

In a world where so many species are being pushed to the brink of extinction by the relentless demands of the human race; it seems the leopard has decided to fight back.

There is also an alarming video on YouTube uploaded by NDTY- type in ” Leopard filmed snatching dog from Mumbai home”

Kat Nickerson                                                                                                                                                                                           Kingston, Rhode Island

Islam’s Jihad against Christians in East Africa: Why Isn’t This on the Nightly News?

20 Dec

While I can’t remember Muslims and Christians hugging in the streets of Kampala or the markets of Nairobi during my summer stays in both cities starting in 2005; I do not remember much at all in the way of open confrontation. Granted it was an uneasy truce but even though Muslims and Christians did not embrace one another openly they seemed comfortable enough to live aside of one another in relative harmony until a few years ago. I was comfortable greeting my Muslim neighbors with “As- salaam alaykum” when in the marketplace even memorized the entire Adan after having been woken up each morning while it was still dark outside to hear each muezzin’s unique version of his call to prayer over the loud speaker. I loved it so much I began singing it in Arabic along with the muezzin every morning and felt that the words were a wonderful way to start the day. So I was not prepared for the violence that began to escalate right about the time of the July 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals.

Africa has always been a place of diverse religious beliefs from the old religion of the ancestors, Rastafarians, to the more organized faiths such as Sunni and Shia Islam as well as a range of Christian denominations. Toleration seemed the order of the day as everyone went about freely worshipping God in their own way. But then an extremist Islamic terrorist group replaced the dictator, Major General Mohammed Siad Barre in Somalia in 1991 while the American forces invaded Somalia in the Battle of Mogadishu in October,1993. It’s official name is Harakat al- Shabaab al- Mujahideen, The Movement of Striving Youth and yet it is now referred to as al- Shabaab, “the youth.” Actually the organization did begin as a youth group allied to the Islamic Courts Union Government in 2006 that pledged to bring a fundamentalist Islamic state back to Somalia. And this would not be hard for any Islamist group to do. According to a report from Pew Research Center in 2006, 98.6 % of all Somalis are Muslims and most Sunni Muslims.

It was not long before al- Shabaab earned notoriety for its ideology attracting experienced war- savvy veterans from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It was also no secret that it had begun to receive financial and administrative support from al- Qaeda. At one time al- Shabaab controlled the capital city of Mogadishu as well as the port of Kismayo until African Union forces drove them out in 2011 and 2012 respectively. They pretty much stayed within their own boundaries until their first large scale terrorist attack in Kampala at the Kyadondo Rugby Club in July of 2010. Suicide bombers out on the field that night killed several people and wounded many others as they watched the World’s Cup final game. Later on al-Shabaab took credit for the attack stating that it was in retaliation for the Ugandan forces participation in the African Union currently fighting in Somalia.

And then the attacks on churches commenced. On July 3, 2012 seven masked gunmen first threw grenades then opened fire in two churches in Garissa, Kenya not far from the Somalia border killing seventeen and wounding fifty. By Easter time 2012 Muslim extremists calling themselves, “Muslim Renewal” vowed to attack Christian churches throughout Tanzania causing fear to grow throughout the Christian communities there. On February 17th a Father Musli was gunned down right outside of St Teresa’s Catholic Church in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean belonging to Tanzania. A Pastor Kachili was murdered in the Geita region of Lake Victoria after he intervened in a dispute between Muslims and Christians over the right to butcher livestock. In the words of Muslim Renewal, “Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches… we are not finished….prepare for disaster.” And in Tanzania, on May 10, 2013 a bomb was thrown into the newly- built St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where the Vatican envoy and the Archbishop of Tanzania were in the midst of celebrating mass during the consecration of the new church. Two people died as a result of the blast and sixty innocent parishioners were injured. Tanzania has a  Muslim population of 13, 450,000 that is 29.9% of its total population.

According to Lila Gilbert author of Saturday People, Sunday People,” her new book that discusses the reason 850,000 Jews were made to flee Muslim countries in the mid- twentieth century. The title of her book comes from an old Islamic saying, “First the Saturday people then the Sunday people,” meaning, “First we will kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians”. Friends of mine in Kenya believe that Islamic terrorist groups have deliberately targeted churches in an attempt to scare Christians away from attending church. Next Wednesday is Christmas Day, one of the most important Christian holydays of the year; one can only hope that another Muslim attack does not mar the celebrations in East Africa on that day but what an ideal time to send a message off to the entire world?

And al- Shabaab has forged a stronghold in the country of Kenya as well. Muslim cleric Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, of Mombasa who goes by the name, “Makaburi” has been identified by the UN Security Council as a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan males into al- Shabaab. In 2012, the Council banned him from leaving Kenya and froze all of his assets. He had been known to have told young men “go to Somalia and fight for al- Qaeda and kill US citizens”. He believes that the words of the Qur’an justify his actions and all of the violence. “There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. The prophet did not teach us moderation in Islam- Islam is Islam.” Makaburi admits. “It’s not right for the United States or any other country to interfere with how another country wants to rule itself.” Makaburi has been accused of recruiting young boys as “jihadis” willing to make the trip from Mombasa to the island of Lamu then set sail in a small boat to the coast of Somalia. According to one disheartened recruit, “He told us that if we fought money would be given to our families and we would gain a place in Paradise as a reward for our commitment.”

His success at retaining these young men could directly relate to the massive unemployment problem in Kenya at the moment especially for its young people. According to a 2012 report from the World Bank, Africa’s youth are and will continue to face severe unemployment prospects. In Kenya, the current youth unemployment rate is 40% and many of those who are employed find themselves underemployed in low-paying jobs in which they do not get to use their education and degrees. What’s more as of July 2013, 80% of Kenyans are less than 35 years of age and 75% are under 30 years of age meaning there will be an entire glut of young people looking for work at the same time. It seems as if Sheikh Makaburi knows something of these young boys’ frustration and uses their lack of meaningful activity to his best advantage. According to one recruit, Makaburi announced, “instead of sitting around in the slums doing nothing, it’s better to go to Somalia and fight for your religion so you’ll go straight to heaven.”

Mombasa, a large resort city off the east coast of Kenya, with an equally large Muslim population and has been the center of violent riots lately in response to the killing of two Muslim clerics Aboud Rogo Mohammed in 2012 and Ibrahim Rogo Omar only two weeks after the Westgate Mall shootings. Both uprisings broke out in Muslim districts of Mombasa and the Salvation Army Church was set on fire this time around.

And then the Westgate Mall shootings occurred on September 21, 2012. Terrorists (4 gunmen in all) claiming they were members of al- Shabaab entered the mall equipped with grenades and AK-47 assault rifles and shot anyone in the mall who could not satisfactorily prove to them that they were Muslim asking them to cite verses from the Qur’an or the name of Mohammed’s mother in Arabic in order to stay alive. Those who could not were summarily executed regardless of age. And in true “Millennium” style one of the terrorists used his Twitter account to send short messages out to the world describing their actions. When the armed troops finally made it to the glass doors of the entrance twenty dead bodies blocked their path into the main lobby. What US news reports did not include was that Westgate Mall is located in the Westlands, a wealthy suburb of Nairobi and the site of many of the foreign embassies including the United States Embassy. Was al-Shabaab sending a subtle message to the United States diplomatic mission in Kenya reminding the embassy that it could come much closer to Americans in Kenya if it so desired?

And what about the two British tourists who were attacked on December 12th, 2013, seven days ago as they were on their way to a safari in Amboseli National Park? According to all reports a man tried to throw a live grenade into their Toyota Land Cruiser as the car slowed down on one of the major roads out of Mombasa. Fortunately for them, the man threw the grenade at a closed window making it bounce back into the street. But on December 14th, only four days ago passengers riding into Nairobi on a matatu (mini-bus) were not so lucky. Four people were killed and others wounded after a bomb placed inside the matatu suddenly exploded. Today is December 19th, the fifty year anniversary of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain. I have spent the entire day wondering if al-Shabaab will make its anger felt in Kenya today as national celebrations take place.

What I do know is that from all accounts al- Shabaab’s ranks grow stronger and that it holds a real grudge against the United States for invading its country in 1993 and repeatedly interfering in its country’s leadership. Remember for centuries, Somali males have earned reputations as fierce warriors and great hunters all over Africa along with very long memories. I am surprised that the American people have not been warned about the continuation of terrorist attacks all over East Africa especially on churches. The Westgate Mall incident was highly publicized; why not these other violent raids? After studying the total picture it seems like every attack al-Shabaab has made has been part of a deliberate course of action and none of these incidents could be considered emotional strikes or the results of spontaneous outbursts. These men may be young and they might be inexperienced but they seem to have gained the attention of other more powerful terrorist organizations like al- Qaeda real fast. I would not be shocked to learn that these same young men are in the midst of acting on plans that lead them to methodically stage terrorist attacks in locations around Europe as well as the United States. Hopefully, the great nations of the world will sit up shortly and pay closer attention to the escalating progression of Islamic terrorist attacks in East Africa so they’ll be ready to foil further attempts long before they begin to experience the consequences of their inaction inside their own borders.

Huria a Kenya!!!

Kat Nickerson                                          Kingston, RI                                              December 19th, 2013

The Demise of the African Elephant: On the Road to Extinction

14 Dec
by Kat Nickerson 2009

by Kat Nickerson 2009

This blog is about the African elephant and its perilous future in Sub-Saharan Africa. I have been on several safaris in Kenya in the past few years where I followed wild herds of African elephants and each journey holds a special place in my heart- beyond memorable. My two best adventures occurred in Tsavo National Park and Amboseli National Park both located in Kenya where I was allowed to take hours of film and photographs of various herds roaming the savannahs there. I have posted two favorite pictures of a bull elephant and the rest of the herd  taken on the Maasia Mara.

by K Nickerson

by K Nickerson

There are two species of elephant: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. The African elephant has also been dived into two sub-species: the savannah and the forest elephant. Savannah elephants live out on the flat, grass-covered plains such as the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti ecosystem in Tanzania. Savannah elephants are most numerous and are found in 37 countries south of the Sahara Desert while the forest elephant populates the dense rain forests of West and Central Africa. According to a current study from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign recently published in the Journal of PLos Biology. After studying samples of the elephants’ DNA, Alfred Rocca, lead scientist for the group, maintains that these two sub-species are vastly different from one another- as different as the Asian elephant is to the Wooly Mammoth.

No matter its origin, the elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. Female elephants live together with their babies and young children in herds with the oldest and wisest matriarch (female leader) in charge. Male elephants are allowed to live in the herd until they become adolescents (12-15 years) then are made to leave to roam their home ranges alone. The bulls will visit the herd from time to time in order to mate with the females and may stay with the herd for a while but eventually they return to their solitary way of life. I have seen male elephants meet at a water hole in Tsavo in the evening where they shuffle from side to side welcoming one another with their trucks raised as they emit a series of low rumbling sounds. They detect these vibrations through their feet, skin, and trunks but as soon as they’re done drinking off they go- all by themselves again. I have also seen groups of three to four bulls roaming the preserve together during the day but eventually they separate and each one goes his own way. The bull elephant’s ability to exist alone in some of the most perilous places on Earth gives you some idea just how powerful an adult male elephant must be. No other animal- even lions can take down a bull elephant in the prime of his life and rarely try unless they are desperately hungry. Even then, it would be the lions that would fare the worst in the ensuing battle. A bull elephant can accurately be described as the king of his domain.

Elephant herds move around using regular migration patterns that were established many years ago usually built around access to water holes and availability of food. These routes have been traveled the same way for hundreds of years. It is the matriarch who recalls this route best and leads her family through the yearly migration path. Elephants may remain at one site for a time but eventually move on traveling through their home range year after year in a very predictable course. Home ranges can vary; they may be as small as 24 square miles or as large as 6,000 square miles. Elephants do not recognize country boundaries so many herds cross national borders in their attempt to complete these migration treks. Their long treks between countries has made it very difficult for scientists to get an accurate read on the total number of savannah elephants and identifying the entire population of forest elephants has been a much more difficult venture . Herds of forest elephants are well hidden by the dense underbrush of the tropical rainforests and covered by a dense canopy of trees.

There are three things that are responsible for the African elephant’s move towards complete extinction: 1.) an ever increasing human population, 2.) the harmful effects of climate change, and 3.) criminal poaching ventures.

Encroachment by Humans
Amazingly, a recent Population Reference Bureau Report released in September, 2013 predicted that Sub-Saharan Africa will record the world’s largest population growth from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion people between 2013 and 2050. By the year 2050 the current population in Africa will have more than doubled by 1.3 billion people making Sub-Saharan Africa the largest growing region in the world. If these predictions are correct Sub-Saharan Africa will overtake the continent of Asia with the highest rate of population growth. In the past, Sub-Saharan Africa’s numbers had not increased significantly due to the high number of HIV/AIDS deaths as well as high infant mortality rates. But improvements in access to health care and medicine around the area has been credited with creating a larger population that is living longer than ever before. According to the report, women in sub-Saharan Africa still average 5.2 children during their lifetime, compared to 1.6 in Europe and 1.9 in North America.

As the human population increases throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, people will need more land upon which to build their houses and establish their gardens and fields. That means that the elephants will get less and less of the same area to roam. The home range of the African elephant has been reduced by 20% over the last decade due to human expansion. In Rwanda, a country equivalent in size to the state of Maryland, the elephant population of 100 animals is expected to decrease over the next 20 years, while the human population of 7.5 million is estimated to more than double during the same time period.

And if the predictions concerning Sub-Saharan Africa prove true, a record number of human beings will continue to take land away from the wild elephant herds and in the not so distant future wild elephants will lose all access to their traditional migration paths. Even now this dilemma has pitted farmer against elephant in an all-out war as the herds continue to follow their annual migration routines despite changes in the land. Elephants have been credited with stampeding over houses and eating entire harvests leaving the subsistence farmers in their wake homeless and hungry as a result. In response, farmers have turned on the elephant by poisoning local water holes and maiming elephant herds that come too close to their villages and fields. Elephants have nasty tempers and continue to kill human beings every year. In 2010 an American woman living in Kenya was trampled to death along with her baby while on a hiking tour just outside of Nairobi.

In 2010 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a wildlife toolkit to help African farmer’s protect their crops from wildlife looking to eat or destroy their crops. They were encouraged to do things like shoot the elephants with Ping-Pong balls, make and throw dung bricks, as well as create beehive fences to keep marauding elephants from destroying their property. Seems elephants are afraid of bees and even the sight of their hives is enough to keep them at bay. According to the FAO the annual cost of elephant raids to crops ranges from $60 dollars US to a farmer in Uganda to $510 dollars US to one living in Cameroon.

At best this is a feeble attempt by the UN to stem a monumental problem. Eventually there will just be too many people occupying the land and no room for the herds of wild elephants to roam. And no amount of Ping-Pong balls will solve the real problem! Penning wild elephants together is not the solution either. Results of wildlife studies have concluded that wild African elephants do not adjust well to changes in their migration routines. Females are directly influenced by habitat conditions and population densities so birth rates can severely decrease in high density or nutritionally stressed herds. Wild herds were not meant to live in close proximity to one another and can become anxious and unsettled even hostile when forced to live too close to other groups.

Climate Change
In a study commissioned by the World Bank, researchers concluded that from a global perspective the world is headed for “average temperatures 4 degrees (Celsius) warmer than pre-industrial times by the end of this very century.” Food security will be the overarching challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa, with additional dangers from droughts, flooding, and drastic shifts in rainfall.

The report also stipulated that climate change will not affect all countries of the world equally. Some of these destructive effects will be experienced by the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa which in turn will affect their food supplies, individual economies, and coastal regions, while limiting arable land and fresh water. These nations will be less able to adjust to these hardships producing an increasingly unstable environment, which in turn could promote wars between struggling countries and peoples.

The 1.5°C-2°C warming in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to bring about increased droughts and higher aridity causing farmers to lose between 40 to 80% of the fields where maize, millet, and sorghum were traditionally grown. This is expected to take place during the 2030s and 2040s. By 2080 annual precipitation should decrease by about 30% in southern Africa, while East Africa will see more rainfall. Entire ecosystems will change and many types of grasslands will turn into woodland savannas instead decreasing access to pastoral ranges needed by livestock and savannah elephants. What will become of the wild African elephant when their home ranges flood in the east but dry up in the south and their current ecosystems drastically change?

According to Dr. Richard Leakey, world renowned wildlife expert, “climate change is a bigger threat to elephants, tigers, and the rhinoceroses than poaching. In pre-industrial times, animals threatened by these changes could simply have migrated, but human development on their lands means that this option has largely disappeared.”

As with many crises in Central and East Africa one is never too sure just who the good guys are and nowhere does this seem more apparent than when applied to the current poaching situation that has escalated to outrageous proportions in Sub-Saharan Africa. I would like to tell you that the poaching situation as it currently exists is all the work of terrorists and criminals- and to some extent this is true; but when the entire history of the regulation of ivory is examined it makes for a far more complicated and confusing story than that.

First of all the African elephant has come close to extinction before and the ivory trade has steadily grown since the 1940s. In the 1960s, raw ivory cost between $3 and $10 per pound but by 1975, the price had risen to $50 and by 1987, it was $125 per pound. By this decade there was also a newer manufacturing procedure in place in the Orient that allowed for the mass production of ivory carvings for the first time. This, in turn, led to a rising demand in Asia and an increase in poaching in Sub-Saharan Africa. From 1979 to 1987, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan, (in that order,) were the primary buyers of raw ivory.

The herd population increased during the first few decades of the twentieth century; especially during World War I and II when the world powers were too busy killing one other to hunt elephants. But then the wars ended  and after a few more peaceful decades during which these same African countries were engaged in fighting for their own independence from European control the herds began to be overhunted again mostly by rich, white hunters in search of safari trophies. While African elephants have been hunted for several centuries, the mass killing of elephant herds as a business started in the 1970s. By the end of the 1970’s it was obvious that something had to be done so the first world ban on elephant ivory was put in place and it seemed a fairly successful ruling until a resurgence in poaching occurred in the 1980’s.

By all estimates, the elephant population in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased from about 1.2 million to 600,000 animals in the 1980’s. Kenya alone lost almost all of its wild elephant herds to poachers during this decade. By 1986, approximately 75% of all raw ivory for sale on the international market had originated from illegal sources –amounting to the tusks of 89,000 elephants. Furthermore, sanctions imposed on smugglers were not nearly severe enough to stop the poaching from occurring. For example, a truck owner was fined only the equivalent of $3,000 for transporting 2 tons of illegal ivory to an East African port.

Threatened with extinction again in the 1980’s, elephant ivory was banned from international trade by the 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) but there were also two sanctioned sales of ivory stocks to China and Japan in 1999 and again in 2007. And sadly in November 2002, delegates from both the United Nations and the United States attending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Chile agreed to ease the 13 year old global ban on ivory by allowing one-time exemptions to Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to sell off tens of millions of dollars’ worth of ivory culled from elephants who had died of natural causes in their national parks although the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe were denied their request to do the same. The UN delegation heartily endorsed this agreement while the country of Kenya begged them to reconsider their position. Many delegates were horrified by the lift on the ban warning that the glut of ivory on the far-eastern market would rekindle international poaching endeavors once again. Teresa Telecky, a delegate representing the US Humane Society at that time aptly predicted that the ‘legal sales of ivory would revive the previously dormant black market for ivory.” And she was right.

Carl Safina, an environmental writer, blamed the recent rebound in elephant poaching after years of progress in the 1990s and early 2000s on the UN and US delegations as well. After passing an ivory ban in 1989, CITES delegates led by the UN and US delegations voted to relax the rules again  in 2008, allowing previously stockpiled ivory to be sold in China. This provided a legitimate cover for illegal ivory smugglers, and according to Safina, “up to 90 % of ivory sold in China now comes from newly- killed elephants.”

At the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand, Joyce Poole co-director of Elephant Voices stated that Sub-Saharan Africa had sustained “its worst year yet.  More than 7% of all its wild elephants were killed in 2013 alone- and that translates to 40, 000 elephants. And now anyone with a decent rifle can join in the hunt. Terrorist groups like al- Shaaab working in Kenya out of Somalia, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as the Janjaweed of the Darfur region in Western Sudan have all taken to poaching ivory and opened new trade routes in order to finance their operations. And if that were not bad enough, the military in certain African countries has turned to poaching in order to subsidize personal endeavors as well.

In August, 2013, M23 rebels accused government soldiers from the DR Congo of selling guns to elephant poachers. My sources tell me it was common knowledge in the area at that time. And the best one, in September 2012, soldiers serving in the Ugandan Army (Ugandan Peoples Defense Force) who had been assigned to protect the eastern section of the DR Congo were accused of killing 22 elephants in the Garamba National Park using a helicopter to gain access to the herd. It was determined that 15 of the 22 animals had been “expertly” shot in the head from up above. The Ugandan soldiers denied these allegations but the park rangers were convinced it was the Ugandan army stating that “the UPDF operated the only helicopter that flew over the park.”

And in the End….

When the tusk of one African elephant can earn an African poacher a year’s salary desperate men resort to killing elephants in order to feed their families. So what will it take to save the elephant? Whether the African elephant herds can survive in spite of smaller home ranges, climate change, and poachers remains to be seen but this will only happen if the world comes together in an organized way to create a viable plan to save them. It is true that terrorists now threaten the herds but even if they disappeared tomorrow the wild African elephant would still be well on its way to extinction. There must be an international plan in place before things like human encroachment and climate change even begin to  jeopardize the elephants’  existence. If not, how will we ever explain to our children that we stood by and watched as the mighty African elephant disappeared from the face of the Earth? It’s good to be back.

Kat Nickerson                         Kingston, RI                                                    December 11, 2013

Accused Elderly Witches in Africa: The Logic of Misfortune

12 Jul


Belief in the spirit world of the ancestors has withstood colonialism, missionaries, organized religion, revolution, independence, and modernization throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa. Common beliefs about witchcraft and witches have been passed down from one generation to the next for centuries and in the countries of Kenya and Tanzania everyone knows that:

Witches use the power of our ancestors against us
Witches have grey hair and red eyes.
Death comes to those who have been bewitched
A young person cannot die unless he/she had been bewitched
Never look a witch in the eye.

But lately these long-held convictions about witches and witchcraft have become particularly evident as village mobs use them to target the elderly and justify killing them in heinous ways from poisoning to burning in order to stop the evil juju (magic) from destroying the village’s good fortune. Daughters and sons as well as immediate family accuse elderly men and women of witchcraft in order to cash in on their inheritances that much sooner. And Africa is not the only continent that had has engaged in the reoccurrence of witch hunts. The countries of New Guinea, India, and Mexico have also killed their fair share of witches in the past few years.

Europe also contended with its own obsession with witches. For three hundred years (1450-1750) countries in Europe did their best to eradicate the presence of witches in their lives by conducting 100,000 witchcraft trials where a good half of these led to the execution of the ‘witch’. Even back then 75 % of all those convicted were women. While in the countries of Hungry Denmark and England 90% were women. Yet in all fairness, 90% were men in Iceland and another 50% were men in Estonia and Finland.

But here is a timeline of recent witch killings in Africa alone and these were only the more sensationalized cases. Remember, for every reported incidence authorities suspect that are at least ten more elderly residents who suddenly go missing and their disappearances are not reported to the local police.

July 5, 2013 – Kenya, police report that at least 20 elderly people killed monthly in Kilifi County on account of witchcraft allegations.
May 10, 2013- Zimbabwe, two elderly women accused as witches die after drinking a potion forced upon them by a local healer
March 30, 2013 – Zambia, two elderly people identified as witches axed to death. Woman (63) axed to death by her nephew and man ( 89) by his son
Feb.12, 2013- Kenya, 11 elderly residents identified as witches burned to death by a Kisii mob
June 2012- Mozambique, 60 cases of violence against elderly connected to witchcraft reported in first quarter of 2012.
June 2011, Mozambique, 20 elderly people identified as witches killed between the years 2010- 2011.
June 2009 – Kenya, 5 elderly suspected of witchcraft (two men and three women) burned to death in Kisii in front of the entire village. (There is a video of this on YouTube.)
March 2009- Gambia, 1,000 villagers most of whom were elderly rounded up by police, army, and President Yahya Jammeh’s personal guard then made to drink potions which made them very ill and several died, all because it was claimed that president’s aunt died on account of witchcraft.
May 2008 – Kenya, killing of 11 elderly suspected of witchcraft ( eight women, three men) in Kisii.
April 2003- Uganda, 1 man beheaded because of suspected witchcraft.
June 2001- DR Congo, 800 alleged witches reported killed in the dry region of the Congo
May 2000- Ghana & South Africa, several hundred woman killed by mobs in refugee camps accused of being witches.
1998-1994- Tanzania, 5,000 people killed in witch hunts over four years ( Amnesty International) 80% were elderly women killed by young men between the ages of 16-35.
1988- 1970- Sukumaland, Tanzania, 3,072 accused witches were killed in Sukumaland more than two-thirds of the total witch killings for Tanzania. Approximately 80% were women between 50 and 60 years of age

Finding witches and removing them for the good of the community was a tribal affair even in colonial Kenya. In the famous Wakamba Witch-killing Trials of 1931-1932 , Mwaiki, a Kamba woman was killed in 1931 by tribal leaders and members of the ruling council of her tribe after they established the fact that she had bewitched another woman in the village. The case was known as Rex v. Kumwaka s/o of Mulumbi and 69 Others, and tried in the Supreme Court of Kenya. Sixty of the original seventy defendants were sentenced to death. Their death sentences were ultimately commuted by the Governor of Kenya but the defendants were sentenced to prison terms instead. In their defense the men maintained that as leaders of the tribe they had the legal right to identify and remove witches for the good of the community by killing them in the traditional way.

 Might this be caused by poverty?

But what is responsible for causing this recent resurgence in the preoccupation with witchcraft and the need to rid the community of witches? According to Jenni Irish in her article, Massacre. Muthi, and Misery: Women and Political Violence (1993), in regions where the belief in witchcraft is entrenched accusations of witchcraft and witch hunts escalate in communities under stress. Communities under threat seem to revert back to long-held superstitions.”

In his report , Poverty and Witch Killing – 2005, Review of Economic Studies, Edward Miguel, used rainfall variations to estimate the impact of what he called ‘ income shocks’ on murders in rural Tanzania. He found that extreme rainfall ( drought or flood) led to a large increase in the number of witch killings (elderly woman killed by either relatives or mob violence) but no other types of murders. He claims that poverty and violence go hand in hand due to poor harvests and famines and determined that there were twice as many of this type of murder in years with extreme rainfall as in other years. Kenya’s unemployment rate rose to a staggering 40% in 2013 compared to a mere 12% in 2006. As of 2013, 16 million Kenyans had no formal employment and 70% of those who are employed are underpaid. (United Nations Development Program , 2013). According to Mr. Kenneth Kamto deputy governor, Kalifi County there are three reasons why young men kill witches: lack of education, dire poverty, and lack of employment.

 Is  this  a gender issue?

Watch any woman in rural Kenya and you will be exhausted just watching her perform her many duties. Village women build the houses, plant the crops, tend the gardens, cook the meals, care for the children, and operate their own businesses on the side yet are still considered the property of their husbands and any profits they make are turned over to their husbands. There is a wise saying about Kenyan women. “Give a Kenyan man a few shillings and he will piss it away. Give a Kenyan woman the same amount and she will start her own business doubling her money in a week.”

Men have control over women except for widows. Older women living alone, making their own decisions, owning their own homes, controlling their own money and resources may make the men of the village somewhat jealous at first but then their belief in witchcraft could very well taint their logic. It could cause them to think: “ Here is a woman living by herself healthy and prosperous at an age where there are not that many old people alive due to hardship and disease especially the AIDS epidemic.” Now if you were a young man with no one over thirty in your immediate family you might find it odd that here is a woman clearly more than double that age making out better than anyone else in the village. It might make you mad especially if you were not doing all that well yourself. ( 80% of Kenya’s unemployed population is between 15-34 years of age.) And so at some point you would probably ask yourself; What could account her good luck? Remember most of the elderly killed in African witch hunts are women.

And there are not that many older people alive in Kenya to begin with where life expectancy for women throughout the country is 57 years of age (World Bank,2012) especially in the rural villages because they would be the age of the first group of AIDS-related deaths starting in 1981 and prior to the distribution of free anti-retroviral medications. Their loss is very evident in the current demographics for Kenya, 85% of all Kenyans are less than 35 years of age that figure does not leave much room for a large elderly population. (United Nations Development Program , 2013) So even getting to see a very old person in your village might be a rare sight.

Could traditional healers be to blame?

Most village healers cure their patients by placing the blame for the illness or the misfortune on someone else rather than something else and seek retribution or retaliation for their client. They also receive hefty payment for their services? So who is the safest person to blame in this situation certainly not a real witch? Well it’s best if it is someone who would not be able to retaliate and someone who looks the part? Want to make sure your client is satisfied and pays on time- then accuse the elderly. According to statements made by the woman and men currently residing in the few Rescue Centers across East Africa many of them were identified as witches by traditional healers in their villages- some of whom urged the mob to come for them.

And what about the real witches like the ones who live in the mountains above Kitui? The ones none of us mention but everyone knows exist- the ones able to inflict the real damage. No one accuses them of anything or would dare mention their names out loud and no mobs of young boys hunt them down or burn them in the village square. Why not? It’s because these men, and they are all men, have the real power and the knowledge to use it. We all know about them but the real wa’ganga truly scare us and have yet to be mentioned in any articles regarding witchcraft I’ve seen so far. After all the accounts I have read on individual witch burnings not one witch stood up and cursed the people trying to kill her. Now don’t you find that a bit odd if she really was a witch? What would she have to lose? But we all know what the real wa’ganga would do in the same situation and that is why they are left alone.

And then there are religions such as Islam and Christianity who have done an exceptional job of introducing the idea of the devil and evil into the previously neutral idea of African magic (juju) and in creating a lucrative business by charging exorbitant fees to perform exorcisms or cleanse witches. Not only are these victims abused by family and neighbors but exploited by the same religious organizations that profess to love them.

Although police throughout East Africa seem to be trying to stop these witch killings more elderly will die until this craziness has finally been made to stop. Hopefully more Rescue Centers will be opened in all of the rural counties in Kenya and Tanzania giving these poor souls a place to go where they will not be harmed. Imagine defying the odds by living for so long in such a harsh environment only to have your eyes gouged out and your hands chopped off by the very people you once raised only because your hair has turned white and the smoke from the fire caused your eyes to become red- now that is the real tragedy here. I suspect that most elderly men and women accused of witchcraft really die of broken hearts.

Kat Nickerson                                            Kingston, Rhode Island      USA

Saving the African Rhinoceros? Is Poison an Option?

3 Jun





Two weeks ago my son Micah sent me an email and this link urging me to listen to the following story Vietnam’s Appetite for Rhino Horn Drives Poaching in Africa ( May 13, 2013 ) about the danger to the rhinoceros as a species in East and Southern Africa written by Frank Langfitt for NPR News, 2013. I have included the link here for these of you who wish to read the original article or listen to the audio version. It is an excellent summary that discusses three options for eliminating the threat to rhinos living in East and South Africa and explains why  international poachers take the severe risks they do to kill these animals and “dehorn” them.

I must admit I knew very little about the African White or Black rhinoceros when Charles, my guide and driver, suggested at the end of a long safari on the Mara in 2005 that my students and I go meet one. So I said yes without really thinking it through but insisted that I would only let my students near the rhino after I determined that it was not an immediate threat to them. Now when on Safari anything and everything can be a threat in some way so it becomes a matter of the degree of the peril. So I left the car ready to evaluate this particular level of danger in greeting a White rhinoceros. Charles and I are old friends and he is a highly respected safari guide in his own right so when he assured me that I would live past this meeting I trusted his judgment and summoned up the courage to walk towards the ranger on duty at the reserve and introduce myself to him.  This was the first time I had visited a rhinoceros reserve while in East Africa and I would go on to visit two more while in Kenya during the summer of 2006.

Here is the photo of me (see lead photo) standing with that very same ranger who has just called out to a White, male rhino the same way you would summon your cat or dog. And what’s more the animal heard him and was coming down the path  approaching us from behind. If my face looks rather distorted it’s because I’m getting ready to run even as the ranger assures me that everything “is OK”. All of my “fight or flight” responses kicked in at once and I was determined to make it back to the vehicle in one piece.  And the only reason I did not reach the Rover was because the ranger continued to hold on to my jacket in a very gentlemanly-like way as we stood there having our picture taken.  I could literally feel the ground shake under my feet as this several ton mammal advanced convincing me that my luck had run out and that I would soon become rhino fodder. Obviously that was not the case and to my amazement not only did the rhino stop when the ranger asked him to, (very nicely, I might add) but he stayed there and let me rub his face and ears. And the only thing the ranger carried with him was a small thin wooden stick- that’s it ( see lead picture). No gun, no Taser, no weapon of any kind. And it was obvious that the only thing keeping the animal in check was a deep, reciprocal bond between the two of them.

After recovering my nerve and adjusting to the fact that I was indeed standing beside a wild rhino I looked into the animal’s eyes.  Although rhinos have very poor eyesight in general and are forced to take in peripheral information using their sense of smell and touch this male had kind, aware eyes and was enjoying my company. He seemed more than willing to stand there and share a moment with me turning his massive head to the side so I could better scratch behind one ear then the other. One swipe of his tremendous head would have rendered me unconscious and broken my bones. I’m sure the big male was aware of his destructive power and as a wild animal would lash out at any perceived threat real or imagined in the blink of an eye. But it was also evident that this rhino had developed a close relationship to this ranger, enough so that he willingly did whatever his friend asked of him.

I must confess I had previously thought that all rhinoceros were dumb bovine-like  creatures that lived together like cattle with temperaments resembling bulls.  But this male did not seem to thrive on confrontation or domination at all and seemed more than content to spend his days eating grass out on the Mara and interacting with humans especially his friend the ranger. And most importantly, this wild rhino seemed to be in a peaceful mood when my students approached him so I let them scratch behind his ears too. They enjoyed the experience immensely and talked about it all the way back to Nairobi while the rhino seemed to appreciate every pat and rub. I don’t think I ever got the rhino’s name and have since forgotten the name of the ranger but I do remember the overall sweetness of the creature, yes sweetness! There was something very lovable about the animal and the way it related to human beings despite its imposing physique and great capacity for violence. There was a certain cuteness in its over- all ugliness too. And the caring relationship I observed between rhino and ranger? Well that made a lasting impression on me as well.

Once I was back in the Bush Rover my driver explained to me that originally there were five species of rhinoceros in the world and two of these species the White and the Black rhinoceros are found on the continent of Africa.  Rhinoceros have been named not by the color of their skin but by the shapes of their mouths and heads. Actually all of the rhinos I’ve seen although actually grey in color appeared reddish brown because of the red mud they had rolled or waded in to keep them cool under the hot savannah sun. All rhinos love water and wading in shallow pools is one of their favorite pleasures. If you look at my lead picture the rhino there appears more reddish brown in color than grey.  Although both animals have two horns, the White Rhino has a larger and blockier head with a square mouth where both lips meet evenly. Think of the white rhino as a grazer like a cow that enjoys eating grass out on the savannahs. The Black rhino has a smaller, rounder, pig-like head with a definite over-bite where its top lip hooks over its bottom one.  Think of them as browsers more like deer that enjoy eating leaves, buds, twigs, and branches from shrubs and trees in woodland forests but they will also venture out on savannahs even deserts. Of the two the White rhino is the more social and less aggressive one although both kinds can live in families of up to twelve members. Often adult males tend to live solitary lives.

By the turn of the twentieth century White rhinos had been hunted almost to extinction with less than fifty of them living in Kwo Zulu- Natail Reserve.  The South African government engaged in a tremendous country-wide effort to increase their numbers and succeeded until the age of the poacher began at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As of June 2013 South Africa is currently home to about 20,000 rhinoceros- the largest rhino population in the world.

Although Black rhinoceros originally found in Southern and Eastern Africa are native to Kenya the White Rhinoceros was not and has been introduced into Kenya and placed in government and private reserves to help restore the White rhino population in Africa. The White Rhinoceros was native to the countries in Southern Africa as well as the Northern Congo, Southern Sudan and Western Uganda. A subspecies, the Northern White Rhinoceros is considered a critically endangered species and on December 20, 2009 four out of six Northern White rhinos housed at a Zoo in the Czech Republic were sent to Ole Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in order to help restore this subspecies to its original home in East Africa. Only two more animals of this subspecies remain at the Czech Zoo and another two at the San Diego Zoo in California, USA. It was thought that there might be 10 more Northern White Rhino in Garamba National Park in DR Congo but with civil war raging on in this district most conservation groups have given up hope that these animals are still alive .

According to the Rhino Resource Center (2013) the Black Rhino has fared the worst with an estimated 3,610 of them currently left in the wild compared to a total population of 70,000 only 53 years ago (1960). And one of its subspecies, The Western Black Rhinoceros had already been declared extinct by the IUCN back in 2011. The White Rhino is doing somewhat better with a total wild population of about 14.500 but that number is quickly shrinking as poachers kill off these mammals lured by the tremendous amount of money that can be made from the sale of rhino horns especially in Vietnam and China.

The powder created from one adult rhino horn could make the seller an extremely wealthy man in the Asian Black market as it currently sells for $1, 400 US an ounce right up there with the price of gold. The street value of three large adult horns could be upwards of one million dollars to the seller. These exorbitant profits have created an international league of poachers who use advanced technology and bribe the rangers and local villages for information about the location of the rhinos and the presence of conservancy officials. It is hard to blame desperate people who have nothing for turning on the rhinos in order to earn enough money to survive.

So it comes as no surprise that just last week, May 23, 2013 poachers shot to death seven rhinos in four different conservancy areas around Kenya: the first was killed in Lake Nakuru, Central Kenya; three days later the second and third were killed in Solio Ranch, Central Kenya and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, Southern Kenya. The next day one more rhino was killed at Meru National Park in Northern Kenya, and two days after that three more rhinos were killed at Oserian Wildlife sanctuary, a private ranch in Naivasha, Central Kenya. And what makes these strikes most chilling is that wild life officials have reason to believe this was a coordinated effort among one specific group of international poachers.

All this in a county where poachers are given a mere slap on the wrist and many buy their way out of jail before being handed over to wild life authorities. These seven killings put the death of the rhino at about 24 as of June 2013 and the country had already lost 30 in 2012. According to Kenya Wildlife Service officials there are only 1,000 wild rhinos living in Kenya as of June 2013 and at this rate of loss the entire population will become extinct by 2018.

Although on May 20, 2013 the Kenyan MP’s voted to raise penalties for poaching and trafficking of wildlife products this all come a little too late. Based on all that I’ve read and been told – the international poachers have already won this war and the African rhino will go the way of the Asian rhino unless something drastic is done immediately. These new penalties of fifteen years in jail and millions of Kenyan shillings in fines will not stop these international poachers if the profit margin continues to be so lucrative and the risks manageable.

So I am supporting The Rhino Rescue Project and believe that unless we take the enormous profit out of selling rhino horns on the Asian market little else will deter the horrifying slaughter of the African Rhino. By placing poison in the rhino’s horns that does not hurt the animal but turns the horn into its own poisoned mace we may just be saving these creatures’ lives and deterring potential buyers. It would not take long for word to circulate around Hong Kong and other Asian cities that rhino horn powder just might kill you. No huge profits means -no incentive for poachers to seek these animals out.  Each horn would be thoroughly marked poisonous on the outside and the poisoned powder made from these horns would also be identifiable. I am sure that after the first few deaths word would circulate fast among the nouveau –riche that Rhino powder is no longer a “safe” sale. It has already been proven that Rhino powder serves no real medicinal purpose anyways and is considered a status purchase in the Asian markets at best. I am in full agreement to “let the buyer beware” on this one.

So please visit The Rhino Rescue Project, read what they and the other links have to say, and then make up your own mind. And if you have the time send me your comments letting me know what you think as well. The murder of White and Black rhinos all over Africa must stop now!. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the White rhino I met that day. Is he still alive grazing away on that Kenyan savannah or did he end up something like this?

Kat Nickerson   Kingston, RI   USA.




Photo: Phil Mattews, May 2013

Photo: Phil Mattews, May 2013




What Will It Take to Save the East African Lion from Extinction? Hunting or Herding?

20 May
My Favorite Lion Photo, I took this on safari in the Maasai Mara in  2005

My Favorite Lion Photo, I took this on safari in the Maasai Mara in 2005


What, if anything can save the East African lion from extinction?  A hundred years ago more than 200,000 wild lions roamed freely over the continent of Africa but according to present day estimates a mere 32,000 lions (IUCN, 2013) remain throughout its forest woodlands and savannahs. More wild lions are found in the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania than any of the other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa combined. Currently classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the wild lion has been ousted from over 75% of its previous habitats on this continent in the last century alone, making scientists and conservationists alike wonder if the “ King of the Beasts” is well on his way to extinction.

And the wild lion communities in Central and Western Africa have fared the worse. Experts believe that there may be less than 2,000 wild lions left in West and Central Africa, -a mere 6% of the total lion population identified as living in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2013.  This has prompted the IUCN to reclassify the status of the Central and Western African lion to ‘Regionally Endangered” due to the dramatic drop in its numbers in previous years. There are large areas in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and other locations around West Africa where wild lions have not been sighted for decades. In a ‘last ditch’ effort to save the remaining big cats in these countries from extinction, a new project, The Large Carnivore Initiative for West and Central Africa has been established through a joint effort among several international conservation groups

Many conservationists feel that the African lion can only be saved through an immediate and intense global effort led by the United States and the European Union but heavily endorsed by the United Nations. In 2011, five animal-rights groups petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the African lion as an “Endangered Species,” citing that “their numbers had continued to significantly drop due to habitat encroachment by humans, poaching, commercial hunting, and a host of deadly diseases.”

So it was surprising when Alexander Songorwa, Director of Wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, the highest ranking wildlife official in the country of Tanzania publically opposed this request in a letter to the New York Times’ Opinion Page on March of 2013. He explained in this open declaration that the revenues generated from Tanzania’s lion- hunting endeavors were critically responsible for helping the country both maintain and protect its current population of lion prides from extinction and would “threaten the country’s capacity to protect all of its wild lions.”

Trophy hunting is big business in Tanzania worth millions of US dollars in revenue to the country; trophy hunting safaris were responsible for adding over $75 million US to Tanzania’s economy between the years 2008 – 2011. And American hunters have booked at least 60 % of all trophy-hunting safaris in this country meaning that these hunters play an important role in providing the financial capital used to sustain wildlife conservation throughout Tanzania in the twenty-first century. The US dollars spent on expensive “safari packages” and “taxidermist services” literally support Tanzanian game reserves, wildlife management positions, and conservation efforts. According to Mr. Songorwa if Tanzania’s wild lions are placed on the endangered species list then American “Big Game Hunters” would no longer be permitted to bring the skins and mounted heads of their “kills” through customs once they had landed in the United States. Seems that displaying your animal ‘trophy’  is considered to be a significant part of the hunting experience so Mr. Songorwa is correct in assuming that these same men and women would soon go elsewhere to pursue “approved”  game.

But Songorwa claims that hunting the Tanzanian wild lion has not decimated its numbers as commonly thought rather it has saved the wild lion population in his country from extinction. He insists that Tanzania is home to the largest population of wild lions in the world.  He proposes that 16,800 lions, or 40 % of all the wild lions in Africa currently live in Tanzania, but 16,800 out of a grand total of 32,000 lions ( IUCN, 2013) living on the entire continent makes it more like Tanzania is home to more than 53% of all Africa’s wild lions if his estimates are to be believed. And he goes on to say “that although our hunting system is not perfect we have managed to keep our lion population stable and protected throughout the 26 large game reserves.”

According to Mr. Songorwa, Tanzania has already allocated one third of its land for national parks, game reserves, and wildlife management areas successfully regulating the hunting of wild lions for decades. All females and adolescent males less than six years of age cannot be hunted for any reason and the government recently made it a crime to kill any members of this subset. The killing of older males has also been limited to specific quotas based on the current lion population in each hunting area.  And he maintained that stricter laws on animal exports and safari companies have further helped the Wildlife Service to more thoroughly police the actions of Tanzania’s trophy-hunting businesses at the local level.

In a 2009 study, lion expert Professor Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota along with other colleagues from the US, UK, and Tanzania determined as a result of their research that the trophy hunting rate of big cats throughout Tanzania had consistently been too high. He predicted that the future population of lions and leopards in Tanzania would be seriously decimated unless fewer big cats were killed by trophy hunters each year. According to Packer, Tanzania currently allows about “500 lions and 400 leopards per year to be killed for sport across a total area of 300,000 km² which equates to 1.67 lions per 1000 km² and 1.3 leopards per 1000 km².”

Although Mr. Songorwa’s message seemed sincere enough it remains to be seen just how committed his country has been to the plight of the wild lion after all. And although changes in the hunt totals and exemptions based on age and sex that Dr. Packer recommended in his study were made by the Tanzanian Wildlife Service these new regulations have only been in place for the past three years meaning that all of these improvements could have been made “too little, too late” to effect the systemic change needed to ensure the survival of the lion population into the next decade. Plus there is a better than average chance that these laws and restrictions will not be followed in the more remote hunting areas. With hunters ready to pay enormous tips for the pleasure of the kill and guides earning pitifully low wages any lion is sure to be considered fair game at the end of a long and unproductive “hunting drive” no matter its age or sex.

According to Dr. Packer the government of Tanzania should be commended for seeking to improve their wildlife policies and their trophy- hunting operations and if they strictly enforce each one of his recommendations the decline in the current population of wild lions due to the effects of over- hunting should abate soon enough giving the prides time to increase their numbers. But Packer’s recommendations have not been adhered to all that closely to ensure the results he predicted.

Kenya has always looked at the revenues generated by Tanzania’s trophy- hunting operations with a jaded eye. Kenya has established many local “Lion Projects” over the years that collect and share lion data across the country and the Maasai, a tribe dependent on their herds of cattle have taken an exceptionally active interest in increasing the lion populations around the Maasai Mara, one of the country’s largest game reserves. The country banned trophy hunting back in 1977 and has no intention of following Tanzania’s lead. In fact, when I have been on safari in Kenya the guides have taken great pride in telling me that, “Kenya does not tolerate the killing of its wild animals by hunters for any reason.”

In January 2011, the government of Uganda followed suit requiring that the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) cancel all hunting concessions that had been previously granted to the major wildlife reserves citing concern for the “dwindling numbers” of wild animals in these areas. “Hunting is now prohibited,” Mark Kamanzi, acting director of UWA told the Ugandan press as he reiterated that the profits from all sports- hunting endeavors were not “substantial, had not stopped poachers, or helped wildlife reserves to better manage their resources”.

Other countries in Africa are currently facing the same critical decisions in regard to the future of trophy –hunting enterprises within their own countries. Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts, Sylvia T. Masebo, announced in December, 2012, that specific hunting licenses would be suspended indefinitely as they had “been abused to the extent they threatened the country’s animal populations.” And by January, 2013 the Zambian government put laws into effect that banned all lion and leopard hunting, citing that these populations had faced a substantial decline in recent years.

Botswana has taken a similar pro-conservation stance as President Ian Khama pledged that, “the shooting of wild game for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve the local fauna” and instituted a country-wide ban on sports hunting that will began on January 1, 2014.

In the spring, 2013 a new report, Conserving Large Carnivores: Dollars and Fence, published in “Ecology Letters” by Dr. Craig Packer and other well-known lion specialists from around the world went even farther calling for the African reserves to be fenced in after maintaining that nearly half of Africa’s current wild lion population of 30,000 will die in the next 20-40 years unless drastic conservation measures have been put in place. These scientists recommended that the wild lion be fenced in to ultimately save it from total extinction.

According to Packer, “We’ve seen fences work and unfenced populations are extremely expensive to maintain.” Using field data from 11 African countries, the study examined the cost of managing fenced in areas versus unfenced habitats, and compared the lion populations living in both situations. The report found that in fenced-in areas: conservation costs were lower and lion populations remained larger. Plus lions living in unfenced territories were subjected to a higher degree of danger from their contact with the human beings living closest to them.”

Packer’s recommendation makes certain sense but before we exhale- is this solution a practical one? The cost of fencing in something as large as a game reserve is an outrageously expensive venture and these are third world countries. Many of these same African nations have yet to figure out a way to feed their own people let alone construct miles of fence line across wildlife reserves just to save the “big cats”. Even if they believed that fencing was the most cost- effective solution in the long run, how would they ever afford the initial monies?  According to Packer, “fencing in just the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, would cost upwards of $30 million dollars. And then more money would have to be set aside in order to maintain this structure. At a total perimeter of 17,000 square miles, the yearly bill to manage the fenced-in lion population alone would be another $22 million dollars.” Besides Selous is only one of 26 other national game reserves in Tanzania. And if, as the wildlife specialists tell us, one pride (around 25 members) needs around 100 square miles of territory to maintain an optimum lifestyle wouldn’t every East and South African country require an astronomical amount of fencing to see that the job is properly done?

As far as the future of the wild lion in Africa is concerned – it seems to balance precariously on one too many “ifs.” If the legislation and regulations pertaining to the killing of lions and the exportation of illegal lion skins were actually enforced; if people could no longer pay their way out of prosecution and incarceration for breaking wildlife laws; if government administrators and wildlife guides remained honest in the face of outrageous bribes and strictly adhered to hunting quotas; if the citizens of these countries gave the land belonging to the lions back to them and agreed to fence in the amount of land needed to support larger prides; if villagers ceased killing lions in vicious ways simply for acting like the carnivores they are. And lastly, if everyone in the world agreed to back off and give wild lions the room and the support they needed to thrive, then just maybe the lion as a species could survive. But even as I end this sentence – I have my doubts.


Kat Nickerson                                      Kingston,      RI     USA