Kenya’s Nairobi National Park Under Siege

Animal welfare advocate/conservationist are gaining on a few fronts so it seems. In the U.S., Ringling Brothers Circus is closing due to poor ticket sales.  Young audiences prefer to have elephants, lions and the like left in natural habitat.  It’s good.  At some point in their lives, they will travel to Africa, stimulate the economy, and see animals in natural settings appropriate to the space needed to live well.

The jury is still out on Sea World, under similar pressure with shaky ticket sales revenue.  One of my financial advisory letters observed that now might be the time to invest in Sea World’s stock speculating on a dramatic comeback.  I’m not going to include it in my portfolio.  It’s too risky for my interests, and I don’t agree with the ethics/business model. Just my opinion.

In Kenya, like-minded people are arguing against government plans to build

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Red Line is proposed railway bisecting Nairobi National Park

the proposed elevated railway through Nairobi National Park.  I have been to the wildlife refuge several times when I was living in Nairobi. It is a remarkable place set aside and encouraged by Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya in the early 1960’s.  It is literally adjacent to Langata Road on the eastern side of the city.  It is remarkable to enter the park that is so close to the city and see rhinoceros, lions, ostrich, and a diverse abundance of Africa’s wildlife.  No elephants to speak of, but so much of everything else.  The presence of construction, bulldozers, trucks, noise and the lasting result of building a massive railway through the park will be devastating.

In Nairobi, advocates are speaking out.  They are taking the position that legendary Richard Leakey, the head of the park’s administration should step down because he is not protecting the public resource. Richard Leakey, now in his 80’s, is the son of the famous Louis Leakey.  In the past, Richard Leakey championed the establishment of Kenya Wildlife Service.  He has a reputation for effectively fighting corruption for decades.  Now he is being accused of supporting questionable government moves to grab park land so close to the city for alternative development and private enterprise.

Hurray for mediating structures and the efforts of brave souls in East Africa willing to speak out against officials that break promises and do not follow due process. My view is to support these people fighting to conserve the animals and the land necessary for their existence. Indeed, the land is necessary for the people as well as the animals. We need to support these organizations in the non-governmental sector.   Like my friends in Africa say, “We are better together”.

An Open Letter to Friends of ANAW

The year 2016 has been a year of celebrations, successes, and milestones.  If you are receiving the ANAW holiday direct mail piece you will be reading about my meeting Jos Ngonyo in 2005 and the friendship between our families that continues to grow.  Indeed, the network of friends is a concentric ripple that extends far beyond just our families and friends, to also include what we now have started  in the name of conservation and animal welfare.

The organization we create is a reciprocal door into the countries we represent, the U.S. to Kenya and Kenya to the U.S.  From the perspective of the University of Denver, this is a gateway opportunity for students of the Graduate School of Social Work to meet Kenyans in their homes and in their lives.  This year, for the three groups of visiting private practice veterinarians, it is service to the communities of pet and livestock owners. For Kenyans, it is an introduction to people in North America, an exchange of ideas, aspirations, and future possibilities. ANAW is our mutual gateway.

For the animals in Kenya, it is advocacy and people communicating and doing for those that cannot speak for themselves.  ANAW stopped the road construction across the Serengeti with significant help from Serengeti Watch, brings attention to the encroachment of another roadway, a railroad, across Nairobi National Park, expands Animal Welfare Clubs into the curriculum of 33 Nairobi schools, facilitates the continued efforts for adding animal welfare to the country’s national curriculum, works with the judiciary and countless others to remove trapping wire while advocating for ending bushmeat consumption.

It has been said that in life we need three things.  “Someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”.  ANAW, for many of us, has become part of our lives, with the mission, and the people on both sides of the Atlantic striving to make the world a better place for all living creatures.

I wish to take this opportunity to say thank you to the Board of Directors and staff in Denver that makes the transmission of funds to Nairobi possible.  From left to right, Philip Tedeschi, Bob Uttaro, David Gies, Richard Reading, Janet Rumfelt, Kristen Nelson, Professor James Nakansa (ANAW in Nairobi), Richard Male, Maria Galter, and Jos Ngonyo.  Not pictured are Arielle Giddens, Nehemiah Rotich and Keith Gehring.

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If you are interested in more of the particulars please visit the ANAW websites, http://www.anaw.org and http://www.anaw-usa.org.

ANAW is not eligible to be reviewed by Charity Navigators because our assets are less than $1,000,000.  Until we can reach this threshold, and in the interest of staking our reputation as a reputable and worthy nonprofit organization, our 2015 Audit is available upon request, for anyone wishing to learn more about us.  Also, our 990 tax returns can be accessed at www.guidestar.org.

Best wishes for this holiday season.

David Gies,

ANAW-USA Board President

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Same Manure, Different Flies

More of the same?  The “will” to balance growth while protecting flora and fauna rests with democratic structures and mediating structures.  Everything is a delicate balance between self-interest and social justice, or so it seems to me.  Oligarchies and powerful people rule unless others, the people who have less power, organize for the common good. Who speaks for the animals in Nairobi National Park?  Who complains about executive excess?

Governments have to act, to prioritize habitat and conservation.  Elephants have taken a real beating.

The newest threat in Kenya is a planned railway intended to cut through the middle of Nairobi National Park, the only park in the world that shares a boundary with an urban center, a center as large as the biggest city in East Africa.  Political leadership will announce the intent to proceed with the railway across the Park’s boundary, which would literally cut it in two.  The announcement is set for September 26, 2016.  If the a railway is constructed on the proposed site it will

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Red Line is proposed railway bisecting Nairobi National Park

change Nairobi National Park forever. Opposition to the proposed railway is growing.

Land grabs and money deals continue, but observers in the United States ought to be careful not to throw stones.  There are examples of unfettered self-interest in the U.S. too.  We learn that Bill Clinton as honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities earned $17.6 million over a period of five years until 2015 (Washington Post Sept 5, 2016, by Rosalind S. Helderman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, in the Politics section). These earnings seem a tad bit excessive, even for a private school.  The West is critical of excessive use of power and influence yet there are examples of excesses everywhere.

For a country like Kenya, where raw earth materials and transportation to the coast is a priority, special protections for places like Nairobi National Park are cast aside.  Kenya’s new constitutional processes established six years ago are ignored.  A broader solution building the railway around the Park would save habitat and the animals living in the Park promoting future tourism.  It isn’t a done deal yet.  Let’s hope there is a change of heart and Nairobi National Park will be saved for future generations of animals and people.  Here is speaking for the animals first and for the people second.

 

The Future of Zoos

 

While the Orlando killing of 49 plus people at a gay night club haunts our daily life, I am dedicating this entry to the sting of the death of Harambe, the silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Sad and tragic as the death of the gorilla is, it is quickly lost in the Orlando Florida mass killings.  Violence is everywhere.  Heartfelt condolences and sadness to the families, Orlando our country for this tragedy.

Back to animal welfare; it is sad to learn of the death of Harambe.  The mixed feeling shared by many and considerations for ways to avoid something like this happing again, its on the minds of conservationists.

What is the role of zoos and why do we keep animals captive the way that we do?  The Denver Zoo hosts millions of people each year. Zoos are extremely popular. Indeed, my wife and I took our children to the Denver Zoo many time in the 1980’s.  As our children have children, they too take their kids, our grand children to the zoo, or at least they did until a few years ago.  Their annual membership has lapsed, in part, out of a growing concern regarding the ethics of caging animals.  Younger people are changing their view about zoos.

Is there a better way  for inspiring a sense of wonderment about the animal kingdom and commitment towards habitat and animal conservation?  Many believe there is and a growing movement argue it doesn’t include caging animals in zoos.

There was a time when I personally didn’t think it mattered.  I chalked it up to collateral damage.  So much good came out of seeing elephants in a 10 acre enclosure it didn’t matter that they experienced severe food and leg disorders due to waking on hard pack. So the monkeys were in a cage bored with existence, so the tigers sprayed the viewing glass behind where I gazed in to their exhibit. Tigers seemed agitated. So what?  I was of the opinion that the harm done to caged animals was far outweighed by the experience of seeing live exotic animals in zoos.  Seeing those animals triggered a humane response in young and old, a concern for conservation that seemed to be a fair exchange for the pain of life suffered in zoos.  No more.  Like my past apologies for the use of a billhook as the legitimate tool for managing elephants, I have changed my opinion.  I’ve changed my mind after observing and participating in animal care for eighteen years.

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Cincinnati Zoo’s picture of Harambe,

I have learned from conservation biologists, human/animal connection professionals, shelter administrators, people growing up in the generation and with Louis Leakey, as well as the current team of people I work with in Africa, I’ve learned why many individuals are changing the way we view animals.

Animals are legal things.  They are not “persons” nor do they have rights but they should be recognized as living, thinking, tool using beings, with language, self-recognition and advanced cognition capabilities.  Just because we humans don’t speak their language, live in their living room, eat their preferred foods, like what they like, etc., doesn’t mean they should be treated as less than living thinking beings.

Animals don’t have rights, but should they have something? Do they deserve more status than a  cracker box zoo existence?  A new movie Unlocking the Cage takes a provocative look at our ethic for caging animals.  I personally hope it has the same effect on the public as the film Blackfish had on attendance at Sea World.

So, why have animals in captivity: 1) to rehabilitate them for release back into the wild, 2) because they are so injured they cannot survive in the wild, 3) for reintroduction programs for endangered species, 4) confiscated animals that no longer have the skills (and will not acquire them) for release back into the wild. The idea, however, that zoos will maintain populations of animals in captivity in case they are some day needed for reintroduction is fast coming to a close.  The captive programs are failing, which is why the zoos are trying to revamp their Species Survival Programs into a new iteration called SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction.

Animals are sentient beings.  They have emotions, they feel pain, they seek to live in they way they are created.  If we honor what is on this frail blue dot, we should recognize we need to be better caretakers.

I am dismayed by comments in the press that we take care of animals the way we do because we are on top of the evolutionary heap. Another reasoning cited in the opinion pages and comments by readers is that God created the animals for human use.  The justification that humans can exploit the planet without boundaries of consideration of consequence hold sway and is the dominate attitude.  Scary really.

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Railroad construction linking Nairobi and Mombasa Kenya

Over 100 years have passed since the Lions of Tsavo, the story of man eating lions attacking railway workers laying the track across the great country was told. Many workers lost their lives.

Today, with less drama for being eaten by lions a company from China is replacing the rail track with a full-gage line raised above the valley floor on an impressive earthend railway bed over much of the route. 

Provisions have been made for wildlife to pass beneath the railway.  Humane groups here are monitoring wildlife movement to assume it works. Similar tunnels and overpasses are in use in Colorado providing wildlife corridors and movement safe from traffic on Interstate 70. 

Kenya’s railway program is fast moving. The country is in transition as it has been since independence in 1963. Amazing when you think about how much change has taken place in 53 years. 

    
  
 

Rurpell’s Eagle and White-backed vultures

Thursday, with Munir Viranti and Darcy Ogada, of the director of the East Africa Peregrine Fund office, and Richard Reading, consultant and Africa Network for Animal Welfare-USA board member, I visited a location near Nanyuki where several White-backed vultures and one Rurpell’s eagle had been poisoned, probably unintentionally in an attempt by the local people there to retaliate.  It seems lions had killed one or two cows so baited meat was distributed throughout the area.  The unintended consequence was the poisoning of these birds.  Regrettably human-animal conflicts are common throughout Africa as pastoralists compete for grazing location.

Poachers intentionally kill vultures to avoid detection after slaughtering elephants.  It is a terrible reality that the vultures of Africa are at risk of endangerment and extinction.