Archive for January, 2010

Another Few Reasons For Not Emigrating to Mogadishu

January 30, 2010

It has been hard to have much fun in Mogadishu for quite some time.

The gunfire and explosions, obviously, have made for less than a peaceful night’s sleep but this Blog is not looking at the consistent violence of the “Failed State of Somalia”.

We are are looking at recreation. And its decline.

The Islamic group Hezb al-Islam has just banned video games. They’ll still train you in the fine arts of discharging an RPG into a girls school and blowing yourself up in public places thereby earning yourself 70 virgins when you subsequently hit Paradise.

Shooting computer Aliens and battling dragons in cyber cafes however “destroys our social traditions and for that reason, anybody found ignoring this order will be punished and equipment will be confiscated” according to Sheik Mohamad  Omar, head of propaganda for Hezb al-Islam.  The insurgent group is linked to our favourite group of really bad pilots.

This Tradition thing has me confused.

The same group of ’70 virgin’ applicants has flogged  people found guilty of dancing to traditional songs.

Men caught trimming their beards (a Somali tradition) have been flogged.

Young people playing football have been severely reprimanded for wearing shorts. Playing football and wearing shorts isn’t a Somali tradition. But it’s recreational and the kids enjoy it.

No doubt they will soon have their footballs confiscated.

Then they’ll be flogged.


My first visit to Mogadishu (and my last) was during Operation Restore Hope. My reckless but idealistic wife had read an interview in the Japan Times. The interviewee was a UN high-up and she was lamenting the fact that while Japan was showering the UN with cash, it wasn’t coming forward with volunteer personnel.

My wife immediately phoned Geneva and volunteered to help out in Sarajevo.

Several months passed before she was finally informed that the UN would like her in Liberia.

Another war torn hell hole. But hey! She was up for it. Several more months passed. Nothing heard from the UN.

Then her presence was suddenly required in Sierra Leone. Same deal – another war torn hell hole (for details check my novel Homunculus). And then nothing more heard from the UN.

Finally it was Somalia’s turn. And this time Geneva actually meant it and she shipped out for Mogadishu, or ‘The Mog’ as the US Marines called it.

I hitched a lift on a Hercules leaving Nairobi and swung by to see what she was up to,  and to check out the nightlife, catch a few rays on the beach, sample the local cuisine – the usual tourist stuff.


Somali men, when they are not shooting each other, like holding each others’ hands.

The guy who met me at the airstrip immediately took my hand, wouldn’t let go and together we walked half a kilometer watched by several thousand American soldiers who clearly thought I was gay, and past tanks, a vast  pile of wrecked jet fighters (former President Said Barre’s air force) and then it was into an armoured vehicle and time to see the sights.

These were, of course, frightful. Before the war(s) Mogadishu must have been rather beautiful. Lots of whitewashed buildings, courtly villas, gardens, mosques, markets, gentile hotels overlooking the Indian Ocean… But the feuding clans (this isn’t a tribal thing, it’s a clan thing; Somalis believe they are all descended from the same family) had trashed the place.

Hotel Cockroach

The buildings that hadn’t been blown up were pockmarked with bullet scars. And the only hotel still functioning was filled with despondent war correspondents smelling of Bourbon, taps that didn’t work, stacks of of of inedible field rations purloined from the Restore Hopers  and really large cockroaches whose air cover was supplied by mosquitoes. The manager had the audacity to try to charge me $US 200 a night for a room that definitely had a view. But with all the roof top snipers busily engaged in looking for white men to shoot I decided that that the last thing I needed was a view.


She was organising UN press statements of the “ten bodies were retrieved from the harbour exhibiting evidence of shark damage” sort. These weren’t approved. What the UN wanted was a mixture of good news (to encourage donations) and bad news (to encourage more donations).  She, like other UN volunteers,  was housed in a UN-organised compound eating three course meals prepared by a local chef who had been coached by an extremely gifted Italian chef.  I’d assumed she’d be living in a tent, surrounded by skeletal children and whimpering refugees with vulture bites.

Au contraire. This was luxury! I decided to become a resident.


I thought I’d misheard the question when the French volunteer asked me as we twizzled pasta on our forks and sipped red wine.

“Out where?” I asked. “Nairobi?”

“The city. What is happening?”

“I’ve just arrived. I was hoping you’d tell me.”

“I don’t know. I have not seen it.”


Further Info on African Elephant Populations – Compare with Asiatic Elephant

January 29, 2010
Elephant distributions Africa

Elephant population distribution in Africa (IUCN Figures?)

Subject: Elephant Numbers


This map could be useful in your new life:


Asian Elephants' distribution

Asian Elephants' distribution

Namibia Backs Ivory Proposal

January 28, 2010

Despite a large number of African countries opposing ivory sales Namibia has lent its support to Tanzania and Zambia who are proposing a ‘one off’ ivory sale.

Kenya, Mali and other African countries who fear that this sale will spur poaching and illegal trade are sending delegations to Europe to petition the EU to block the ‘one off’ sale.

The interesting thing about ‘one off’ sales is that there have already been three of them since a global ban on ivory sales was introduced in 1989 after a major killing spree in the 1980s.

Arguments in favour of a sale? Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania say that their “successful” conservation measures have led to an increase in elephant populations and that the ivory they plan to sell has been collected from dead eles and “problem animals” that have been shot after raiding crops.

Arguments against? Well,  let’s hear from you. And then you’ll hear from me!


Botswana… 133,829

Tanzania… 108,816

Zimbabwe… 84,416

Kenya… 23,353

South Africa… 17,847

Zambia… 16,562

Mozambique… 14, 079

Namibia… 12,531

Burkina Faso…4,154

Chad… 3,885

There are elephants elsewhere but I don’t have stats.

If you are wondering where the above (rather precise) figures come from, check the IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report. (2007, so already out of date).

POTHOLE! Durban KZN – Corner Essenwood Rd & St Thomas

January 28, 2010
Durban drivers – you might want to avoid this intersection for a while!Potholedurban1

Pot hole durban


The curious thing is that nowhere else looks flooded


Burst water main?


Must have been quite a shock for the driver!

A new national symbol? The Condom!

January 28, 2010


A flying Snake in Namibia?

January 27, 2010

Still on the subject of snakes here, has anybody out there seen or heard anything about the legend of the Namibian flying snake?

Here’s reference to it from the Cryptozoology Online blog.

“When I sent Schmidt a copy of my 1996 Namibian flying snake article she/he was unfamiliar with the cryptozoological approach to the subject.

Schmidt`s letter of September 16th 1995:

‘Like the ghosts or UFOs in Europe, these snakes are seen by people who believe in them. And people who do not believe in them do not see them. A teacher once sarcastically told me: If at night people see the light of a motor-bike or a car where only one light is working people say: Oh, there is the snake again! And there are many people who delight to tell tales how they saw the snake or about other people who met the snake. Usually quite a number of different traits are attributed to these snakes, each narrator stresses different ones: its stench which alone kills people and attracts swarms of flies, its call which sounds like sheep or goats calling, the light, lamp, mirror, stone or white spot on its forehead, its face like a man`s face, sometimes even with a beard, its horns or ears, its fondness for women. In dry Namibia the snake (which is usually called the Big Snake) lives in the mountains, but in the permanent rivers, particularly the Oranje River, its aquarian lives in the water, has a palace under the water and keeps there his human wives which he steals at the shore. These snakes belong to a very ancient stratum of belief in Africa and in other continents as well. In southern Africa there are rock paintings of prehistoric times of huge snakes which probably were connected with rain or rain ceremonies

As to the flying snake in particular: Usually this snake has no wings but uses the end of its tail to push itself through the air to the next point. And as to the reporter of the 1942 accounts: the policeman Honeyborne was known as a very good narrator and experienced quite a number of extraordinary things.'(1)

Schmidt`s letter to me of October 15th 1995 makes a brief reference to crop circles near Hildesheim ‘a few years ago.’ and also: ‘And as the main source for the 1942 report* was the policeman who was known as the great story-teller I just see no reason at all to accept it as reality in our sense.'(2)”

If anybody has anything to add on the subject, could you drop us a line?

Snakes Alive (and Dead): Namibia’s Poisonous Snakes.

January 27, 2010

I have a feeling that both snakes in the previous image posted on the Blog snuffed it.


Excerpts from Medical Management of Snake Bite In Namibia By Dr. PJ.C Buys.

Book review-Medical management of Snakebite in Namibia, published in Epistola magazine, Namibia.

Let us begin!

And let’s begin by not getting bitten!


” Motivated by his love for nature and a realization that there is a lack of medical practitioners dedicated to the Management of snakebite in Namibia Dr. P.J.C Buys wrote a 37 page booklet on the subject published in 2003.”

“The book is a comprehensive source of information on the phenomenon of snake bites, their venom and treatment procedures in Namibia. It is easy to understand thanks to clever illustrations and the use of simple straightforward language. It is a handy must have for any doctor or member of the general public wishing to have more information on the subject.”

“The book covers topics such as advice on avoiding being bitten by snakes, tackles misconceptions about snakes, types of snakes to watch out for in Namibia and the effects of their poison.”

“It  also provides detailed information on what one can do to deal with such an emergency as well as how to administer anti-venom and what venom to use for which snake toxin.

Doctors will find comprehensive information on Management of Anaphylactic reactions, conducting Anti-venom sensitivity tests, Method for intra muscular injection and  Cardio pulmonary resuscitation. It also contains useful flow diagrams that  illustrate how to deal with snakebites step by step.

All in all it is comprehensive, though not all inclusive, book that doctors and layperson alike should not be without when dealing with snakebite management. The following are excerpts from this informative manual.


Controversy still surrounds the whole spectrum of snakebite treatment, and the literature available on the subject is often contradictory and anecdotal.

This is due to a number of factors, the most important being that only a few doctors have the opportunity to deal with sufficient numbers and varieties of snakebite victims to gain experience with the different means of treatment. Understandably, there are even more divergent views on the appropriate first aid, since a very few doctors will be required to give snakebite first aid more than once or twice during their life. Also conclusions are often drawn from animal experiments or uncontrolled clinical trials.


Major adders – Intense pain (strong/dull or sharp) • Localized swelling commences within minutes• Diarrhoea and vomiting maybe experienced

•General shock usually develops• Oligaemic shock can cause death.

Minor adders • Same as above except less intense• Mambas

Localised swelling slight to moderate Blurred vision and dilated pupils

•Difficulty with swallowing.

Without treatment convulsions, respiratory distress, coma and death.

Boomslang • Slight local pain • Severe headaches after few hours

• General bleeding tendency • Blood in saliva and vomit • Convulsions. And death may ensue.

Southern Namib Sand Adder -Swollenlymph glands -Unsteady gait, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting.

MydriasisStilleto Snake • Slight to intense pain in bite area-

Swollen lymph • Liver damage and death rare.

Zebra Snake – Severe pain- Moderate to severe swelling • Death

uncommon•However loss of function and disfigurement can occur- if spat in the eyes intense pain, conjunctivitis, corneal damage.


Watch where you step and what you touch in the bush Do not step over rocks and logs, but rather onto them. Look where you place your hands while climbing or lifting objects. Firewood should not be gathered at dusk nor night. Wear boots when possible

Sunglasses provide protection against spitting cobras Do not sleep directly on the ground -inspect the campsite and where you are about to sleep Do not handle snakes and if you encounter a snake stand still then back away slowly Most snakes will flee immediately

The most likely time for snakebite is the twilight hours.


Family Viperidae• Puff adder • Horned adder• Many-horned adder

Namib sand adder,  Desert mountain adder•Namaqua dwarf adder, Rhombic night adder

• Family Elapidae Black mamba•

Cape Cobra •Angolan Cobra

•Shield nose snake •

Coral snake “Spitters” Western barred spitting cobra

(Zebra Snake) •Western black spitting cobra-Black neck spitting cobra-Mozambique spitting cobra (Imfezi) -Family Colubridae •Boomslang

Vine snake (Twig Snake) -Tiger snake (3 species). Family Atractaspidae

•Stiletto snake (Burrowing adder/asp-3 species) •Atractaspis sp.

The above is just a sample of the wealth of knowledge contained in this great text.

BLOG EDITOR’S NOTE: Getting a copy of this book is a must, not a luxury.  It is available from:

Gamsberg Macmillan.

Strange but true: Snake saved by a car accident?

January 27, 2010
Subject: Strange but true

I took this picture on the main road between Ombika and Okaukuejo sometimes in 2005. It appeared that one snake had swallowed another and was later run over by a car that ruptured the stomach content. The strange thing is the size of the swallowed snake in relation to the other snake.

Michael Sibalatani

Deputy Project CoordinatorZebra sake

Can anyone identify either of these snakes?

Rhino Repetition and Impact of HIV-AIDS on Conservation

January 27, 2010

The more astute readers of this Blog will have noticed that identical articles on rhino poaching were posted.



And now for something completely different.

Conservation Threatened by HIV-AIDS

Etosha National Park and the Namib Naukluft National Park are two of Africa’s greatest and most internationally famous protected areas.

Both recently celebrated their centenaries but behind the festivities, commemorative events and speeches there was a skeleton at the feast – HIV/AIDS. While the impacts of the pandemic on the economic sector are well documented it is only very recently that attention has been turned to assessing and addressing the pandemic’s potentially disastrous effect on the future of African environmental conservation.

We invite  Lazarus Nafidi formerly an employee of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to address these new concerns.

Lazarus was co-ordinator for the HIV/AIDS Environment Working Group (HEWG). He currently works for Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR).


It is dusk in Etosha National Park then, quickly as is the way in my beloved country, it is night. At the waterhole the show begins in earnest.

Animals have been trooping in all day to drink. Zebra, giraffe, kudu, and many more but it is at night that the fur really flies. And the tourists who have come from around the world are thrilled and enchanted by the spectacle of elephants sparring, lions padding in looking for blood, rhinos starting the wildlife equivalent of ‘bar fights’ if anything gets in the way of their next drink…

Maintaining this drama, however, isn’t just down to the animals.

There are a lot of people involved.

These are the MET staff who maintain the national park fences, who fix the waterhole pumps if the gizmos break, the people who are out in the bush on anti-poaching patrols, the people who negotiate with neighbouring farmers if an elephant herd decides to run amok. In short, the guys who make things work.

Without them one of the basic foundations of Nambian prosperity – its protected areas and environment – is in serious trouble.This is one compelling reason why the menace of HIV-AIDS to conservation needs addressing.

Environmental conservation is the cradle of the country’s growth potential and the welfare of its human (and non-human) populations and it is also essential to the growth and health of Namibia’s burgeoning tourism industry.

The key tourist draw is wildlife, wilderness and scenery.

Namibia has all three in extraordinary abundance but to maintain the national parks, yes, we need people, infrastructure and vehicles that don’t spend too much time acting as hearses, taxis or ambulances.

Much of Namibia’s protected environment is administered and managed by the government. In the case of tourism, some responsibilities and benefits have been passed down to rural communities through conservancy schemes which involve local communities and leaders taking responsibility for their land, its wildlife and reaping the benefits of tourist Euros, pounds or rand. The private sector lodges also make great contributions.

Furthermore a large percentage of Namibia’s rural population depends on the natural environment for their subsistence through activities such as the harvesting and collection of firewood, wild fruits and berries, medicinal plants and water extraction.

Managing these resources in a sustainable manner can mean the difference between future generation’s survival and environmental degradation and a national decline.

HIV and AIDS in Namibia

The HIV infection rate in sub-Saharan Africa is relatively high (16.5%) but Namibia perhaps has one of the highest prevalence rates in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 19.5%. Regional variations in the prevalence rate are also evident with the natural resource rich north-eastern region of Caprivi recording the highest prevalence rate at 45%. The section of the population hardest hit by the pandemic is the labour force.

Making the linkages

So what are we doing about it? HEWG), is a multi-sectoral committee spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Namibia to address the linkages between HIV/AIDS, the Environment and Natural Resource Management. One of the overarching goals of the HEWG is to achieve “… a region of healthy people and healthy ecosystems”. The two concepts are inseparable.

The HEWG has recently launched a Strategic Status Assessment of natural resource management organizations and communities to determine the extent to which HIV and AIDS impacted on their role in managing their natural resources. This study brought to light a number of interesting views from communities and Park agencies alike.

About 73% of community members felt that HIV/AIDS impacted on their community’s ability to manage their environment and natural resources.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the Managers of Natural resources

For managers of natural resources such as Agricultural extension officers, subsistence farmers, Park Managers and conservancy game guards, HIV/AIDS reduces the capacity of individuals in the workforce. It is pointed out in most National Parks that the tasks required in managing the natural resources are delivered at a slower pace, and more resources are being diverted to health-related expenses.

Conservation staff, in both parks and conservation agencies, have also outlined a number of indicators and effects of the pandemic on the workforce. The common reasons for staff not being able to perform their duties are:

Absence from duty to attend funerals

Lower output levels because of ill health and a general decline in work place productivity

Deaths, absence for personal care or family care

Psychological factors: fear, grief, sense of loss; a crisis outlook where work duties are reduced in priority

This loss in human capability to undertake routine environmental

management tasks such as Fire control, game patrols and game counts and so on, agricultural extension outreach and water point management may lead to a general degradation in the ecosystems that we protect.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the users of Natural resources; Shortened

Time Horizons.

Rural areas in Namibia rely heavily on natural resources such as firewood, water and land for their subsistence. These non-renewable resources are prone to be exhausted when managed and used in an unsustainable manner. When impacted by HIV/AIDS, users of natural resources are said to shorten their time-horizon, shifting from longer-term sustainable practices to short-term unsustainable practices to meet their urgent, immediate needs.

The HEWG study also highlights general observations from members of communities living adjacent to Namibia’s Parks. About 62.5% of community members feel that unsustainable resource-related activities are on the rise in their communities. The most frequently mentioned activities are:

poaching, unregulated tree felling, over-harvesting of traditional plants from the veld (traditional harvesting methods abandoned) and over fishing.

Together, these compound to result in overall less sustainable

natural resource utilization practices and a reduced ecosystem capacity to support rural livelihoods.

Nine Key findings of the Strategic Assessment

1 Park workers are hit hard by the impacts of HIV/AIDS.

2. The conservancy sector at large is also impacted by the pandemic.

3. Conservancy members – who benefit from tourist income – have relative higher levels of social capital to deal with the pandemic compared to neighboring communities.

4. Women statistically reduce their vulnerability to HIV through participation and employment in the conservation sector.

5. Local pressure to poach is offset by the presence of community game guards. The loss of guards clearly impacts negatively on conservation.

6. Traditional natural resource-based remedies could be diminishing in importance.

7. Vulnerable communities’ livelihoods are dependent on changing and diminishing food and water resources.

8. Information and policy gaps at the operational level lead to varied responses by environmental managers.

9. Discrepancies exist in the veracity of local and national information-sharing networks.

So, how do we protect our environment, wildlife and people ?

The Strategic Status Assessment commissioned by the HEWG has been presented to key partner organizations (government, UN agencies, the Namibian Nature Foundation and the Strengthening Protected Areas in Namibia project etc.) and the impact of HIV-AIDS on institutions such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has been noted with alarm. A 5- year Action Plan has been developed to implement a number of activities focused on policy and workplace programme formulation, training and succession planning models.

Already an inventory of the status of HIV/AIDS Policies and workplace programmes has been created and their implementation is set to be monitored.

Succession planning in particular is crucial if institutions are

to retain capacity in terms of people and skills. This may seem inhumane and calculating to some but everybody sooner or later dies and requires a replacement. It is our current tragedy that such thinking is particularly necessary because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Such a model plan, complete with Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT); and wellness programmes will be developed and tested to ensure that Natural Resource Management agencies know as much about their labour force as possible.

This programme will enable the institutions to implement ARV programmes that will help prolong staff lives, save lives and be prepared for changes in the labour force. Simultaneously it will help ensure the future of our environment. And the waterholes of Etosha, the other parks, the conservancies will still delight the people of the world and bring invaluable investments to the country and a source of hope to all.

More on Rhino Poaching: The Mozambique Connection

January 27, 2010

Linda Baker of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism sent me the following.

Rhino carnage continues

YOLANDI GROENEWALD – Jan 15 2009 05:00

The illegal slaughter of at least 12 rhinos over the festive season brings the number of the animals poached in South Africa in the past year close to 100. The rising death toll comes amid allegations that Mozambican authorities are not doing enough to crack down on known suspects and, in some cases, might be abetting the poachers.

Another two rhino deaths in Mpumalanga have been reported but not confirmed – some game reserves are reluctant to comment on such killings. If the figure is correct it would put the unofficial death toll of rhinos poached in South Africa since January last year at 96. The dead animals include critically endangered black rhinos.

An Mpumalanga ranger who has tracked poaching across South Africa’s border into Mozambique said the country’s law enforcement failures were contributing to the problem.

“Not a single poacher arrested in Mozambique for killing a rhino has gone through the full process prescribed by the conservation law,” the investigator said. “Unfortunately, the Mozambican legislation cannot deal with modern poaching methods and this is being exploited by the poaching lords.”

He said many suspects are repeat offenders who simply return to poaching. And even if they point out their handlers the handlers can simply pay a fine if they are ever arrested.

No poachers arrested in Mozambique for offences in the Kruger park and Mozambique’s Sabie Game Park have been jailed for longer than two weeks. “This includes offenders who have been apprehended twice for similar offences,” the investigator said.

A report he has drawn up reveals that poachers killed at least 43 rhinos between January 2004 and July 2008 in the Kruger park and around its border. Though the Kruger park would not provide official figures, the Mail & Guardian understands that more than 40 rhinos were shot there between January and the end of November last year.

In many cases Mozambicans, allegedly employed by Vietnamese syndicates operating out of South Africa, are the prime suspects. The syndicates are said to provide their local recruits with high-calibre weapons. Crossbows are also used because they are silent.

The investigator said that a community leader from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park had shot rhinos in the Kruger National Park on three different occasions. Kruger law enforcers pursued him into Mozambique, where he was arrested each time, but on all three occasions the cases were either not finalised or no sentence was given.

When the poacher tried his luck a fourth time he was apprehended on South African soil. The investigator said that South Africa’s laws should ensure that he is taken “out of the poaching system”.

In another case in 2007 five rhinos were shot on the border of the Kruger park, in Mozambique. A task team comprising the Mozambican border police and staff from Kruger and Sabie Game Park arrested two suspects along with high-calibre weapons, the tracking equipment and binoculars. The investigator said the suspects and the evidence were handed over to the police commander in Moamba, Mozambique.

But the investigator also sent letters about the case to the national government in Maputo because he felt Moamba police had bungled previous cases. In addition, he met with police leaders in Maputo and raised the lack of detective competency in Moamba. Despite his efforts, he said, the two suspects were simply fined R1 250 and released.

“The fine should have been at least R1,5-million if it was properly investigated and proper channels followed,” he said. “The horns were worth at least R1,5-million.”

The investigator said he suspected that some of the police in Moamba were corrupt and actually assisted the poachers. In one case the name of the poachers’ handler was obtained and the man was arrested. But the suspect has a freedom-fighting history and close ties with politicians and the police, the investigator said. Within one week he was released and South African investigators believe he did not even pay a fine.

The Mozambican police had not responded to emailed questions by the time of going to print. Carlos Come, a director in the Mozambican police, merely commented that joint commissions between South Africa and Mozambique had been put in place to help Mozambique with its challenges.

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