Tag Archives: Africa

Watching Cocoa Bean Farmers Taste Chocolate for Their First Time Really Puts Life In Perspective (Video)

The Ivory Coast is the largest producer of cocoa beans in the world, exporting around 1.6 tons of the beans annually.

After being shipped off to other countries, the dried beans are crushed into cocoa powder and mixed with sugar and other ingredients to produce what we know as chocolate.

However, almost none of the farmers who actually grow and harvest the cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast have ever even tasted the delicious  final product.

So, the Dutch broadcasting company VPRO decided to give that experience to a few cocoa farmers. Check it out in the amazing video below:

Cocoa has been cultivated for centuries in Central America, but it is actually a relative newcomer to the continent of Africa. The plant was first introduced to Africa in the mid-17th century by Europeans who had acquired a taste for cocoa after arriving in South America.

Despite this fact however, Africa now dominates production, producing almost 70% of all the cocoa beans in the world. The bulk of this comes from the Ivory Coast, who produces 40% of the world total.

In Africa, almost 90% of cocoa production happens on small plots of 5 hectares or less (~12.5 acres). Worldwide, more than 20 million people rely on cocoa bean production for their livelihoods.

So next time you’re enjoying that chocolate bar, take a second to think about the unheralded people whose hard work made it possible.

BONUS: If you found it strange that the farmers didn’t know cocoa beans were turned into chocolate, check out this follow-up video that VPRO made showing how few people in the Western world know where chocolate comes from.

Groundbreaking New Malaria Vaccine Could Receive Approval as Soon As 2015

Every minute, a child dies from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 billion people, nearly half of the Earth’s entire population, are at risk for the disease.

Though malaria rates have dropped by 42% since 2000, the disease is still expected to kill anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 people this year, with the majority of them being children under the age of five. In fact, malaria is the third largest killer of children worldwide.

We have been slowly but surely lessening the effects of malaria worldwide in the past 15 years. Click to enlarge

And while improving medical technologies and practices have been steadily reducing the number of malaria-related deaths, there is no proven vaccine against the disease.

But a promising new vaccine created by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may be about to change that.

The vaccine can’t prevent  every single case of malaria, but it has proven to have a very significant impact. During multiple trials of the vaccine, researchers found that on average about 800 cases of malaria could be prevented for every 1,000 children who got the vaccine.

In the most advanced of these trials, 1,500 children in several different African countries received the vaccine. 18 months later, researchers found that the vaccine had nearly halved the number of malaria infections in small children.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the center of the malaria crisis. 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Click to enlarge

The testing also suggests that the vaccine’s impact becomes even more pronounced in areas that have particularly high infection rates.

For example, in a number of Kenyan cities, the researchers were able to prevent about 2,000 cases of malaria with only 1,000 vaccines (many people in the area contract the disease multiple times).

GSK has now applied for regulatory approval of the vaccine from the European Medicine’s Authority. This is the first malaria vaccine to ever reach that step.

Sanjeev Krishna is a professor of Molecular Parasitology and Medicine at St. George’s University of London. He was one of the scientists who peer-reviewed the study before it was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. He had his to say:

“This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre…

We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Read more from the BBC here.

If you want to learn more about malaria, these 10 quick facts about the disease from the World Health Organization is a good place to start.

These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

Villagers Just Caught the Largest Ever Aquatic Insect And It’s Bigger Than Your Hand

Villagers from a village in the Sichuan province of China just collected the largest ever aquatic insect specimen.

The bug, a massive dobsonfly, has a wingspan of more than 8 inches. The previous record-holder for the world’s largest aquatic insect was a South American helicopter damselfly, which had a wingspan of 7.5 inches.

Helicopter damselfly (Megaloprepus coerulatus)

Though dobsonflies are relatively common (there are over 200 species across Asia, Africa and South America), one of this size had been unheard of until now.

Looking at a dobsonfly can actually be very misleading. For one, those massive, grisly-looking mandibles protruding from its head are actually only used for mating. Males flaunt them to impress the females and hold them in place during the actual mating process.

A male dobsonfly (on the right) courts a female before mating. Click to enlarge

Also, those massive wings are pretty much all for show. The insect almost never flies, preferring to spend the bulk of its time in the water (both underwater and on the surface), or sheltering underneath rocks.

Dobsonflies are also a biological indicator of water quality. They prefer clean water with very low levels of pollution and a relatively neutral pH. If water quality falls below their standards, they will leave and find a new body of water to call home.

The villagers gave the record-setting specimen to the Insect Museum of West China.

(h/t Discovery)

San Men of the Kalahari Show What A “Fair Chase” Hunt REALLY Looks Like (Video)

Earlier today, I discussed the controversy surrounding Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech leader who hunts big game in Africa and posts the pictures to Facebook.

In the caption of a picture of her with an African leopard, Kendall described the hunt as a “fair chase”. I feel the need to disambiguate that term.

Let me present the San people of the Kalahari desert in Africa. This traditional hunter-gatherer society inhabits the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. San men go on marathons across the desert to track down the Kudu antelope which provide key protein for their families:

The San people lived as hunter-gatherers for countless generations until government modernization programs, lasting from the 1950s until the 1990s, mandated that many of the San switch to farming.

They are one of our fourteen surviving “ancestral population clusters” from which all modern humans today descend from. Studies of the San have provided a wealth of information in the fields of anthropology and genetics.

So let’s be clear: hunting  with high-powered rifles and motorized vehicles is as far from a “fair chase” as it gets.

Should People Be Outraged By A Texas Tech Cheerleader Hunting Big Game In Africa? (Poll)

Don’t forget to voice your opinion by answering the poll questions at the end!

Kendall Jones is a 19-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, a small town about 45 minutes southwest of Dallas. When she was nine, she started following her father on his big game hunts in Africa.

Kendall quickly took a liking to the hunts, and at the age of 13, she shot her first animal: a White Rhino. From her Facebook:

“Although I had many other opportunities to shoot animals I wanted to save it for the Big 5, so the first animal I ever shot was a White Rhino with a .416 Remington!!”

Kendall poses with her White Rhino. Click to enlarge

The Big 5 Kendall mentions refers to the five African animals coveted most by hunters: the rhino, the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the lion.

Since then, she has checked off the other four, as you can see in the pictures below.

Kendall with a Cape buffalo. Click to enlarge
Kendall, who describes her hunts as “fair chases”, with the near threatened African leopard. Click to enlarge
Kendall poses with a male lion. Click to enlarge
When this photo of Kendall with a large bull elephant sparked outrage, she defended herself by pointing out that the meat helped feed hundreds of families. Click to enlarge

Kendall’s “About” section on her Facebook page says that she’s, “looking to host a tv show in January 2015” about her hunting adventures through Africa.

Ironically, she has gained the public spotlight because of a recent online petition that has asked Facebook to, “Remove the page of Kendall Jones that promotes animal cruelty!” The petition, posted just over a week ago, has already garnered over 45,000 signatures (its goal is 50,000).

Another petition, posted to the website change.org a few days later, calls her out for using her hunting to expand her social media influence and adavance her entertainment career and asks that she be banned from hunting in Africa completely. It has nearly 3,500 signatures.

Kendall with a white springbok. She captioned this photo: “Another harvest for today. White springbok, it’s 1 of the 4 color shades of this animal! And let me tell you it’s one of my favorite kinds of meat so far!”

In her defense, Kendall argues that her hunting is about conservation. She writes,

“Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these… Funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property.”

So while many may find what she’s doing distasteful, it’s actually not illegal. Big game hunters pay the government’s of African countries for special permits which allow them to hunt the animals.

These permits are often auctioned off, with a large portion of the proceeds supposedly going to help wildlife conservation efforts in the region. I say “supposedly” because anyone who knows Africa knows that a lot of money never gets where it’s supposed to go.

One of the biggest problems with illegal poaching is that many wildlife agents, customs officials, and government leaders are already being paid-off by wealthy and powerful mafia-style poaching rings, so it would be extremely surprising if this corruption doesn’t also exist in the extremely lucrative permit auctions.

Satao, one of the world’s most iconic elephants who was recently poached for his massive tusks. Click this image to read that story

Personally, I think killing any animal (especially one as rare and majestic as the great beasts of Africa) so you can pose with it for social media attention is a pretty selfish thing to do. Sure, certain populations (like feral hogs in Texas, for example) do a lot of damage to the environment and ought to be controlled.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting to document their kills for themselves, but parading the dead bodies of some of our most threatened species doesn’t send a message of conservation and protection, in my opinion.

However, as I said earlier, it’s perfectly legal. And I’m not sure whether people being offended by the pictures is a good enough reason to remove them from Facebook (which is full of offensive content), let alone ban her from Africa.

Let me know what you think by answering the three poll questions below.

Read the original story from the Daily Mail here.

If you’re interested in knowing just how threatened these different animal species are, you can look them up on World Wildlife Federation’s Endangered Species Directory.

The First Ever Chimp Fashion Trend: Sticking Blades of Grass In the Ear

A group of chimps at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust sanctuary in Zambia have a new fashion statement: sticking a blade of grass in one ear.

Chimps are highly intelligent and are known to use grass to fish for termites, but after extensive study, scientists have concluded that there is no discernible purpose for what they’re calling the “grass-in-ear behavior”.

It all started back in 2010 when an older female named Julie started sporting a long blade of grass from her ear. Julie was a sort of role model for the other 11 chimps in her group, and they paid close attention to her strange new behavior.

Julie, the chimp who started the fad. Click to enlarge

After repeatedly observing the behavior for a while, other chimps in the group began to join. Although Julie has since passed away, seven of the 11 chimps from her group still sport blades of grass from their ears today.

Edward van Leeuwen is a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands who led a study to examine the odd behavior. Him and his colleagues spent a year observing four groups of chimps at the Chimfunshi orphanage.

Despite the fact that all four groups lived in the same grassy environment, only Julie’s group exhibited the “grass-in-ear behavior”. After extensive observation, van Leeuwen concluded that there were no genetic or ecological purposes for the behavior- it had simply become part of the group’s culture.

Other chimps from the group adjusting the blades of grass in their ears. Click to enlarge

“The chimps would pick a piece of grass, sometimes fiddle around with it as to make the piece more to their liking, and not until then try and stick it in their ear with one hand… Most of the time, the chimps let the grass hanging out of their ear during subsequent behavior like grooming and playing, sometimes for quite prolonged times. As you can imagine, this looks pretty funny,”

says van Leeuwen. He also pointed out that the behavior isn’t much different then the fads that emerge amongst humans, comparing it to, “wearing earrings or certain kinds of hats.”

Read the original story from The Dodo here.