Tag Archives: Kenya

Celebrating World Elephant Day Through Pictures

Today we celebrate the third annual World Elephant Day.

The holiday was created in 2012 by Canadian filmmaker and elephant advocate Patricia Sims, along with the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand.

Elephant activist and filmmaker Patricia Sims with an older female elephant. Click to enlarge

The holiday was started to draw awareness to the plight of elephants around the world.

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only about 40,000 left in the wild.

A 6-day old newborn Asian elephant meets some of the other elephants in its herd at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in England. Click to enlarge (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe)

In their traditional home of Thailand, only about 4,000 Asian elephants remain today, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 1900s.

In the past 50 years alone, their range has shrunk by nearly 70%:

Asian elephant range. Click to enlarge

African elephants are considered threatened, with a little under 400,000 remaining.

Other than habitat loss, one of the main threats facing African elephants is the extremely lucrative worldwide ivory trade.

July, 2011: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki lights a bonfire of confiscated illegal ivory at the Tsavo East National Park in southeast Nairobi. Kibaki destroyed some 335 tusks and 42,553 pieces of ivory carvings. Click to enlarge (Tony Karumba / AFP – Getty Images)

Ivory is extremely valuable, meaning that modern day poachers are often very well-funded by wealthy ivory traders.

This high level of sophistication allows them to target even some of the most famous and well-protected elephants in the world.

Satao, one of the world’s last great tuskers (elephants with tusks weighing 100+ pounds each), was killed by poachers in Tsavo East National Park early in June of this year.

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him. Click to enlarge

But the news isn’t all bad.

In February of this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service banned all imports and exports of elephant ivory within the U.S. (with extremely narrow exceptions).

The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.

Most ivory passes through Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines before ultimately ending up in China. Click to enlarge

And just last month, we got to hear the touching story of Raju.

This asian elephant spent 50 years being tortured and mistreated, all while sharp chains and spiked shackles cut painfully into his legs.

But in early July, a group of animal charity workers pulled off a daring rescue, freeing Raju from his nightmare. He was visibly emotional during the rescue, and even wept.

Raju the elephant wept when he realized he was being rescued. Click to enlarge

They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.

Raju is clearly enjoying his new home, friends and life. Click to enlarge

There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the illegal ivory trade is still a big problem, and one that is actually getting worse.

More ivory was confiscated last year than in any of the previous 25 years. The problem is that poachers can get anywhere between $100-000 to $200,000 for a single tusk, which is a massive incentive to any would-be poacher.

The graphic below shows the relationship between elephant poaching in Africa and ivory seizures in Asia. Click to enlarge:

The problems facing elephants are serious indeed, but today is a celebration of the majestic creatures.

In light of that, I think it’s only fair that I finish this post off with three of the cutest baby elephants ever.

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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.

A Group of Quakers Has Established a “New Underground Railroad” For LGBT Ugandans

In February, Uganda enacted arguably the harshest anti-gay legislation in the world.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only makes same-sex intercourse punishable by life in prison, it also puts people in prison for not reporting homosexual activity within 24 hours.

Though a number of other countries in Africa are known for having predominantly homophobic views, Uganda is probably the most severe in actively trying to eradicate homosexuality from society (ironically, they’re also one of the top searches of gay porn in the world).

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality BIll into law on February 24, 2014 (Photo: James Akena/Reuters)

LGBT Ugandans live in constant fear of being discovered. Not only are the legal consequences harsh, but groups of gangs have been known to go through neighborhoods rounding up suspected homosexuals and beating them brutally.

Now, a group of Quakers from Washington state have put together an organization to help LGBT Ugandans leave the country and secure asylum in a number of countries around the world.

To date, the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) have secured the passage of 107 LGBT Ugandans out of the country. They are currently being processed for asylum in countries all over the world.

The FNUR’s logo

The FNUR Quakers see themselves as carrying on the tradition of the Quakers who historically helped black slaves escape from the south to the free north and Canada.

The FNUR coordinates with local Ugandan “conductors”, who remain anonymous to hide their involvement in the highly risky operations.

The conductors handle all of the logistics, and the FNUR coordinates with them to fund the journeys.

The refugees are smuggled over the Ugandan border with Kenya, and then delivered to safe houses where they stay until more permanent arrangements can be made elsewhere. None of them have ended up in Kenyan refugee camps, where anti-gay violence can be just as bad as in Uganda.

Critics of the FNUR say that the organization lacks the resources, expertise and on-the-ground knowledge to sustain the program long-term.

Some people worry that FNUR is putting too much trust in their conductors. It’s not uncommon for local officials working with foreign non-profits to exaggerate costs and line their pockets with the excess.

Corruption, bribery and embezzlement are all widespread problems in many African countries

The FNUR acknowledges these issues on its website, and admits that they are, “figuring it out as we go,” but they also add that all the conductors are put through a thorough vetting process to ensure their trustworthiness.

They also argue that the situation in Uganda has gotten so dangerous for many LGBT individuals that it’s better to get them out first and then work out everything else after that. A statement on their website reads,

“We absolutely support those who are deciding to stay and fight for their right to be Ugandan and queer. We understand the passion for that because it is so very important, and our concern is for those living in such pain and fear that feel they must flee to build a life for themselves. We don’t think this is the complete answer by any means, but it is part of one.”

Read the full story from Newsweek here.

The feature photo at the top is of an asylum seeker marching in the Gay Pride Parade in Boston, Massachusetts on June 8, 2013. He covered his head with a paper back to protect his identity. (Photo credit: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Satao, One of The World’s Largest Elephants, Has Been Poached in Kenya

Warning: This article contains graphic images.

Following six weeks of investigation and speculations, the Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed that an elephant found dead in Tsavo East National Park on June 3 was indeed Satao, Kenya’s largest elephant and one of the largest elephants in the world.

Satao the elephant

Satao was one of the last “great tuskers”, large male elephants with tusks weighing 100 or more pounds a piece. Tasvo has one the last known collection of these giants, with only about a dozen left.

Satao next to a younger elephant

Satao’s carcass was discovered by Richard Moller, the executive director of the Tsavo Trust. This non-profit protects Tsavo’s elephants and works to promote conservation and healthy human-animal interaction in Kenya.

“It was the hardest report that I have ever written. I couldn’t see past a wall of tears,”

said Moller, who found Tasao with a poison arrow in his side. The poachers had hacked off his face and tusks, but Moller recognized him by his large frame and his unmarked ears.

Click to enlarge (Courtesy of National Geographic)
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge (Courtesy of Tsavo Trust)

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him.

The iconic elephant is among 97 elephants already poached this year in Kenya. His death comes just weeks before Kenya is set to showcase the country’s conservation efforts at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Governing Assembly on June 24.

In their incident report the Tsavo Trust had this to say:

“For the last 18 months, KWS and TSAVO TRUST jointly monitored Satao’s movements using aerial reconnaissance, and KWS deployed ground personnel in his known home range,” the Tsavo Trust said in an incident report. “But with today’s mounting poaching pressures and anti-poaching resources stretched to the limit, it proved impossible to prevent the poachers getting through the net.

Understaffed and with inadequate resources given the scale of the challenge, KWS ground units have a massive uphill struggle to protect wildlife in this area. … Tsavo is our home, our passion and our life’s work but, as the untimely death of Satao so tragically proves, we cannot win every time.”

Read the original story from Outside Online here.

WikiLeaks Reveals the Other “Mystery” Country Under Total NSA Phone Surveillance: Afghanistan

This past Tuesday, The Higher Learning reported on an article from The Intercept which revealed (via documents released to them by Edward Snowden) that the NSA has been monitoring and recording virtually every single phone conversation in the Bahamas.

In their article, The Intercept admitted that the documents named another country as also being monitored under this extremely invasive program, but chose not to release the identity of the country because they worried that the revelation would almost certainly cause deaths.

Despite their worries, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed that his organization would reveal the identity of the mystery country. Yesterday, he delivered on his promise:

The revelation has sparked worry amongst the intelligence community, who don’t believe that WikiLeaks has full access to the Snowden documents.

It’s still unclear whether someone sent them a copy of the documents or whether they just got a tip from someone working with The Intercept. The leak site Cryptome even suggested that WikiLeaks may have just assumed that Afghanistan was the mystery country based off other already public information.

The MYSTIC Program was also collecting metadata from Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines

I must say I don’t think many people will be shocked to hear that the NSA has Afghanistan under heavy surveillance. Personally, I think the surveillance in the Bahamas is much more odd and unwarranted.

However, I do understand why The Intercept and Edward Snowden were worried about revealing Afghanistan. It’s highly likely that this revelation will be used to help fuel anti-American sentiment in the already unstable country. Whether or not that leads to violence remains to be seen.

Read more from Time here.

Oh, Just A Busy Intersection In Ethiopia… With NO Traffic Lights (Video)

This video shows the busy intersection at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Cars, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians all move simultaneously through the square with no help from any kind of traffic signals or signs.

Don’t let the whimsical music fool you: Ethiopia’s traffic problem is a serious one.

In 2010, when Ethiopia launched the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), the country’s vehicle mortality rate was around 100 deaths per 10,000 vehicles.

The GTP’s stated goal was to reduce traffic-related mortality by 80% in 5 years. However, this rate has only dropped to about 72 per 10,000 since the GTP was enacted.

To compare, Kenya has 19 deaths per 10,000 vehicles and the UK has just 2 per 10,000. Traffic accidents cost Ethiopia an estimated $65 million every year.

Read more from Zegabi East Africa News here and the Sudan Tribune here.

What Does the World Eat For Breakfast? (Video)

Have you ever woke up and thought, ‘I really feel like some bread with cold cuts and cucumber and a side of hard-boiled eggs and sliced tomato!’? Ya, me neither. It’s probably because we’re not from Sweden, where this is a typical breakfast meal.

Check out this BuzzFeed video that shows you what a typical breakfast looks like in a number of different countries: