Monday, 19 October 2015

Cheetahs - Waltzing Ballerinas of the Savannah Grasslands

Part 1

The Serengeti in Northern Tanzania is one place where its still possible to see how Cheetahs live in the wild.

Over the past 25 years or more, biologists at the "Serengeti Cheetah Research Project" have come to know more than 400 individual cheetahs, using their distinctive spot patterns as identifiers.

Cheetah Cubs normally spend about 18 months with their mothers learning how to survive and it may take them another year or two to become good or excellent hunters. They often start out chasing wildly inappropriate prey including Buffalo.

Most Female Cheetahs rear fewer than 2 individual cubs to independence in an average lifetime of seven years.

A Cheetah ambling across a field is among the most beautiful animals on Earth, Long Legged and Slim; shoulders rolling, lithe as a model on the runway.

Cheetahs have small, delicate mouths. Their big eyes are set forward, the better, to focus on prey.

Cheetahs are not sturdy enough to defend themselves from 2 competitors for prey; namely Lions and Hyenas. So, they have become expert hunters being elsewhere employed.

If their rivals hunt mainly at night, cheetahs hunt by day. If their rivals favor thick herds of wildebeest and zebra, cheetahs concentrate on Thomson Gazelles and Impalas where the prey is less dense and there are fewer eyes to notice them slinking through the grass.

The Cheetah's famously swift chase lasts an average only for 10 seconds and being brief in bringing down prey is a good thing.

It means the flurry of a chase is less likely to attract attention from impalas or gazelles. After bringing down prey, a cheetah will typically lie still for several minutes to recover her or his breath and also to check whether anyone is watching.

For an Adult Cheetah, the real danger is not losing a kill but losing her cubs. 95% of cheetah cubs die before reaching independence. Hyenas kill them out of hunger, while Lions usually do it out of bad habit.

Wildlife Conservationists feel that killing cheetah cubs is simply an extension of the male lion's urge to kill the cubs of any "Big Cat" so he can get a lioness pregnant with his own cubs.

Lionesses kill cheetah young too, to protect their territory. Female Cheetahs deal with the threat by constantly moving preferably before their rivals even know they are around. They coexist as a "Ghostly Species" slipping into temporary vacancies between prides of Lions and packs of Hyenas.

Over the course of a year, a female cheetah in the Serengeti will wander an area of some 320 square miles, larger than New York City.

Several Female Cheetahs may overlap in their wandering pattern but even so, cheetahs tend to be thin on the ground.

It is believed that there are no more than 250-350 Cheetahs spread out across the Serengeti Ecosystem competing against 2,500 plus Lions and 10,000 spotted hyenas.

It is theorized that the entire cheetah population of Sub-Saharan Africa may have been small even in the best of times.

If Females wander through large areas, males usually stick to a few choice areas within a particular ecosystem.

Because they have no cubs to worry about, males can maintain and defend small territories averaging around 20 square miles.

Two or Three Males usually Brothers may hold a territory jointly.

Part 2

Paternity is one of the great unknowns of cheetah biology, not just for researchers but for cheetahs themselves. A Female's home range may contain three or four male territories and she may mate with any resident males as well as with transient males that may pass through.

Unlike Lions, male cheetahs have never been known to kill cubs, perhaps because they have no way of knowing whether the cubs are their own offspring.

The question of who fathers the cubs is of special interest because cheetahs are a genetic mystery.

In the 1980's researchers discovered that all cheetahs are genetically the same - so much so that skin grafts from one cheetah to another produce no immune reaction. This finding caused geneticists to rethink the cheetahs evolutionary history.

Roughly 20,000 years ago cheetahs ranged around the world. At different times there were two different species of cheetahs living in the world.

But cheetah populations apparently suffered a drastic decline about 10,000 years ago, and all cheetahs now living appear to be descended from a relative handful of survivors.

No one really knows what this signifies for the future of the species.

Some Biologists suggest that having survived the population bottle-neck and recovered, cheetahs in the wild suffer no ill effects from their genetic homogeneity.

Others believe that they may be unusually vulnerable to any small change in their natural environment, particularly disease.

Either way, the cheetah is a conundrum : The fastest animal on land, an apparent model of evolutionary fitness, is also as inbred as the average lab mouse.

The single largest population of cheetahs in Africa exists in countries in Southern Africa namely in Namibia and in Botswana respectively.

Namibia has approximately 3,000 Cheetahs while Botswana its neighbour has around 2,000 Cheetahs. Together, Botswana and Namibia have 50% of all wild cheetahs in Africa.

Most of Botswana's Cheetahs live in the Okavango Delta as well as in and around the Kalahari Desert Region. In the wetlands of Northern Botswana, one can see Cheetahs killing their prey in an unusual way.

They are "Masters of Maneuvers". They hold antelopes underwater till it drowns - this is a rare form of cheetah kill which has not been often recorded on film.

It has to be stated here that the world's largest cheetah population lives in Namibia and thrives largely because ranchers and landowners have exterminated Lions from the huge private ranches that dot the countryside.

However, most ranchers regard cheetahs as some sort of 'vermin' that prey on their cattle. Many ranchers argue that the best hope for saving wild cheetahs is to let foreigners who are wealthy trophy-hunt a small number every year.

This is a measure of how difficult the question of cheetah conservation has become that even some environmentalists and conservationists feel that ranchers are right.

Let me end, by saying this "Whether Cheetahs thrive in the wild or are lost in our lifetime is ultimately up to us".

Credits and References :

1) Cheetahs - Ghosts of the Grasslands by Richard Conniff
     National Geographic Magazine - December 1999
     Vol - 196, N0-6
     Photos by Chris Johns

2)  Mara Cheetah Conservation

3)   Cheetah Conservation Botswana



Sunday, 18 October 2015


Part 1

Introduction :

There are only an estimated 600-700 Desert Elephants still living in Namibia.

A Hundred Miles west of Etosha National Park in Namibia along the South Atlantic is a strip of shifting sand dunes and gravel plains called the "Skeleton Coast Park".

Amazingly, Elephants inhabit the area, although rain almost never falls and there is little surface water except during the rare occasions when water from rain in the mountains far inland bursts through the dunes and creates a river flowing towards the sea.

However, succulent bushes in dry riverbeds reveal that water is not far beneath the surface. The Desert Elephants eat leaves and branches from these bushes. To get from browsing areas to drinkable water, they may walk as far as 30 miles in a stretch. They sometimes go for four days between drinks of water.

Facts on Desert Elephant Habitat and on Desert Elephant behaviour :

Years ago, it was learnt that the largest population of elephants in the coastal desert had lived nearby in the Hoarusib Valley. There too, in the bed of a tributary were wells that supplied not only the elephants but also other wild animals with water. When water in the wells was too low for baby elephants to reach, adults would fill their trunks and pour the contents into the calve's mouths.

It so happened that a Family of ten elephants was discovered one day in the Hoarusib area. They walked up the valley where the old wells had been; dug new holes in the same place, drank, and left.

The remarkable - almost unbelievable - thing about the "Desert Elephants" is their endurance through the dry months. They must be guided not by the voices of distant relatives but by their own heritage, which we may think of as the voices of their ancestors.

The experience of many generations is what leads these elephants over gravel plains and rocky mountains, across dunes and down dry riverbeds to the few sources of life-giving water in a vast and hostile desert.

Part 2

Only in West Africa, on the fringes of the Sahara, do any other elephants in the world exist in such an environment.

An aura of myth surrounds these desert elephants which were once thought to have larger feet and longer legs than others of their kind.

Although, they are not a subspecies, some researchers believe that these elephants do represent an ecotype, differing from other elephants in their specialized adaptation to the desert's demands for survival.

The Behaviour of Etosha's Elephants is well known but nothing prepares one for the capabilities of desert elephants of the Namibian Desert. One of these is that during the dry season, these desert elephants need to drink water only once every four days.

Questions and Answers about Desert Elephants :

How long have elephants roamed the Namibian Desert ?? Many sites have yielded rock engravings and paintings, some of them crafted thousands of years ago that depict elephants.

Western Explorers reported Elephants in the Namibian Desert as early as 1793.

Today, a few desert elephants of the Northern Namibian Desert may occasionally move inland and make contact with other elephants that live in an area of slightly higher rainfall. But most of them, are completely at home in the desert's unforgiving environment.

It is obvious that elephants can handle environmental stress. The toll humans take is another matter.

A permanent desert resort, the "Auses" water hole attracts desert elephants only to bathe - they normally drink water from a less brackish spring. To some researchers, these desert elephants represent an ecotype because of their special adaptations.

Also, they are perhaps the world's tallest elephants, and their huge feet and long legs may aid long- distance trekking.

Conclusion :

Seasonal Flooding turns parts of the Hoanib floodplain into lush pasture where Bull Elephants and younger adults usually find grass.

Let us do our utmost to save these magnificent desert elephants.

Credits and References :

1) Desert Elephant Conservation

2)  National Geographic Magazine August 1989
     Elephant Talk by Katharine Payne
     Pages 275-277
     Vol-176 N0-2

3)   National Geographic Magazine January 1992
       Skeleton Coast by Des and Jen Bartlett


Friday, 16 October 2015


Part  1 :

Introduction : 

Forest Elephants are found exclusively in Central Africa.

Gabon is situated in Central Africa.

The situation is very "grave" for forest elephants and their safety in many National Parks in Gabon but specially in Minkebe National Park and in Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve.

Gabon's Minkebe National Park has lost numerous Forest Elephants consistently to "Ivory Poaching" since 2004. It is distressing to know that 11,000 Forest Elephants or more were slaughtered for their ivory in the last 10 years.

Recent Surveys of areas within the park revealed that two-thirds of its Forest Elephants have vanished since 2004.

It is estimated that 50-100 Forest Elephants are being slaughtered daily by Poachers for ivory in Minkebe.

Gabon's National Park Agency reported an uptick of poaching in Gabon in recent years including the 2011 slaughter of 27 Forest Elephants in Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve.

This mass slaughter of Forest Elephants in Gabon deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Facts on Forest Elephants in Gabon :

Gabon contains over half of Africa's Forest Elephants with a population of more than 40,000.

Wild Forest Elephants can be seen strolling in patches of long golden grass between islands of forest at Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve.

It is virtually impossible to observe these Forest Elephants at close quarters because poachers have made all the elephants wary of humans.

Knee- Deep in green wax leaved bushes, one can see dozens of Forest Elephants with the open blue sea and long white waves breaking behind them.

A Bull with spread out tusks, Females with calves picking fruit from the waxy plants and several half-grown youngsters playing in the sea can be seen at Wonga Wongue Reserve.

These Forest Elephants are certainly smaller than their Savannah Relatives with rounded smaller ears blown out by the wind.

Gabon's Forest Elephants are sadly hunted to the nth degree for Ivory and for Meat.

Part 2 :

Forest Elephants can still be found in large numbers at 5 National Parks in Gabon.

However, they are at the mercy of poachers.

1. Ivindo National Park :

Ivindo protects Langoue Bai and spectacular Kongou and Mingouli Falls on the Ivindo River.

Langoue Bai, the hidden clearing discovered by eminent wildlife conservationist and ecologist -- Mike Fay has concentrations of Forest Elephants that one can only dream of. It is a gathering place for hundreds of Forest Elephants that likely had never encountered humans.

A rare clearing in a sea of forest the mile long Langoue Bai was carved out by Forest Elephants digging in the mud.

The pristine Equatorial Rain Forest surrounding Langoue Bai in the upper Ivindo River harbors big tusked Forest Elephants like never seen before.

Early Observations by Conservationists at Langoue Bai indicate that Forest Elephants drawn to the "Forest Clearing" for succulent vegetation, water, and salt make some sort of seasonal migration away.

They disappear when the rains end.

Where have they gone ?? Our guess according to conservationists is that they come here during the dry season to the marshy, provident, flatlands of the Upper Djidji River.

It might be the last unprobed hideout of "Gabon's Biggest Tuskers".

2. Pongara National Park :

Gabon's most popular beach retreat features hotels, lodges, plus herds of forest elephants in plenty. They can be found in large numbers amidst forest clearings that encompass Pongara National Park.

3.  Moukalaba - DouDou National Park :

Savanna descends from the DouDou Mountains to papyrus marshes Mon the Nyanga River, an oasis for Elephants in the dry season.

4. Mwagne National Park :

This is the site of the biggest bai or water hole clearing in Gabon. Mwagne supports bongos, otters, and a large population of forest elephants.

5. Minkebe National Park :

    Engulfed by one of the biggest wilderness areas in Central Africa, Minkebe is renowned for its large granite domes known as "Inselbergs".

Minkebe  was home to an estimated 20,000 Forest Elephants in 2004, but now only about 6,000 remain or less. Two thirds of Minkebe's Forest Elephants have been wiped out by rampant poaching.

The Minkebe Forest Block encompassing more than 12,500 square miles of North- Eastern Gabon represents one of the great zones of wilderness remaining in Central Africa.

Much of it and its Forest Elephants stand threatened by "Bush Meat Extraction" and Elephant Poaching for ivory.

Conclusion :

Only God can save Minkebe's Forest Elephants and their habitat as well as other Forest Elephants throughout the length and breadth of Gabon from wave after wave of rampant poaching.

The need of the hour is "Concerted Military Action" by the Gabonese Government against organized poacher gangs, so as to save the last remaining herds of Forest Elephants.

Before I end, I would like to say this that "Perched on the edge of the Congo River Basin, Gabon's Forests support some of the greatest numbers of species on the African Continent.

Awash with Life, Gabon has pledged to become a leading steward of "Biological Diversity".

It is our God given duty to help protect Gabon's Wildlife specially its Magnificent Forest Elephants.

"Let Them Never Ever Go Extinct".

Credits and References :

1. Gabon- Ground Zero for Forest Elephants.

2.  National Geographic Magazine September 2003.
     Saving Africa's Eden by David Quammen
     Pages 50 - 68 Vol 204,  N0- 3

3.  National Geographic Magazine November 1980.
     Africa's Elephants - Can they survive ??
     By Oria Douglas- Hamilton Pages 568-596
     Vol 158,  N0-- 5

4.  We are condemning Forest Elephants by ignoring the evidence


Goa - Unknown Home for Tigers

Goa which is situated on the West Coast of India is well known for its famous beaches such as Calangute, Vagator, Colva, and Arambol.

However, it is relatively unknown as a "Refuge" for Tigers.

Camera Traps installed by the Wildlife Conservation Society in April 2013 in Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa captured 4 Tigers on film.

These findings, on film give some hope that the State Government of Goa in its wisdom will now declare this sanctuary located in the ecologically rich "Western Ghats" or Western Indian Mountains
a "Tiger Reserve".

It is necessary to declare 500 square kilometres of the Mhadei Region right now as a "Tiger Reserve" in order to protect it from vested interests namely mining companies.

It seems that Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary has become the "permanent abode" of Tigers. Goa's Chief Wildlife Warden says that there are Tigers in an area of at least 200 square kilometres.

Earlier, it was believed that these Tigers were crossing over from Karnataka and Maharashtra in search of food-- but that's not the case now.

Goa State Forest Department records indicate the permanent presence of at least 6-10 Tigers in Goa.

Apart from this evidence, from the Goa State Forest Department, there is evidence indicating the presence of at least 35 resident tigers in Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in North Goa.

Strictly speaking, Goa was not a traditional "Home" for Tigers but in the past 5-10 years, Tigers from neighbouring Bhimgad and Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserves in Karnataka had visited Forests in Sattari  District of North Goa because of "Biotic Pressures".

Now, in 2015 there is evidence to show that Tigers in Goa are not merely "Transient Animals" but are part and parcel of the resident population.

Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa is a contiguous tiger landscape with tiger areas in Maharashtra and Karnataka.

 Important Points to be kept in mind regarding Tiger Habitat in Goa :

1) Mhadei and Neturlim, Goa's Wildlife Sanctuaries declared in June 1999 were notified then as one of the finest tiger habitats in the country by the then Goa Government.

2) They were also identified as a "Tiger Conservation Unit" along with contiguous forest areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra in a study by international organisations.

3) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and Wildlife Conservation Society, New York in a study had categorised the "Western Ghats" as the second best tiger habitat in India after the Sunderbans Mangrove Forests in West Bengal in Eastern India.

Credits and References :

1)  Tigers caught on camera in Goa by Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times  Saturday, April 27, 2013

2) Goa is the new Home for Tigers by Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, July 4, 2011


Thursday, 15 October 2015

Botswana - A Safe Haven for African Bush Elephants

Introduction :

Many of us are aware that in East Africa and in Central Africa Wild Elephants are being slaughtered in their hundreds and in their dozens for their "Ivory". 2013 and 2014 were terrible years for Wild African Elephants.

In 2013, 96 Elephants were lost every day to "Organized Poacher Gangs" in Africa.

It is sad to say this, but it is true that African Elephants in most parts of their range are declining extremely fast specially in National Parks in Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic.

Botswana : An Elephant Haven :

Botswana is a happy exception to this trend regarding the mass slaughter of Elephants in other parts of Africa.

The Northern Part of Botswana, encompassing the entire Okavango Delta - an inland delta fed by the waters of the Okavango River which evaporates in the sands of the Kalahari Desert and never reaches the Ocean has one of the few growing elephant populations left on the African Continent.

The best recent estimates, widely divergent and based on aerial counts in 2010 and 2012 puts Okavango's Elephant Numbers at 130,000 and 207,000 respectively.

Whatever the exact number, the patchwork of islands, channels, and floodplains of the Okavango are a seasonal refuge for thousands and thousands of African Bush Elephants.

This extraordinary terrain was designated as UNESCO'S 1000th World Heritage Site on June 22, 2014 and its new status may make it an even "Safer Haven" for Bush Elephants in the years to come.

The Okavango Delta being a "World Heritage Site" is a great benchmark in Botswana's Natural History.

It's one of the last sanctuaries for African Bush Elephants on the African Continent.

Elephant Refugees :

Many of the African Elephants living in Botswana are "Political Refugees". They are fleeing from Zimbabwe and Zambia where poaching is heavy into the Okavango Delta and southward into Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.

More and More Bush Elephants from neighbouring countries are constantly seeking the safety and security of Botswana.

The Government of Botswana -- A World Leader in Elephant Conservation :

Under the leadership of President Ian Khama and those before him, Botswana has long been politically and economically stable.

This, coupled with a strong emphasis on conservation and ecotourism has meant that Bush Elephants have rarely been persecuted, hardly ever poached, and since the banning of hunting in public areas in early 2014 -- not killed for sport.

Conclusion :

Botswana's Elephants are a "World Heritage". In Botswana, they are free to roam wherever they like -- into towns, communities, farmlands, and even across borders into adjacent countries.

Botswana's Bush Elephants are the "Flagship Species" for the country's thriving ecotourism industry.

The Beautiful "Okavango Delta" plays host to more than 50,000 Bush Elephants in the dry season.

The wetlands of Botswana are a veritable stronghold of "Bush Elephants".

Botswana has emerged as a "Terrific and Peaceful Haven" for vast herds of Bush Elephants in Southern Africa.

Let us do our utmost in supporting the Government of Botswana in saving Bush Elephants for posterity from organized poacher gangs.

Credits and References :

Aerial Census of Africa's Elephants aims to help Conservation, Anti- Poaching Efforts (Sept 5, 2014)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

My Favourite Country Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country which is situated in Southern Africa. It is my favourite country in the world. It is a "Wildlife Paradise" in more ways than one.

It is home to the "Big Five" namely Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, and Rhino. They are called the "Big Five" because they were difficult to hunt on foot in the past. Botswana has reserved 40% of its land exclusively for wildlife.

Botswana is home to many famous "National Parks" and "Game Reserves". The most famous are Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve.

Chobe National Park in Northern Botswana is globally famous because of its popular elephant sightings which are supposed to be the best in Africa.

Chobe National Park is home to Kalahari Bush Elephants- The  Largest Elephants in the world. They are estimated to be more than 50,000 in Chobe National Park.

 Chobe National Park has the highest concentration of Elephants in Africa as of 2015. One can see these magnificent Elephants in a myriad of ways - in the water, on land, and upclose when they come in large numbers to bathe and to drink water from the Chobe River.

Moremi Game Reserve on the other hand, is situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta in North-East Botswana. It is home to Black and White Rhinos, Herds of Elephants, Giraffes, various kinds of antelopes, and cheetahs to mention a few - who in my opinion are the "Waltzing Ballerinas" of the Savannah Grasslands.

President Ian Khama of Botswana is worth mentioning here. He has been the "Driving Force" behind Botswana's thrusts towards "Wildlife Conservation". Botswana has made great strides in the field of "Elephant Conservation" all under the Presidency of Ian Khama.

Today, Botswana is home to 133,000 plus Bush Elephants.

This is all because of the "personal involvement" of President Ian Khama in the field of "Elephant Conservation"' and "Wildlife Conservation". Botswana's Elephant Population is not only stable but is also increasing with every passing year.

"Wildlife Tourism" and "Eco- Tourism" is the "Motto" of Botswana. Botswana is a "stable democracy" in Africa today and is politically and economically stable.

To end, I will speak about Botswana on an "Economic Note". 

Botswana has a booming "Beef - Export Business" to Europe. 

Norway,  a country in Northern Europe is one of the biggest importers of "Botswana Beef". Besides this, Botswana has a thriving Diamond Mining Industry.

President Ian Khama has taken it upon himself to promote the Agriculture Sector  and Wildlife Tourism Sector in Botswana.

President Ian Khama is not only the best African Politician in Southern Africa but the best politician all across Africa.

Botswana in 2015 is the "least corrupt" country in Africa and is making major strides "economically".

Credits and References :

1) on the Okavango Delta and Botswana's Elephants.

2)  Aerial Census of Africa's Elephants aims to help conservation, Anti- Poaching Efforts (Sept 5, 2014)

3)  Botswana's Beef Export Business



4)  Botswana's Diamond Mining Industry

5)  Rhino Conservation Botswana

6) Cheetah Conservation Botswana

7)  Moremi Game Reserve


Sunday, 11 October 2015

List of Forthcoming Articles for 2016

1. My Favourite Country Botswana.

2. Botswana - A Safe Haven for African Bush Elephants.

3. Goa - Unknown Home for Tigers.

4.  Help Save Forest Elephants of Gabon from Mass Slaughter and Extinction.

5.   Cheetahs- Waltzing Ballerinas of the Savannah Grasslands.