A swarm of desert locusts in Meru, Kenya, in February. Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
We respect all things natural, but we acknowledge there are phenomena that test our principles. Historic swarms of locusts, for example, make us believe that getting control over their impact is essential for communities where they can lay waste to human endeavor, so we thank Rachel Nuwer for this story from one of the hardest-hit regions:
A swarm inundating Naiperere, near the town of Rumuruti, in Kenya in January. When the rains come, locusts can form swarms of more than 15 million insects per square mile. Baz Ratner/Reuters
A hastily formed crowdsourcing operation to contain the insects in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia could help manage climate-related disasters everywhere.
Lake Joseph, a locust tracker, in Samburu County, Kenya in May 2020. Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images
Melodine Jeptoo will never forget the first time she saw a locust swarm. Moving like a dark cloud, the insects blotted out the sky and pelted her like hail.
“When they’re flying, they really hit you hard,” said Ms. Jeptoo, who lives in Kenya and works with PlantVillage, a nonprofit group that uses technology to help farmers adapt to climate change. Continue reading
A chicken tucks into crushed desert locusts at a farm near the town of Rumuruti, Kenya
The Guardian shares a photo documentary of a lemons-to-lemonade story with locusts as the lemons. Click the title below, or any image, to go to the story:
Kenya is facing its worst plagues of locusts in decades. Since December 2019, huge swarms have caused devastation across east Africa
In Kenya, those animals which poachers and cattle-herders have not killed off are being wiped out by new roads, power lines, mushrooming towns, and overgrazed, shrinking rangelands. Photograph by Khadija Farah for The New Yorker
Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson, whose Latin America stories’ gravity have compelled our attention in the past, for this story from another part of the world he once called home:
Seventy miles southwest of Nairobi, the Loita Hills climb toward the sky from the red stone cleft of the Great Rift Valley. Situated beside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the Loitas provide a vital watershed for migratory animals on the plains below. Forest pigs, bushbuck, black-and-white colobus monkeys, leopards, and Cape buffalo find refuge there, along with elephants that come to graze when the plains are dry. The Loita forest, one of Kenya’s last surviving stands of old-growth cedar, is sacred to the Maasai people, who call it Naimina Enkiyio—the Forest of the Lost Child, after the legend of a girl who followed wayward calves into the trees and never returned. Some twenty-five thousand Maasai live in settlements scattered through the lower valleys, where they herd goats and cows in sweeping meadows reminiscent of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The Loitas, rich in medicinal herbs and plants, are an irreplaceable resource for the laibon, the spiritual leaders of the Maasai. Continue reading
View of the Ebo Forest. DANIEL MFOSSA / SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL
Yale e360 brings us this story, a reminder from one year ago when Seth was in the neighborhood:
A gorilla in the Ebo Forest, located in southwestern Cameroon. SAN-DIEGO GLOBAL ZOO
The Cameroon government has announced it is canceling a plan to log nearly 170,000 acres of the Ebo Forest following sharp criticism from indigenous communities, conservation groups, and scientists. The ecosystem is one of the last intact forests in central Africa and a biodiversity hotspot, harboring hundreds of rare plant and animal species, including the tool-using Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, western gorilla, and giant frogs. Continue reading
While the actual events of the Environmental Film Festival had been canceled, the wonder and value of each entry remains intact. In fact, the DCEFF is offering hundreds of the films for streaming on line.
So many of these amazing projects strike home, but the one featured above has even more so, as Claver Ntoyinkima was Seth’s field assistant during his work doing bird surveys in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.
Claver Ntoyinkima, a native park ranger, shares the secrets of Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda as he guides us through the forest. With almost 300 bird species, over 1,000 plant species, and dozens of large and small mammals, Nyungwe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Twenty-five years after the devastation of the Rwandan Civil War, the park is now one of the best-conserved montane rainforests in Central Africa. As Claver walks through the forest we uncover the origins of his conservation values and the history of an ecosystem that survived one of Rwanda’s darkest periods.
Find this and more films here.
In Costa Rica, where tourism has been shut down and our own business interests completely on hold, I have resilience of family farms on my mind, which may seem quite a narrow focus but it is my choice, for now. Even with that narrow focus, as always I enjoy stories about this little country’s contributions to the world (click above). But Costa Rica is not the only little country doing remarkable things, it just happens to be where I live and work.
Rwanda has had experience in similar health crises, managing to successfully contain Ebola from its borders in 2019
This hunger for stories about little countries and their phenomenal achievements keeps me searching for stories to share here each day. And I just found one worth sharing. BBC’s website has a story in their travel section today on what they believe will be the five most resilient economies in terms of recovery from the current combined health and economic crisis. They use the 2019 Global Resilience Index to make some baseline inferences and then share their own expert opinion on how this would translate to recovery. I was struck that Rwanda, a country I have been musing about since Seth’s field work there last year, was in their top five:
We felt confident that the Rwandan government would handle the situation way better than in our home countries Continue reading
Giraffes in the Maasai Mara game reserve. Shrinking habitats and industrial pesticides have caused populations to plummet in recent years. Photograph by Guillaume Bonn
Jon Lee Anderson, who I am sourcing here for the third time, gives us perspective on Richard Leakey, who surprisingly was only mentioned once previously in nine years on this platform. Both men know their respective worlds. There is plenty of perspective among both, not much optimism, but a determined look forward:
Dakar’s horse-drawn buggies, long a staple means of getting around, are under an emerging threat from motorized rickshaws. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
Senegal shows up a dozen times in our pages over the years, but not one those times is about my own experience there. Strange, because that experience marked my return to teaching, and indirectly led to the work we are doing now with Authentica and Organikos. That is worthy of a post, which I will write another day, for now enjoying a simple story about life on the streets with horses, buggies, their drivers, and the community members who are transported by them:
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
DAKAR, Senegal — After a visit to the market to buy a box of mangoes, some fish and a length of cloth, Binta Ba, a Senegalese woman, needed a way to get home.
So she looked around for her preferred means of transportation: a horse and buggy.
A ride was easy to find, with dozens of horse-drawn buggies lined up near the market, which was in Rufisque, a picturesque suburb of Dakar known for its colonial architecture.
She climbed aboard a buggy, whose driver then waited patiently for a third passenger to occupy his final seat. When his buggy was full, he took off at a trot, sometimes speeding up to a canter. The riders paid about 50 cents for a 10-minute ride, a fraction of what it would cost to take a taxi.
“Taking taxis is for rich people,” Ms. Ba said. “We prefer to support these people because they are from the community.” Continue reading
The Lilac-breasted Roller is the star of Akagera, in my opinion (at least for the bird life), as a reliable and beautiful species that you can’t miss while visiting.
Over the last month and a half I’ve been immersed in my Gishwati bird research, so I have not been able to take as much time to write about experiences from the Rwanda Study Tour as much, but now that I’m back in the US, I have some better bandwidth to share media from places like Akagera National Park.
Akagera has the highest bird species richness in all of Rwanda, with literature about the park normally citing either high 400s or low 500s as the total tally. On eBird, there’s a number of different hotspots for the park, but the top three hotspots in the country are all in Akagera, with another two hotspots within the top ten.
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
For the two decades our company has been managing conservation-focused enterprises. Elimination of plastic has been a passion, and finding ways to reduce its use has been an obsession. While based in India, and working on a project in Ghana, we got a close look at entrepreneurial plastic re-use for the first time. We have been on the lookout for more ever since and this story gives hope for a whole new level of solution:
Plastic garbage collected by a women’s group is being recycled into bricks and used to build schools in West Africa.
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — She left home before dawn. Her four children were still asleep in her cement block house in Abobo, a maze of shops and houses occupied by dockworkers, taxi drivers, factory laborers and street sellers.
She and a friend crossed into the upscale neighborhood of Angré, home to doctors and businessmen. They tossed the plastic castoffs of the consumer class into bags slung over their shoulders as the cocks crowed and the sun peeked over villa walls draped with bougainvillea.
Students and residents gathered by plastic bricks outside their school in the Sakassou village. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
Mariam Coulibaly is part of a legion of women in Abidjan who make their living picking up plastic waste on the city streets and selling it for recycling. Now they are lead players in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country.
Pre-school principal Tirangue Doumbia ushering students into a new classroom built of recycled plastic bricks at the Gonzagueville school. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
They are working with a Colombian company to convert plastic waste — a scourge of modern life — into an asset that will help women earn a decent living while cleaning up the environment and improving education.
She sees it as a chance to better her life, maybe even to rise into the middle class.
“We don’t get good prices” from the current buyers, Ms. Coulibaly said. “This will help us.”
In the past year, the venture has built nine demonstration classrooms out of recycled plastic bricks in Gonzagueville, a scrappy neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, and in two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo. The first schools were built with bricks imported from Colombia. But in the fall, a factory now rising in an Abidjan industrial park will begin making the bricks locally. Continue reading
Impala, zebras, topi, and waterbuck share this savanna scene in Akagera National Park
The next park we visited on the Rwanda Study Tour after Nyungwe was Akagera National Park. Although the park was created in 1934, it’s only been run by a partnership between the Rwandan government and an NGO called African Parks—which helps manage about fifteen parks on the continent—since 2010. At this point, a change in operation style and protection started to help wildlife bounce back as well as increase visitation to the park. Back in 2010, the park hosted around fifteen thousand visitors per year and only made about $200,000 (while losing money), but last year the park received thirty-six thousand visitors and made $2,000,000 (getting out of the red for the first time).
A zebra gives itself a dustbath while a impala, two topi, and a warthog watch on
Gishwati Forest of Gishwati-Mukura National Park
Two weeks ago I promised an update from the field, and after completing the necessary government permits and preparing for work in the forest, I’m finally ready to write about the summer project that the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies requires of its Master of Environmental Management candidates. We can choose between completing an internship or independent research, and I opted for the latter, since I wanted the experience of designing my own field season and collecting data for scientific analysis for peer-reviewed publication, pursuing a subject that I’m both personally and academically interested in: tropical bird conservation. Now, with the generous support I’m grateful to receive as a fellow of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS), Yale’s Tropical Resources Institute (TRI), and the University of Rwanda’s Center for Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (CoEB), I’ve started my project exploring a subset of montane avifauna distribution in the Albertine Rift.
On the shore of almost any body of water in Akagera National Park in the east of Rwanda, trees festooned with balls of dried grass are a common sight, although what will often draw your attention to these trees first is not the strange vegetation, but the cacophony of a dozen or more weaver birds chattering away as they bring strands of grass to build these nests, display to potential mates, or warn of possible predators. The species featured here, the Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus, is a fairly common bird in this region, and entertained us with their craft on the day that we visited Lake Ihema, the second largest lake in Rwanda after Lake Kivu to the west.
A view from inside Nyungwe National Park
When I came into the master of environmental management program at Yale FES, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) wasn’t really on my radar as a big international conservation NGO — other names like the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, or Flora and Fauna International came to mind first. As I started to learn about the biodiversity hotspot of East Africa’s Albertine Rift, however, WCS programs and technical reports started to come up more and more, and the professional experience shared by my professors Amy and Bill in their class (Building a Conservation Toolkit: From Project Design to Evaluation) led to many discussions about their work with WCS.
As part of the Rwanda Study Tour, we met with WCS employees in Kigali and two towns neighboring Nyungwe National Park called Gisakura and Kitabi. These Rwandans, some of whom had been with the NGO for over fifteen years, told us about the conservation efforts carried out by WCS in the region, much of which revolves around capacity building, scientific monitoring, and community education and engagement. For example, since the nineties WCS has been recording phenological data from native trees and vegetation in Nyungwe, which can be a valuable reference for seasonal variations in plants affected by climate change. WCS has also trained park rangers on different data collection methods that have improved monitoring systems in the park to document cases of poaching efforts such as wire snares, which are still a major threat to the small forest antelopes that live in Nyungwe.
from the Uwinka Visitor Center of Nyungwe National Park
The first national park that the Yale FES Rwanda Study Tour visited was Nyungwe, in the south of the country bordering Burundi’s Kibera National Park. A montane tropical forest spanning over a thousand square kilometers, Nyungwe is quite biodiverse, and while it used to host elephants, water buffalo, and leopards, many other mammals are still present in the forest, including thirteen species of primate. Of these, we were able to see eight: vervet monkeys, l’Hoest’s mountain monkeys, blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys, mona monkeys, a single olive baboon, and eastern chimpanzees. This was fairly lucky, as the only primates we missed were the owl-faced monkeys, which are shy and restricted to the bamboo groves in a remote part of the park, red-tailed monkeys, which I know nothing about, and three species of galago, which are very small nocturnal primates sometimes called bushbabies, of controversial cuteness. I’ve included some of my photos below:
I’ve already been here a month, and Crist has shared some of my photos from brief missives that I’ve sent home, so I am overdue for an explanation of what I’m doing in Rwanda this summer.
A view from the Nyamirambo neighborhood of Kigali
At first I was in the country with four classmates from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) and our professor, Dr. Amy Vedder, who started working in Rwanda back in the late seventies, studying mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and, with her husband Dr. Bill Weber, helped set up the tourism program that has now become the cornerstone of the country’s economy. The six of us were participating in the Rwanda Study Tour, an opportunity for five Yale FES students to learn about conservation as practiced in this tiny nation of twelve million people.
The image above was taken after the last giraffe photo, but I do not know where. Today Seth sent more photos after he and his colleagues hiked up, through a national park, to the upper reaches of a volcano.
Hiked to the summit of Visoke volcano in the national park, the toughest hike I’ve done just for elevation (got up to 3711 meters asl) through the wettest slush mud
Seth is plenty verbal. But under these circumstance I appreciated the parsimony of words in his message accompanying the photos. I have been at that altitude and it does not encourage chit chat.
We have lived and worked in beautiful places; again, all I can say is I look forward to Ghana.
And again, my favorite image is not the one I would have expected.
Seth sent a few more messages, in the form of images, from Rwanda. One day soon I will describe what he is doing there, but for now the images say more than enough.
While elephants are a childhood favorite animal for Seth, he had seen Asian elephants in the wild, so that probably made seeing giraffe the charismatic topper so far.
Once zebra is added to the list of species seen, it might start feeling like all is well in the wild (even if we know it is not).
Waterbuck with African Fish-Eagle
One of the few photos that had any words to explain was this one, which is to be expected of a birder in the realm of charismatic megafauna.
But of all the photos, the one that caught my eye was the one above, which I do not yet have an explanation for but it is in surrounded by the following photos which put it in some context.
That gives a hint.
This answers the question.
And this makes it crystal clear. Seth had already sent an image from an earlier field visit that he knew would catch my attention.
The origins of Organikos can be traced to a project I led in 2005 in Paraguay, where I had the idea that wild-hunted honey from the Pantanal region could share the taste of place with the world while at the same time providing much-needed cash infusion to the honey hunters and the protection of their wilderness areas. Seth knows that story and knows to send me photos of honey from wild places as a polite indication that the idea was a good one, if not original.
The phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” comes to mind when related to overcoming the obstacles of handling emergencies in remote or dangerous locations. But after listening to Zipline founder Keller Rinaudo’s TED talk, “entrepreneurship is the new philanthropy” seems more apropos. Our direct experience is more within the entrepreneurial conservation model in developing economies, but the energy with which many countries have leap frogged established technologies with 21st century models and solutions belies their assumed status of development. Continue reading
Seth is in Rwanda, and until now only one of his photos was posted here. His last written post on this platform was about a year ago, when he was preparing for graduate school, but since then dozens of his photographs have been shared here as bird of the day. I do not expect him to have time to share written description here of his work in Rwanda, so I will share some of the photos he is sending us.
I do not know where these places are, yet. But I hope to hear soon.
La Paz Group was part of a consortium a decade ago competing for a project, funded by USAID, to assist Rwanda’s government with planning for the future of nature-based tourism. Our proposal was not the winning proposal, so I did not have the chance to see the country in person. Yet. But based on these photos, I will.
My last long term assignment in Africa was in Ghana. My last prospecting for a long term assignment was in Ethiopia. Both of those countries are worthy of revisiting, and I intend to do so. But Rwanda has jumped to the top of the must visit list in Africa.
What is not visible in any of these photos is Seth’s encounters with wildlife. I have heard about gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and plenty of bird species. He has sent pictures of wildflowers, mushrooms, ants. Not just any ants. Driver Ants! But for now, the bucolic natural and manicured landscapes are enough to convince me.