Sunday, March 31, 2013

Illinois Lion Meat Bill Awaiting Full House Passage


Just a quick post to report great news in from Born Free. Below is a press release from their website.It looks like the anti lion meat bill was passed by the House Agricultural Conservation Commission and is awaiting full house passage at this time.

Press Release

For Immediate Release: 03/20/13
Born Free USA Applauds Committee Action Yesterday to End Sale of Lion Meat in Illinois


Born Free USA, a leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, today applauded Illinois state Rep. Luis Arroyo’s leadership on behalf of lions and thanked the House Agriculture Committee for approving the Lion Meat Act yesterday. This much-needed legislation, championed by Born Free USA, would ban the sale of lion meat and the slaughter of the animals in Illinois.

According to Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA: “We thank Representative Arroyo for his unwavering support for the protection of lions and are grateful to the House Agriculture Conservation Committee for passing HB 2991 yesterday. We hope this bill will be passed expeditiously by the full statehouse.”

In 2011, Born Free USA released the results of a yearlong investigation that revealed shocking information about the raising, slaughter, sale and consumption of lion meat, raising serious animal welfare, conservation and human health concerns. The organization began looking into the lion meat trade in June 2010, after receiving reports of lion meat availability across the country. What was uncovered is a shady business cycle that involves lion cubs bred for the captive display industry, caged lions shot at a slaughterhouse, and a frightening lack of regulatory oversight and accountability.

As a result of Born Free USA’s findings, the organization called on state legislatures across the country to prohibit the commercial exploitation of lions for their meat. Because in most if not all cases, lion meat recently sold was traced back to originating in Illinois, passing legislation in the Prairie State is key. For the complete investigation report, visit http://www.bornfreeusa.org/lionmeat

Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to the United States the message of “compassionate conservation” — the vision of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film “Born Free,” along with their son Will Travers, now chief executive officer of both organizations. Born Free’s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.

Media Contact: Rodi Rosensweig, publicrelations@bornfreeusa.org, (203) 270-8929.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Appalling Truth of the Lion Meat Trade

A few months ago, I started a petition on Change.org against the sale of African lion meat in U.S. exotic meat shops. The petition has only received a decent amount of signatures (about 4,400 as of last count) but it's a start. More support is needed to make an impact strong enough to stop the sale of meat of an iconic animal like the African Lion. If you take a close look at the practices of the multi-billion dollar exotic meat industry in the U.S., what you'll find is very appalling.




One exotic meat shop currently selling lion meat is Czimer's Meat and Seafood in Homer Glen, Illinois which is owned by Richard Czimer. Prior to posting the petition, I found that Czimer's no stranger to running afoul of the law, especially where exotic animals are concerned. Below is a link to an article with more details on his lack of regard for exotic or protected animals:



Here's a short list of Czimer's (and his cohorts') shenanigans from the same article:


  • Purchasing the meat of a federally-protected black spotted leopard in August 1997, a felony violation of the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law. 
  • Purchasing the carcasses of 16 federally-protected tigers, four lions, two mountain lions and one liger(a tiger-lion hybrid). The animals were then skinned, butchered and sold as lion meat at Czimer's Meat and Seafoods, Inc. 
  • Part of a group that bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of introducing the meat, skins and parts into the lucrative animal parts trade.





An excerpt from the Fox News article in the link below implies that the acquisition or farming/raising, slaughter, labeling, inspection and selling of these exotic meats are carried out within the confines of USDA oversight. Yeah, right.

The quote I'm referring to is:


Since the exotic meat market is small, 
the animals are farm-raised in small herds, 
pasture-fed and processed in USDA-approved slaughterhouses.


Hmmm. Processed in USDA-approved slaughterhouses? If you want to learn a bit more about the so-called USDA-approved method of killing the sixteen animals referenced in the bulleted list above, you just have to dig a bit deeper in your research. Keep in mind that many of these were federally protected animals.

The grisly truth of what really occurred is described in the article linked to below. It was  discovered during an undercover investigation carried out by agents from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The article describes how the exotic cats were delivered to a warehouse under cover of dark, prodded with sticks to get them in the best position to shoot, and then shot in their cages by a group of greedy cowards. I hardly think that's considered a USDA-approved humane slaughtering method.



Czimer is still selling his exotic meats. Do you honestly he's had a change of heart and changed his methods, how he gets the meat, how it's killed, processed, whether it's inspected or properly labeled? I seriously doubt it. The fact that he's still selling lion meat is a good indication that this guy has no interest in the welfare or future of the African lion or any federally protected animals, for that matter.

The article below states that Czimer admitted to agents that he knew his meat was labeled as lion meat when it was actually [federally protected] tiger meat. Keep in mind this is occurring within a multi-billion dollar business.



In the DNA Info article below, Czimer's arrogance and ignorance are on fully display when he  calls Rep. Arroyo "stupid" and Arroyo's bill a "publicity ploy." This statement is coming from a guy who thinks it's okay to kill federally protected animals for steaks and burgers. And from a guy who's already confessed to, and been convicted of, illegally purchasing, slaughtering and selling federally protected animals.  






In 2011, Born Free conducted an investigation into the sale of lion meat and went on to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to list the lion as endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act. The Agency found enough evidence to warrant listing the African lion as endangered, but haven't yet issued a ruling pending the review of public response. This means they set a time period (something like 90 days) for the U.S. public to write in and voice their support or opposition. 



Even though an animal may be listed as endangered in its native country, the U.S. has its own Act under which certain animals are protected. Classification of the African lion as endangered in the U.S. would make it illegal to import them (or their body parts - what hunters refer to as "trophies"), or to sell or slaughter them for the sale of their meat. 


We may have an unlikely hero in the form of an Illinois state representative. Enter  Illinois State Representative Luis Arroyo.  Arroyo (a Dem) is sponsoring a state bill that would ban the sale of lion meat as well as the slaughter of lions for this purpose. Please feel free to write and support Rep. Arroyo on his proposed bill so we can stop this. Arroyo is also on Twitter (@RepArroyo) if you'd like to tweet your support.

Several news outlets covered this story; below you'll find links to a couple articles on Czimer and the proposed ban on lion meat:



What can you do? Please sign the petition and write (or tweet) Rep. Arroyo to show your support of his proposed bill to ban lion meat in Illinois. It would only be banned in one state, but that's a start. Hopefully the Fish & Wildlife Service will pick up the ball and do the right thing by listing the lion as endangered in the U.S.

Thank you for caring about the future of the African Lion. 

Below are a few shots of African lions from some of my recent trips to that continent. Their survival is important ... and your help is appreciated.

More lion and wildlife photography may be found at Wildfolio Photography.







Animals Matter.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Elephants at Amboseli - Nov 2012

I was fortunate enough to return to Africa for the second time this year, to visit the Masai Mara and also Amboseli. The purpose of this trip was to observe and photograph elephants. Although there were few elephants seen in the area of the Mara where I visited, I was rewarded with frequent and plentiful sightings of elephants (along with many young calves!) in Amboseli.

The drive from Nairobi to Amboseli took about 4 1/2 hours (218 km), but most of it was over pretty decent roads except the last portion which was dirt roads and slow going. The map below shows the drive from Nairobi.


From: Nairobi, Kenya To: Amboseli National Park, C103, Kenya

As I drove closer and closer to Amboseli, luck was on my side and I had a beautiful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Partially obscured by clouds, but there she was in all her glory looming in front of me. What a sight!

Here's some shots from the elephants at Amboseli.



A lone female elephant (her family was close behind)
in front of Mount Kilimanjaro.


A family of elephants heads toward the forest as the sun sets,
amid a cloud of dust they kick up as they walk.


Elephants and an Acacia tree with weaver nests,
silhouetted by the African setting sun.


An elephant appears to be having a morning conversation
with a white Cattle Egret during a stroll across the marsh.


A mother elephant and six young eles getting ready to cross a dirt road.


This magnificent elephant had a lot to say, so I gave
her my undivided attention.


Not a great photo, but this little guy's attitude was so cute
and I was happy to quickly snap a photo of him 
with his little trunk up in the air!


This beautiful elephant paused just long enough
to watch this Cattle Egret take wing and allow
me to take this photo. This photo is almost identical
to the photo above where the elephant had her trunk
lifted (except for the Egret).


Animals Matter.

Shirley and Jenny: Two Elephants Reunited



 

The story below is courtesy of PBS.

 In 2000, The Urban Elephant brought viewers the touching story of Shirley and Jenny, two crippled elephants reunited at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee after a 22-year separation. The bonding was immediate, intense and unforgettable between the two former circus elephants. But long after the cameras were turned off, the wondrous moments would continue.

The two were inseparable. Shirley quickly assumed the role of surrogate mother to Jenny, who, though now an adult, had been a baby when they first met at the circus. Their bond was so intense, it would forever change life at the sanctuary. As Carol Buckley, Executive Director of the Sanctuary describes it, 'that was the love that started our elephant family.' "After Shirley's arrival, elephants who had previously been companions and friends were now sisters and aunts in the mother and daughter relationship of Shirley and Jenny. They gave the sanctuary its future," says Carol. These strong bonds would soon be needed. Sadly, on October 17, 2006, ten years after arriving at the sanctuary, Jenny died.

Jenny came to the sanctuary quite ill. She had scars and other traces of misuse and abuse from her past as a circus elephant. She had been exposed to tuberculosis. And due to an attack by a bull elephant before coming to the sanctuary, Jenny had a crippled back leg. Her caregivers suspect the leg harbored a hidden bacterial infection that flared up last year.

Carol says the bond between Shirley and Jenny was never more touching than in the last days of Jenny's life. "The day before she died, Jenny had been down and she wouldn't get up. Shirley stood by her and insisted that Jenny get up. Jenny just couldn't get up. Then Jenny stood up but she had to lean on Shirley to keep up. If you looked at Shirley's face, you could see that she knew that Jenny was dying. Jenny dropped to the ground and Shirley walked into the woods."

Jenny was on her deathbed when Shirley walked to the woods but she would give Carol and the sanctuary caregivers the privilege of one last incredible glimpse into the world of elephants before she died. "After Shirley left, Jenny started to make this rumbling noise. With each exhalation, she would rumble. It was almost like a singing. As Jenny did this, Bunny and Tara (two sanctuary elephants) came running over. We thought that was it and she was going to die. And then Bunny and Tara started trumpeting and rumbling. At a certain point, I turned to Scott (Director of The Elephant Sanctuary) and I asked him how long this was going on. He said 58 minutes! Well, she continued for another two hours. Jenny lived through the night and was even perky and silly. She passed in the morning. And when she died, she did a vocalization that I had never heard. It was like a trumpet. It was very low and got quieter and quieter. She passed very peacefully without straining or exerting herself. To experience this ritual was amazing. I had never seen anything like it."

Shirley stayed in the woods until Jenny passed. She didn't eat for two days. "It was very hard and especially hard on Shirley. Shirley's whole life was about taking care of baby Jenny. It was like a mom losing her baby."

Fortunately, Shirley has had some extended family members to lean on during the sad times. Shirley is very close with an elephant named Bunny -- the two are like sisters. Bunny arrived to the sanctuary just two months after Shirley and they bonded instantly.

Carol says Jenny's death was difficult for the elephants but they are recovering. The healing process may have been sped up by a new elephant, Misty, who has come in from a different area of the sanctuary. "She's a very happy creature. She loves all elephants. She just runs around. And they love her. She's a ball of happy energy."

For more information on Shirley and Jenny, please visit the Elephant Sanctuary Web site at http://www.elephants.com/bios.htm


Animals Matter.

Elephant Calf Receives Help from Family

This video is several years old, but still worth watching because it does does a great job of illustrating just how well elephants work together. In this clip the elephants show how well they work together to get the baby elephant how of the mud and try to keep him calm.

This began innocently enough; the elephants were enjoying a drink at a water hole. When the baby elephant tried to exit the water hole, he became stuck in the soft mud at the entry point due to his small size (and the mud is sticky and creates a vacuum around your feet etc.). As he began to panic and thrash around, the other elephants stepped in to assist. By now the baby had exhausted himself and was panicking. The adult female elephants got into the water around the baby, created a rut with their feet and slowly pushed the baby towards the new exit, while comforting him.

Elephants are extremely intelligent and deeply sensitive creatures as seen in this footage.





Animals Matter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Love Affair with Africa

I wrote this article about a year ago, and since that time I've been fortunate enough to return to the absolute wonderfulness that is Africa. And after returning home to Austin a few short weeks ago, I've once again sunk into an abyss of depression and homesickness for Africa. My beautiful, sweet Africa. I've cried myself to sleep every night since returning. It's all I can think about and I long to return.

My greatest fear is that I'll never return, like Isaak Dinesen after she left the continent for the last time. At the end of Out of Africa, when the words appear on the screen: "Isaak Dinesen never returned to Africa." How sad is that?!? I don't want that to be my fate. And I'm determined that it won't be. I'll be back. And if I have anything to say about it (and you know I do), I just may stay.

Here's the short piece I wrote last year. It still doesn't do justice to the real thing. I've only visited two of her beautiful countries, but I'm certain I'll love every other one as much as those I've been lucky enough to have seen and experienced. I know there's more out there, hidden deep within the bosom of Africa ... beautiful and quiet and waiting to be discovered ... by me.



Animals Matter. Africa Matters. We All Matter.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who's Killing the Elephants in Africa? And Why?

Elephant ivory poaching is on an alarming rise throughout Africa and the elephants' opponents certainly aren't playing fair (not that they ever have). But now they're using techniques that I find stomach-churning, to say the least. The new breed of elephant poachers are more aggressive, more determined, and certainly more brutal. They're also using a more military approach to their poaching activities. These modern-day poachers are heavily armed and apparently think nothing of taking human lives along with those of the elephants.

A case in point is the recent slaughter of twenty-two elephants in Garamba National Park in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is situated between the lush forests of the Congo Basin and the Guinea-Sudano savannas and is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. It contains four of the largest land mammals: both the African forest elephant and African bush elephant (and hybrids of both subspecies), the last remaining population of the rare northern white rhinoceros, the Gongolese giraffe, and the hippopotamus. The park is home to many endangered species and its location makes it ideal for its inhabitants because within the park one can find gallery forest (forest that forms along rivers or wetlands), forest clumps (sections of forest with closely situated trees), as well as marshland and both densely wooded and treeless savannas.  Garamba National Park, considered to be one of Africa's most gorgeous parks with its spectacular location, unique ecological formations, and variety of wildlife used to be home to approximately 20,000 elephants; now the numbers have dwindled to a little over 2,000.

This incredible national park was home to the twenty-two slaughtered elephants, any of them were very young. What was particularly interesting (and horrifying) was that the dead elephants were all killed by a single gunshot wound to the head. The elephant carcasses were discovered by park rangers, who also noted that there were no human prints leading away from the dead animals. Historically, ivory poachers kill their prey on foot, and often carve out hunks of meat to eat on their long walk home. The elephants died standing in a circular formation facing outward, with the young calves in the middle for protection.

What was later discover is even more disturbing. Interpol is now investigating the mass elephant slaughter with efforts underway to ascertain if DNA samples taken from the dead elephants match that of a large amount of tusks seized at a Ugandan airport (marked "household goods"). New evidence has also come to light about the method of the poachers' execution of the elephants. It's now believed that the elephants were shot from a helicopter using a sniper. 

An Mi-17 military helicopter was photographed flying unusually low over the park in April and the conservation group responsible for the park's management were able to successfully trace the helicopter's registration to the Ugandan military. It has become widely believes that The Lord's Resistance Army, Darfur's janjaweed, and the Shabab have turned to ivory poaching as a mean to finance their various causes.

The New York Times  recently covered the ivory poaching in a September 3, 2012 article which states:

In 2010, Ugandan soldiers, searching for Mr. Kony in the forests of the Central African Republic, ran into a janjaweed ivory caravan. “These guys had 400 men, pack mules, a major camp, lots of weapons,” a Western official said. A battle erupted and more than 10 Ugandans were killed. 
“It just shows you the power of poaching, how much money you can make stacking up the game,” the official said. 
Businessmen are clearly bankrolling these enormous ivory expeditions, both feeding off and fueling conflict, Western officials and researchers say.
“This is not just freelance stuff,” said Mr. Hormats, the State Department official. “This is organized crime.”
The same NYTimes article explained the militaristic actions of the poachers as well as those behind them:

Garamba National Park is a big, beautiful sheet of green, 1,900 square miles, tucked in the northeastern corner of Congo. Picture a sea of chest-high elephant grass, swirling brown rivers, ribbons of papyrus and the occasional black-and-white secretary bird swooping elegantly through rose-colored skies. Founded in 1938, Garamba is widely considered one of Africa’s most stunning parks, a naturalist’s dream. 
But today, it is a battlefield, with an arms race playing out across the savanna. Every morning, platoons of Garamba’s 140 wildlife rangers suit up with assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Luis Arranz, the park manager, wants to get surveillance drones, and the nonprofit organization that runs the park is considering buying night-vision goggles, flak jackets and pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. 
“We don’t negotiate, we don’t give any warning, we shoot first,” said Mr. Onyango, the chief ranger, who worked as a game warden in Kenya for more than 20 years. He rose to a high rank but lost his job after a poaching suspect died in his custody after being whipped.
“Out here, it’s not michezo,” Mr. Onyango said, using the Swahili word for games. 
In June, he heard a burst of gunfire. His rangers did a “leopard crawl” on their bellies for hours through the scratchy elephant grass until they spied poachers hacking several elephants. The instant his squad shot at the poachers, the whole bush came alive with crackling gunfire 
“They opened up on us with PKMs, AKs, G-3s, and FNs,” he said. “Most poachers are conservative with their ammo, but these guys were shooting like they were in Iraq. All of a sudden, we were outgunned and outnumbered.” 
Both of the rangers’ old belt-fed machine guns jammed that day, and they narrowly escaped (11 have been killed since 2008 and some of the rangers’ children have even been kidnapped). Later investigation showed that the poachers were members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal rebel outfit that circulates in central Africa, killing villagers and enslaving children. American Special Operations troops are helping several African armies hunt down the group’s phantom of a leader, Joseph Kony, who is believed to be hiding in a remote corner of the Central African Republic. 
Ivory may be Mr. Kony’s new lifeline. 
Several recent escapees from the L.R.A. said that Mr. Kony had ordered his fighters to kill as many elephants as possible and send him the tusks.
The elephant is recognized by experts to be a very intelligent, inquisitive, highly sensitive, and emotional animal. Their life span is similar to that of a human's. They mourn their dead and display exceptional cognitive abilities, many of which are still somewhat mysterious. And now ivory poaching is reaching even greater heights than of the 1980's.

If you're interested in helping the African elephant, please reach out to CITES (the international trade organization that governs endangered animals) and voice your concern.  Their website is here:


Another resource is Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants and Dame Daphne Sheldrick, whose Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi cares for orphaned young elephant until they can be returned to the wild.  The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust can be found here: Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Whether or not you're able to write an email, start a petition, foster a baby elephant, the main thing you can do is care

Elephant Matriarch, Masai Mara, August 2012

Elephant mother with her young calf, Masai Mara, August 2012

Elephant silhouetted by the African sunset, Masai Mara, August 2012



Animals Matter. Elephants Matter.



Friday, August 31, 2012

Why a Petition?

As many of you may (or may not) know, I've started an online petition against the sale of lion meat by a U.S. company. The company in question is Czimers Game and Seafood in Homer Glen, Illinois. This company came under fire a few years ago when they were convicted of killing and selling exotic big cats. Here's the skinny on that:


Now it appears that they're back at it again. Some people have asked me, "why start a petition? Do you really think it'll change anything?" My answer is how could I not start a petition? I can't just sit back and watch bad things happen and not try to do something ... anything. So, this petition may not go anywhere. It may fizzle out at 600 signatures; I don't know. But what I do know is that I have to try.  I love Africa and part of loving it comes with a certain amount of responsibility. A responsibility to try and protect its natural resources and the very thing that makes Africa what it is.  I can't in good conscience sit back and watch fellow humans continue to destroy something that I love. I have to speak up.

I think that one of the aspects of this company that bothers me the most is that they don't bother looking into where the lions come from, what happens to them, how did they get there. They bury their heads in the sand and say, "we don't interfere in their [the suppliers'] business and they don't interfere in ours." And that's the root of the problem. Not caring to delve deeper into the origins of meat you're selling or the history and current state of the species you're making a profit from is a big giant red flag waving in the wind.

If these "businessmen" don't care enough to learn these very basic details, what makes you think they care about the quality of their products, not to mention the fact that they're selling the meat of an endangered species? Look, I know humans by nature want to try new and "exotic" things. But instead of  thinking that you have to try lion meat because it's exotic, why don't you do some research into what it is you're contemplating eating? If you're going to eat something because it's an "experience" and you just get off on eating an exotic animal or an apex predator, then no need to read further because I doubt I'll be able to get through to you because your eating of this animal is all about ego. Your ego. Screw the endangered animals out there; I want to eat a Siberian tiger! You're beyond help.

However, if you actually care about the survival of a species, please think twice before ordering a lion steak just being it's a lion steak. Stop and think about it. This is the African lion we're talking about! A beautiful, noble, iconic, gorgeous creature! All I ask is that you think twice before ordering a lion steak just being it's a lion steak. Chances are you'll be just as happy with a beef steak. Or a tofu burger. Who knows. But know what you're eating.

When the African lion becomes extinct, I guess you can proudly say, "Yes, children, there are no more lions to be found in the world except a few zoos. You can see what they looked like by Googling them. Or actually pick up a book. But I sure did enjoy that lion steak I ate. Too bad it had to go extinct."

Good luck with that.


Male lion, photo taken by the author in the Masai Mara, 
August 2012.


One of the Marsh Pride lions, taken by the author in the Masai Mara, 
August 2012.



Animals Matter. Lions Matter. They matter so much, in fact, that we don't need to eat them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The African Water Buffalo

I was so impressed and amazed by the grace and beauty of the African Water Buffalo. They're such a proud big ole beast. They know they're big and bad. And I love em for that.




I am an African Water Buffalo.
I am Proud.




Animals matter. Especially this big ole giant of a beast.  

Dining in the Middle of the Great Migration

It's not very often that one can say they've dined out in the open African savannah plains, much less in the middle of the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra. I was lucky to recently have that experience and it's one I'll remember the rest of my life.

After some early morning game viewing, we stopped to enjoy our basket breakfast ... right in the middle of the wildebeest! Everywhere you looked in all directions were wildebeest, zebras, Thomsons gazelles; a 360 degree view of the African savannah's exquisite scenery and animals.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, so to speak, so I've come prepared with photos to share with you. If you love animals and Africa as much as I do, I hope one day you can experience this magical place and the annual migration. With human encroachment occurring at a rapid pace and the threat of the Serengeti highway, who knows how long the migration will be able to continue. I, for one, hope it continues without human interference. We've already decimated many beautiful species of animals and birds. Let the migration continue in all its wonderful glory: the drama, the carnage, the end of many lives and beginning of new hope in the animals born during the migration.



Animals Matter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Masai Mara Shots

A few shots from Masai Mara. I have yet to go through all my photos and videos, but I'll get there eventually and will post anything interesting here.



I watched this handsome male lion for a long time, wondering how he could stand all the flies that seemed to be a permanent fixture on his nose. Finally he yawned and I think you can even see the flies' wings as they buzzed around. I think a few ended up as lion lunch - you can see one or two on his tongue. The female lioness that he was with didn't seem to mind his fly breath at all.


There's a funny story behind this shot. Everyone in our group (mostly professional photographers) was trying to get a good close-up shot of a hippo when it surfaced. I was one of the more inexperienced photographers and definitely more lax in my approach. If I get a good shot, bonus.  I happened to be the only photographer in our group standing where I was and I was just taking in the sights, looking around, laughing at stuff. Then all of a sudden this hippo pops out of the water right in front of me - just a few feet away. I was able to get this shot but after that he became more elusive and wouldn't come as far out of the water as he did in this pic. Here's to quick reflexes and luck. I'm sure there are much better hippo-peeking-out-of-water shots, but I was happy with this one. I especially love that he has a sleepy/lazy look in his eye.


I think this guy is a Cape Griffon or Cape Vulture, but if I'm wrong I'm sure someone will correct me.
I was honestly amazed at the detail in this photo because I wasn't anticipating it to be a decent shot. These are the guys that we'd see swarming around carcasses. The hyenas were constantly trying to chase them off but these guys are pretty quick.


This mother cheetah was very protective of her young 'un and this pose perfectly displays that. 
This was the first time I had seen cheetahs in the wild so it was pretty damn cool for me. The cheetahs would perch on top of these termite mounds that appear all across the savannah so they can get better viewing of any game they want to hunt.


Ah, this big beautiful matriarch elephant was one of my favorite sights. I told our Maasai driver that he could just drop me off with the elephants. I'd hang with them all day and be perfectly happy. Elephants are my all time favorite; their sensitivity and intelligence are just amazing. Rumor has it they're telepathic.


This "cute" little hyena cracked me up because he reeked! Stink doesn't begin to describe it.
It was quite frankly like something out of Satan's ass. Or, what I'd expect something out of Satan's ass to smell like. After seeing the look on his face in this shot, it made it even funnier. It's as if he knew he reeked and was in on the joke.



Animals Matter. Even the stinky ones.

Stop the Sale of African Lion Meat

I interrupt my Masai Mara posts to bring you an important message. I just found out about a restaurant in Illinois that is selling African Lion meat! This is absolutely absurd and highly irresponsible. Please join me in protest by asking them to STOP the sale of lion meat.

I've created an online petition that you can sign here:


Want to help? You can pass this along to family and friends and ask them to sign. Post it to Facebook. Tweet it, email it. Raising awareness about this will put pressure on the restaurant to stop selling the meat of an endangered animal.

UPDATE: The owners of this restaurant were convicted in 2003 of killing and selling exotic big cats that included tigers and leopards. Apparently they didn't get the message because they're still selling this meat. 


http://www.pet-abuse.com/cases/10540/IL/US/

As an African lion conservationist and someone who cares about their future, I'm outraged that these four "men" have been convicted of these actions before and have gone right back to doing this. 

Please - if you care about the future of this iconic species and don't want to see the African lion become extinct, sign the petition and pass it along for others to sign. Call the restaurant and tell them to STOP selling African lion meat. It's simply not necessary and is contributing to the lion's extinction by creating a market for lions to be sold on the black market.

Thank you!


Animals Matter. Lions Matter. 

Elephants!

During the first two or three days of our stay in Kenya, we had only seen a lone male elephant from time to time but no large groups of elephants (much to my dismay). Then, on the fourth day, to my delight we came across a family of elephants. I told Wilson, our driver, that he could just drop me off to stay with the elephants and pick me up on the way back. I loved just being in their presence, just watching them. Their social interaction is so fascinating to me because they're highly intelligent, sensitive and social creatures.

Once we saw the first group of elephants, in the days to come we began seeing more and more elephants. Mike, a professional wildlife photographer who was also staying at the camp, was able to answer my question about why there weren't more elephants around. Apparently the elephants don't particularly like the massive herds of wildebeest and zebra that come thundering through and they move to other areas where the wildebeest and zebra aren't migrating. Makes sense to me. Hopefully on my next trip I'll be able to spend more time with the elephants. I was able to get a few decent photos and get my elephant fix.

An elephant in the Mara in sepia

An elephant mom and her calf

A small elephant family procession

Monday, August 27, 2012

Africa and Its Wonderful People

I often write about the beauty of Africa and the amazing animals and scenery, but it's also the wonderful people of this continent that make it so memorable. At our camp, which is on Maasai land, we had Maasai guides who also served as bodyguards of sorts. If it's after sunset, they'd walk us to our tents, carrying their spears and a flashlight to illuminate the pathway. They were always there to greet us when we returned from our game viewing drives and would ask how our days went and what we saw. I'd honestly be hard pressed to find friendlier people anywhere in the world.

We had four Maasai drivers - Dominic, Henry, Jackson, and Wilson. They're so knowledgeable and can quickly point out animals hiding in bushes or in the tall grass. I love talking to them and learning more about their heritage, their customs, and their love of the land. Before leaving Austin, I made sure to download a Swahili app to learn a few phrases (although many speak English as well, plus other native languages). I learned the basic phrases, like "please," and "thank you," and "how are you today?" And of course the greeting "Jambo!"

The other people who worked at the camp included the cooks, the wait staff, the camp managers Toby and Maxine, and other Maasai who fulfilled various other duties around Entim. They were always extremely courteous and able to help in any way possible. I'm from the South and we consider ourselves to be very friendly and warm, but everyone I've spent time with in Africa has been equally nice and hospitable.

After returning from afternoon drives, we'd congregate around the fire with a drink in hand and share stories about our day, stories from back home, jokes, anything that came to mind. I was fortunate to be sharing this experience with a wonderful group of people from all around the world and it was wonderful to sit around a fire laughing at jokes or stories. By the time the trip was drawing to a close, we had all become good friends and were sorry to have to say goodbye. Maybe we'll meet up again one day in Africa. Fortunately, with Facebook and social networking, we've been able to locate each other, share our photos, and keep in touch.

The tents were on a double occupancy basis unless you wanted to pay extra to have your own tent. Another traveler was a female from Austin and although we didn't know each other prior to the trip, we shared a tent and had a great time swapping stories. The tents are, well, tents ... so you can hear each other at night when it's quiet. Bethany and I would return to our tent each evening and one thing or another would send us into gales of laughter; this seemed to be a nightly occurrence with us. We called ourselves the Two Hyenas because of our laughing bouts and silly antics.

The food was so good that Valerie and I had to go check out the chef's tent to see where he created all these dishes we enjoyed every day. I was surprised that it wasn't a large tent; it was actually smaller than the tent Bethany and I shared. But it had all the workings of a professional kitchen and they did a great job of keeping us well fed and happy. We even had steak one night, although it seemed to curse Bethany and me later that night in the tent which (of course) sent us off into more laughing fits.

If you left your tent after dark, as soon as you zipped up the flap one of the Maasai guards would magically appear in front of you. We found this humorous since they really seemed to appear from nowhere, even when we thought we were being as quiet as mice.

One night when walking on the pathway back to our tent after dinner, I looked down and saw these tiny little things glowing in the grass. Much like fireflies except they didn't fly but they did twinkle. They're little glowworms, about a centimeter long. One of the Maasai told me that they absorb the ultraviolet rays during the daytime. They were absolutely beautiful and yet another magical thing about Africa. Even the tiny glowworms were quite beautiful.

Me outside our tent

The female photographers in our group
L to R: Valerie, me, Susi, Vanessa and Bethany

David Lloyd, our tour leader posing with the camera equpment




Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Masai Mara 2012 Photos

Here's a few preliminary photos from my recent trip to Masai Mara. These photos have very little, if any, post-processing done to them. I need to learn Lightroom or Photoshop!

http://www.flickr.com/people/wildfolio/

Cheetah mom and her young

Giraffe strolling by

One of my favorites - an elephant matriarch - a beauty!

A big beautiful male lion and lioness of the Marsh Pride

Our group of photographers and our Maasai guides








Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Marsh Pride

More Marsh Pride photos.









Elephants - Finally!

Many of the Masai Mara elephants leave when the migration comes through because they're not particularly fond of the thundering megaherd of wildebeest and zebra.  After being in the Mara for about three days, we started seeing elephants. Then in the upcoming days we saw more and more and I was ecstatic. I love the big cats, but elephants are my all time favorite. Here's a photo of a family of elephants, one of the first groups of elephants we spotted.



The Marsh Pride


This gorgeous male lion and lioness were lounging by the water early Friday morning.  He tried unsuccessfully to mate with the lioness but she apparently wasn't in the mood.



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Water Crossing at the Mara River

Saw several river crossings, each one very dramatic. The second one in particular was exciting because there was an enormous crocodile in the water, taking out as many wildebeest and zebra as it could. The croc had to be around 12 feet long, if not longer. Two large hippos lounged in the water nearby. After watching the carnage for about as long as I could stand, I was a bit relieved to see on of the hippos swim over to the crocodile and angrily dress it down. Unfortunately, the hippo didn't stay in his self-appointed crossing guard post long enough and before long the croc was at it again. Here's a few photos, minus the carnage.