World Elephant Day

IMG_5237Today is World Elephant Day.  Here is a picture from my recent visit to the zoo.

I got an email from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, updating me on my foster elephant (reminder: you can foster an elephant for $50).  It also talked about World Elephant Day and offered an opportunity to send an elephant vocal message.  Details are below:

“Saturday 12th August is World Elephant Day, an extra opportunity for all of us to celebrate elephants and draw global attention to the threats they face, as well as the work being done to help these most majestic of animals. To make it possible for elephants to be truly heard this World Elephant Day, the Trust has created Say Hello in Elephant, a web based campaign that allows you to translate messages into elephant calls and share them with friends and family. The translations are based on decades of research into elephant communication by ElephantVoices and we hope you will take a moment to visit: and translate a message to share with your friends. I find it exciting to think that we can bring the true sounds of elephants to people all over the world, a sound that could be lost, were it not for the support of caring people like you, who help us to protect them.”


Protected elephants in danger

A new study shows elephants are not doing well, even in protected areas in Africa.  The cause of their death is most often poaching.  The study is shocking, estimating that there are less than 360,000 savannah elephants left in the wild.  The study is important since it was a massive undertaking – developing the largest database for any mammal.


According to The Express, a leader of the study at the University of Pretoria, Ashley Robson, said:

“While the magnitude of loss due to poaching is devastating – 730 000 elephants are missing across the 73 protected areas assessed – I don’t see our work as more doom and gloom.  On the contrary, we provide ecologically meaningful goals for elephant conservationists to work toward. It’s a positive step for elephants.”

In other words, by knowing the numbers, we can understand the problem better and hopefully come up with better solutions to save elephants.

photo: taken at Elephant Nature Park



Tourism Revenue Lost

The University of Vermont, Cambridge University, and the World Wildlife Fund researched the lost revenue of the tourism industry due to the poaching of elephants.  Elephants are one of the main tourist attractions in Africa.  With less elephants, the tourism industry likely misses out on $25 million in revenue each year.IMG_3672

From Deutsche Welle:

“In a hypothetical scenario, the researchers compared the amount lost to tourism through poaching with the money it would take to implement anti-poaching methods to protect elephants across most African savannah areas.
The cost of protecting the elephants would be far lower than the losses caused by poaching. In most parts of the continent, the recovered losses would exceed the investment necessary to end illegal hunting.”

photo: I took this in Thailand

Blood Diamonds

I remember at the start of the 21st century a lot of news coverage about blood diamonds, i.e. precious stones mined by abused labor to fund warlords.  But, lately, I have not heard much.  I wondered if the world’s efforts to stop blood diamonds had been successful.

Unfortunately, they have not.  That’s not to say they were a complete failure, however.  The Kimberley Process, a conflict-free diamond certification program, now has over 80 countries participating, and consumers are far more aware and ask questions about the origins of their purchases.  But, the conflict-free certification system has major flaws.

Here is an example of how a conflict diamond can still easily be traded: a diamond is mined by child labor, it is then illegally transported to an approved country and mixed with conflict-free diamonds which are shipped to a third country (often UAE or Switzerland) and are certified by them. Then a fourth country (like Belgium) will buy the jewels and sell them to a consumer, likely from a fifth country (like the USA).

As the World Policy Institute warns, “The entire system rests largely on the integrity of African diamond producing and exporting governments, diamond dealers, and conduit countries like the United Arab Emirates.”

Clearly, changes need to be made to the Kimberley Process to make the trade more transparent and honest.


An excerpt from a 2015 Time Magazine story:

“Consumers who care can trace the fish on their plate back to the patch of sea it was taken from. They can choose fair-trade apparel that benefits the cotton farmers and seamstresses who produced their clothing. But the lineage of one of the most valuable products that many consumers will ever buy in their lifetime remains shrouded in uncertainty, and too often the people who do the arduous work of digging those precious stones from the earth are the ones who benefit the least. The only way that the blood will finally be washed away from conflict diamonds is if there is a true fair-trade-certification process that allows conscientious consumers to buy Congo’s artisanal diamonds with peace of mind—just as they might a cup of coffee.”

photo: public domain, the Hope Diamond, Wikipedia

FGM Facts

Photo: Johnuniq, Wikipedia

Female Genital Mutilation is still prevalent in Africa, as you can see in this map.IMG_1634

FGM is not considered a reason for seeking asylum. Yet, as I mentioned in my previous post, FGM is an abusive practice.

Young women often do not have a choice, and the practice is becoming common increasingly at younger ages.  Disturbingly, in some regions infants now undergo the procedure.

80% of FGM cases are type 1 or 2, which means an excision of the clitoris.  15% of cases are type 3, an excision of all external genitals.  The scar needs to be opened for the woman to have intercourse or give birth, causing tremendous pain.  This practice is common in the countries with high levels of FGM, such as Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan.  The fourth type of FGM (5%) injures the genitalia (such as by burning, piercing, or scarring).

I find this map interesting as countries with high FGM rates are some of the ones facing the threat of famine (such as Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen).  They are among the poorest countries on earth.

Hurting women doesn’t just hurt a woman’s individual health and human rights – it damages an entire country’s well being.








Female Genital Mutilation

On this blog, I will sometimes veer off topic.  But, what I’ve discovered is how issues all connect.  One of the reasons elephants are suffering is due to extreme poverty of the human population.  One of the reasons poverty exists is due to poor education.  Poor education is often due to a lack of women’s rights.  A lack of women’s rights often coincides with poor healthcare.  And, the circle goes around and around.

In a recent post, I discussed the Maasai.  They are one of the many cultures in Africa that practice female genital mutilation.  Although there have been campaigns in recent years against this practice (and countries such as Kenya have officially banned it), it still exists and is still supported by many.

FGM is a traditional practice that represents the change from childhood to adulthood.  It is considered in certain communities to be an act of celebration, love, and pride.  Therefore, it is hard for those who think of it as part of their cultural tradition to recognize that FGM is abusive.  Westerners who come to Africa to criticize the practice are routinely dismissed since Western culture has its own problems.

FGM has no medical benefits.  It only causes harm to a woman’s health.  She is more likely to suffer from painful menstruation, urinary tract infections, childbirth complications, psychological distress, and sexual pain and trauma.  The procedure itself is risky, with high rates of infection, heavy bleeding, and permanent scarring.

As more adolescent and teenage girls are being educated, there has been more resistence to FGM.  Yet, this has pushed the practice onto younger girls, thus defeating the cultural idea that it is a celebration of womanhood.

What can be done?  Continue to support women’s education – it will take a while to change a culture with deep roots, but the massive changes that have occurred in the past decade are in large part due to women’s education.  Organizations like Camfed are a great way to support women’s education in Africa.  Also support medical programs such as Medecins Sans Frontiers, which does amazing work not only by treating ill patients but also by educating communities on health issues.

I also recommend checking out the Desert Flower Foundation which directly addresses FGM.

FGM is often seen as a moral obligation by families to keep their daughters pure and loyal to their eventual spouse.  But, there is nothing moral about the practice.  The idea that women are seen as the “problem” – the temptress, the vixen, the one that lures men to misbehave – is a problem worldwide.  So, by supporting and standing up for women in your own family, your own community, and worldwide, you can be part of the solution to achieve a better society for all.



Famine in Somalia?

There is a severe drought in Somalia, threatening not only crop output and livestock, but human life too.  Over one hundred died last week due to hunger, and almost half of the country is facing food shortages.  Well over five million people are at risk of hunger and starvation.


Somalia is no stranger to famine.  According to CNN, between 2010-2012, 258,000 people died there due to hunger.

Al Jazeera explains how the world classifies famine:

“famine exists when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population”

Even if Somalia avoids famine this time, periods of hunger mean long term problems for citizens’ health.

Why is Somalia facing famine?  The world has enough food – look at most grocery stores in the west and you have aisles full of endless choices.  But, hunger happens in wealthy countries like the US too.  Famine, therefore, is not to be blamed solely on drought.  Rather, it is also an effect of misguided priorities and political strife.

From the LA Times:

“The United Nations and humanitarian agencies have launched an $864 million appeal to help Somalis, but the drought’s reach to many African countries has caused the World Food Program to cut aid rations. By December, the appeal was 47% funded.

In 2011, Shabab, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., controlled much of Somalia, complicating aid efforts. In some cases the group refused to let people leave their villages, especially men of fighting age, who were often forcibly drafted.

Another complication was confusion on whether aid organizations trying to get food into territory controlled by the extremist group could be sanctioned by the U.S. for cooperating with designated terrorists.”

Sadly, political strife has been present in Somalia for decades.  The US military has been involved in bombing campaigns there since the early 1990s.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if countries invested as much in diplomacy, education, healthcare, and environmental conservation as they do in sophisticated weapons systems?

photo: public domain, Voice of America, 2005 famine in Niger