This month’s newsletter is a ‘names and numbers’ special, spanning topics ranging from Kenya’s first National Wildlife Census to the impact of linguistics on conservation, and the single greatest donation ever to wildlife protection in Africa.
Once again, we’re reminded of the critical role played by science in guiding conservation, and we’re encouraged by the vision of the world’s philanthropists.
Who’s Out There?
Kenya has just completed its first National Wildlife Census. Encompassing every one of the country’s 58 national parks and reserves, both terrestrial and marine, as well as many of its private and community conservancies, the census was a mammoth, three-month long task. Never before has an all-encompassing, nationwide survey been conducted.
Spearheaded by the Kenya Wildlife Service (Kenya’s parks authority) and costing £1.6m, the count involved dozens of rangers, researchers and community members. They carefully counted, photographed and recorded the wildlife from planes, helicopters, boats and 4x4s. With an area of nearly 21,000km2, Tsavo National Park alone required a team of 50 people and 13 aircraft. In addition, dung was analysed, satellite collars tracked and hundreds of camera traps set to ensure nocturnal and forest-dwelling animals were not missed.
The census aimed to establish a baseline of wildlife numbers and distribution across the country, with the hope of aiding conservation by identifying specific threats to different species. There have previously been national counts of elephants and rhinos, and many conservation groups have monitored limited areas and particular mammals and birds, but now, everything from primates to pangolins, from turtles to ostriches and from dugongs to mountain bongos has been included.
The need to record the number and distribution of threatened species, such as the sable antelope and Temminck’s pangolin, was particularly carefully considered. The census is viewed as critical element in the drive to ensure future conservation and management strategies are as effective as possible. From aiding in the fight against poaching to mitigating human-wildlife conflicts and monitoring the impact of climate change, this accurate new data will be of invaluable assistance in the years ahead.
The census results appear later this month, but meanwhile check out Expert Africa’s Kenya travellers’ safari sightings here.
What Shall We Call The Dog?
We all recognise the importance of good branding: catchy, clever, relevant. The names we hear, from baby announcements to everyday objects, are fundamental to creating connections and eliciting our emotions. Optics matter. But sometimes even good branding can get better; just ask the marketing teams at BackRub (which is now called Google), Cadabra (now Amazon) and Brad’s Drink (now Pepsi). And so it is with the names of wildlife.
When the BBC launched its ‘Dynasties’ documentary series in 2018, David Attenborough introduced the world to the so-called ‘Painted Wolf’. Many Africa afficionados raised an eyebrow at the title. Ecologist Bryony Blades also tuned in to the unusual word choice and set about investigating the conservation implications of the animal’s common name.
By conducting surveys with the general public and studying scientific journal entries, Bryony was able to do better than simply observe the debate: she came up with more quantifiable evidence. Some scientists were concerned that the name African wild dog had negative associations with strays or feral domestic dogs. Her first ‘willingness-to-pay survey’ showed no significant difference in donors’ readiness to support the conservation of wild dogs, regardless of the name. When it came to parting with money, whether it was called an African wild dog, an African hunting dog, a Cape hunting dog or a painted wolf, respondents across six continents were apparently not influenced by the name.
Results from her second, more nuanced, survey, were somewhat different. Designed to unravel respondents’ first, subconscious response to a word, a simple word-association game asked people to pair the terms ‘hunting’, ‘wolf’, ‘wild’, ‘dog’ and ‘painted’ with any word of their choosing. The results were then judged to be positive, negative or neutral. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most positive reactions came from ‘painted’ and dog’.
So while rebranding to ‘Painted Dogs’ may not generate more income for vital conservation work, the linguistics does affect perception. If swapping the connotations of danger and feral brutality for those of beauty, love and loyalty (at least in the English-speaking world) ultimately helps protect an incredible, endangered species, then perhaps it is worth the change? It turns out there really is a lot in a name, and the dogs – by whatever name – need every chance they can get…
To visit Expert Africa’s current favourite dog dens, check out Botswana’s Lagoon Camp and Kenya’s Laikipia Wilderness, both of which are having fantastic double-dog sightings at the moment. Guests at Lagoon Camp are currently witnessing some especially exciting and rare dog activity. Not far from camp, two females from the same pack have recently had pups in dens barely 100m apart. This is very unusual as it is almost exclusively the alpha female of a pack which has the pups. In recent days (the end of July 2021) the pups have started to explore around the first den, while their younger cousins are just beginning to take peeks out of the second. What an absolute treat to see!
Meanwhile at Laikipia Wilderness, two packs once again began denning in the area in June. Word on the ground suggests that some super sightings and interactions are likely between August and December, when the pups emerge from their dens and start exploring. It’s the perfect time to visit.
In a remarkable philanthropic gesture, the Wyss Foundation, founded by Swiss medical innovator and billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, has committed US$108 million to securing and expanding protected areas in Africa. Gifted to the NGO African Parks as part of the billion-dollar Wyss Campaign for Nature, this endowment is one of the largest ever single gifts to a conservation initiative in Africa. The Wyss Campaign for Nature is certainly big and bold: their initiative aims to conserve 30 per cent of the planet by 2030.
To put the scale of this donation in perspective, over the next five years the money will support up to half of the annual budgets of nine parks in Angola, Benin, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe, as well as subsidising the creation of five new parks, yet to be identified, and up to two-thirds of their budgets, estimated at US$1.5–US$4 million per year for each park. It is a phenomenal investment in the long-term sustainability of the continent’s indigenous communities and environment.
While donating a cool million or two may be out of the question for most of us – however much we love Africa and its wildlife – African Parks is currently running their annual Prints for Wildlife fundraiser, which is considerably more affordable. Until 11 August 2021, some of the world’s most respected and talented wildlife photographers have come together to sell limited edition wildlife prints for US$100 each in support of this excellent conservation NGO. With some beautiful work on sale and all the proceeds being donated to this cause, it’s well worth checking to see if your favourite animal is featured.