Chris, RIP

I wrote the first part to my old cowboy friend Wade’s relatives, so he would know :

“Christine Leister, Omar Qureshi’s ’s first wife and very close to both Wade and me, died as peacefully as one can at dawn yesterday, in Cloudcroft I believe, of recurrent malignant melanoma, with her son, her parents, and her love Rob all present, and knowing that a good case for having her son Jai go to school in Cloudcroft, which they wanted, had been  made legally. Her parents should be in touch, and I will let folks know…SB”

Christine was basically a medical person, a PA, but she also rode, cooked, kept horses and goats and dogs, shot elk with a .270, and rebuilt my already swift  old ’72 BMW into a road rocket by combining it with another, leaving just a shell for what my neighbors  call a “Dog bed.”

These pics are Wade learning to skate from her a million years ago— best pic I have of either. I also sent them to her last month. Her dog “Pot” too, made for the wilderness or at least the Rez…

Much more to say later…

Poorest of People Caught in Anti-Hunting Crossfire

In March 2011, a coalition of animal welfare groups opposed to the hunting of African lions petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for protection of this lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. FWS responded this week by proposing to list African lions as “threatened” – not the “endangered” status sought by the groups. Still, the groups claim success. It is evident that the sought-after listing is more about stopping the hunting of African lions and less about lion conservation after all.

Unfortunately those who stand to be most impacted by the listing aren’t rich American hunters seeking a trophy, but the some of the poorest people on the planet who live with Africa’s 30,000-40,000 lions on a daily basis. Since this is a proposal for animal conservation, the human equation is largely ignored – with the exception that the proposal notes the continued increase in Africa’s human population further endangers these iconic cats.

Three major factors largely ignored in the discussion are:

• African people have to eat to survive;

• African people rely on their close association with their livestock and wild animals to feed their families;

• African lions kill not only thousands of livestock, but hundreds of African people, each and every year.

Instead, headlines in American media report of the “Last-Ditch Effort to Save Remaining African Lions” and the need for action “Protecting the African Lion From Trophy Hunters.”

Here’s a list of the groups authoring the petition for endangered status:

• International Fund for Animal Welfare,

• Humane Society of the United States

• Humane Society International,

• Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA

• Defenders of Wildlife, and the

• Fund for Animals.

These are not organizations devoted to spending a large portion of their revenues on the ground in Africa to alleviate conflicts between humans and lions. A major motivation for the proposal is the desire to stop trophy hunting of African lions, which the FWS proposal will not do. But what the FWS proposal may do is further jeopardize the already dire future of the poorest residents of Africa.

Single-species protection efforts rarely (if ever) address the core issues of large carnivore conservation – human wellbeing, and in the case of Africa, alleviation of poverty. “The impact of conservation policies on human wellbeing is critical to the integration of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation,” according to a 2012 paper in Biological Conservation. “Conservation and provision of livelihoods should therefore go hand-in-hand.”

Elephants in India kill people every day. African lions kill more than 100 people each year in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique alone. People killed in these human-wildlife conflicts are generally from “the weaker socioeconomic sections of society” – the rural poor.

Conservation policies often have the heaviest impacts on the poorest of people, and when there are human-wildlife conflicts such as loss of one cow, it aggravates a family’s existing poverty. Studies have shown that crop-raiding by wild animals in Africa frequently results in a reduction of the overall food supply available to a family. That often means that mothers will eat less to provide nourishment for their children, resulting in her diminished health. Family members become anemic, and people die from lack of sufficient nutrition. If a family member is attacked and killed by a wild animal, and that person is an adult wage-earner, this further threatens the entire family’s livelihood, well being, and potential survival.

In Africa, if an adult male is lucky enough to have an outside job that generates income in a subsistence-based economy, that male wage-earner will spend his days at a paying job, and stand guard over his crops or livestock at night. That means that daytime guarding is conducted by children who are therefore not attending school to better their futures. Many of these daytime guards are killed by predators that hunt during daylight hours: African lions.

To some, the impact of human-wildlife conflicts may seem small on a national or global scale, but “but they give rise to exponentially high costs for the affected individuals and families, many of whom are amongst the least privileged people in the world,” according to the Biological Conservation paper.

The listing of a species as threatened or endangered often leads to the setting aside of more lands to protect that species. When more land is set aside for wildlife conservation, traditional human use such as hunting and livestock grazing are forbidden or restricted. Subsistence livestock producers, or people who depend on bushmeat for nutrition, thus lose use of traditional resources and land. This global trend has resulted in a new class of people aptly termed Conservation Refugees. Google it.

The reliance on bushmeat in Africa includes everything from rats to elephants, and from subsistence use, to providing meat for the urban marketplace. A paper in a 2006 issue of Conservation Biology (“Hunting for Consensus: Reconciling Bushmeat Harvest, Conservation and Development Policy in West and Central Africa”) notes: “Where bushmeat markets are booming, poor rural communities are often mining their wildlife resources to subsidize the protein consumption costs of urban families. The failure of development to provide growing urban populations with secure livelihoods and sustainable sources of animal protein are resulting in overharvesting of wildlife in rural areas and decreased livelihood security of poor rural families who are dependent on a dwindling wildlife resource. Bushmeat harvest is more a survival strategy than a development strategy. The places where species are threatened pinpoint places where development policies have failed, and the future of the rural poor is likely to be threatened as well.”

Those advocating for switching subsistence economies toward ecotourism at least acknowledge the need for human economic viability, but have failed to find an alternative that actually works. Ecotourism is often touted as alternative, but few people impacted by wildlife conflicts receive benefit from such schemes. In one recent study in Africa, only 17% of families were associated with ecotourism, but 65% lost livestock to lions. Other programs offer compensation for certain (proven) losses, but the time and effort required to seek such compensation – especially in poor countries where fraud is rampant – is often too much for the rural poor. Poor and illiterate people lacking social capital are not likely to seek compensation for their losses to wild animals.

We all want African lions to thrive well in the long term. But unless we actually begin to address the core issues involved in human-wildlife conflicts, we’ll adopt policies much as this one, meant to harm rich American hunters traveling to do something many find distasteful (hunting lions as trophies), but the resulting impact may be the death of more of Africa’s poorest people. Until we adopt a new approach, the cost of conservation will continue to be disproportionately high for rural people to bear. For a moral people, the loss of human life should be at least as important as wildlife conservation.


“A great many rifles and shooting books have passed through my life since the day I purchased that first 7 X 57 40 years ago this month, and the lessons learned have been many. One was to hold onto rifles and books that continually prove not just practical but delightful, and get rid of those that don’t, because both make life so much more enjoyable.”

John Barsness,  Rifle Loony News (Vol. 6, issue 2)

White Man in Africa, 1997

Dug this up when Annie D showed me a YouTube of a baby rhino– white? — in S Africa, in a similar predicament. Back in ’97, when it was permissible if naive to think Mugabe was not a monster (such writers as Peter Godwin had already laid out the truth), when Zimbabwe had one of the most enlightened conservation programs in Africa, more innovative than ours…

Karl Hess Jr. sent us– me and a couple of other journalists; Tom Wolf, Wendy Marston, Rich Miniter– there at the request of the government, to report on their success, especially with elephants.

Someday maybe– too much heartbreak soon followed. This photo taken near Kariba, where I caught the falciparum Malaria that almost killed me, and I suspect might have been the trigger that made such things as PD and RA, which I have genes for, express themselves. Certainly I never looked quite that robust again– I look like Redmond O’Hanlon! White man in the tropics drinking gin…

The rhino’s mother had been killed by poachers. The poachers had been killed by the tall, shaven- headed head ranger who, he gleefully told me, was the best ranger in Zimbabwe because “I kill more poachers!”

Malarial Memories

Reid sent this optimistic press release on a promising new one- dose treatment for malaria, which brought back vivid memories of my brush with an almost- lethal case of Zimbabwe falciparum in the nineties.

The writer remembers: “I have personally had malaria… and can say that it is a deeply painful and depleting experience that leaves you in ruins, unable to care for your family, and in a very poor health if you survive.” The first is indisputable, and the last possible– I eventually recovered (it took all summer) but who knows what cascades of trouble it might have unleashed down the line? Certainly I never was in as perfect health after as I was before– but I did also get old!

The article reminded me of this spooky uninhabited elephant hunter’s camp near Hwange, although I didn’t get my malaria there…

And this birder’s paradise in the hot lowlands on the muddy shores of Kariba, where elephants would charge the Rover between sightings of life list species. There, I did get it… though I didn’t know until I got back to New Mexico, where I almost died before anyone accepted that I knew what I was talking about, and that I did not “just” have some generic thing called “malaria” but a particular species, Plasmodium falciparum.

Lots more to say about the experience, and the enormous and endlessly fascinating subject of parasite evolution, if anyone is interested…

For Annie D

Are Geladas different from true baboons?

UPDATE: She replies “Too different. That’s why I broke up with him.” (The Kapcha wouldn’t let her in). She also made a point about aposematic coloration, convergent evolution, geladas, and black widow spiders–! Later, maybe…


The Hansons are back from their Egyptian expedition with the Explorers Club flag– and will (both Roseann and Jonathan I hope) be writing something here.


“It was fantastic. Probably the most challenging driving I’ve had over such an extended journey. Many difficult climbs to cross dune chains, then 60mph blasts across huge rolling sand sheets. Our guide very, very nearly capsized his Land Cruiser on a loose side slope the first day out. Stuck fast with a dicey recovery – we anchored his vehicle with a line to the roof rack to keep it from going over as we pulled it out…

“And we felt like rock stars the entire trip. People kept coming up to us and thanking us for coming, shaking our hands, some nearly in tears.”