Posts about Africa

Elephant Underpass in Kenya

photo of elephant preparing to walk under a highway

Elephant Underpass Reuniting Kenya Herds

The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region, where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations…

Without the underpass, animals that try to move between isolated areas often destroy fences and crops—leading to conflicts with people.

Since its completion in late 2010, the underpass has been a “tremendous success”—hundreds of elephants have been spotted walking through the corridor, according to the conservancy.

It is great to see such solutions put into place. Animals that come into conflict with people (whether it is farmers in Africa, ranchers in the USA or villagers in India) often lose. There is a reason humans dominate the globe. We might be easy to beat in a one on one battle when we can prepare. But when we get frustrated and decide it is time to take action, that is bad news for most mammals (bacteria are only in trouble with our scientists and manufacturers get together and even then the bacteria might not lose).

What we need to do is find ways for the animals to live without too severely impacting people. Because if we don’t eventually the people will take action.

I have been to the game parks in Kenya twice, it is amazing.

Related: Monkey Bridge in KenyaInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephantunderwater highway bridgeA Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp Observing Humans Observe the Gorillas

Breakfast with Cheetahs, Lions and Gazelles

Breakfast with cheetahs

For ten days I’ll be touring wildlife camps in Namibia and Botswana, accompanying researchers as they gather data on big cats, black rhinos, and elephants. Ecotourism – trips where travelers help preserve the communities they visit – is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry. A growing number of small U.S. travel firms have found their niche creating trips that combine some element of giving back with comfortable accommodations that don’t stress the environment.

One company is Classic Africa, which arranges small group trips to wildlife camps in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The firm was founded by Margaret and Pierre Faber, who provide custom trips for about 500 clients a year

I have twice gone on safaris in East Africa (photos from my Kenya safari). They have been absolutely wonderful experiences getting to see vast expanses of natural wildlife is like nothing else I have done. They are costly but if you can afford it they really are quite amazing. While the TV shows exploring these location don’t equal a visit they are pretty great also.

Related: Water Buffaloes, Lions and Crocodiles Oh MyPhotos of Rare Saharan Cheetah, Sand Cat and Other WildlifeCheetahs Released into the WildLeopard Bests Crocodile

Nice Interaction with a Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp

An amazing encounter with a troop of wild mountain gorillas near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. The reality is that these many natural environments will be maintained only with economic incentives. A certain amount of wilderness can be maintained with economic support from outside (government, charity…). But reasonable accommodations to find ways to make retaining natural wonders economically viable are likely a key to saving much of these environments for the future. Unfortunately there are big incentives to destroy nature from those rich tourists who don’t follow the rules and push their guides to break the rules (guides often do this as they have seen great monetary rewards [in tips] for breaking the rules (bothering animals, going too close, going to off limits areas…). It is sad how often tourists at national parks show utter disregard for nature and preserving things for later generations.

It seems like this video wasn’t about that type of behavior though. Instead it is just an example of how cool nature can be at times. Animals are not quite as predictable as some believe. Like this group that wandered into the camp (as they do a couple times a year) animals often stray from their normal behavior.

Providing good jobs and sharing revenue from tourists with local residents (paying for schools…) is a very good way to encourage residents to support natural heritage sites. This is true in Africa and also near park in the United States, or anywhere else. Here is an example of an organization doing that: Conservation Through Public Health.

I am a huge fan of tying in economic benefits to natural parks and resources. I think this is part of making them not environmentally sustainable but economically sustainable. If the areas do not make a contribution to the economic well being of those living there, there is a danger the land will be tapped for uses that will damage their natural heritage value. We do have to be careful as often these economic interests can turn into greedy people just wanting whatever they can get now (I am saddened by how often tourists behave in this way at natural wonders).

People are going to determine how land is used. We can hope that purely altruistic motives will result in long preserved natural habitats. But I don’t think that hope is as sustainable as creating a situation where it is also in people’s economic interests to maintain the environments. A combination of altruistic, long term thinking and economic interest is more likely to preserve natural environment (in my opinion).

Related: Massive Western Lowland Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of CongoGrauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla)African Parks (a business approach to conservation)Travel photos from National Parks

Grauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla)

The Grauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla) is closely related to the endangered mountain gorilla and is found in the Congo. The eastern lowland gorilla is actually the largest gorilla; males can weigh over 500 pounds. As you can guess from the name, these gorilla’s prefer lowlands to the mountains.

Sadly the eastern lowland gorilla wild population is estimated to have fallen below 8,000 due to warfare (intruding on their territory), agriculture, mining, logging and hunting gorilla’s for meat. The Wildlife Conservation Society is helping preserve habitat for these wonderful creatures.

Related: Massive Western Lowland Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of CongoSavanna Chimpanzees Hunt with ToolsOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant

Student Engineers Without Borders Project: Learning While Making a Difference in Kenya

photo of workers digging a large hole dug for the bio-gas latrine, while schoolchildren look on.

Engineers Without Borders students make progress, learn lessons in Kenya

Knowing nothing about Third-World development, the original [Engineers Without Borders] EWB students accepted an assignment from the national EWB to bring clean water wells and sanitary latrines to 58 elementary schools in the poor Khwisero district, where villagers live by subsistence farming.

Each year, new MSU students take up the challenge, aiming not only to provide healthier drinking water but to relieve Kenyan children of the chore of hiking more than a mile to fetch water every day from dirty water holes, which cuts into their schooling, particularly for girls.

They finally broke ground on their first pipeline system, which has been three years in the making. It will bring piping water from a high-quality well to several villages and eventually to a health clinic and a market. Villagers have committed to digging trenches for the water pipes.

This is a great program. Students learn a great deal by taking on real world problems and implementing solutions. As I have said before, I really love to see appropriate technology solutions put in place. We can drastically improve people’s lives by helping put solutions in place that work, are cost effective and can be maintained. Improving people’s quality of life is at the core of why engineering is so wonderful.

Related: Smokeless Stove Saves LivesEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerHigh School Inventor Teams @ MIT Bring Clean Water to VillageWater and Electricity for All
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New Life Form Found at South African Truck Stop

Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop

An order is one of the big categories of life, a big branch on evolution’s tree. Animal species are named every day, but finding another new order would be equivalent to discovering bats having not previously known they existed. Bats constitute their own order, as do primates, beetles, flies and rodents.

The Mantophasmatodes look, inescepably, larval (they lack wings, for example, and have no ocelli) and so Picker like others mistook them for immature versions of some known creature, perhaps some weird kind of cricket. When more than three quarters of all species of animals are not yet named, it is hard to know which ones to get excited about finding. Picker went through his collections looking for specimens of Mantophasmatodes. Within weeks, he had found twenty-nine individual Mantophasmatodes. Thirteen living species of Mantophasmatodea have now been named and placed in 10 genera and three different families.

In other words, Zompro has done something more amazing than finding a rare new order of animals. He has discovered a common order of animals that everyone else had missed, a discovery in plain view.

Mantaphasmatodes are not a far away species confined to some remote hunk of rock. They are a whole suite of species, some of which live places as mundane as backyards. They are also a kind of a living extended metaphor for what lurks around us unnoticed all the time.

I was always told as a child that I shouldn’t question so much and just accept what adults have decided. I am sure I was very annoying questioning everything. Especially how amazingly boring they make school. I love learning stuff. In general I did not love school. But questioning that school really should do a better job of making it fun to learn was seen as being a bothersome kid. I should just accept this is how school is and learn. I still think I was right. School is horribly designed to nurture the innate curiosity of people. Rather than seeing the kids that point this out as troublemakers we should see those that perpetuate the current system as troublemakers.

I still remember my sophomore year in high school I was taught by a biology teacher that new very little. They had been a 2nd grade teacher for like 15 years and due to seniority (they didn’t need as many 2nd grade teachers I guess) she bumped the biology teacher from the year before and we were stuck learning from her. In fact, any decently interesting question was more likely to be answered by a student (Peter – who then went to Princeton and then to play for the National Symphony) after the teacher said she didn’t know.

I found biology horrible. And it probably took a decade or more for me to finally notcie how amazingly cool biology. Fantastically cool. The amount of just super interesting biology is so vast that I have huge amounts of great stuff I get to look forward to learning. My teacher made it even worse, but frankly the way it is taught (I would imagine) is pretty bad even if the teacher is good. My high school was populated largely by the kids of Professors and compared to other schools in the USA I was told many times was fantastic (and the data seemed to support that – I believe we have more national merit scholars the year I graduated than all but 1 other public school in the country).

We need to do a much better job of harnessing the native desire to learn people have instead of killing it (which we do far to often). It really is a tragedy. It isn’t noticed because you can get by alright without loving learning. But it reduces the lives people have when they have their love of learning crushed. I didn’t have mine crushed but when I look around at many adults they seem to have done so to a large extent (sometimes it pokes through in a hobby or with their kids). And of course many adults kept a strong love of learning (all those geeks for example – and don’t forget the biologists).

Related: Photos of Rare Saharan Cheetah, Sand Cat and More WildlifeThe Only Known Cancerless AnimalWhat Kids can Learn, if We Give Them a ChanceIt took me a lot longer than most kids to stop asking why?, why?, why?Teaching Through Tinkering

Help Science Education in Tanzania

Students in Tazania using a microscope

Diana Hall, a physics teacher from Bell High School, Ottawa, Canada is spending 6 months in Tanzania helping build a more active science program. This reminds me of my time in Nigeria (while my father taught Chemical Engineering at the University of Ile Ife to help build a strong university program). It is great to see all the good that people are willing to do.

The objective of the Do Science, Tanzania project is to share teaching strategies and equipment with science teachers and students in Moshi, Tanzania. The goal is to facilitate a more active science program and to inspire students to continue studying beyond the secondary level.

The photo shows students at Reginald Mengi Secondary school, Tanzania, getting their first experience with microscopes in the classroom. There are over 210 Form I (freshman in high school, for you USA readiers) students in 4 classes. The 4 classes had an introduction to the microscope by preparing slides and viewing onion cells.

Working with science teachers is a big part of do Do Science is about. Their blog discusses a recent meeting where 50 science teachers from the Moshi area attended a workshop. The teachers at the workshop modeled thinking exercises, conducted sample labs, investigated computer simulations and interfacing equipment, looked at some DVD resources. and networked.

You can help by donating equipment or money. Or if you are a science teacher with workshop and leadership experience who would consider spending some time in Tanzania as a facilitator?

Related: Learning Design of Experiments with Paper HelicoptersFund Teacher’s Science ProjectsScience Education ResourcesWays to Help Make the World Better

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More Photos of Rare Saharan Cheetah and Other Wildlife

photo of a sand cat in Niger

Photo of a sand cat by Thomas Rabeil of the Sahara Conservation Fund

In March of 2009 we posted about photos of the rare Saharan cheetahs caught on wildlife cameras. Recently more photos have been released by the Sahara Conservation Fund showing a ghostly cheetah and other wild cats and other wildlife, including this wonderful photo of a sand cat.

Elusive Saharan Cheetah Captured in Photos

The animal is so rare and elusive scientists aren’t sure how many even exist, though they estimate from the few observations they’ve made of the animal and tracks that fewer than 10 individuals call the vast desert of Termit and Tin Toumma in Niger home. Fewer than 200 cheetahs probably exist in the entire Sahara.

Their home can reach sizzling temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius), and is so parched no standing water exists. “They probably satisfy their water requirements through the moisture in their prey, and on having extremely effective physiological and behavioral adaptations,”

The Saharan cheetah is listed as critically endangered on the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Camera trap photo of Saharan cheetah at night

The elusive Saharan cheetah in Niger, Africa. Sahara Conservation Fund

The photos are part of the Sahara Carnivores Project

The Saharan race of cheetah (Acynonix jubatus hecki) is very rare, and one of the most specialized and threatened in Africa. As part of a major strategy to conserve Sahelo-Saharan wildlife, in collaboration with the Sahara Conservation Fund we are establishing a project to study and protect Saharan carnivores in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of north Niger. We aim to improve our understanding of sympatric Saharan carnivores, and evaluate the impact of human activities on carnivore populations, and that of carnivore predation on livestock. One of the projects aims is to produce an action plan prepared jointly with local land-users to minimize human-carnivore conflict in the Termit/Tin Toumma.

More ghostly cheetah photos: blurry and walking away

‘Ghostly’ Saharan cheetah filmed in Niger, Africa

it not yet known if Saharan cheetahs are more closely related to other cheetahs in Africa, or those living in Iran, which make up the last remaining wild population of Asiatic cheetahs.
Saharan cheetahs appear to have different colour and spot patterns compared to common cheetahs that roam elsewhere in Africa.
However, “very little is known about the behavioural differences between the two cheetahs, as they have never been studied in the wild,” says Dr Rabeil.
“From observations of tracks and anecdotal reports they seem to be highly adaptable and able to eke out an existence in the Termit and Tin Toumma desert.”

Other posts of animals filmed with remote wildlife monitoring cameras: Sumatran Tiger and CubsJaguars Back in the Southwest USAScottish Highland WildcatsRare Chinese Mountain Cat

Photos by John Hunter of cheetahs and other animals in Kenya.

The Sahara Wasn’t Always a Desert

Green Sahara

For much of the past 70,000 years, the Sahara has closely resembled the desert it is today. Some 12,000 years ago, however, a wobble in the Earth’s axis and other factors caused Africa’s seasonal monsoons to shift slightly north, bringing new rains to an area nearly the size of the contiguous United States. Lush watersheds stretched across the Sahara, from Egypt to Mauritania, drawing animal life and eventually people.

by some 3,500 years ago the desert had returned. The people vanished.

The twilight of the Green Sahara around 4,500 years ago might have been the perfect time to be hunting at Gobero, said Carlo Giraudi, the team’s geologist. As water sources dried up throughout the region, animals would have been drawn to pocket wetlands, making them easier to kill. Four middens found on the dunes and dated to around that time included hundreds of animal remains, as well as fish bones and clamshells—not usually part of a herder’s diet. “The Green Sahara’s climate was rapidly changing,” said Giraudi, “but just before the lake dried up, the people at Gobero would have thought they were living in a golden period.”

There are many values of science: letting our curious minds learn, giving us cool robots and gadgets and letting us learn about the past (and thus about the ever-changing world we live in).

Related: Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian DesertRare Saharan Cheetahs Photographed“Gladiator” tomb is found in Rome

sOccket: Power Through Play

In a fun example of appropriate technology and innovation 4 college students have created a football (soccer ball) that is charged as you play with it. The ball uses an inductive coil mechanism to generate energy, thanks in part to a novel Engineering Sciences course, Idea Translation. They are beta testing the ball in Africa: the current prototypes can provide light 3 hours of LED light after less than 10 minutes of play. Jessica Matthews ’10, Jessica Lin ’09, Hemali Thakkara ’11 and Julia Silverman ’10 (see photo) created the eco-friendly ball when they all were undergraduates at Harvard College.

photo of sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

sOccket creators: Jessica Matthews, Jessica Lin, Hemali Thakkara and Julia Silverman

They received funding from: Harvard Institute for Global Health and the Clinton Global Initiative University. The

sOccket won the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award, which recognizes the innovators and products poised to change the world. A future model could be used to charge a cell phone.

From Take part: approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide use kerosene to light their homes. “Not only is kerosene expensive, but its flames are dangerous and the smoke poses serious health risks,” says Lin. Respiratory infections account for the largest percentage of childhood deaths in developing nations—more than AIDS and malaria.

Related: High school team presenting a project they completed to create a solution to provide clean waterWater Pump Merry-go-RoundEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerGreen Technology Innovation by College Engineering Students

Watch a June 2010 interview on the ball:
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Robot Built Largely From Old TV Parts

Unfortunately I can’t find any additional information – other than what is in the webcast. Sam Todo,
a student in Lome, Togo, Africa, built this robot almost entirely from old TV parts.

Related: Making Robots from Trash in ChinaMoth Controlled Robotmore home engineering postsRobot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides Directions

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