Monday, November 11, 2013

Southern Africa Trip---Part Two

We were able to visit a rhino feeding station while we were in Zimbabwe.  It's very sad but true that the poaching of rhino has reached such proportions that armed guards need to be posted to keep the poor animals from being slaughtered for their horns.  Every rhino I have ever seen in Africa was there because it was being guarded.  Unprotected rhinos do not survive.  The market for rhino horn is still huge and a single horn can bring as much as $350,000.  And why, you might ask?  Because it is believed, in Vietnam, that rhino horn can cure cancer and even hangovers.


In the past, rhino horn had a huge market in China, where it was believed to a tonic for liver ailments, and a cure for a myriad other ailments .  That is no longer a much lauded belief and rhino horn powder is not often to be found in Chinese traditional medicine pharmacies, but in Vietnam, the horn is used for fevers and as a tonic for general wellness.  They might as well be grinding up their own fingernails and toenails and ingesting that powder, as both human nails and rhino horn are composed of keratin (as is hair and animal hooves).

In Africa, many plans to protect the endangered rhinos have been tried.  They cut off their horns as a prophylactic to being poached.  Apparently some game preserves have been giving the rhinos a poison that does not affect the animals but is passed on to humans who ingest the horn.  We were told that it would not kill a human, only make them very sick.  At least, that was the story.  The fact remains that these amazing creatures are in real trouble and might well be made extinct because of superstition and misinformation.

We were lucky to see this many rhinos all together.  In October of 2013 alone it is estimated that over 100 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone!

We also saw many African buffaloes on this trip.  (They used to be called Cape Buffalo, but since they are found all over Africa, the name has been changed to more correctly describe them.)

The African buffalo is very unpredictable and that makes it a very dangerous animal.  They have very bad eyesight.  I wouldn't want to run into one while I was on the ground.  Frankly, being in a stout safari vehicle didn't seem all that much protection from such a large, cranky animal.

This is a waterbuck.  I really like these large antelopes, especially the "bulls eye" on their behinds!

Weaver birds are found all over Africa and I am very fond of them.  Their nests sometimes cover whole trees. 

And here you have Nonie and me, riding an African elephant.  "Our" elephant's name is Tusker and he is a 40-year-old male.  He is huge.  I had heard, incorrectly, that only Asian elephants were ridden, so it was a lot of fun to be able to ride an African elephant, too.  The elephants at this camp were all orphaned and the park rangers, not having deep personal pockets, came up with the idea to train the elephants to provide tourists with an activity and let the elephants earn their own keep.  Apparently is has worked so well that there is sometimes an excess of money and those funds are then donated to the Save the Rhino fund.  It's a win/win.

Besides, it was fun!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

I'm Baaaaaccccckkkk!: Africa 2013 Part !

 My latest African adventure started with two very short days in Johannesburg, South Africa.  We stayed at a hotel right on Nelson Mandela Square.  This imposing, 70 foot high statue of Mr Mandela dwarfs the square.  There are lots and lots of shops and restaurants all along the square and a large shopping mall is attached.  It was a busy, busy place with lots of locals shopping, not just tourists.  I had a great meal at one of the little places with outside dining and enjoyed the balmy, sleeveless shirt weather.  South Africa was enjoying spring and I had just come from autumn.  It shakes me up to change seasons like that.

Nonie lends scale to the statue of Nelson Mandela
Archbishop Tutu's home
  We took a tour of Soweto one day while in the Johannesburg area and saw Desmond Tutu's house, above, which is just down the street from the home Nelson Mandela returned to after being released from prison after 27 years.

interior of the Mandela home
 There is a plaque on the wall at the Mandela house that brought tears to my eyes.  It reads:
"'That night, I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West.  It was only then that I knew in my heart that I had left prison.  For me, No. 8115 was the centrepoint of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.'
'Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, on his return to 8115 Orlando West after his release from 27 years of imprisonment on 11 February 1990. '"
We all crave home, that intangible place where our hearts live, where the warmth of family and love surround us.  I can not imagine being kept from my home, not for 27 minutes let alone 27 years.  How did he endure imprisonment for so long and come out the other side with compassion and understanding?  How did he become the man who united South Africa?

It was very moving to see that tiny house, that so very tiny little house, that was the center of his heart for so long.
back yard area of the Mandela home
From Johannesburg we traveled to Victoria Falls, truly one of the wonders of the world!  We were there during the time of the lowest volume of water flowing over the falls.  I can't imagine what it must be like at full flood during the rains.  It is LOUD.  The mist is ever present.  Did I mention it's LOUD?
The local name for the falls is Mosi-Oa-Tunya which translates to The Smoke that Thunders.  Such a perfect name for this geologic wonder.

Did I mention how LOUD the falls are?

We took a helicopter ride on morning to view the Falls from the air.  It was rather a pricey trip but worth every penny.  When you are standing across the gorge, admiring the Falls, you don't really realize how narrow the gorge is.  Niagara Falls is large and beautiful, but the water there does not fall down into a gorge, but rather is out in the open.  Victoria Falls falls into what looks like a slit in the earth from the air.  It surprised me to see that very narrow gorge.

Victoria Falls is categorized as the largest waterfall in the world based on its width, over a mile, and height of 354 feet.  It truly is a marvel of nature!

While we were in the air, the helicopter pilot took us over the Zambian  Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park (Victoria Falls is on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe) where we saw this herd of elephants standing in the shade of a tree to get out of the noon day sun.

 I noticed that from the air, if you sort of squint your eyes, the land rather resembles the hide of a giraffe.  The reddish soil and the darker spots (the trees and shrubs, just barely beginning to show signs of leafing out in the early spring weather) create a pattern similar to that of the local giraffes.

And you would be amazed at how easily the giraffes blend into the underbrush and disappear from view in the landscape.  It amazes me that a creature so tall can become so invisible so quickly.

As we flew over the Zambezi River we could pick out the hippos, clustered together under the water, keeping cool in the heat of the day.  They emerge at dusk and then spend their nights grazing before heading back to the cool of the river after dawn.