Oct 012017
 

 

Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9285   Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9297   Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9238
Cat Vanishes
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

Out in the valley of the Maara, Cheetah is ready to rise. Yawns. Turns over belly up. Tucks her paws, cat-like, against the fuselage of her chest. That tail that is the length of her from hip to shoulder curls, and unwinds. And with the weightless grace of all her kind rolls, onto her paws and strolls in to the evening, that is day to her.

Hidden in the tall grass is a termite mound. She knows the place. Has used it before. Looks back. looks again (to be sure no one is watching) and in her long legged stride, climbs the steep sides and sits, head high, unblinking.

In these flat lands height is mountain and redoubt. Vantage point is safety. Line of sight, command. Seeing first determines who will eat today and who will not and whom among the seen… will be eaten. The crocodile at water’s edge pretending to be stone; leopard dropping from an overhanging limb without a sound; lion stalking close and stealthy on the plain, for each and every one the eye is life or death.

With Cheetah? The eye alone is not enough. Like light itself, Cheetah is a thing of speed! Speed is Cheetah’s second sight. Speed in short bursts is her edge, bright and sharp. Her claws wear, dulled and blunted to the stubby nails of a dog. Her jaws are weak, just wide enough for the small things she can run to ground. With Cheetah the chase is everything.

Cheetah owls her head: One side. The other side. Back again, searching. Nothing found she takes her time, stretches as she climbs down (hind legs and tail in the air, her belly low). Blade thin, she slips into the night like paper through the slot.

At a distance her head appears again, a spotted mask of light and dark, her stare as orange as the afterglow, her eyes unwavering.

The land turns black and white.

The grass whispers.

Cat… vanishes.

Field Note:

Cheetah Bookends-2    Cheetah Bookends-0162
Cheetah is legend. For grace and speed and for beauty. Lithe and light she is lacking in the brute strength of the other great cats. Cheetah has her limits.

Cheetahs can only take small game – what they can both outrun and grab by the throat – and to do that they need a particular set of conditions. First and foremost space, but not just any space. Cheetah needs open space. And open space, thanks to human beings, is – like Cheetah – vanishing.

All around the Maasai Mara the land is being fenced in. Fences mean cattle and cattle are a head-to-head competitor of the worst kind. They take both grass and water from the game and in disproportionate amount – there are few grazing animals more inefficient than a cow, especially the rugged variety of the Maasai. The herders prize their cattle, and though their wrath is generally reserved for lions, they are instinctively wary of the great cats. Cows are wealth to Maasai, not just blood and milk and sometimes meat, but status. Fifty cows will always be better than twenty, one hundred better still. And for those who cannot afford cows there are goats, who chew the grasses right down to the root.

And every day more cattle.

And every day more fences.

Fences do not make good neighbors when Cheetah is your neighbor and that neighbor needs to roam.

Equally deleterious, Maasai are permitted to bring their cattle through the Mara for water during drought. Drought is now most or at least much of the time, and if the herder goes slowly, well, not his fault if the cows nibble along the way. The increasing number of cows, people, and lack of space and especially lack of water leads inevitably to conflict. A small shooting war is burgeoning in Kenya in the Laikipia as herders lash out at people they see as competitors for increasingly sparse resources.

Perhaps Maasai will learn to see their wealth as more broadly based than in cattle alone. But in order for that to happen, other means of wealth (and they do exist in Kenya) will have to be broadly shared.

But ultimately, if any part of the natural world is to survive there will have to be fewer humans.

Everywhere.

Including us, including here.

Cheetah in the Grass-9939

***

African Wildlife Foundation is one of the premier African-run conservation organizations, whose mission includes local partnerships across Africa in an attempt to find ways that wildlife and people can coexist, each to the benefit of the other. To learn more visit: www.AWF.org

To hear my broadcast of Cat Vanishes, visit Living on Earth.  It’s the last segment in the program:  www.LOE.org

 

 

 October 1, 2017  General No Responses »
Jul 162017
 

 

Tabular Iceberg, fragment of Larsen B-6853

Just off the Antarctic Peninsula at 63°0’58” S 57°40’52” W, I encountered a tabular iceberg [an iceberg that looks like a huge tabletop]. By the position, I believe it to have been a fragment of the Larsen B Ice Shelf that broke up in 2002. But “fragment” doesn’t do justice to what I saw. Picture New York’s Central Park, made of ice, and 120 feet high.

Tabular Iceberg, Leading Edge with Antarctic Petrels-7062

To give you an idea of the scale, the Antarctic Petrels soaring in front of the leading edge of the berg have a wingspan of one meter! In order to take a photo of an entire side, I had to wait until our ship had steamed some miles past. The tabular iceberg that just separated from Larsen C is many orders of magnitude larger than the giant pictured here.

My 20 days of fieldwork in the Antarctic was hosted by One Ocean Expeditions.

Dec 302016
 

 

to-break-the-surly-bonds-of-earth-1884
Black-browed Albatross

West Point is a small island at the tip of the West Falklands. There, upon the high cliffs that rise like insurmountable steps, and inland among the rolling hills of tussock grass strange bedfellows nest. The cliffs are in the possession of a colony of Black-browed Albatross. No one else can get there.

the-sheer-cliffs-where-only-black-browed-albatross-can-go-1754
The Place where only Wings will carry

In the tussock grass is where Rockhopper Penguins nest, the slope down to the sea at an angle just low enough that they can just barely, hop and scramble their way up several hundred vertical feet to build their nests and breed, and daily, hop back down again to feed. But wings will take you where feet cannot and in among the penguins pockets of the albatross. Because there is nothing to stop them.

rockhopper-and-black-browed-albatross-colony-1991
Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatross on the slope

Neither species much cares for this arrangement. The greatest fliers and the greatest swimmers here argue over space and the mud and straw with which they build their cup-shaped nests. Loudly. Incessantly. They lock bills.

black-browed-albatross-gives-a-passing-rock-hopper-the-what-for-1221
Albatross Arguing with a passing Rockhopper

They cry out.

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Rockhopper Penguin Vocalizing

The sense of desperation conveyed is real. Both species are in decline. Fishing nets entangle the great wings of Black-browed Albatross. Fishermen steal the food on which Rockhopper Penguins depend. The climate itself is changing, and this also works against the birds. Faced with an ever warming ocean, the fish are moving south in search of cooler water. And at the base of the food chain, the krill are in serious decline. Many species of penguin depend directly on the krill, but now, so do men. Among others, Norway and Japan are already harvesting krill in quantity, and the Chinese are about to launch the largest krill processing boat in the world, crushing the source of life at its source.

Hard times ahead for everyone.

black-browed-albatross-sleep-is-the-only-peace-1151

What you can do:

Call, email, write or visit the embassies of the countries with the largest take of krill, namely, Japan, South Korea, China, and Norway (contact information below). Ask them to please reconsider the harvesting of krill. Go to your local health food store and urge them to stop carrying fish oil products made from krill. While your there, find out who produces krill-based fish oil and call them too. And please let me know how it went, MSL(at)MarkSethLender(dot)com.

Japanese Embassy
2520 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: 202-238-6700
Fax: 202-328-2187
Email: None listed

Royal Norwegian Embassy
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 333-6000
Fax: (202) 469-3990
E-mail:

Chinese Embassy Chancery
3505 International Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 495-2266
Fax: (202) 495-2138
Email:

Embassy of the Republic of Korea
2450 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: 202-939-5600
Fax: 202-797-0595
Email:

Mark Seth Lender’s fieldwork in the Falklands was made possible by One Ocean Expeditions, www.OneOceanExpeditions.com.

The original broadcast of this recording can be heard on Living on Earth: http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=16-P13-00053&segmentID=7  Albatross are the yodeling,laughing cry heard and the beginning and towards the end of the above recoding. The rapid high-pitched calls are Rockhoppers.