My East Africa, Madagascar & other wildlife photos

www.flickr.com More of my East Africa photos
www.flickr.com More of my Madagascar photos
www.flickr.com More of my other wildlife spotting photos

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Renamed the blog & random Flickr photos

Since this blog is not just about my long trip to East Africa and my holidays in Madagascar exclusively, I decided to rename the blog. The blog is also about wildlife spotting, nature, biodiversity and wildlife conservation. I changed the old title "Schaapmans' Travels in East Africa & Madagascar" to "Schaapmans' Wildlife Spotting and Travels in East Africa & Madagascar".

In the upper bar of this blog I've always displayed the latest photos from my East Africa and Madagascar trips.

Since my laptop suffered from a severe crash last month, I lost most of my organizer photo catalog. This means I still have all the photos, but not the complete hierarchical taxonomy tree for each animal phylum, order, family and species. And all that's in between. I have to redo all of my organizing and tagging work of the last 1.5 year. Note that I did most of the tagging of 20-30,000 wildlife and travel photos the last 1.5 year. It might take a while before I am up to speed with organizing and be able to publish new photos of Africa.

In the mean time I have published photos of wildlife observed in The Netherlands and other places. I decided to change the photo bar at the top and make sure all photos appear random (not latest) and added a section for other wildlife photos. This way you as a visitor will encounter more interesting photos - I hope - and not see the same photos appearing all the time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tuna & swordfish endangered. What's Discovery Channel up to?

IUCN: Increased protection urgently needed for tunas

"For the first time, all species of scombrids (tunas, bonitos, mackerels and Spanish mackerels) and billfishes (swordfish and marlins) have been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. Of the 61 known species, seven are classified in a threatened category, being at serious risk of extinction. Four species are listed as Near Threatened and nearly two-thirds have been placed in the Least Concern category."

Read the complete article.

Discovery Channel: Swords
Something related is what I don't get. Discovery Channel is all about nature, science and what man is achieving. Part of their network is Animal Planet. Creating awareness, sharing knowledge and providing beautiful pictures of nature. That's good. That's valuable.
Then there is Swords on Discovery Channel. Swords is a tv show like the Deadliest Catch.
"Swords enters the high risk world of New England's long line fishermen who risk all to catch an elusive prey - swordfish - in some of the most dangerous waters on the planet. They are uniformly tough and resilient and they need to be as every day could be their last."
Hero's. Real man. The danger. Risking their lives to catch a fierce swordfish or marlin. Awesome.
"Three species of billfishes are in threatened or Near Threatened categories: Blue Marlin (Makaira nigricans), Vulnerable; White Marlin (Kajikia albida), Vulnerable; and Striped Marlin (Kajikia audax), Near Threatened."
Do these guys fish on endangered species? And with what methods? That would be exactly the same as starting a tv show called Hunting Safari and rough men hunting endangered rhino's and going for a gorilla kill. And a panda on the side. Making a few kilometers of traps. Keep the animals you like (leopards), kill and discard the rest (aardvarks, some young lions, oryxes, chimps). That show would cause some controversy. Why does this show not cause so much controversy?

Discovery Channel dodges responsability a bit:
"Longline swordfishing is a controversial practice. The Swords program contains commentary, actions and opinions that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Discovery Channel. Get the facts and explore both sides of the controversy below. Please note that this list is for informational purposes only."
It's like saying: no, we don't support The War, we condemn it, it's complicated, form your own opinion. But in the meantime making millions on broadcasting mass murders watched by a huge audience who want to see blood.

Well, is it really all that bad? Is it just bad sentiment and it's all just about the perception? Or are the fishermen in Swords just fishing non-threatened species? At least the perception could be that swordfish are threatened, so broadcasting a show that could be perceived as unethical. The truth might be that they don't fish on threatened or endangered specimen. But that could not necessarily be how the audience perceives it.

What are they fishing on?
At least the common Swordfish (Xiphias gladius). IUCN's Red List says it's Data Deficient, meaning they don't have enough data gathered to determine it's status. Can be both endangered or no problem at all. The US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) mentions U.S. North Atlantic swordfish population levels are high and overfishing is not currently occurring on the stock. I hope they are right; the NOAA is part of the US Department of Commerce, so they have a keen interest in keeping the jobs of those fishermen and getting their taxes. Just bear in mind that governments still allow fishing for European Eel, though it is Critically Endangered. This means more endangered than the White Rhino or the Giant Panda and just as endangered as the Black Rhinoceros. Commerce wins from nature conservation apparently. I could not find a list of all species they fish on, so can't make a final conclusion.

Besides the fishing on potentially endangered or threatened swordfish and marlins, there is the practices. Fishing with long lines with many hooks. Catching all kind of creatures. What they don't like, they kill and discard. I won't go deep into that one, just read Kirstin Lamb's blog Swords: How Television is Glorifying Ecological Destruction. Bycatches of turtles (killes), vulnerable (IUCN Red List) Mako sharks caught, killed and thrown back. The list goes on and on. Illegal practices, wildlife atrocities. If the caught swords are legal, the rest is not.

I don't get it. What is Discovery Channel up to airing Swords? Take it off the air! If only for the public opinion and damage for the brand...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wildlife spotting in The Netherlands: Waarneming.nl and Telmee.nl

You've probably already seen my nature observations logged with iNaturalist on this blog and my post about iNaturalist's Global Amphibian Blitz.

Since I'm also logging Dutch wildlife, it's vital to get the relevant information to the organisations that log wildlife for scientific and conservational policy purposes. For that there are basically two points of loggin in The Netherlands: Telmee.nl and Waarneming.nl.

Telmee.nl

'Tel mee' means 'count along' in Dutch. It is a cooperation of private data processing organisations (PGO's) like the mammal society, butterfly foundation, society for mycology and the Dutch organisation for reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Let's quote their site (in Dutch):
Het vaststellen van welke planten en dieren op welke plekken in ons land voorkomen is van belang om de Nederlandse natuur goed te kunnen beschermen. Natuurwaarnemingen zijn pas goed bruikbaar als ze op de juiste manier worden vastgelegd. En als ze vervolgens ook nog op een centrale plek terecht komen, zodat er een compleet beeld van is.

De bundelaars van al die natuurinformatie zijn de landelijke Particuliere Gegevensbeherende Organisaties (PGO's), samenwerkend in de koepelorganisatie VeldOnderzoek Flora en Fauna (VOFF). De tien PGO's hebben elk een groep planten of dieren waarvoor ze de waarnemingen in Nederland verzamelen en beheren.

De PGO's die meewerken aan Telmee.nl zijn: ANEMOON (Flora en Fauna in de Nederlandse kustwateren), BLWG (mossen en korstmossen), EIS-NL (insecten en ongewervelden), FLORON (planten), NMV (paddenstoelen), RAVON (reptielen, amfibieën en vissen), SOVON Vogelonderzoek Nederland (vogels), TINEA (Kleine vlinders, microlepidoptera), De Vlinderstichting (vlinders en libellen) en de Zoogdiervereniging (zoogdieren).

Waarneming.nl

'Waarneming' means 'observation'. It is the Dutch version of Observado.org. Similar in set up as Telmee.nl and works with the same PGO's. The observations are logged a bit differently and the data validation processes differ as well. In the end, all data ends up in the same spots: with the PGO's. Waarneming.nl also has a mobile site and a mobile app for Android in beta test. I'm just testing the app at the moment, so I can't give any feedback about it yet. If you want to know what I logged at Waarneming.nl so far, click on the binoculars icon in the left menu or go to my profile on Waarneming.nl. I'm just starting so only one observation so far.

Review
The good points about these sites are that you can determine whether your observations are public or not. You can also make your logged location vague for privacy purposes (similar to the option at iNaturalist. They both also have many fields to gather data. Where iNaturalist basically allows you to select a species and give a description, these two sites let's you select the life stage (egg, pupa, imago, adult), if the observation was alive, how many. Also the host plant (if applicable) can be logged, as well as the type of landscape into great detail; not just 'agricultural land', but 'agricultural land with willows on the side'. For classification and understanding where and in what context a certain animal or plant is in is very valuable information for conservation and migration of animals. Something lacking in iNaturalist.
On the other hand. Entering information is quite tedious. I can do a batch import with iNaturalist. Import a bunch of photos from Flickr or Picasa. This means I don't have to double my work. What I do - and with me a lot of people - is organizing my photos, adding appropriate tags for the species, family, order, etc. As well as geolocation tags. All info in one photo or a series of photos on Flickr. Add a full description of context, location and circumstances in the description. I can easily share that photo with data to Encyclopedia of Life, ARKive and iNaturalist. iNaturalist takes over the description, the machine tags and normal tags for the family, order and species. I can select additional photos and I'm done. This is really quick. An import function would be welcome. It speeds up things, keeps data consistent and lowers the treshold for people sharing data.
Furthermore, conservation comes with knowledge and awareness. I can 'like' my observation on iNaturalist, so it shows on Facebook. This means more people will see it, become aware, or even start logging their own observations. The page for an individual observation also is quite clean and accessible on iNaturalist. With Telmee.nl it is hard to make your observations publically visible. You really do it to support the counting organisations. With Waarneming.nl apparently it is a bit easier, but an observation does not have a single page. You can filter easily (something lacking in iNaturalist a bit), but then you just have to select parts of an observation to see details. No map, photos and data in one screen. That is a shortcoming to me. And also makes it impossible to share on a blog, Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

iNaturalist.org · Turnip Moth, observed by Schaapmansat 08:04 PM CEST on July 4, 2011

iNaturalist.org · Turnip Moth, observed by Schaapmans at 08:04 PM CEST on July 4, 2011: "4 July 2011, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Turnip Moth / Gewone velduil (Agrotis segetum)

Found this moth in the staircase at night.

ID PLEASE!
Confirmation of the species (Agrotis segetum) is welcome. The alternative could be: Heart and Club / Geoogde worteluil (Agrotis clavis)."



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mikumi National Park - a review

SafariBookings asked me to write a review about Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. SafariBookings will match users, interested in booking a safari, with tour operators offering safari tours. They will help users decide where to go and when to go using easy to digest info and quality user reviews.

As a reward I could choose for $10 Amazon credit. But I was more noble and chose a $15.00 donation to the WWF African Rhino conservation project on my behalf.

Review of Mikumi National Park
Mikumi National Park is not one of the largest or best known parks. Or most visited. While visiting Mikumi NP you will encounter other tourists in their 4x4 and the occasional school bus - education is vital for conservation of wildlife. You won't see any overland trucks. At least: I did not. Never do you drive into a crowd. In Serengeti you just look over the vast plains for an aggregation of vehicles and then you know have to go to spot some wildlife. In the Ngorongoro Crater you just drive in trains. A pack of 10 lions surrounded by 20+ vehicles. In Mikumi you just wait until the one vehicle moved out before you move in to see what's happening.

The wildlife density is lower than in Serengeti. It's not so spectacular. When I went to Mikumi in the weeks before I already visited Maasai Mara (Kenya), Lake Nakuru (Kenya), Queen Elizabeth (Uganda), Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. So I was a bit spoiled already. Packed with a stack of wildlife fieldguides and multiple safari experience, I was able to recognize many birds and mammals - or look them up on the spot. If you want to see as much animals as possible, go to Serengeti. Serengeti is all about vast plains with migrating herds of wildebeests and zebras. Mikumi has much more shrub, higher grass and trees. It is not as open and dry. Just as hot or hotter. Still, Mikumi is worth a visit. There are a few tarmac roads, the rest is dirt roads. You can't leave the the roads. If you want that (awesome) experience, go to Selous Game Reserve.

From Mikumi town I organized a 4x4 for a one day safari with a Swiss couple. We were sitting on the benches in the back of the pickup-truck like vehicle. Make sure you have a sun roof! Also 4x4's where you stand through the open roof come with and without sun roofs. You need it in Mikumi to avoid a sun stroke. The driver / guide was in the cabin. Communication with the driver in such a vehicle is a bit more difficult. He spots something and pulls over, or we bump to make him stop. Our driver was more driver than guide and verbal communication with the cabin was less practical than just sitting in the cabin as well (as you do in 4x4 with just open roofs). Still, you have a good view. Luckily enough I had seen enough to serve as a bit of a guide for the Swiss. It was their first safari ever and they had a thrilling day.

Most safaris don't cover the complete park, just a small section north of the highway. And talking about the highway: it disects the park, so if you are on your way to Mikumi, be sure to have a look outside. It can be good for some impalas, buffalos, a duiker and some zebras, like I saw. One of the highlights is one of the hippo pools. There is a small peninsula that provides a lookout over the horse shoe shaped pond. In it are Nile crocodiles, hippos. In the tree you can spot some colourful lizards and birds, on the shore some waders or egrets. In the late afternoon we came back to the pool. Right on time. We drove through a huge group of Yellow Baboons. In the distance a group of about 40 elephants. They approached the pool and started running. Plunged in. Took baths, splattered, pushed each other. Ran out. And came back again. All on the other side of the pond. We could watch there safely, with these elephants at less than 50 meters. Truely awesome.

What to see in Mikumi? The 'standard' wildlife: zebras, impalas, wildebeests (note: a different subspecies than Serengeti, so get your cameras!), elephants, yellow baboons (in the northern parks like Arusha, Serengeti and Ngorongoro only Olive olive baboons), warthogs, giraffes. We also had several very good sightings of bushbucks and bohor reedbucks, better than in Serengeti. Furthermore several small groups of lions not to far. Including with a zebra kill. Seeing two adult elephants with a maximum two days old baby elephant at 20 m was great.

For birding, there are a lot of bushes they can hide, so keep your eyes open: helmetted guinea fowl, palmnut vulture (first time I saw it), fish eagle, white backed vultures, southern ground hornbills, oxpeckers, coucals, red necked spurfowl, crowned lapwing, hamerkop, lilac breasted rollers, long tailed fiscal shrike, secretary bird in flight, bateleur.

For lunch you just go to the Kikoboga Lodge in the park. On the terrace in the shade you have a low fence and a man made water hole closeby. It is a bit artificial, but a good chance to relax and observe normally shy bushbucks, buffalos, impalas, yellow baboons. And a skink if you explore the vicinity.

The top highlight for me was when we stopped for two lions under a tree. This was one of those rare moments. A lot of times you see a raptor flying over. You try to make a photo. It usually fails. The vehicle you are in is driving, you move your camera, the raptor is moving, you can't get it right in the frame, it's not focused, it's too far away. This time we stopped for a group of lions under a tree. I saw a raptor coming towards us. I started to shoot photos. Trying to focus while moving the camera. The raptor, a Martial Eagle, was coming down. Saw it land on the dry grass. Only then I saw the young impala fleeing after a short squeek. Turns out I have several pictures of the attack. The Eagle just missed the young Impala. The best photo I made in the series was with the eagle stretching its claws, wings spread and aimed at the camera, impala diving away.

A bit more about Mikumi itself. Don't go there for the town. Most people stay in one of the few luxurious hotels aimed at tourists. I stayed in a local place. I looked into it's logs and the last two months the only Wazungu (whites) staying there were two Germans and me. There are many (cheap: I paid 10,000 TSh a night) places to stay, but expect primitive conditions. I did have a (cold) shower and flushed the toilet with a bucket. Mikumi town is a truck stop town. Next to the road many shops, diners and hostels for truckers. Make sure you bring your Swahili phrase book as virtually nobody speaks any English. The town is scorching hot and dusty. Just as the park. It is not a place to hang out. If you want to meet other people go to one of the upmarket hotels or lodges.

----------------------
An annecdote about getting in and out of Mikumi on your own, by bus

In Mikumi - half way Dar es Salaam and Iringa or even further Mbeya - there is no office for the buses. The plan was to buy a return ticket from Mikumi to Dar before I left. Scandinavian Express won't just stop in Mikumi. And if it does, it for sure does not have a seat available. All seats must be reserved.
So, how to get a bus.
It starts with having faith.
You go on the bus from Dar to Mikumi on Wednesday. For that bus you have a ticket. Well actually you have a ticket to Iringa or Mbeya, just get out earlier. In Morogoro - at two thirds of the way to Mikumi - there is a Scandinavian bus stop with office. You get out. Talk to an older guy. Write down his phone number. You tell him that you want to return on Saturday. No, Saturday. You repeat Saturday about 10 times until he does not say Thursday or Sunday anymore. You are supposed to call him Friday morning. You get off in a hush hush way in Mikumi. All fine.
Friday morning you are in a Landrover crossing Mikumi National Park. You call the guy - have no name - and the line is really bad. You explain him that you want to go back from Mikumi to Dar on Saturday. No, Saturday. Repeat Saturday a few times. He tells you he has to check with people in Iringa. Ask for some confirmation. Bus leaves at 'white bridge' in Mikumi. Can't pick me up anywhere else. No idea where that bridge is. He hangs up. In Tanzania people don't confirm the end of a conversation. No 'ok' or 'bye'. Just hang up. Leaving me a bit puzzeled.
In the afternoon you just call the guy again. He actually confirms that I can go with the bus. Hurray.
Saturday morning you try to find the 'white bridge' - don't leave it to the last minute. There is none in Mikumi. There are no bridges here. However, there is a 'weigh bridge'. All the passing trucks and buses must be weighed. So that's where I'll have to be.
You make sure you are at least 20 minutes early at the weigh bridge. With all your luggage (or, as they spell it here sometimes: lukage).
Then you wait. At 13:00 there is of course no bus.
Finally at 14:25 there is a bus. You run along with the bus - it's not waiting, just getting weighed and move on - and a guy running with your heavy backpack trying to open a compartment in the meantime. You don't hop onto the bus until you are sure your backpack is stowed away and the compartment closed. You jump into the bus. The guy there escorts you right away to chair 44. He knew I was coming. The local girl that was sitting there is chased away (I reserved the chair for the complete ride: Iringa to Dar, so Iringa to Mikumi she was just lucky).
About 2 hours later you get off in Morogoro. So far I did not pay a shilling. The older man right away comes up to me.
You go into the office. The man knows you have seat 44. You pay for your ticket - full rate Iringa to Dar (well, that's 18000 shilling, as opposed to 15000 shilling). They swap around some carbon copies and you are off.
Apparently the whole chain works. Just requires some faith and trust that all will work out. In the end I was at 20:00 at the Scandinavian office in Dar. Not really a 4 hour ride, but hey, you are there. Only drove for 2 hours in the dark - something you'd want to avoid.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How a toad can turn you into a prince – National Geographic News Watch

How a toad can turn you into a prince – National Geographic News Watch: "Do not, I repeat not, kiss frogs, toads, or anything similar.

It’s after midnight. The forest is warm, damp, smells of rotting foliage, noisy with strange calls, and filled with creatures on the move.

I’m with a madman. Bill Magnusson, an Australian ecologist, who has spent much of his life in the Amazon, is wearing nothing more than a pair of swimming trunks. He turns over logs with his bare feet, exasperated: “there’s a bloody fer de lance here somewhere.” I feign disappointment at missing this highly aggressive and venomous snake, so far from any medical help.

Bill runs, then dives into the jungle, emerging with a frog in hand. It’s brightly coloured, just gorgeous, bright-eyed in the glare of our headlamps..."

A fun story :-) Also another news source that gives so much desired attention to the Global Amphibian Blitz. Even if you don't join them, the story on NatGeo is fun.

iNaturalist.org · Eurasian Jackdaw, observed by Schaapmans at 04:47 PM CEST on April 9, 2011

iNaturalist.org · Eurasian Jackdaw, observed by Schaapmans at 04:47 PM CEST on April 9, 2011: "9 April 2011, Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse, The Netherlands

Eurasian Jackdaw / Kauw (Corvus monedula). Very abundant bird in The Netherlands. Not spotting it should almost be mentioned instead of logging the observation ;-)"

Blog Maintenance: Labels updated

I went through the Labels section (scroll down in the left column). Made sure my East-Africa labels were consistent; not all days of my 2.5 month trip in 2009 or parks or stories were labeled properly. Tags missing, not all consistent.

So if you click on a label in the left menu somewhere down, you have a complete overview of all the Small Stories I've written about my life and observations in East Africa, or all I did in city Nungwi on Zanzibar, or all posts regarding Park: Ngorongoro Conservation Area, or all I blogged about on Day43. And of course all Wildlife I've spotted. Not to forget the just few but awesomely cool Videos I've uploaded!

What To Follow? - Part 1: WWF

The first episode of What To Follow.


Of course I have to start with the most likely candidate: WWF, the World Wildlife Fund originally, but now it actually stands for World Wide Fund For Nature. The Dutch will know it as WNF; Wereld Natuur Fonds. Our late Prince Bernhard was one of the eminent gentlemen who started the whole thing. WWF has the infamous panda logo. Which makes it cheap to print in full colour: you only need black ink ;-)

Let's quote some of the history:
"WWF was born into this world in 1961.

It was the product of a deep concern held by a few eminent gentlemen who were worried by what they saw happening in our world at that time.

Since those early days WWF has grown up to be one of the largest environmental organizations in the world.

Currently there are more than 1300 WWF conservation projects underway around the world.

The vast majority of these focus on local issues. They range from school nature gardens in Zambia, to initiatives that appear on the packaging in your local supermarket. From the restoration of orangutan habitats to the establishment of giant panda reserves.

Almost all our work involves partnerships.

We team up with local non-profit agencies and other global NGOs. We form relationships with village elders, local councils and regional government offices. And in this day and age of globalization, critically, we work with businesses who are willing to change."

I don't think I need to go to great lengths to introduce the organisation. More interesting perhaps what and where to follow? They've got their social media up to par. WWF practically uses anything out there. That means they follow the right strategy! So they hired the proper guy or gal (Note: in November 2007 I applied for the role of Online Community Specialist with WWF / IUCN in Gland, Switserland, did not pass unfortunately. But apparently they have a capable person as well for the job :P ).

The international website: http://wwf.panda.org/
The Dutch website: http://www.wnf.nl/
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WWF
On Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/wwf
Really interesting stuff on their YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/wwf
Can't miss out on photo site Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwfint
They even have their own group (discussions!) on LinkedIn, but I don't participate in that: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/WWF-44458
For those who are into it (not me), even videos on Vimeo and sharing links and reviews on StumbleUpon.

Most stuff of WWF I come across is via Facebook. They really have tons of materials. And also alert you of petitions to sign for some relevant projects. Can't get it any easier.

What To Follow? - Intro

If you are a bit fanatic about wildlife and biodiversity like me. Or you are just interested in wildlife and nature, then there are a few things out there interesting enough to follow. Organisations, latest nature & science news, a few bloggers.

I'll be adding blogs about some of the things I follow - blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or website. Might be interesting for you as well! If you don't follow them yet... The more knowledge and awareness out there, the better the chances of proper conservation of biodiversity and nature. It all starts with knowledge and knowing what is going on.

Following people and news should be a lazy event, so I like the news to be brought to me at the place I am. That would be Facebook primarily for me; easy to read and click through to the full story. Of course I also have Twitter and my YouTube channel, but less read by me.

If you have any tips of things to follow, let me know! Just leave a comment.

Let's share!

Wishlist: Indian Ocean Reef Guide

I'm working on my birthday wishlist. Previously I mentioned a book about reptiles and amphibians in Madagascar. This book I've also used in Madagascar.

This time I go below the surface. Of the ocean. Helmut Debelius is the authority regarding wildlife in the ocean. What about the Cousteau family? Well Debelius is besides his scientific contributions THE book authority. If you want to have a good field guide about life in the oceans -reefs, nudibranches, fish, crustaceans - you are likely to end up with one of his books.

Ten years ago I bought his Red Sea Reef Guide. And it's heavily used. Before I went to Madagascar in 2008 I was in doubt if I would purchase the Indian Ocean Reef Guide. I would be diving only two days max. So I did not go for it.


When I went to East Africa for 2.5 months in 2009 the plan was to dive on Zanzibar for one or two weeks and possibly on Mafia island too. But unfortunately the book seemed to be sold out both in bookstores and online. Fortunate as well; I already had more than enough kilos of luggage.

Turns out they reprinted it, so it's available again. Hurray. I'll be able to extend my underwater wildlife wisdom - yeah, needed the alliteration. And be able to categorise a bunch of my underwater pictures. Give it up for the Blue Spotted Stingray, the Clearfin Lionfish and Humpback Whales!