A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘botswana

[NEWS] Four science links, from water on the frontier to climate change to Tau Ceti exoplanets

  • At Wired, Matt Simon explores the remarkably wrong-headed theory of the 19th century US that “rain follows the plough.”
  • These National Geographic photos of the unexplored lakes in Angola that feed the Okavango are remarkable.
  • Rachel Brown examines billy burr, the Colorado hermit whose collection of decades of climate data is invaluable.
  • Universe Today notes a new study confirming the existence of Tau Ceti e and f, potentially habitable rocky exoplanets just 12 light years away.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 9, 2017 at 10:59 pm

[LINK] “Elephant Refugees Flee to Last Stronghold in Africa”

National Geographic‘s Christine Dell’Amore’s feature is quite right to identify the elephants fleeing poachers into Botswana as refugees, I think. What a terrible situation.

The elephants swim across the river in a straight line, trunks jutting out of the water like snorkels. With low, guttural bellows, they push their bodies together, forming a living raft to bolster a calf too tiny to stay afloat on its own.

This pachyderm flotilla has a dangerous destination in mind: The grassy shores of Namibia, where elephants are literally free game for legal hunters. The animals will risk their lives to feed here before fording the Chobe River again, back to the safety of Botswana’s Chobe National Park.

To avoid ivory poachers in neighboring Namibia, Zambia, and Angola, elephants like this family are fleeing in astounding numbers to Chobe, where illegal hunting is mostly kept in check. (See National Geographic’s elephant pictures.)

“Our elephants are essentially refugees,” says Michael Chase, founder of the Botswana-based conservation group Elephants Without Borders, which works to create transboundary corridors for elephants to travel safely between countries.

Elephants aren’t the only animals battling for survival in the dry, harsh world of northern Botswana. Tune in to the three-part miniseries Savage Kingdom on November 25 at 9 p.m. ET on Nat Geo WILD.
But while Chobe offers some protection, it’s not the most welcoming stronghold. The increasingly dry ecosystem is buckling under the pressure of supporting so many of the six-ton animals, which each eat 600 pounds of food daily.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 10, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[LINK] “The secret pool of surviving Bushmen at Chrissiesmeer”

Kevin Davie’s 2011 article in the Mail & Guardian describing the survival of a Bushman group in eastern South Africa is fascinating.

We have many languages in South Africa, but what about /Xegwi? The word looks so alien, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that /Xegwi was a language in use in South Africa as recently as 100 years ago.

/Xegwi is an ancient language, one of the country’s originals. If you Google it, you’ll quickly find that it is extinct, as dead as the people who once spoke it. But maybe not.

I came across this story on a bicycle trip through Mpumalanga with two friends. The laminated pamphlet on the front desk of our lodge in Chrissiesmeer, near Ermelo, offered activities such as visiting a derelict town, checking the apparent impression of a giant foot in a rock face or viewing Bushman paintings. The guides for the rock-art tour were two Bushmen.

Chrissiesmeer is something of a South African secret. There are more than 270 lakes in a 20km by 20km area. One, Lake Chrissie, is one of the largest fresh-water lakes in South Africa. The water attracts an abundance of bird, frog and animal life.

The fact that the rock-art guides are themselves Bushmen is extraordinary as they are widely believed to be extinct in most of South Africa.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2015 at 10:21 pm

[LINK] On the possible evolution of HIV towards decreased virulence

Livejournal’s robby pointed me to the New Scientist article suggesting that HIV is becoming less virulent over time in many populations.

To track how HIV has been evolving, Philip Goulder of the University of Oxford and his colleagues compared HIV samples taken from 842 pregnant women in Botswana and South Africa. In Botswana, the epidemic took off in the mid-1980s, compared with the mid-90s in South Africa – so HIV in Botswana has had about a decade longer to evolve.

When tested on cells grown in a lab, the HIV from Botswana reproduced more slowly than that from South Africa, which should mean it takes longer to destroy people’s immune systems and result in AIDS.

“To show it’s adapting so rapidly is very significant,” says José Borghans of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

One reason for the change could be the growing use of HIV drugs, says Goulder. People with the most virulent form of the virus get sick sooner and start drug treatment. This reduces the level of the virus in their blood and sexual fluids almost to zero, so they are unlikely to pass it on. This means that a more aggressive virus is less likely to be transmitted.

“It’s a benefit of therapy that nobody thought of,” says Goulder. “That’s another reason to provide it.”

The study in question, “Impact of HLA-driven HIV adaptation on virulence in populations of high HIV seroprevalence”, is available here from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 2, 2014 at 4:54 am

[NEWS] Some Sunday links

  • The Globe and Mail profiles the growing political tensions within Thailand, increasingly polarized between populist rural areas and conservative urbanites.
  • io9 suggests that Russia is continuing to prepare for a long-range mission to Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, to be launched in a decade’s time.
  • Open Democracy’s Jamie Mackay describes how, in Venice, racism–especially anti-Asian racism–distracts and is used to distract Venetians from their city’s decline as an actual inhabited areas.
  • The photos heavy metal cowboys of Botswana must be seen.
  • The Atlantic Cities has noted Facebook’s utility in tracking global migration trends.
  • Shanghaist observes that the Shanghai metro system is offering announcements in Shanghainese as well as in standard Chinese.
  • The conclusion of a National Post columnist that Thor bests Superman–perhaps, by extension, Marvel besting DC–by virtue of having fun relatable characters is difficult to escape.
  • Also in The Globe and Mail, the evolution of a bar in Bloordale–Bloor West and Lansdowne, just to my west–from a neighbourhood joint to something ore hipsterish is interesting.
  • Should the abundance of vintage cars in Cuba, a guest writer at The Guardian writes, be seen merely as cute or rather as symptom of corrosive totalitarianism? (I say yes.)

[LINK] “Comment about Botswana’s president sparks debate on Kalahari Bushmen”

The Globe and Mail‘s Geoffrey York reports on anti-Bushman racism in Botswana.

It began as a casual quip at a border post. A woman spotted a portrait of Botswana’s President and remarked that he “looks like a Bushman.”

Security officers sprang into action. The woman was detained, interrogated at a police station, kept in custody for a night and a day and forced to pay a fine before being freed.

The reason: Her innocent comment about the leader’s resemblance to the original people of Southern Africa was deemed “insulting” to the country.

The incident has sparked a fresh debate on the plight of the long-suffering Bushmen, the last indigenous people in Southern Africa who still live in the wild. Their defenders say the Bushmen are the victims of racial discrimination by government leaders who are eager to use the people’s ancestral land for diamond mining and tourist developments.

The Bushmen, also known as the San, have fought for years for the right to continue their hunter-gatherer life in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, one of the biggest nature reserves in Africa. But the Botswana government has refused to allow most of them to return to the reserve or to grant them hunting licences.

The latest incident began when Dorsey Dube, a woman from South Africa, was leaving Botswana with three friends in late September. At the border crossing, she saw a framed portrait of President Ian Khama and commented casually that he looked like a friend’s father, who had Bushman features.

It was intended to be a compliment. But she was detained, questioned and held at a police station without the right to call anyone for assistance.

“You couldn’t have clearer evidence of the racism towards Bushmen in Botswana than this incident,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, a British-based group that campaigns for the rights of tribal groups and indigenous people.

“A South African person thought resembling a Bushman was complimentary, but Botswana officials took it as an insult,” Mr. Corry said in a statement Thursday.

Indeed, the Botswana government has gone out of its way to undermine the material basis of Bushman culture.

Mr. Khama, who was re-elected to a second five-year term as President last month, has been unsympathetic to the plight of the Bushmen. He said in 2008 that their traditional lifestyle is “an archaic fantasy.”

Hundreds of Bushmen were forcibly removed from the Kalahari reserve in 2002. Witnesses described how the authorities cut off the water sources used by the Bushmen to force them to leave, even smashing the ostrich-egg shells in which the Bushmen store water.

Four years later, the Bushmen won a ruling from Botswana’s High Court saying that their removal from the Kalahari was “unlawful and unconstitutional.” By refusing to allow the Bushmen to hunt, the government was condemning them to “death by starvation,” one judge said.

According to Survival International, the government had approved plans for a diamond mine on the Bushmen’s land on the condition that the mining company did not provide any water to the Bushmen. It also banned the Bushmen from using a water borehole in their community, although it allowed a nearby tourist lodge to pump water from the site, the group said.

Anti-Bushman racism clearly plays a dominant role, here. I’ve also read that a secondary motive, however, has been Botswanans’ fierce resistance to the idea that it would be morally acceptable to set up reserves to let people live a traditional lifestyle: the idea is far too close to that undergirding the South African apartheid-era homelands to be tolerable.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm

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