Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Another day

It’s supposed to be winter!!   But no rest for the wicked!  

Now that I feel summer coming  (even though I know there are still going to be a few cold spells),  my heart turns to the cool Scottish highlands which should be covered in purple heather now.  Sigh…   the smell of peat fires on an autumn afternoon, a pint in a cosy pub…

Even though people think I live in Paradise, Scotland is like a drug for me.  I can’t explain it.  I have almost 90% of the year sunshine here.  But I am yearning for the soft grey rains, wandering alone up on the hills.

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.  During my wild youth in London  (all I cared about was parties – to the point where there was no distinction between weekends and weekdays – I lived in a flat of crazy Kiwis)   I used to dream away the tube ride thinking of the big black clouds racing up over the veldt to pour down a sudden shower, and the thorn trees enjoying the rain.  I didn’t return to Africa for 5 years, until my visa ran out, and I had no choice.  It was strange flying over the dry red soil.  I wasn't exactly happy about it.

Now I’ve been sitting this side for 10 years to the month, and every day my feet are just itching to go walking in Assynt, Sutherland.  C’est la vie!  I must make a plan.

In the meantime…  I am pleased to say that the numbers of buck (antelope) in the Elephant Reserve are visibly increasing.  The Reserve has stepped up security, (and entrance fees).  It is wonderful to actually see the animals now.   When I first started driving here 9 years ago, there were lots of animals. Then it seemed to shrink to almost nothing, and I was finding bullet shells lying in the road.  Now the numbers seem to be rising again – WONDERFUL!   There is nothing sadder than an empty landscape – seeing shadows of how it was and should be.

I’ve spent many hours thinking how to give the Reserve a voice.  Most people just drive through it on the way to Santa Maria (there is no choice, we have to drive through the Reserve to get home).  But a big project in the area (almost bordering the Reserve) has risen the Reserve’s profile with many wealthy Europeans involved in the project.   Still, the human-elephant conflict continues, and as far as I am aware – the people still have permission to shoot an elephant in their grounds (if they wander off the Reserve).
Its essential that the local community see the financial benefit of conservation otherwise they will not bother to conserve.  And by the time, a new generation grows up, it will be too late to redeem what has been lost.

There is a new 5-star lodge being built in the Reserve (job please!!)  and the community will own, I think, 25% shares in this development.  This is a great model which can be emulated elsewhere.  The community will now have incentive to conserve what the tourists are paying big  $ to come see.

I guess growing up in undeveloped bush, the people want the bling of the western world - that they see whizzing past them (people - its 30KM per hour in the Ellie Reserve - the city slickers keep having head-on collisions because they are not respecting the speed limit, and what about hitting the poor animals?)
Some of our ellies are angry - still from the war - they have chased my bum many times.  My previous vehicle was a little black Pajero that I bought off the ships from Japan - ellies are short-sighted - I am convinced they thought it was another elephant.  If people enter the animals' environment, they need to respect the rules of engagement.  I wonder why some people are drawn to these pristine environments, and then do everything in their power to mess them up.

Best I be off to carry on with my paw paw (papaya) hedge that I am planting for the bushbabies so they will always have food.  Bananas are their favorites, but alas I don't seem to have green fingers, and mine keep dying.