Archive for January, 2013

More rhinos fall to poaching in Lake Nakuru National Park

4 RHINOS FALL TO POACHERS IN NAKURU NATIONAL PARK

News are emerging from conservation sources in Nairobi that as many as four rhinos were found dead in Lake Nakuru National Park, their prized horns hacked off, as the pestilence of poaching has now swept from South Africa to East Africa. Nakuru is one of the national rhino reserves where both the Southern White and Eastern Black are concentrated for breeding and close up protection, or so it was thought.

These sad news come hot on the heels of a number of conflicting stories from Kenya, where on one hand successes against poachers highlight the new KWS CEO’s resolve to take the fight to these criminals but where at the same time reports about more poached elephant come in too week after week.

William Kiprono, appointed last year on the fast track by President Kibaki only days after former office holder Dr. Julius Kipng’etich’s resignation had been accepted, faced immediate challenges to his reign at the helm when the killing of an entire elephant family, young non tuskers included, was reported from Tsavo, in at least some quarters seen as the poachers testing his resolve and determination to step up the anti-poaching war.

Rhinos were targeted also on privately owned conservancies like Lewa Downs, Ol Pejeta and the Solio Reserve, leading to the establishment of a rapid deployment force by helicopter while, as reported here a few days ago, the first UAV, aka drone has been purchased and awaits deployment over the sprawling 90.000+ acres Ol Pejeta Conservancy in due course.

Welcome news over the weekend were the decision by the Kenyan government to add a further 200 million Kenya Shillings to the anti poaching efforts, giving KWS greater resources to stem and then turn the tide, but insider information has it that successes and setbacks will cancel each other out for some more time to come, until hundreds of more rangers have been trained and deployed. It is also understood that KWS at present still requires more funding to purchase and set up an operations centre for unmanned aerial vehicles, to gather intelligence on game and poacher’s movements and then deploy by air and ground to intercept the gangs before they can do any real damage.

Last year over 650 rhinos were poached in South Africa and as finally that government starts to understand the devastating impact on the country’s reputation abroad as well and the massive loss in terms of wildlife resources inside parks and reserves and acted more decisively, it seems that the international wildlife terrorists have now shifted their attention to East Africa, where, while protection could be considered adequate and strong under normal circumstances, they appear ill equipped to deal with such a commercial onslaught. Combined with almost useless laws – only last week did four Chinese found smuggling blood ivory get a fine of about 340 US Dollars and were let go – the fight against poaching will now require a major effort, including a Presidential Directive to use lethal means to and other available security resources available to the state, to begin defending Kenya’s prized wildlife more effectively.

More details are being sought at this time on the circumstances, the location of the poaching incident in Nakuru and if the killed animals were either of the Southern White or the even more endangered Eastern Black species, so watch this space for future updates.

Singapore seizes 1.8 tons of blood ivory

SINGAPORE CUSTOMS OFFICIALS SEIZE 1.8 TONS OF BLOOD IVORY

Blood ivory worth over 2.5 million US Dollars was confiscated yesterday in Singapore, when a container load from a yet to be named African country, supposedly comprising waste paper, was found to be actually elephant tusks and ivory pieces. Nearly 1.100 cut pieces of tusks were reportedly seized which had been concealed in the container, wrapped into sacks and hidden under other cargo. Officials according to one source were getting suspicious when the weights did not add up and then decided to open the container, making the find and effecting legal seizure while other information talks of a tip off leading to the discovery.

Information at hand also speaks of local authorities pursing officials of the shipping and forwarding company as well as being in touch with authorities in the country of origin to arrest, if possible, the owners of the blood cargo.

The report also omitted naming the final destination of the contraband shipment, but is suspected to be the mainland of China, which has become globally notorious for not doing anywhere near enough to curb illegal imports and crack down on carving shops where the blood ivory is turned into intricate figures and art pieces.

The CITES conference in a few weeks in Bangkok is expected to be one of the most hotly debated meetings over the massive scale of poaching in Africa, of elephant and rhinos, to feed the greed among the nouvelle riche in China to possess carved ivory, or in the case of rhino horns afford the outrageous prized for pulverized horn, which medicinal value is actual nil. It is generally expected that demands will be voiced to withdraw China’s ivory trading status as one measure to reduce all shipments of ivory. That however is well understood will not curb smuggling, as was the case just now. Inadequate wildlife laws in Africa too are often named as a contributory factor, as fines are generally ridiculously low and prison terms often measured in weeks and best months. Watch this space for upcoming reports from the CITES conference and what transpires to crack down on poaching and the illicit trade of ivory and rhino horn.

Brussels Airlines adds DC in summer 2013

BRUSSELS AIRLINES ANNOUNCES FLIGHTS TO WASHINGTON AS SECOND US DESTINATION

A regular source from Brussels Airlines has today confirmed what the grapevine has been talking about for a while, that after the launch of daily flights to New York in June last year, Washington DC will be the airline’s second destination in the United States.

The success of the flights to the Big Apple had for some time given rise to hope for a second key destination, and SN will commence these flights on the 18th June, then operating initially 5 flights a week.

The nonstop service will connect the US capital with the European capital city of Brussels, a key route for not just government officials and military personnel attached to the NATO Headquarter in Brussels, but increasingly also tourists and business visitors.

Brussels Airlines will for this route use a new Airbus, due for delivery in time for the launch, in their state of the art configuration of 30 seats in Business Class and either 238 (A330-200) or 254 (A330-300) seats in Economy Class, where an 83 cm legroom makes it one of the most comfortable on any airline, besides the latest technology ergonomic seats with individual 22.6 cm touchscreen and that important USB port to power personal devices.

Having just been able to sample the new seat product a few days ago on a flight between Kigali and Nairobi, it is clear that the 30 million Euro retrofitting was absolutely worth the money. The 2 metre long flatbed seats / beds are certainly top of the range and the enhanced catering in both classes brought back the Savoir Vivre in the air and earned Brussels Airlines already, within months, a second place globally in ‘Best Airline Cuisine’ by Global Traveller (www.globaltravelerusa.com) while the same survey put SN on top of the global rankings for ‘Wines on Wings – Best International Business Class’.

Travelers from the four East African destinations Entebbe, Kigali, Bujumbura and Nairobi will from June onwards be able to fly with one stop, via the time saving Brussels hub, to the American capital and of course to New York too, making SN undoubtedly an airline of choice for those heading to the US.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.

Four Seasons set to build major resort complex in Zanzibar

FOUR SEASONS AIMS AT ZANZIBAR

With only six properties at present in Africa, including a 77 room and suite safari lodge in the central part of the renown Serengeti, it comes as little surprise that Four Seasons seems keen to expand their presence on the continent.

The group presently operates properties in Africa in Marrakech / Morocco, Alexandria and Cairo / Egypt and on the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe.

News were broken on Monday that the global luxury hotel and resort group intends to build a 50 million US Dollar resort complex on the island of Zanzibar (Unguja), which would add another resort location to the growing portfolio of Four Seasons.

East Africa has of late become a focal point for global hotel giants, many of which attended the African Hotel Investment Forum last year at the InterContinental Hotel in Nairobi and found new confidence to invest following significant discoveries of oil, gas and other minerals in the wider region.

Marriot will be opening a hotel in Kigali, Hyatt now manages a hotel in Dar es Salaam, Best Western only recently opened their first property in Kenya where Kempinski is also due to open its doors in Nairobi in May. Others like Radisson too have new hotels in the pipeline and the already on site giants like InterContinental and Hilton are expanding across Africa too.

Welcome news for sure for East Africa’s tourism industry which can count on the added property related marketing of our destination while the business community will have wider choices and arguably better services still as a result of relentless competitive pressures. Welcome to Four Seasons – East Africa needs your presence.

Did someone pull a fast one on FastJet?

THE FASTJET VERSUS FLY 540 SAGA – WHAT OTHERS SAY

Warned severally over their choice of partner in East Africa for their attempt to form a Pan African LCC network, FastJet is now paying the price for dismissing out of hand information availed to them at the time, while initially jumping enthusiastically to the defense of their ‘partners’ only to wake up to the reality others saw and knew for a very long time of course. Those executives responsible for these developments will now surely have a case to answer themselves over their naïve if not careless approach, some would perhaps call it even grossly negligent, putting the money of their principals at risk.

Time will tell how that might pan out but here is what others, including the respected Sunday Times have to say about the deal gone sour and the marriage heading to the divorce courts before being fully consummated.

FastJet hit by legal battle over millions
African no frills airline FastJet is embroiled in a legal dispute with an airline firm who claims it owes millions of dollars.
Five Forty Aviation has instructed lawyers to recover $6.8 million for financial support given to Lonrho Aviation, now FastJet.
It says the debt relates primarily to the financial support given to Fly540 Tanzania (the trading name of Five Forty Aviation) as well as branches in Angola, Ghana and elsewhere operated by Lonrho Aviation.
The company claims FastJet agreed to clear debts as part of the sale reports the Sunday Times.
A statement said: "Five Forty Aviation Ltd ("the Company") confirms that it has instructed its lawyers to recover an acknowledged debt of $6.8m from Lonrho Aviation (B.V.I) Ltd, (now operating as FastJet)."
A deal was set up in June 2012 for FastJet to use Lonrho Aviation’s routes and networks, see previous story.
But FastJet say the deal has been fully consummated and nothing is owed.
It said: "Don Smith and his partners have been paid all amounts due to them, a total sum of US$6.75m.
"Mr Smith certified in a document signed by him on 24 July 2012 that, other than specified liabilities as set out in the document, there is no other liability or indebtedness due to him or any entity controlled by him.
"There has never been any agreement that Lonrho Aviation would pay Mr Smith a further sum of US$7m."
The airline said it was planning to launch its first international routes shortly.

Monday, January 28, 2013

As reported on Monday here, FastJet now appears to have signed a Memorandum of Unterstanding with Fly540’s Kenyan rival airline Jetlink, set to form a joint venture and finally enter the lucrative Kenyan domestic and regional market, something which was the initial priority before being derailed by the described problems and compelling FastJet to start up in Tanzania instead, where the aircraft fleet is until now only able to fly between Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Mwanza, reportedly causing them unbudgeted financial losses as a result.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from the vibrant, and seemingly adventurous East African aviation market.

Seychelles makes Mission Lodge a priority to attain UNESCO World Heritage status

MISSION LODGE REDEVELOPMENT GATHERS MOMENTUM AS UNESCO BID GOES UNDERWAY

The Seychelles Ministry of Culture and Tourism is now working with the Seychelles Heritage Foundation to bring the Mission Lodge back to life with new displays tracing the freed young slaves as they made this place their home.

Representatives from the Seychelles Destination Management Companies joined Alain St. Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and Culture a few days ago as he toured the Mission Lodge Slave Ruins accompanied by Patrick Nanty, the CEO of the Heritage Foundation, Benjamine Rose, the Principal Secretary for Culture, Elsia Grandcourt, the CEO of the Tourism Board and Sherin Renaud, the Principal Secretary for Tourism and other members of the Tourism and Culture Departments.

Senior staff of 7 Degrees South, Creole Travel Services, Mason’s Travel Pty Ltd, Select Seychelles and Seychelles Connect Booking Service were given an insight of the planned enhancement projects to rehabilitate the Slave Ruins of Mission Lodge to make it an important historical excursion for Destination Management Companies (DMC).

The company representatives were briefed on the proposed building of a “pavilion design” reception and information centre in an hitherto open area near the side of the current car park which will subsequently be resurfaced and used as a drop off area only.

In addition, there are plans to put proper signage on both heritage and historical value of the site, enhancement of visitor’s directional signs and existing viewpoints as well as part restoration of the ruins. Proposed parking on a plot of land opposite the main entrance will help to reduce congestion on the existing parking area.

Following a short presentation of the proposed projects, the Destination Management Companies concluded that Mission Lodge is a place of historical value with potential for future development. They went on to comment that ‘Mission Lodge should bring a new experience and with what is being planned Seychelles will have a more meaningful product for visitors paying an entrance fee to visit this unique historical site’.

Maxwell Julie, the Project Manager of National Heritage Foundation, pointed out that Creole Travel Services and Mason’s Travel Pty Ltd are looking at assisting with the building of the reception / information area and that Creole Travel Services is also looking at assisting with works to grade the land for the proposed parking area for Mission Lodge. Minister Alain St. Ange explained that it was time for Mission Lodge to be given its rightful place as a Seychelles historical site and he announced that the Ministry of Tourism and Culture was looking at seeking support to make these Slave Ruins a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it was unique in its own right.

The historical aspect of Mission Lodge is being forgotten and overshadowed by its breathtaking panoramic view. An important chapter in Seychelles history is engraved in Mission Lodge, and this aspect should constitute the central attraction of the site’ Minister St. Ange was quoted to have said. He then went on to say: ‘From today we need to see all we discussed translated into concrete actions’.

Mission Lodge, formerly known as ‘Venn Town’ was set up in the 19th Century by a missionary society to educate the children of the first black slaves to be freed in Seychelles. Today these ruins, sitting on what is considered the most exclusive viewing spot from high up on the island of Mahe, hold the walls of the school, dormitories and village occupied by young slaves as they were freed and landed in Seychelles. The small cemetery where some are buried was cleared along with the grave of the son of the initial missionary who managed this project. In 2010, Seychelles started the nomination procedure for the Slave Ruins of Mission Lodge to get recognition as the country’s third UNESCO World Heritage status. The National Heritage Foundation and the Research Section of the Culture Department of the Ministry at La Bastille are working together with the Centre for Heritage Development in Africa to make the case for UNESCO’s recognition of the Slave Ruins at Mission Lodge.

Minister Alain St. Ange said that when the Slave Ruins at Mission Lodge earns the UNESCO World Heritage Status it will not only be listed as the third UNESCO site in Seychelles, but it will be the first purely cultural site recognised on the archipelago after the Vallee` de Mai and the Aldabra Atoll.

As Seychelles is putting the final touches for the submission to UNESCO of Mission Lodge’s nomination procedure in October 2013, the Seychelles Minister for Tourism and Culture, Mr Alain St. Ange said that he will seek the support of the UNWTO to assist Seychelles earn international recognition for a site that needs protection as it is unique. ‘I will use the opportunity on my participation at the end of January UNWTO meeting in Spain to get the name of our Mission Lodge Slave Ruins known and to gain the UNWTO’s support for the Seychelles bid to gain UNESCO World Heritage Status for these Slave Ruins at Mission Lodge. We must preserve what is left of this era and these ruins are unique as they are protecting the young generation who fell victim to a practice of gone bye days’ the Minister Alain St.Ange was quoted in a press release. One more thing to look forward to see by visitors to the Seychelles, which remains truly Another World.

Chinese blood ivory smugglers escape justice with 340 US Dollar fine in Nairobi court

KENYA FINES IVORY SMUGGLERS 340 DOLLARS AS UGANDA PROPOSES 10 YEAR JAIL TERM

Conservationists were up in arms when a court in Nairobi yesterday handed fines worth 340 US Dollars to four Chinese citizens caught smuggling blood ivory through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, enroute from Lubumbashi in the Congo DR. The magistrate, when handing the sentence, regretted that his hands were tied as the offense in his words was still considered a petty crime, while Africa’s herds of elephant are being decimated by demand for blood ivory in particular from China.

Emotions are getting higher against China in Africa for the role their citizens play in poaching, besides the relentless ‘sucking resources from our lands’ as an activist from Nairobi put it in a conversation last week.

It is sad that our MPigs [a
commonly employed term how Kenyans saw and judged their last parliamentarians] failed to change the Wildlife Act. They found time to award themselves record salaries, make them tax exempt and engaged in silly stuff like wanting to ban drinking over the election period. Imagine, for such rubbish they found time but not to come to the rescue of our wildlife which is our national heritage. Tourism will falter if the poaching wipes out our elephant. Anyway, most lost their jobs already when not getting nominations from their parties for the next elections and those who somehow made it will be voted out en masse I am sure. They are the greatest failures politics in Kenya ever produced’ ranted the regular source in anger when calling in to pass the information about the sentence.

In contrast has Uganda’s conservation fraternity reason to smile as proposals of stiff financial fines and long term prison sentences were incorporated in the amendment to the Wildlife Act during recent consultations between government, parliamentarians and stakeholders. A minimum fine of 200 million Uganda Shillings plus a prison term of 10 years will be mandatory for magistrates and judges for poaching and smuggling of blood ivory, should the draft amendments be passed into law as is expected. Additionally will vehicles used have to be forfeit to the state as well as any other items found on the poachers and smugglers used by them when committing the crime.

Lax laws were blamed when last week fines of only 200.000 Uganda Shillings were handed down to some individuals dealing in illegally obtained Pangolin scales, and to make it worse, the confiscated scales where then found to have disappeared from the court strongroom. This prompted a sharply worded letter from the Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority to the judiciary and resulted in an ongoing police investigation into the circumstances how the exhibits were stolen.

Across East Africa the respective Wildlife laws are currently subject to review but nowhere was the opportunity lost in such a ridiculous manner as was the case in Kenya where as a result of the upcoming elections it might take as long as another year to have the new parliament come up with an amendment – time lost to protect the priceless wildlife heritage which supports the country’s safari tourism industry. Watch this space.

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