One of the more troubling developments in East African wildlife conservation has been the threat of oil exploration within the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Virunga National Park – one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Permission to conduct seismic testing within the park’s boundaries had been granted to the British oil company, Soco, by the DRC’s government. Criticism flowed from the world-wide conservation community but it looked like nothing was going to change. However, the recent attempted assassination of the Virunga National Park’s chief warden, Emmanuel de Mérode, caught the attention of news media around the world. Today’s edition of The Guardian features an article stating that Soco has finally bowed to the increasing pressure and announced it will cease its explorations. Let’s chalk this one up for the good guys – and those gentle, but imposing, primates – the mountain gorillas.

Here is The Guardian article.

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Tortilis Camp sits in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro at the edge of Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. When the Mountain decides to cooperate, you wake up and look out at the shining top of “Kili.” However, don’t be surprised if, as our guide, David Kariithi, used to say, the Mountain is shy today and will not look out from behind the clouds.

Created by Stefano Cheli and Liz Peacock, Tortilis is one of our favorite camps in all of Africa! The beauty of Amboseli and its elephants is perfectly complemented by Tortilis’ comfortable tented rooms and its dramatic lounge and dining room, perched on top of a steep hill. However, our many travelers who have visited Tortilis compliment another element of the Cheli & Peacock experience – the Italian-inspired cuisine, complete with fresh vegetables grown in their own garden.

A past winner of the “Tourism for Tomorrow” award, Tortilis has now raised the ante with the installation of a complete solar system to provide electricity. We already recommend Tortilis to everyone who wishes to visit Amboseli. Now we can proudly point to one more example of their exceptional wildlife conservation leadership. Well done, Stefano and Liz!

To learn more about Tortilis Camp, contact me here or call me at 336-776-0359.

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Tom on April 10th, 2014

A few days ago, Jane Goodall celebrated her 80th birthday. Few people in conservation have been as effective in bringing the importance of wildlife conservation in Africa to the forefront as Dr. Goodall. She gained the world’s attention with her pioneering studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe Reserve. Tanzania’s The New Times recently posted an article noting her birthday.

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Tom on April 7th, 2014

Yesterday, April 6, marked the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. The horrible facts of what happened are well documented and, if you wish to learn more, I highly recommend Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Rather than dwell on the history of those approximately one hundred days, I celebrate the strength and passion of Rwandans – including people I’ve met over the past ten years of my travels in “The Land of A Thousand Hills.” I’m still amazed at the power of national and personal reconciliation that I’ve witnessed. As I’ve listened to the personal accounts of survivors, I’ve seen real forgiveness in the eyes of those who speak. And I’ve seen something even more critical to Rwandans and the rest of us – a passion to prevent future genocide. Although they don’t often express it verbally, many of those I’ve met share a strong belief in a single source of comfort and inspiration – the Bible. No matter each of our personal beliefs, we can all learn from their actions and draw strength and hope. And we can act – perhaps just taking a few minutes each day over the next 100 days to reflect on what each of us may do to help someone in their daily challenge – Tom LaRock

From Rwanda – here is a headline from today’s The New Times

Tom on February 13th, 2014

Now this is something I haven’t seen in Africa – yet! There had been a few scattered reports of crocodiles in trees  in the scientific literature. So University of Tennessee researcher Vladimir Dinets led a team to discover if these were isolated incidences or regular behavior. Studying crocodilians on three continents – Africa, Australia and North America, the team identified four species that are able to climb trees – one croc having been seen 13 feet above ground. The jury is out on why these crocodile species climb trees. Answers range from territorial security and observation of prey to the regulation of their body temperature. It will be interesting to follow the team’s future researches. And now I have a new photographic goal – an arboreal crocodile!

The study is published in Herpetology Notes. Here’s the link to the report, which includes some interesting photos:

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Tom on January 24th, 2014

The government of the Republic of Botswana initiated a hunting ban of game wildlife in all controlled hunting areas or hunting management units throughout the country at the beginning of the year. The ban is temporary, while studies are conducted into the many reasons there have been declines in certain wildlife populations. Without getting into a discussion of the pros and cons of hunting, we applaud those in Botswana who are focusing their efforts on understanding the impact of such diverse factors as human-wildlife conflict, habitat fragmentation, illegal hunting, controlled hunting, etc.

Here is a link to the government of Botswana’s announcement, which was published yesterday:

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