Tag Archives: Africa

Groundbreaking New Malaria Vaccine Could Receive Approval as Soon As 2015

Every minute, a child dies from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 billion people, nearly half of the Earth’s entire population, are at risk for the disease.

Though malaria rates have dropped by 42% since 2000, the disease is still expected to kill anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 people this year, with the majority of them being children under the age of five. In fact, malaria is the third largest killer of children worldwide.

We have been slowly but surely lessening the effects of malaria worldwide in the past 15 years. Click to enlarge

And while improving medical technologies and practices have been steadily reducing the number of malaria-related deaths, there is no proven vaccine against the disease.

But a promising new vaccine created by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may be about to change that.

The vaccine can’t prevent  every single case of malaria, but it has proven to have a very significant impact. During multiple trials of the vaccine, researchers found that on average about 800 cases of malaria could be prevented for every 1,000 children who got the vaccine.

In the most advanced of these trials, 1,500 children in several different African countries received the vaccine. 18 months later, researchers found that the vaccine had nearly halved the number of malaria infections in small children.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the center of the malaria crisis. 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Click to enlarge

The testing also suggests that the vaccine’s impact becomes even more pronounced in areas that have particularly high infection rates.

For example, in a number of Kenyan cities, the researchers were able to prevent about 2,000 cases of malaria with only 1,000 vaccines (many people in the area contract the disease multiple times).

GSK has now applied for regulatory approval of the vaccine from the European Medicine’s Authority. This is the first malaria vaccine to ever reach that step.

Sanjeev Krishna is a professor of Molecular Parasitology and Medicine at St. George’s University of London. He was one of the scientists who peer-reviewed the study before it was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. He had his to say:

“This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre…

We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Read more from the BBC here.

If you want to learn more about malaria, these 10 quick facts about the disease from the World Health Organization is a good place to start.

These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

Villagers Just Caught the Largest Ever Aquatic Insect And It’s Bigger Than Your Hand

Villagers from a village in the Sichuan province of China just collected the largest ever aquatic insect specimen.

The bug, a massive dobsonfly, has a wingspan of more than 8 inches. The previous record-holder for the world’s largest aquatic insect was a South American helicopter damselfly, which had a wingspan of 7.5 inches.

Helicopter damselfly (Megaloprepus coerulatus)

Though dobsonflies are relatively common (there are over 200 species across Asia, Africa and South America), one of this size had been unheard of until now.

Looking at a dobsonfly can actually be very misleading. For one, those massive, grisly-looking mandibles protruding from its head are actually only used for mating. Males flaunt them to impress the females and hold them in place during the actual mating process.

A male dobsonfly (on the right) courts a female before mating. Click to enlarge

Also, those massive wings are pretty much all for show. The insect almost never flies, preferring to spend the bulk of its time in the water (both underwater and on the surface), or sheltering underneath rocks.

Dobsonflies are also a biological indicator of water quality. They prefer clean water with very low levels of pollution and a relatively neutral pH. If water quality falls below their standards, they will leave and find a new body of water to call home.

The villagers gave the record-setting specimen to the Insect Museum of West China.

(h/t Discovery)

San Men of the Kalahari Show What A “Fair Chase” Hunt REALLY Looks Like (Video)

Earlier today, I discussed the controversy surrounding Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech leader who hunts big game in Africa and posts the pictures to Facebook.

In the caption of a picture of her with an African leopard, Kendall described the hunt as a “fair chase”. I feel the need to disambiguate that term.

Let me present the San people of the Kalahari desert in Africa. This traditional hunter-gatherer society inhabits the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. San men go on marathons across the desert to track down the Kudu antelope which provide key protein for their families:

The San people lived as hunter-gatherers for countless generations until government modernization programs, lasting from the 1950s until the 1990s, mandated that many of the San switch to farming.

They are one of our fourteen surviving “ancestral population clusters” from which all modern humans today descend from. Studies of the San have provided a wealth of information in the fields of anthropology and genetics.

So let’s be clear: hunting  with high-powered rifles and motorized vehicles is as far from a “fair chase” as it gets.

Should People Be Outraged By A Texas Tech Cheerleader Hunting Big Game In Africa? (Poll)

Don’t forget to voice your opinion by answering the poll questions at the end!

Kendall Jones is a 19-year-old from Cleburne, Texas, a small town about 45 minutes southwest of Dallas. When she was nine, she started following her father on his big game hunts in Africa.

Kendall quickly took a liking to the hunts, and at the age of 13, she shot her first animal: a White Rhino. From her Facebook:

“Although I had many other opportunities to shoot animals I wanted to save it for the Big 5, so the first animal I ever shot was a White Rhino with a .416 Remington!!”

Kendall poses with her White Rhino. Click to enlarge

The Big 5 Kendall mentions refers to the five African animals coveted most by hunters: the rhino, the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the lion.

Since then, she has checked off the other four, as you can see in the pictures below.

Kendall with a Cape buffalo. Click to enlarge
Kendall, who describes her hunts as “fair chases”, with the near threatened African leopard. Click to enlarge
Kendall poses with a male lion. Click to enlarge
When this photo of Kendall with a large bull elephant sparked outrage, she defended herself by pointing out that the meat helped feed hundreds of families. Click to enlarge

Kendall’s “About” section on her Facebook page says that she’s, “looking to host a tv show in January 2015″ about her hunting adventures through Africa.

Ironically, she has gained the public spotlight because of a recent online petition that has asked Facebook to, “Remove the page of Kendall Jones that promotes animal cruelty!” The petition, posted just over a week ago, has already garnered over 45,000 signatures (its goal is 50,000).

Another petition, posted to the website change.org a few days later, calls her out for using her hunting to expand her social media influence and adavance her entertainment career and asks that she be banned from hunting in Africa completely. It has nearly 3,500 signatures.

Kendall with a white springbok. She captioned this photo: “Another harvest for today. White springbok, it’s 1 of the 4 color shades of this animal! And let me tell you it’s one of my favorite kinds of meat so far!”

In her defense, Kendall argues that her hunting is about conservation. She writes,

“Controlling the male lion population is important within large fenced areas like these… Funds from a hunt like this goes partially to the government for permits but also to the farm owner as an incentive to keep and raise lions on their property.”

So while many may find what she’s doing distasteful, it’s actually not illegal. Big game hunters pay the government’s of African countries for special permits which allow them to hunt the animals.

These permits are often auctioned off, with a large portion of the proceeds supposedly going to help wildlife conservation efforts in the region. I say “supposedly” because anyone who knows Africa knows that a lot of money never gets where it’s supposed to go.

One of the biggest problems with illegal poaching is that many wildlife agents, customs officials, and government leaders are already being paid-off by wealthy and powerful mafia-style poaching rings, so it would be extremely surprising if this corruption doesn’t also exist in the extremely lucrative permit auctions.

Satao, one of the world’s most iconic elephants who was recently poached for his massive tusks. Click this image to read that story

Personally, I think killing any animal (especially one as rare and majestic as the great beasts of Africa) so you can pose with it for social media attention is a pretty selfish thing to do. Sure, certain populations (like feral hogs in Texas, for example) do a lot of damage to the environment and ought to be controlled.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting to document their kills for themselves, but parading the dead bodies of some of our most threatened species doesn’t send a message of conservation and protection, in my opinion.

However, as I said earlier, it’s perfectly legal. And I’m not sure whether people being offended by the pictures is a good enough reason to remove them from Facebook (which is full of offensive content), let alone ban her from Africa.

Let me know what you think by answering the three poll questions below.

Read the original story from the Daily Mail here.

If you’re interested in knowing just how threatened these different animal species are, you can look them up on World Wildlife Federation’s Endangered Species Directory.

The First Ever Chimp Fashion Trend: Sticking Blades of Grass In the Ear

A group of chimps at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust sanctuary in Zambia have a new fashion statement: sticking a blade of grass in one ear.

Chimps are highly intelligent and are known to use grass to fish for termites, but after extensive study, scientists have concluded that there is no discernible purpose for what they’re calling the “grass-in-ear behavior”.

It all started back in 2010 when an older female named Julie started sporting a long blade of grass from her ear. Julie was a sort of role model for the other 11 chimps in her group, and they paid close attention to her strange new behavior.

Julie, the chimp who started the fad. Click to enlarge

After repeatedly observing the behavior for a while, other chimps in the group began to join. Although Julie has since passed away, seven of the 11 chimps from her group still sport blades of grass from their ears today.

Edward van Leeuwen is a primate expert at the Max Planck Institute in the Netherlands who led a study to examine the odd behavior. Him and his colleagues spent a year observing four groups of chimps at the Chimfunshi orphanage.

Despite the fact that all four groups lived in the same grassy environment, only Julie’s group exhibited the “grass-in-ear behavior”. After extensive observation, van Leeuwen concluded that there were no genetic or ecological purposes for the behavior- it had simply become part of the group’s culture.

Other chimps from the group adjusting the blades of grass in their ears. Click to enlarge

“The chimps would pick a piece of grass, sometimes fiddle around with it as to make the piece more to their liking, and not until then try and stick it in their ear with one hand… Most of the time, the chimps let the grass hanging out of their ear during subsequent behavior like grooming and playing, sometimes for quite prolonged times. As you can imagine, this looks pretty funny,”

says van Leeuwen. He also pointed out that the behavior isn’t much different then the fads that emerge amongst humans, comparing it to, “wearing earrings or certain kinds of hats.”

Read the original story from The Dodo here.

Satao, One of The World’s Largest Elephants, Has Been Poached in Kenya

Warning: This article contains graphic images.

Following six weeks of investigation and speculations, the Kenya Wildlife Service confirmed that an elephant found dead in Tsavo East National Park on June 3 was indeed Satao, Kenya’s largest elephant and one of the largest elephants in the world.

Satao the elephant

Satao was one of the last “great tuskers”, large male elephants with tusks weighing 100 or more pounds a piece. Tasvo has one the last known collection of these giants, with only about a dozen left.

Satao next to a younger elephant

Satao’s carcass was discovered by Richard Moller, the executive director of the Tsavo Trust. This non-profit protects Tsavo’s elephants and works to promote conservation and healthy human-animal interaction in Kenya.

“It was the hardest report that I have ever written. I couldn’t see past a wall of tears,”

said Moller, who found Tasao with a poison arrow in his side. The poachers had hacked off his face and tusks, but Moller recognized him by his large frame and his unmarked ears.

Click to enlarge (Courtesy of National Geographic)
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge (Courtesy of Tsavo Trust)

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him.

The iconic elephant is among 97 elephants already poached this year in Kenya. His death comes just weeks before Kenya is set to showcase the country’s conservation efforts at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Governing Assembly on June 24.

In their incident report the Tsavo Trust had this to say:

“For the last 18 months, KWS and TSAVO TRUST jointly monitored Satao’s movements using aerial reconnaissance, and KWS deployed ground personnel in his known home range,” the Tsavo Trust said in an incident report. “But with today’s mounting poaching pressures and anti-poaching resources stretched to the limit, it proved impossible to prevent the poachers getting through the net.

Understaffed and with inadequate resources given the scale of the challenge, KWS ground units have a massive uphill struggle to protect wildlife in this area. … Tsavo is our home, our passion and our life’s work but, as the untimely death of Satao so tragically proves, we cannot win every time.”

Read the original story from Outside Online here.

A New WikiLeaks-Style Website Is Taking Some Huge Bites Out of Wildlife Crime

WildLeaks is a new website using the internet to target and investigate the kingpins of illegal wildlife activities, such as poaching, the illegal trafficking of tropical pets and deforestation, among other things. The website utilizes Tor technology to ensure anonymity.

WildLeaks’s first major revelation was the story of how Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab had been smuggling ivory to fund their operations.

Founder of WildLeaks Andrea Crosta

“We had our first tip within 24 hours and the response has been beyond our wildest imagination,”

says founder Andrea Crosta, who is also the director of the Elephant Action League. Crosta explains that since many of the major wildlife crime operations rely on corrupt law enforcement officials, the site provides whistleblowers a safe avenue to report the crimes:

“You can’t, for example, export containers full of ivory from Mombasa without bribing people left, right and centre… We definitely feel we are filling a gap.”

In the three months it has been operating so far, the site has yielded 24 major tip-offs of wildlife crime, including:

• elephant poaching in Africa and illicit ivory trading in Hong Kong;

• killing of Sumatran tigers, of which there are just 400 left in the wild;

• illegal lion and leopard hunting in South Africa;

• chimpanzee trafficking in Liberia;

• illegal fishing activities in Alaska, including alleged mafia involvement;

• importing of illegal African wildlife products into the US;

• illegal logging in Mexico, Malawi and Siberia

According to Interpol, the illicit wildlife trade makes $10-$20 billion dollars every year. Read the full story from The Guardian here.

The Lion Whisperer Plays Soccer With Some of His Majestic Furry Friends (Video)

Kevin Richardson is a zoologist and conservationist who works with orphaned lions in the southern parts of Africa. Kevin takes in orphaned cubs, raises them to adulthood and then releases them back into national parks and game preserves where they are protected.

Kevin uses the amazing bond he has with these lions to promote awareness of their declining numbers by making mind-blowing videos of him interacting with the animals as if he were one of them.

Most recently he released the video above in conjunction with Van Gils, the official tailor of the Dutch national soccer team, whose mascot is a lion.

If you enjoyed this clip, make sure to check out this video that we posted in January, where Richardson takes a bunch of GoPro cameras with him while visiting his lion companions and a pack of hyenas who he has befriended as well.

Woman Leading Protests Over Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Detained on Orders of President’s Wife

About three weeks ago (on the evening of April 14), the anti-western militant group Boko Haram (whose name literally means Western Education is sinful) stormed an all-girls boarding school in the Chibok region of Nigeria and kidnapped 234 female students.

A few days ago, a video surfaced in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced that he plans to sell off the girls as wives, saying:

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instruction.”

There was also a report last week that some of the girls were being sold as brides to their kidnappers for just $12 a piece.

Although Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon has made speeches assuring that the government will find the girls, it doesn’t seem that much is actually being done, and Nigerians have very little confidence in the government finding the girls.

Last week, Naomi Mutah, a representative of the Chibok community from which the girls were taken, organized a protest outside of the NIgerian capital of Abuja. The protestors criticized the government for not doing enough to find the girls and fight Boko Haram.

Nigerian women protest the government’s lack of action in front of the capital in Abuja (Photo: Reuters)

Earlier today, the BBC reported that Nigeria’s First Lady Patience Jonathon called a meeting for those affected by the tragedy- the Chibok community sent Ms. Mutah to represent them. Following the meeting, Ms. Mutah was taken to a police station and detained.

The first lady is a very powerful political figure in Nigeria and apparently felt slighted that the mothers of the abducted girls had sent Ms. Mutah to the meeting.

President Goodluck Jonathon with his wife First Lady Patience Jonathon (Photo: Vanguard)

Pogo Bitrus, another community leader from Chibok, told the BBC that he had been to the police station where Mutah was reportedly being held, but found no written records of her being there. He said he hoped the first lady would soon, “realize her mistake.”

The AP talked to another community leader, Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, who was at the meetings. She said that the first lady had accused the activists of supporting Boko Haram, and had even accused them of completely fabricating the abductions to give the government a bad name.

Read more from the BBC here.