South Africa

Meet The Black Mambas, A Women-Only Ranger Team Working To Preserve African Wildlife

June 23rd is known as World Female Ranger Day as a means of raising awareness and funding to support the women within the industry who are working hard to preserve the Earth. Only 11% of the world’s global ranger population is made up of women, so the campaign, co-founded by adventurers Holly Budge and Margot Dempsey, works to shed light on the inequalities that exist within the industry. 

The Black Mambas are a women-only team of rangers who work in Africa to preserve the dwindling wildlife population throughout the continent. The group was founded in 2013 when rhino poaching was reaching an unprecedented high in South Africa. 

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The group itself is made up of 36 women all from local tribes who are armed only with pepper spray. They work everyday to patrol the Kruger National Park’s fence lines for unwelcome intruders, as well as checking camera traps and finding snare traps. The group was founded out of this particular national park, which is why they spend a majority of their time there. 

 Nkateko Mzimba joined the team back in 2014 when they began more community outreach efforts as well. Mzimba claimed that the group began connecting with local schools to teach kids about the importance of protecting the Earth and its many inhabitants. 

“We ask our community to change, to protect wildlife for their kids, trying our best to show we love and support them, and we give them food.” 

The Black Mambas have to date reduced bushmeat poaching by 89% and virtually eliminated the use of snare traps. While they themselves are not armed beyond pepper spray, should they come across packers with weapons, they can easily call for armed backup from local authorities. 

“The Black Mambas support me. I am here because of them, and I want to empower them. Women were always undermined. Now, they see the importance of us in the bush. When people offer bribes, we say no – we don’t share information. Some say this is a man’s job, but we’ve proved that we can do this,” Mzimba explained. 

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In Zimbabwe, the first all-female anti-poaching unit was recently established in 2017. Akashinga and the Black Mamba’s amazing efforts in Africa is actually the reason Budge and Dempsey established World Female Ranger Day in the first place. 

“I wanted to bring their stories to the world. Some are AIDS orphans, some come from abusive marriages. Now, they’re breadwinners and their kids go to school. But other women don’t have this success, and World Female Ranger Day will bring their challenges to light.”

“I felt privileged to see their work firsthand. It was like a war zone – the Akashingas all carried AK47s, with wild animals and signs of poachers around us. It made me appreciate how dangerous their work is. They’re not playing rangers. This is real, very real,” Budge explained. 

World Female Ranger Day works to provide an international forum for rangers everywhere to share advice and offer support. 

“We offer grants for improved facilities and equipment, along with annual awards. These rangers are fantastic role models, inspiring and empowering women with a strong message that anything can be overcome with training, self-belief, determination, and resilience,” says Budge.

“On World Female Ranger Day, we’re role models to ladies out there who feel underrated. We need a day to celebrate us. And they need to see us, to be inspired.”

African Union Secures An Additional 270 Million Covid-19 Vaccines 

The African Union has now secured an additional 270 million Covid-19 vaccines to be distributed among the many countries within the continent. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), however, is still not convinced that this will be enough to meet the entire nation’s demand. 

From April to June at least 50 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines will be available according to the AVATT press release published this week. Chair President of the African Union Cyril Ramaphosa recently spoke with the media about the increase in doses that Africa is now set to receive. 

“From the onset of this pandemic our focus as a continent has been on collaboration and collective effort. We have held steadfastly to the principle that no country should be left behind.”

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Ramaphosa also emphasized that “all 270 million vaccine doses will be made available this year with at least 50 million being available for the crucial period of April to June 2021.” The African Union secured these doses along with a vaccine program from COVAX; a World Health Organization and Gavi Vaccine Alliance initiative that specifically works to bring more vaccines to Africa.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, recently spoke with the media to praise Africa for the acquisition of the additional doses and adoption of the program from COVAX, as it shows true initiative and will make a real difference in getting the continent vaccinated as promptly as possible. 

“Covax can only cover 20% of the African population, so it’s wonderful to see the African Union’s efforts to secure a provisional 270 million doses by the end of 2021.”

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President Ramaphosa did caution, however, that while this new initiative is vital for Africa’s recovery, it “may not extend beyond the needs of frontline health care workers, and may this not be enough to contain the ever-increasing toll of the pandemic in Africa.” 

Africa is currently experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 that is currently higher than the peak they hit back in July 2020. The continent currently has an average daily new case count of more than 25,000 for the past 14 days. 

The African Export-Import Bank will be implementing a strategy this month that will provide up to $2 billion in advancements to vaccine manufacturers in the continent. The African Union and World Bank will also be working together to grant member states access to a $5 billion fund specifically for purchasing more vaccines when needed. 

The announcement of these plans couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for Africa, as Ramaphosa reported this week that South Africa is extending their Covid-19 restrictions due to a “massive increase” in Covid-19 cases driven by a new strain of the virus that is thought to be much more transmissible.

Virus Attacking South Africa

South Africa Goes Under Lockdown In Response To Rapid Rise In Coronavirus Cases

Africa is the newest continent to be reporting cases of Covid-19 throughout its many countries. According to Africa’s Centers For Disease Control there are now more than 2,400 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across Africa, which is extremely alarming considering the many parts of the continent that have under-resourced health services. 

The World Health Organization has claimed multiple times that any statistics regarding case numbers should be viewed as a significant underestimation of what the actual number likely is because of how long of an incubation period the coronavirus endures before actually showing any symptoms among its carriers. So far Africa has reported around 60 deaths so far, a third of all of the cases are in South Africa as well. 

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Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s health minister claimed this week that the country has seen over 700 cases of Covid-19, a majority of which appeared over the course of one day. In response, South Africa will be going under a strict 21-day lockdown beginning this week to avoid spreading the virus further. The lockdown practices will mirror that of certain policies in the US and Europe that are also under quarantine. Only essential businesses will remain open and individuals can only leave their home if it is to seek medical attention or buy supplies/groceries. All restaurants, bars, food-outlets, etc. will also be fully closed down, and the repercussions for breaking these strict policies will have severe consequences. 

“Anyone thinking of ignoring the restrictions [could] face six months in prison, a fine or both, two people have already been charged with attempted murder for refusing to obey orders to self-isolate. You buy food and go and cook it at home. You can drink what you have at your home. There is no need to be on the road. There is no need to move around. There will be no dogs that shall be walked. If you want to walk your dog, walk your dog around your yard,” Bheki Cele, South Africa’s police minister, said at a press conference

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Cele also announced new measures to increase policing efforts against gender-based violence towards homeless individuals and prisoners as well during these times where human rights are literally on the line. Throughout South Africa there are millions of younger individuals who are more vulnerable than younger individuals in other parts of the world with more established healthcare facilities, especially due to an influx of individuals dealing with HIV or malnutrition.

Healthcare systems all throughout South Africa have always dealt with a lack of resources and proper funding, hence the strict lockdown policies, as they really don’t have all the supplies they need to cope with a global pandemic. Other measures that have been taken include suspended flights and overall travel restrictions to/from Europe and the US especially. 

Rwanda and Kenya have also imposed lock down efforts and curfews, and the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, announced that along with other Kenyan government officials, he would be foregoing a majority of his salary to contribute towards a financial package for their country. Ethiopia will be releasing more than 4,000 prisoners to de-congest their jails to deal with the outbreak as well.

Health officials across Africa are aware how severely unprepared they are for this virus, especially considering they could barely care for the extensive number of regular patients they have throughout a given year. South African authorities are working to protect overcrowded neighborhoods and strictly upkeep social distancing and quarantine policies, however, certain remote villages make this impossible. International services and charity organizations are scrambling to help, but it can be hard when the entire world is dealing with the same issue. For more ways on how you can potentially help, visit the World Health Organization’s website

King Air 200

South African Pilot, Refilwe Ledwaba, Is Looking To Change The Face Of Aviation

“This is my favorite aircraft. It’s called a King Air 200. I’ve got approximately 100 hours of flying on this aircraft. I absolutely love it, it just performs,” Refilwe Ledwaba said as she stood next to the hanger of the King Air 200 at the Wonderboom Airport in South Africa.   

Ledwaba has made a major impact in South Africa through her advocacy for women’s rights, especially for their right to start careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as piloting. Ledwaba herself is both a helicopter and a fixed-wing pilot as well as a flight instructor for all prospective pilots in South Africa. 

Her other accomplishments include being a goalkeeper for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which basically means Ledwaba could choose a specific group/charity to advocate and raise awareness for. For Ledwaba, that has become the Girls Fly Program in Africa. She also was the first black woman to be a police service pilot in South Africa.

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“For a long time, I was the only black female that was holding the highest license for helicopters, but being the first for me is not important. The important thing is the 20th person, the 30th person, then we can start talking,” she said.

Ledwaba’s philosophy here couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. Reports claim that less than 10% of the world’s pilots, aviation maintenance technicians and airline executives are women, Ledwaba is ready to multiply that number five times over and she’s starting in Africa. As previously stated Ledwaba is involved with the Girls Fly Program in Africa (GFPA), but she’s not involved in the traditional sense of the word, she actually runs the entire foundation. 

GFPA’s main goal is to introduce girls in elementary, middle, and high school to STEM subjects; science, technology, engineering, and math. When Ledwaba was a child, she was raised by just her mother, who also had to raise six other kids. Her mother always instilled a hard work ethic in Ledwaba, and made it clear to her from a young age that the possibilities are limitless when it comes to what she wants to do with her life. 

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Initially, Ledwaba claimed her mother inspired her to work hard to become a doctor, however, when she was in school she got a job as a flight attendant to help pay for her education. From that moment on she was fascinated by all things aviation, so much so that she began taking private flying lessons, which has led to her career today.

As the world develops and continues to industrialize, more careers are going to require a degree in STEM, so Ledwaba’s goal is to introduce these subjects to girls at a young age to spark an interest early on. More often than not, girls are steered away from focusing on STEM subjects in terms of specialized studies, and Ledwaba is gearing up to change that. 

“I’m working to diversify the face of women in the aviation industry by being accessible, being available, and being visible. I want a future where a small child can just wake up like, ‘I’m going to do that one day,’ and not have doubts.” 

She’s already held multiple aviation/space camp programs through GFPA in South Africa, Cameroon, and Kenya. Ledwaba also emphasizes on the GFPA website that while their focus is on empowering young girls, they also reach out to young boys as well to join their school outreach programs and camps. While the main goal is equality amongst the sexes in STEM careers, Ledwaba is just as invested in young people of all demographics gaining an equal opportunity to succeed if they want it. So far, the GFPA and Ledwaba’s work has helped over 100,000 young girls and boys through their multiple STEM programs.


East Africa Coping With Famine Threat Thanks To Locust Infestation

East Africa has been enduring one of the largest infestations of locusts that the continent has ever seen. The swarms recently made it to the countries of Uganda and Tanzania, which is posing a major threat for the people living in those regions. Africa has already been trying to get this year’s extreme locust season under control, as it’s posing a major hunger threat for the millions of people living throughout the eastern part of the continent. Now, with both Uganda and Tanzania under that same threat, a new sense of urgency is sweeping Africa. 

Tanzania has been detecting, and anticipating, that the locusts would migrate to their neck of the woods eventually, so in preparation government officials from the country hired three planes to spray pesticide throughout the region; pesticides have been the most effective means of combating the locust issue in the past for other residential areas of Africa. Uganda has also begun implementing similar measures throughout the areas of their country where locusts are beginning to overpopulate. Both countries have also mobilized thousands of troops to help as well. 

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“We are using motorized sprayers, a drone and manual sprayers. They [locusts] are spreading like wildfire, so they are a real, major threat. The outbreak in east Africa is the most serious in decades and has already devastated crops across a swath of Kenya and Somalia,” Stephen Byantwale, the commissioner for crop protection at the ministry of agriculture, said.

As Byantwale stated, this outbreak is the worst Africa has seen in a long time, and like most natural disasters that have grown exponentially in intensity throughout the past decade, the reason is climate change. For this locust outbreak specifically, experts believe that the swarms are due to climate conditions created by a large cyclone that hit Somalia in December 2019. The cyclone would have brought on extremely heavy rains in an otherwise arid desert environment, creating the perfect breeding environment for the locusts. 

This is a problem because swarms of locusts are massive in size; this year one swarm in Kenya was 30 miles long by 25 miles wide. Experts state that even a small swarm of locusts can eat enough food to feed over 35,000 people in a day. A lot of the territories that the insects are travelling to are also occupied by certain extremist groups, making it near impossible to spray large blocks of land with pesticides via aircraft. Because of this, and the fact that meteorologists are predicting even more rainfall for east Africa within the next few weeks, scientists are worried that the locust swarms could multiply up to 500 times if not properly taken care of. 

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Scientists are also concerned with South Sudan and their recovery from the ongoing infestation, as Sudan in general is already facing a major hunger problem. A single swarm of locusts can contain up to 150 million individual insects per square mile of farmland. This is a major issue especially for South Sudan where over 20 million people were already facing the threat of famine. 

These “plagues” of locust aren’t uncommon in Africa, however, how frequent and long the periods of infestations are lasting, is. In east Africa specifically, there have only been six major locust plagues since the 20th century. The most recent being in 2003 and 2005; and again, the cause is due to an increase in natural disaster and climate conditions that allow for locust breeding to occur.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.


Study Finds 22 Men Own More Wealth than All Women in Africa

One of the major topics of political concern both in the United States and around the world is the problem of economic inequality, which continues to increase by the day. Oxfam International, a charity that focuses on alleviating global poverty, has released a study that found that economic inequality has become so severe that the world’s richest 22 men own more wealth than all 326 million women who live in Africa. According to Oxfam, much of the world’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few billionaires, whose fortunes contribute little to society even as women and people of color are excluded from the economy because of biased economic systems. To address the problem, Oxfam has called on governments around the world to institute policies that ease the financial burden on women who care for children and the eldery, often without pay. Oxfam recommends that governments increase taxes on the wealthy in order to fund programs to support child care and health care.

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The report included a number of surprising statistics that highlight just how bad economic inequality has become. For example, it found that the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people; that the world’s richest 1% have over twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people; that the value of unpaid care work by women is $10.8 trillion annually; and that the number of billionaires in the world has doubled over the past decade. The report links economic inequality with gender inequality, arguing that economic policies that have been instituted around the world are biased towards men, allowing them to dominate in business in government. As a potential remedy to this problem, Oxfam recommends that governments recognize the unpaid yet essential care work performed predominantly by women by expanding the public sector’s role in providing care to children, the elderly, and others who cannot care for themselves. As populations age and governments around the world cut access to public services, this problem is expected to worsen with time.

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Oxfam believes that the influence of the super-rich on governments is too great, as the wealthy have the power to influence governments to enact policies that benefit themselves at the expense of the world’s poor, which disproportionately affects women and people of color. There is much disagreement around the world as to whether or not the existence of billionaires is good for society. Some argue that the fact that billionaires exist is evidence of the success of the capitalist system that has raised millions of people out of poverty, whereas others say that increasing taxes on the super-wealthy would lead to a more fair, just, and equal world where fewer people suffer unnecessarily. According to Oxfam, the capitalist system is broken because of the massive and growing economic inequality it generates and how it allows wealth to essentially be taken from the poor and given to the rich.

Terrorism Tape

American Citizen Named As One Of The Most Wanted Terrorists In The World

The name Jehad Serwan Mostafa may not be a name most Americans know – however, he has been named the “most wanted American terrorist in the world.”

In a recent statement, US Attorney Robert Brewer confirmed:

“Mostafa is believed to be the highest-ranking United States citizen fighting overseas for a terrorist organization. Al-Shabab’s reign of terror threatens U.S. national security, our international allies, and innocent civilians.”

Although Mostafa has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terror list for many years, an unsealed federal indictment has shown that he has recently been charged with extra crimes that relate to his alleged connections with Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab in East Africa.

After fleeing the United States in 2005, Mostafa was first indicted just five years later in 2010, however, this latest indictment also covers his previous charges and claims that during the period of March 2008 and around February 2017 Mostafa “conspired to provide material support, including himself as personnel to terrorists.”

The FBI has also stated that Mostafa has become a leader in Al-Shabab’s “explosives department,” undertaking vital positions throughout the soldier training and media sections of the group.

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It is thought Wisconsin-born Mostafa – also known as “Ahmed,” “Abu Anwar al-Muhajir,” “Ahmed Gurey,” and “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir” – has been working on the improvement of the effectiveness of all IODs (improvised explosive devices) specifically created to attack US military bases and interests, according to government officials.

However sources have informed Fox News that Mostafa’s involvement is more sinister with an anonymous African intelligence official claiming:

“Currently, Jehad is in Somalia, and he is very close to the decision-making circles of Al-Shabab, especially their intelligence wing called ‘AMNIYAT’ and also an explosive brigade which is controlled by the powerful Al-Shabab leader, Mahad Warsame Qaley. Jehad is protected by Al-Shabab hardliners who are mainly connected to Al Qaeda. He directly gives advice to Al-Shabab’s leadership on issues related to strategies, international relations, smuggling explosive material and importation, media production, and its audience targeting.”

It is believed that 38 year old Mostafa has 16 children with his three wives, all of whom are receiving protection from Al-Shabab’s General Security, who are “in charge of overseas Counter-Intelligence and the presence of foreign fighters” in the group.

The source continued:

“The Middle Jubba region, which is under full control of Al-Shabab, is where intelligence agencies believe is his hideout. He is one of the most trusted foreign fighters within Al-Shabab, and gets more protection (than others) from the group.”

However the Mostafa that is around today is a surprise to those who knew him growing up, with many remembering him as sweet and subdued.

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Although born in Wisconsin, Mostafa was brought up in the Serra Mesa region of San Diego, California before heading to Mesa Community College. In 2005 he graduated with an economics degree from the University of California however it is alleged that he descended into the world of jihad only a few short months later at the age of 23. Heading to Yemen in 2005 it is thought he developed friendships with Muslims from other Western countries before heading to Somalia at the invitation of Al-Shabab.

While the terrorist group was establishing their hold in the war-torn country, Mostafa allegedly became affiliated within the group before they ordered future foreign fighters not to come due to the many arrests that were being carried out, with many trying to defeat the Somalian government finding themselves under arrest.

It is not just those that watched Mostafa grow up that have expressed their surprise at his radicalization. He often prayed at the Islamic Center of San Diego in Kearny Mesa and Imam Taha Hassane expressed his surprise at Mostafa’s extremist views in 2016:

“Jehad was often hanging around with the other young people. He used to play a lot of basketball outside. I was absolutely shocked to see his picture on the news connected to terrorism.”

Although his family have never responded to requests for comments – his father Halim Mostafa Gabori passed away from a heart issue in 2018 while his mother Sumaiyah is a school teacher, and he has an older brother who works as a software engineer – a family friend reported that the family were “deeply disappointed” and the family rarely mentions him any more.

One of the most deadly organizations in the world, Al-Shabab – Arabic for “The Youth” – became an insurgent faction based on their harsh interpretation of Islam in the late 1990s although they did not join Al Qaeda until 2012. The group peaked between 2009 and 2011 when they were in control of the majority of southern and central Somalia and although they were removed from the capital in 2011 they moved towards a “more covert form of guerrilla warfare.”

Will Hartley, a terrorism and security consultant, observes that the “concern that Al-Shabab was re-establishing itself prompted a renewed US focus on the group in the latter years of the Obama administration, and that has continued under Trump.”


Jane Goodall: Discovering the Hidden Complexity of Primate Life

Too few of us know the story of Goodall’s journey from a child in London to world-renowned primatologist, and many of us are not aware of her ongoing contributions to environmentalism and conservation to this day.

Solar Panel

Africa’s First Solar Powered Village To Be Used As A Blueprint For Renewable Cities

Id Mjahdi is a small community located near Morocco’s Atlantic coast. What was previously thought of as just a small town in a sunny place is now making headlines as Africa’s first fully solar powered village. As of this month, the entire village became completely dependent on solar energy as its power source. Not one city in the entire continent of Africa has ever taken advantage of solar technology to this degree before. 

Currently, less than 1% of the solar power being used globally today comes from Africa. Even more astounding, Africa has the highest potential to use solar power exclusively as a power source, due to its positioning in relation to the equator and sun exposure. However, the continent overall lacks the ability to support all the infrastructure that goes into using solar power, but Id Mjahdi is changing that. 

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Morocco in general gets 35% of its electricity and power from renewable energy sources, and by 2030 that percentage will increase to 50%, according to IRENA. The country also is already known for housing the world’s largest solar powered farm, the Noor-Ouarzazate complex. Id Mjahdi is now further contributing to Morocco’s renewable energy use and is being used as the “blueprint” for other villages in the continent that can use solar power over standard electricity. 

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Cleanergy is the solar power company that was behind powering the entire village. The company had a goal of creating a sustainable model for bringing complete solar power to remote and underdeveloped communities. When they created the plan, they looked for a village in which electricity could greatly improve the community members ways of life without completely industrializing the village. When they came upon Id Mjahdi, they knew it would be the perfect place to implement the first version of their solar power model; before the solar panels were installed, villagers would use candle light to work, and tree bark for heat and cooking purposes. They didn’t even have a close clean water source. 

“The first step in the $188,000 project was to build a water tower for the community. The next stage was to install a power station with 32 solar photovoltaic panels, which generate 8.32 kilowatts of electricity for distribution via a mini-grid. The power station is connected to around 20 homes in the village, serving more than 50 people,” according to Mohamed Lasry, Cleanergy’s founder. 

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In addition, Lasry stated that each home was provided with a fridge, a water heater, television, oven, and outlets for charging. The network of solar panels throughout the village have a battery that can give up to five hours of electricity post-daylight hours (once the sun goes down). Now, the village is truly thriving. Previously, girls had to miss school to stay home and travel far to get clean water for their families, now, with the help of Cleanergy, they have the resources to give women and children a proper education. Cleanergy also helped the village create workshops for valuable life skills such as learning to read and write, train for scholarships, and learn traditional values. 

Lasry states that the model that was used for Id Mjahdi can be replicated and used for villages of 100 to 1,000 people. Currently there are 800 other Moroccan villages that are without electricity, and the World Bank estimates that worldwide over 840 million people don’t have access to electricity. However, the World Bank also estimates that using the mini-grid renewable energy systems, such as the one Cleanergy created, could give electricity to 500 million of those 840 million individuals by 2030. 

“Our plan is to show [Id Mjahdi] as an example. People change — they have more time, they can have money, they can go to the market, they can buy what they need. For deprived communities seeking economic stability that won’t hurt the environment, this solar village shines bright,” says Lasry.


Conservationists Find New Ways To Prevent Kenya’s ‘Devil’s Cactus’ From Spreading

Opuntia is the official name for the species of cacti that is now taking over parts of Africa. More commonly known as “prickly pear,” this cactus was originally introduced to Kenya, Africa in the 1940s by British colonists who brought the plant to the country as a means of creating “natural fences” around different properties to prevent wildlife from invading those spaces and eating any agriculture. Within the past few years, however, the plant has been spreading at a rapid rate, and is growing in areas where wildlife, such as elephants and baboons, find their food typically. This means that these animals are now eating the prickly pear plant, and the sharp spikes covering the entire surface of it. This can be extremely dangerous, as these spikes are known to lodge themselves in animals’ mouths, stomach linings, and other intestines when they’re digested. This can cause painful abscesses and internal injuries, and also indirectly further spreads the cactus’s seeds, thus contributing to its rapid growth.  

The problem has become so prominent in Kenya’s farming culture that farmers are calling the pear plant the “devils cactus” which has now invaded over 100 square miles in just one Kenyan county alone! This issue isn’t just detrimental to wildlife populations in the area, but the overgrowth of pest plants such as this cause the Earth’s natural nutrients to be sucked out of the surface, leading to the death of other plant species that farmers purposefully plant as well as other food sources that are actually beneficial to wildlife species. 

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According to the Center for Agriculture and Bio-science International (CABI), 70% of Kenya’s natural agriculture would be lost to invasive species such as the devil’s cactus if it weren’t for outsourced plant management. This plant in particular is extremely hard to control, as when it’s uprooted and removed, if any part of the plant is left behind, no matter how small, it can take root and continue to grow if left unattended. 

“It’s got these horrible spines which make control of it exceptionally difficult. If you are removing the plant and you might drop a flower or a fruit, they will start growing. The cactus is further spread by birds and animals, such as elephants and baboons, who eat the fruit and disperse the seeds. Where the cactus is dense, it can prevent people’s access to their homes and livestock’s access to food,” said Arne Witt, CABI’s Regional Coordinator in Kenya.

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Studies have shown that this overgrowth is causing a major economic decline for the country. So scientists, researchers for CABI, and farmers alike are trying any and all new technology to better manage this infestation. So far, CABI has emphasized the use of bio-control to control the spreading. Bio-control involves bringing certain species of insects to the area that feed on the cactus. The insects are a great option because they kill the plant in its entirety without further spreading its seeds. 

In the early 20th century, Australia experienced its own prickly pear epidemic, and they used bio-control/bugs to control and minimize the problem, and they did so successfully. In addition to using insects as a natural means of management, conservationists are also finding ways of repurposing the plant to use for their own advantage. 

“Part of the mechanical removal is we are installing a biodigester that will create bio-gas. The bio-gas will be used to cook food in a kitchen for the conservancy’s anti-poaching patrols. That will consume up to 600 kilos of Opuntia plant a day and cook for between 20 and 30 men every day,” said Tom Silvester, CEO of Loisaba Conservancy, a wildlife conservancy and ranch located in Northern Laikipia.

So in addition to fully destroying the plant, conservatories are using bio-digestores to convert it into something useful for themselves, which only further helps their conservation efforts by ridding the land of this plant that’s killing a majority of Kenya’s wildlife.