Conservation, hunting and, strangely, Dr. Walter Palmer

Believe it or not, I decided on Monday that my next post would be about hunting. John and I are back in Kenya for three weeks and we spent the weekend outside of Tsavo East National Park, home to many of Kenya’s last “big tuskers;” elephants whose tusks each weigh over 100 lbs. It is also home to the Wata people, a culture intimately intertwined with elephants. More than any other Kenyan culture, the Wata rely on elephants for their sustenance, their status, their incomes, their rituals and their sense of history. Wata are elephant hunters. They are poachers.

Big tuskers outside of Tsavo East National Park

Big tuskers outside of Tsavo East National Park


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Conservation is a Global Economic Challenge

This is the text of a talk I gave for The Nature Conservancy earlier this week. Just a warning; it is longer than the average blog post. It seemed appropriate as a kind of wrap up. It takes you from the start to the finish. Happy reading.

John, me and the BeadWORK's team at Sori's wedding, July 7, 2015.

John, me and the BeadWORK’s team at Sori’s wedding, July 7, 2015.


John, and I have just returned from two years working with The Northern Rangelands Trust, in Kenya. We’ve been back in the United States for about a month. I have to admit I still feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle and I’m struggling to catch up. In many ways the cultural shock coming home is much worse than it was going.
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Daraja Academy Update

Daraja and NRT need your help!

We have reached pledges totaling $20,450 out of the $60,000 that we need to raise. That is a good start, 34%, but it is time to do more. Is there anyone out there that intended to pledge but had it slip their mind? If so, now is the time. Anyone who thought about it but hadn’t made up their mind? Now is the time. Anyone who thought that others would give enough? Now is the time. Anyone who has already pledged but on second thought wants to be even more generous? Now is the time. Step up and help us reach our goal.

We are raising money to support Daraja Academy build a new set of classrooms so they can double the number of girls of poverty they are training to be leaders in their communities. In exchange they will promise a specific number of seats for young women of poverty from NRT conservancies. A huge win-win for both Daraja and NRT girls.

We can do this with your help. Every $100, $500, $1,000, or more will be going to a great cause.

Remember, for now, just send me a pledge at jknapp@usinternet.com. I’ll contact you when and how to actualize the tax deductible donation.

Thanks in advance.

John Knapp

How to Move a Rhino

1. Read it “Flowers for Algernon“, a short story written in 1958 by Daniel Keyes.

2. Drive your car closer and closer. The rhinos will then vacate the ford with a couple of feints towards the car, which, of course produces a few squeaks from the passenger sitting on the side of the car closest to the rhinos.
Rhino in road
3. Gather about 50 people, including vets, sharpshooters, game wardens, security officers, drivers, pilots, scientists and spectators, a helicopter, multiple trucks and cars and a couple of heavy duty Volvo FL12 off-road trucks with built-in hydraulic lift arms. Then dart the rhino to knock it out, implant a transponder into its horn, manhandle the rhino around that so when it wakes up it dashes into a crate designed for holding rhinos, lift all 3,000 lbs of rhino aboard the truck and drive it to the Sera Rhino Sanctuary. All the while, have the services of two vets to make sure the rhino isn’t harmed in the process.

Let’s look at #3 in more detail.
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Twenty Years in the Making

John Pameri, Lewa head of Security

John Pameri, Lewa head of Security

On Monday, Anne, Sara Bonino, and I were watching a black Rhino being captured, loaded on a truck and shipped to the Sera Rhino Sanctuary. John Pameri, Lewa’s head of security told me that it was a dream twenty years in the making.

A Black Rhino on Lewa.

A Black Rhino on Lewa.

Kenya has about 640 black Rhinos. A week ago Lewa protected 73 of them but that will soon be down to 63. Ten, along with four from Lake Nakuru National Park and six from Nairobi National Park are being trans located to the Sera Conservancy Trust about 50 kilometers north of Lewa. This is a historic moment for Kenyan wildlife. In the 45 years since 1970 the 20,000 Kenyan Black Rhino population had been reduced to about 400 in the late 1990’s. The number has grown to around 640 Rhino living in private sanctuaries and National Parks. This is the first time that the Rhinos are being re-located to their traditional grounds to be protected from poaching by the local pastoralist community. The 20 rhinos will be fenced in an area of about 25,000 acres within the Sera Conservancy Trust.

Ian Craig inspecting a poached Rhino

Ian Craig inspecting a poached Rhino

Ian Craig, one of the founders of the Lewa conservancy and of the Northern Rangelands Trust is a principal driver of the Sera Rhino Conservancy. One of his dreams was to motivate and empower the local communities so that they would have both the desire and ability to protect local wildlife. The Sera Rhino Conservancy is an embodiment of that dream. Registered in 2001 under the umbrella of NRT, Sera Conservancy Trust has been an active member of NRT taking part in women’s beading, livestock to market, rangelands management and good governance. They have come to realize that hosting the Rhino sanctuary benefits them in many ways. The local community got jobs as the sanctuary was built and they will see more in providing security and management for the Rhinos. In addition the Rhinos will provide a tourist draw leading to future economic development. Hopefully, they also realize that as Rhinos are part of their heritage and natural environment, the Rhinos have an intrinsic value as well.

Scholarships for 150 Girls: You can Help.

Okay, this is a bit complicated. I would like to get pledges for donations for a school here in Kenya that would be a great benefit to students from NRT schools. $125 can secure a spot in a high quality school for a poor girl for a year. $500 can ensure her secondary education. Random-control test based research shows that education is the most effective way to raise individuals and whole families out of poverty. In developing countries, every year of education makes a real difference to income.

Let me tell you about the school first.

Daraja Academy is a girl’s secondary boarding school that specializes in preparing women to be leaders. They focus their recruiting on Kenyan girls who perform well in primary school who are extremely poor yet demonstrate leadership potential. It is located in Northern Kenya between Nanyuki and Doldol, just outside our Naibunga Conservancy.

They have an excellent reputation. I believe that 82% of their 2014 graduates qualified for university and 100% are doing some sort of post-secondary education. That puts them among the best secondary schools in Kenya. The only cost to the girls’ families is for transportation fees (about $50 per year). All other necessities, medical care, uniforms, education fees, and school materials are provided. I met several of the teachers and their dedication and ability are impressive.

Could one of these girls in Biliqo Bulesa Primary go to Daraja Academy?

Could one of these girls in Biliqo Bulesa Primary go to Daraja Academy?

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A Butterfly in the Palm of Your Hand

I could tell Sori was getting restless. Sori is the field manager for NRT Trading’s BeadWORKS business. She’d been sitting on an unyielding wooden bench for nearly three hours surrounded by 21 somber Samburu women dressed in their best go-to-meeting finery; layers of colorful, flowing kanga and head-to-toe beads. Sori, in her modest, black, floor-length Muslim dress and bright orange head scarf, was a gold crested raven among butterflies.

The 21 women were an unofficial delegation from the Kalama Conservancy. They’d arrived unannounced slightly after 11 am and asked to talk to the NRT leaders. For some of them, Lewa was the farthest they had ever been from home. The women were nervous. They wanted to discuss Kalama’s recent suspension from NRT and its impact on their ability to earn a living. Kalama’s problems were not their fault, they insisted. They were just women who wanted to use their hands to make beautiful things to earn money to send their children to school and to pay for food. They should not be punished for the wrong doings and corruption of 5 male members of the Kalama Board.

The Kalama delegation

The Kalama delegation


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Sounds in the night

We are worried about Bill. A buffalo was killed on the hill in front of Anna’s house, our guest house, last night. We can’t go down there to investigate because buffalo take several days for predators to consume. There are likely lions nearby sleeping off their meal in the tall grass under a tree, passing time until they return for second helpings.

Bill.  If he is gone, we will miss him.

Bill. If he is gone, we will miss him.


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Not in Africa

Norma Jeanne Dougherty, nee Norma Jeanne Baker, later to become Marilyn Monroe, lived there for several years.

It was there that Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplain, and Bing Crosby were all members of the Tuna Cub. The oldest fishing club in the USA.

The Chicago Cubs held spring training there for 30 years.

Zane Grey built a house and lived there.

Ronald Reagan, then an announcer for the Cubs, went to spring training there one year and took some time off to audition in nearby Los Angeles. The rest is history.

Natalie Woods drowned there while vacationing with her husband, Robert Wagoner, and friend, Christopher Walken.

In January, John and Anne Knapp vacationed there and took a twelve mile walk from the airfield back to Avalon.

We approach the island.

We approach the island.


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My Father’s Office

Not long ago, my brother Alan and I went to my father’s office at UCLA to decide if a Danish sofa that had been there since 1970 was worth saving and to see how much stuff still needed to be cleared out. After 60 years UCLA finally wanted the office back and Dad, who has late-stage Parkinson’s disease, isn’t using it any more. The office was pretty empty. UCLA Archives had hung notes on a shelf and a drawer saying their review was complete. Whatever remained could be tossed. The bottom shelf of one bookcase was packed with decaying binders of Dad’s lecture notes and class material. Other shelves held stacks of manuscript reprints and folders full of mathematical musings. My father’s distinctive writing – confident, slightly slanted script and equations written in bold, black fountain pen – was evident everywhere.

The blackboard in my father's office.

The blackboard in my father’s office.


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