Category Archives: Wildlife

Animals at Nakuru National Park, Kenya


Thanks to the generosity of friends, I had an amazing opportunity to drive up to Nakuru National Park from Nairobi for a few hours, circumnavigating the lake and seeing some wonderful wildlife. I hope that the pictures below capture something of the beauty of the place.  It was interesting to see, in particular, how the lake has increased in size in recent years, leading to many acacia trees being flooded and consequently dying.  The decrease in alkalinity of the lake has also been blamed for a reduction in the number of flamingoes, and so we were especially fortunate to see them, as well as a group of lionesses!

The park has been hit heavily by tourist concerns over potential terrorist activity, as have all of Kenya’s tourist destinations.  This is so sad for the Kenyan economy, and all those people who earn a living from tourism.  However, it did mean that there were very few people there, and so we were able to get some excellent views of the wildlife.

Thanks Juma, Peter, Mika and Robert for a great – albeit tiring – day!  Peter – you were a fantastic driver – thanks so much for being behind the wheel for so long!

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Trinidad’s bird life


I had been to the Asa Wright Centre, high in the Arima valley in Trinidad’s Northern Range, briefly once before in 2011.  It was therefore great to be able to spend some time there yesterday once again, absorbing the atmosphere, and seeing some of the richness of the island’s bird life.  I hope that the pictures below capture some of their beauty, although the tiny humming birds, flitting from one flower to another, are so difficult to capture with a hand-held camera!  If ever you are in Trinidad, this is definitely a place to visit!

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Imagery of Samoa


Over the last few days participating at the UN Small Island Developing States conference in Samoa, I usually left my hotel before the sun was properly up, and have returned after dark. Having come all this way to the Pacific, I could not resist the temptation to go and explore something of the countryside this morning, and so decided to set off for a couple of hours walking along the south coast near the Sinelei Reef Resort. Below are some of the images I took to try to capture the experience.

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I have a kaleidoscope of reflections about Samoa and its people! They keep asking me what I think about my all-too-short time here, and so I also want to share some thoughts here.

It is amazing how much effort the government and people put into convening the conference. This is visible everywhere, from the bunting and painted coconuts along the roadsides in the villages, to the tremendous effort that has gone in to arranging transport for the delegates. This shows the enormous warmth and generosity of the Samoans.

I really appreciated learning from the government officials who accompanied delegates in the mini-buses and shuttles that took us to and from our accommodation. They went out of their way to be helpful and to provide deep insights into island life. Much of what follows reflects their voices. I have to say, though, that not all delegates treated them with the courtesy that I think they deserved!

Samoa seems to be a very gentle and peaceful island, and it has had remarkable political stability over recent years. In part, people say, this is down to culture, and especially the role of Christianity. I don’t think I have ever been somewhere where there are so many churches, often several of different denominations in a single village!

One of the most striking things is the open-sided houses that are to be seen everywhere in rural areas. At night, as I was regularly driven across the island, people were very visible just relaxing in their houses, many of which had bright white mosquito nets showing up very brightly in the electric light.

As for agriculture, the dominant crops were definitely coconuts, bananas and taro, which could be seen everywhere in the lower lying areas of the island. However, I was surprised to see so many cattle grazing, and somehow had not expected the very considerable number of horses that were to be seen! These were the main form of transport before cars were introduced, and many still remain, both as beasts of burden but also for riding for riding and racing.

The island, though, has very clear vegetation zones, and as one ascends the hilly centre, and then falls down to Apia in the north, these are very obvious, with the bananas and coconuts being replaced by a wide range of forest trees. It is also reflected in the weather. One night, there was torrential rain where I was staying, but it had been perfectly dry in the capital, Apia.

The coast itself is amazing, lined with coconuts and with beautiful beaches, stretching away for miles. My photos do not really do this justice! For those who want to get away from everything, and just relax, this would be an ideal place to do so. I can also thoroughly recommend my hotel, the Sinalei Reef Resort! It has a rustic, eco-friendly atmosphere, so very different from the modern luxury resorts to be found across many other Pacific islands. The staff were wonderfully friendly, and were always there to offer advice in the gentle Samoan way.

Samoa also seems to be much less influenced by US culture and style, when compared with other islands such as Fiji. This was wonderfully refreshing! However, other external influences are increasingly obvious, not least the Chinese, who helped to develop the impressive new hospital in Apia, are running many of the shops and small supermarkets, and are also constructing a new building complex in one of the villages through which I walked – apparently, I was told, a school.

I confess I did not know that Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped was buried on the hill overlooking Apia. Next time I visit, I will have to take the long walk to the top to understood why this was his chosen spot!

My one sadness was that almost every child I met on my walk said to me at some point “Give me money”. This was not an aggressive begging, but it made me think back to the wise advice I was given by my dear friend Sudhir on my first visit to India. What, I think, saddened me most about this was the sense of dependency that was being created. The resonating “Give me money” came so often as I walked past buildings funded by donors such as UNDP and the EU, and it made me realise that all too often such aid, alongside the practice of many tourists who not doubt do give them money, is in some ways demeaning and creating even amongst the youngest islanders a dependent relationship that has to be damaging to their culture. I wanted to say to the children, “Give me your wisdom”, or “Let me learn from you”, but I did not have the linguistic skills to say this.

Overall, I am so grateful for the warmth, gentleness and genuine hospitality of all those Samoans who I met. I have tried to capture my fresh memories here, as a small gift to them, and to encourage others to journey across the oceans to experience something of the peace and beauty of the island. Tread gently, though, so that our presence may enhance rather than damage this wonderful island.

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Valuing the impact of wind turbines on rural landscapes: Conca de Barberà


I have been lucky enough to spend a few days walking in the Conca de Barberà county, or comarca, in Catalunya, and was very surprised – and indeed saddened – to see the visual impact of large numbers of wind turbines almost wherever one looked.  The selection of images below gives an indication of the scale of the issue:

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Whilst it was a cloudy day, and the images do not do full justice to the visual impact, especially around the small village of Flores, these pictures do convey something of the dramatic change they have made to the landscape.  Moreover, standing next to them one can also most definitely appreciate the noise impact they have – no longer are these hilltops a place of silent reflection, tempered only by the song of birds and the occasional dog barking in the villages nearby!

This raises very real questions about how landscapes are valued, and the politics of energy.  There have been many attempts to place a ‘value’ on landscape change, but these have mostly focused on somehow trying to calculate an economic cost of the change, often in terms of the loss of income.  Thus, if an area has previously gained an income from tourism, and the landscape change means that this is reduced, then it is clearly possible to estimate such a loss.  Other measures draw on the amount that people would actually pay not to have a change imposed on a landscape.  However, it is actually extremely difficult to place any kind of economic value on the emotional impact of a landscape change.  This area of Catalunya is at the heart of the Ruta del Cister, the triangle of Cistercian monasteries that were built there from the 12th century onwards.  The impact of the wind turbines has completely transformed the peace and tranquility of the landscapes, in a way that no simple economic measure can ever grasp.  Although some people might  think that these human feats of engineering have an attraction of their own, representing progress that no medieval Cistercian nun or monk could ever imagine, I find the juxtaposition of these two cultures concerning and depressing.

Reflecting on this dramatic transformation, I started to think further about the two kinds of power that this transformation represents.  On the one hand, the wind turbines represent the physical power of a new means of producing electricity.  However, each turbine actually only produces relatively little power. Estimates vary hugely, but as a general figure it is often argued that one turbine can produce enough energy for around 500 households a year – depending on the efficiency at which they function.  All the turbines in the images above therefore produce really rather little electricity, but at a very significant change to the landscape.  This transaction reflects a second kind of power, political power, since it illustrates yet another way through which a largely urban population exploits rural areas for their own interests.  This despoliation of the landscape is nothing other than a means through which the urban bourgeoisie seeks to maintain its ever increasing patterns of consumption.

Surely it would be much ‘fairer’ for the environmental cost to be paid by those living in urban areas, by for example constructing new styles of energy efficient housing and taxing air conditioners, rather than destroying the rural landscapes that they rarely visit, either physically or in their imaginations!

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Wildlife in Costa Rica


Staying with friends in Costa Rica provided a wonderful opportunity to spend  Sunday exploring something of the landscapes and wildlife of the country.  The photos below, mainly from the Carara National Park on the Pacific coast, provide an interesting comparison with those that I took recently in the tropical rain forests of southern Sri Lanka.  At least we avoided the leeches this time!

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Wildlife at Yala, Sri Lanka


A short holiday in Sri Lanka has enabled us to visit the wonderful Yala Nature Reserve covering some 98,000 hectares in the south-east corner of the country.  A seven hour drive from Colombo on Saturday has meant that we can spend a relaxed Sunday exploring the Park, and chilling out by the sea!  Yala is renowned for its elephants, leopards, deer, wild boar, buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, jackals, sloth bears and some 135 species of birds.  Setting off at six this morning, we saw most of these – apart from the sloth bear!  We were amazingly fortunate to see a leopard keeping a watchful eye on a group of deer drinking from a pond, just too far away for it to pounce on them!

The photos below show just some of the rich diversity of wildlife to be found in this peaceful haven – definitely worth visiting for anyone who is coming to Sri Lanka!

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