In Namibia I felt… free!
Hi, Annabel here! I began my writing career as the youngest travel correspondent in Namibia, in Africa, in the world!
Flamingo made this possible and I’ll never forget my first story. I posted it when I was six months old and checking out the Family Hideout in the NamibRand Nature Reserve. What a place! A gemsbok on your doorstep and a million miles of grassland and pink/brown/chocolate mountains overlooking the plains of dusty, yellow grass.
Since then I posted pretty regularly from other parts of Namibia. Lots of parts of Namibia! And I’ve loved the country and loved writing for Flamingo but I am afraid to say I have some sad news – I’m retiring, and although it was a painful decision, this is my last column for Flamingo – I want to spend more time with my family.
FLAMINGO: Your family? Are you sure that’s wise?
ANNNABEL: I was afraid you might ask that. Yes, since having resigned and having spent more time with my family, I’m having a serious rethink.
FLAMINGO: You only retired ten minutes ago. Surely this rethink is premature?
ANNABEL: Five minutes ago I would have said ‘yes’. But No, it isn’t! My Dad’s just come back from playing cowboys with a bunch of anti-poaching rangers near the Thai Cambodian border and is claiming it was research for a story (he’ll never grow up!), my Mum’s just back from a hundred hours of meetings, which she says are important and will save the world (she’ll never stop working) and I’ve been stuck here by myself.
FLAMINGO: And all your friends, surely?
ANNABEL: Yes, stuck here by myself with all my friends.
FLAMINGO: And lots to eat? And drink? And a swimming pool?
ANNABEL: All that, yes. But I prefer Namibian swimming pools – they look so blue but are really cold! It’s really funny when tourists jump in and scream! Thai pools look blue but would poach a penguin. And anyway, this isn’t the point! I should have been on the border with Daddy shooting poachers or at the very least covering the CITES conference in Bangkok for Flamingo and they wouldn’t issue me a press card or an ID tag to dangle round my neck in the Queen Sirikit Conference Centre.
In Namibia I felt… free! The rangers would take me here and there. I could climb things and say hello to anybody. Here in South East Asia they won’t even let me into an international conference on trade in endangered species. You could almost think guns and assassinations might be a problem
FLAMINGO: Shame! So you don’t have anything for us from the CITES convention?
ANNABEL: A ten-year study just released by a coalition of scientists and NGOS, local foot sloggers and pygmy scouts shows 62% decline in forest elephant populations in the Central African region during the decade of research. No disease responsible. Deforestation is not an issue. Poaching pure and simple. The forests are ‘empty’ according to a Japanese chap who has been studying the area for twenty years. A shocking 1 000 elephants a year killed in Gabon, roughly the same in the Republic of Congo. They’re killing elephants in all those range states at rates that are cataclysmic.
FLAMINGO: Sharp news reporting, Annabel! How did you pick that up?
ANNABEL: From the floor. My Daddy comes back from CITES and throws everything he’s written, researched, gathered et cetera onto the floor and stomps off in search of a bucket of water to pour over his head. While he can’t find the bucket (I keep my new turtle in it) I just graze the material.
FLAMINGO: Any other hot news? From floor-roots level?
ANNABEL: Check out my shark photos! From the Pew Charitable Trusts! Slick! Sharks and manta rays! Good news there! Japan, as usual, said no – Japan hates anybody meddling with fisheries and it takes Sea Shepard to stop them killing whales – but most countries said yes. Let’s protect several species of sharks and manta rays and stop chopping their fins off to make gunky soup or ineffective medicine. The Chinese like to eat the fins. But there are not many sharks if you compare them to Chinese and the shark catch is 70 million a year and that out-take is not going to last. I’m not saying the Chinese are all bad. The government’s planning to remove shark fin soup from its official banquet menus. But there are lots of Chinese, lots, and a recent National Geographic survey says 80 per cent of well-to-do Chinese plan to buy ivory in the future.
FLAMINGO: Did you pick up anything interesting about ivory?
ANNABEL: Apart from the genocidal extermination of forest elephants ongoing in Central Africa? The death tolls of rangers in DRC? The insatiable demand in China? The need for a total trade ban?
FLAMINGO: Anything else?
ANNABEL: Hey! I’m nine years old! And I’m not getting into more ivory debate! Ban it. Legal ivory is a screen for illegal ivory. Nobody at the end of the market chain knows where it comes from. There are people who think elephants shed tusks, that tusks are cut and regenerate. Only 11 per cent of Japanese ivory dealers according to my daddy’s buddy, and he should know. He’s Japanese, his name’s Tomoaki Nishihara, and he has worked with elephants and pygmies and advised logging companies in the Republic of Congo, Gabon and adjacent countries for over twenty years. Only 11 per cent knew ivory came from Africa.
FLAMINGO: That sounds impassioned! And well connected. Who is this Dr Tomoaki Nishihara guy anyway?
ANNABEL: Ask him yourself and send a donation! He works for the Wildlife Conservation Society. I found his name in some of my Daddy’s notes along with ‘this guy’s got guts’. My father’s notes. He’s that way. Some of the adjectives he uses are not even in my dictionary. Paint blisters when I say them.
FLAMINGO: Thanks Annabel, we’ve enjoyed your update on CITES. Most spirited! And we are grateful your father isn’t planning to write more on the CITES issue. In this magazine. We dread the consequences elsewhere.
ANNABEL: No, My Daddy and my Mummy have joined me in this important decision. We will, none of us, write for Flamingo again – we want to arggh! Spend more time as a family!
FLAMINGO: Annabel, any regrets about leaving Flamingo and spending time with family and leaving Namibia?
ANNABEL: Yes and No. I love Flamingo, love Riéth, love Namibia, love my friends in Namibia. I’m in Thailand at the moment and love it here too, but I’ll be back! And so will my family! For a bit of quality time!
Well isn’t that just typical! I knew I was right when I was writing this column and then who barges in? That Japanese guy with an email about responsible trade and then I get another mail from somebody else about stockpiles and some countries having too many elephants and I get another email from somebody else about accommodating supply with responsible consumption. My article hadn’t even been published – just circulated for peer review! The whole point of being nine years old, is knowing everything. Black and white. And then the editor points out that Namibia has the best conservation record in Africa and has lots of elephants and lots of ivory from dead elephants and hey… umm… I’m nine years old. And it’s time to face it. When it comes to this whole elephant thing I have no solution. Who has? If you do, email somebody else – I’m off for some quality family time. Like I said, I quit.
Text and photographs Hugh Paxton
This article was originally published in the April 2013 Flamingo magazine.