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Sep 23, 2017, 11:14 PM
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 on: Today at 06:15 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Macron takes a page from Trump to change France's labour laws

French president signs set of controversial executive orders in the style of US leader during televised ceremony in Élysée Palace

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has signed a controversial set of executive orders making sweeping changes to France’s complex labour laws at a highly stage-managed ceremony in the style of the US president, Donald Trump.

The defiant signing ceremony – televised live from Macron’s desk in the Élysée Palace on Friday – appears to be part of the president’s drive to present himself as a reformer prepared to push through changes.

Macron said his wide-ranging, pro-business reforms were “without precedent” in France’s postwar Fifth Republic.

Two days of protests led by one trade union this month saw demonstrators take to the streets against Macron’s plans, which critics said would benefit business leaders and not workers.

Macron’s changes to labour laws, which will affect all private sector workers in France, include a cap on payouts for unfair dismissals and greater freedom for employers to hire and fire. Employers will be given more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff. The government argues this will help France turn around decades of mass unemployment.

The latest day of protest this week saw far fewer demonstrators than last year’s vast protests against the Socialist president François Hollande’s previous effort to loosen labour laws. More street protests are planned in the coming days. On Saturday, the leftwing MP Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his movement, La France Insoumise (Unbowed France), will hold a carefully planned protest day before hauliers block roads on Monday. Other street protests are planned on other issues this autumn – from public sector cuts to pensioners.

The centrist Macron, who beat the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win the presidency in May, told CNN this week: “I do believe in democracy. And democracy is not in the street.”

Public opinion is divided, according to a recent BVA poll, with most respondents saying they think the labour law changes will boost France’s competitiveness but fail to improve employees’ working conditions.

Macron’s critics have said his use of executive orders to push through the changes at record speed was monarchical.

Macron’s use of executive decrees has allowed him to fast-track the new labour laws, avoiding the standard lengthy parliamentary procedure. The new rules will now come into force within days. However, to become law they must still go before parliament to be ratified this autumn – where they will easily pass because of the large majority of Macron’s political grouping, La République En Marche.

Macron meticulously controls his image and tightly plans his televised appearances – from the physical bravado of the early weeks of his presidency, when he was winched by helicopter on to a submarine, to the latest signings of decrees in his office.

This week he slammed the French media as “narcissistic” for focusing too closely on the workings of power rather than what he called the substance. He chided French journalists for being “too interested in communication and not enough in content”.

Macron first used the mass communications tactic of signing a law live on camera earlier this month when issuing new rules on ethics for public officials.

 on: Today at 06:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
New Zealand election: voting begins as Ardern and English fight closest battle in years

Jacinda Ardern’s revitalised Labour party is looking to upset prime minister Bill English’s plans for a fourth term for National 

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Auckland

Voting has opened in New Zealand’s most exciting general election in years, with New Zealanders asked to decide between the status quo of National or taking a punt on new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

Polling booths opened in libraries, schools and town halls around the country at 9am (9pm Friday GMT) and will close at 7pm, after which results begin to roll in immediately.

A record number of voters have already cast their vote since booths opened in selected areas on 11 September.

More than 1.2 million people cast an early vote this year, compared with 717, 579 in 2014.. On Friday long lines were reported at polling booths around the country in what the electoral commission has just confirmed was the biggest day of advance voting on record with 253, 473 casting their vote.

The commission estimates 3,569,830 New Zealanders are eligible to vote this year.

Archaic legislation bans campaigning in any form on voting day itself, including banners, T-shirts and roadside advertising. New Zealand media is banned from publishing any politics-related articles other than how and where to vote. Even members of the public are unable to discuss their voting choices on social media until the polls close, in case they influence those who have yet to cast their ballot.

New Zealanders are being asked to choose between prime minister Bill English’s National party, which has had nine years at the tiller; Jacinda Ardern, just seven weeks into her leadership of a revitalised Labour party; the Greens, or one of the plethora of smaller parties, which include New Zealand First, the Opportunities party, the Maori party, Act and the New Zealand Outdoors party.

With the 120 seats in parliament elected via constituency and party lists, coalitions – formal or otherwise – are the norm and English or Ardern could be forced to court a kingmaker. According to opinion polls, that could be Winston Peters, leader of the populist, anti-immigration New Zealand First.

Two months ago the crawl towards the general election was looking pre-determined. National, led by ex-finance minister English, was polling well and looked set to be returned comfortably to a fourth term in government.

Labour’s Andrew Little had failed to connect with voters, and on 1 August he stepped down as leader, nominating his 37-year-old deputy Jacinda Ardern to take his place – although she had previously said she had no interest in the job.

But within days Ardern’s campaign of “relentless positivity” set fire to the political landscape. Labour soared in the polls, climbing 20 points in a matter of weeks to overtake National as the preferred party, with Ardern ahead of English as preferred prime minister.

“The Jacinda effect, also known as Jacindamania, has been looming for a long time because she is a politician who has been a rising star and someone with a strong X-factor and charismatic personality for a few years now,” said Bryce Edwards, a political commentator.

“At this point the Labour party seems to have gone from a grey old party with a lot of doom and gloom about them, to a party of Corbyn-esque excitement and similar support.”

The UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently sent Ardern a video message of support, urging her to win “for all of us”.

However, in the last 10 days of campaigning, Labour’s momentum has began to falter and it has dropped seven to 10 points in the last three major polls.

The opposition’s campaign suffered significant damage when Ardern announced a tax working group would be set up to explore how best to tackle the country’s housing crisis, refusing to rule out the introduction of new taxes.

A later clarification that no new taxes would be introduced before the next election in 2020 was not enough to stop National from seizing the chance to launch an assault on the party’s economic credibility, claiming there was a NZ$11.7bn (AU$10.7bn/£6.3bn) hole in Labour’s fiscal plan. It was a claim not backed by a single economist, but one English rolled on with.

National, which has promised NZ$2bn of tax-cuts for middle-income earners, also claimed Labour would raise income tax – a charge Ardern labelled “scaremongering” and “lies”.
'I've got what it takes': will Jacinda Ardern be New Zealand's next prime minister?
Read more

In the final week the Labour leader pleaded with young New Zealanders – who, alongside women, are her most loyal supporters – to get out and vote.

“We have called and knocked on thousands of doors and now we’re at the critical moment,” she said. “If you’ve seen any of the polls you know this is an election that is going to come down to turnout … please, please make sure you vote.”

For many New Zealanders the twists and turns of the 2017 election campaign have been unsettling, rather than exciting. Many are reluctant to upset the status quo, which has seen New Zealand’s economy survive the global financial crisis and two major earthquakes.

Tamati McLean, 38, a meat-worker from Bulls in the north island, told the Guardian he plans to vote for English because he does not trust Labour to deliver on its promises, which include eradicating child poverty, building 100,000 affordable homes in 10 years, and introducing a water tax.

“Jacinda has been saying all these things but until I see it with my own eyes I am sticking with National,” he said. “I need to see it with my own eyes to become real, and with National, I have seen it – so I believe it.”

 on: Today at 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Germany faces first far-right party in parliament since 1960s

if Merkel retains coalition alternative für Deutschland could be main opposition, bringing raft of entitlements to populist party

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Friday 22 September 2017 20.59 BST

Germany is bracing itself for a watershed moment in its postwar history, with an overtly nationalist party is set to emphatically enter the country’s parliament for the first time in almost six decades.

Rightwing populist Alternative für Deutschland has strengthened its upward trajectory in the last week before the vote, with two polls published on Friday showing the party on third place.

Founded just four years ago as an anti-euro force, the AfD is polling on between 11% and 13%, with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats dropping percentage points while the Left party slipped into fourth place.

According to polls by respected institutes INSA and Enmid on Friday, Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance was on between 34% to 36% and the SPD on between 21% and 22%. Die Linke was polling at between 10% and 11%, the pro-business Liberal Democrats on 9% and the Greens had crept up to 8%.

The results would pave the way for the continuation of a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD or a so-called Jamaica Coalition between Merkel’s conservatives and the FDP and Greens, never before seen on the national stage.

AfD leaders have urged their members to act as election observers, keeping a close eye on the voting process amid mounting suspicions within the party that their results might be manipulated, citing the threat the party posed to the established parties.

The AfD, under their top candidates Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old management consultant – who has made much of her same-sex relationship in recent days – and Alexander Gauland, a 76-year-old German nationalist with strong anglophile leanings, have made considerable strides over the course of the campaign in spite of a rightward lurch in its rhetoric criticised even by the party’s leader.

Vowing in its manifesto to ban all mosques and minarets, prohibit Muslim calls to prayer and criminalise people wearing the veil, the AfD has also called for a change in attitude to Germany’s historic crimes in the second world war.

If polls are accurate, the AfD is expected to garner between 60 and 85 parliamentary seats, and would become the largest opposition group in parliament if Merkel’s conservative alliance and the SPD agreed to continue their coalition.

Among the entitlements it would receive as a result would be the influential chair of the budget committee as well as top positions on the committees of everything from the broadcasting council to the parliamentary assembly of the European council, as well as the right to be sent to meetings of international organisations such as Nato or the United Nations as representatives of the Bundestag.

Created four years ago in protest at the eurozone bailout of Greece by a group of academics bankers and economists, the AfD already appeared to be a spent force by 2015. But Merkel’s decision that same year to allow more than 1 million refugees to enter Germany reanimated the party. Amid fears over inner German security, its popularity soared as it responded with demands to restrict asylum rights and to seal Germany’s borders and developed a strong anti-Islamic rhetoric.

It is currently represented in 13 of 16 regional parliaments.

With around a third of voters still undecided as to how they will vote, some pollsters have warned that the AfD’s result could be even higher than 13%, referring to those voters, some distrustful of pollsters, who either refuse to divulge their voting preferences or choose to lie about them. Polling institutes have previously underestimated support for the AfD most significantly in Saxony Anhalt, where ahead of regional elections last year they were predicted to get 18% but ended up with 24%.

A poll by the tabloid Bild said that almost 40% of Germans believe the party could do better than predicted.

The AfD has continued to go from strength to strength despite a series of scandals.

Gauland prompted outrage when he said Germans had the right to be proud of its soldiers in both world wars, a statement that completely contravenes a consensus in German politics to not condone anything to do with Germany’s role in the war.

He also said the government’s commissioner for integration, Aydan Özoguz, who has Turkish roots, should be “disposed of in Anatolia”.

Then came an email written by Weidel in 2013 which was published in the German press in which she described the government as pigs, calling them “nothing other than puppets of the victorious powers of the second world war, tasked with keeping the German people down.” Having initially denied its authenticity, Weidel’s lawyer has stopped suggesting it was a fake.

At a final press conference earlier this week, Gauland and Weidel pledged to shake up the Bundestag by introducing a far more argumentative tone, insisting that the prevailing mood of consent had greatly damaged German democracy. They also said they would pursue their attempts to have Angela Merkel prosecuted for breaking the law over her open door refugee policy. “It is imperative that we define the political background in the Bundestag so that we can come to a clear legal solution,” Gauland said.

Even the AfD’s head, Frauke Petry, once considered a firebrand in her own right but who has since been greatly marginalised, criticised her colleagues and sought to distance herself from them, saying they were putting off many middle class voters. “I can understand why they are horrified,” she said.

On Thursday, Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff urged voters to stay at home rather than vote for the AfD, prompting a strong backlash from other politicians who called his remarks defeatist.

“Pleading with people to abstain from participating in the parliamentary elections amounts to a capitulation of the Christian Democrats before the rightwing populists,” Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister and leading Social Democrat said.

The last party with strong far-right tendencies to sit in the Bundestag was the Deutsche Partei, which was part of Konrad Adenauer’s coalition government until 1960. It dissolved as a national force in 1961 but continued at a regional level until 1980.

    This article was amended on 23 September 2017 to correct the time reference in the headline, and to make clear that there is a consensus in German politics to not condone anything to do with Germany’s role in the war.

 on: Today at 06:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Trump's debut at the UN: threats, taunts – and gasps of alarm from the diplomats

The general assembly has always had its theatrical elements, with the world’s blowhards playing to the gallery – but this time the jester has taken centre stage

Julian Borger at the United Nations
Saturday 23 September 2017 09.00 BST

The summit week of the UN general assembly was always bound to be fraught with risk for US prestige: it would involve Donald Trump interacting in a multilateral arena – and Trump famously does not play nicely with other leaders.

At the Nato summit in May he manhandled Duško Marković, the prime minister of Montenegro, to get to the centre of a group photograph, where he stood preening among his bemused peers.

This week, the US delegation avoided such visual comedy, though there was at least one Mr Bean moment, at a lunch for African leaders in which Trump extolled the health service of the non-existent nation of “Nambia”. He told his audience – heads of countries with long, painful colonial histories – that he had “so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich”.

But such group outings were kept to a minimum. A side meeting on UN reform was kept brief in the extreme: 13 minutes – of which Trump spoke for nine. He began by slipping in a plug for the golden Trump World Tower across the road; his first remarks as president on UN ground were spoken as a property developer.

For most of his stay he was sequestered in a Midtown hotel (not his own) and received a succession of visits from heads of state and government.

As with most presidents at general assemblies, Trump’s role was defined by his formal address to the chamber on the opening day, Tuesday. He certainly put his stamp on it. His speech will be remembered principally for its name-calling (he dubbed Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man”) – and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea.

On one level, this was just a restatement of US deterrence, based on the inevitability of an overwhelming response to an attack. But the threat to obliterate a whole country, a whole population, jarred awkwardly in a chamber intended to be the world’s temple to peace and diplomacy. Brandishing of earth-ending nuclear weapons is not encouraged. Diplomats in the chamber said the collective gasp was audible.

Alongside the threats of annihilation, the 41-minute speech was a mishmash of themes pointing in different directions. By picking out a trio of arch-enemies – North Korea, Iran and Venezuela – Trump channelled the neo-conservative impulses of the Bush administration and the axis of evil.

    The threat to obliterate a whole country jarred awkwardly in the world’s temple to peace and diplomacy

Other passages hammered away at the primacy of national sovereignty in international relations. It is an axiom for foreign policy “realists” and America Firsters, but in recent years, it has also been the mantra of Russia, China and members of the Non-Aligned Movement, who bristle at the idea of foreigners passing judgment on their human rights records.

In between, there were sections of traditional boilerplate western diplomatic talk. The tonal incoherence made the speech sound very much like a text pieced together by committee – one made up of people who have failed to resolve their differences.

There was no clear explanation of why the supremacy of national sovereignty did not apply to Trump’s enemies. Nor was it made clear why Venezuela, a country far too impoverished for advanced weapons or exporting revolutions, was doing on the list alongside North Korea and Iran.

Until recently, European diplomats would point to the more conventional officials around Trump as proof that there was continuity and stability underpinning US foreign policy. That argument disappeared at this general assembly, to be replaced by more open expressions of alarm of the global dangers posed by his turbulent personality.

It was one thing for Trump to make no mention of climate change in his address to the world’s leaders. It was more problematic that US officials felt they could not even take part in multilateral discussions on the issue. When the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, held an informal off-the-record session on the struggle with global warming, no US representatives turned up.

There was anxiety, too, about the implications of turning the North Korean standoff into a personal grudge match between Trump and Kim Jong-un, who took to exchanging playground taunts. Kim responded to Trump’s speech by calling him a “mentally deranged US dotard”. Hours later, on Friday morning, Trump fired back with a tweet saying Kim was “obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people” who would be “tested like never before!”

Both men, several diplomats at the UN pointed out, were making it harder for the other to stand down and compromise.

Trump may have exacerbated the North Korean crisis, but he did not create it. The same is not necessarily true for the Iranian nuclear issue.

Trump’s apparent determination to take the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal – even while his administration concedes that Iran has kept to the terms of the agreement – has driven a deep wedge between the White House and European allies.

Ministers at a Wednesday night meeting on implementation of the deal were incredulous at Rex Tillerson’s justifications for his boss’s position. One was based on a sentence from the preface of the agreement of the text, which expressed anticipation that the deal would contribute to regional peace and security.

Iran was still a “malign actor” in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, Tillerson argued, so it was therefore not meeting the “expectations” implied in that sentence.

The other foreign ministers around the table pointed out regional conflicts were explicitly excluded from consideration under the 2015 deal, which was intended to prevent those conflicts turning nuclear.

Tillerson’s other objection was that some of the restraints on Iran’s nuclear programme imposed by the deal would expire in 2025. Surely that was a reason to start negotiations on a follow-on agreement, the Europeans argued, not blow up the existing deal immediately.

When Federica Mogherini, the EU policy chief, emerged from the meeting room on Wednesday evening, she was clearly boiling over with frustration, warning that the US would be in violation of a security council resolution if it ditched the deal.

Macron later said he simply failed to understand the US position. Why abandon an international agreement when you have no alternative to offer, he asked.

British diplomats insist that, no matter how desperately the UK might need a trade deal after Brexit, the country will not abandon its commitment to the Iran deal to please Trump.

Theresa May herself was publicly humiliated by Tillerson, who told the press she had asked Trump about his final decision on the agreement and he had refused to tell her.

Towards the end of the week, one senior diplomat said she could not remember a more emotionally exhausting general assembly.

It has always had its elements of theatre and a tradition of blowhards and clowns, like Muammar Gadafy and Hugo Chávez, playing to the gallery.

But this time the jester has taken centre stage and is dictating events.


Kim Jong-un, the NFL and 'screaming at senators': Trump's Strange night in Alabama

President heads to Alabama to rally support for incumbent senator Luther Strange who is facing a runoff election on Tuesday

Ben Jacobs in Huntsville, Alabama
Saturday 23 September 2017 10.21 BST

Donald Trump gave one of his signature stream of consciousness speeches in Hunstville on Friday night as he tried to get out the vote for embattled Alabama Republican senator Luther Strange.

During an address inside the Wernher Von Braun Center that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, the president called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man”, said NFL owners should cut players who kneel for the national anthem and returned to familiar targets like John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Strange is facing a runoff election on Tuesday for the GOP nomination to hold the seat he was appointed to in February. The former state attorney general was handed the seat after former senator Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general by Trump. Strange is currently trailing in the polls against Roy Moore, an ardent social conservative who has twice been removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The race has become a top priority for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a superPAC affiliated with him will spend over $9m on Strange’s behalf. The Alabama senator is seen as reliable vote for Republican priorities while Moore has mused about making “homosexual conduct” illegal and suggested that the terrorist attacks of 11 September may have been divine retribution for the United States turning away from God.

The campaign has largely focused on McConnell. Moore has attacked the Senate majority leader as a creature of the “swamp” that Trump wishes to drain while Strange has tried to distance himself from the Kentucky Republican. Strange went as far as to assert in his brief introductory remarks on Friday night that Trump was backing him so that he could have the votes in the Senate to “stand up to Mitch McConnell.” The President later asserted that Strange “didn’t know” the Senate majority leader.

Trump repeatedly praised Strange and often calling the 6’9ft senator “Big Luther.” However, he did note that Moore, who has been backed by a number of prominent conservatives including former Trump aide Steve Bannon, was “a good man” and that he would campaign for him if the former chief justice won on Tuesday.

Instead of direct criticism, Trump simply claimed Moore would a face a difficult general election in deep red Alabama. He said Moore “has a very good chance of not winning a general election.” Trump also dwelled on the political risk he was taking backing Strange, insisting that the media would attack him if the Alabama Republican lost.

In between his praise of Strange, Trump touched on a smorgasbord of topics. He renewed his criticism of Kim Jong-un, whom he called both “Rocket Man” and “Little Rocket Man” and warning of the risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and its recent threats to test a hydrogen bomb. “Now he’s talking about a massive weapon exploding over the Pacific Ocean, which causes calamity. Where the plume goes, so goes cancer, so goes tremendous problems.” However, Trump confidently said “I’m going to handle it”.

Hours after John McCain torpedoed Republican hopes to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump expressed his disappointment. He said McCain’s opposition was “totally unexpected and terrible”. He also chided the Arizona Republican for what he saw as hypocrisy. “Repeal and replace, John McCain if you look at his last campaign it’s all about repeal and replace and that’s fine, we still have a good chance [of repealing and replacing Obamacare.” He described his attempts to court senators on health care, saying “I’m on the phone screaming at people all day long for weeks”.

Trump also returned to some of his favourite topics. He talked at length about the wall he hopes to build on the Mexican border, insisting it needed to be see-through. Trump said this was because drug dealers are currently using catapults to send 100 pound bags of drugs over the existing concrete wall and they are landing on people’s heads in the United States. He also responded the familiar cheers of “lock her up” directed at Hillary Clinton by telling the crowd “you gotta speak to Jeff Sessions about that”.

The president also dwelled on NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem in peaceful protest. He asked the crowd, “Wouldn’t you love one of the NFL owners when someone disrespects our flag, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now.’” He told attendees, “If you see it, leave the stadium, I guarantee things will stop.”

Since 2016, a number of African American NFL players have taken a knee during the National Anthem. It was spurred by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick who was the first to do so in protest what he saw as oppression of people of color. Several other players have since followed suit and it has sparked national controversy.

Trump’s visit to Alabama comes just four days before the primary runoff and only hours after Ben Carson, a member of Trump’s cabinet, issued a quasi-endorsement of Moore. In a statement issued by Moore’s campaign, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development said “Judge Moore is a fine man of proven character and integrity, who I have come to respect over the years”. Carson did not explicitly endorse Moore though.

Vice president Mike Pence, who will hold a rally for Strange in Birmingham, will follow Trump in Alabama on Monday. Moore is scheduled to hold an election eve rally with Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.


John McCain on healthcare: 'Attempt at a strictly Republican bill cannot succeed'

The US senator has expressed his opposition to the latest Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act – here is his statement in full

    John McCain says he can’t vote for Republican plan to replace Obamacare

John McCain

The US Senator John McCain of Arizona released the following statement today on healthcare reform:

As I have repeatedly stressed, healthcare reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.

I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.

We should not be content to pass healthcare legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.

Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare. But I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a partisan solution fail.

I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.

I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can.

 on: Today at 05:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Europe's Last Blue Wonder

A Multimedia Story by Holger Dambeck and Jonathan Miske

Der Spiegel

Click to watch the video: http://video.spiegel.de/flash/77/67/1797677_1024x576_H264_HQ.mp4

 In Albania, environmentalists, investors and residents are fighting over the construction of new dams. Europe's last remaining wild rivers are imperiled - and with them their unique biotopes.

When Paul Meulenbroek climbs into the water, it's a good idea to stay behind on the riverbank. He carries a small motor on his back, as loud as a leaf blower, but it isn't for blowing air. The biologist from Vienna uses it to produce a 400-volt electrical field that can temporarily paralyze fish, making them easier to scoop up with a net.

Meulenbroek stands waist-deep in the shimmering blue water of the Vjosa, a wild river that runs through southern Albania, his rubber waders protect him from the electrical surges. "There are a lot of young ones here," the biologist says, before handing his colleague on the bank a brightly shimmering fish just under 10 centimeters long.

The researchers want to gain an overview of the species living in the water here.

Located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the river's mouth, where it pours into the Adriatic Sea, the Vjosa Valley is a paradise. There are no streets or bridges to blight the idyll. As it flows down its 270-kilometer path, the stream breaks into two or more arms separated by broad gravel banks, and practically every flood here alters the riverbed.

The wide valley is flanked by green hills while the snowcaps on the mountains higher up stick around until the beginning of May. Olive trees grow along the slopes, farmers till the fertile plains and the sound of bells resonates as a herd of sheep passes by.

But this southern Albanian arcadia is under threat. A dam may soon be built to power a hydroelectric plant near Poçem, where Meulenbroek is currently catching one fish after the other. It would destroy the natural habitat of the river's fish and many other animal and plant species could disappear as a result. Furthermore, the farmers in the nearby village of Kutë would lose their livelihoods because their pastures and fields would be covered by water.

Albania still hasn't become a member of the European Union, but even here, environmental impact studies are required by law for major projects like a dam. Kovlu Energji, the Turkish company that wants to build the dam, has presented such a review, which was carried out by a private consulting firm in the capital city of Tirana.

But Friedrich Schiemer, a zoology professor at the University of Vienna, dismisses it as a "caricature." "Large parts of the paper are comprised of passages copied verbatim from other studies. A survey was never conducted at the site."

Checking the Species in the Vjosa Valley

Together with Albanian biologists, Schiemer has now organized a project to take an inventory of the flora and fauna in the area threatened by the dam, with support coming from the environmental organization Riverwatch in Vienna and EcoAlbania in Tirana. Like legendary German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt once did, the 30 scientists from Albania, Austria and Germany are working their way across the valley along three pre-determined routes.

Geologists are measuring the riverbed down to the millimeter, noting the size of the gravel and the sediment structure. Insect researchers are burying 150 plastic bottles filled with vinegar as traps for small critters that crawl along the ground. A biologist is collecting plants in order to press them into an herbarium. Another is sifting through leaves and loose soil to search for snails and freshwater clams. One scientist shakes grass and bushes, catching the insects that fly out with a giant net.

Meulenbroek pulls another silver fish out of the water. "It could be the same species as the one just before, but I'm not sure." The answer would be determined with a genetic test, carried out in a few days at the University in Vienna. To this end, he cuts off a two-millimeter piece of the dorsal fin on both animals. "The missing dorsal fin is no problem for the animals," Meulenbroek says. "It grows back."

"I only had a vague idea of what species we might find here," he says. In a span of three days, he has caught 20 different ones, including eels, barbels and flathead gray mullets. He isn't familiar with most of the species and releases almost all of them after a short examination.

The biggest surprise can be found wriggling in an additional net he had put out: a 50-centimeter-long sea bass. "It lives in the Adriatic. Rivers aren't actually its territory. It must have swum up this whole distance." The village fishermen are also amazed by his rare catch.

If the dam already existed, no fish would make it this distance up the river. Thus far, the Vjosa hasn't been blocked by any construction. Even its tributaries, with two exceptions, are free of dams. "That's unique in Europe," says Schiemer.

Albania's Wild Streams

As Schiemer puts it, the "geomorphological continuum" is still intact here in Albania. The unwieldy term refers to a fascinating piece of natural theater: Rocks break off cliffs up high in the mountains near the river's source, landing in the Vjosa. With every spring flood, they are flushed further into the valley. Their initially sharp edges are smoothed off, resulting in typical pebbles, with smooth, round surfaces.

Every flood grinds the rocks smaller, bit by bit - and they ultimately end up as fine sand in the sea. At some point, the current carries the grains of sand onto one of the Adriatic's many glorious beaches.

The construction of a dam would interrupt this movement of material from the mountains into the sea, a process that has been going on for millions of years.

The inhabitants of New Orleans recently felt the impact of this problem. The many dams on the Mississippi are keeping crucial sediments from reaching the sea and causing the coast to increasingly erode. In parts of the hinterland once protected by natural bulwarks, the floodwaters now have free rein - resulting in the kind of disastrous flooding seen during Hurricane Katrina.

Nevertheless, thousands of hydroelectric dams are being planned around the world. According to Riverwatch, fully 500 are slated for Albania alone, and almost 3,000 across the entire Balkan region. Most are small power plants that don't require dams: Much of the flow is diverted through shortcuts blown into the mountain with explosives. The water then rushes through steep pipes powering the turbines. The result is a lack of sufficient water in the valley that circumvents the mountain, meaning that fish and vegetation lose out.

Where Hydroelectric Plants Have Been Built or Are Planned

There's some irony to the fact that researchers from Germany and Austria are fighting to preserve an unspoiled river. After all, the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers are riddled with dams and, in parts, unrecognizably encased in cement. "We are asking a lot from the Albanians," one scientist admits. "In our cases, nobody used to care about unspoiled rivers either."

Why shouldn't Albanians be allowed to do what was done everywhere in Western Europe? "When we built hydroelectric dams and realigned rivers, we didn't know much about the dynamics of these kinds of systems," Schiemer explains. Only in the last 20 or 30 years have people begun understanding how important intact rivers are for nature. "We want to keep the Albanians from repeating the same mistakes we made."

Albania gets its electricity almost entirely from hydropower - and the demand is growing. Unused electricity can be exported as supposedly environmentally friendly eco-power.

The country is lucrative for investors. Wages are low and bribes can be used to solve a lot of problems. Albania is ranked 83 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, behind countries like Burkina Faso and Belarus.

For decades, the Balkan state was isolated from the rest of the world. But today, over 30 years after the end of Enver Hoxha's horrific dictatorship, it resembles a developing nation. While almost every village now has electricity, mules are still widely used for transportation and many of the roads are in catastrophic condition. In such a situation, any investor is welcome, even if their plans will damage nature.

"The Vjosa is perhaps the wrong location to build a hydroelectric plant," says biologist Sajmir Beqiraj.

It is doubtful, though, whether a power plant would generate long-term profits on the sediment-rich Vjosa. The reservoir behind the dam could already fill with rocks and sediments just 20 or 30 years after its construction. The lake's capacity would shrink as a result, and the power plant wouldn't have enough water for reliable electricity production. At that point, the only options would be the expensive dredging of the reservoir, increasing the height of the dam or closing the power plant.
Hope for the Villagers

In the end, it is likely the courts that will decide whether a dam is built in the Vjosa Valley. What matters more? A few new jobs and millions in revenues from a power plant? Or a unique piece of nature that is the source of livelihood for hundreds of people?

"We went to the government with a complaint to stop the construction," says Ismet Murataj, a farmer from Kutë.

The inhabitants of Kutë had their first success in May when the administrative court in Tirana deemed the present environmental impact assessment to be "seriously deficient." As a result, construction may not currently go forward. The Turkish investor may have to commission a new assessment, though an appeal against the court's ruling has been lodged.

The project would clearly not pass muster if an environmental impact assessment were carried out according to strict European Union rules. During their five-day inventory, the researchers discovered a number of rare species that are legally protected in the EU, including, the dice snake, the green toad, the tree frog and the European pond terrapin.

The EU has a regulation banning encroachments into natural areas if they worsen the conservation status of species on the list. But the Vjosa Valley's biotopes would represent an even bigger hurdle. This kind of habitat, typical for flood plains, is rare in Europe, says Schiemer. The repeated inundations have resulted in highly specialized species that can't simply migrate to other locations.

If Albania was in the EU, the researcher argues, the biotopes would need to be designated as Natura 2000 nature protection areas because of their nearly pristine status. "Then the valley would be protected from interventions," He argues that Albania, as a country wanting to join the European Union, should already adhere to those rules.

Kutë's 1,500 inhabitants don't know much about habitat guidelines, Natura 2000 areas or biodiversity. And they found out about the plans for the power plant from the media. "There was no official information from Tirana," says 25-year-old Romina Mustafaraj, the village's head of administration. "There was no public hearing either." She says the people of the village are afraid of losing their livelihoods.
Romina Mustafaraj is the head of village administration in Kutë.

Several years ago, the inhabitants of the Vjosa Valley were in a similar situation. At the time, a building speculator from Italy wanted to build a dam above Kutë and the excavators were already ripping open the hillsides when everything suddenly stopped. The investor supposedly went bankrupt, she says.

"For us, the Vjosa is a godsend," says Friedrich Schiemer. "Here, we can examine what constitutes a wild river. At home, that's no longer possible. There aren't any left."

Author: Holger Dambeck

Photos and Videos: Jonathan Miske

Editing: Heike Le Ker, Barbara Hans

Photo Editing: Theresa Lettner

Translator: Thomas Rogers

Dokumentation: Mara Küpper

Copy Editing: Hannah Panten

Graphics: Achim Tack

Data Sources: Staudämme in Albanien: Euronatur, Riverwatch und Fluvius (2016) | Hydromorphologie Deutschland: Länderarbeitsgemeinschaft Wasser (2000) via Umweltbundesamt | Hydromorphologie Balkan: Fluvius (2012)

Programming: Anna Behrend, Chris Kurt, Alexander Trempler

Project Coordination for "Expedition BeyondTomorrow": Anna Behrend

This report is part of the Expedition #BeyondTomorrow Project

 on: Today at 05:30 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The week in wildlife – in pictures

A rare rhinoceros under constant protection, an albino orangutan, and protected pandas are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Compiled by Eric Hilaire
23 September 2017 14.37 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/sep/22/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

 on: Sep 22, 2017, 12:45 PM 
Started by Cantewasake - Last post by Cantewasake
Hola Gonzalo,

Me gustaría saber en la AE como se interpreta a quirón.
Representa  la herida profunda y el potencial para ser sanada?

Quirón en casa Piscis o Escorpio como sería esa herida de la que nos habla ?


 on: Sep 22, 2017, 12:34 PM 
Started by Cantewasake - Last post by Cantewasake
Ok, gracias!

 on: Sep 22, 2017, 09:27 AM 
Started by Cantewasake - Last post by Gonzalo
Hola Cantewasake,

me refería a si había algún motivo para que fuese así la dinámica en la carta, de que un planeta este en determinado signo regido por una casa, pero dicho planeta este en otra casa.

No hay ningún motivo especial desde un punto de vista evolutivo, ni es posible extraer una regla de interpretación general para estos casos.

Cantewasake, sobre las otras preguntas de tu post, por favor si es posible ponlas en posts independientes, ya que tratan de cuestiones distintas del tema de este 'thread'. Gracias.


 on: Sep 22, 2017, 09:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
We are posting this one year old article again  BECAUSE IT IS SO IMPORTANT ...

Saving Africa's elephants: 'Can you imagine them no longer existing?'

Across Africa, poaching is on the rise. Progress is being made here and there, but the battle to save the largest animals on the Earth is far from being won

by Harriet Sherwood
Thursday 1 September 2016 07.00 BST

In the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya, when the fierce heat of the sun has softened into a gentle evening glow, David Daballen and I climb into a jeep to find some elephants.

As we drive through the savannah, Daballen, a conservationist at Save the Elephants, points out family groups and individuals within them. “These are the Butterflies, this group is Storms, here are the Spices,” he says. We have been looking out for Cinnamon, the Spices’ matriarch, and suddenly there she is: around 50 years old, huge and tuskless, having been born without any precious ivory. Close to her is Habiba, who was orphaned along with seven siblings when poachers killed their mother in 2011. The orphans were adopted by Cinnamon and the rest of the Spices.

Daballen reckons he can identify and name between 400 and 500 elephants. In the jeep, he keeps up a stream of names. “That’s Jonathan,” he says as we spot an elephant’s rear end, some 50 metres away. How can he tell one from another? “Look at their ear patterns: the nicks and holes and tears. Look at their tusks: some are short, some are long, some are curved, some are straight. Look at the pigmentation: some have pink skin, some are light, some are dark. But also look at their faces. They are like our faces, every one is individual.” It’s not just physical characteristics that are distinguishing, he adds. “When you spend time with elephants you understand they all have different personalities. They get into your mind. I probably know more elephants than people.”

‘When you spend time with elephants you understand they all have different personalities,’ says Daballen.

One of Daballen’s colleagues tells me later that the recognition and respect is mutual. “The elephants trust him, they will come to him,” she says. Indeed, one evening our jeep, parked with the engine switched off, is surrounded by a dozen elephants, nudging against the vehicle, trunks nosing almost under our tyres to find clumps of grass, their eyes slowly blinking as they meet ours. It’s a magical moment.

After the group moves on, we drive back though near-darkness without headlights. Daballen navigates the jeep between thorn bushes and over furrows, guided by a rising moon and his intimate knowledge of the terrain.

At 36, Daballen has spent 16 years working for Save the Elephants (STE), and the 20 years before that living among them and other wild animals in the village of Marsabit, some 200km north of Samburu. When he was a child, he tells me, “there were a huge number of elephants up there, but they’ve been devastated by poaching.”

He would often encounter the animals walking to and from school, or while herding his father’s cows and goats. “Every other day we would be chased by elephants. At first it was frightening, and then it became a game,” he recalls. “I grew up close to them. Wildlife was part of us, part of our lives.”

After finishing high school, he went to join his older brother, who was by then working for the Kenya Wildlife Service in Samburu. One day Daballen saw a jeep with a Save the Elephants logo on the side. Curious, he discovered the organisation researched elephants – how they live, and how they die.

    They are a crucial part of the ecosystem, and an iconic species. Can you imagine them no longer existing?
    David Daballen

“I asked if I could intern with them. Then it was just two tents and a vehicle – almost nothing. I spent two months with them, then two months became four months, and four months became a year, and then they never let me go.” Now, he adds, “I think it’s very likely I’ll spend my life doing this.”

During Daballen’s time at STE, the tents have become a cluster of rudimentary eco offices, communal areas for meeting and eating, and cabins for sleeping. The one vehicle has become a fleet of battered jeeps and a Cessna 185 for aerial surveillance and transport across the vast tracts of savannah and hills in northern Kenya. Daballen the intern has become head of field operations, and an eloquent ambassador for the elephants of Samburu.

Back at the research station, he elaborates on his love of the creatures. “I’ve learnt so many things from them. The love and compassion they have for one another. Human love is very conditional, but theirs is unconditional. They are so close, they really care for one another – better than humans in many ways. The energy and excitement they show when they meet family members, even after a short period. It’s like they’re saying, ‘oh my god, where have you been?’ They are clever, intelligent creatures. They can navigate over huge distances and remember their routes and safe places. They mourn their dead. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem, and an iconic species. Can you imagine them no longer existing?

A losing battle

Two or three years ago it seemed as though that could actually happen: future generations of Kenyan school children might only know about elephants from books and a collective memory. “We were all in desperation,” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, veteran zoologist and founder of Save the Elephants. “We were losing the battle.”

It was just before sunset on 30 March 2014 when a volley of rapid gunfire shattered the stillness of the savannah. A phone call from the rangers’ commander quickly followed. His message: poachers are shooting elephants, bring reinforcements.

Daballen and his colleagues immediately rushed to STE’s research camp in Samburu. As the word spread quickly through the wildlife protection network, rangers and anti-poachers from the local community gathered, ready to help. Among them was Chris Leadismo, the organisation’s military-trained security liaison officer.

Leadismo and six others, armed with G3 automatic rifles, headed south. Knowing the poachers would hear the vehicles approach, they left their jeep on a dirt road and continued in silence, pausing periodically to listen.

“The rangers were crawling through the grass, inching forward, lying still, taking one more step, lying still. It’s a game of who sees who first – and it was now getting dark,” says Daballen. Two groups of heavily armed men, a herd of threatened elephants, poor visibility; danger was all around.

The poachers had separated a big bull elephant with long valuable tusks from the females. As the terrified females fled, another six shots rang out. “The rangers could hear the bull making death sounds – a loud rumble. Then they saw him. He was standing, but barely,” says Daballen.

Using night vision binoculars, Leadismo could see blood pouring from the bullet wounds in the elephant’s head and body. “He was full of blood, it was everywhere,” he says.

    The rangers could hear the bull making death sounds – a loud rumble

The poachers and the rangers were aware of each other’s presence and knew that any movement could start a gunfight. The night crept on in wary limbo.

“The guys are lying on the ground in pitch black, not moving, not talking, no torches – nothing,” says Daballen. “It’s very dangerous out there at night. Then suddenly one of the rangers was bitten by a scorpion, and he cried out. That was the poachers’ luck.” In the commotion and darkness, the villains made their escape.

By then, Koitelel, a 30-year-old elephant, was dead with 16 bullet wounds in his carcass. The rangers carefully removed his tusks for safe storage and left his body for the hyenas.

Now, two years later, Koitelel’s bleached skull and bones still lie scattered amid the thorn bushes, a poignant memorial to an Africa-wide orgy of elephant killing, which some believe is threatening the very survival of the species.

The ivory conflict

Across the continent, elephant poaching is happening on an industrial scale. According to the shocking results of one study, released today, the population of savannah elephants declined by 30% between 2007 and 2014. There are roughly 400,000 savannah elephants left and that number is falling by 8% per year.

Vulcan’s* Great Elephant Census gathered detailed statistics over two years by flying over and counting herds of elephants as they roam the plains beneath. Dead elephants are counted too. A “carcass rate” (the ratio of living to dead) of more than 8% indicates poaching at a high enough level to cause the population to decline. In Mozambique and Angola, the rate was more than 30%. Among Cameroon’s small elephant herd it was 83%.

Other research has come up with similarly bleak findings. A 2014 scientific study estimated that 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

The rest of Africa’s elephants are forest elephants and they are by definition harder to count. Another study released this week found these creatures to be one of the slowest reproducing mammals. Even if poaching stopped tomorrow, it might take 90 years for forest elephants to recover to their 2002 population.

“This is largely due to poaching,” says Chris Thouless, a conservationist who works with STE as a strategic adviser and who contributed to the status report. We meet over tea and home-baked cookies at his house overlooking the Borana private reserve, 10 minutes’ flying time south of Samburu.

Like diamonds and other valuable minerals, ivory is at the heart of a conflict over Africa’s natural resources; a war prosecuted by organised crime syndicates motivated by the enormous profits to be made from illegal poaching, smuggling and trading.

In the early years of this conflict, demand for ivory came mainly from Europe, America and Japan, fuelling a genocide that saw the African elephant population fall from a conservative estimate of 1.3 million in 1979 to less than half that within a decade. Some 700 tonnes of mostly illegal ivory – the equivalent of tusks from about 70,000 elephants – were leaving Africa each year, most of it heading for China to be processed and re-exported to markets elsewhere.

But in 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) banned ivory trading, and the next 15-20 years saw a hiatus in the elephant slaughter. The population showed incipient signs of recovery.

Ten years ago, however, the killing started again, this time stoked by rising demand in China itself as a result of its booming economy and its burgeoning moneyed elite. Now China is the end destination for 70% of illegal ivory; its price tripled between 2012 and 2014, reaching a peak of $2,200 (£1,675) per kilo.

    It’s not like the battle has been won – the threat is still very real – but it’s not on the scale of a few years ago
    Chris Thouless

In some countries the slaughter has reached an obliterative scale. Mozambique and Tanzania, both significant elephant countries, lost 53% and 60% of their elephants in just five years. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the elephant population has been almost eliminated. Central African Republic has lost almost all its savannah elephants. Sudan, Zimbabwe and Gabon are among countries that have seen widespread killing. Last year, some 20,000 elephants were being killed for their tusks in Africa – more than were born. In Asia, the other great homeland for elephants, it’s estimated that fewer than 50,000 remain, a decline of 50% in the past 100 years. The battle for the survival of the largest creatures currently roaming the earth is a long way from being won.

‘A new optimism’

In Kenya however, some progress is being made. Koitelel was the last elephant known to have died at the hands of poachers in Samburu and the surrounding area, and conservationists hope that a corner has been turned in the past two years. “We are putting our hands together, hoping no more die,” says Leadismo. Douglas-Hamilton adds: “In Kenya, we have a new optimism. We’ve come through the eye of the storm – but that’s not the case across Africa.”

According to Thouless, “poaching is still a real issue, but [in Kenya] it’s under control. One doesn’t want to talk about acceptable levels of poaching, but poaching is no longer driving elephant levels down. It’s not like the battle has been won – the threat is still very real – but it’s not on the scale of a few years ago.”

And, he adds, although elephant killing is down in Kenya, the country is still a key component in the smuggling routes out of Africa to Asia. “Some of the biggest smuggling networks are based in Kenya. [The port of] Mombasa remains a huge suction point for ivory, particularly from Tanzania.”

There are a number of intertwined reasons why poaching has been contained in Kenya over the past two years. A key global factor is the slump in the price of raw ivory in China following an agreement signed jointly by the US and Chinese presidents in September 2014, pledging to end the ivory trade and as a result of the faltering Chinese economy. The price per kilo has fallen from $2,200 to $1,100 – although, says Thouless, it is still at a level “we’d have been horrified at five years ago” and “it hasn’t come down enough to act as a deterrent”.

But local changes have been hugely significant. The Kenyan government has shown a political will to act against poachers and enforce justice. In April, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, ceremonially burned more than 100 tonnes of extremely valuable ivory; in July, syndicate leader Feisal Mohamed Ali was sent to prison for 20 years and fined $200,000. Public opposition to the ivory trade has grown, and cooperation between conservationists and local communities has had a dramatic impact.

This last factor is crucial, says David Daballen. Persuading nomadic communities and local farmers of the merits of conservation has, he says, taken time. In nearby Nusuulu, where ivory poaching was rife a few years ago, it took a year to persuade elders from four tribes to come together and agree to create a conservation area on their land. “It means sitting under a tree for days and days and days – people talking, yelling, fighting – until sense prevails,” says Daballen.

Since the Nasuulu conservancy was created in 2011, large-scale elephant killing has stopped, security has improved and inter-tribe conflict has declined. A dozen or so local men are employed as rangers, scouts or drivers. Software is being developed to warn farmers when elephants are close so they can protect crops. STE has launched a scholarship programme for bright children in Nasuulu and other local conservancies. And, a mobile education unit leads classes and field trips to teach children how people and elephants can and should coexist in harmony.

On my last day we take to the air. Iain Douglas-Hamiliton settles in behind the controls of STE’s four-seater Cessna, trimmed with the family tartan, and gives the plane’s call sign – “five yankee sierra tango echo” – to other pilots who might be in the sky. In less than a minute we’re airborne over Samburu and the neighbouring reserve, Buffalo Springs, scanning the savannah below for elephants.

The plane is used to monitor and track elephants in a complementary operation to the ground excursions. In Samburu, 60 elephants have been tranquillised – in often difficult circumstances – to allow loose collars with GPS devices to be fitted, making these northern Kenyan elephants the most closely monitored in Africa. The signal is beamed to a satellite and back to STE’s research camp, giving regularly updated locations for the elephants which are transmitted via an app to the staff’s phones and tablets.

But Douglas-Hamilton has accidentally left his phone on the ground, so we are freewheeling over the savannah, relying on our eyes. He points out an area vacated by a group of nomads to allow the elephants free range. “These sorts of compromises are essential between elephant and man,” he says. When we spot a group of elephants, Douglas-Hamilton executes a stomach-heaving turn to get a closer look. He wants to note where they are, how many are in the group, which family it is, how close they are to water, livestock and people.

Though poaching is a major issue for elephants, urbanisation poses another risk to their survival.

At 74, Douglas-Hamilton has devoted his life to elephants. After studying zoology at Oxford he moved to Tanzania, and later to Kenya. In the 1970s and 80s, he began aerial surveys of Africa’s elephant population, revealing the shocking scale of poaching. He founded Save the Elephants in 1993.

“I’ve focussed on elephants all my working life. But you also have to get deeply interested in politics, community issues, human welfare – because man is the most important determinant of the elephant’s future,” he says. Ensuring a future for elephants and their environment means creating positive co-existence between humans and elephants – and this will become increasingly important with the exponential growth of the human population across the continent, which is expected to double to 2.5 billion between now and 2050.

His brother-in-arms Thouless also expounds on the relationship between the growing population and economies of African countries and its wildlife. As conservationists, he says: “We may have to curb our ambitions. It’s not just the increased number of people, it’s also the increased footprint of those people as you get economic development. Poaching dominates our thoughts, but the implications of plans for transcontinental railways, roads and pipelines are massive.

    Elephants have a humbling effect on humans; they make us realise that perhaps we are not the masters of the universe
    Chris Thouless

“It may be unrealistic to expect vast untrammelled landscapes across which elephants can move freely. We’re going to have to accept losses as a result of infrastructure changes, and choose our battles.”

But, he says, the elephants must be saved. “They are part of the planet’s natural heritage. If you’d never seen an elephant, and encountered one, you’d think it was absolutely amazing, like a dinosaur. They are a window into our past. But they also have a humbling effect on humans; they make us realise that perhaps we are not the masters of the universe.”

In the Cessna, circling high above the savannah and gazing down on its extraordinary and complex ecosystem, I do indeed feel humbled: a speck of insignificance in the enormity and wonder of nature. Below us are elephants, lions, giraffe, cheetahs, zebra, crocodiles, hyenas, baboons, impala and dozens of other awe-inspiring species, many of them threatened by the actions and demands of humans.

Swinging the plane back towards to rough airstrip at Buffalo Springs, Douglas-Hamilton cautions against hyperbole, instead urging rigorous data gathering and analysis. “Elephants are resilient and wily, they are good survivors and are adaptable. Despite all the pressures and dangers, I don’t think all elephants will be lost within a generation, I don’t see extinction. What’s likely to happen is their removal from vast tracks of their current range.”

But, he adds, the threat to elephants is part of a much bigger catastrophe which cannot be averted without “active collaboration from a wide range of actors and activists – local populations, scientists, civic groups, corporations, politicians, security forces.

“The degradation of the environment through grotesquely irresponsible human behaviour is a terrible thing. We’re in danger of throwing away three billion years of evolution.”

*Vulcan, who ran the Great Elephant Census, also supports this independent editorial series.

For the next year the Guardian will be covering the plight of elephants around the world. Get in touch with us and share your stories.

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