Friday, December 13, 2013

Kakapo 'adoption' a great gift option for Christmas

Close your eyes and try to imagine this:

There are only 150 people left in the world.

I know - it's difficult. But try to picture it. Got it? Now hold it...

Now imagine those people live spread out in a wild environment, without any way to travel other than by walking. And imagine they have great difficulty in "hooking up" in order to mate and eventually produce offspring.

It really challenges the mind to think of humans in those terms, since there are 7 billion of us on the planet.

But that may help you empathize with the plight of the kakapo parrot of New Zealand. There are less than 150 of these parrots remaining on the planet. They are on the brink of extinction.

Kakapo parrot (Photo by Kakapo recovery)
They are flightless. They are the heaviest parrot in the world. They are possibly the oldest living bird still on the planet. But the clock is ticking for this bird.

I first learned about the dire situation this bird is in during a Parrot Lover's Cruise. This is a program put together by the World Parrot Trust and Carol Cipriano, a U.S.-based travel agent, that essentially builds a program around existing cruise ship schedules to allow travellers who opt into the tour to see parrots in the wild and attend seminars about parrot conservation and education on board the ship between ports of call.

Being a parrot lover, I was aware of this bird long before I took the cruise - I just had no idea how close it was to extinction before watching "The Unnatural History of the Kakapo" video about it as part of the tour. 

Now our cruise - which was through the Caribbean - did not take us to New Zealand. However, it did take us to several islands where other parrots also face extinction: Puerto Rico, Dominica and Bonaire. All three of those islands currently have ongoing conservation projects to help save the endemic parrot species from extinction. (Not every island stop on our route featured parrots; but on the islands that did not include a parrot element, we used our time to go paddling or hiking, instead).

Any parrot population found on an island - particularly if it is only on one island - is very susceptible to extinction. One bad hurricane, an epidemic of disease, a sudden loss of species-specific habitat, introduction of a predator not native to the area - or a combination of all of them - can decimate a population concentrated in only one spot.

The reasons for its decline to a mere 18 birds in the 1970s is a result of several pressures on the population. The Kakapo Recovery Project consists of a team of dedicated conservationists working to restore the population to a level where it can thrive and exist without coming so close to extinction.

Kakapo plushies. (Photo by Kakapo Recovery)
Like all conservation projects, they require funds. Since it is the season of giving, if you are looking for a different kind of Christmas gift, one that also helps a good cause, you could "adopt" a kakapo

Now obviously, you don't physically adopt a bird - but your donation goes toward helping the project continue. 

There are different donation levels, and with each one, part of your "gift" includes a plush stuffed kakapo parrot.

Because it is close to Christmas, they will email donors a certificate of adoption so you can present that to a recipient, since at this point, a plushie may not arrive on time for Dec. 25, depending on where you are, in the world.

If you visit the project's website, you can find other ways to help make it a Merry Christmas for kakapos.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dining for Tanzanians: a different kind of 'safari'

Africa ... the word conjures up images of exotic wildlife, vast plains and jungles, deserts and mountains, adventures beyond what we can experience at home.

It can also create images of the continent's various cultures...the music, art and food of the people who live there, who call Africa "home."

While travelling around Africa, one of the things that struck me - in almost every one of the eight countries I've visited - is how happy the people seem to be, there.
The Serengeti plains, Tanzania, Africa

Keep in mind, these are people that have no TVs, iPhones, cars, desktop computers, fancy flush toilets (in fact, running water is a real luxury), electric ovens - none of the things we take for granted, things we count as given commodities in our western lifestyles.

Yet they seem to be happier than many North Americans.

That may make you think of the old adage, ignorance is bliss; yet, these people - many of them smart, young adults - are aware of the world. They have some education, so they are not really ignorant.

And despite not having these material items, despite their awareness, they are not envious - they are, for the most part, very friendly toward foreigners.

Example: while touring in southern Tanzania not far from the Malawi border, our tour group wanted to go back down the road to another set of outdoor shops; myself and Ann were embroiled in a major bartering transaction that Africans love so much. The guide made sure we felt comfortable being left alone in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road (we were, of course) and they took off.

When we'd concluded our deal (both sides feeling they had gotten the "best" of the transaction), a couple of young men asked us if they could buy us a soda pop in the cafe across the street.

That's right - they wanted to treat us. The well-off foreign visitors. They wanted to buy us a drink.

We took them up on it, and they insisted on paying for the colas we drank.

They were incredibly curious, hungry for real knowledge about us, our country, what we did for a living. (When I told the one fellow I was a sports writer, he told me what that was in Swahili: "michezo mwandishi.")
African cart, ready to load up.

A desire for that kind of knowledge really deserves to be fed.

However, even though by our standards, education there is not that expensive, many of them cannot afford to go to school. Many of them do not even have homes, and live on the streets.

Dan Budgell, a UBC biology grad discovered that same fact when he travelled in Tanzania a few years ago. Rather than just give money to street kids, he bought them meals. But he wanted to do more.

He found out how little (in western terms) it costs to send kids to school, there. So with some other friends, he set up a foundation called the Global Peace Network. Among its humanitarian projects: raising money to help street kids get access to information.

They raise money in various ways. One of those ways is through an event that takes place this Wednesday, Dec. 11 at Simba's Grill on Denman Street in Vancouver. From 7 to 9 p.m. that night, GPN is hosting an African dinner at the restaurant that specializes in East African fusion cuisine. I have eaten Simba's food before, and I'm looking forward to eating it once again.

But it's about much more than just this time of the year, when we celebrate and feast and give presents, it's nice to feel that by participating in this type event, we do more than just enjoy a nice meal - we help some youngster in Tanzania get an education, and quite possibly, a better life.

I can't think of any better way to celebrate this festive season than doing something like that.

Africa gave me a whole lot when I was there. It's only right I should give something back.

Kurshid Khan cooking up some African cuisine at Simba's in Vancouver.