Rothschild’s Giraffe Now Listed as Endangered Species

31 08 2010
Rothschild's Giraffe

Image of Rothschild's Giraffe in Murchison Falls NP

The giraffe must be one of the unlikeliest animals on the planet.  They are frequently cited as evidence that “God” or “nature” has a sense of humor.

They can be over 5 meters tall, weigh nearly two tons, and have a 45cm tongue that allows them to pluck tiny acacia leaves out from a fortress of thorns.  They have the largest heart of any land mammal, along with specially valved arteries, providing the strong plumbing system needed to get blood all the way up to their towering heads.

Despite their weirdness, or perhaps because of it, few animals scream “Africa” the way giraffes do.  There are nine subspecies of giraffe in Africa, two of which are now listed as endangered by the IUCN.  According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, in their press release titled “Rothschild’s giraffe joins list of species threatened by extinction,” the number of Rothschild’s giraffe left in the wild is now under 670.

Young Rothschild's Giraffe

Image: Young Rothschild's Giraffe, Murchison Falls NP

This means that nearly half of the remaining wild members of this endangered species call Murchison Falls National Park their home.

Endangered Giraffes and Oil

A listing on the IUCN Red List compels governments to try to help keep a species alive.  Will this bring a more critical eye to the oil development that is rapidly expanding in some of the best habitat for these animals?

Giraffes are not subtle animals.  If they are pushed out of the national parks, it’s not like they can hide out in small forest fragments tucked between villages.  Their habitat needs are very specific, which is why their range and distribution are so limited, and why Murchison Falls is the only national park in Uganda where they exist in significant numbers.

The Role of National Parks

One of the main purposes of national parks is to preserve critical habitats for species that can’t survive in a mostly human-altered environment.  Once a species becomes listed as endangered, it means that they are already feeling the pinch and that they could very well be heading for extinction if their remaining habitat is not protected.

Nobody knows yet how any of the animals in the parks will respond to increased oil activity.  When I was at Murchison Falls two weeks ago, the place was crawling with survey crews driving off-track, cutting new tracks, laying cables across the roads, tying survey tape to trees, and filling up the ferry.  There was a sense of bustle that is not consistent with my view of a national park experience, and this is just the survey crews.

Maybe the giraffes will look at the tall, spindly drilling rigs and see a distant cousin.  Maybe they will feel more at home than ever.  But maybe they will think it is time to move on.  I hope not, because they really have nowhere else to go.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Timeline for the Tullow/Heritage Oil Debacle

28 08 2010

Here is a link to a useful summary of the ongoing oil saga, and the convolutions of the sale of Heritage’s claim in Uganda to Tullow Oil.  I have found it very useful to have the information collected here in one place:

Imagine a scenario, where a major oil company purchases the assets of another, pays close to 1.5 billion US Dollars for this purchase and only then finds out that their transaction has failed to gain the mandatory regulatory approvals. Impossible you may think but true enough for Tullow Oil of Uganda.

The timeline attached to this article will outline in what sequence events did take place, but meanwhile, government has used its powers to approve, or else decline approvals, to exert pressure over a tax claim made against Heritage stemming from the sale of the assets.

via Breaking News from Uganda’s oil sector « Wolfganghthome’s Blog.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala Uganda: ‘Top Govt Officials Are Scrambling for Oil Land’

25 06 2010

I have been hearing rumors about this, but this article seems to confirm that government officials, with insider information about potential oil well sites in Uganda, are buying up land in the oil-rich Albertine Rift: Uganda: ‘Top Govt Officials Are Scrambling for Oil Land’.

This is yet one more indication that Uganda will need to be watched closely to prevent this country from being destroyed by the discovery of oil.  There is the potential for oil to be a great boon to the people of Uganda, but there are a lot of powerful people who are seeing it as a great boon to their offshore bank accounts.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Really? Seriously?!?

2 06 2010

Uganda just signed an “oil co-operation pact” with Nigeria.  This is like asking China to help develop your human rights policy.  In my mind, the final nail is in the coffin of any hope that the new-found oil wealth here will be used for the benefit of the people of this country (well, actually, a few people will benefit a whole lot).

Nigeria is widely recognized as a model for how to do everything wrong in oil development.  Billions of dollars in revenues have been siphoned off by Nigeria’s leaders (perhaps $380 billion out of $400 billion earned since independence according to Wangari Maathai),  fisheries have been destroyed in the wetland areas where they extract the oil, and so much social unrest and inequality has been created that there are armed militias attacking the oil infrastructure.

Isn’t there somebody else, anybody else that Uganda could go to for guidance?  Please?

Further Reading:

New Vision Online : Uganda, Nigeria sign oil co-operation pact

Happy information about the history of oil in Nigeria

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

A longer oil timeline for Uganda

1 06 2010

Article from The East African:

Tullow far from earning petrodollars for Uganda and EA

A worker checks machinery and pipelines for oil production. Uganda  and other East African countries are yet to enjoy petrodollars  earnings. File Photo

A worker checks machinery and pipelines for oil production. Uganda and other East African countries are yet to enjoy petrodollars earnings. File Photo

By Michael Wakabi  (email the author)

Posted Monday, May 31 2010 at 00:00

Uganda and East Africa may have to wait a little longer for petro-dollars from Uganda’s extensive oil fields as it emerges that major oil production is unlikely to commence until at least 2014/15.

Even then, the plan remains largely fluid as major elements of the programme design are yet to be completed and agreed on with Ugandan authorities.

Current estimates put the potential in Uganda’s Albertine Rift between 1.5 and two billion barrels of oil and just over 800 million barrels of these have been confirmed.

Two operators, Tullow and Heritage Oil, that have been conducting a joint exploration programme in the area, are the custodians of these finds.

Limited scope

Although Tullow had variously mentioned 2010 as a possible date for first oil production, it turns out this will be very limited in scope and targets power production from gas finds in the area and a topping plant for heavy fuel oil.

In private conversations, observers have cast doubt on the viability of Tullow’s pronouncements, pointing out that the company has not announced any practical steps geared towards commercial extraction of Uganda’s crude.

Even if the oil were brought to the surface, given the remote location of the oil fields, it would also require substantial investment in infrastructure, none of which is likely to be in place in the next three to five years.

“Tullow has made it clear that it envisages small-scale first oil production in 2010, first gas production and power and first commercial oil production by late 2011 and major production 2014 and 2015.

Read the rest of the article here.

A Thought for Beauty

19 05 2010

Kidepo Valley Morning

“We should do our utmost to encourage the Beautiful, for the Useful encourages itself.”
–  Goethe

It seems callous to talk about the value of beauty in a country where so many are struggling just to survive.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs rules out appreciation of beauty until a person’s more basic needs (food, water, shelter) are satisfied.  However, how long can you wait to focus on preserving beauty until it is all gone?

Writing in the 1970’s, Freeman Tilden, the “father” of National Park interpretation in the United States, could have been sending a warning to the Uganda of today.  He saw the natural beauty of the country in decline.  In an essay titled Vistas of Beauty, he pointed out that “we know what ugliness is, and the processes that create it.  In the haste to gain material welfare we have forgotten, or chosen to forget; and the bill has now come due.”

Uganda is proud of its natural beauty.  Catch phrases like “Pearl of Africa” and “Gifted by Nature” give voice to this pride.  But is Uganda forgetting its natural heritage in its “haste to gain material welfare?”  Allowing oil development in the National Parks is in direct contradiction to the whole purpose of having a national park.  The visions of wealth are blurring the visions of beauty.  Both inside and outside the park boundaries, the face of Uganda is about to change dramatically, and I wonder if people are thinking about the deeper psychological results those changes will bring.

Oil is useful.  Therefore, if Goethe is correct, it will “encourage itself” and doesn’t need outspoken advocates.  Beauty, however, needs voices speaking loud and clear from the rooftops to remind people that it has value, too, and that it is under assault.

“…our preserved places of natural beauty and memorials of the historic past [can’t] prosper and remain inspirational if they become islands in an environment of sanctioned ugliness.”

The proponents of oil development in Uganda’s national parks argue that the potential benefits of the oil revenues outweigh any negative impacts on wildlife, tourism, or the communities in the areas where the drilling is happening.  The concept of loss of beauty never even makes it into the conversation.  Should it?  Does beauty have value in this equation?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Is Uganda Ready for Oil Spills?

4 05 2010

“The Gulf of Mexico’s well-developed infrastructure and access to the most technologically advanced methods for responding to a spill offer the best possible set of circumstances for coping with such a disaster,” said WWF-US Vice-President for Arctic and Marine Policy William Eichbaum.

“Yet despite all these advantages, the crisis continues to worsen.”

The above quote is from an article on the website of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), referring to the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now let’s take a moment to reflect on the situation in Uganda.  Somehow “well-developed infrastructure,” “technologically advanced” and “best possible set of circumstances” just aren’t the phrases that come to mind when I think of the drilling that is happening in Murchison Falls National Park and other “protected” areas in Uganda.

Granted, at this point the drilling in Uganda is happening on land near water rather than drilling right in the middle of Lake Albert where damage from a spill could spread much more quickly (and I think we have the border conflicts with Congo during early exploration to thank for that).  However, the Ugandan government has already been complaining that they don’t feel Tullow Oil has good measures in place to contain a spill or other disaster, despite Tullow’s claims to the contrary.  If the oil company doesn’t respond well and quickly to a disaster, what is the next line of defense?  There is no coast guard, and with the oil industry being so nascent here, who besides the oil companies has the experience to respond to an oil-related disaster?

The oil development in Uganda is happening in the most biologically diverse part of the country, and one of the most diverse areas on the planet.  The first test wells in Murchison Falls National Park are right at the Nile River/Lake Albert Delta area, an internationally recognized RAMSAR site.  That is a clear signal to the world that even the most valuable and sensitive natural areas are open for oil development.

We know that oil-related disasters can happen even under the “best possible set of circumstances.”  Shouldn’t that make Uganda think twice about drilling in some of its most cherished natural areas?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala