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More Thoughts on Kruger National Park

Seeing Kruger did make me sad that humans had wiped out the majority of this biodiversity throughout the rest of South Africa (as well as most places worldwide). I’m especially sympathetic to other intelligent, emotional, social animals that have been victimized by the aggression of historically European colonizers armed with guns, germs, and steel. The situation of elephants as such animals who historical indigenous people respected as another pseudo-human civilization meriting respect yet who are now domesticated for our tourist pleasure or culled because of a problem we produced reminds me of my favorite documentary, Blackfish, which tells the parallel story of orcas. It seems that there is a global trend in the danger that Westerners pose to these animals which is really a shame. Another universally felt environmental issue imposed primarily by the greed and excess of Europeans and other first-worlders is climate change; the visible excess of bushy growth in the savannas – a proven result of heightened atmospheric carbon dioxide – was a heart-aching reminder of the widespread damages wrought by the anthropocene.

As atmospheric carbon dioxide increases due to climate change, the landscape of the savanna changes. The classic savanna vegetation was characterized primarily by tall trees like the one in the background here and tall grasses like the one in the foreground. But because bushes thrive in heightened carbon dioxide conditions, Kruger has seen an increase in the bushy mid-height vegetation seen here obscuring a baby giraffe and populating the landscape.

This global north/south dynamic in all its injustice was closely mirrored in the issue of rhino poaching. Driven by Vietnamese and Chinese demand, it reminds me of the damage inflicted on indigenous communities by the Chinese mafia’s exporting of poached seafood and accompanying peddling of drugs that we witnessed on our earlier visit to Hout Bay. Throughout this quarter I’ve been consistently amazed by the interconnectedness of global politics not just in these issues but also in, for instance, the SA-Russia nuclear power deal due in part to Zuma’s friendship with Putin (and Putin’s close deep involvement in American domestic politics… what a tangled web). Now more than ever I am aware of the US’s need to act responsibly in conservation efforts and social justice. While I know that the US is lacking to say the least, I am happy that at least USAID is still active and I will do what I can to push for continued and improved humanitarian aid and environmental regulation through what I hope to be a career in advocacy.

Rhinos like the one shown here that we spotted near the road are endangered due to the illegal poaching and trading of their horns on the black market, driven largely by cultural beliefs about the horns’ powers in China and Vietnam.

The issue of exclusion of non-whites has heightened my sensitivity to the injustice done to Native Americans. It is an absurd Western concept to think that land which has existed for millions of years can be “owned” by anyone, much less that ownership can be won by some arbitrary and unjust battle or payment. It is a shame that indigenous people with long histories in and symbiotic relationships with land could be displaced and excluded from land that was then largely destroyed for white profit or enjoyment. It is so frustrating to see that this pattern is continuing in the US with, among other things, the Dakota Access Pipeline. Experiencing and learning about the South African parallels as an outsider with a more unbiased standpoint than I can have at home has reinvigorated my hope to act as an advocate for indigenous rights at home.

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