I plotted the last of my five-book romantic suspense series [Tour Director Extraordinaire] while I was traveling in Africa. It's finally been released as ALL FOR A BLAST OF HOT AIR. The African Big Five - Photo source:
I use world travel as an inspiration for writing novels. On nearly every trip I've taken, annoying, funny, or scary incidents occurred. There is always one person in the group who is an interesting, annoying, quirky, or otherwise notable character. And, of course, most world travelers are exposed to new sights, sounds, smells, and customs.
The important thing is to pay attention. I have to keep a notebook where I jot things down. Some people write a daily journal. Not everything ends up in a book. In fact, most of it doesn't, although knowledge garnered adds significantly to the author's "command" of the setting.
THINK AFRICA, THINK THE BIG FIVE
When most of us think about Africa, we immediately envision wild animals and, in particular, "the big five." This term applies those African animals most difficult and dangerous to hunt on foot, not the size of the animal. These are lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards, and rhinoceros. But there are plenty of other interesting animals such as zebra and giraffes, and observing them in their wild habitat is a one-of-a-kind experience.
My trip to southern Africa in 2008 (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia) was one of the most interesting and exciting adventures I've had. Seeing the animals in the wild was awesome, even in a safari vehicle filled with tourists.
Here's my point. I knew there were, and still are, significant efforts to protect the African wildlife habitat and the animals, but I had no idea how endangered the animals are. And, of course, the primary source of threat comes from humans.
Everyone, regardless of location or point in time, recognizes the lion (Panthera leo). Depictions of lions date back 17,000 years, at minimum, to the carvings and paintings from the Lascaux and Chauvet caves in France. Lions are the second largest living cat species after the tiger.
African lions live in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. They wander a territory of 100 square miles, according to National Geographic. This territory consists of scrub, grasslands or open woodlands; they are not found in forests.
Kreuger National Park,So.Africa Ethosia National Park, Namibia
Males are more robust than females and have broader heads and a prominent mane which covers most of the head, neck, and shoulders. The tails of both male and female end in a dark, hairy tufts. Typical weight range for male is 330 to 550 pounds and for females, 265 to 400 pound.
A hundred years ago, the estimated number of lions in Africa was 200,000. Today, experts say the lion population is between 20,000 and 30,000. They were not identified as “endangered” until 2015, and the news keeps getting worse. Recent studies show the populations have declined by fifty percent over the past twenty years and are expected to decline as rapidly in the next twenty.
According to Luke Hunter, president of the wild-cat conservation organization (Panthera) one of the greatest threats to the existence of lions “is that the bushmeat trade has left the Africa Savannah devoid of the animals that lions traditionally prey upon. It’s a commercial endeavor, not just a subsistence one.” Thus lions turn to livestock, which subjects them to local farmers killing the lions. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/african-lions-protection/
The African elephant is the largest animal walking the earth. Their herds wander through thirty-seven countries in Africa, much of that area in wildlife preservation areas. They use their trunks for communication and handling objects. Large ears allow them to radiate excess heat. Upper incisor teeth develop into tusks in African elephants and grow throughout their lifetime.
● Savannah Elephants
Savannah elephants live in the East and South of Africa in Savannah and grassy plains: Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. This type of elephant is the largest animal on Earth. You can recognize them by their large ears (larger than other elephants) and the fact that their front legs are longer than back legs. Both male and female have tusks. ▼
Photos: R. Ann Siracusa, Zimbabwe www.aboutanimals.com
● Forest Elephants
Forest elephants live in the forest of the Congo basin in Africa. This species has a narrow, small mandible, smaller round-shaped ears, and stronger tusks which are straighter and point downward. Since it is in a forest it is known to use the tusk to remove branches and trees on the ground. There are also differences in the size and shape of the skull and skeleton between the two subspecies.
The rhinoceros gets its name from the Greek rhinoceros, rhinos meaning nose and kerato meaning horn. Even with a herbivorous diet, they can reach two tons in weight, and have a 1.5 to 5 cm protective skin formed from layers of collagen.
There are depictions of these giant animals on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in France, 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, so they've been around for a long time. There are two species of rhinoceros in Africa, Black and White, although in color they are similar and both are varying shades of gray. They are near-sighted and can be easily startled.
The largest rhinoceros species (Ceratotherium simum) consists of two subspecies—the southern white rhinoceros, which lives in the southernmost regions of Africa, and the northern white rhinoceros of central Africa.
White rhinos have broad flat mouth and the natural head posture faces down, features aiding eating grass. The Dutch name is wijd or weid mond rhino which means wide mouth. That ultimately morphed into the name white rather than wide. The males can reach over two tons in weight, but they are very social animals and often can been seen in groups. They are also less aggressive than black rhinos but, nonetheless, you don’t want to mess around with one.
While survey numbers vary, there are about 20,000 southern white rhinoceroses in the wild, but the northern white rhinoceros is on the brink of extinction, a mere handful of individuals surviving in zoos and nature reserves. The conservation efforts to save the southern white rhino is a success story and that population is estimated in recent years as about 21,000.
Photo: Wikipedia, White Rhino – Waterberg-Nash Photo: Wikipedia - Black Rhino at St. Louis zoo
● Black Rhinoceros
These are smaller than whites and have small hook- or beak-shaped mouths for feeding on trees and shrubs. Large males weigh up to about one ton. They prefer thick vegetation, and are short tempered and aggressive when compared to the white rhino. They also prefer solitude and do not remain in groups.
Protection efforts have been in existence for nearly 100 years, yet in the 1970's, there were about 70,000 black rhinos on the continent of Africa. In the 1980's, this population had been reduced to 15,000, and the species has all but disappeared in at least ten African countries. In the 1990's, there were 2,475. Since then, through conservation efforts, the population has increased to 5,458 in 2015. While progress has been made, these statistics are pretty pathetic for an animal whose evolutionary history can be traced back fifty million years.
AFRICAN CAPE BUFFALO
Yay! The African Cape Buffalo is alive and well, and not endangered. Nine hundred thousand of them live in the wild.
This is Africa’s only wild Bovine species and is one of the ‘Big Five’ mammals that were once popular with trophy hunters. The animal has a bulky build, thick horns, and a sparse covering of hair over the body typically ranges from brownish to black in color. The imposing horns spread outward and downward from the head, and in some males the horns are joined by a large shield covering the head, known as a ‘boss’ro. The males tend to be larger than the females, with longer, thicker horns.
They are vegetarian and travel in herds, being very social animals. They are also unpredictable and considered very dangerous to humans. They will continue to charge even after being shot. There are four subspecies, three Savannah and one forest.
● Forest Cape Buffalo
These are the smallest of the subspecies, about half the size of the Savannah species, and males weight from 600 to 1,000 pounds. They are a reddish brown. Their heads are lower than the top of the backline, and the horns are smaller and swept back. Their front hooves are wider than those in the rear. Distinctive tassels hang from the tips of the forest buffalo’s ears.
Forest Cape Buffalo at the African Savannah Cape Buffalo Photo: Doug Lee:
Reserve of Sigean, France-Photo: Wikipedia Photo: R.A.Siracusa www.wildliferanching.com/
The Savannah types are larger, from 1,100 to 2,200 pounds. They have black or dark brown coats. Old bulls have whitish circles around their eyes. Below a comparison of the Cape Buffalo to an elephant and a lion.
The African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is a leopard subspecies native to many, widely separated locations in Africa.
They sport a large variety of coat colors and pattern, depending on location and habitat. It varies from pale yellow to deep tawny and sometimes black rosettes or black. Males weight from 130 to 200 pounds. Females average from 77 to 88 pounds.
Mountain leopards from the Cape Provinces had different physical characteristics form leopards in the northern provinces of Africa. Rain forest leopards have a darker golden coat while east African leopards display a more circular pattern of spots. Southern leopards tend to be lighter in color and have squarish spots.
African leopards favor a diet of animals like baboons, pigs, warthogs, monkeys, domestic stock and small antelope, and can carry a complete carcass equal to their weight up into a tree with ease. This is due to the leopard’s massive skull and strong jaw muscles.
Its success in stalking and hunting can be credited to its opportunistic behavior and impressive speed. A healthy male leopard can run at speeds approaching 35 miles per hour. The African leopard is the smallest animal that consistently kills and eats man - he’s the ultimate evolution of a carnivore.”
WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?
At one time not so long ago, the Big Five of Africa were akin to natural wonders of the world. Wild and mysterious. Today some of them are fast disappearing off the face of the earth, except in zoos and facilities for preservation.
The reasons for this include the loss of habitat due, in part, to population growth and human encroachment. Big game hunting also adds to the problem, but the big ticket item is illegal poaching. Not only Africa, but the rest of the world is facing an alarming increase in illegal poaching, working against decade of preservation efforts. But it is big business, and money rules. The trade runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, and at least some of it goes to support world terrorism.
Elephants tusks have long been sought for the ivory, but now poaching for Rhino horns is the biggest problem. Treehugger.com stated in 2009 that "Rhino horn is now worth more than gold: A kilo of rhino horn now goes for $60,000 on the black market, where-as that much gold is currently a bit over $40,600. That's $1610 an ounce for the rhino horn." The major use of rhino horn is in traditional Asian medicines. Yowza!
Photo Source: PhotoSource: Photo source: Photo source:
www.wildlife-pictures-online.com/ www.wildlife-pictures-online.com/ https://www.jamiiforums.com/ https://www.change.org/p/rhinoceros
It is possible in the not-too-so-distant future, the only place where some of the big five and other animals survive will be in zoos.
This blog isn't all about wildlife conservation, but how real life and traveling translate into novels. Knowing the situation in Africa, how could an author use it in a novel? A heroine who is fighting poachers to save elephants or rhinos confronts the big game hunter, or poacher or perhaps works with a park ranger. The situation would provide for plenty of action and, perhaps, enlighten readers at the same time. If you want to stick to US settings, here’s a news headline from the November 13, 2013 Denver post which might give you an idea.
"U.S. authorities on Thursday crushed 6 tons of seized ivory, each piece cut from
dead elephants, signaling a resolve to kill a $10 billion illicit trade linked to
international crime and terrorism."
I knew, when I went to Africa, that I wanted to use that setting for a novel in my romantic suspense series Tour Director Extraordinaire. I had a paragraph length concept, but nothing else. If you read my latest release All For A Blast of Hot Air (which has nothing to do with poaching), you'll see how I used the setting.
ALL FOR A BLAST OF HOT AIR
BOOK 5 - TOUR DIRECTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE SERIES
By R. Ann Siracusa
I'm Harriet Ruby, tour director extraordinaire. Finally, I'm tying the knot with Will Talbot, my favorite spy and the love of my life, despite my nagging concerns about his dangerous profession.
He could get killed!
I don't want my children to grow up with an absentee father...or a dead one, but Will's work is his calling. I can't ask him to give it up. When he holds me in his arms, I have no doubt he'll find a way to make everything right.
To avoid the huge Italian wedding my mother is planning in California, I jump at an offer to get married in the Vatican, only to learn my whole tribe is making the trip to Rome for the ceremony. Darn. Now, I'm stuck planning a big wedding in two months without help. I freak out totally when my boss cancels my vacation time scheduled for the honeymoon.
At Will's suggestion, we get married at city hall, hire a wedding planner, and then take off on our honeymoon before the church ceremony. The first leg of our trip is a hot air balloon safari in Africa—well, it sounded like fun at the time—but afterward, we'll have two quiet, relaxing weeks totally alone.
When a member of our tour is kidnapped, I learn Will accepted an assignment from the US government to keep the kidnap victim under surveillance—after he'd promised me his full attention. All my doubts about the marriage raise their ugly heads.
Have I jumped the gun? Sure, we love each other, but is that enough to make this marriage work?
It won't matter if we don't get out alive.
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