From my Hide: National parks open for mining and other sad news from Africa

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The government of the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo has announced that two of its most important national parks are to be opened up for mining exploration. The parks are the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site and home of the surviving and critically-endangered mountain gorilla and other endangered species, like the bongo.

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The other park is the Salonga National Park, another World Heritage Site covering over 33-thousand square kilometres of the Congo Basin and home to the also endangered forest elephant and many other rare species. The Salonga Park is Africa’s oldest National Park. Exploration will include drilling for oil.

More bad news from the Congo is that the government is believed to be planning to export mountain gorillas and other endangered species to China for placement in zoos. There are only about 200 mountain gorillas surviving in the wild so any animals marked for export would have to be captured in the wild.*

A team of geologists working in the desert of Muscat and Oman has found 35-million-year-old fossils of various mammals, including early elephants, primitive giraffe, monkeys and what could be rhinos and crocodiles.

The team, consisting of Omani and French geologists, also found fossils of turtles – an indication that the sea must have been very much closer than it is now.*

Scientists report a sharp dying off of what are probably South Africa’s most famous trees, the baobabs. It’s reported that over recent years 13 of the oldest, ranging from 1 000 to 2 500 years old, and best-known baobabs have died. Importantly, very few young trees appear to be growing to take the place of the ancient giants. Botanists believe the most likely cause of the die-off is climate change affecting the habitat of the baobabs, which is a very narrow belt running across northern South Africa and neighbouring countries.

The baobab is not only spectacular because of its shape and size, it is also a very useful tree. It can store up to 140 000 litres of water which it has sucked up during the wet season, the bark makes an excellent fibre from which mats and other woven materials are made, the young leaves can be cooked as a vegetable, the seeds are edible and make a passable coffee if roasted, the pulp around the seeds is full of vitamin C and makes a refreshing drink if mixed with milk or water, and various parts of the tree are used in traditional medicines.

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Importantly, for many hundreds of years baobabs have been used as community centres for local people and many sites of archaeological significance have been found under them.**

And finally, my fetish over reading the small print came up with a goodie the other day. Notes on a 50gm packet of peanuts – Ingredients: Peanuts, vegetable oil and flavourants. Allergens: Contains peanuts’. And finally – ‘Warning: This product has been made in a factory that uses nuts’.

*Save the Elephants News Service.

**Sources: Save the Elephants News Service and Trees of Southern Africa, Braam van Wyk and Piet van Wyk, Struik, Cape Town, 1997.

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DAVID HOLT-BIDDLE

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