Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Kenya: The ark of lights and shadow

...and the eyes of the tiger...

Last night, I went to a lecture by Mr Jan Svatoš, a film director behind The Ark of Lights and Shadows, a movie about wildlife in Africa.

Katy Perry's African video with 2.4 billion views was placed here because unlike some other celebrities, she recently listened to Warren Buffett's critical wisdom about the Bitcoin.

The movie celebrates both the wildlife and the emotional life of the animals in African bushes as well as Martin and Osa Johnson, early American adventurers and basically the main forefathers of all the wild life documentaries at National Geographic and elsewhere. Svatoš has obtained lots of material related to the Johnsons from the Library of the U.S. Congress. I have learned some interesting things.

Just to be sure, Svatoš is a hardcore environmentalist and when I indirectly asked him, he assured me that he would shoot dead the Europeans who visit Africa if they got into a symmetric disagreement with an aggressive African animal. Some of the Westerners provoke the animal by smoking and other things – of course these white aßholes need to be shot dead, he basically answered. ;-) He otherwise argued that the African bushes are perfectly safe – some pictures of the predators and even his other comments keep me doubtful, however.

You know, I think that the wild life in Africa – and elsewhere – is great and if I could do things effectively, I would protect it. Still, we also have a civilization that partially depends on the anthropogenic infrastructure's "victory" over wild nature. The humanism inside me makes me very uncertain whether the wild animals should always be a priority when human lives are threatened.

At any rate, a century ago, Martin and Osa Johnson got married. She was 16. She was great in orientation, in dealing with guns, communication etc., and helped Martin Johnson to make all the impressive pictures of Africa around 1900. (Svatoš's blonde wife Romi née Straková apparently plays all these roles and holds the camera, too.) Africa was said to have much more wild life than today and I tend to believe in the general spirit of these pessimistic propositions – the number of rhinos and some other species of animals has probably decreased by an order of magnitude. But Svatoš himself showed us examples that the visitors to Africa often exaggerated their testimonies and numbers and I think that the same thing should be expected from more recent visitors over there, including Svatoš.

A century ago, Westerners knew very little about Africa, he reminded us. Some early movies about the African wild life were shot at Danish islands and similar places. On top of that, there was really no environmentalism 100 years ago – recall that environmentalism only began to be adopted as a mainstream political attitude along with Nazism. A century ago, Westerners generally considered the lions to be the ultimate devils that deserved to be killed. So much has changed about the mainstream sentiments towards many of our fellow mammals. I would probably say that the change has been mostly positive but I am surely less certain that it was "too positive" than e.g. Mr Svatoš.

Svatoš showed us some pictures and videos about the cute co-existence of animals, rhinos with ostriches, tigers, lions, giraffes, and elephants, some facilities in Kenya where people take care about the injured elephants, sleep with them – so did he. Elephants are extremely emotional and may easily die because of sorrow if they lose a parent (or even a human foster parent). Well, I am not completely persuaded by the view that there exists strong evidence that sorrow is actually the reason for the death of some of these young elephants etc. The interpretation could also be a fantasy invented by some humans.

The Kenyan government is paying the rangers that are trying to go after the neck of the poachers – and these encounters are a matter of life and death. The rangers have the permission to kill the poachers – but the poachers are sometimes faster. Some of the officials in the national parks are sometimes found to cooperate with the poaches – which are low-level members of organized crime that is linked to African terrorist and radical organizations, China, and others. If you don't understand what the poaches get there, it's about the precious ivory (from elephants) and buck-horns (from the rhinos).

He showed us some scenes of animals loving each other, loving him, and so on. A collection of night photographs showed us lots of animals – dangerous and friendly ones – who displayed eyeshine. The eyes look like LEDs or light bulbs. Where does the light come from? No, they're not really phosphorescing or fluorescing. Instead, the effect is all about the reflection. Near the retinas, many animals' eyes have a layer that reflects the light into a similar direction where it comes from.

So when you take a picture, a much greater percentage of the light from your flash – I suppose that there was some flash – is reflected from the interior of the eyes than from the rest of the animal, so you see the eyeshine. If you can clarify some physics of this reflection, e.g. whether the angles may be quite accurate, I could be slightly grateful for that.

The movie he promoted will be aired in the cinemas non-commercially. So of course, it's an example of the cultural activity that depends on sponsors and subsidies; the 2015 trailer above has just 1,000 views now. Sponsors may fund such projects willingly and there's nothing wrong about it – I would be tempted to do it myself. Nevertheless, one may get annoyed by the obvious bias. The folks who make living in this subsidized way are much more likely to be staunch progressives or SJWs or radical environmentalists or something of this type. There's probably nothing lethal about this correlation but one should be aware of this correlation because when the subsidies or donations for such projects become too high, the society's political attitude is unavoidably being pushed to the left. That's true even if almost no one watches such movies. It's enough for the recipients of the subsidies to be numerous enough for the society to move somewhere.

He has told us and showed us various other interesting things – a comparison of Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, first and second highest peak of Africa (5,895 meters for Kilimanjaro and 5,199 for Batian). The former is easy to get to – a smooth hill. The latter is a part of a massif, many fewer people get there, and lots of visitors die. Mount Kenya used to be Africa's highest peak (7,000 meters) but the massif got gradually eroded by the volcanic activity.

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