The Blogger

Sunsets over the River Plate in Carmelo can be spectacular.

Sunsets over the River Plate in Carmelo can be spectacular.

I was born in Carmelo, Uruguay in 1951. Carmelo is a small town in the Department of Colonia, about 40 km from Buenos Aires (Argentina) and 250km from Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital). It is not difficult to imagine that Carmelo’s inhabitants are almost equally influenced by both countries. The muddy River Plate separates us from the Argentinian coastline. The river (in fact defined as an estuary) is shallow and its water silted by the contribution of the Uruguay and Paraná rivers.

I did my primary and secondary school education in Carmelo (with the final year in Mercedes, Soriano Department). I graduated as a veterinarian in Montevideo in 1975. I worked as a practitioner mainly on large animals for four years and gradually became convinced that I should resume my studies to be able to get into research.

Asado con cuero (barbecue with hide) now rare, was still quite common at the time I worked as a field veterinarian in Uruguay.

Asado con cuero (barbecue with hide) now rare, was still quite common at the time I worked as a field veterinarian in Uruguay.

In 1979 a Rotary Foundation scholarship enabled me to achieve this goal. I also got married prior to my departure so my family life started at the same time. We travelled to Bangor in North Wales in order for me to study animal parasitology at the Department of Applied Zoology. I got an MSc after one year with a study on demodectic cattle mange. This somehow labeled me as an “ecto” parasitologist and a few months later I got a 30-month Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) “Andre Mayer” fellowship to study “The economic impact of ticks in Africa”.

My work in Kenya frequently took me to Maasailand.

My work in Kenya frequently took me to Maasailand.

This was a “life changer” as it meant we would get to travel to Kenya to work at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi. Two and a half excellent and enjoyable years as an FAO fellow and about five more as an ICIPE scientist followed. In addition to studying the impact of ticks and tick-borne diseases (TBD) on domestic animals we also worked on host resistance to the ticks. We focused mainly on the Rhipicephalus spp.-Theileria spp. association that produces/results in a deadly disease known as East Coast Fever (ECF) or Corridor Disease in cattle in great parts of Africa. During my time in Kenya I published a number of papers in international journals and completed my PhD studies on tick and TBD on cattle in Africa.

As my research advanced, I became better known and, in 1988, I was offered a professional FAO job as project manager in Ethiopia that I accepted as it meant a substantial economic improvement (but with a heavy heart at leaving Kenya after so many great years!!!). The Ethiopian job took us to Bedele in Illubabor (about 400 km south west from Addis Ababa) and about 300km from the border with Sudan (now Southern Sudan). We spent about two years there (1988-89), working under challenging conditions to perform a tick survey as well as to study tick population dynamics to develop improved control methods.

Collecting ticks from cattle in Gambela, Ethiopia.

Collecting ticks from cattle in Gambela, Ethiopia.

Tick collections were watched with great interest!

Tick collections were watched with great interest!

In early 1990 we were transferred to a similar job in Lusaka, Zambia (where our two children were born in 1990 and 1991 respectively). Life changed and responsibilities increased both on the personal and professional front. In Zambia I became a manager of a larger programme that studied the impact of tick infestation on cattle growth and milk production, long-term pioneering work that yielded very interesting results.

Mosi-oa-Tunya in Tonga language means the smoke that thunders. These are the Victoria Falls (seen from Zambia) found by David Livingstone in 1855.

Mosi-oa-Tunya in Tonga language means the smoke that thunders. These are the Victoria Falls (seen from Zambia) found by David Livingstone in 1855.

In 1993, with the review of the FAO tick and TBD programme I was offered a post in FAO HQs in Rome, Italy and became the tick and TBD technical officer for FAO with worldwide responsibilities. This change meant a move from “hands on” field research to an administrative role in support of the FAO programme on ticks and TBD, mainly in Africa.

FAO Headquarters, Rome, in the eighties. The Axum obelisk in the foreground is no longer as it was returned to Ethiopia in 2005.

FAO Headquarters, Rome, in the eighties. The Axum obelisk in the foreground is no longer as it was returned to Ethiopia in 2005.

The opportunity to return to Africa was presented to me in 1997 and I did not hesitate! We moved to Harare, Zimbabwe where I took up the role of sub-regional animal production and health officer, an even broader professional role as it also involved animal production. As compensation, however, the job was restricted to Southern and Eastern Africa.

Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country's Late Iron Age. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s Late Iron Age. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seeking a career improvement in 2001 we left for La Paz, Bolivia to become the FAO Representative in that country, a post that I held until 2005. This work meant a marked professional adjustment as I became the head of an office with a large multi-sectorial programme and several employees both in the office and in the field. In addition, as the representative of the organization in the country I also carried a political role having to develop strong links with the host government.

Sowing in a river valley, Bolivia.

Sowing in a river valley, Bolivia.

After five years, in 2006, I returned to Rome, again as a technical expert to continue working on animal diseases, in particular I returned to ticks and TBD. After four years I had had enough of desk work and it was either another field post or retirement! Fortunately the position of FAO Representative in Maputo, Mozambique became available and I was chosen for this post that I carried out from 2010 to 2013 when I retired at 62 years of age,  on the 30th of June 2013. It was an enriching experience as we expanded the country programme substantially by negotiated a large UN joint programme that was highly praised and awarded with the prize to the Best World Collaboration between the Rome-based UN agencies.

The author (far left) receiving the Rome-Based Agencies Award to the best collaboration at IFAD HQs., Rome. Picture credit: IFAD.

The author (far left) receiving the Rome-based Agencies Award to the best collaboration at IFAD HQs., Rome. Picture credit: IFAD.

I have always being interested in animals and from an early age I collected insects and kept lizards and snakes as pets, in addition to the more conventional cats and dogs. As I built a reputation for liking animals, I had several different ones brought to me to look after. Among these there were hares, plovers, parrots and even a large owl that I kept for a few years. In retrospect, our travel to Africa can be seen as a natural progression from this early interest in animals. Whatever the case, animals have been a great interest in my life, fortunately shared by my wife first and my children later. The discovery of the wild places that Africa offers consolidated this interest and it became a passion. The more we travelled the more we learnt and the more we wished to see! This continues up to today! Over the years I have acquired good knowledge on African wildlife and I am a keen observer of all animals, including insects and arachnids.

A lone elephant shows the immensity of the Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe

A lone elephant shows the immensity of the Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe

I also need to mention that I enjoy fishing.  I have tried trout fishing but it did not spark my interest; I would like to define myself as a coarse fisherman that practices catch and release as I do not like to eat fish that much! I am also an impatient person so I enjoy fishing for large fish, particularly those that offer some serious resistance such as tiger fish and vundu in Africa and dorado, surubi and other related game fish in South America.

I played soccer and basketball (badly), volleyball and tennis (better) and I am a very keen walker. Finally, I like reading about African and South American history and their bush characters, in particular those with a passion for nature.

 

 

 

 

 

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10 comments

  1. Such an interesting career. My husband also progressed through the years with UN agencies. Starting in Fiji with Habitat and finishing in Nairobi with UNCHS, retiring almost 20 years ago at age 62..

  2. Your journeys have been far & wide and obviously enriching. Clearly you also have made such a huge contribution to your career that sounded rewarding. May you continue searching the hidden beauty of this African continent. Here’s wishing you & your family a prosperous 2016.

    1. Many thanks for your very kind comment. We have indeed been very fortunate so far and hope that with good health we can continue to enjoy nature. There is lots to write about still! It is a question of finding the time! I reciprocate your kind wishes and trust that you will continue enjoying the blog. Bushsnob.

  3. Dear,

    I would like to contact you concerning the permission to use one of your clips.
    Can you give me your email?

    Kind regards,
    Annelies (BE)

      1. Hi, just loved your read, kindly i would love to know more about the hyenas not being aggressive? Also can i get some contact from the Intona ranch in Transmara.

      2. Thank you so much for reading the blog as well as for your interesting comments. On the hyenas, I speak from experience of many years of camping in various places. We have seen them very often coming to camp and they have always kept their distance from us. The closest we have seen them was at Intona in the Transmara when they stole our saucepans and walked around and in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe when they get quite close to our camp. On Intona Ranch, the last info I have is that it is totally abandoned and run down. In the internet I saw some press coverage in the Kenya Nation where it was explained that some Maasai that claimed to be related to Joe Murumbi were claiming the property. This is all I know and it is a sad story.

  4. Hello. I randomly came across your blog whilst googling intona ranch where I spent many a happy weekend as a child. I am Alan’s youngest daughter Rebecca. I was touched by your accurate description of my father it bought a tear and a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing!

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