Some hopeful stats on endangered rhinos

Conservation efforts bring cautious hope for African rhinos – IUCN Red List

South-western Black Rhino


Gland, Switzerland, 19 March 2020 (IUCN) – The African Black Rhino remains Critically Endangered, but its population is slowly increasing as conservation efforts counter the persistent threat of poaching, according to today’s update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM.

Between 2012 and 2018, the Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) population across Africa has grown at a modest annual rate of 2.5% from an estimated 4,845 to 5,630 animals in the wild, respectively. Population models predict a further slow increase over the next five years, according to today’s update.

The IUCN Red List now includes 116,177 species of which 31,030 are threatened with extinction.

“While Africa’s rhinos are by no means safe from extinction, the continued slow recovery of Black Rhino populations is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries the species occurs in, and a powerful reminder to the global community that conservation works. At the same time, it is evident that there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats,” said Dr Grethel Aguilar, Acting Director-General of IUCN. “It is essential that the ongoing anti-poaching measures and intensive, proactive population management continue, with support from national and international actors.”

“These developments for African rhinos show the changes that can be achieved through committed conservation action,” said Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “It is crucial that local people are increasingly involved in and benefit from conservation efforts. International, national and local actors need to work together to tackle the biodiversity crisis. It will be critical for the voices of those working in the field to protect threatened species such as African Rhinos to be amplified in the coming years as we set the conservation agenda for the next decade.”

The increase in Black Rhino numbers is mainly due to continuing law enforcement efforts and successful population management measures, including moving selected rhinos from established populations to new locations to keep populations productive and increase the species’ range. One subspecies of the Black Rhino, the South-western Black Rhino (D. b. bicornis) – previously assessed as Vulnerable – has seen sufficient population growth over the last three generations to be newly categorised as Near Threatened. The other two surviving subspecies, the South-eastern (D. b. minor) and Eastern (D. b. michaeli), both remain Critically Endangered following heavy declines between the 1970s and mid-1990s. While all three surviving subspecies are on a slow path of recovery, they remain dependent on continued conservation efforts.

Africa’s other rhino species, the more numerous White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) continues to be categorised as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Numbers of the Southern White Rhino (C. s. simum) subspecies declined by 15% between 2012 and 2017 from an estimated 21,300 to 18,000 animals, which largely cancelled out most of the growth in White Rhino numbers from 2007 to 2012.

This recent decline was largely due to the high levels of poaching in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest White Rhino population.

The other White Rhino subspecies, the Northern White Rhino (C. s. cottoni), remains Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild). The White Rhino is more vulnerable to poaching as it has larger horns, and favours more open habitats so is easier to find than the black rhino.

The poaching of African rhinos to supply the illegal international rhino horn trade remains the main threat to the two species. However, the strong counter-measures taken by range states, private landowners and communities in recent years are having a positive effect: recorded poaching of African rhinos has been declining at a continental level in recent years. After a peak in 2015, when a minimum of 1,349 rhinos was found to have been poached – an average of 3.7 rhinos poached per day – poaching numbers have decreased every year since. In 2018, there was a minimum of 892 rhinos poached – approximately 2.4 African rhinos poached every day, or one every ten hours. Preliminary data for 2019 indicates poaching levels have further declined.

“With the involvement of transnational organised crime in poaching, rhino crimes are not just wildlife crimes. A number of range States are to be commended for their efforts, elevating rhino crimes to a higher level and taking a more ‘whole of government’ approach to combat the organised crime behind the poaching. If the encouraging declines in poaching can continue, this should positively impact rhino numbers. Continued expenditure and efforts will be necessary to maintain this trend,” said Dr Richard Emslie, Red List Authority Coordinator for the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group.

While conservation efforts have led to slightly lower levels of rhino poaching in recent years, the costs of keeping rhinos safe have risen greatly and live sale prices have significantly decreased over the last decade, reducing incentives for private landowners and communities to keep rhinos. With around half of White Rhinos and close to 40% of Black Rhinos now conserved on privately or community-managed land, the trend towards rhinos being increasingly viewed as costly liabilities could threaten to limit or reverse the future expansion of the species’ range and numbers.

Download photos and summary statistics here.

Supporting quotes: 

“We are pleased to have supported 65% of the species assessments in this IUCN Red List update,” said Masako Yamato, General Manager, Environmental Affairs Division of Toyota Motor Corporation. “This up-to-date information will be highly valuable to all of society for informing conservation commitments made this year as part of the Post 2020 Biodiversity Framework.”

Quotes from Red List Partners

“Even though black rhinos remain at high risk, it’s encouraging to see that their population has started to regrow,” said Dr M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International. “Now, we must double down on the critical conservation work that governments and local communities have undertaken in recent years. Together, we can stop the tragedy of wildlife poaching and bring black rhinos back from the brink of extinction.”

“Protecting the planet’s precious biodiversity has never been more important. Every day, the obstacles to saving native species from extinction and preserving ecosystems are growing,” said Sean T. O’Brien, President and CEO of Nature Serve. O’Brien continued, “We must seek out opportunities to bring together data, science, and technology to help solve one of the scariest environmental challenges of our time, the mass extinction of untold numbers of species.”

“The Missouri Botanical Garden is delighted to join the IUCN Red List Partnership, which provides an unparalleled opportunity to link our diverse conservation activities to this globally important initiative and to collaborate with other partners by conducting conservation assessments and participating in coordinated conservation actions focused specifically on endangered plants,” said Pete Lowry, Director, Africa & Madagascar Program, Missouri Botanical Garden.

“The recent Red List assessment of the status of rhinos reveals the degree to which we have had to isolate them in order to conserve them. Movement is restricted to increasingly smaller enclaves, often under near militarized conditions. We intensively manage all aspects of their biology. In our efforts to recover populations, we are still far from restoring rhinos and other species without social fragmentation. Ranging free and wide on restored entire landscapes must be our goal,” said Dr Thomas E. Lacher, Jr., Professor, Ecology and Conservation Biology, Texas A&M University.

“A key lesson of the gradually improving status of African rhinos is that conservation works. We know what needs to be done, and must expand conservation action worldwide to continue to reverse the decline to these and other threatened species,” said Dr Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission.

“Thanks to the immense efforts and investment made into the protection of black rhino we are now witnessing populations recover. This is a great achievement, given the scale of the challenge. However, populations remain at a fraction of their historical level. We need to continue to promote wholesale recovery across their range. This is going to require innovative approaches to growing numbers, managing habitat and engaging stakeholders. Tools such as the Rhino Impact Bond were designed to facilitate just this sort of growth,” said Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation & Policy, ZSL.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Harriet Brooker, IUCN Media Relations, +44 7960 241862,
Matthias Fiechter, IUCN Media Relations, +41 79 536 0117,

Notes to editors

The IUCN Red List: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ contributes to the achievement of Target 12 of the 2011 to 2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. Target 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

IUCN–Toyota Partnership: The five-year partnership between IUCN and Toyota Motor Corporation announced in May 2016 has been significantly increasing knowledge on the extinction risk of more than 28,000 species, including many that are key food sources for a significant portion of the global population. This partnership is driven by the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, which aims to reduce the negative impacts associated with automobiles to zero, whilst simultaneously making positive impacts on society.

The IUCN Red List

Global figures for the 2020-1 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

  • (Total threatened species = 31,030)
  • Extinct = 878
  • Extinct in the Wild = 75
  • Critically Endangered = 6,523
  • Endangered = 11,067
  • Vulnerable = 13,440
  • Near Threatened = 6,976
  • Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 190 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of The IUCN Red List)
  • Least Concern = 59,874
  • Data Deficient = 17,154

The figures presented above are only for those species that have been assessed for The IUCN Red List to date. Although not all of the world’s species have been assessed, The IUCN Red List provides a useful snapshot of what is happening to species today and highlights the urgent need for conservation action. Relative percentages for threatened species cannot be provided for many taxonomic groups on The IUCN Red List because they have not been comprehensively assessed. For many of these groups, assessment efforts have focused on threatened species; therefore, the percentage of threatened species for these groups would be heavily biased.

For those groups that have been comprehensively assessed, the percentage of threatened species can be calculated, but the actual number of threatened species is often uncertain because it is not known whether Data Deficient (DD) species are actually threatened or not. Therefore, the percentages presented above provide the best estimate of extinction risk for those groups that have been comprehensively assessed (excluding Extinct species), based on the assumption that Data Deficient species are equally threatened as data sufficient species. In other words, this is a mid-point figure within a range from x% threatened species (if all DD species are not threatened) to y% threatened species (if all DD species are threatened). Available evidence indicates that this is the best estimate.

The IUCN Red List threat categories are as follows, in descending order of threat:

  • Extinct or Extinct in the Wild
  • Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction.
  • Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing conservation measures.
  • Least Concern: species evaluated with a lower risk of extinction.
  • Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data.
  • Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): this is not a new IUCN Red List Category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already extinct but for which confirmation is required; for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals

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Why are people stockpiling toilet paper? We asked four experts


Michael Lucy, The Conversation

As coronavirus continues to spread around the world, anxiety is rising in Australia. Shoppers fearful of quarantine measures have been stocking up on supplies to last out a week or two of isolation.

Recent days have seen reports of shortages of hand sanitiser and warnings that batteries and other electronic items could be next. However, the surge in demand for one particular commodity has seen supermarket shelves stripped bare: toilet paper.

It’s not just Australians. Shops in Japan, the US and New Zealand have also run low on the precious sanitary rolls. In Hong Kong, ambitious thieves held up a supermarket to steal a delivery.

But why toilet paper? The question has been in the air for at least the past month, but it’s now become hard to avoid. We asked four experts for their thoughts.

Read more:
Stocking up to prepare for a crisis isn’t ‘panic buying’. It’s actually a pretty rational choice

Niki Edwards, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology:

Toilet paper symbolises control. We use it to “tidy up” and “clean up”. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo.

When people hear about the coronavirus, they are afraid of losing control. And toilet paper feels like a way to maintain control over hygiene and cleanliness.

People don’t seem interested in substitutes. Supermarket shelves are still full of other paper towels and tissues.

The media has a lot to answer for in regards to messages around this virus and messages to the public. While honesty about threats is critical, building hysteria and promoting inappropriate behaviours is far from ideal.

Brian Cook, Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction project, University of Melbourne:

It’s an interesting question. My suspicion is that it is to do with how people react to stress: they want an element of comfort and security. For many Westerners there is a “yuck factor” associated with non-toilet paper cleaning.

I expect there is also a pragmatic element. Toilet paper is a product that takes a lot of space, and is therefore not something people have a lot of under normal circumstances.

A lot of people likely also use toilet paper as a tissue, and therefore imagine themselves needing a lot if they have the flu or a flu-like illness.

Stocking up on toilet paper is also a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are “doing something” when they feel at risk.

Read more:
High-tech shortages loom as coronavirus shutdowns hit manufacturers

David Savage, Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle:

I think it is the perfect product. It is completely non-perishable and one of the few products that you can stock up on that you are guaranteed to use eventually.

I don’t know for certain but I suspect that most people only buy toilet paper when they just about run out, which could be a problem if you need to stay isolated for two weeks.

So I think this is just a preparation process, because we have seen that toilet paper has become a shortage item elsewhere.

Alex Russell, School of Health, Medical and Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University:

There are a few factors at play here. People aren’t only stockpiling toilet paper. All sorts of items are sold out, like face masks and hand sanitiser. Things like canned goods and other non-perishable foods are also selling well.

People are scared, and they’re bunkering down. They’re buying what they need and one of the items is toilet paper.

I think we’re noticing the toilet paper more than the other things because toilet paper packs are big items that take up a lot of shelf space. Seeing a small product sold out at the supermarket (such as hand sanitiser) is not that unusual, and it’s only a small hole in the shelf that is often temporarily filled with nearby products.

But if the toilet paper is gone, that’s a massive amount of shelf space that can’t readily be replaced with other things nearby.

A second reason we might be noticing it more is because there aren’t easy substitutions. If the supermarket is out of a particular ingredient for dinner, you can just get something else, or an entirely different dinner.

But if there’s not a roll of toilet paper, then that’s pretty frustrating for everyone. Sure, tissues or paper towels, but it’s not quite the same, is it?The Conversation

Michael Lucy, Deputy Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Coronavirus has finally made us recognise the illegal wildlife trade is a public health issue

conversDisinfecting Wuhan, March 2020. Li Ke / EPA

Simon Evans, Anglia Ruskin University

There will be few positives to take from coronavirus. But the global pandemic may yet prove to be an important moment in the attempts to address the illegal wildlife trade.

The media has generally concentrated on effects rather than causes, in particular the global implications for public health and economies. But it is also vital to unravel the timeline of the pandemic and categorically determine its initial cause.

What we do know to date is that the epicentre of the disease was in the Chinese city of Wuhan, an important hub in the lucrative trade in wildlife – both legal and illegal. The outbreak is believed to have originated in a market in which a variety of animal-derived products and meats are widely available, including peacocks, porcupines, bats and rats. It’s also a market where regulatory and welfare standards are rudimentary at best.

Some of this trade is legal under Chinese domestic law but the existence of a parallel illegal trade – often within the very same market or stall – allows some traders to launder illicit wildlife products into the system. This situation is very difficult to regulate and control.

We are also reasonably certain that the spill-over event involved the crossover of the virus from animals to humans, similar to the situation with previous contagions like the Ebola and SARs viruses.

In each of these cases, the existence of large, unsanitary and poorly-regulated wildlife markets provided an ideal environment for diseases to cross over between species. In a country like China, where wildlife consumption is so deeply embedded in culture, such contamination can, and did spread rapidly.

The Chinese government has long advocated a “sustainable utilisation” approach to the country’s wildlife. It nonetheless responded to the current crisis by enacting a temporary ban on such markets, effectively closing down a significant sector of its domestic wildlife trade.

Biosecurity, public health and economic impact

In the longer term, the pandemic may provide the impetus to properly address the issue. This is because, while the illegal wildlife trade was once criticised almost purely in terms of conservation, it is now also being considered in relation to broader themes of biosecurity, public health and economic impact.

It is only in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that the full scale of China’s industry is emerging, with the temporary ban covering some 20,000 captive breeding enterprises and 54 different species allowed to be traded domestically. A report by the Chinese Academy of Engineering estimates the wildlife farming industry is worth around US$57 billion annually. These breeding centres are allowed to operate under loopholes in Chinese domestic law, arguably against the spirit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The parallel illegal trade is less easy to quantify, but globally it is valued by the UN at around US$23 billion. Given the resulting pandemic could cost as much as US$2.7 trillion, even on purely economic grounds there is a strong case for increased regulation.

There are compelling arguments for dismantling the trade anyway: animals are kept in abject conditions, and the trade hastens their demise in the wild. But in China, the temporary ban remains just that – temporary. Critics argue that we have been there before with SARS and once the dust settled on that particular outbreak, China resumed business as usual.

What would seriously tackling the wildlife trade actually mean in practice? First, breeding centres for endangered species like tigers or pangolins would be permanently closed. This would make it much harder for their products to be laundered through legal channels and sold as more valuable “wild-caught”. Enforcement agencies currently need to monitor these centres closely to check against laundering, and shutting them down would free up resources to disrupt the supply of illegal products entering China from outside.

Such a move would also help reduce demand. Public education campaigns tell people about how the wildlife trade (both legal and illegal) harms endangered species, but the message is mixed: the presence of a parallel legal market still provides such products with legitimacy and sends a message that it is OK to purchase them, thereby increasing rather than decreasing demand.

In any case, the new Chinese ban excludes products such as tiger bones that are used in traditional medicines. Some conservationists and activists are concerned that this exemption will lead to legalised trade under the assumption that better regulation will protect against future outbreaks. This argument is extremely difficult to validate and most conservationists continue to favour blanket trade bans.

Another worry is that given humans have short memories, once the danger has passed public concern will turn to the next big problem.

COVID-19 clearly represents an unparalleled opportunity to combat the wildlife trade and ensure that animal-borne diseases do not mutate and cross over to humans.

But only time will tell whether this opportunity will be taken or put off once again until the emergence of the next – perhaps even more virulent – pandemic poses an even graver global threat.The Conversation

Simon Evans, Principal Lecturer in Ecotourism, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Homemade hand sanitiser recipes that could help protect against coronavirus


Shobana Dissanayeke, Royal Holloway and James McEvoy, Royal Holloway

To slow the spread of coronavirus we’re being told to wash our hands more, preferably with soap and water, or failing that, with hand sanitiser. The resulting rush to buy hand sanitiser has led to empty shelves in supermarkets and chemists. But it hasn’t taken long for recipes for hand sanitisers to appear online. But do they work?

Let’s take a look at a popular one:

Combine in a bowl:

2/3 cups rubbing alcohol (99.9% isopropyl alcohol)

1/3 cup aloe vera gel

Stir. Decant into a soap or pump bottle

Give it a good shake every now and then.

Aloe vera is a moisturiser that will stop your skin drying out. That’s useful since cracks in the skin can increase the risk of bacterial infection. The main active ingredient in this sanitiser is isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol). Most commercial hand sanitisers contain either ethanol, isopropanol, n-propanol or a combination of any two.

Mixtures of 60%-80% alcohol by volume kill microorganisms, so the 66% alcohol concentration in the recipe looks about right if pure rubbing alcohol (also known as “surgical spirits”) is used. A quick look at Amazon, though, shows that it is usually sold as a pre-prepared working dilution between 50% and 70%, to be used directly on surfaces. Mixing even the 70% solution with the aloe vera will make the final alcohol concentration too low to be useful.

Although it’s hard to get hold of, pure ethanol could be used in the recipe instead of isopropanol. Ethanol is the alcohol found in spirits, and another homemade sanitiser that has gained some attention uses vodka.

Most vodka contains about 40% alcohol – not nearly enough for an effective hand sanitiser. But Balkan 176, the strongest vodka available in the UK, comes in at a staggering 88% ethanol. This could be used to make another 66% alcohol hand sanitiser with three parts vodka to one part aloe vera. At around £45 for 700ml it would make an expensive product, but since it was sold out on all the sites that we looked at, maybe there’s a market for it.

Not to be rubbed on hands.
Tadeusz Wejkszo/Shutterstock

A 2017 study showed that both ethanol and isopropanol preparations made to the official World Health Organization (WHO) formulations inactivate the Sars and Mers viruses, which are coronaviruses related to the one that causes COVID-19. These formulations contain final concentrations of either 80% ethanol or 75% isopropanol along with 1.45% glycerol and 0.125% hydrogen peroxide.

Everything in these formulations is mixed in distilled water or simply cold boiled water. The hydrogen peroxide is used to inactivate any contaminating bacteria in the mix but is not an active ingredient in the sanitiser. The glycerol is a humectant, a substance to help retain moisture, and can be replaced with any other emollient or moisturiser to help with skincare – including aloe vera.

Compared with WHO formulation

How do these homemade recipes compare with the WHO formulations? Well, not too bad since both contain the alcoholic active ingredient and an emollient. The problem might be that the 66% alcohol concentration is towards the lower end of the effective range.

Studies have shown that higher alcohol concentrations work better, and we know that the WHO 75% isopropanol or 80% ethanol formulations can kill other coronaviruses. The homemade products may not be strong enough to inactivate the virus quite as effectively as the WHO formulation. On the other hand, some commercial hand sanitisers contain as little as 57% alcohol, so these homemade products would be better than that.

In our opinion, if you want to make a homemade hand sanitiser you should go with a modified version of the first recipe, upping the rubbing alcohol to the WHO-recommended concentration: three-quarters of a cup of isopropanol and a quarter of a cup of aloe vera gel. You could even substitute glycerol for the aloe vera gel. It’s cheaper, but it won’t smell as nice.The Conversation

Shobana Dissanayeke, Senior Lecturer, Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway and James McEvoy, Senior Lecturer, Biomedical Sciences, Royal Holloway

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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It’s always darkest before the dawn. The hidden gift of Covid-19

Covid-19-coronavirus-spc pacific community cps communauté du pacifique santé health jipé le bars

By the Council of Conscious Leaders

The undertones of fear and insecurity that permeated our everyday conversations of late had finally come to a head with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of the country’s National State of Disaster status. The potential magnitude and severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the President’s timeous intervention have instilled the nation’s faith in his leadership.

Never before in our modern history have we been plunged into such uncertainty and pressure.  However, there is a profound opportunity to change the course and psyche of a nation that would hopefully usher in a new age of consciousness rather than an era of malevolence.

It is in the essential understanding of consciousness that changes the breadth and depth of a nation’s idea of itself with a morally untainted view to muster the courage to ‘do the right thing.’ In that rare spark of awakening, and in the actions and behaviour of human-beings lies the secret of our salvation to navigate this critical time.

The Conscious Companies Council of Conscious Leaders, that include: Brenda Kali (CEO: Conscious Companies); Merrick Abel (CEO: Primeserv); Luc-Olivier Marquet (CEO: Unilever); Adam Craker : (CEO: IQbusiness); Richard Firth (CEO: MIP Holdings); H.E. Jong-Dae Park (Ambassador to South Africa: South Korea); and Michael Judin (Chairman: Conscious Leadership Academy), collectively urge: In view of this global malaise, we need to heed the Dalai Lama’s appeal at the recent Conscious Leadership and Ethics Summit when he said:

‘Indeed, it is all too evident that while there has been much material development in the world, our moral and inner development has not kept pace. In organisations, despite working together, many people feel lonely and stressed. I believe that our strong focus on material development and accumulating wealth has led us to neglect our basic human need for kindness and care. As participants in the same global economy, we depend on each other. What’s more, as human beings, we are physically, mentally, and emotionally the same. I consider our tendency to see each other in terms of “us” and “them” as stemming from ignorance of our interdependence.”

The Council continued: “We live in extraordinary times…..and the disastrous economic repercussions of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) lockdown on business, big and small is yet to reverberate around the country. Amid the global panic, fear, confusion and lockdown, there needs to be a dramatic shift from the dominant ethos of power and profiteering to a balanced and conscious one. Ethical, conscious action by leaders to re-calibrate the social impact of business, who rally around and inspire their workforce to do things differently – will be the ones to emerge from all of this partially unscathed.”

Brenda Kali CEO of Conscious Companies says: “The emotional and psychological well-being of those affected and all of us in lockdown mode is of paramount importance. This is an opportunity to turn within and explore that missing element that is unquenchable in either the accumulation of wealth, status or the pursuit of positional power and the dissatisfaction in one’s existence. That is only possible in the sound of silence and reflection. Playing the witness to one’s own thoughts and life, to understand the meaning of inner peace, and to truly experience one’s authenticity and a flawless serenity of the mind is the hidden gift of COVID-19.”


Corona: The Virus That Might Save Eskom.

Eskom: a national disgrace

By John Fraser

They say every cloud has a silver lining.    Well, Eskom could sure do with several hundred of those.

Corruption, incompetence, political ineptitude have all contributed to the power crisis which has recently meant rolling blackouts, often day and night, for we South Africans.

If you analyse this problem with basic economics, we have a crisis of supply and demand – far too often there is not enough supply to meet demand, so they turn the lights out.

We have a Department of Energy which could help to boost supply by unleashing a flood of renewables projects, but Minister Gwede Mantashe is a disgrace, occasionally spouting the right rhetoric, but doing bugger all in practice.

So, if supply can’t be boosted, how about demand?

Well, the stock markets have been plummeting, bans on travel are multiplying, and it looks as if the SA economy is sinking into an even deeper pothole of shit than had previously been thought.

Bad?  Not entirely.

If, as my primitive economics tells me, the economy falters, so will the demand for electricity.

The white knight of deeper recession rides to the rescue of Eskom.

Of course, this is not inevitable.   The virus could severely impact Eskom staff, further reducing the reliability (not often this word is associated with this cash-guzzling monster) of supply.

If, and let us hope this is so, curbed demand relieves some of the pressure, long, long, long overdue maintenance could be fast-tracked.  And that would be excellent in the longer-term.

Agreed, none of this compensates for the misery, loss of life, loss in prosperity, loss of liberty, which this virus will bring.

But it is nice to have a bright side.

Now go and wash your hands.

PS.  It may be in terrible taste but was never meant to cause undue offence:  our podcast tasting of Corona beer is lurking on the ZA Confidential website.   It was recorded just a few days ago, and how things have changed.   Put on a face mask, and give it a listen.

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Corona Beer. Is it nicer than the virus?

How is your beer?

By John Fraser

The Corona beer brand has taken a hammering because of the virus which bears a similar name.

Does it deserve such harsh treatment?   We found out in a tasting, introduced by Michael Olivier.  Guest tasters are analyst Chris Gilmour, brander Jeremy Sampson and IT superstar Malcolm MacDonald.

Click below to learn the worst…

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Do also check out:

A tasting of two very different beers.



By John Fraser

For our regular tasting podcast, we have defected from wine to beer.

  • The ‘Liefmans Fruitesse on the Rocks’, a Belgian concoction which is as delightful as it is unusual.
  • And the ill-named ‘Frasers folly’, an oxymoron if ever we heard one.

Guest tasters are star economists Mike Schussler & Chris Hart,  star brander Jeremy Sampson, and star waffler Chris Gilmour.

Michael Olivier, who has a galactic knowledge of food and wine in SA, introduced the beers, while Malcolm MacDonald helped with the technical stuff.

We also chatted about the merits of wine in cans and boxes.

Click below to give it a listen:

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Coronavirus and handwashing: research shows proper hand drying is also vital


Julian Hunt, Swansea University and John Gammon, Swansea University

With the number of people infected with coronavirus increasing around the world on a daily basis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised everyone to regularly and thoroughly clean their hands. This can be either with an alcohol-based hand rub or with soap and water. The hope is that good hand hygiene will limit the spread of the virus.

To wash your hands effectively, it needs to be done with clean water and soap. Hands should be rubbed together for at least 20 seconds, followed by rinsing. The use of soap is particularly important for handwashing to be effective as research has shown that washing with soap significantly reduces the presence of microbes (viruses and bacteria) on hands. But one often overlooked part of handwashing is hand drying – which is also integral to effective hand hygiene.

Hand drying not only removes moisture from the hands but it also involves friction, which further reduces the microbial load and the environmental transfer of microorganisms. And the transmission of microbes is more likely to occur from wet skin than dry skin.

How you dry matters

But it’s not just as simple as drying your hands off in any old way, because how you dry your hands also matters. And this is particularly the case in hospitals and doctors surgeries.

Our research review has examined the importance of hand drying and the implications of wet hands for patients and healthcare workers. The findings highlight that hot air hand dryers and cloth roller towels can be a problematic way of drying your hands – especially in a hospital.

Our review mainly looked at the impact of hand drying on bacteria, not viruses. But what we found is still relevant when looking at the possible transmission and spread of coronavirus in hospitals and GP surgeries – particularly given the advice from the WHO regarding frequent handwashing.

Drying your hands properly removes a significant number of microorganisms after hand washing.
ALPA PROD/Shutterstock

Disposable paper towels offer the most hygienic method of hand drying. Indeed, warm air and jet air dryers are not recommended for use in hospitals and clinics for hygiene reasons. These types of hand dryers can increase the dispersion of particles and microorganisms into the air, contaminating the environment.

Cloth roller towels are also not recommended as they become a general use towel when the roll comes to an end – and can be a source of pathogen transfer to clean hands.

Importance of hand drying

Our review also found that the most appropriate methods for hand drying within a clinical environment – such as a hospital – differed to that recommended for public washrooms. This is because of the higher risk of contamination and cross-infection in hospitals. So while it is important to dry your hands properly wherever you are, paper towels are always the preferred option if you are in hospital as a patient or a visitor – or a member of staff.

As part of our review, we also looked at government policy on hand drying and found that disposable paper towels are recognised as being the quickest and most effective way of removing residual moisture that may allow for the transmission of microorganisms. This is good to know given the current concerns around the spread of the coronavirus.

In this sense, our research serves as a timely reminder that proper and effective hand drying is integral to hand hygiene whether you’re in a hospital, doctor’s surgery or just in the office.

Julian Hunt, Research Officer Human and Health Sciences Central, Swansea University and John Gammon, Deputy Head of the College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Why hand-washing really is as important as doctors say

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, center, demonstrates hand-washing to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, right, in Rocky Hill, Conn., March 2, 2020. 
AP Photo/Jessica Hill 

As the threat from the coronavirus grows, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials are stressing the importance of hand-washing.

Prevention becomes essential to stopping the spread of the virus because there is no vaccine to prevent it and no anti-virals to treat it.

How can such a simple, low-tech solution make a difference?

Remember – coronavirus spreads easily by droplets from breathing, coughing and sneezing. As our hands touch many surfaces, they can pick up microbes, including viruses. Then by touching contaminated hands to your eyes, nose or mouth, the pathogens can infect the body.

As a microbiologist, I think a lot about the differences between microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, and how they interact with animal hosts to drive health or disease. I was shocked to read a study that indicated that 93.2% of 2,800 survey respondents did not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Let me explain how washing your hands decreases the number of microbes on your hands and helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Two-fisted approach

Bacteria and viruses are different in a number of ways. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can reproduce on their own, while viruses constitute a core of genetic material encapsulated by a protein coat and can only reproduce by attaching themselves to host cells. Because viruses don’t have the organelles to reproduce, they “hijack” the cellular machinery of host cells to make multitudes of new viruses.

These differences are why antibiotics cannot kill viruses, which typically target specific structures in the cellular components of bacteria that are absent in viruses.

Despite their differences, however, the best way to prevent the disease of bacterial and viral pathogens alike is to effectively wash your hands.

There are two strategies to decreasing the number of microbes on your hands.

The first is to decrease the overall biomass of microbes – that is, decrease the number of bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms. We do this by lathering with soap and rinsing with water. Soap’s chemistry helps remove microorganisms from our hands by accentuating the slippery properties of our own skin.

The second strategy is to kill the microbes. We do this by using products with an antibacterial agent such as alcohols, chlorine, peroxides, chlorhexidine or triclosan. However, the efficacy on these agents can be variable depending on a given microbe.

How the World Health Organization suggests you wash your hands.

Are soap and water enough?

Some academic work has shown that antibacterial soaps are more effective at reducing certain bacteria on soiled hands than soaps without them.

However, there’s a problem. Some bacterial cells on our hands may have genes that enable them to be resistant to a given antibacterial agent. This means that after the antibacterial agent kills some bacteria, the resistant strains remaining on the hands can flourish.

Further, the genes that allowed the bacteria to be resistant could pass along to other bacteria, causing more resistant strains. Even more important with respect to coronavirus, antibacterial agents, such as oral antibiotics, don’t kill viruses.

With this in mind, you may want to stick with plain old soap and water.

Students washing hands at Sakura Montessori International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 3, 2015. Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images

Going back to grade school

To clean our hands, the CDC recommends that we:

  • Wet hands with clean water
  • Apply soap and lather/scrub every nook and cranny of your hands for 20-30 seconds (about the time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice)
  • Rinse well with clean running water
  • Dry hands with a clean paper towel or air-dry.

During the 20-30 seconds of lathering the World Health Organization recommends incorporating six manoeuvres to cover all parts of your hands.

If soap and water are not unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol. Alcohols have a broad-spectrum of antimicrobial activity and are less selective for resistance compared to other antibacterial chemicals. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not work on all classes of germs, the WHO recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand rub to kill viruses that may be on your hands.

Not all microbes are germs

The presence of some microbes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many of the microbes that live on or within us are essential for our health.

We live in a microbial world: Trillions of different microbes colonize our skin, gut and orifices. Collectively, this consortium of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses are called our microbiota. A plethora of exciting research suggests that the associations of animal hosts with their microbiota are fundamentally important for the host’s biology.

Our microbiota can protect us from germs by training our immune system and by colonization resistance – the characteristic of the intestinal microbiota to block colonization of pathogens. There is ample evidence suggesting that commensal bacteria regulate invading viruses, and in some cases have a suppressive role in their infections. For example, bacteria can prevent influenza virus infection by binding or trapping them directly or by producing metabolites that decrease the stability of influenza virions.

Although more research needs to be done to understand the intricate interactions between microbial communities with host cells, consistent work illustrates that a diverse population of microbes and a balance of this community is important for our health.

Beyond hand-washing

So what is the take-home message?

There is no doubt that washing our hands with liquid soap and water is effective in reducing the spread of infectious microorganisms, including those that are resistant to antimicrobial agents.

When you don’t have the opportunity to wash your hands after touching questionable surfaces, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Limit the touching of your hands to your mouth, nose and eyes.

Furthermore, maintain a healthy microbiota by limiting stress, getting enough sleep and “fertilizing” your gut microbes with a diversity of plant-based foods.

It’s not only a small world but a dirty one as well.

Editor’s note: This article contains updated information from an article that was published originally Dec. 17, 2017.

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