Category Archives: Maasailand Lion Conservation Program

What Does the Endangered Species Listing Mean for Lions?

In late December last year, the African lion received a special gift from the U.S. government. Over the past few years, non-profit groups, the national and international public, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service itself, have been rallying the government to protect lions under the Endangered Species Act. And just in time for Christmas last year, the king of cats got its name on the Act. But what does the listing really mean for lion conservation? In this blog we explore what an endangered listing on a U.S. document really means for an African species.

By Deirdre Leowinata

In the Chinese zodiac, 2015 was the year of the sheep. However, the illegal hunting of Cecil the lion, the Kenyan Marsh pride poisonings, and other highly publicized lion poaching incidents of 2015 made last year the year of the lion in the media. And as if by magic, a present came at the end of the year in the form of a “Threatened” listing for the African lion on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Endangered Species Act of 1973, under the leadership of Richard Nixon, was a defining point in U.S. and global environmental protection. It made incredible leaps over the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 and the original Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. It not only recognized the value of species for education, research, and recreation, but also included species’ habitats under its umbrella of protection. In the original act, hunting and trading were not regulated at all. In less than 50 years, we have come a very long way in our policies for protecting wildlife. But we also live in an age where endangered species are disappearing faster than we can save them — scientists are calling it the sixth mass extinction. Conservation projects like our Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative have been working tirelessly to make sure that lions have a fighting chance as human and environmental changes put pressure on the remaining populations. However, lion numbers have declined by about 50% in the past 30 years, and the majority of the remaining populations are spread over only 10 regions in South and East Africa.

In 2011, five groups — the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Humane Society International petitioned the U.S. government for a listing for lions in the ESA. The petition prompted a formal review of the subspecies. In 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officially proposed ESA protection for lions after announcing that African lions were under threat of extinction by 2050. In December 2015, the landmark announcement was made: The African lion was under the protection of the ESA.

Internationally, the lion is already listed as “Vulnerable” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN 2015) Red List of Threatened Species.

So what does an American listing mean for lions? Wild lions don’t roam the United States, so how does a listing for a species in another country help?

 

  1. Hunting Permits

The largest win for the ESA listing is arguably the effects of a section of the act that affects sport hunting imports. Regulations for importing trophies ensure they come from countries with sound management plans and sustainable lion populations, with penalties for those who do not follow the rules. This not only ensures that U.S. trophy seekers hunt from viable populations, but also incentivizes countries that rely on sport hunting to maintain population management standards. It is also up to the hunter to demonstrate that all of these standards have been met, and that requirement alone might slow down the number of permits processed.

 

  1. International Trade

The U.S. is currently the world’s largest lion trophy importer, with 24 countries in Africa participating in the lion trade. Closely related to the hunting permit provisions, controlling what can be imported will have a strong impact on the number of lion products (including trophies) that are crossing the border and the integrity of their source countries. Because of the ESA provisions for sustainable management as mentioned above, the listing will ensure that American importers or international exporters are doing so in a way that will not impair lion populations.

 

  1. Provision of Assistance for Conservation Efforts

Under ESA protection, lions and the programs that protect them will gain access to more financial assistance, as well as more help on the ground. This part of the Act is vague, but because of the ESA mandate to protect critical habitat of listed species, conservation groups may be able to levy this for government funding. In the very least, it increases the funding potential for environmental non-profits, which often struggle to make small budgets stretch across programs.

 

  1. Symbolism

Like a handshake shared between two leaders, a gesture can send a very powerful message. By shielding lions under the proverbial wing, the U.S. is sending a message of solidarity to lion conservation groups and the rest of the world. Aside from the ways in which this document will aid in conservation funding and other assistance, a vote of support from the government can do a world of good in other ways.

 

At the African People & Wildlife Fund, we have committed to help conserve Tanzania’s lion populations through community-based projects, educating local people about the importance of the species, and continuing to work on projects like our Living Walls to prevent retaliatory lion killings, which the IUCN suggests is an even greater threat to lions than sport hunting. With your help, we are expanding our initiatives across rural communities in Northern Tanzania where most of these killings take place. Tanzania may be one of the last lion strongholds on Earth right now. Together with you and the new support of the ESA, we are extremely hopeful that we can help protect the lion populations of Tanzania so they can grow and thrive in Africa once more.

Echoing the words of hope from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, this is an opportunity for change, and it is up to all of us to help save these big cats.

If you would like to contribute to our growing efforts to protect big cats on the ground in Tanzania, please visit our donation page here.

 

References

Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, P.F., Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. (2015). Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15951A79929984.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T15951A79929984.en. Downloaded on 30 December 2015.

Florida Museum of Natural History. History of the United States Endangered Species Act.https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/education/ESA.htm. Accessed on 4 January 2016.

Platt, J.R. (2014). African Lions Face Extinction by 2050, Could Gain Endangered Species Act Protection. Scientific American (2014).

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2014). Service Proposes Endangered Species Act Protection for the African Lion.

Born Free U.S.A. www.bornfreeusa.org

150,000 Trees Planted to Protect Lions

By Jeremy Swanson

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With the work of the Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative including our team on the ground, the lion’s roar is becoming more common in these areas. (Photo courtesy of Yathin Krishnappa/Wildscreen Exchange)

In protecting lions and supporting communities through Living Walls, the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) can now speak in vast numbers since the organization was established more than a decade ago.

150,000 Commiphora trees planted
650 Living Walls constructed
100 lions and other large carnivores protected
125,000 head of livestock safeguarded
12,500 individuals with strengthened livelihoods
Over 2015-16 alone, approximately 150 Living Walls (APW’s innovative, eco-friendly, lion-proof bomas) went up around cattle corrals throughout northern Tanzania. Moreover, approximately 80% of them were constructed in new APW expansion areas, with 90% outside APW’s home base east of Tarangire National Park in Simanjiro district.

(Photo courtesy of Deirdre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund)

Boma’s are always filled with running children. With their boma’s cattle protected by a thriving Living Wall, these children and their family will be able to sleep soundly knowing their livelihood is secure.  (Photo courtesy of Deirdre Leowinata/African People & Wildlife Fund)

“We have had a breakthrough year in terms of our expansion,” said Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, APW’s executive director. “Carnivores and communities need more support than ever, which is why we aim to implement our comprehensive four-step process for community-driven conservation throughout northern Tanzania.”

Recent expansion areas for APW include West Kilimanjaro, home of the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area, and the Kitenden Corridor, which connects Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with the greater Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya. In the past three months alone, cattle herders in this cross-border ecosystem have killed at least four lions in retaliation for livestock predation at unfortified bomas.

Beyond such human-wildlife conflict incidents, lions also face extreme threats in terms of illegal hunting and habitat loss, which are some of the reasons why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the species to its endangered list late last year.

Fortunately for lions and communities, Living Walls work extremely well. The walls become living as Commiphora trees are planted around and grow through the chain-link fencing, making them virtually impenetrable. In 2015, in fact, Lichtenfeld and her colleagues also published a 10-year study in Biodiversity and Conservation that revealed how Living Walls are proven to be 99% effective in keeping carnivores out of cattle corrals.

“That’s just the first step for communities to strengthen their livelihoods and sustainably manage their natural resources,” said Lichtenfeld. “Even if it takes many more years, we are committed to seeing our partner communities through our four-step process to help them achieve goals that balance human and environmental interests.”

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:

Hard-Working Hands Span Cultures and Generations to Come Together for Big Cat Conservation

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By Deirdre Leowinata, African People & Wildlife Fund

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on November 14th, 2014

Africa is the land of diversity, hosting a vast amount of biological and cultural variance within each of its 53 countries. Biologists and David Attenborough fans all over the world know it for its unique, charismatic species: The roaring, the stampeding, and the larger-than-life. Anthropologists and Human Planet fans know it for its lion hunters, its hunter-gatherers, and its fascinating traditions that have been remarkably preserved through time. As a single country, by certain measures Tanzania contains more distinct peoples and languages than there are countries in the world (see Hirst, 1972). It is a land rich in history, and draws thousands of tourists every year for a walk on the wild side.

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Our staff at the Noloholo Environmental Center are from all over Tanzania: the slopes of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru to the islands of Lake Victoria; the bustling metropolis of Dar es Salaam to the small rural villages surrounding our environmental center. Most tourists bypass our little corner of the country beside Tarangire National Park, but this year we benefitted from two National Geographic Student Expeditions that came from all over the world to add a little bit of big-cat- conflict education to their photo and wildlife safari.

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(Photo by Charlotte Thorson, caption by Joseph Peralta)

Each group spent a day in the communities surrounding our Noloholo Environmental Centre building the protective enclosures for local homesteads (‘bomas’) we call Living Walls. Nothing brings people together like hard labor (except perhaps Tammy), which has a way of completely leveling social stratification. In the warm afternoon sun the same beads of sweat were glistening on the skin of the students, leaders, boma residents, office staff, field officers, and even our executive directors. As holes were dug, Commiphora poles were planted, and fencing was nailed around the enclosure, students and local community members bonded — with smiles and kind gestures when no one was available for translation.

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(Photo by Sitara Pal, caption by Fefe Malton)

In the history of the world, ethnic diversity has not always been tied to positive things. Often, cultural differences have had negative outcomes like social and economic inequality, which has many times led to violence and suffering. On those two sizzling afternoons in Northern Tanzania, the same red earth dusted the faces and coated the multicolored hands of many regions, hands that were working together towards one goal. That goal was peace between two different kinds of neighbors: humans and wildlife.

In an area where lions and other big cats roam among the herds of Maasai cows, Living Walls reduce attacks on livestock and consequent retaliation on lions. The walls mark the union of two unique pools of knowledge, and during the wall building, those two bomas on the Maasai Steppe marked the union of many different cultures. It may have been just me, but I think I caught a glimpse of the ideal world, and it looks pretty beautiful.

You can sponsor a family’s Living Wall by donating to our program here.

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Sources for this post:

Hirst, M.A. (1972). Tribal mixture and migration in Tanzania: an evaluation and analysis of census tribal data. Canadian Geographer 16: 230-248.

Miguel, E. (2004). Tribe or nation? Nation-building and public goods in Kenya versus Tanzania. World Politics 56: 327-362.

Maasai Steppe Warrior for Wildlife Elvis Kisimir Speaks Up for Lions

By Elvis Kisimir, African People and Wildlife Fund

*Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on September 11th, 2014

“In a few years to come, the world will only see the rare lion spoor on the sandy soil. If the wind blows, then even those spoor will go.” One extraordinary Maasai warrior shares his message for the world about the future of big cats. Elvis Kisimir experiences the full extent of familial responsibility while pursuing a career in wildlife in a story about how early exposure ignited a passion that transformed into the protection of lions and rural livelihoods in Tanzania. He tells his own tale of his metamorphosis from a young schoolboy who is scared of lions to the head of Human Wildlife Conflict Prevention for the African People and Wildlife Fund, and a Disney Conservation Hero.

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My name is Elvis Kisimir. Born in Loibor Siret, and a Maasai by tribe, I love people, wildlife, and nature.

During my life I have experienced many changes in both the community and the environment that I live in. My father was a primary school teacher, and my mother was a nurse working at the health centre in the village of Emboreet who used to fly with doctors to different areas of the Maasai Steppe. When I was a young kid, sometimes if I cried, my mother would tell me, “Stop crying because the lions are behind the house.” I would stop crying immediately because I thought the lions might break into the house and take me. At that time the lions were very many, and I would hear them roaring almost every day: in the evening, at night, even early in the morning. When I met with friends to play together we always asked each other if everyone had heard the lions roaring in the night.

In 1991, my father stopped working as a primary school teacher. He took some courses on tourism and was employed as a tour guide at one of the companies in Arusha. During that time he worked very hard because he liked his new job, so I would see him a few times a year at most. I started boarding school at Simanjiro Primary School in Emboreet, and some days I would see him, in a big tourist truck or a Land Rover, stop by the school before going on to Tarangire through the Loibor Siret ranger post.

Tourism is one of the most prolific industries in Tanzania, with 15 national parks receiving around a million tourists a year. As a tour guide, Elvis’s father Lucas Ole Mukusi was required to spend weeks away from his family to show guests parks such as Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater (shown here), home to some of Africa’s most famous lion prides. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

In December of that year, when the school was closed for Christmas, my father bought us a television. Most of the movies he bought were about wildlife  because he wanted to understand more about these animals, as this it related to his new job and he wanted his children to see how various wild animals lived. The two movies that I won’t forget are Masai Mara and Londolozi, and some of those images have stayed in my mind until now. In the Masai Mara film a girl was nearly killed by a lion when she went out to play tennis, but she was rescued by people from the house – this was the flashback that I had when my mother would tell me that the lions were behind the house waiting to break in and take me. I would sit close to my father and ask him many questions, so I came to understand many things concerning wildlife. When I asked about the girl in the Masai Mara film, he told me,“My son, this is not reality. We are living together with wildlife in our environment. You always hear lions roaring at night. They are not bad creatures unless you disturb them. According to our tradition, you can be harmed or even killed by lion if you are cursed by your clan. You are a man, and in a few years time you will become a warrior, son!”

I learned many things from my father — this was the starting point of my dreams. There was a hope in my life that one day I would be like him.

In 1998, my father decided to make Narakauo his main homestead, 15 kilometers from Loibor Siret centre. According to the Maasai tradition, the eldest son has the greatest responsibility in the family. I was the only son to my father, so I had to work hard to make sure the family was fine. I completed my high school education in 2006, after which I took over some of my father’s responsibilities, making it very difficult for me to go for further studies. The next year I got married, and here you can imagine that I needed to work very hard because the responsibilities were mounting in my day-to-day life.

Elvis leads a highly committed and effective team of Maasai Steppe Big Cat Conflict Officers who work in villages including Loibor Siret,, Narakauwo, Kimotorok, Emboret, Loibor Soit, Vilima Vitatu, Olasiti and Kakoi. In the case of a boma attack or any other incident of human-wildlife conflict, the officers are on site recording precise details in order to gather data to work towards improvements in the long term. From left to right: Saruni Moses, Lucas Lengoje, Mbayani Ngooku, Elvis Kisimir, Loomoni Ndooki, and Moson Kiroya. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

In 2010 I was employed at the African People and Wildlife Fund heading the Human-Wildlife Conflict program for the organization, which has headquarters in Loibor Siret. I saw as the realization of my dreams because I had already created trust in the locals I worked with, which is very important to me. During the time I have been working under Dr. Laly and Charles, I have learned many things concerning wildlife and environment in general, and I want to thank them for all they have showed me by becoming a good local conservationist.

What I have found surprising and amazing in my work experience is when you find different reactions to incidents of human-wildlife conflict. You can find that 20 goats or sheep have been killed by hyenas and the owners don’t take immediate action, but if one juvenile lion has killed a single calf, immediately you find people gather together from different age groups. Everyone wants to listen, and it is a time when each person shows the rest how much he knows about lions. The lesson here I learned is this: The lion is the most important creature in the Maasai tradition.

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There was one day in a conversation with Dr. Laly when she said, “If you hear lions roaring, fighting for territory, that means things are balanced: rainfall, grasses, breeding…” This idea made me think back to the time when I was around 12 years old and lions were roaring almost every day in our area, the rainfall was enough for everything that needed it to survive, and many areas were still wild, with not as much human activity as nowadays.

I have discussed this with some of the adults and elders in the communities I work in, and they agree, saying, “At that time lions were everywhere. Every year we would get enough rainfall, and we didn’t have to sell cattle to buy maize because we had a lot of milk to fill ourselves, with the livestock eating well and breeding every year.”

Elvis talks to Julius, a Maasai man living in the village of Loibor Siret, after they finish his Living Wall. Elvis always makes a point to hear what each and every person has to say, which has made him not only great at his job, but a highly respected man in the region. (Photo by African People and Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

 

So my message to my fellow Maasai and the world in general:

“In a few years to come, the world will only see the rare lion spoor on the sandy soil. If the wind blows, then even those spoor will go.”

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The meaning of this message is that for the small number of lions we have now, for locals and the world in general, if we are not serious about protecting them, we are going to lose all of them. Avoid conflicts with them, and don’t shrink their habitat by developing human activities in their territories. If we do that, hopefully in a few years to come the new generation will both hear and see the king of the Maasai Steppe roaring.

Lastly, if there are no lions, there are no warriors. Your lion is my lion. Let’s preserve lions for the generations and generations to come.

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Camera Trapping with the Warriors for Wildlife – The Challenges of Big Cat Monitoring

Nothing brings people together like a Serbian military lorry – especially when the seats are removed to accommodate huge cement moraines. The APW camera-trapping vehicle of choice, affectionately called “Tammy”, can only be described as a green beast: a glorious and practical green beast, but a beast nonetheless. Standing four feet tall atop its six wheels, and ten feet at its full height, Tammy can withstand even the deepest potholes, which are often more like small chasms here. You would never think to describe such a machine as practical unless you lived in Tanzania.

Camera Trapping

Our warriors for wildlife were busy all week lifting heavy moraines in and out of Tammy to set up camera traps for monitoring the local wildlife.

This past week, our Warriors for Wildlife were busy setting up camera traps in local korongos (riverbeds) with Dennis Minja, APW’s wildlife monitoring program officer. Don’t let the word “local” fool you – after all, this is not the suburbs. A two-mile trip usually involves navigating through a herd of cattle, multiple winding detours due to the lack of roads, and one or two close calls with the acacia thorn. After five full days of hard work, the team managed to set up 16 cameras at 8 different locations, with two facing cameras per trap.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the procedures involved in camera trapping, you should note that it does not require any actual trapping of animals – just pictures.  It does, however, require a lot of planning, a lot of manual labour, and a whole lot of patience. And like life, you always have to account for the fact that things don’t always work out the way you plan.

First of all, the moraines that are used to hold the cameras are probably about as heavy as a baby elephant, and not nearly as cute. In essence, they are metal boxes attached to metal poles, which in turn are embedded rather unceremoniously into a large block of concrete. If that doesn’t sound appealing, try lifting one (or 16) over your shoulders a few times over.

Secondly, we had a bit of a warm spell this week – thank you climate change – and the warriors’ uniforms are made for protection, not for breathability. After a couple of hours in those things under the “jua kali” (harsh sun), fatigue and dehydration come fast. And in Tammy’s open-air rear, with the dry season air virtually vacuuming water out of your body,   it is hard to avoid.

Finally, it takes a surprising amount of strategy to choose a camera location within a korongo. To be effective for identification purposes, the camera must capture the maximum surface area of the maximum number of animals passing across the designated area, all the while maintaining view of the opposing camera. The cameras are placed in locations that will allow us to monitor the impacts of our conservation programs over time by giving us estimates of animal densities, individual health, and population statuses. To do that, it’s best to ensure that you’re going to get a good view of most animals passing through in order to be able to identify individuals. This involves clearing any brush that may obstruct the shot, which can be hard in a place where everything has evolved to defend itself. There are many things to keep in mind, from varying animal heights to direction of travel. To test shot quality, each game scout took a turn as the hyena throughout the day, trying to create the best impression in gait and call, with both impressive and hilarious results. Why a hyena, I couldn’t tell you, but perhaps it is due to the healing powers of laughter.

We will be checking the traps in the next few weeks, and hopefully we’ll be able to show you what our friendly neighborhood predators are up to. Keep track of our Facebook page for updates, and remember to keep in mind what it takes to get those photos, because it’s a bit more than a walk in the park!

APW Highlights of 2012

Please click here or on the image below to read about our success in 2012!

Many thanks to all of our supporters who have contributed to our team’s hard work and accomplishments!

Critical Study on the Status of African Lions Released

AFRICA’S SAVANNAH ECOSYSTEMS — AND THEIR LIONS — DECLINING AT ALARMING RATE

Lion Population Estimates as Low as 32,000, Habitat Reduced by 75%

       Tanzania, East Africa (Dec. 4, 2012)—Researchers coordinated by a team at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University have determined that Africa’s once-thriving savannahs are in trouble, due to massive land-use conversion and burgeoning human population growth. The decline has had a significant impact on the lions that make their home in these savannahs; their numbers have dropped to as low as 32,000, down from nearly 100,000 just 50 years ago, according to a paper published online in this week’s journal “Biodiversity and Conservation.” The research is the most comprehensive assessment of lion numbers to date.

African savannahs are defined as those areas that receive between 300 and 1500 mm (approximately 11 to 59 inches) of rain annually. “These savannahs conjure up visions of vast open plains,” said Laly Lichtenfeld, a co-author of the paper who is Executive Director of the African People & Wildlife Fund and a Visiting Fellow with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains.” In comparison, 30% of the world’s original rain forests remain.

To read the full press release, click here.

To download the publication, click here or visit Biodiversity and Conservation Online for the article and supplementary materials.

Read APW’s Fall Newsletter

Please click here to read our Fall edition of The Carnivore Chronicle – APW’s biannual newsletter.

Inside, you’ll find our latest news and achievements featuring a new Conservation Enterprise and Development Program, HIV/AIDS education and Living Walls, Noloholo environmental summer camps, lions, cheetahs and Warriors for Wildlife, camera trapping big cats and much more…

If you would like to subscribe to our biannual newsletter and/or e-news updates,

please click here!

Or, visit our Facebook page or Website at www.afrpw.org.

Thank you!

APW E-News Update

If you would like to read our most recent update from the Maasai Steppe, please click here.

If you would like to subscribe to our e-news updates and biannual newsletter, please visit our website, www.afrpw.org  and click on “Subscribe to Official Newsletter” at the bottom left of the page or go to our Facebook page and click on “Get Noloholo News” at the top of the page.