For once, Google was unlikely to face privacy complaints as the US Internet giant on Tuesday launched its Street View service in Kenya’s Samburu park, in a move conservationists said could help protect endangered elephants.
Special cameras have taken panoramic images of the reserve while driving down dusty tracks – and have also been fixed to a backpack to penetrate deep into the bush.
Some of Google’s previous Street View forays have brought complaints on privacy grounds.
But this time there were no demands to blur out faces – the main residents of the 165 square kilometre reserve are 900 elephants.
“We hope that by bringing Street View to Samburu, we will inspire people around the world to gain a deeper appreciation for elephants,” said Farzana Khubchandani of Google Kenya.
Slightly larger than a basketball, Google’s camera contains 15 individual fixed-focus lenses that simultaneously capture a 360 degree image roughly every three metres.
The Kenya project was launched in collaboration with conservation group Save the Elephants.
“It’s exciting to open a window onto Samburu, and to help us better protect its elephants,” said Save the Elephants chief Iain Douglas-Hamilton, speaking in Samburu, some 300 kilometres north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
Kenya is struggling to stem poaching to protect its remaining elephant population – currently estimated at 30 000 – and just over a thousand rhinos.
With ivory raking in thousands of dollars a kilo in Asia, conservationists have warned that African elephants could be extinct in the wild within a generation.
“Giving people a virtual tour will bring Samburu to the world, and inspire the world to come to Samburu,” county governor Moses Lenolkulal said.
“The more people experience our culture, our people and the majestic elephants and other wildlife with which we co-exist, the more we are able to conserve and sustain the Samburu culture and its fragile ecosystem for generations to come.”
The Libyan capital once boasted grand movie houses that packed in smartly dressed couples for a special night out, but how times have changed.
Today, the sole major cinema left in Tripoli is a men-only zone stripped of glamour, offering a diet of violence-packed films and blunt warnings that women are not welcome.
And the city’s old epithet, “Mermaid of the Mediterranean”, jars sharply with what has become a mainly Islamist-run capital of a country plagued by conflict and political chaos.
The rot started even before the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and has since seen movie houses bolt their doors one after the other.
Today’s lone silver screen is the Omar al-Khayyam, where a sign tells women to stay away: “Access is formally banned because there are people who indulge in acts contrary to customs and religion.”
Films full of blood and violence like “Scarface” and “Die Hard” pass muster with the militias that have controlled the city since August 2014, driving Libya’s elected parliament and internationally recognised government to take refuge in the far east of the country.
It was not always so, Tripoli residents insist, recalling the city’s former cultural diversity.
In the pre-Kadhafi glory days for cinema-goers, there were no less than 20 movie theatres — and some live on in the memory of locals.
‘Elegant and majestic’
“In the 1960s, we used to live near the Arena Giardino (outdoor cinema) and all I had to do was lean on the window on the second floor to watch the films,” said Abdelmonem Sbeta, a geologist and active member of a post-Kadhafi civil society group.
“Cinema was the reward at the end of the week, but we all had to get dressed to the hilt. That was the rule for everyone, for Muslim and Jewish Libyans, Italians, Europeans and Americans.”
“My best memories of cinemas in Tripoli go back to 1974 when my parents took me to watch ‘The Tamarind Seed’ (a British-US film with Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif).
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a beautiful theatre, not even in Europe,” said Karima Leguel, an Anglo-Libyan who was an impressionable nine-year-old at the time, now a mother-of-two.
“Everything was so elegant and majestic: the velvet seats, the decorated curtains and the precious wood-panelling.”
In 1969, the bloodless coup which overthrew Libya’s monarchy and brought Colonel Kadhafi to power swept away the old order.
Under his rule, the cinema was seen as both frivolous and superfluous. Businesses were nationalised and foreign movies were equivalent to a “cultural invasion”.
“Tripoli without cinemas was the beginning of the end for us because it was on a par with the decline of Libya,” said Leguel.
‘Bruce Lee was our hero’
The Royal cinema, renamed Al-Shaab (The People) during Kadhafi’s initial drive toward his brand of Arab nationalism in the North African state, used to stand near Martyrs’ Square in downtown Tripoli. Now it is empty, waiting to be converted into a parking lot.
“For people in the area, the cinema was all we had for distraction,” recalled Mohamed Kamel, owner of a busy local coffee shop.
“When we were children, we would wait eagerly to go see an Indian or karate movie. Bruce Lee was our hero,” he said, harking back to the days of Kadhafi’s Libya when such movies were all that were on offer — driving many to DVDs and satellite channels.
Others, like 39-year-old graphic artist Wael Garamalli, have less fond memories.
“I went to a cinema on December 24 Street in the 80s to see a karate movie. I felt so uncomfortable, it was like being locked up with a bunch of yobs. Nothing like the audiences of my parents’ time.”
But for Leguel, whatever the films on offer, “a city without cinemas is inconceivable”.
In a country whose troubles appear far from over, geologist Sbeta, meanwhile, remains optimistic.
“No one can take away this city’s joie de vivre, its elegance and its desire to move forward,” he said. “It’s part of the DNA in all of us in Tripoli.”
Kenya’s triumphant world championship athletes were given a rousing welcome home on Tuesday, with thousands of supporters and the east African nation’s leaders out in force for the homecoming.
Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was crammed with well-wishers as the team returned from Beijing, where they topped the medals table for the first time since the championships started in 1983.
Kenya garnered seven golds, six silvers and three bronze. There were also two rare individual title wins for Julius Yego in the men’s javelin and Nicholas Bett in the 400m hurdles.
“We are here to welcome our heroes who have stunned the world. You have made us proud,” said deputy president William Ruto, who led the line-up of Kenyan leaders welcoming the team. He later hosted the athletes for breakfast at his residence.
“Every village, every town and every corner of Kenya is celebrating our win and our success. We are not the biggest country in the world nor the strongest country but we are simply the best,” Ruto said.
“Kenya is not only a cradle of mankind but this is the only place where village girls and village boys, with one effort become champions.”
Kenya’s sports minister, Hassan Wario, said the team’s success was a good pointer towards next year’s Olympics, but said a lot of work still needed to be done to ensure there will be a well-rounded reprepresentation.
“This success augurs well for our preparations for Rio. The Olympics will be a different kind of ball game because the Olympics is slightly wider than the world championships,” he said.
“There is fencing and other events which we don’t do very well in. But we have shown we are number one in the world in terms of athletics and we can now improve in other things for the Olympics.”