There are few places in the world where you can watch wild animals at very close range without them being affected by your presence. Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of these rare places and if you’ve never seen it, believe me, it’s worth the visit.
Don’t worry, elephants don’t get ebola. Well not as far as I’m aware! But that doesn’t mean they won’t be severely affected by the disease in other ways. Indeed, elephant populations will very likely be impacted indirectly and I think we should be very concerned about what’s happening at the moment.
Next week, conservationists from all around the world will gather in Sydney for the World Parks Congress, including my very own co-founder of Let Elephants Be Elephants, Nadya Hutagalung, who will be speaking at the world leaders dialogues with the head of CITES, Director General of WWF, Ministers of Environment of Australia and South Africa, and several other esteemed influencers. They’ll be discussing the conservation of protected areas around the world. Meanwhile, a crisis is unfolding in Africa and in this case it’s something that the general public has a big role to play in solving.
As you all know (because I do talk about it a lot!), African elephant populations are being devastated by the highest levels of poaching seen in decades. The rise in illegal killing is being driven by an increase in demand for ivory from Asia, especially China, and is the result of rising wealth across the region. At current rates of poaching, the African elephant population may have as few as 15 years left.
However a compounding threat is emerging in the form of ebola, due to the negative effect of the disease on tourism across sub-Saharan Africa. Anyone who’s been on safari in Africa can tell you how essential tourism is to the wellbeing of both local communities and wildlife in remote rural areas in Africa because of the far reaching socio-economic benefits it provides. When tourism dollars drop off, local indigenous people turn to alternative income options, like agriculture or even poaching, with devastating impacts on wildlife.
Ignorance among the general public globally of the location of ebola-affected countries in relation to the rest of Africa is making things worse. So here are the facts. The ebola pandemic is confined to three main countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, all of which are in west Africa, a very long way from the typical safari destinations in places like Botswana, Namibia and Kenya. There are about 8000km between the ebola hotspot of Liberia and the safari areas in Botswana, and over 7000km between Liberia and Nairobi, Kenya . There are no direct flights to either region from Liberia – you have to connect through other countries. Liberia is closer to London, Paris and Rome than it is to these safari destinations in Africa.
Nonetheless, safari operators across sub-Saharan Africa are noticing a significant downturn in future bookings, as well as an increase in cancellations. There have been more cases of ebola in America than there have in sub-Saharan Africa in this outbreak, so you’d be more at risk there than on safari in South Africa. But the perception that safari areas could have ebola, even though they don’t and are miles away, is damaging tourism, which ultimately will make wildlife conservation efforts much harder. I think we’ll see the poaching of elephants and rhinos escalate as a result of the downturn in tourism in Africa if people don’t realise they are not in danger of contracting the disease by going on safari. And I’m not the only one who thinks so; according to this article in The Daily Beast, ebola could deal the death blow to many of Africa’s communal conservancies, which are crucial buffer zones around the continent’s limited national parks.
Since 2006, the number of elephants being poached annually has been rising, driven by an increase in the demand for ivory from Asia. A report just released in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that more than 100,000 elephants were illegally killed between 2010 and 2012. There are less than 500,000 elephants left in Africa, perhaps as few as 350,000. The current levels of poaching are not sustainable as they exceed the natural population growth rate of elephant populations.
We have very real reason to be alarmed because tourism is so essential to the continued survival of elephants in the wild.
There are very real solutions that are achievable and you can help.
I’ll be heading over to Botswana with a group of Australian and Singaporean travellers in a couple of weeks, feeling comfortable in the knowledge that there hasn’t been a single case of ebola there. It’s been heart breaking to watch the devastation unfolding in west Africa as ebola takes its horrific toll on the human population. Let’s hope that with all the international aid finally going into west Africa that the disease can be brought under control soon.
Today, on World Elephant Day, 12th August, the Let Elephants Be Elephants team is releasing our first webisode from Nadya and my Kenyan expedition. It’s only 7 minutes long and you can watch it right now below!
If you love baby elephants, you’ll love this short behind-the-scenes video from Africa. Please help us by spreading it as far and wide in your social networks as you can. Stay tuned as there are more to come soon! And don’t forget, if you haven’t done it yet, please take the pledge to say no to ivory at http://www.letelephantsbeelephants.org Thanks for your support!
The week before last I went a shade of envy-green…. After finishing up at Earth Hour after 11 years with WWF, my husband Andy Ridley, who, as you all know, I love and adore, travelled to the Okavango Delta in Botswana – without moi! There he experienced the pure magic that only this part of Africa offers. There is simply nowhere like the Delta. Take a look at his photos to see why I was so jealous…. Andy has written the captions below each photo. If you’d like to join Andy or me in Botswana next year, or if you’d like me to arrange your own personalised African safari through Matson & Ridley Safaris, drop me a line now! Remember that safari camps in the Okavango are incredibly popular, so if you want your choice of camps it’s best to start planning a year in advance.
I’ve got great news! Thanks to the kind folks at Asilia Africa, my Kenyan safari in July next year (2015) is now going for about 10% less than previously advertised. That’s a huge saving! You won’t get a luxury safari like this in these exceptional wildlife areas at this price anywhere else, so why not join me?
Africa’s a big place. Actually, really big. You can fit all of China, India and much of Europe into it’s vast landscape. So when you’re planning to go on safari, where do you start? And once you’ve been once, and you’ve got the Africa bug, where do you go next?
So what’s your favourite safari destination? It’s a tough question, because they all have their merits. In this blog I’m going to have a crack at sharing my current top 5 safari destinations and let you make up your mind where’s best for you to live out your dream.
1. Okavango Delta, Botswana
It’s not just that the Okavango is literally teeming with wildlife in the most beautiful palm tree lined wetlands you can imagine, it’s that Botswana itself is such a wonderful conservation success story. With strong and stable political leadership, a healthy economy and 45% of the population being employed in tourism, it’s no wonder this land-locked country at the centre of southern Africa is doing so well at conserving its wildlife.
The human population is only about 2 million and most of the country is classified as desert, so you don’t get the human pressures that you get in other more highly populated African nations (violent crime being one of them). You’ll see all sorts of interesting critters in Botswana, including all the big cats, African wild dogs, the sitatunga, a wetland dwelling antelope I have yet to feast my eyes on, and the largest elephant population in the world. Besides that, who wouldn’t want to explore nature in a mokoro?
This choice might surprise you. Zimbabwe is where I started my African journey back in 1993 on a safari with my Dad at the age of 15 in the Save Valley Conservancy, and it’s still a special place to me. The Save Valley Conservancy remains one of the best places in Africa to see rare African wild dogs. If you go during June, July, August, you’ve got a very good chance of seeing pups at dens, and that is just the cutest thing ever. If you arrange to visit through me, you can also meet the team running the rhino anti-poaching operation, Bryce and Lara, and the Turgwe Hippo Trust‘s Karen Paolillo, who has been studying the area’s hippos for decades.
I also love Hwange National Park. It feels like old Africa to me, and the wildlife there, especially in the dry season (June-Oct), is spectacular. I’ve had lions walk right beside the open vehicle in Hwange, and elephants in their hundreds lining up at waterholes. The thing about Zimbabwe is that many people aren’t traveling there because of the political instability brought about by the current regime. But I’ve been traveling there with my family in the last five years without any troubles, and the people are as friendly and welcoming as ever. And of course, on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia is the famous Victoria Falls, which you have to see at least once in your life to have your breath literally taken out of you.
I only recently ventured into East Africa, having spent the last couple of decades exploring what southern Africa has to offer, and man, was I blown away by Kenya! They’ve been doing safaris in style there for a long time, and it shows in the quality of the experiences they can offer. One very good reason to go to Kenya is that it has the famous great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara. You have to time this carefully to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. I am taking a group of up to 12 to Kenya in July next year (safari details here) and there are still spots available for now, but please don’t wait to register your interest as my other two trips to Namibia and Botswana sold out in record time!).
When I got off the plane at Ol Donyo in the Chyulu Hills, nestled between Amboseli and Tsavo National Parks, I looked across the vast grass plains and up to the gobsmacking sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, and I was speechless. The key with traveling in Kenya is to avoid the crowds of minibuses and go with a good operator that offers you exclusivity with the wildlife. And as always, I suggest staying at lodges that operate in partnerships with local communities and conservation organisations, so you know your tourism dollars are helping make a difference on the ground. Kenya is also the home of Daphne Sheldrick’s famous elephant orphanage, a truly special experience that has brought many tears to the eyes of those who visit.
Suggested lodges: Naibosho (Masai Mara – a luxury, community partnership lodge), Ol Donyo (near Amboseli National Park, operating in partnership with the Big Life Foundation and local Masai community)
Having lived in Namibia for six years, studying black-faced impalas and later working on human-elephant conflict, I’ve still got a soft spot for this vast desert land. You won’t get a sense of space like this anywhere else in the world. The silence in the Namib desert can be overwhelming when you live in a noisy city, and can actually take a bit of adjusting to! Spotting unique desert creatures like oryxes, springboks and ostriches on the desert plains is one of the best things about being in Namibia, as is seeing the vast congregations of animals at waterholes during the dry season (July-October).
Etosha National Park is famous for its white elephants (coated in white dust from the Etosha salt pan) and is one of the best places in Africa to see black rhinos. I also love the north west of Namibia, the Skeleton Coast and Damaraland, where you get desert adapted lions and elephants eking out an existence alongside traditional ethnic groups like the ovaHimbas. My absolute favourite camp in Namibia? Serra Cafema, for sure. Up on the border with Angola, right at the top of Namibia, on the Kunene River, it’s the most remote camp in Africa and going there is like going to the moon (in a very good way!).
Suggested camps: Ongava (for Etosha & rhinos), Serra Cafema (for having your mind blown by desert solitude), Desert Rhino Camp (Damaraland, for tracking desert rhinos & supporting Save The Rhino Trust)
5. Okay so now I’m up to number five, and of course, this is not easy, as there are lots of other great options for safaris that I’d like to include here, like South Luangwa National Park in Zambia (real wild Africa with tonnes of elephants) and even some I haven’t been to that I really want to see, like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique, but I think the final choice for this blog, based on what I’ve seen to date, has to be Kruger National Park, South Africa.
There’s really no other national park like Kruger for an awesome ‘big five’ experience. But it’s the private reserves on the edge of the park that you want to stay in. South Africa offers so many luxurious and mid range options for families, couples or groups, that it’s hard to know where to start. You’ll get a lot for less price in South Africa because there’s a lot of competition and very high standards of accommodation. It’s a great starting point for a first safari, especially for families as they specialise in this. At Tinstwalo last year with then 3 year old Solo, we saw the entire big five, including an incredible leopard sighting and mating lions, in 36 hours!
There are excellent malaria-free reserves in South Africa too, guides that specialise in giving kids an amazing learning experience, and you can always add on a few days exploring Capetown and the magnificent mountains and wineries of the region.
I’m delighted to have had huge interest in my guided safaris as part of my new ethical safari business, Matson & Ridley Safaris. My Okavango Delta safari for this year sold out in a month, the Namibian one planned for September 2015 has only 3 places left (so get in quick if you want to be on this one!) and I reckon it’s time to let you know about another one I’ll be guiding next year in July… to one of the most famous parts of Africa – Kenya!
Great news! The wonderful folks at Wilderness Safaris have just offered me a huge discount on my conservation safari to Namibia in September 2015 (next year). However, it’s only for a limited time! (more…)
You simply have to experience Namibia at least once in your life. It’s like nowhere else on the planet. The sense of space you get, and the deep desert silence, has to be experienced to be believed. If you’re in the rat race this is the perfect escape.
I love a family adventure…. I mean, let’s be honest, travelling with a rambunctious toddler in the far flung parts of the planet is not quite the same as when you’re travelling on your own. You can’t take the same risks and there are things like killer ants and venomous snakes to factor in. But there’s a lot you can do in the wild, as our intrepid son Solo taught us recently in Borneo. (more…)