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Safari

Great Elephant Census Shows Massive Decline

It’s been 40 years since the last pan-African elephant census and so we conservationists have been playing a bit of a guessing game as to how Africa’s giants are really faring in terms of hard numbers.  Just how bad were the declines and where are the problems greatest?  That things were not looking good in the last ten years or so has been known for some time based on what information we do have from local censuses, but the great thing about the very ambitious Great Elephant Census project, led by elephant expert Dr Mike Chase and funded by Microsoft philanthropist Paul Allen, is that it’s given us a really comprehensive picture of what’s happening to African savannah elephants for the first time.

Read the full report here if you like.  I’ve tried to summarise the main points below.

The elephant population of Tanzania has been hard hit by poaching, losing 60% in the last 5 years, but the population in Serengeti is doing better than parks in the south.

The elephant population of Tanzania has been hard hit by poaching, losing 60% in the last 5 years, but the population in Serengeti is doing better than parks elsewhere in the country which has declining populations.

The news is not good, even if not unexpected.  African savannah elephant populations have declined by 30% between 2007 and 2014, equal to almost 145,000 elephants.  A total of 352, 271 elephants were counted in the 18 countries surveyed, representing 93% of elephant range.  This means that, when you factor in Namibia’s roughly 20,000 elephants that were not included, and consider the possible other 7%, there could be only around 400,000 savannah elephants left.  That’s very much at the lower end of the bracket that we thought the population was.  This figure doesn’t include the forest elephants of central and west Africa that are much more under threat and are still being counted.  It’s much harder to get a hold on numbers in countries like the Congo and Central African Republic which have unstable political regimes.  The rate of decline shown by the census is 8%, which is a very big worry and certainly unsustainable, given that the natural growth rate of elephants is about 5%.

I’m amazed that the IUCN still hasn’t listed forest elephants as a separate species to the savannah elephants of Africa, many years after the DNA studies showed this to be the case.  These conservation cogs are turning far too slowly as separating the species would afford forest elephants better protection if they were officially recognised as Endangered.  At the moment they are still lumped in with savannah elephants, classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.   A new study has just revealed that forest elephants breed more slowly than savannah elephants, with females starting to breed at the age of 23, compared to savannah elephant females at age 12-13.  Forest elephant females have a calf an average of every 5-6 years, compared to every 3-4 years for savannah elephants.  And the forest species are in some of the hardest hit poaching areas in central and western Africa.  Surely it’s time to put some pressure on before these unique elephants are gone.

Forest elephants have yet to be recognised by the IUCN as a separate species, even though DNA studies show this to be the case.

Forest elephants have yet to be recognised by the IUCN as a separate species, even though DNA studies show this to be the case. Photo: WWF

So what countries have been hardest hit and which ones are doing okay?  The map below gives a fair idea.  In red are the places were elephants are seriously declining and in green is where they are increasing.

This census has highlighted some areas that we didn’t know were under such serious threat, like the south-western corner of Zambia, where elephants have been almost obliterated right under our noses (95% according to the study), and right next to the prime tourism area of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.  These elephants and those in the Congo and and northern Cameroon face imminent extinction.  Absolutely shocking.  The limited human activity (both tourists and researchers) in the Sioma Ngwezi National Park in south-west Zambia probably has a lot to do with the massive decline there.  Central and west Africa remain major hot spots for poaching and haven’t been fully covered by the census to date (that information is still to come).

As for Tanzania, the Serengeti elephants are doing okay, but across the rest of the country elephants are in serious decline.   Tanzania and Mozambique remain major hotspots for poaching, having both lost about half of their elephants to poachers in 5 years up to 2015.  The census also revealed that poaching in Angola is very severe, a terrible shame as it was hoped that this country would provide a refuge for elephants coming across the border from neighbouring countries with large elephant populations as part of the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area.

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In good news for elephants, look at the green areas where elephant populations are increasing, including Kafue National Park in Zambia, Kruger National Park in South Africa, Save Valley Conservancy and Gonarezhou NP in Zimbabwe, and parks in Uganda and Kenya.  Increases were documented in populations of elephants in the conservation area spanning the west African countries of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso as well, which is encouraging. Botswana still has the vast majority of elephants in Africa, with a stable population of about 130,000 elephants, followed by Zimbabwe with about 80,000 elephants.

So where does this leave elephants?  Well the data is powerful and now it must lead to action to ensure populations that are stable or increasing continue to be built up, and those under major threat are protected as a matter of global urgency.  Lend your support to organisations behind this cause like African Parks and Elephants Without Borders and also those leading the fight to stop the poaching on the ground with anti-poaching teams like the Big Life Foundation.  Stopping the demand for ivory remains key to ensuring that elephants have a future.  Get behind organisations like WildAid, a partner of our awareness campaign Let Elephants Be Elephants in Asia.  This is going to be a joint effort so get on board!

Mind-blowing Tanzania

Names like Ngorongoro and Serengeti are world famous, and recently on a journey there with 9 lovely folks from Singapore, I got the chance to see why.  The northern part of Tanzania is part of the Greater Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, so if you’ve been to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, that’s just over the border from where this safari took place.

The lions in the Serengeti allow you to watch them at close range as they have been studied for many decades and are used to tourist vehicles

The lions in the Serengeti allow you to watch them at close range as they have been studied for many decades and are used to tourist vehicles

The Serengeti really does have to be seen to be believed.  I think we did have unbelievably good luck to see a rare female black-rhino and calf in the scrub, but relatively out in the open, but when on the same afternoon, a young male leopard crawled out of his resting place up high in a tree at sunset and proceeded to walk in front of our open Land Cruiser, I just about fell out of the car.  Leopards are always elusive and when you get to see one up close, it’s really something special.  And this fellow was posing on a boulder like he was on Australia’s Got Talent!

A very rare sight in the Serengeti as there are few rhinos in Tanzania - a mother black rhino and calf.

A very rare sight in the Serengeti as there are few rhinos in Tanzania – a mother black rhino and calf.

I think I'm going to have to blow this picture up.... I've spent so many years working in impala habitats where leopards live and rarely seen this elusive cat up close. Incredible!

I think I’m going to have to blow this picture up and frame it…. I’ve spent so many years working in impala habitats where leopards live and rarely seen this elusive cat up close. Incredible!

But I’m jumping ahead.  First we visited Ngorongoro, the famous conservation area, which is actually a huge volcanic caldera surrounded by mountains.  It’s not a huge area to cross, and you can cover much of it in a day.  The main feature of course is vast grasslands on which live thousands of white-bearded wildebeests and common zebras, along with both Grants and Thomsons gazelles, warthogs and Cape Buffaloes.  Elephants live in the woodlands near the mountains, and move across the grasslands.

One of many many white-bearded wildebeest in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area walking past hundreds of flamingoes

One of many many white-bearded wildebeest in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area walking past hundreds of flamingoes

Set against the backdrop of the white salt pan, which at the time of our visit contained hundreds of bright pink flamingoes, the sheer number of animals in every direction is just spectacular.  This is a public park of course, so you have to expect lots of other vehicles when you find the lions mating (which we did – about 20 of them lined up to watch the very fleeting act of feline ooh-lala).  But here we also saw something you don’t see very often, a spotted hyaena making a kill of a young wildebeest right in front of the vehicle!

Spotted hyeana kills a young wildebeest - not pleasant to watch but it's the circle of life

Spotted hyeana kills a young wildebeest – not pleasant to watch but it’s the circle of life

The wildebeest was almost totally devoured in 15 minutes as we watched, and 3 jackals tried to steal a morsel where they could

The wildebeest was almost totally devoured in 15 minutes as we watched, and 3 jackals tried to steal a morsel where they could

We stayed at the brand new Asilia Africa camp, The Highlands, which is 100% solar powered and has just been described by Forbes magazine as the coolest and most eco-friendly camp in Africa.  I have to agree – it’s a beautiful camp and the rooms with their architecturally designed shapes and inside fire places are just gorgeous.  The view of the surrounding mountains is spectacular.  This camp is an alternative to the main lodges at Ngorongoro that offers privacy and something a little bit different, and best of all, it’s a community partnership with the local Maasai, so every night you stay gives back directly to the local people.

We visited this traditional Maasai village while staying at The Highlands

We visited this traditional Maasai village while staying at The Highlands

It’s a wonderful experience to visit the local Maasai village while you’re staying there (a truly authentic experience, away from the main tourist throngs).  A warning though, it is very cold at The Highlands in winter so you really do need to bring your winter woollies!  Also at 7500 feet, most people do feel some effects from the altitude (most commonly being a bit short of breath when walking).

Maasai women are very happy to sell their local crafts to visitors staying at The Highlands

Maasai women are very happy to sell their local crafts to visitors staying at The Highlands

Next it was onto the Serengeti and a 3 night stay at Asilia’s gorgeous Sayari Camp.  For me and my group this was the highlight.  On our first afternoon it was the rhinos and the leopard.  The next day it was what we had come there to see, the Great Migration, and in particular the crossings of the wildebeest over the Mara River.  We were not disappointed.  The photos don’t do it justice.  It was drama, tension and adrenaline.  I swore out loud on more than one occasion as a young wildebeest drifted down river past the bloated corpses of dozens of wildebeest that didn’t make it, while vultures and marabou storks pierced their stinking bodies with sharp beaks.  It took some time before the wildebeest decided to actually cross, as if they knew the danger involved, and more than once we watched them turn back, and then return to the river, in what seemed to me a game of follow the leader, even though it was never clear who was in charge of that decision.  When they finally did cross, those who made it had to scramble up the steep bank on the other side, over the bodies of many wildebeest that had already perished or become paralysed.  If the crocodiles were there, they were nowhere to be seen, clearly satiated and feeling far too full to eat another wildebeest (we all know that feeling after Christmas dinner).  Everyone in my group was mesmerised and I think also a little overwhelmed by all the casualties.  Everyone cheered each time a young wildebeest made it out of the river.  You can’t help getting caught up in it all.

The famous crossing of the wildebeest at the Mara River

The famous crossing of the wildebeest at the Mara River (video to come)

The days that followed brought more and more animals – elephants, lions in huge prides (these are the best studied lions in Africa), impalas, topi, hippos, cheetahs….  By night, the noises of animals wandering through camp made it disappointing to fall asleep – hyaenas, zebras, hippos and wildebeest sounds all rang out through the evening.  By the last day of the safari, my group all said they couldn’t ask for more.  One decided to sit by the pool, and let me tell you, that doesn’t happen often in a week long safari!  Usually there is just one more thing you want to see….  And of course there is always more to see because Africa always surprises you, just when you think you’ve seen it all.  On our last morning, a few of us who went out got to see two gorgeous little lion cubs, part of a pride of 24, and then a lioness scaled a tree, something I’ve heard about that happens in this part of the world but had never seen.  Usually lions don’t climb trees, but some of the lions in Tanzania have developed this habit.

Lion cubs playing

Lion cubs playing

Lion cub, only a couple of months old

Lion cub, only a couple of months old

Lioness in tree - a behaviour only seen in this part of Africa

Lioness in tree – a behaviour only seen in this part of Africa

I can’t wait to go back to Tanzania again.  It was simply out of this world.  If you’d like to join me on my safari there next August, I have only got 2 places left.  Get in touch now if you want to experience this once in a lifetime journey!

The elephant population of Tanzania has been hard hit by poaching, losing 60% in the last 5 years, but the population in Serengeti is doing better than parks in the south.

The elephant population of Tanzania has been hard hit by poaching, losing 60% in the last 5 years, but the population in Serengeti is doing better than parks in the south.

Sunrise over Serengeti - simply paradise.

Sunrise over Serengeti – simply paradise.

More details on my safari to Tanzania are available here.  Please note that my Rwanda journey for 2017, trekking with mountain gorillas is now sold out as these book out over a year in advance, but I still have one room available for 2 people sharing for Tanzania.

Join my Botswana Safari – June 2017

Announcing my Botswana safari for 2017 is now available for you to join!  This is an exclusive safari for just 8 people with me, combining the World Heritage wetlands and wildlife fiesta of the Okavango Delta, the elephant-rich woodlands of the Khwai region and the Makgadigadi Pan among the San Bushmen.  It’s 7 nights in one of the world’s last great wildernesses and a safari not to be missed if you love animals and Africa at its wildest!

One of the great things about being in Botswana is you can see lions like this big guy at close range and completely unworried about our vehicle.

One of the great things about being in Botswana is you can see lions like this big guy at close range and completely unworried about our vehicle.

As with all my safaris, we’ve focused on ethical safari camps that make a difference, but also keeping to the highest standard, especially when it comes to the wildlife experience.  On my last Botswana safari, my group were blown away by how much wildlife we saw at close range, including lion after lion after lion, tonnes of elephants (Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa), spotted hyaena pups at a den, African wild dogs stalking a giraffe, cheetah, baby impalas…. We were there then in the low season (green season) but this time we’re going just after the Okavango floods so we will see the wetlands in all their glory!  Take a look at the amazing shots from my 2014 safari to Botswana here.  As with all the safaris I personally lead, I’ll be talking through the animal behaviours and conservation issues as we go along, and there are always great conversations by the campfire after a day out in the bush.

Seeing the Delta from a mokoro is a must-do experience and incredibly peaceful. Last time we were lucky enough to see some sitatunga!

Seeing the Delta from a mokoro is a must-do experience and incredibly peaceful. Last time we were lucky enough to see some sitatunga!

Here’s the itinerary for June 2017:

You will make your way from wherever you are in the world to Maun, Botswana, where the safari starts and ends.  International flights are not included in the price, but all internal flights and transfers from the start of the safari in Maun to the end in Maun are included, as are all activities, meals, drinks, conservation and park fees.

Happy elephants in the Okavango, Botswana, taken on my last group safari there in November 2014

Happy elephants in the Okavango, Botswana, taken on my last group safari there in November 2014

June 16:  Light aircraft charter to Khwai area, staying at the community-owned Khwai Camp for 2 nights among the elephants in the mopane woodlands.  (NB. This camp has just changed hands so the new website is coming soon, but for those in the know it was previously on my itinerary in 2014.  For full details of the camp, contact me for the itinerary. Suffice to say it is in awesome part of the Okavango with tonnes of elephants!!)

June 18: Light aircraft charter from Khwai area to Pelo Camp for 2 nights, to experience the wetlands for which the Okavango is famous.  Here we will try out a mokoro (wooden dugout canoe) to see the wildlife up close on the water.

June 20: Light aircraft charter from Pelo Camp to Maun, followed by 1 hour road transfer to Meno a Kwena Camp, where we will overnight for 3 nights.  Experience traditional life on a walk with the Bushmen, watch the elephants and other wildlife drinking at the river in front of camp (including at a floating hide on the Boteti River!), and see desert-adapted wildlife in the Makgadigadi Pans National Park or the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, both within easy reach of the camp.  We can even do a sleep out on bedrolls in the park if you like!  Click here for more on Meno a Kwena Camp & activities.

June 23: Return to Maun by 1 hour road transfer for your international flight out.

Only 8 people can come on this safari with me as I am limited by room availability, so please register your interest ASAP!

Price is US$5900/person sharing.  The price goes down to US$5750/person if you bring a friend to share your room!  Note this includes almost everything other than your international flights.  You will need to keep some money aside for souvenirs and tips, but there are no visa entry fees for Botswana.  Single supplement for those who want their own room is possible.

This photo of young wildlife crusader Alice Bertram was taken at Banoka Camp in 2014 during my group safari, just near where our 2017 safari will be going first....

This photo of young Aussie wildlife crusader Alice Bertram was taken at Banoka Camp in 2014 during my group safari, just near where our 2017 safari will be going first….

 

Pelo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Pelo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

 

Pelo Camp, inside a guest room - boutique luxury in the bush!

Pelo Camp, inside a guest room – boutique luxury in the bush… I love being behind canvas at night in Botswana as it lets all the wonderful sounds of the animal world in (while keeping the lions out!).

 

Pelo Camp guest room

Pelo Camp guest room – the exact right amount of comfort in the bush….

 

Watching elephants in the Boteti River at Meno a Kwena Camp

Watching elephants having a bath in the Boteti River at Meno a Kwena Camp

 

Watch the elephants in the river while you have your own relaxing time in the pool (Meno a Kwena)

Watch the elephants in the river at sunset while you have your own relaxing time in the pool  at Meno a Kwena Camp.  Look at that sky!

 

Experiencing the traditional culture of the San Bushmen is something else (at Meno a Kwena)

Experiencing the traditional culture of the San Bushmen is something else (at Meno a Kwena)

What more could you want from an African safari?  I’d love to have you along with me on this magical journey into the heartland of Africa’s elephants, Botswana, in June 2017.  Contact me for the full itinerary now and register your interest!

Happy World Elephant Day

Today to commemorate World Elephant Day, here’s a few of my favourite elephant photos in celebration of this amazing animal…  In about a week’s time I’m going to be announcing my next safari in Africa – and it’s in the home of the world’s largest population of elephants…. Can you guess where it might be?

Lovely big elephant bull - taken on my group safari to the Masai Mara in Kenya last year

Lovely big elephant bull resting his trunk – taken on my group safari to the Masai Mara in Kenya last year.

 

Ele bromance.... I love the way you often see an old bull and a young bull hanging out together as mates, but also in a symbiotic relationship with the old one teaching the young one the ways of the bush and the young one having better hearing and eyesight than the old bull. This photo taken at Ol Donyo, Kenya, during the making of our film "Let Elephants Be Elephants"

Ele bromance…. I love the way you often see an old bull and a young bull hanging out together as mates, but also in a symbiotic relationship with the old one teaching the young one the ways of the bush and the young one having better hearing and eyesight than the old bull. This photo taken at Ol Donyo, Kenya, during the making of our film “Let Elephants Be Elephants”.

 

Elephant females stay with their mothers their whole lives, raised by a 'village' of aunts, sisters and grandmas in a tight family network

Elephant females stay with their mothers their whole lives, raised by a ‘village’ of aunts, sisters and grandmas in a tight family network.  Photo taken in Amboseli, Kenya during the making of the ‘Let Elephants Be Elephants’ documentary.

 

Botswana is one of the best places to see lots of elephants in one place, with the largest population in the world, currently stable at about 130,000. Photo taken at Xigera Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana during my group safari there in 2014.

Botswana is one of the best places to see lots of elephants in one place, with the largest population in the world, currently stable at about 130,000 according to the Great Elephant Census. Photo taken at Xigera Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana during my group safari there in 2014.

 

Elephants adore water. This magical scene was on the first night of my group safari to Botswana in November 2014, when this herd sauntered in about sunset and took a long slow drink and shower/bath. Banoka Camp.

Elephants adore water. This magical scene was on the first night of my group safari to Botswana in November 2014, when this herd sauntered in about sunset and took a long slow drink and shower/bath. Banoka Camp.

 

Young elephants are so playful and take a while to work out how to use their trunk. Photo taken on safari in Kruger NP, South Africa.

Young elephants are so playful and take a while to work out how to use their trunk. They can sometimes be quite cheeky too! Photo taken on safari in Kruger NP, South Africa.

 

Etosha National Park, Namibia, where I did my PhD on black-faced impalas, is a great place to watch elephants, especially if you go in the dry season as then the waterholes are a joy to watch, with elephants having first water baths then dust baths. At sunset this is an incredible sight! Photo taken on my Namibian group safari last year.

Etosha National Park, Namibia, where I did my PhD on black-faced impalas, is a great place to watch elephants, especially if you go in the dry season as then the waterholes are a joy to watch, with elephants having first water baths then dust baths and revelling in the whole experience. At sunset this is an incredible sight! Photo taken on my Namibian group safari last year, as a herd approached Ombika waterhole where other elephants were already drinking.  See how their trunks were raised, smelling what was going on at the waterhole.

 

The desert dwelling elephants on Namibia's north west region are perhaps the most incredible of all of Africa's elephants, having to traverse vast areas in order to find enough food to survive in their parched habitat. This photo taken on my Namibian safari near Desert Rhino Camp last year.

The desert dwelling elephants on Namibia’s north west region are perhaps the most incredible of all of Africa’s elephants, having to traverse vast areas in order to find enough food to survive in their parched habitat. This photo was taken on my Namibian safari near Desert Rhino Camp last year.

 

Big tuskers like this one called "One Tonne" at Ol Donyo, Kenya, are under threat by poachers for their ivory. There's still a great need to educate the public in ivory-buying countries that when you buy ivory this kills elephants in the wild.

Big tuskers like this one called “One Tonne” at Ol Donyo, Kenya, are under threat by poachers for their ivory. There’s still a great need to educate the public in ivory-buying countries that when you buy ivory this kills elephants in the wild.  Elephants need their ivory for foraging and defence, but sadly it has become their curse as it makes them a target for illegal traders.  We can all help by spreading the word.

Currently our team at Let Elephants Be Elephants is sharing the Ivory Free campaign with our partners at Wild Aid and the Thai soccer team, the War Elephants. Head to our Facebook site and share the ads to help spread the word that it's not cool to buy ivory!

Currently our team at Let Elephants Be Elephants is sharing the Ivory Free campaign all over Thailand, with our partners at Wild Aid and the Thai soccer team, the War Elephants.  Head to our Facebook site and share the ads like this one to help spread the word that it’s not cool to buy ivory!

Now I’m off to the Serengeti to see if I can find some elephants to celebrate in person….  Apparently there’s the odd wildebeest and zebra come to town too for one of the biggest migrations on the planet.  Back real soon….  Happy World Elephant Day!  Share this with someone else who loves elephants.

Serra Cafema – a world away from everything

There are some parts of Africa that remove you so completely from reality that you start to wonder whether all that stuff that fills your life with worries in the ‘outside’ world really matters much.  Serra Cafema Camp, in the Marienfluss Conservancy, is such a place, where traditional Himba people still live a life that is much like what it was several hundred years ago, where a river teeming with crocodiles slices through gothic mountains surrounded by sand dunes, where you can really find yourself by losing yourself in landscapes so primitive you can’t help but feel humbled.  There’s no phone range or wifi up here so you can leave all that behind.  And you know what – you probably won’t miss it one bit.  It’s all about disconnecting to reconnect, as Wilderness Safaris puts it.  This is the ultimate escape and a huge adventure.

Here’s my photos of one of my favourite parts of truly wild Africa, our escape to the most remote part of the land that God forgot, as promised in last week’s blog.

The road to 'never never' in the land that God forgot.... It takes several hours in a light plane to get to Serra Cafema.

The road to ‘never never’ in the land that God forgot…. It takes several hours in a light plane to get to Serra Cafema from Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek, and then another hour or so to get to the camp itself.  They don’t call it the most remote camp in southern Africa for no reason.  But it’s worth it.  You can’t imagine what it feels like to be in this primeval place with all that space around you without actually going somewhere like this.  It’s like taking a step back in time and the colours are simply breath-taking.

 

One of the best things about Cafema is

One of the best things about Cafema is that you can walk to your heart’s delight.  Here’s one of our group members, Tristan, on a dawn walk in the dunes up behind camp.  There used to be lions and elephants and even rhinos in north west Namibia, but the war up until 1990 when Namibia achieved Independence, wiped them all out.  It would be incredible to see these species coming back and with the right ongoing management that is possible.  Now the species you’re most likely to see in this region are springbok, oryx and ostriches, and for the lucky ones there are also endangered Hartmanns mountain zebras, with their distinctive thin black and white stripes without any shadow stripes.  Predators like brown hyaenas and jackals live here too, as testified by their tracks in the sand near camp.

 

The Kunene River

This is the view of the Kunene River that you get on the deck of the main area at Serra Cafema Camp.  The luxurious camp is nestled under big shady Ana and Acacia trees and is truly an oasis in the middle of nowhere.  You walk to your room along wooden walk ways on stilts.  That’s Angola across the river, the Kunene marking the boundary.  All day and night you can hear the rapids upstream.  The contrast of being in the desert dunes so far from any kind of civilisation with this rushing river that originates in the highlands of central Angola and floods out through the Skeleton Coast to the Atlantic Ocean is mind blowing.  But above all, it’s incredibly relaxing.  A swim in this river is not recommended, and you’ll see why if you scroll down….

 

Nile crocodi

Nile crocodile, sun bathing….  One of the most fun activities at Cafema is an afternoon boat ride up the Kunene River, where you have a good chance to see crocs like this guy sunning in the late afternoon, and abundant bird life.  Just before the sun sets the guides pull up at a sand bank on the Angolan side and lay out sun downers fit for kings and queens.  It’s a really tough life!

 

Maggie

The ‘3 Ozzies’, Joanne, Maggie and Leonie, watching the rest of our group in the other vehicle come down the dunes on the drive into camp.  There are some adrenaline rushes as the 4x4s slide down certain roads on steep dunes, which of course the guides do all the time, but the first time you do it you really wonder if you’re going to survive!

 

It hadn't rained in this area for about 5 years according to our guides

It hadn’t rained in this area for about 5 years, according to our guides, and then 3 months before our visit, the heavens smiled and granted the Hartmanns Valley a generous serve of much needed rain.  The result was incredible scenes like this where usually there is only sand, now valleys filled with grass.  These ostriches were clearly still celebrating with a large flock of youngsters, taking advantage of the good times to reproduce.

 

Here we all are having sundowners on the Kunene River - on the Angolan side without a passport!

Here we all are having sundowners on the Kunene River with one of our Himba guides, Timo – on the Angolan side without a passport!  Back row: Timo, Patricia, Tristan, Carina, Joanne, Leonie, Helen.  Front: Chuan Fong, me and Maggie.

 

Of course, probably the most special part of the Serra Cafema experience is meeting the Himbas.

Of course, probably the most special part of the Serra Cafema experience is meeting the Himbas.  The Himbas are in a joint venture partnership between Wilderness Safaris who operate the camp and the Marienfluss Conservancy, owned and run by the local people.  Our guide Stanley described his people, the Himbas as one of the ‘richest’ tribes in Africa because they have so many cattle.  Cattle are the currency in many parts of Africa, used in dowries for marriage and many other exchanges.  The Himbas are excellent cattle farmers, semi-nomadic people who move with their cattle to better grazing as needed.  I’ve seen this part of Namibia much drier than this and sometimes it’s hard to believe any cow would get a meal out of the amount of vegetation available.  They live on milk from the cows and occasionally meat from a goat, trading to get pap (porridge made from ground corn or mealie meal), but they eat very little in the way of vegetables/fruit.  Yet superficially they seemed very healthy to us and no doubt the rains brought great rejoicing in this part of the world.

 

Interacting with the Himbas is really special.

Interacting with the Himbas is really special and definitely a highlight of the visit.  Here Maggie has a chat to a little Himba boy who clearly seemed to be enjoying the one-on-one, as mum watched on beside him with her young baby.

 

I've always loved watching the Himba women with their small babies.

I’ve always loved watching the Himba women with their small babies.  The look on the mother’s face above makes you think she could be any mother in the world.  The ‘midwife’ who helps the women give birth is the old grandmother in the village.  There are no medical doctors or hospitals out here.

 

Women in Himba culture wear a specia

Women in Himba culture wear a special head dress if they are married.  The red ochre that they cover their bodies with acts as a sunscreen and a moisturiser, but it’s also there for beautification purposes.  Himba society is polygamous; men can have several wives.  Let’s just say feminism hasn’t hit Himba society yet and I don’t think it will for a while!

 

Some of the kids now go to school

Some of the kids now go to school, but not all of them.  It’s easy to see how going to school could bring conflicts into the lives of these very traditional people, even though it’s important that they are represented and have their say in the country where they are a minority population-wise.  Education is essential for this but it doesn’t come without challenges.  One of our guides, Stanley explained how he had been educated at a Christian school and this had created a conflict in him.  Now that he believed in the bible because of his school, he explained, it was hard for him to feel okay with the Himba worship of the ancestors in the ancestral fire.  The two didn’t go together well.  It was explained to us that the Himbas believe that when you die, you go into the ancestral fire and you are still ‘there’ with the people, accessible through the fire, but not really gone.  I’m not sure I’ve got that 100% right, but it’s certainly not a philosophy that sits too easily with Christianity.  So I could see how bringing in modern ways of thinking from the outside world would be seen as a threat to Himba culture and tradition.

 

As soon as she strapped him onto her back, this baby fell right asleep. Mum resumed her work as if he wasn't even there!

As soon as she strapped him onto her back, this baby fell right asleep. Mum resumed her work as if he wasn’t even there!

 

The Himba women seemed thrilled to be able to sel

The Himba women seemed thrilled to be able to sell some of their jewellery to our group.  I think we made a good contribution to their small businesses!

 

In the foreground in this picture you can see the Himba village.

In the foreground in this picture you can see the Himba village.  If only our own cities were as unobstructive in the landscape as theirs!  That’s the hills of Angola in the background.

 

One of the fun adventure

One of the fun adventure activities you can do at Cafema is hop on a quad bike and explore the landscapes from behind the wheel of your very own crazy demon 4×4.  Here’s Helen just as we were about to take off.  For some of my group, this was the first time on a quad bike.  They are easy to use and don’t take long to get the hang of.  It’s an awesome way to explore the area, and a whole lot of fun too!

 

Maggie and Tristan on the quad bikes

Maggie in front and Tristan behind on the quad bikes – looking like pros!

 

On the last morning, after a special request from Helen,

On the last morning, after a special request from Helen, those of us who wanted to were able to quad bike our way all the way to the airstrip.  What a thrill this was!  One of the most incredible things was watching hundreds of springboks congregated on the plains running through the grass as we drove by.  Absolutely unforgettable.

 

Well of course I have many more photos but there are way too man

Well of course I have many more photos but there are way too many to share here.  Serra Cafema is one of those places that you have to see to believe.  Like Maggie kept saying as we drove in from the airstrip, “This is just mad!” and it really is hard to believe such a landscape exists in the modern day.  It’s getting harder and harder to find these truly wild places.  Of course it’s not without its human impacts, but the Himbas are part of this environment and custodians of the land.  As the landlords of the Marienfluss Conservancy and Serra Cafema Camp, it’s up to them to conserve this region, their home.  By going there to visit, we all contributed to their livelihoods through ethical tourism, and with the potential threat of the government building a dam on the Kunene that would flood part of the region, the income and jobs that Serra Cafema provide are essential to the future of this area.  I can’t wait to go back….  I think Chuan Fong summed it up best when we were standing on a mountain overlooking the Kunene on the last day:  “This makes me happy.”

Last spots on my 2016 & 2017 safaris!

My 2016 and 2017 safaris are filling up fast!  But it’s not too late to grab a last minute place if you get in quick.

ZIMBABWE 2016 – ONLY ONE ROOM LEFT!

I have one room left for my northern Zimbabwe journey from 23-30 September this year.  That means two people sharing, so grab a friend and come along!  This is the last room left for my safaris this year!  I absolutely love this part of Zimbabwe and the people.  We’ll be visiting Mana Pools, Hwange National Park and the legendary Victoria Falls, staying in private exclusive concessions to ensure the experience is second to none.  I’ll be arranging local experts to talk to us about research and conservation work being done in these areas, and you’ll come home with a unique insight into this magnificent country.  Zim to me is all about being among friendly people, big rivers and lots and lots of wildlife.  Read more about the safari here.  Contact me for the full itinerary.  Maximum of 9 people on this trip.  If you’ve been deliberating don’t wait any longer to sign up!

lions Hwange

RWANDA & TANZANIA 2017 – ONE ROOM LEFT!

I have only 2 spots left for both my gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda and the following safari into the magnificent Serengeti in Tanzania left for two very lucky people!  I am doing these two safaris back to back from 7 August 2017, first 5 nights in Rwanda, then 6 nights in Tanzania.  Read more here.  We are staying at the best camps in the best private areas, showcasing the wildebeest migration at the best time of year!  I’ve hand picked all my camps as always to ensure we have an outstanding experience but also to make the maximum contribution back to local communities and conservation.  My Rwanda safari will have a maximum of 8 people, and Tanzania up to 9.  If you’ve ever dreamed of trekking with gorillas or experiencing the Serengeti, here’s your chance to do it with a small group of wildlife-loving people and your own personal zoologist!

Incredible vista from The Highlands over Ngorogoro Crater (photo: Asilia)

Incredible vista from The Highlands over Ngorogoro Crater (photo: Asilia)

Where do YOU want to go on safari next?   Leave a comment here with your dream destinations in Africa and let’s see if we can make a group trip happen!

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

Spotlight on Elephants in Tanzania

My last post about the state of African elephant poaching discussed the latest CITES report showing that less elephants are now being poached now than during the poaching peak in 2007, but also highlighted the fact that while some countries are doing better in terms of poaching (e.g. Kenya), others are still in big trouble and it’s no time to be complacent.  Overall, there are still more elephants being poached than there are being born.  Tanzania’s elephant population has taken a big hit and remains under serious threat for the ivory trade.

Credit: Asilia Africa

Credit: Asilia Africa

The shooting of British helicopter pilot, Roger Gower, by poachers in Tanzania, as the 37 year old man was conducting anti-poaching patrols over Maswa Game Reserve, shocked the world.  This terrible loss of yet another person fighting against poaching is the tip of the iceberg of what’s been happening in this country over the past five years.  Tanzania has lost more than half of its elephant population to poachers for ivory in the last 5 years, now estimated to be about 43,000, down from 109,000 in 2009, with Selous-Mikumi, Ruaha-Rungwa and Malagarasi Muyowosi ecosystems believed to have taken the biggest hits.  That is TENS of THOUSANDS of elephants killed for ivory in a very short time, an appalling loss from a country that once boasted huge populations.

Roger Gower, the British helicopter pilot shot down during an anti poaching mission. Photo from BBC.

Roger Gower, the British helicopter pilot shot down during an anti poaching mission. Photo from BBC.

Globally, dozens of anti-poaching rangers die in the course of duty every year.  We are losing too many people and too many elephants because of the ivory trade in numbers that are just not acceptable.

What is being done to turn the sheer scale of the poaching around in Tanzania?  Since November last year, the country now has a new President, John Magufuli, who appears to be on a mission to root out corruption in general across Tanzania, and has appointed a task force to deal with the problem.  We have seen some high profile arrests in recent months, including that of Chinese national Yang Geng Glan, the ‘ivory queen’, suspected of exporting thousands of tonnes of ivory to China, along with 1000 arrests since the formation of the task force.  Tanzanian authorities say the poaching ring that killed Roger Gower has now been dismantled.  As this blog goes out, 2 Chinese nationals have just been sentenced to 35 years jail for illegal possession of ivory and corrupt transactions.

It’s no small undertaking getting on top of a poaching problem that has become so endemic, rooted in corruption and greed.  A good friend of mine from back in my past Namibian life, Aaron Nicholas, is on the ground in Ruaha, Tanzania, working as Program Director of the Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program for the Wildlife Conservation Society.  I asked him for an update on what’s been going on with Ruaha’s elephants and for his expert insights into this problem.

WCS program director in the Ruaha-Kativi landscape investigates the skull of a poached elephant (credit: WCS)

Aaron Nicholas, WCS program director in the Ruaha-Kativi landscape, investigates the skull of a poached elephant (credit: WCS Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program)

Aaron, we’ve heard a lot of disturbing reports coming out of Tanzania.  What is the future looking like for the country’s elephants, and in particular for those you’re focused on in Ruaha?

These are challenging times for Tanzania’s elephants for sure. The world has heard about the dramatic declines in elephant numbers in key elephant habitat such as the Selous Game Reserve and more recently the Ruaha-Rungwa landscape – the Selous population for example plummeted from around 35,000 in 2009 to around 13,000 by 2014, a staggering 66% loss, and although there is evidence to suggest the population is stabilizing there, poaching pressure continues to shift and the overall situation in Tanzania remains critical with the total elephant population presently standing at around 50,000, down from 109,000 in 2009.

It’s not all negatives.  Landscapes in the north, where tourism is some ten times more buoyant than in the south have faired better and there is actually evidence of continued elephant population growth in places like the Serengeti and Tarangire. In the south however, elephants are still facing significant poaching pressure and this is where we are focusing our support to government and local communities.

Ruaha National Park from the air (credit: WCS)

Ruaha National Park from the air (credit: WCS Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program)

What is WCS doing to try and combat the problem, and are you seeing results?

WCS has a long-standing presence and relationship with government here, having been present in Tanzania for the best part of 50 years. We have 5 well-established programs in Tanzania ranging from marine and coastal forest management to highland forest protection as well as Africa’s second longest running elephant monitoring program centered on Tarangire National Park.

Over the last 10 years or so we have focused in our area especially on building community engagement in wildlife conservation through the Wildlife Management Area approach- Tanzania’s take on Campfire, which is aimed at empowering communities to manage their wildlife and natural resources sustainably. In 2013 we made a commitment to partner with government to strengthen law enforcement efforts linked to elephant protection- this was the genesis of the Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program, focused on East Africa’s largest remaining elephant population within this 115,000km2 landscape (almost twice the size of Tasmania).

We work with different wildlife authorities, establishing and strengthening capacities that have an immediate impact on poaching – for example, we have established a detection dog unit based in Ruaha National Park (they are just going operational now and will sniff out illegal cashes of ivory, arms and ammunition); trained more than 200 park rangers in law enforcement monitoring using a system called SMART and are deploying a specially equipped Cessna 206 in support of monitoring and coordination of field efforts. We support community wildlife scouts and are also planning advanced training for rangers and wildlife officers and working with other partners, especially the U.S. Government, to tackle the poachers head on.

There are signs that poaching is reducing in some key areas, but we will only be able to confirm this with certainty as these efforts continue to be embedded and our monitoring programs feed back results. Government is also stepping up, more rangers are being posted and just last week news came out that a special national anti-poaching unit will be constituted. We are starting to read about significant sentences being passed for ivory traffickers too with a number of individuals having been sentenced to 20 years of late for their involvement in the ivory trade. Above all, there are high expectations that President Magufuli will deliver on his anti corruption agenda within the wildlife sector as well.

Elephants in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania (credit: WCS)

Elephants in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania (credit: WCS Ruaha-Katavi Landscape Program)

What does a day’s work typically look like for you? (Many of my readers are aspiring conservationists and you are living their ‘dream job’!)

It’s mainly about coordination- ensuring that the 20 or so staff we have are able to deliver on their various roles, working with communities, wildlife authorities and other partners to strengthen capacities, engagement and commitment and ensuring that each of our teams efforts have as much multiplier effect as possible.

We have staff who engage with 46 or so communities within 4 Wildlife Management Areas, building the capacity of management authorities and helping establish effective governance and opportunities to derive natural resource based investment and benefits. Other staff liaise with national park, game reserve and Wildlife Management Area rangers as well as other law enforcement authorities- for example to ensure the detection dog unit can be effectively deployed. We also have ecologists who track wildlife trends, support wild dog and vulture monitoring and other important survey work. It’s an interesting and varied mixed bag!

I personally spend a lot of time coordinating our work with various partners and other agencies including USAID and the U.S. Embassy in particular who channel various forms of assistance to the field based on the various U.S. commitments to combatting wildlife trafficking. When I can I get into the field to maintain a sense of where we are with our efforts and once our Cessna 206 arrives I will take advantage of that key tool to get airborne regularly as well to visit all parts of this huge area. Being around elephants on the ground keeps you grounded too and there’s nothing I like more than grabbing a few hours sitting under a baobab and being awed by some pachyderm presence!

Credit: Asilia Africa

Credit: Asilia Africa

Can you tell us about any stories from the field that you’ve personally experienced that could give us a sense of what it’s like there on the ground?

I’ve had my fair share of close calls with poachers over the years and I’m pleased in many ways to be one step removed these days. To do this job though under these circumstances, it’s critical to have the experience of having been at the sharp end of things- rangers are the bedrock of protection activities and their daily commitment to this dangerous work can never be taken for granted.

Field conditions in our landscape can be very challenging in the wet season in particular, especially in the game reserves where sufficient resources to maintain an effective patrol presence are often lacking. We recently helped rangers in Rungwa game reserve re-establish year round presence in a strategically placed ranger post that has been abandoned for more than 10 years through the provision of transport and other essential field equipment and are also working with the U.S. Government to re-establish an effective radio system – these are the kind of practical actions that patrol teams need.

Having worked in conservation other countries like Namibia and Cameroon, you have a good perspective on the future of wildlife in Africa.  How do you feel about this, given the Africa’s population is predicted to double by 205, and soar to over 11 billion by 2100.  What gives you hope?

Population growth is certainly the biggest long-term challenge and we should certainly all be promoting family planning that’s for sure!

I take heart in that our landscape has relatively low population densities in many areas and issues of habitat connectivity for species such as elephants are certainly aspects that we can still achieve a great deal with. We are currently engaged in a process of working with key stakeholders to define and manage what would be East Africa’s most significant elephant corridor, connecting core elephant populations in the east and west of our landscape- these are the kind of initiatives that deserve as much effort as possible against the backdrop of increasing human populations and land-use change.

We hear a lot about the Serengeti and how amazing it is a tourist destination, famed for its migration of plains species.  I personally have always wanted to go there and will be taking a group of travellers there with me in August 2017.  Tell us a little about this part of the world.

An iconic globally recognized landscape that is guaranteed to connect you to Africa and its wildlife. Loose yourself in the endless horizons, soak up the wildlife dramas all around and remind yourself of the importance of thinking big to achieve meaningful conservation!

The famous Serengeti in Tanzania (credit: Asilia Africa)

The famous Serengeti in Tanzania (credit: Asilia Africa) – get in touch with me now to sign up to join me there in August 2017!

 

The Good, Bad & Hopeful News for Africa’s Pachyderms

CITES’ latest report on the results of the MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme has some good news in it for elephant populations and some not so good.  The overall number of elephants being killed for ivory has stabilised, after a peak in 2011, but there are still more elephants killed every year than are born (see BBC story).

Graph showing proportion of total elephants found killed that were poached, from MIKE 2015. Note the declining trend in poaching since 2011 peak.

Graph showing proportion of total elephants found killed that were poached, from the MIKE programme, 2015. Note the declining trend in poaching since the 2011 peak.

 

In Kenya, things appear to be looking up, especially in Tsavo National Park, with an overall decline in poaching reported.  Well done Kenya!  It hasn’t been an easy few years for Kenya, with the ecotourism industry hard hit by unfounded fears of ebola (which never came close to the country) and a couple of terrible terrorist attacks, but nonetheless their commitment to turn things around for elephants appears to be paying dividends.

Of concern however is the upward trend in poaching in the world famous Kruger National Park, and a couple of other southern African sites including Chewore, Zimbabwe.  In southern Africa, poaching levels are still well below the sustainability threshold, but the upward trend is of concern, especially as this part of the world is considered a real refuge for elephants.

Central and West Africa continue to be of serious concern, with poaching levels still well above the sustainability threshold for elephant populations.  Read the full report here.

Elephant in the Kruger National Park (photo: Matson)

Elephant in the Kruger National Park (photo: Matson)

So overall, I think this latest CITES report suggests the great efforts made in recent years, at all ends of the spectrum from demand reduction to anti-poaching, are making a difference in some places, but it’s definitely not the time to be complacent.

What about rhinos?  The recent report by IUCN showing that overall poaching across Africa for rhinos is at its highest since 2008 shows that poaching is by no means slowing down across Africa for other thick-skinned large mammals either.   The South African government recently reported that rhino poaching was down in South Africa in 2015 compared to the previous year, albeit by a very small number (about 40).  The big picture outlined in the IUCN report just out suggests the fight must go on if rhinos are to have a future in the wild.

Black rhino in Namibia (photo: Matson)

Black rhino in Damaraland, Namibia (photo: Matson)

Why go on fighting this battle?  Lots of reasons, but a big one is that it IS possible to win.

I take heart from countries like earthquake-hit Nepal, which has had ZERO poaching of its greater one-horned rhinos in three of the past five years.  Part of their success in conservation following the civil war (which took a hard toll on wildlife) is reported to be their tough penalties on poaching and a streamlined judicial process dealing with offences.

And then there is Uganda, which has seen its elephant population increase 600% from 700-800 in the 1980s to over 5000 in 2015.  These countries demonstrate that it is possible to turn things around; and that political will and hard line processes are key to success.  It’s amazing what can happen when governments take this problem seriously.

Elephants in Uganda (photo by National Geographic)

Elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, are doing better than in the 1980s by a long way (photo by National Geographic)

 

Confirm your place – Rwanda & Tanzania 2017!

I posted an article on my Facebook page from National Geographic last week about young gorillas seen dismantling poachers’ snares for the first time.   It suggests that the youngsters knew how dangerous the traps were and researchers said they may have done it before, given how quickly they dismantled it.  For a critically endangered species with less than 900 left in the wild, this is a good sign because with such low numbers we really can’t afford to lose any wild gorillas, especially the next generation.

Baby Mountain Gorilla (photo courtesy of Governors Camps)

Baby Mountain Gorilla (photo courtesy of Governors Camps)

Their numbers remain low, but responsible tourism has been key to the fact that gorilla populations are now increasing in the wild.  Tourism now accounts for almost 8% of Rwanda’s GDP and this gives the government and the local people real incentives to keep the mountain gorillas that sit at the heart of the country’s tourism alive.  Read more about how responsible tourism is key to the survival of mountain gorillas here.

August 2017 may seem like a long way off but that gives you an idea of the popularity of the highly awarded safari camps I’ll be taking two groups to to trek with mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcano mountains followed by a week at Ngorogoro crater and the Serengeti in Tanzania. We have to book this far ahead to secure space.  I’ve had a lot of interest already in both trips and I’ll be taking a maximum of 10 people on each.  I’ve personally hand picked every element of both safaris – they’re going to be amazing!

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

Anyone who’s been on one of my group safaris knows how intimate these adventures are.  I keep the groups small because I like to get to know people and I find that a small group size also enables firm friendships among like minds to be made.    These are wild, adventurous, spiritual experiences that will change your life while benefiting local people and wildlife – not your run of the mill safari!  So if you’d like to confirm your place, please get in touch with me now to pay your deposit and make sure you don’t miss out!  I already have more interest than I have places, so the sooner you confirm your place the better.

Kimondo Camp game drive, Serengeti. Photo: Asilia

Kimondo Camp game drive, Serengeti. Photo: Asilia

Read all about my 2 group safaris in Rwanda and Tanzania by clicking here.  Contact me for a full itinerary with all the inclusions (as with all my safaris, almost everything is included in the price other than your international flight).

There’s more information on all the safaris we offer at Matson & Ridley Safaris on our new website so click here to learn more.  I also have one spot left for a single woman on my Namibian Skeleton Coast safari in May this year and 3 spots left for a couple and a single woman on my Zimbabwean safari in September this year.

Hope to see you on safari soon!

Launch of our new website

Happy new year and here’s hoping your year has lots of inspiration and adventures of the African kind in it!

To kick off 2016 with a resounding trumpet we’d like to share the exciting news that Matson & Ridley Safaris’ new website matsonridley.com  is now live!  For a dose of inspiration and some ideas on your next African adventure, please take a look and share it with your friends.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 11.36.48 amMatson & Ridley Safaris has been a labour of love of Andy’s and mine for the last two and a bit years, and we’re delighted that many of you have already been on not one but two safaris with us, as well as signing up for more in the future.  I think this is a sign that we’re on the right track with the life-changing experiences in Africa that we’re offering.

You can read some of the feedback we’ve had from guests on our safaris on our Testimonials page.  The overwhelming feedback we get is that people love the fact that they’re not just having an amazing experience on our safaris, they’re also learning a lot while there, very importantly, able to also give back while on holiday, and to see their positive contribution with your own eyes.  You can read more about the conservation projects we support on our Conservation page.

Our group watches a\n exhausted male lion (in between a week of mating every twenty minutes)

Tammie’s group watches an exhausted male lion (in between a week of mating every twenty minutes) in Kenya in July 2015

We are learning, growing and passionate about continuing to provide incredible safaris that make a difference to Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda (and open to any others you suggest to us!).   Check out our Safaris page to learn more about the destinations we tailor safaris to.  Life is short and there’s so much to explore!

Our family safaris are growing increasingly popular, so if you’re interested to learn more about taking your precious treasures on the trip of a lifetime check out our Family Safaris page.  There are great deals available with discounted rates for kids.

If you’ve had a great safari with us, please let your friends know about us and help us grow our business into one that can really make a difference in conservation.  Go on – take a moment for an Africa fix –  matsonridley.com is now live!

Happy elephants in the Okavango, Botswana, taken on my last group safari there in November 2014

Happy elephants in the Okavango, Botswana, taken on Tammie’s last group safari there in November 2014