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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.”

Wow Moments from Namibia’s Wild North West

How does one summarise a week in Namibia’s rugged Kunene region, one of the wildest parts of Africa?  It was just one wow moment after another!  There was the cheetah mother with two cubs who killed a springbok male in the dry Hoanib River bed, the chameleon laying eggs at the Skeleton Coast, the drive through the dunes to the violent Atlantic Ocean where hundreds of seals frolicked in the crashing waves, meeting the traditional Himbas in Marienfluss Conservancy and of course, the desert lions (with cubs!) and desert-dwelling elephants….  And then there is those epic landscapes, so huge and awe-inspiring that you feel so small and incredibly humbled by it all.

It’s hard to sum up north west Namibia in one blog because it’s so much more than a holiday – it’s a life changing experience and a grand adventure!   I think the photos tell the story so let’s start with that….  This week I’m sharing a few of my pictures from the Hoanib River and Skeleton Coast.  Next week stay tuned for photos from Serra Cafema in the Marienfluss Conservancy, home to the Himba people.  Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is a joint venture between Wilderness Safaris and local people in three conservancies, Sesfontein, Anabeb and Torra.  Matson & Ridley Safaris also made a donation to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation from this safari.  I want to thank Helen, Chuan Fong, Patricia, Maggie, Jo, Leonie, Tristan and Carina for being such intrepid desert adventurers and great company, and I really hope we meet again by the campfire soon.

Oryx at sunrise in the Hoanib River

I love the dawn light in Namibia.  There’s a short time where everything turns a rosey-apricot.  Just before that time, all seems peaceful and cool, before the suns rays bear down on the desert sands.  This photo of a herd of oryx was taken at sunrise in the Hoanib River.  Just a few months earlier, this river had run, something very rarely seen in this neck of the woods.  It had barely rained in camp, but there was more rain inland, enough to cause the river to run, and even a little rain makes a huge difference in arid landscapes.

 

Desert dwelling giraffes

Desert-dwelling giraffes or desert lion-prey (depending on how you look at it!) are a frequently sighted species in the Hoanib River ecosystem.  The tall, shady Ana trees (Faedherbia albida) that line the dry Hoanib River all bear browse lines at giraffe/elephant height and were providing a rich source of protein for many species with all their dropping pods when we were there.  When you first arrive at Hoanib it’s like you’ve landed on the moon.  You wonder how could anything live here with so little food and water?  And then you go down into the river and you realise just how much life is there, and what amazing adaptations the animals and plants have to living in this hostile, arid environment.  Our group loved hearing more about desert-dwelling giraffes from Dr Julian Fennessy on our last night on safari, and you can support the work of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, one of the projects we at Matson & Ridley Safaris support, by checking out their website.  And don’t forget 21 June is World Giraffe Day!

 

Springbok

Springboks feast on freshly fallen pods of Acacia and Ana trees in the Hoanib River, as well as the water-filled ‘ostrich salad’ (seen here in the foreground).  When the fog rolls in from the Atlantic Ocean about 60 km to the west, this replenishes the succulent plants that they eat, and so springbok rarely need to drink as they get enough water from their food.  Unfortunately during our time at Hoanib the infamous ‘east wind’ prevailed on the coast, bringing very hot winds from the inland, preventing the fog rolling in from the ocean, and bringing temperatures up to almost 40 degrees Celcius in the sun.  You can never predict the weather in this country!  It was a fresh reminder to me that you always have to prepare for possible extreme heat and extreme cold in the desert.

 

Springbok enjoying the green pickings at the floodplain at the end of the Hoanib River near the Atlantic Ocean

Springboks enjoying the green pickings while it lasts at the floodplain at the end of the Hoanib River near the Atlantic Ocean.  Springbok are so well camouflaged in the desert and their white under belly allows heat to be deflected off the oven-hot ground as the day warms up.

 

Desert lionesses

Just a few hours in to our drive to the Skeleton Coast, our Wilderness Safaris guides Elias and Liberty spotted fresh lion tracks.  Searching for them on both sides of the river, following their tracks, we eventually found the two lionesses and 3 young cubs, lazing in the shade.  The two lionesses are stars in the brilliant new National Geographic documentary, “Vanishing Kings“, and these incredible desert mamas provide for themselves and their offspring in formidable, harsh conditions.  These lions are specialised giraffe hunters, no mean feat for just two of them.  For a while there they were also feeding their 5 almost grown up sons!  The desert-dwelling lions in this area are part of a long term study by lion expert Dr Philip Stander.  They have huge home ranges and often must walk a very long way to find food in these arid conditions.

 

Lion cubs - the next generation of desert-dwelling lions

The next generation of desert-dwelling lions is crucial to the survival of this population.  Desert-adapted lions often move out of protected areas and come into contact with people and their livestock in rural areas, creating obvious conflicts with local people who consider their cows to be the equivalent of money and status.  They can be shot or poisoned by farmers who do not want them threatening their cattle.  While we were there, the ‘five musketeers’ (the 5 lions who are the offspring of these two females, now fully grown) had wandered up to Purros Conservancy and out of the safety of the park, creating concerns among the staff at Hoanib Camp.  We wondered what the future held for these 3 small female cubs.  A fourth cub, their sibling, had been washed away in the January flood.  At least with the two lionesses teaching them how to survive, they have great examples to follow.

 

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed jackal – a common scavenger at Hoanib, and never far from the lions!

 

Sleeping baby elephant

When a baby elephant lies down beside its mother right beside you, you know it’s feeling pretty relaxed.  It’s a privilege to see this.  In other parts of Africa, elephants can never relax due to the presence of poachers for the ivory trade.  This herd of desert-dwelling elephants move up and down the Hoanib River, feeding on the Ana trees and other shrubs along the length of the sand river.  We all enjoyed the ‘elley-therapy’!  Note the wide feet of the desert-adapted elephants, suited to sliding down sand dunes and walking on sand over long distances.

 

Oryx

Oryx antelope – one of the most regal of all the antelopes, and the perfect desert survivor.  Note the white underbelly and white on the lower legs for reflecting heat.  The oryx practices nasal panting, which prevents the brain from overheating when standing in the desert sun at extreme temperatures.  Like the springbok, they barely ever need to drink, gaining enough water from their food.

 

Cheetah mum and cubs with fresh springbok kill

This is something you don’t see every day!  The photo isn’t the greatest but this was a rare sighting indeed.  It started with our guide Elias spotting fresh cheetah tracks in the sand, but you could tell there were predators around as there wasn’t much game around this area.  Then Leonie spotted her – a cheetah mother with small cubs!  We kept our distance, giving her space, as with young cubs she was more wary and we didn’t want to spook her.  And then as we patiently sat there, she crouched down and became very interested in something in the river.  It was a male springbok.  Well now things were about to get interesting.  It’s one thing to see a cheetah in this environment, but quite another to see one kill a springbok, with two cubs running along behind her!  It took the female almost half an hour to cool down after making the kill and dragging it into the shade.  The two cubs were impatient to eat, tugging on the ears of the springbok and trying to open it up (without success!).

 

Pregnant chameleon

If I didn’t know better, I’d never have known this chameleon was heavily pregnant with eggs, but you can see from the size of her belly. She was on the road, and our guides kindly surrounded her with big logs to stop other guides driving over the top of her.  Below you can see the eggs she had just laid, something I had never seen before.  In fact until this day I never even thought about how baby chameleons arrive in the world, so now we know!

 

Eggs of chameleon

Eggs of said chameleon above.  The guides told us she would bury these once we left her alone. What a thrill to witness this!

 

Maggie, Leonie and Joanne watching the sun rise in the Wilderness Safaris land cruiser

Maggie, Leonie and Joanne, ‘the Aussies’, watching the sun rise in the Wilderness Safaris land cruiser.  We had everything from Canon and Nikon SLRs to iPhones and iPads in our collection on this trip.  Helen brought along a new 600mm lens for her Canon SLR which really gave a good view of the wildlife, especially the kills.  I had my 100-300mm Canon SLR which I used for all of these photos.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone else’s best shots.  Post them on our Matson & Ridley Safaris Facebook site if you like!

 

Seedlings in ele dung

On an afternoon walk, I opened up a ball of elephant dung that was still wet inside and discovered fresh seedlings of Ana trees.  I often talk about how elephants distribute seeds through their dung and it was very cool to see the seedlings literally germinating inside this dung.  Elephants are keystone species and the whole ecosystem depends on them.

 

Dawn light and full moon

Dawn light is so amazing in the desert, although fleeting, and the full moon while we were there made for a really striking sight.  A big ‘awww’ moment!  It’s the landscapes and the space that make Namibia so amazing.  It’s a place to leave your mobile phone behind and just reconnect with nature and yourself.

 

Tea time

Tea time in the bush is always welcome.  By mid morning, when you’ve been on a game drive since dawn, it’s definitely time for a cup of Five Roses South African tea and a home made biscuit, as well as a trip to the bush loo (after a quick check for puff adders and western barred spitting cobras).  Here we pulled up in the Hoanib River bed, making sure that we were far enough away from the lionesses!  Left to right: Patricia, Chuan Fong, Liberty, Tristan and Carina.

 

Skeleton Coast

That first sight of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance as you cruise through the dunes through the Skeleton Coast is breath taking!  This fragile ecosystem survives due to the fog, which creates moisture in an otherwise arid ecosystem.

 

Tristan in dunes

Tristan making his way up some of the dunes in the midday sun.

 

Seals

Cape Fur Seals form large colonies along the Skeleton Coast line and provide food for brown hyaenas and jackals (and sometimes lions).  Lots of them were in the water on the day we visited, due to the East wind making it so hot on land.  This photo was taken just near Merwe Bay.

 

Patricia and Chuan Fong

Patricia and Chuan Fong investigate the shells on the beach.

 

Lunch by sea

A much needed bit of shade beside the Land Cruisers was taken advantage of during a desert lunch and a wee drop of some fine wines.

 

Carina

Carina by the sea….  The energy you get when hitting the sea after a long drive through the dunes is something else!

 

Sundowner Hoanib

Oh the pure joy of a sundowner in Africa!  From left: Leonie, Joanne, Carina and Tristan.

 

water in Hoanib

Something you rarely see – water in the desert dunes!  This photo was taken from the plane on the ride back to Hoanib Camp.  After the flood in January, there are still some waterholes left, creating amazing desert oases at the Skeleton Coast.  This water will deplete and it could be another 5 years before the Hoanib sees another water flow.

 

Wilderness Air plane takes off at Hoanib airstrip.

After 3 days at Hoanib Camp we set off for Serra Cafema, an hour’s flight north on the border of Angola.  I’ll be blogging out it, with some incredible photos of this region and its traditional people, next week.  Here’s a sneak peak, below…. And more photos coming at our Facebook page, so please like us at Matson & Ridley Safaris on Facebook to see them.

 

There's nothing like a dawn walk at Serra Cafema, the most remote camp in southern Africa, to make you feel humbled by the planet!

There’s nothing like a dawn walk at Serra Cafema, the most remote camp in southern Africa, to make you feel humbled by this incredible planet! (That’s me by the way – thanks Maggie Knewstubb for taking this pic!)

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)

 

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

Rwanda & Tanzania Journeys with Tammie August 2017

Ever dreamed of getting up close to endangered Mountain Gorillas?  This has always been on my ‘wish list’ to do one day, ever since I read Dian Fossey‘s ‘Gorillas In The Mist’.   Such close relatives to us, I really can’t imagine what it will be like to be eye to eye with wild gorillas, but I imagine it will feel a lot like meeting a long lost family member!

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda (photo: Sabinyo Mountain Lodge)

I’ve also always wanted to see the Great Migration in the Serengeti, and the famous Ngorogoro Crater, focusing on the time of year when the wildebeest herds are crossing the croc-infested rivers.  It must feel like you’re in the cradle of humankind when you experience animals in the kind of numbers that the Serengeti is known for.  I can’t imagine the wow factor when you’ve got all those animals around you and it’s not a David Attenborough documentary!

Wildebeest migration at Kimondo Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania (photo: Asilia)

Wildebeest migration at Kimondo Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania (photo: Asilia)

As always with my personally-led safaris, I’ve chosen the camps and safari operators to maximise our positive impacts, which means that your safari is as good as a donation to charity.  Responsible tourism is all about supporting local communities, because this is what keeps poaching at bay.  You will pay more on one of my safaris, but that’s because we are giving back directly to local communities and wildlife.  Your contribution goes right to the ground where it’s needed most, supporting local economies based on wildlife.  I’ll be with you sharing zoological and conservation insights, along with our local guides, and we can expect the very best standards from the operators I work with.  You also get the added benefit of having experts in wildlife conservation come and talk to us about their work in the areas I take my groups, something I arrange personally.

Kimondo Camp game drive, Serengeti. Photo: Asilia

Kimondo Camp game drive, Serengeti. Photo: Asilia

In August 2017, I’m offering two amazing journeys back to back, first to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas and then to Tanzania for Ngorogoro and the Serengeti.  You can do either one, or both, with me, and if you like you can add on an additional few days at Mount Kilimanjaro, exploring the foothills of this magnificent part of the Great Rift Valley.  This is a dream safari – both of them are actually – so get in touch with me if you’re interested at this stage as I’m taking a list.  I’ll be taking deposits to secure places early next year (and hoping for an improvement in the Aussie dollar next year for my Aussie friends who want to join).

Mountain Gorilla Conservation Safari, Rwanda

“Eye to eye with gorillas… this is a journey that will touch your soul”

Dates: 7-12 August 2017

Group size: 10

Max price: US$5650 per person sharing

7 August – Arrival and transfer to Kigali Serena Hotel

8 August – Transfer to Sabinyo Silverback Lodge via a visit to the Genocide Memorial Museum.

9 & 10 August – Gorilla trekking.  Overnight at Sabinyo Silverback Lodge.

11 August – Trek to see the Golden Monkeys, prior to transfer to Kigali Serena Hotel.

12 August – Transfer to Kigali Airport for flight out.

Includes 2 x official gorilla permits (US$750).  Almost everything is included in the price other than your international return flight.  For full itinerary and inclusions contact me here.

Sabinyo Lodge cottage

Sabinyo Lodge cottage

Interior of cottage at Sabinyo

Interior of cottage at Sabinyo

Sabinyo forest

Baby Mountain Gorilla (photo courtesy of Governors Camps)

Baby Mountain Gorilla (photo courtesy of Governors Camps)

Why did I choose Sabinyo?

Sabinyo is Rwanda’s first ever community owned lodge.  This counts for a huge amount because when local communities are owners – not just employees – they have a genuine incentive to want to conserve their natural heritage supporting the economy.  This is the best kind of conservation you can get.  The lodge was built by the Governors Camp Collection in collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation and the International Gorilla Conservation Program to provide income to fund development in the local community and conserve the endangered Mountain Gorilla.  Read more on the positive impact your stay at Sabinyo will have here.

Tanzania Conservation Safari

Dates: 11-17 August

(NB. for those doing the Rwandan safari too, their Tanzania safari starts on 12th and at reduced price as they don’t do the first night at Machweo, but fly direct from Kigali to Ngorogoro)

Maximum Price: US$6850 per person sharing

11 August: Collection from Kilimanjaro Airport and transfer to Machweo Wellness Retreat for overnight stay

12 August: Collection from Machweo and drop off at Arusha Airport for your flight to The Highlands, Ngorogoro Crater, followed by afternoon community visit.

13 August: Full day game drive into Ngorogoro Crater.  Opportunity to visit the Empakaai crater and climb the Olmoti crater.  Good chance to see wildebeest, zebra, gazelles, ostrich, cheetah and flamingoes.

14 August: Transfer from The Highlands to Kimondo Camp, where we will stay for 3 nights, enjoying the spectacle of the Great Migration right on our doorstep.

17 August: Transfer to local airstrip for flight to Kilimanjaro Airport.

All internal local flights, meals and drinks, luxury accommodation and transfers are included in the price, along with park and conservation fees.

Wildebeest at Kimondo Cap (photo: Asilia)

Wildebeest at Kimondo Cap (photo: Asilia)

Kimondo Camp tent - the height of luxury, African style! (Photo: Asilia)

Kimondo Camp tent – the height of luxury, African style! (Photo: Asilia)

Breakfast in the great outdoors at Kimondo Camp (photo: Asilia)

Breakfast in the great outdoors at Kimondo Camp (photo: Asilia)

While Tanzania's elephant population has taken a major hit in the past five years, this area provides a safe haven for them (photo: Asilia)

While Tanzania’s elephant population has taken a major hit in the past five years, this area provides a safe haven for them (photo: Asilia)

Cutting edge tents at The Highlands (photo: Asilia)

Cutting edge tents at The Highlands, Ngorogoro (photo: Asilia)

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

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

The Highlands room interior (photo: Asilia)

The Highlands room interior (photo: Asilia)

Ngorogoro Crater (photo: Asilia)

Ngorogoro Crater (photo: Asilia)

Optional Add On:

Dates: 17-19 August

Price: US$1600/person sharing

17 August: Fly from Kimondo Camp to Shu’mata Camp at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and spend some time exploring this beautiful region.  This camp is linked to the Momella Foundation. 2 night stay.

19 August: Return transfer to local airport for your flight to Kilimanjaro Airport.

Shumata Camp

Shumata Camp

Shumata Camp main area

Shumata Camp main area

Why did I choose these camps?

Firstly, they are in the best areas for us to experience a private and outstanding wildlife experience during the Great Migration.  There’s nothing worse than lining up behind a dozen minivans at a cheetah kill, which is unfortunately what you get if you go to the reserves in peak season in East Africa.  With my groups, I opt for exclusivity and the optimum wildlife viewing experiences, in a safe pair of hands.  My ground operator for this outstanding safari is Asilia, which I know I can rely on to provide excellent service, beautiful boutique style tented accommodation and local guides with an intimate knowledge the local wildlife.  On top of that, Asilia is a company known for what it gives back to local communities, which directly supports conservation.  Read more about Asilia’s positive local impacts here.

Contact me to register your interest in either one (or both!) of these safaris now and I look forward to sharing this amazing adventure with you!

 

Why Elephants Matter

One of the most enjoyable things I get to do as a zoologist is talk to kids about elephants.  Kids give you instant feedback.  There are no inhibitions, just a whole lot of questions, and when it comes to elephants, frankly, kids just get it.  You don’t have to convince children to appreciate and want to conserve animals.  They simply don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to.  I get questions like, “Why don’t people do something else to get money other than kill elephants?”, “Why don’t we just leave the elephants to be in the wild?”, and “Why do people buy ivory instead of some other kind of jewellery?”  All brilliant, simple questions that make you wonder why we grown ups are such damned idiots.  The kids of today will inherit the legacy of our action – or inaction – and we need to remember that.

What happens to us as we grow up?  Do we forget how much we loved animals as kids?  Other things become more important, and the magic of the animal world becomes secondary to earning a living, buying the latest iPhone and upgrading the family car.  I’m not criticising.  As a mother of two, I know how tough it is to make ends meet and raise a young family.  But every so often, I’m lucky enough to get a reality check by the young people who attend my talks on elephants, who remind me, as my own kids often do, what’s really important.

Elephant bull, Botswana (Xigera)

Elephant bull, Botswana (Xigera) – elephants play a major role in ecosystems as habitat engineers

Many people don’t understand why elephants are so vital to conserve, why they’re considered a ‘keystone’ species in ecosystems.  It’s not only because they are naturally the ‘gardeners’ of the forests and savannahs, having a major role in shaping habitats, they are also integral in dispersing and germinating seeds, and providing other animals with food and water and salt.  A recent study also showed reptile and frog diversity is higher in areas with high elephant activity.  They matter ecologically.  Their dung is like pure rich fertiliser and is a great food source in itself for many animals (because much of what they eat is undigested).  The habitats elephants live in would look completely different without them there.  And of course, there is the intrinsic value of elephants.  What would the world be without them?  The deserve to be here as much as we do!

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind week of talks on elephants in Singapore and Melbourne where the importance of conserving elephants has been a key topic.  I combined the Round Square Conference (hosted by United World College, Singapore) for 1000+ high school kids and their teachers from all around the world, with about 400 passionate Aussies marching at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos in Melbourne, and snuck in a session talking elephants at the Singapore Botanical Gardens and a showing of the LEBE film at the University of Melbourne (hosted by A Future With Elephants) while I was at it.  Here’s a few photos showing the highlights.

Special thanks to Belinda Duffield-Torr who helped fund my visit to Melbourne and organised the Melbourne March, Susan Edwards and the amazing team from UWC who arranged for me to be one of the speakers at the Round Square conference, Mandy Heng, Vilma d’Rozario and Winnie Wong who made my talk at the Singapore Botanical Gardens happen, and Evan Bitner for organising the film showing by A Future With Elephants.  Thanks to everyone who showed up and added their two bobs worth to the discussions!

One of the most inspiring things of the week for me was when two small boys, aged 7 and 9, presented me with a cheque for our LEBE campaign.  Sammy, the younger of the two, had been to my talk on elephants at his school, UWC in Singapore, about a year ago, and had been so inspired to help that he raised $500 among his family and friends!  This is the sort of thing that makes me believe that wildlife has a future in the world and it just goes to show that anyone can do something for wildlife.  You don’t need to be a pro!

If you’re interested in having me as a speaker about elephants at your school/business/club, please get in touch with me here.

With 14 year old Alice Bertram, who joined me as a speaker at the Melbourne March For Elephants and Rhinos on 4th October

With the fabulous elephant warrior, 14 year old Alice Bertram, who joined me as a speaker at the Melbourne March For Elephants and Rhinos on 4th October

 

Belinda Duffield-Torr takes to the microphone on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne

Belinda Duffield-Torr takes to the microphone on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne

 

Thanks to Wendy Richardson for taking this picture

Thanks to Wendy Richardson for taking this picture of me

 

How many elephants are there in Africa?

How many elephants are there in Africa? Photo credit to Sidpicky (thanks Sid!) from my talk at the Botanical Gardens in Singapore

 

Sammy (right) and his brother Vijay, with me after my talk in Singapore. These boys are real conservationists in the making!

Sammy (right) and his brother Vijay, with me after my talk in Singapore. These boys are real conservationists in the making!

 

Speaking to Grade 4s at United World College, Singapore

Speaking to Grade 4s at United World College, Singapore

 

Grade 5s being elephants!

Grade 5s being elephants!