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Chad: Zakouma’s Safari Chariots

On a dusty morning on 13th April 2006, a heavily armoured convoy of Toyota Land Cruisers, converged on N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. These war chariots of the Third World, were top heavy with truck-mounted rocket launchers and determined Nubian men, their faces covered with turbans. They billowed dust behind them as they sped towards the city.

The vehicles are originally thought to have arrived on the continent in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, almost 2000 miles to the east. It is said they were brought to Khartoum and modified, before being driven through the hostile wilderness of central Sudan, the Nubian Mountains and Darfur, eventually reaching the dust plains of eastern Chad. The journey would have taken three weeks of hard driving, during the hottest time of the year.

The Battle of N’Djamena was a short one, perhaps due to the massive dust plumes that announced the attackers’ arrival. Or perhaps because the men in turbans were out of food, energy and ammunition after their epic journey. A Chadian will tell you it was because Chad’s army is one the best in the region.

The dust settled by the afternoon. The rebels were paraded through the Place de l’Independence in the heart of N’Djamena, and the Sudanese were chastised. To this day, however, you can still see the large trenches that were dug around the city of N’Djamena to slow any subsequent “Toyota attacks”. If these vehicles could talk, they would tell a grand story of adventure and misadventure in the desert.

On a dusty morning in December 2016, in the Zakouma National Park, these same Toyota Land Cruisers are laden with turbaned and excited passengers, steeling themselves against the cold desert morning. They are fortified with strong coffee and a good night’s sleep, despite being in the middle of nowhere. The vehicles are now transformed – they are now bristling with Canons of another sort, hunting for that perfect shot.

A flash of green, a flash of blue against the dry ochre and golden grassland. In the Sahel (the region where the deserts of the Sahara and the savannah meet) a little bee-eater resides, but it is the endemic little green bee-eater of Chad. The brilliant blue is that of the Abyssinian roller, which is just as tricky to capture on film as its southern counterpart. The flash of red is the rare black-breasted barbet.

The elusive Abyssinian ground hornbill also finds refuge in Zakouma, as well as the roan antelope, Lelwel hartebeest and Kordofan giraffe.

The Toyota Land Cruisers were donated by the Chadian government, in 2010, to the new custodians of Zakouma, African Parks. This inspirational organisation has taken on direct responsibility for the rehabilitation and long term management of national parks, in partnership with governments and local communities. A company that makes conservation into a business, they operate in some key areas in Africa, but only where they can secure long-term support and commitment from the government.

African Parks are also operating in Ennedi Massif in the far north of Chad. This UNESCO-recognised landscape is home not just to remarkable geological formations, including dramatic rock arches, but also threatened Saharan wildlife. Here, African Parks is hoping to help secure the future of the Arabian oryx.

Hopefully, the area will become easier to access through this affiliation, opening it up to the trickle of tourists who explore Zakouma in the back of these, now infamous, Land Cruisers. However, as these tough machines know well, Chad is undoubtedly one of the toughest countries to travel through. Although it is this, to me, that is also perhaps its greatest attraction – for the effort is worth the reward.

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Botswana in 96 Hours

I stumbled off my plane feeling the ache that an overnight flight leaves on a body designed for a starring role in the BFG, not the seats of economy class. But almost instantly, I was in the air again, this time buffeted by storm clouds as Botswana’s weather welcomed me.

The Kalahari Desert soon appeared below and we coasted down to land on the compacted red sand. Dragging myself into the waiting 4×4, I started to snooze. A hot towel on arrival revived me slightly, but I was still ready for bed.

Sue, my host, had other ideas, however. We had just four days to explore a large chunk of Botswana, so time was short. The essence of Sue’s welcome briefing was “You can sleep when you’re back at your desk.”

What followed was a spectacular safari through some of Botswana’s most diverse landscapes. From the salt pans of the Kalahari, I flew north to the wetlands of the Okavango Delta and then the mopane woodland of the Linyanti. Sleep was at a premium, but wildlife certainly was not. See a selection of my photos – all taken in just four days – below.

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Namibia – A Journey in Photos

Namibia is remarkable not just for its beautiful desert landscapes, which contrast wonderfully with the endless blue skies, but also for the array of wildlife that thrives in these arid conditions. In combination with the photogenic Namibian people, this makes for fantastic photography.

This was the demonstrated during Brian Helsdon’s recent trip to Namibia, which was organised by Jackie. After we were blown away by the array of beautiful images that he took, he was kind enough to agree that we could share some of the best ones. Below are a selection of Brian’s photos, all taken during his trip in December 2016.

Talk to our Namibia Travel Experts to start your privately guided tour of Namibia, call us on 01285 601 783 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Celebrating New Year

Paul has just returned from holiday in Georgia where he was somewhat taken aback by Georgian New Year Celebrations and their powerful and perturbing predilection for pyrotechnics. Even Nina, his Georgian fairer half, held a firework in her hand as it burst into flame with repeated loud bangs.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to usher in the new year. In London revellers gathered around Big Ben, in New York they crowded into Time Square, in Tokyo they released white balloons and in Rio they offered flowers to Yemanja, the goddess of the sea. Not only do we celebrate New Year in a variety of different ways but for some it is not celebrated on the 31st December/1St January. Here are some countries that do so a little differently:

China

Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first new moon between 21st of January and the 20th of February, which this year falls on 28th January. It is a time of family and thus hundreds and millions of people return home to their families to spend time with their loved ones and to honour their ancestors.

Chinese New Year is called Tet in Vietnam or Cambodia and Imlek in Indonesia.

Ethiopia


Enkututash is the first day of the New Year in Ethiopia. It is celebrated on 11th September and marks the end of the rainy season.

Iran


Iran celebrates Nowruz, literally new day, on the day of the vernal equinox which marks the first day of Spring ion the northern hemisphere. This day usually falls on 21st March. Iranians celebrate by visiting families, holding feasts and sharing gifts.

Russia


The Russian Orthodox Church observes the New Year according to the Julian calendar, which places the day on January 14. Christmas day is celebrated on January 7th.

Thailand


Thailand’s New Year festival is Songkran which is celebrated in April by visiting temples and pouring water onto Buddhist statues, representing purification.

New Year History
Ancient Greeks began their new year with the new moon after June 21. Before the time of Julius Caesar the Roman new year started on March 1st. In most European countries during the Middle Ages the new year began on March 25th, the day of the Feast of the Annunciation.

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USA National Parks Day

Today is the centenary of the USA National Parks Service.

To celebrate their 100th anniversary we champion the unsung heroes; national parks around the world that match the A-lister’s natural splendour but not their footfall. 

The space and wilderness of these protected places and National Parks are what inspires us all to travel. Support these areas of natural beauty by visiting them with us and share your images and experiences on facebook, instagram and twitter#nationalparkscentennial

British Airways
The British Airways Worldwide Luxury SALE is now on. Get into the great outdoors and take advantage of savings on selected fares worldwide. Contact us inspire@steppestravel.com or call on 01285 880980 to find out more.

USA

USA Lake Powell & Yellowstone

Ok so Lake Powell isn’t a national park itself but we love it as it is close to all five of Utah’s national parks – Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Arches NP, Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP. Get into the great outdoors and swim, fish, snorkel or canoe your way across her waters.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Mind-blowing scenery, huge horizons and solitude. 12 days from £7,350 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

UNSUNG HEROES WORLDWIDE

 

India Dudhwa NP walking tiger

Near the Nepalese border sits Dudhwa National Park. Tigers and leopards roam here as well as the Indian rhinoceros. The park is also a stronghold for the rare Barasingha deer which makes it one of the best wildlife destinations in India.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Less visited and all the better for it – safari away from the crowds of Central India. 10 days from £2,300 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Special Offer: Fly to Delhi with BA and receive a complimentary upgrade to World Traveller Plus on your return journey*
Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980 to find out more.


*Subject to availability and terms and conditions of BA Worldwide Luxury Sale.

 

Georgia Stone faces of Kazbegi

Borjomi -Kharagauli National Park dates back to medieval times and is a protected area in the Lesser Caucasus. Join our new group walking tour departing in September 2017 and see this undiscovered gem for yourself.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Natural beauty, historical monuments and rich flora and fauna. 14 days from £2,445 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Tasmania Maria Island

The marbled Painted Cliffs that form the rugged coastline and pristine beaches around Maria Island National Park resemble Ayers Rock in their colours and spiritual heritage. Spot the resident wildlife from possums to penguins and Fur Seals and perhaps a Tasmanian Devil?
WHY WE LIKE IT: Small and secluded – you are more likely to bump into a kangaroo than another visitor. 16 days from £7,495 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Uganda male gorilla in Bwindi NP

Kidepo Valley National Park is home to the famous Karamojong warriors (Read Chris’s blog below) as well as jackals, aardwolves and cheetahs – found in no other parks in Uganda.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Like the Masai Mara, but ringed by jagged mountains and full of game, not tourists.
14 days from £8,995 pp | VIEW FLYING SAFARI

Leopard Sri Lanka

Encounter leopards in Yala National Park and whales off Sri Lanka’s east coast. 15 days from £4,745 pp

Colombia Tayrona National Parkl

Discover remote archaeological sites and take a jungle trek in Tayrona National Park. 15 days from £3,995 pp

Iceland Vatnajokull National Park

Vatnajokull National Park is both the second largest National Park in Europe and the largest glacier in Europe outside of the Arctic. Explore this photographer’s paradise on our Iceland Photography tour with Tim Mannakee.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Raw beauty.
9 days from £5,245 pp | VIEW PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Madagascar Andasibe Mantadia

Spot lemurs and listen to the sounds of the rainforest as you walk through the Andasibe-Mantadia Park. Followed by a relaxing time on the shores of Anjajavy Peninsula where the baobab’s meet tropical beach.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Unique indigenous wildlife.
11 days from £3,450 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Chile Northern Patagonia Park

Patagonia Park covers 200,000 acres in a remote part of Aysen, Chile. Once overgrazed land it is now becoming one of the best places to see rare and threatened species such as the Andean condors, huemul deer and puma.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Join Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt guides.
14 days from £5,495 pp | VIEW GROUP TOUR

ON LOCATION 

The Karamojong of Kidepo Uganda

“Our tiny plane flew over the rugged mountains bordering Kidepo Valley National Park. In the foothills of these mountains, patches of red earth scratched out from the surrounding greenery showed small manyatta’s and villages, isolated by distance and home to the Karamajong people…”  READ BLOG

Get in touch to learn more about our wildlife holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 880980.

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World Elephant Day #elephants

World Elephant Day African elephant swimming

Today is World Elephant Day

As a company, we at Steppes Travel are hugely concerned with conservation and the preservation of species. The elephant in particular.

Conservation of elephants is crucially important. Why? Notwithstanding the fact that elephants are intelligent and emotional animals – they mourn their dead – they are a flagship species. Elephants create and maintain the ecosystems in which they live thus allowing and sustaining a myriad of plant and animal species to live in those environments. The elephant is an environmental caretaker and the loss of elephants gravely affects many species and weakens the structure and diversity of nature itself.

Tourism has an important role to play in conservation. By visiting threatened elephant populations, you not only give them an economic value and bring money to desperately poor communities, you also help to draw attention to their plight.

Going on safari provides employment, pays salaries and puts something back into local communities. Your safari does make a difference.

Travel to make a difference and help the elephants.

PS: Tweet #WorldElephantDay 

Raise awareness and colour for #elephants with the free #EleeDraw and share on Instagram or Facebook.

#Eledraw

#Eledraw

Elephant trunk Did you know header

Elephant trunk Did you know header

  • Elephants are threatened due to habitat loss and poaching. There are approx 400,000 African elephants and just 40,000 Asian elephants remaining in the wild.
  • Approx 100 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory.
  • They have the largest brains of all land mammals.
  • An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles in it and like humans who are left or right handed elephants have a preferred side to their trunk.
  • Elephants have greeting ceremonies, express grief, self-awareness, play and compassion.
  • Elephants are not scared of mice but they are scared of bees – and some African farmers line their fields with beehives as an elephant deterrent.

ELEPHANT CONSERVATION HOLIDAYS

Meet the researchers from Save The Elephants and gain insight into the work of Iain Douglas-Hamilton. Accompanied by Saba Douglas-Hamilton (Iain’s daughter) BBC presenter of The Secret Lives of Elephants.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Time with the research team and Elephant Watch’s guides. 11 days from £10,995 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

 

Forest Elephants Congo header

Encounter forest elephants which roam in the bais of Odzala National Park. 14 days from £4,995 pp

Namibia Desert Elephants

Join Elephant-Human Relations Aid to track the desert-adapted elephants of Namibia. 15 days from £4,295 pp

Stay at Elephant Watch camp in the heart of Samburu National Park, Kenya and Kulu Safari camp in Yala, Sri Lanka. 12 days from £6,550 pp including flights.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Combine two countries known for their elephant sightings. 12 days from £6,550 pp. Contact us for more details.

India Nagarhole adult elephant and baby

India Nagarhole adult elephant and baby

See large herds of Asian wild elephants congregate in Nagarhole National Park, Southern India. Stay at Orange County Kabini, alongside the river’s edge. View wild elephants by boat and private jeep safari. You may even encounter a tiger…
WHY WE LIKE IT: The best place for wild Asian elephant sightings.

Somalisa Camp Zimbabwe

Somalisa Camp Zimbabwe

An authentic bush camp and blend of old African charm with fantastic guided walks and just six elegantly furnished tents.
WHY WE LIKE IT: The pool overlooks the pan where game congregate in large herds.
13 days from £4,760 pp | VIEW HOLIDAY

Nepal Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

Nepal Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

Walk with the elephants. All the elephants at Tiger Tops Elephant Camp are privately owned and have been in the Tiger Tops family for most of their working lives. This intitative was set up to allow people staying at camp a chance to witness their daily routine.
WHY WE LIKE IT: An interactive elephant experience but with the emphasis on the care of the elephants. READ MORE

Shackleton and his men were encamped on Elephant Island for many months having lost HMS Endurance in the thick sea ice. Join Monty Halls and Sue Flood on our Antarctic, South Georgia and Falklands Charter in conjunction with Telegraph Tours, sailing around Elephant Island.
WHY WE LIKE IT: The ultimate Antarctica journey.
24 days from £10,950 pp | VIEW CRUISE

Thailand Elephant Hills Jungle Camp

Thailand Elephant Hills Jungle Camp

Feed, wash and interact with the elephants at the two Elephant Hills Jungle camps. On the border of the rainforest of Khao Sok National Park and in the centre of Cheow Larn Lake.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Immersive jungle experience. READ MORE

Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands

Sail on our new Andaman Islands expedition to one of the world’s most extraordinary regions or stay at the most stylish place on the islands – Jalakara Private Villa on Havelock Island.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Remote and beautiful. READ MORE

NEW Elephant Collaring Project. Renowned wildlife vet William Fowlds works with the Amakhala Game Reserve, helping to care for and monitor the wildlife. Join him to dart and collar one of the elephants.
WHY WE LIKE IT: Hands-on conservation. Contact us for more details.

ON LOCATION 

“Suddenly, I hear a low, crashing rasp. I turn to look at the source of this rumbling commotion. Two young bulls are locked in an aggressive display of testosterone-fuelled jousting. Their tusks crossed, they sway as they slowly tussle…” READ BLOG

Support #elephants.

Get in touch to learn more about our wildlife holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Tanzania: Tusks and Trunks in Tarangire

elephants jousting

Packed tightly together, forming a gently shuffling circle, they rest, waiting. The African sun burns at its zenith – a piercing white-orange in turquoise sky. A trunk sways and an eyelid bats downwards, as they shift beneath the wide branches of a gnarled acacia tree.

Sheltering from this assault of heat and light, the elephants huddle under the scant protection offered by the tree. Dust clings to their grey-brown skin, as the mixture of shade and sunshine dapples their broad backs.

elephants under tree in Tarangire

Almost hidden from sight, a smaller trunk swings a rhythm of its own; legs more tottery than the others scrape the flattened grass that has been trodden into dirt. A pair of wide eyes looks out from a forest of legs. This young elephant surveys the world from beneath an umbrella of leathery protection. A caring trunk extends downwards and strokes its low back – reassuring, yet controlling.

baby elephant at the centre of the huddle

Suddenly, I hear thudding footsteps to my left. There is a low, crashing rasp and a series of powerful exhalations. I turn to look at the source of this rumbling commotion. Two young bulls are locked in an aggressive display of testosterone-fuelled jousting. Their tusks crossed, they sway as they slowly tussle.

elephants fighting in Tarangire

Bizarrely – at odds with this macho display – an errant trunk flicks slowly outwards, coming to rest in the mouth of the opponent. For a moment they pause together like this, before backing slowly away. The joust is over. I wonder if this is an underhand tactic – the elephant equivalent of foul play.

However, what amazes me more than the sight of these under-trunk tactics is the sheer number of elephants that surround me. I’m in Tanzania, a country that recently lost 60% of its elephants in just four bloody years. But Tarangire National Park doesn’t seem to have got the memo – some of its herds number up to 300 elephants.

Lots of elephants in Tarangire

I turn my head to take in every direction; I look further out over the rich, green grasses that are punctuated by tusk-scratched baobabs and patches of brick-red dust. Everywhere I look, there are elephants. Some are unmoving, relaxed. Others continue on a slow amble towards the mud and water of the Tarangire River.

Of course, the reality is not quite as paradisiacal as it seems. Tarangire’s elephants are under threat. They have escaped the rampant slaughter that has affected the larger parks, particularly Selous and Ruaha, but remain hunted animals.

Elephants under a tree

And I know, in part, why this bloodshed has been kept at bay. As my eyes rest on every animal, they cast a protective gaze – a gaze that simply does not exist in the vast, unvisited parks of southern Tanzania. The eyes of tourists are valuable weapons in the fight against poaching – almost as valuable as their wallets.

The need for tourist eyes and money is a brutal truth. No matter how much we romanticise elephants and their majestic, intelligent nature, we keep killing them. Tourism places a value on these, otherwise meaningless, romantic notions. Every pound, dollar or Tanzanian schilling spent in a park like Tarangire gives its wildlife value. And it gives the park rangers funds with which to fight the war – and it is a war – against ivory poachers.

Elephants in the Tarangire River

But tourism, economics and bloody realities aside, the romantic inside of me wishes this were not the case. As I cast my gaze back towards the young eyes that hide amongst the forest of thick legs, I smile. The beauty of new life is captivating, as is the intelligent gaze of a creature that we respect so much, but seem to value so little.

One day there may be no elephants left. But for now there are. They roam the grasslands, copses and hillsides of Tarangire as if the apocalypse were not upon them. They clash their precious, cursed tusks and tend their young in blissful ignorance. Seize the chance to see them before the crash of ivory on ivory and raucous trumpeting are mere sounds of the past.

Get in touch to learn more about our Tanzania safaris. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

elephants head to head

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World Ranger Day: Conservation on the Front Line

C.TD.Rangers on patrol, Chad, JW(0000039429)

Sunday is World Ranger Day, marking a time when the world can reflect upon the sacrifices made by rangers around the globe. Positioned on the front line in the fight for conservation, they put their lives in peril for the preservation of some of the planet’s most threatened species.

Many make the ultimate sacrifice – falling in the never-ending battle to save our wildlife from the rapacious plundering of those who skin, shoot and maim in the name of vanity or aphrodisia. It is a battle worth fighting, but one that is taking a toll on rangers around the planet.

At Steppes, we are aware of the vital work that rangers do and the risks they take. However, they remain largely invisible to tourists – operating behind the scenes, with talented guides often stealing the limelight.

P.Vir.Anti Poaching Bloodhound and Ranger, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo(0000042837)

Yet tourism and rangers are bound together. Across Africa, tourism provides vital support to rangers in incredibly challenging areas. The money that tourists bring in pays their salaries, buys important equipment and provides an alternate income stream for would-be poachers.

We work with many of these areas and are acutely aware of how important our support is. The following areas are at the forefront of conservation, with their rangers battling to save vital ecosystems and endangered species. Travel now; provide them with the support they deserve.

Zakouma National Park, Chad

C.TD.giraffe drinking, Zakouma, Chad(0000042429)

Often remarked upon for its resurgent elephant population – nearly extinct from poaching only a few years ago – Zakouma is an exciting wildlife destination. But the sacrifices made by its rangers and the part they have played in this revival often go unacknowledged.

In 2012, six rangers were gunned down in cold blood – a murderous act that changed the way the park operated forever. French special forces were brought in, implementing a training regime and tactics that would level the playing field. They transformed the rangers into an organised, efficient force, ready to do battle with the poachers on their own terms.

The result was impressive. No rangers have been lost since that terrible day, whilst poaching has almost entirely been eradicated in Zakouma. For three whole years there were no incidents, after decades of slaughter. The rangers still mourn their fallen comrades, but their resolve is strong, their morale high.

To learn more about Zakouma, read Justin’s blog Discovering Zakouma

To support the rangers and visit Zakouma, join our Zakouma, Elephants & The Nomads of Chad Group Tour – 11 days, £7,875pp, departing 5th February, 2017 and 12th February, 2017

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

rangers in Virunga

Nothing highlights the risks rangers face in Virunga National Park more than the attempted assassination of the chief warden, Emmanuel de Merode, in 2014. In spite of his survival, the bloodshed has not ended, with rangers falling at an alarming rate. All too often, touching obituaries  continue to appear on the Virunga website.

Yet the park itself goes from strength to strength, with tourism providing a vital lifeline in the face of a multitude of threats. As well as the mountain gorillas that were the stars of the award-winning documentary Virunga, the park is also home to the world’s largest lava lake, at the summit of Nyiragongo.

And even as rangers continue to perish, there remains a remarkable desire amongst local people to take up their mantle. One recruitment drive resulted in 1,800 applicants for just 112 positions – showing just how venerated Congolese rangers are amongst their compatriots.

However, the families left behind are those who truly suffer; it was this realisation that lead to the creation of the Fallen Rangers Fund, which provides support to the families of fallen rangers.

To support the rangers and visit Virunga, see our Virunga Volcano Climb Holiday

Borana Conservancy, Kenya

Borana rangers protecting rhinos

Found on Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, Borana has become well known for its determined efforts to protect its rhinos. The high price placed on rhino horn has caused a surge in poaching, placing the lives of Borana’s rangers in ever greater danger.

In spite of this, the fight continues, with the rangers attempting to be a human barrier between the poachers and one of Kenya’s largest rhino populations. Visitors to Borana can meet these brave men and gain an insight into the challenges they face as part of their daily rhino patrols.

Like many others, Borana has realised the toll that poaching is having on rangers. As a result, the conservancy is a keen supporter of Running for Rangers, a charity that raises funds for rangers through sponsored endurance events.

One of those taking part is Sam Taylor, Borana’s chief conservation officer, who is responsible for the conservancy’s rangers and their training. Nothing says more about his commitment to his men than his willingness to run the notorious Marathon des Sables in their name.

To learn more about Running for Rangers, visit their website

To support the rangers and visit Borana, see our Rhino Conservation and Elephants of Chyulu Holiday

Kahuzi-Biega National Park, DRC

P.KBN.Tracker and ranger, Kahuzi Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo(0000050598)

Home to the largest primate, Grauer’s gorilla, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is found in region famed for instability and conflict. Few structures exist to protect wildlife and there is little money available to implement the kind of training regimes that have saved Zakouma or Borana.

However, sometimes community involvement, passion and NGO involvement can be powerful tools. Under the leadership of chief warden Radar Nishuli, the park has successfully fended off the horrors befalling other such vulnerable parks.

A determined conservationist, Nishuli has spent three decades working in the park – believing himself duty bound to defend its wildlife and its rangers. Working with Fauna & Flora International, he has brought local communities on side, drawing up a development plan that balances the needs of the park with the needs of the people.

This thoughtful but determined approach has yielded significant rewards, helping to create a stable, safe environment in which the rangers have the support of the community. Whilst risks remain, the threat of poaching has been significantly reduced, making rangers’ lives markedly safer.

To learn more about gorilla trekking in Kahuzi-Biega, read Justin’s blog

To support the rangers and visit Kahuzi-Biega, join our Gorillas and Community Conservation Group Tour – in partnership with Fauna & Flora International.

Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo

elephants in Odzala

One of the last strongholds of Africa’s forest elephants, Odzala National Park – like Zakouma – is managed by the pioneering African Parks. Densely forested and criss-crossed with rivers, its challenging terrain represents monumental challenges for the rangers tasked with protecting its wildlife.

Despite this, Odzala is bucking a transcontinental trend, with elephant numbers increasing. Thanks to a combination of creative initiatives and structured enforcement, the park is actively attracting elephants that are seeking shelter in its poaching free jungles.

One such initiative is the park’s remarkable Poacher to Protector programme. This hugely successful scheme has seen numerous poachers leave a life of hunting behind and join the men who once fought them. Former poachers are required to confess and give up arms, before beginning training as park rangers.

To support the rangers and visit Odzala, see our Forests, Rivers and Bais of Odzala Holiday

Dzanga-Sangha Reserve, Central African Republic

Forest elephants playing with each other

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent Dzanga Bai sits at the heart of the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve. Instability in the CAR has decimated this once diverse ecosystem, with the collapse of law and order allowing poachers free rein.

However, although vastly outnumbered, wildlife forces are starting to fight back. With the help of military trainers from Israel and France, a new group of rangers have taken control of the area, establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

Such is the scale of the success that the World Wildlife Fund, who administer the reserve, recently declared that elephant poaching was now considered rare. But despite this, patrols and intense monitoring continue, with the rangers keen to place themselves between the poachers and the natural riches of the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve.

To learn more about Odzala, read Chris’s blog

To support the rangers, visit the CAR 

 

 

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The Legend of Tarzan

Infant gorilla portrait, Volcanoes National Park, Virunga National Park, Rwanda (credit Pat McKillen)

The tale of the white British aristocrat who is Africa’s most famous son and saviour sits awkwardly with contemporary mores. Yet Tarzan, the original superhero inspiring the creators of Superman and Batman, and his tale of noble humanity in savage equatorial depths continues to grip popular imaginations, with a brand now worth millions. Audiences still crave his cinematic superhero thrills.

Tarzan’s author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, never set foot in Africa in his life. A youthful drifter and US Army reject and failed businessman, Burroughs began writing in desperation to pay his bills. Tarzan was first published in 1912 and Burroughs would go on to sell more than 100 million books. When Tarzan Of The Apes debuted in cinemas in 1918, it became the first film ever to earn $1million. Since then Tarzan has been adapted many times for radio, television, stage and cinema – it has been adapted for the latter more times than any book except Dracula.

Yet the real heroes of the African forests are unsung. Little is heard of the Gorilla Doctors dedicated to conserving mountain and eastern lowland gorillas through life-saving veterinary medicine. Even less of the rangers who protect parks and forest. Unlike Tarzan, the threat of death for a ranger is high. Yet a ranger’s greatest fear is not losing his life, but the impact his death will have on family members left behind. Theirs is a legend we should not forget

Virunga Fallen Rangers Fund

Read about World Ranger Day here and get in touch with us to see how you make a difference on your travels, email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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The Garden Route: Much More Than Horticulture

Garden Route coast

I imagined the Garden Route to be a horticultural holiday, with a string of designer gardens to inspect. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover rich, diverse vegetation; great food and wine; and a succession of coastal lakes and lagoons.

Certainly, if you like good food and wine, the Garden Route is the place to go. South Africa produces some of the world’s best wines. The food is all locally sourced and freshly cooked. I quickly realised that my usual eating habits had to be set aside, to allow myself to enjoy at least four or six courses of dinner a day.

Babel food

So, what is the Garden Route? As I discovered, it is actually an area of South Africa, nestled between the mountains and coast, stretching from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. It encompasses 800 kilometres of coastline, with some of the most breath-taking and diverse landscapes – beaches, forests and lagoons.

I began my adventure by collecting my car from Port Elizabeth and headed to Plettenberg Bay. Just driving into ‘Plett’ (as the locals call it), I was greeted by endless sea views. As I approached the town, I could see that it was set above miles of wonderful white-sand beaches.  The weather was just right at about 22 degrees… not too hot at all.

White-sand beaches

I discovered some fun places to shop in Plett: the Heath has some fun gift shops, while the Global Village & Earth Cafe has a range of creative offerings, and is a fun place for coffee. There are quite a few boutique shops down the main drag, not to mention beach-gear shops.

I also highly recommend walking down to the beach for some lunch at the Lookout Deck. A five-minute walk from the town centre with incredible views of the sea and excellent food, this is renowned as a good place to see dolphins. Unfortunately, though, I did not get to see any.

Mountains on the Garden Route

There is lots to do in and around Plett, including hiking on the Robberg Peninsula, boat trips to see dolphins and (between the months of June and November) whale watching. There are also child friendly beaches with plenty of room and shallow water.

I must admit that I did not feel like I was in Africa. I could have been anywhere in Europe. The infrastructure is so well developed and you can go for miles without seeing anyone on the road.

Open road on Garden Route

My next stop was Knysna. Apparently a Khoi word, no one really knows what ‘Knysna’ means. Some say it means ‘place of wood’ and others that it could mean ‘fern leaves’. I like to think it has some relation to the impressive heads that the town is famous for.

Knysna is on the shore of a shallow lagoon that is now a protected marine reserve – home to sea horses and over 200 species of fish. My first impression of Knysna was the sandstone cliffs that dramatically separate the lagoon from the Indian Ocean. There was something about this place that made me feel like I was home.

Harbour at Knysna

I went on a morning cruise along the lagoon, which afforded lovely views of Knysna town and took us to the Knysna Heads. The Knysna Heads are the most striking geological features along the whole of the southern coastline. In the past, this was a treacherous place for sailors. I could totally understand why…I imagined it would have been like the Skeleton Coast in Namibia.

Knysna Heads

Knysna was possibly my favourite town along the Garden Route. You can easily stay here two or three nights – it has lovely restaurants and bars. If you love oysters then you will find some of the best oysters in the world, here.

There is also a lot to do in and around Knysna, and I personally think you do not need to stay in Plett. Knysna is a good central point to explore the surrounding area. I visited the 1,000-year-old Tsitsikamma Forest Big Tree – very impressive and definitely a must-see.

Winelands landscape

Last – and definitely not least – I visited Babylonstoren, a boutique hotel and working farm that lies between Stellenbosch and Paarl. I did not quite know what to expect because I had been to a few working farms, but not one quite like Babylonstoren. It was a perfect place of serenity, where you could almost touch or feel the passion of the people who created this Garden of Eden.

At Babylonstoren, I met Lizl, the gardener. Having worked at the farm for nearly 20 years, she took us on a tour of the garden. I discovered that Babylonstoren is one of the original Cape Dutch farms, dating back to 1777. It is also linked back to the mythical gardens of Babylon.

Vineyards at Babylonstoren

The best part of the tour was when we were encouraged to pick guavas and lemons – taste, smell and touch, while walking through the garden. It brought back memories of my childhood. My grandparents had a big farm that had fruit trees and I particularly liked the picking season.

Another activity that I enjoyed was their wine tasting tour. I do not normally drink alcohol, but this time I thought it will be good to explore the world of wine. The farm has 72 hectares under vine that produces 13 different grape varieties, including pinot noir and chardonnay.

Winery at Babylonstoren

I liked the fact that I could see how the wine has been produced and the love put into it. For the wine tasting, I was offered five different wines and discovered that my favourite was a dry Chenin Blanc – with hints of guava and melon.

A complete novice, I learnt some useful tips for wine tasting:

  • You need to have eaten something before you start your wine tasting.
  • Tilt the glass and stick your nose in. This will enable you to identify the type of wine – is it fruity, floral, sweet or woody?
  • Swirl the glass – this will enhance the flavours of the wine and bring out all the flavours. My favourite wine was the Chenin Blanc. It had a light crisp taste and was unwooded. (Unwooded wine is the wine that has not been fermented or aged in oak barrels.)
  • Cleanse your palate between wines. I used biltong and water

After my wine-tasting adventure I went for dinner at Babel Restaurant. It was absolutely delicious. The menu is guided by what is available in the garden.Food and wine at Babylonstoren

The farm also hold workshops on gardening, teaching guests about herbal tea blends made from fresh herbs and flowers, as well as how to grow various vegetables.  Babylonstoren is definitely a special place. It left me with a big smile at the end of my Garden Route trip.

Get in touch to learn more about the Garden Route. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.