, , , , , ,

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 

 

 

, , , , , ,

Steppes Leading Ladies: Issue Two | April 2016

In our second issue of Leading Ladies (our monthly series) we highlight the heroines of nature. The thing that connects all these women is their avid enthusiasm, determination and eagerness to explore and study the natural world and all they encounter within it.

Prepare to be inspired.

Justin WateridgeJustin round
Managing Director | Steppes Travel

 

 

P.S Who has inspired you? Cast your vote and send your suggestions to us on inspire@steppestravel.com


ahead-of-her-time

Isabella Bird Leading Ladies

Isabella Lucy Bird was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist. She was the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. 

“There never was anybody who had adventures as well as Miss Bird,” wrote the Spectator of this intrepid woman. From early childhood Isabella was frail and suffered from a spinal condition. Encouraged by her father, a keen botanist, Isabella studied flora with him and her mother taught her an eclectic mix of subjects. Overcoming poor health and the restrictions of a male dominated society, Isabella travelled extensively well into her old age. Far from slowing down she took up photography at the age of 60.

She climbed mountains, stayed in both palaces and slums, visited AustraliaAmerica, Hawaii, India, Kurdistan, the Persian Gulf, Iran, Tibet, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and China. She was an accomplished rider of horses and the occasional elephant. Her innate intelligence, curiosity for the world and adventurous spirit is illustrated by her own photographs and detailed accounts in her published books which well document her pioneering travelling life.

“I have just dropped into the very place I have been seeking, but in everything it exceeds all my dreams.” Isabella Bird.

FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS


Currently-Making-Waves

Charlotte-Uhlenbroek-header
Charlotte Uhlenbroek is a zoologist and BBC television presenter who spent her early working life studying primates. Billed as the next Attenborough, Charlotte has an obvious passion for the natural world and animal kingdom.

Her love of animals began from the age of five when she lived in Kathmandu. Her family kept an extraordinary menagerie of animals including cats, dogs, rabbits and parrots, mostly ‘rescued’ by Charlotte. She said that at eight years old she realised that the Nepalese musk deer were being poached for musk oil and was horrified. From that time on she decided she wanted to work and conserve wildlife in some way.

After her PhD in Zoology Charlotte spent six months in Burundi helping primatologist Jane Goodall set up a conservation project for chimpanzees, followed by four years in the forests of Gombe, Tanzania studying the communication of wild chimpanzees.

FOLLOW IN HER FOOTSTEPS


Section-Dividers

Saba-Douglas-Hamilton-header
Saba Douglas-Hamilton is an award-winning wildlife filmmaker, Kenyan wildlife conservationist and television presenter. Working with Save the Elephants in Kenya she helped set up a research station in Samburu that now monitors over 900 elephants. She is also leading a trip to Kenya with Steppes in January 2017.

We asked Saba to share her thoughts on what motivates her to do what she does, who inspired her, which place she is happiest, her best travel advice and more…

Read our full Q & A with Saba here

Kenya-Elephant-Insight-tour-with-Saba
The contribution made to elephant conservation by the Douglas-Hamiltons is renowned and so to spend a week in their company, on their home soil of Samburu and Naivasha is the opportunity of a lifetime. Take walks and game drives along the Ewaso Ng’iro River, escorted by Saba Douglas-Hamilton and Elephant Watch’s Samburu guides.

11 DAYS FROM £10,995 PP


Other-Leading-Ladies-header

Indonesia-Wildlife-tour-led-by-Dr-Claire-Oelrichs

Explore the wilds of Borneo, Sumatra and Komodo searching for endangered wildlife. Led by Dr Claire Oelrichs, scientific advisor to Save Indonesia’s Endangered Species.

Namibia-Cheetah-Kingdom-header

Hands-on participation with AfriCat for a fascinating insight into big cat conservation. Led by AfriCat founder Donna Hanssen who established this foundation from her farm at Okonjima and which has become one of the most effective carnivore conservation organisations.


Votes-for-Women Votes-for-women-header-imageWho has inspired you? Cast your vote as to who we should feature next. Send your suggestions to leadingladies@steppestravel.co.uk

conde-Nast-travel-awards-header

The Condé Nast Reader Travel Awards 2016 are open for voting, and we’d be extremely grateful if you could vote for Steppes Travel in the ‘Specialist Tour Operator’ category. You can cast your vote here.


What's-On-header

Saba tourA Life with Elephants by Saba Douglas-Hamilton
April & May dates

Join Saba for an evening of exciting animal stories and intimate behind the scenes tales of life in Kenya with her young family.

See tour dates and book tickets

, ,

Leading Ladies: One of our own – Q & A with Saba Douglas – Hamilton

Saba-Douglas-Hamilton--Leading-ladies

Saba Douglas-Hamilton is an award-winning wildlife filmmaker, Kenyan wildlife conservationist and television presenter. Working with Save the Elephants in Kenya she helped set up a research station in Samburu that now monitors over 900 elephants.  She is also leading a trip to Kenya with Steppes in January 2017.

When Saba was just six weeks old she met her first wild animal, an elephant named Virgo who was one of approximately 400 elephants that her zoologist father Iain Douglas-Hamilton was studying in Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

Saba round portrait

We asked Saba to share her thoughts on what motivates her to do what she does, who inspired her, which place she is happiest, her best travel advice and more…

What was your earliest or childhood ambition?

Being able to cast spells seemed immeasurably attractive when I was a child, so initially I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a witch. After a while this morphed into more sensible options – like a ballerina or cave-woman, and finally, much later, a wildlife film-maker!

What motivates you to do what you do?

The natural world has never been more fragile than it is today, nor more under attack. Yet it is our home – essential to our physical, spiritual and mental well-being. My love for wild creatures and places, my concern for what’s happening to our Planet, and the increasing uncertainty of my children’s future in a world that is being buried under concrete, drives everything I do.

Who has inspired you to do what you do?

My parents have been hugely influential in my life, opening my eyes to the beauty of Nature and catalysing a passion for all wild things.

As has my grandmother, Prunella Stack – head of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty – who  taught me that one must count one’s lucky stars, have grace and courage in times of hardship, and fight for what one believes in.  Many science writers too have shaped how I think, including Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, David Quammen, and, lastly, E. O Wilson whose perspective on life and call for setting 50% of the Planet aside for Nature aligns closely with my own heart.

If your 20-year old self could see you know, what would he/she think?

When I was 20 I used to think that anyone over 30 was ancient, so I’d probably find now that I was rather old! But I’d be pleased to learn that my older self had had some interesting adventures along the way, married a wonderful man, and discovered that life becomes more interesting the older you get.

If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would change?

I was very unhappy at the first boarding school I was sent to in England at the age of 13, so that’s one thing I would definitely strike off the list!  I also wish I’d kept a better journal, especially in the last decade. Things went a little pear-shaped writing-wise after I had kids!

In what place are you happiest?

I am happiest when I can hear frogs singing at night or feel the interconnectedness of all things in the web of life around me.  As far away as possible from people, pollution and concrete, and in the company of my husband and kids. Bejewelled by the sounds of the night, perfumed by the purest air, and clothed in the softest darkness hung with stars, I feel like the richest person in the world.  Surrounded by myriad sentient creatures – in all their diversity of hue, scale, colour, leaf and shimmering skin – my sanity is quickly restored.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes, often. The health of our Planet plagues my dreams. I try to live as close to nature as possible, to give back through my work in conservation, and do no harm.  We all need to down-size our lives big time, stop this crazy over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources, and tackle the spectre of human overpopulation.

The one essential you travel with?

My hat, which is now very well worn.

Also my sunglasses and beloved Swarovski binoculars and toothbrush and face cream of course!

Your best piece of travel advice?

Keep a diary to record your first impressions. Write everything up as soon as you can when it’s still fresh in your mind.  Get off the beaten track, and and wash your hands often, especially before you eat.

What advice would you give to young ladies wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Figure out what you really want to do then commit yourself 100% – and don’t take no for an answer!  Once you get your foot in the door, be positive, enthusiastic, work hard, and make yourself indispensable. Anyone with any sense will harness the power of your passion, and you will fly!

Event: A Life with Elephants by Saba Douglas-HamiltonSaba tour

April & May dates

Join Saba for an evening of exciting animal stories and intimate behind the scenes tales of life in Kenya with her young family.

See tour dates and book tickets

 

 

Get in touch with us for more information on your Kenya holiday with Steppes, call us on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more advice.

,

Kenya: Changing perceptions

Times are changing in Kenya. Blixen’s “Flame Trees of Thika” have grown into a thriving agricultural heartland, Silicon Savannah (a district on the outskirts of Nairobi) is attracting the likes of google and Microsoft and the incredible rise of mobile banking M-Pesa (Pesa being Swahili for cash) means it is easier to pay for a taxi on your mobile in Nairobi than it is in New York City.

The trade winds along Kenya’s tropical coast that draw kite surfers from across the world, continue inland across the wind farms covering Hemmingway’s “Green hills of Africa”, Michelin starred chefs from London are coming to Nairobi and green beans and coffee grown here fly back home in the same plane as our suitcases, destined for Waitrose.

Kenya’s government are equally ambitious – local politics still hold the country back from reaching its full potential – yet the governments ambitious “Vision 2030” initiative is designed to revolutionise security, education and Wi-Fi across the country within the next 15 years (3 of the most important things to many Kenyans, if asked.)

The Safari industry is also changing, with a rise in pioneering eco-lodges, where modern art galleries and sculpture gardens look out over plains where wild dog roam, the lodges attitude and design changing perceptions of what luxury safaris can offer. Alongside this progressive, forward looking Kenya there sits a more traditional country, rich in history where safari lodges full of personality, offer a welcome that only comes from the fact that many of these incredible properties have been family homes to generations of Kenyans.

Herein lies the issue with Kenya. It is very much embracing the future, but remains proud of its heritage and whilst it is one of Africa’s most well-known countries, it should not be judged on that alone. People only seen one side or the other – rampant development or a colonial past, but look closer and there is an unforced blend of the modern and traditional that for me makes Kenya so appealing. On the one hand it is arguably Africa’s most developed countries, but also one of the most visibly traditional. It is a land famous for its pastoral nomads, where the Masaai and other tribes have adapted naturally to modern sensibilities, whilst still living a very traditional lifestyle.

IMG_4725

Nowhere else in Africa are local communities also such an integral part of the success of the conservancies and the Kenyan people are some of the warmest, most open people you could meet. Many of these conservation initiatives are using cutting edge technology, to track and protect the wildlife that has been here for millennia – and what incredible wildlife it is.

The daily struggle for survival played out on endless plains under big skies, Kenya does wildlife drama like no-where else but the migration is only one player in an all-star cast. Leave the crowds behind and follow wild dog on foot in the highlands of Laikipia, join elephant researchers in rugged Samburu or fly across the deserts of Turkana and hidden valleys of Mt Kenya. For those who think Kenya too busy or too commercial, pick any number of boutique safari camps and you can sit watching lions hunt across the mara plains under a fiery sunset or follow herds of elephants across Amboseli as the moon rises behind Kilimanjaro with no-one around to spoil the view. It’s all about knowing where and when to go – watching a rhino courtship against a backdrop of wild flowers and lakes ablaze with pink flamingos remains my own favourite memory.

IMG_0417

Despite the development taking place, the country is vast and there is much to explore and with all this space, comes a huge amount of adventure to be had. Yes ballooning is great, but enjoy some fantastic fly camping, quad biking, dune-buggies, paragliding, superb horse-riding, mountain biking, or just sit around the fire at night with a beer in your hand, listening to lions in the distance.

After all this excitement, then head to the coast and shake the dust off your boots – cool, Swahili retreats look out across powdery white sand with dhows bobbing on the warm Indian ocean in the distance – a view
best enjoyed with fresh lobster and a glass of something chilled. Kitesurfing, deep sea fishing and stunning coral reefs add another dimension to a country known more for its terrestrial wildlife.

IMG_0889

Yes there is progress in Kenya and many Kenyans embrace these changing times with enthusiasm, but Kenya’s identity remains as strong as ever. It is the tourists who find this change harder to accept. I’m not saying Kenya is without challenges, but the biggest threats facing Kenya today are false assumptions and bad PR. Issac Asimov once said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Kenya offers a thrilling and very personal wildlife experience in both familiar and surprising ways for those who take the time to look. I urge people to rethink Kenya and travel with an open mind.

Masai Mara Long Weekend

Get in touch with me for more information on your Kenya holiday with Steppes, call me on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com for more advice.

, , , ,

The Mountains of the Moon

Africa brings people together. It provides an unbreakable common thread which endures and serves to unite friends and family. Here are a few of my most favourite itineraries that I have put together for my clients.

For a holiday to Kenya, I helped bring together four generations of family, exploring the Mara and Laikipia by foot, vehicle and camel. While recently one of the most memorable trips was helping the relative of a famous explorer retrace their ancestor’s footsteps. The great grandson of the explorer John Hanning Speke (who discovered the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria) crossed the “Mountains of the Moon” the Rwenzori Mountain range in Western Uganda to see Mount Speke in all its glory.

We have also organised for a private group of vets to visit Klaserie Private Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger to get hands-on experience of darting, notching and micro-chipping a white rhino. The feedback we got on this trip was humbling; “…a poignant reminder that it requires actions not words to save the planet’s most endangered animals”.

Some of the most unforgettable trips we have organised to Africa have involved giving our clients an insight into conservation and we are proud that our clients were a part of the habituation process of the Nkuringo group of gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

,

Removing the blinkers

Kenya’s flag is divided into three colours – black, red and green embossed with a Maasai shield and spears. Each stripe represents a part of this evolving country and its worth remembering that the flag is not divided into 1 third safari scene, 1 third beach and 1 third unrest which might more accurately portray the layman’s impression of this iconic country.

Kenya might well be the original home of the safari but it is also a developing territory and not stuck in aspic, days are not conducted in sepia and all this harking back to bygone days is borderline ridiculous. I’m not saying that safari shouldn’t be romantic and I am not deriding properties with dates in their name – I am saying look beyond the pantomime and see the country for what it is. Celebrate the history without pretending life hasn’t moved on. Some may ridicule Japanese tourists who seemingly all take the same photographs of England and yet are we not massively guilty of the same in Kenya? We want to see wildlife and proud Maasai warriors and pretend that they are not on Facebook. We want to learn a smattering of Swahili and ignore the fact we are sitting in $100,000 Land-Cruisers. Nostalgia is not what it used to be.

I think it’s time to give Kenya the respect it deserves. It is evolving faster than most Western countries and the leap to digital has been embraced. There is still a massive dichotomy on the ground. This is still a land of pastoral nomads – governed by grass, grazing and goats but there is also a capital city with every amenity you can find in London. The roads are suddenly tarmac, there are 50 foot high billboards entering the CBD and you can order a Caesar salad to go.

Game-viewing-at-enasoit

It is almost 20 years since my first tentative trip to Kenya and it pulls at my strings in a way few other places can. Kenya has changed. It has grown up in many ways and it is exciting. There is a real buzz of opportunity and the safari and tourist spheres are just one part of that buzz. Away from the Ferrari safari and those hell-bent on finding the Big 5 before lunch is a triptych of landscapes – rugged mountains, harsh deserts and rolling green plains. There is modern agriculture supplying green beans into Waitrose in the belly of the planes that carry our suitcases. The winds that kite-surfers come to experience on the Indian Ocean continue overland to support the largest wind farm in Africa near Turkana. A jigsaw puzzle of a country with an identity crisis – the rest of the world only sees what it wants to see and the cheap headlines spewed out by the media. Life on the ground is very different – waking up at sunrise with clouds in my coffee and looking at a backdrop of giraffe poling their way to the waterhole – the developed world is a million miles away from this wilderness of 52 separate tribes.

There is a hurdle that needs to be crossed – not a sanitization of safari as found in parts of South Africa with fences and guarantees but a realisation that Kenya offers extraordinary wildlife, beautiful warm people and wi-fi.

It’s time to shelve your preconceptions and come visit.

, , , , , , , , ,

12 Things to do before you’re 12

Nothing beats travelling with your tribe. The wide-eyed wonder and laughter of your children is priceless and the memories created will last a lifetime.

We hope our “12 Things to Do Before you’re 12” inspires your children or you to think of some fun ideas to maximise your next Steppes family adventure.

1. Learn bushcraft

Aboriginal_kids_Northern_Territories_Australia_Throw a spear, hunt for mud crabs, taste bush tucker and learn about bush medicines.

 


2. be a gladiator

shutterstock_105521009 (Large)Maximus adventure sword fighting at the Colosseum in Rome.Thumbs up for a glorious victory.

 


3. swing like tarzan

Monteverde, Ziplining (CRT)Zip line the Costa Rican canopies for thrills and an array of wildlife.

 


4. Ride an elephant

Justin-and-family-elephantMake like Mowgli, ride through the Indian jungle, perhaps to meet Sher khan.

 


5. Be like Indiana

Mexico-Chichen-Itza-Chak-Mul-sacrificial-statueExplore the Mayan ancient ruins of the Yucatan peninsula Indiana Jones style.

 


6. Track the big 5

Lion shutterstock_68847664Safari without the crowds in Zimbabwe and see how many species you find.

 


7. Fossil hunt

Dinosaur-Fossil-shutterstock_114610390Visit Mongolia, where the first nests of dinosaur eggs were found. Do-you-
think-he-saw-us? 

 


8. Learn Archery

COMO UMA ArcheryDiscover the National Sport of Bhutan and all this magical Tolkienesque kingdom has to offer.

 


9. Swim with sealions

Sea_lion_swimming_underwater_in_tidal_lagoon_in_the_Galapagos_Islands_shutterstock_14714457222ea3cSnorkelling in the Galapagos, blow bubbles at sealions and see what happens!

 


10. Warrior Walk

Kids doing Maasai dancing RobsonJoin the Masai, learn a Kenyan tribal dance or see how high you can jump.

 


 11. Make a Difference

Orangutan-playing,-Borneo-(shutterstock_3460637)Support wildlife conservation, adopt or even meet an orangutan and the people helping them.

 


 12. Go Wild

Canada-Clayoquot-Wilderness-activtyRaft, fish, zipline, whale or bear watch and more at Canada’s Clayoquot luxury camp.

 

Are you ready to begin your adventure?

, ,

The dog with 9 names

Whilst on safari it is easy to try to relate the animals you are seeing to similar species back home.

Antelope are clearly related to our deer, some birds of prey share ancestry or migrate to Europe and warthogs with their car-aerial tails look like weapons-grade pigs. Many of us have a dog or five about the home and enjoy the companionship and interaction that man’s best friend affords us. In parts of Africa some are realising that the Big 5 are not always the most exciting subjects and watching lions invariably snoozing under trees is not the adrenaline high that we might hope for. Introducing at high speed from stage left; the Wild Dog.

These canids share ancestry with our domesticated mutts and help you learn more about pack behaviour and social dynamics than any other creature in Africa. Comparisons are quickly drawn – they look like some kind of rangy mongrel with big scoop ears and mottled coats. They are cursorial hunters – using relentless speed and communication to work as team – meaning that their hunting success rate is x3 better than lions with 90% of all attempts ending in success. Quite simply – if they are hungry they won’t be for long. This efficiency comes at a cost and that is generally that their ranges can be up to 1,500 square kilometres and tracking them down is never straightforward.

IMG_1402

We were up before first light in Mana Pools to head to a dry river where we had left the Kanga pack the night before. The air was chilled and we were hoping that they had slept where we had left them. Optimism was pretty low – knowing just how flighty these packs can be – they could have crossed country borders overnight, disappearing like guerrillas into the bush. As we got close we could smell the dogs before we saw them, a daily diet of raw meat combined with the heat of the African sun makes for a pretty pungent combination.

This pack comprised 19 adults and 8 pups and they had been making the most of the plentiful game in the open woodland close to the airstrip. We parked up and watched as they started their day – stretching, yawning and then greeting each other in a series of high pitched chirruping calls. A couple of the pups were toying with a long vulture feather, others were playing tug of war with yesterday’s impala hide whilst the adults remained in slumber. Occasionally an older female would rebuke one of the youngsters and there would be a moments quiet whilst the pup would sulk before forgetting his woe and start chewing his litter-mates ear. The hierarchy is based on submission rather than aggression with roles played by each member. There are dominant alpha males and females, nannies for the pups and carers for the sick and old. Younger dogs feed first at kills with meat being regurgitated for the pups once back at base.

IMG_1245

A silent signal spread through the pack – two older females were on their feet and lifting their noses into the air, their ears swivelling like radar. An instant tension crackled and silently small groups formed – four of the bitches were fanning out in an arc through the trees and with our height benefit we could see impala around 400 metres away. The pack divided into quarters and started trotting, we fired up the land rover, and turned to watch the 4 files of dogs – the white tips of their tails flagging gently. Then all hell broke loose, our driver Kevin booted the gas pedal as the pack went from canter into full on sprint, it felt as though the truck was going to shake itself to pieces as we tried to keep pace at over 40 mph, swerving around bushes and through trees to catch glimpses of the dogs outflanking the impala. I was hanging on and trying to film – the footage later showed a dizzying combination of sky/ ground/ sky/ with the odd flash of white. They are ruthless killers, the lead dog will catch a tail or trailing leg, another will latch onto the head and the rest of the pack will arrive to tear the living prey to pieces. This was the first hunt of the day and we lost the pack after a mile in dense vegetation – by the time we had looped around to find them again they were drinking from the Zambezi with heavy bellies.

wild-dogs-IMG_1819

With all the pups photographed and their GPS locations tracked – I dropped the data off to Painted Dog Conservation in Hwange the following week. For 3 days I shadowed two packs totalling 52 dogs and gained an insight into these amazing canines.

Learn more about these incredible Painted Wolves, join us in Laikipia on a specialist photographic trip with Albie Venter next March or call to chat through the best locations to spot these elusive wonderful creatures.

,

Lake Turkana – Crossing the Chalbi, Half Empty

We were heading North by Land Rover, crossing the equator had happened yesterday – the ubiquitous foot either side of the red line photos done – we continued on a quest to the Jade Sea. Looking at a map of Africa, it’s hard to get a scale of how big the pentagonal shape of Kenya really is.

The stats tell us it makes up only 2% of the land mass of the continent. It’s quite the opposite of small though – it’s just that Africa is so massive that the numbers become irrelevant. Where 75% of the population make their living from agriculture it surprised me to learn that 85% of the land is too infertile to farm. The Inspector Clouseau in me then realised that there must be vast empty swathes of land and that is what I had come to find. If the Arabians have the Empty Quarter then the Kenyans are running on fumes.

Maralal came and went – a last chance saloon of a town with supplies for those who wanted to haggle. Jerry cans topped up, two sacks of charcoal and a couple of “emergency” goats in the cage on the back – we began to feel quite intrepid as we left this one horse town. The scenery is harsh, rocks rather than sand dunes and sharp stones rather than pebbles. We pointed the truck north and headed onto the shimmering sea of the volcanic pan. There are no trees out here, no shelter and no shadows, this endless rock desert stretched off to the horizon in all directions. What followed was searing heat and nothing but sand and rocks for hour after hour. I must have dozed off at some point, my head gently knocking against the door frame of the Land Rover.

I awoke, angry that I was missing the experience to see nothing had changed. Some impressive hills were off to our left, they never got closer but at some point they were behind us, they had been our only marker on the map all day. This is the land of nomads, Rendille, Gabra and Samburu, El Molo and Luo and Turkana, fiercely independent tribes; specialists in enduring the heat. At lunchtime on the second day we spotted a cluster of acacia trees way off to the west of the tyre marks we had been following. Some shade and respite from the sun and the perfect stop for lunch. Here we were off the map and our arrival coincided with that of a boy of about 8, in charge of a straggly bunch of goats. We exchanged water and a bag of dates in return for some stilted chat about the direction he had come from. He looked surprised we were there which seemed ironic.

We continued on past the Sands of Horr and eventually the mirage changed hue and Lake Turkana was in front us. You could smell the saline and the soothing relief of the lake only washed away the mental image of sand desert – the shore is home to Nile crocodiles, scorpions and carpet vipers so a cooling dip was out of the question. Grass huts of the El Molo fishermen cluster along the shore and vivid red bolts of cloth marked the locals moving between the huts and the shore, rhythmic chanting carried in waves across to us – the morning catch being unloaded. This was more than a navel-gazing journey -I discovered a colourful oasis of life, a level of stoicism beyond comprehension, dramatic lands and reawakened the pioneer within me.

,

Something in the air

There is something you cannot see, smell or touch – you develop another sense that tells you that you are in Africa. Routed in your psyche, the feeling of coming home is profound even to those who have never set foot on African soil.

Perhaps it’s because it’s where we all began, perhaps it’s the earthiness of the place and a longing to return to roots you never knew, but have always been here since hominids first walked the shores of Lake Turkana. So hard to ignore, you rarely meet anybody who comes here just once and this is confirmed by the American lady I sit next to on the plane who tells me it’s her 14th visit in so many years with what looks like the same level of excitement as her first time.

Flight over, a short drive and a long hearty lunch later, I find myself sitting on a hill surveying the open savannah next to a Czech man for sundowners in Amboseli, Kenya. Watching a herd of elephants with their babies in tow as the sun sets behind Kilimanjaro, he tells me he couldn’t get his noise filters to turn off last night. Used only to the sound of cars outside his bedroom window at home, he was kept awake by the nest of birds in a tree above his deck.

“Do you know what they are?” He asks, “yellow and making a really really loud noise”. “I think they are social weavers” I reply, amused by his animated gestures. “Social? I think they are talking major politics up in that tree” he says, cheering up as he sips his gin and tonic (a drink which many safari goers adopt for sundowners even though they never touch it a home). Slightly bleary eyed from his noisy night and early start he tells me he has ticked off most of the big 5, and it’s only his second day. Drinks merrily consumed, we start heading back to camp.

The next morning I ask him if he slept any better. “Still getting use to the noises, but yes thank you”. I think the filters are on. Just as well as he has another 9 nights on safari. Only when he returns to his Prague apartment I know he will miss the lions roaring, singing crickets and chattering weavers to sooth him to sleep as he listens to the traffic. But then something in the air tells me he’ll come home again.