True or false: African wild dogs vote on when to go hunting by sneezing.
TRUE! : Recent research has revealed that pack decisions, like when to get up and hunt, are made democratically, and votes are cast individually by way of sneezes. Once a certain number of sneeze votes have been made, the whole pack will obey the result and move off. This form of democracy still appears to reflect seniority, as higher ranking members of the pack have to sneeze less often in order to influence the decision. Lower ranking dogs can achieve the desired results if they are persistent, and sneeze often enough.
The ultimate safari experience is arguably encountering Africa’s charismatic wildlife during a game drive. Right?
This is usually the case in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. However, at Governors Camp, we enjoyed a really special moment right in camp, that will be remembered for a long time.
Last month, in the middle of the night, the distinct sound of elephant rumbles and grumbles began to make their way towards the far west side of the camp. We refer to this side as the ‘plains side’, with all tents facing out towards the plains of the Maasai Mara. The sound of large, nightlife wanderers is not uncommon to the good folk of Governors Camp.
As the elephant harmony drew nearer, it soon became obvious that this was no ordinary feeding session. Within one hour our camp’s rondavels were surrounded by a herd of fourteen elephants creating quite the rumpus. Having woken to the noise, the camp’s manager, Harrison Nampaso, quietly crept outside to assess the commotion. To describe his timing as perfect would be an understatement, as at the exact moment Harrison cast his eyes on our rowdy neighbors, something magical began to take place.
The previously muffled grumbles were now clearly warning signals made by the majority of the herd, who by now were all standing in a near to flawless circle surrounding one female elephant in particular. Unbeknown to Harrison, this female was soon to be a mother. The protective barrier the herd had created for the female is a wonderful reminder of the emotional intelligence the elephant species possess, as each herd member made it their utmost priority to shield the female during this vital moment.
As the circle began to break and the herd slowly dispersed, the female moved around frantically giving out a few bellows, then within moments, a tiny, four-legged animal dropped out onto the dry earth. The now mother elephant began to clean and nurture her beautifully ruddy, but extremely wobbly, newborn calf, while the rest of the herd gathered again. It was as though thirteen midwives were competing to assure the stable condition of the newborn, touching their trunks against the mother and baby to encourage feeding.
As the first flush of morning appeared, tent zips drew up and those guests residing in our plains tents were fortunate enough to be one of the first to witness the hour-old calf; who by now was half hidden underneath its mother, suckling. This moment was a prime example of nature’s mercurial temperament and heading out on that early morning game drive a few minutes later than usual was well worth the delay.
The herd had been visiting camp on a daily basis three to four weeks prior to the birth of their newest member, and have maintained the routine ever since. Grazing and browsing across the plains and marshland during the day, before customarily returning to the safety of the camp in the evenings. The invulnerability and safety evidently experienced by the herd, when within the camp’s vicinity, is extremely special. To then have this feeling of security result in a birth right on our doorstep is a sublime gift we will forever cherish. To the elephants of Governors Camp, thank you for choosing us!
Story & Photos By; Harrison Nampaso / Governors Camp
Did you know… the Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) is a seasonal migrant, and only visits South Luangwa during the emerald season?
Their call is not only distinctive and beautiful, but also heralds the arrival of life-giving, annual rains.
Not many people know this, but the Dwarf Mongoose is the smallest carnivorous mammal in the Lowveld. By looking at them it’s hard to think of these little fluff balls as killers. They are, however, very successful predators, feeding on anything they can find. They eat lizards, beetles, insects, fruit and sometimes even snakes.
These African mammals are obviously very small and therefore might seem vulnerable. But in fact, they are rarely preyed upon. `This is down to one reason, family. They have incredibly strong family bonds and always look out for each other. There is always someone on watch duty and no one ever cries wolf. If a member of the group sounds the alarm, they all react instantly without hesitation. When a potential predator is near, they will run to cover.
Normally you’ll find them shoot down the chimney of an old termite mound. A perfect system of tunnels and chambers that provide the ideal home or den site as well as a lookout post and food sources. As mongoose are nomadic and move from place to place in search of food, these den sites are rarely used for longer than a few days.
Raising pups is a very demanding task but is made easier when the work is shared by the group. Usually, only the group’s dominant female becomes pregnant, and she is responsible for 80% of the pups reared within the group. Previous litters stay at home to assist in raising the new litter. They help guide the little ones through their first stages of life, teaching them the ins and outs along the way. Just as they were taught by the litter before them. The new pups are able to go out with the group by the time they are 6 months old. They can have pups of their own when they reach sexual maturity at 3 years old.
All of this requires a lot of trust between them. One way in which this family bond is strengthened is through Allo-grooming. A process where one mongoose grooms another. Just like primates, the groomer looks for any parasites which they can remove and eat. This helps to keep each other clean. They truly are amazing creatures and always give us entertaining sightings! If, at first, they run down a hole, sit and wait and you will see their cute little heads pop up in no time at all!
Story and photos by: Ranger Mike Brown – Southern Camp
These Badass Women Are Taking on Poachers—and Winning
The all-female Black Mambas guard South Africa’s most precious wildlife with their lives.
It’s 6:40 a.m. when I step into a white jeep inside Balule Private Game Reserve, a protected wildlife area spanning nearly 100,000 acres on the western border of South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park. Behind the wheel is Shadu Hlangwana, with Felicia Mogahane in the passenger’s seat and Carol Khosa in the back with me.
Having lost my luggage in transport, I’m wearing jeans with a beige fleece and camouflage cap from the Pondoro Game Lodge, the reserve property that is my home for the next two nights. I feel ill-prepared next to their fatigues. My magenta lipstick doesn’t help, but it is what breaks the ice.
“Are you talking about my lipstick?” I ask, eyeing Hlangwana’s red nails on the wheel and Mogahane’s pearl earrings. Mogahane looks over her shoulder and reveals a sheepish, gap-toothed grin. For the last hour, “lipstick” was the only English word spoken outside their native tongue, Tsonga. This segues to a conversation about beauty while we cruise three miles per hour along an electric fence at Olifants West Gate.
These three 20-something women may be shy and protective, but they are guarding more than themselves here. They are the Black Mambas, the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit, and, together with 30 other local women, they are saving South Africa’s endangered rhinos and elephants.
VISITING THE MAMBAS
Few barriers separate Balule, founded in the early 1990s, from Greater Kruger National Park, with some exceptions designed to keep animals from crossing highways, and more importantly, keep poachers and bushmeat hunters out. Each month, every Black Mamba spends 21 days straight patrolling Balule by foot or jeep—four hours at dawn and four hours at dusk—in search of snares, human tracks, sounds of gunshots, and other suspicious activity. While they are not making arrests, they do call in backup, or trained special forces, to seize troublemakers.
The award-winning nonprofit, which launched in 2013, has significantly reduced incidents of snaring and poaching by as much as 76 percent, accordings to their website. Their success has garnered global attention, including interest from Extraordinary Journeys, a luxury travel agency that specializes in safaris and supports community, conservation, and sustainability initiatives. The company recently partnered with Pondoro to offer guests exclusive tours with the Mambas twice a week, donating all profits to the program. Guest tours feature classroom presentations, where you learn how the Mambas are making a difference. My personal tour, however, offers a unique inside look.
AN IMPORTANT PRESENCE
This morning, the Mambas’ mission is to report abnormalities, such as signs of fence tampering. We stop for Mogahane, an original Mamba and mother of two, to check the shock box. I follow her to study the voltage but am too nervous to focus. For all I know, a lion or leopard may be watching us. After all, we’re in Big Five territory without any protection.
That’s right, the Black Mambas patrol unarmed.
“I’ve been doing this for 24 years and have never had to raise a weapon to a wild animal,” Craig Spencer, the Black Mambas founder and head warden at Balule Nature Reserve, tells me later. “The poachers would have to consider defending themselves against these women. Creating orphans and widows is not the answer to this problem. You can’t shoot this problem away. Early detection is their key role.”
With this in mind, Spencer looked to the British police, or “bobbies on the beat” as he calls them, to establish a model for the Mambas. “They are unarmed, courteous, well-dressed, and eloquent. They have a presence, [which functions as] crime prevention. That’s the idea: Saturate the landscape, make them visible wearing badges, practice early detection, and then call in an armed response.”
Back in the jeep, Mogahane relays stats to Khosa, who radios headquarters. My anxiety about leaving the jeep is validated when Khosa reveals a terrifying incident from March.
“I was patrolling with another Mamba [at 9 a.m.] when we were surrounded by eight lions,” says Khosa, the breadwinner of her family, which includes her two children, mother, and five siblings. “We tried to radio it in, but there’s no way someone would have arrived in time. One of the land owners saw us and came to the rescue.”
Hlangwana, the newest Mamba as of this year, chimes in about her own run-in a few nights ago. “I switched on the headlights [at 7:30 pm] and saw two elephants. The first one passed, but the second stopped and started charging aggressively toward us. I was scared and had to act fast,” says Hlangwana, who has one child.
“We’re lucky that Shadu stayed calm enough to turn the car away from the elephant,” Mogahane says.
SERIOUS TRAINING AND DEEP MOTIVATION
What the Mambas lack in weapons, they make up in skill, teamwork, and gumption. The three months of required training for entry include physical exercise, like running around three miles daily, and classroom work, such as learning surveillance practices, compliance techniques, and how to use walkie-talkies. The last month is the most rigorous, focusing on survival tactics in the bush, including building shelter and functioning without food or water.
The extensive training is part of why, in four years, there have been no casualties on the job, despite regularly facing serious peril. Sure, it’s a dangerous job, but the work experience is invaluable—providing hope for a better future while fulfilling many Mambas’ passion for wilderness.
“I’ve loved nature—the trees, animals, birds, all of it—since I was young,” Khosa says. Mogahane adds, “If I could go back to school, I would study conservation. What we are doing is important and amazing. They say it’s a man’s job, but we are doing it.”
“WHAT WE ARE DOING IS IMPORTANT AND AMAZING. THEY SAY IT’S A MAN’S JOB, BUT WE ARE DOING IT.”
There are female rangers in South Africa, but they’re rare. On top of combatting assumptions about their abilities, women are battling against systematic education exclusion and a struggling economy in South Africa, where unemployment reached nearly 28 percent in 2017.
“It’s as much about conservation as poverty relief,” Spencer says. Partially funded by the government, the nonprofit offers women the opportunity to develop skills to help improve their immediate lives and future. Mambas starting out receive a wage of approximately 3,500 rand, or around U.S. $260, per month, which is the national minimum wage. Drivers, like Hlangwana, and sergeants, like Mogahane, earn slightly more.
“Most started because they needed a job, but now, it has become a source of dignity to be a Black Mamba,” Spencer says. “They get given a break for the first time in their lives.”
Nick Koornhoff, a member of the Parliament of South Africa and chairman of Balule’s Olifants West Nature Reserve, agrees: “I see this extended public works program as a fantastic stepping stone. These women, who had no opportunity, are now able to seek better employment in the future. They are heroes in their communities.”
INSIDE THE DEADLY RHINO HORN TRADE
THE MAMBA’S FEARLESS LEADER
Before introducing himself, Spencer, a 40-something South African of English descent, paces at headquarters around this morning’s jeep—one of the group’s 13. His tanned bare chest, khaki shorts, and boots look the part, but the Sherlock-Holmes-esque pipe is next level.
As he furiously inspects a new dent, he grumbles about how the damage should have been reported. He walks over to the driver’s side, pulls the key from the ignition, and chucks it over a brick wall. The Mambas are a short walk down the dirt road in their wooden shacks, where they are doing laundry and preparing lunch. This spectacle is just for me, I guess. After he puts on a shirt and shakes my hand, he explains his actions.
“I do see myself as a bit of a father figure to them, which is why I’m hard. I call it tough love. I love every single one of them desperately and want the very best for them,” he says. “Best” includes safe, fully functioning vehicles, which is the only armor they have while on patrol. Like a proud papa, he continues to sing their praises.
“BEFORE THE BLACK MAMBAS, WE WERE TRIPPING OVER RHINO CARCASSES.”
“Before the Black Mambas, we were tripping over rhino carcasses,” he says, using the edge of my business card to clean his nails. “This year, we’ve seen eight dead rhinos, which is way too many.” That’s not bad considering that on average 3.5 rhinos are being shot daily in South Africa, home to 70 percent of the world’s remaining 29,500 white rhinos. One reason for the recent uptick: the sale of rhino horns just became legal again.
“We’re trying to save the rhinos by creating a totally different set of values within the community. These women are very proud to wear the uniform. They are role models. I want to see them grow, build houses, send their children to school,” says Spencer, who is skeptical about any attempts to franchise the program.
“First, we need to capture the formula. You can’t just duplicate this model. There are certain variables that make it work here that may not work elsewhere,” Spencer says. “Also, the management style has to be firm and fair. And you must care about these women.”
Spencer claims to receive no compensation for this nonprofit work and admits, “I often wonder if I need the Mambas or they need me? I’ve lost my heart and soul to them. They are my reason for sticking around. It used to be the elephants and the rhinos, but now, it’s these women.”
Koornhoff suspects Spencer is the secret ingredient: “What he did with the Black Mambas has never been done before.”
Sourced from third-party site: The Hill, written by Miranda Green
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week that it will now consider all permits for importing elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case basis”, breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama-era ban on the practice.
In a formal memorandum issued on Thursday, FWS said it will withdraw its 2017 Endangered Species Act (ESA) findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, “effective immediately”. The memo said “the findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies”.
In its place, FWS will instead “grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis”.
FWS said it will still consider the information included in the ESA findings, as well as science-based risk assessments of the species’ vulnerability, when evaluating each permit request. The service also announced it is withdrawing a number of previous ESA findings, which date back to 1995, related to trophies of African elephants, bontebok and lions from multiple African countries.
The decision to withdraw the FWS findings followed a D.C. Circuit Court decision in December that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule, which banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.
“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”
A federal appeals court ruled at the end of last year that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it drafted its ban on the imports. The court also said the FWS should have gone through the extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.
The agency used the same procedures as the Obama administration for its ESA determination in 2017 that led to reopening African elephant imports to the U.S. in November. At the time, a FWS spokesperson said the reversal “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”
Following the fall announcement to overturn the ban, the Trump administration faced immense backlash, which played a role in leading the president to denounce elephant hunting and promise to re-establish the ban. Trump in February called the administration’s initial decision to overturn the Obama-era ban “terrible”.
In an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump said he had decided to officially turn the order around.
“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards ― well, money was going ― in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK?” Trump said.
Despite the president’s tweets and interviews, however, FWS and the Interior Department remained tight-lipped as to the status of the ban. Numerous requests for information to FWS from The Hill over several months were referred to Interior and left unanswered.