Keeping Hope

Cheetah

 

With only around 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, these elegant and striking cats are currently listed at ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, with many conservationists calling for their status to be changed to ‘Endangered’ due to their rapidly decreasing population. This decrease in cheetah numbers is due to numerous factors, including their vulnerability to larger predators, lack of prey to feed on, and habitat loss, but the main the reason behind the population decline is, not surprisingly, humans.

However, there is still hope for cheetahs. Conservation work in Africa is being done to ensure the long-term viability of cheetahs in small fenced reserves, as well as promoting the long-term genetic and demographic integrity of the metapopulation.

This is why it was so exciting when it was discovered that a new cheetah female, that was introduced to the Manyoni Private Game Reserve last year, successfully gave birth to a litter of four cubs!

 

Cheetah with four cubs

 

The cheetah cubs were first spotted by the Wildlife ACT team, who have been monitoring the female cheetah closely. At just six weeks old, they were still sporting their adorable ‘honey badger’ outfits, which is thought to help deter predators as honey badgers are notoriously aggressive animals that most animals give a wide berth.

This female is only the second female cheetah introduction ever performed at Manyoni Private Game Reserve. It was done because the founding females in the reserve are ageing and will soon not be able to reproduce anymore, and the existing population within the reserve is saturated with their genes.

Genetic variety is vital to the long-term viability of cheetahs so we are extremely happy that she managed to produce cubs after being in the reserve for less than a year. Raising four cubs is certainly going to be a challenge for a first-time mother, but we’re rooting for her and hoping she goes on to produce many more generations of cheetahs!

 

Two cheetah cubs


2019 Serengeti Girls Run!

 

The inaugural Serengeti Girls Run in Tanzania in 2018 was an unforgettable experience for all participants and following on its phenomenal success, Singita and the Grumeti Fund are offering 18 runners the opportunity to partake in this exclusive purpose-driven event in 2019.

 

Comprising six all-inclusive days, this year’s itinerary includes a variety of activities, such as participating in a career fair with girls from local communities and visiting the Grumeti Fund’s Anti-Poaching Canine Unit. The run covers a distance of 21 kilometers daily over 3 days in some of the most iconic untouched wilderness areas in Africa.

 

Travel Dates: 25-30 October 2019

 

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20 Incredible Photos from Busanga Plains

This month we’re sharing a few Olympus-inspired African safari wildlife photographs from the remote and pristine Busanga Plains in Zambia’s Kafue National Park.

In 2018 Wilderness Safaris joined forces with Olympus in an exciting partnership to enhance our wildlife photography experience in camps. The result of this partnership has produced incredible images taken by guests, guides and camp managers alike.

Olympus Photo Hubs, set up at selected camps across Botswana, Rwanda, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia, allow our guests to enjoy capturing images while our Wilderness photographic guides assist with sharing tips on how best to capture those powerful wilderness moments.

Isaac Kalio, Wilderness Safaris Shumba Guide, shares his top 20 favorite Olympus images taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

Enjoy viewing this beautiful selection!

 

 

An early morning hunt through dew-laden grass

 

 

An elephant bull approaching our vehicle. We all know who’s boss here!

 

 

Early morning light perfectly complemented by two grey crowned cranes

 

 

A buffalo bull peers through the tall grasses

 

 

These two males arrived in 2018 as nomads. They are now well settled, and are breeding with our lionesses.

 

 

Lechwe in the mist at sunrise – taken from the deck of Shumba Camp

 

 

A large flock of open-billed storks. The storks have adapted to living on snails and fresh water mussels.

 

 

Elephants cross a channel making their way to an acacia island

 

 

The nomads in a ‘kick-boxing’ match!

 

 

Grey crowned cranes display their impressive wingspan in the misty early morning light.

 

 

We watched this lioness from across the channel, only a few meters from our boat!

 

 

Puku are common in Busanga, and are differentiated from lechwe by their habitat (found in the dryer, rank grass alongside floodplains) and smaller size; they also do not have the lechwe’s distinguishing black bands on their forelegs.

 

 

A lioness eating grass as a way to ease uncomfortable digestion.

 

 

Sable – another beautiful African antelope, not often seen in such large numbers.

 

 

Low-level and close-up shots taken from the boat.

 

 

Lechwes leap through deep water channels as they flee a pursuing predator.

 

 

A lioness wards off a yellow-billed kite.

 

 

At the beginning of the season, the channels are too deep for lions to cross. They prefer to leap from one riverbank to the other to avoid getting wet!

 

 

Spur-winged geese are commonly seen on game drives.

 

 

Queen, the oldest lioness on the Plains, still has a lot of energy to leap across channels!


The Okavango Delta

Elephants in the Okavango Delta

 

A largely pristine wetland system that supports a diverse ecosystem during annual dry season flooding, the Okavango Delta is a world-famous safari destination and well-deserving of World Heritage status. Every year on 18 April, those cultural and natural sites deemed valuable assets by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee are celebrated.

Today, people around the world will be honoring those sites out of the 1,092 that are most significant to them.

We look at why the Okavango Delta was awarded the 1,000th position on the World Heritage List five years ago.

CONTRASTING LANDSCAPE

 

The annual flooding by the Okavango River into the Okavango Delta is a welcome respite during the height of Botswana’s dry season in June and July. It is one of a very few large inland delta systems without an outlet to the sea, its waters draining instead into the desert sands of the Central Kalahari Basin.

It is this astonishing juxtaposition of a lush wetland within an otherwise arid landscape that is the catalyst for spectacular wildlife gatherings. In a marvelous example of the interaction between climatic, hydrological and biological processes, the indigenous plants and animals have synchronized their biological cycles with these seasonal rains and floods.

 

Aerial view over the Okavango Delta

 

ECOSYSTEM DIVERSITY

 

The Okavango Delta is home to healthy populations of some of the world’s most endangered large mammals, including cheetah, white rhino, painted wolves (African wild dog) and lion. Botswana supports the world’s largest population of elephants and the Okavango Delta is considered the core area for this species’ survival.

Along with these notable wildlife species, the delta supports 1,061 plant, 89 fish, 64 reptile, 482 bird and 130 mammal species. Each species has found its distinct habitats. Whether it be in the seasonal lagoons, permanent swamps, dry deciduous woodlands of any of the diverse habitats, each species lives within an ecosystem where it thrives.

 

Pack of painted wolves (African wild dogs)

 

TRULY WILD

 

As a remote and difficult area to access, the Okavango Delta has successfully sustained a high level of unspoiled wilderness across its vast 2 million hectares. There has been little significant development and impact by humans, with tourism to the inner delta actively limited by governmental policies to tented camps with access largely by air.

These safari properties are carefully managed and monitored for compliance with environmental standards and aim at the lowest ecological impact possible. Mining activity in the delta is prohibited and any such activity in neighboring areas and countries are monitored closely to avoid any detrimental impacts to this environment.

From contrasting landscapes that are exceptionally wild and beautiful to diverse wildlife species that thrive in its various habitats, the Okavango Delta is well-deserving of its place on the World Heritage List.

 

Jacana Camp by Wilderness Safaris


Signs of Nature

With four of Africa’s Big Five already ticked off, I set off from South Africa’s Buffalo Camp with guests for our afternoon game drive. We only had one very important, intriguing and regal creature left to complete the list. As we set off on our adventure, one of my guests asked if Ishmael, my tracker, and I could show off our tracking skills and find them the elusive Leopard as that was actually highest on their bucket list.

Not long into the drive, Ishmael raised his hand for me to stop. He pointed out some tracks on the road. Not just any tracks, it was very fresh Leopard tracks. Could we be so lucky? Only time would tell!

That morning and during the day we had strong gusts of wind blowing. All tracks would have been blown away or damage, so spotting something at this late stage in the afternoon was a wonderful and positive sign that it could be something worth following. Yet, I still held my breath as nature plays according to her own set of rules.

We tracked the Leopard footprints all the way along the road! Sadly the tracks disappear into the bushes and my heart sank. We went around to the next road hoping that we could pick the tracks up again. Ishmael’s skills were certainly being put to the test. Our guests were eagerly watching each hand and body motion coming from the seat up at the front of the vehicle to see if Ishmael would give away any hints or excitement of something spotted. Eventually, we found more tracks again on the road that followed once again back into bushes, so not all that much to work with. I continued along the road, trying to figure out where this Leopard would have ended up.

At one point in the road, we saw some scuff marks in the sand as if some kind of fight had taken place. Ishmael surveyed the terrain with his keen hawk eyes, and once he ensured it was safe, he jumped off his tracker seat in the front and walked up to the display of commotion on the ground to decipher its cryptic message. On further investigation, we discovered a few drag marks. Was it a predator’s kill? Something had certainly been dragged across the road he was staring at, so we continued with our pursuit.

Not far off we picked up on Leopard tracks once more. Ishmael and I were convinced it was our earlier Leopard we started tracking and it seemed as though the Leopard had made a kill. It was certainly worth investigating, so we followed the drag marks as far as we could. Just then, we came across the Leopard’s kill, a male impala, but no Leopard in sight. I moved the game vehicle just a little bit deeper into the shrubbery and there she was, lying down not too far from her kill.

 

 

My guests silently erupted with excitement, not quite believing we we were able to track that Leopard for them. Nor did they realise that this little Leopard adventure had taken us about 2 hours to track her down. I explained to my guests that she would rest a bit before continuing to eat. While we watched her she stood up and walked away deeper into the bushes.

 

 

Knowing that there was a small water hole just around the corner, I was sure she was making her way there. I moved the game vehicle around to the other side hoping we would find her. As we rounded the corner she was laying on the wall of the water hole giving us the best possible photo opportunity.

 

 

Seeing her was just amazing but what made it so rewarding, was the opportunity to show my guests in an exciting, yet informative way, how incredible the signs of nature can be!

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers      

 


When Elephants Smile

Every day, dozens of African elephants are killed by poachers seeking for their ivory, meat and other body parts. Elephant calves left without their mothers are sure to die as they lack survival skills and source of food.

In Zimbabwe, there is a place where orphaned baby elephants can have a second chance at life. The Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery, founded by Roxy Danckwerts on her family farm, rescues helpless infants, providing them with care and love 24/7 in a bid to reintegrate mighty animals back to the wild.

RTD’s Aleksandr Avilov visits this extraordinary place outside of the capital Harare. He meets Moyo, Limpopo and other elephants in the nursery, and hears touching stories of the incredible bond between the animals and sanctuary staff. Roxy and her family speak about the challenges and joys of raising elephants and the new challenge of returning the ones that are ready back to where they belong.

Watch the documentary, When an Elephant Smiles, below:

 


Galapagos Trip Report!

African Safari Co.’s President recently ventured to the Galapagos and then onto the Amazon in search of the best lodges and experiences for your next excursion! Read his trip report to find out more.

 

Arriving at the new Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito passport control was quick and easy. Our hotel, the Patio Andaluz, in the historic old town was clean, comfortable and well situated to explore the narrow cobble stone streets.  The following morning, we joined some other travelers on the shuttle van heading to the cloud forest retreat of Mashpi.  This very modern lodge is only accessible by a 3 1/2-hour road trip.   The lodge offers various outdoor activities including guided walks and hikes through the forest trails, two very different experiences above the forest canopy, a visit to the humming bird garden and a visit to the Life Center. Adjacent to the lodges is a small research center where we were very impressed by the moth research being conducted.  I highly recommend this experience as an add on to a Galapagos cruise, but allow for at least two or three nights in order to enjoy all the activities.  The lodge is a member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

 

 

The following day, after our morning gondola ride through the canopy, we were transferred back to Quito where we spent the night at the Polo Club.  The Polo Club is not just a name, but an actual working polo facility with polo fields, ponies, excellent accommodation and wonderful cuisine. Our 4:30AM transfer had us back at the airport in good time to check in for the flight to Balta to begin our Galapagos Islands adventure!  A guide from our boat, the Endemic, met us for the short bus ride to the jetty where an inflatable (panga) took us to the catamaran moored in the channel between Baltra and the island of Santa Cruz.  As this was our second visit to the islands, we had opted for the short 3 night/4 day. This shorten cruise itinerary has us join the last 4 days of the full 7-day cruise.

 

 

The Endemic is a luxury catamaran that entered service 6 months ago.  By expedition boat standards the 8 cabins were huge, each with full length sliding doors leading to a small balcony looking out onto the waters. The food was excellent and our guide, Raul, was very congenial, very experienced and passionate about conservation. The walks on the islands and snorkeling in the usually warm water did not disappoint.  Although there has been a big increase in boats and visitors since we were last there 10 years ago, itineraries and shore excursions are well planned, and it did not feel overcrowded. Before returning to the mainland we spent a night at the Galapagos Safari Camp.  Built to resemble a tented African safari camp, the lodge offers a variety of guided excursions including diving and day trips on small boats to some of the other islands. A great way to end a cruise! After flying back to Quito for our final adventure we spent the night the Airport Wyndam Hotel.  Within walking distance of the terminal this new hotel is very convenient, and I recommend it for anyone with late arrival or early departures.

 

 

The next morning, we returned to the airport for the short flight to Coca, gateway to the Ecuadorian Amazonia.  Coca is a sprawling town of low-rise buildings built on the banks of the Napo River.  Our lodge, La Selva, is built on a remote lagoon about 2 hours down river. Transfers to the lagoon are a short paddle up creek in long, narrow motor boats.  We had an orientation presentation on arrival and met our guide.  Activities included various hikes in the jungle, canoe trips on the river, a visit to the canopy tower, the parrot clay lick and a very interesting visit to the local Kichwa cultural center. Rooms were very comfortable, and the food was excellent. All told, this was a wonderful 12-day excursion in a very friendly South American Country that offers wonderful culture, wildlife, scenery and adventure.

 


An Unexpected Visitor

Stopping for an African safari sundowner drink in the middle of the bush can lead to unexpected visitors coming to join you. This is exactly what happened to me and a couple of guests not too long ago. We were in for the surprise of a lifetime.

We left Buffalo Camp in the afternoon to see what else we could find while out on safari on Kapama Private Game Reserve. The past few game drives we were fortunate enough to see most of the animals that Kapama has to offer, including the Big Five. With this drive being particularly quiet and only the sights and sounds of an array of colorful birds, we decided to go for a sundowner stop where we could enjoy a refreshing drink and a few delicious some snacks.

As we set up the drinks stop and viewed a beautiful sunset, we talked about the earlier morning sightings and what they still wanted to see while staying at Kapama. Just before we started to pack up my tracker – Vusi heard something. I passed him the light and he went off to investigate further as to what might have made the noticeable noise. With the biggest smile, I had ever seen on Vusi’s face, excitement bouncing off him, Vusi motioned for me to come over to where he had just been, and to bring our guests. It seemed we were in for a surprise that I never would have expected.

There it was between the grass, as relaxed as one can be, the most trafficked animal in Africa and a very rare animal to see in nature, the Pangolin.

Currently, It is so endangered that it is under the protection of international law.

 

Seeing this animal was one of the best moments in my life as we know how rare it is to spot such an endangered animal out in the wild. I explained to my guest just what a privilege it was to have spotted one. I ran back to the vehicle, grabbed my camera and took a few pictures to document the incredible experience. Vusi and I spent time with the guests and this most amazing animal.

The main reason why it is the most trafficked animal is that it is believed that parts of a Pangolins body possess spiritual and curative powers. The Pangolin is often used for traditional medicine and spiritual purposes as well as hunted and trafficked for their meat.

Pangolins are truly unique animals and anyone that is lucky enough to observe them in their natural environment will come to see that there are no other species quite like them in the animal kingdom.

 

Besides their uniqueness, they are characteristically shy, solitary and primarily nocturnal.

A few other interesting facts about pangolins are:

1.)    Pangolins roll up into an endearing, impregnable ball when threatened, protecting its feet, soft belly and interesting face. They also protect their young by curling up around them.

2.)    They are the world’s only truly scaly mammals. Covered in hundreds of individual scales comprised of keratin – similar to our hair or fingernails which continues to grow throughout their lives.

3.)    The pangolin has a strong and sticky tongue in place of teeth. It uses this tough to catch its food which is longer than its head and body when extended.

4.)    Pangolins are capable swimmers. Some pangolin species like the African ground pangolin are completely terrestrial, while others like the African tree pangolin are very good climbers, and use their claws  and tail to get the bark to get up trees

5.)    Mother pangolins keep their young down in burrows. They only start to be mobile when they old   enough to ride on their mom tails.

6.)    Their diets consist mainly of insects like ants and termites.

7.)    Adult pangolins are very solitary animals, almost like hermits. They prefer living a solitary life rather than in pairsor families.

What an amazing find and what a privilege to share such a great animal with guests while out on safari in the South African bush!

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Hancho Olivier


Harsh Times

Africa can be a harsh environment for animals. The blazing hot South African sun beats down relentlessly on the ground below. If there is little or limited rains, animals have to find a way to survive.

During these harsh times, animals need to discover ways to access as much water, nutrients and moisture as possible. Being out on a game drive can give you a front row seat to witness just how amazing nature can be!

Trees don’t waist all their resources to produce excessive leaves as it takes a lot of energy, so they store all the minerals and water in their roots. Elephants, for instance, have learned to push trees down exposing the roots of the trees, allowing them to eat on it, not just for food but also to get the all essential moisture from the stored up reserves. With the trees pushed down, this helps the smaller animals too who can’t reach the higher parts where there still may be succulent leaves to feed upon. That is only one problem solved though.

Due to their size, however, elephants have to solve the problem of keeping cool in the burning sun. They use their big ears as a fan in a way, flapping them side to side, not to create a cool breeze to over their body but rather to cool down the blood that flows through their ears. When the blood is cooled down, the cooled down blood flows to their heart which is then pumped through the rest of their body, helping to cool them down.

Although a great and effective method, this is not the only way that elephants can cool down their huge bodies. Elephants will often go for a swim or wallow in a mud bath. With mud bathing they will roll around in the mud and use their trunks to throw mud over their backs and cover their whole body. Not just cooling the body down but the mud acts as an extra layer to protect them again direct sunlight, acting as natural sunblock.

 

Other animals that also enjoy a good mud bath are animals such as rhinos, buffalo and warthog’s. After a good wallow, rhinos will go to a scratch post, rubbing themselves against the bark removing all the excess mud. By doing this, it helps to removes all the unwanted ticks and parasites. After all this hard work they will go and relax under shade to keep cool until the sun starts to set.

 

 

Animals that don’t mud bath, have different methods of keeping cool, such as the impala. A very tough animal that can survive the most extreme weather conditions. With the lack of shade in some parts and the sun baking on the ground, the heat radiates back off the ground, acting almost like an oven baking from both sides.

Impala have adapted to withstand the extreme heat. They have three different shades of color on their body. The top part is dark, heating up quickly, the middle part of the body is slightly lighter color, allowing the heat to escape quicker when the heat travels down the body. Lastly the belly of the impala is white, to reflect the heat that comes from the ground.

 

 

Most predators like the lions and leopard, will be inactive as much as possible, sleeping most of the day under shade, waiting patiently for the sun to set behind the horizon, so that they can become active after sunset.

 

 

These are just some basic methods of how animals have adapted to survive the extreme heat and try their best to survive through a possible drought.

Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Ben Scheepers