When South Africa’s Kwandwe Private Game Reserve was first established for conservation and safari goers, the founding populations of wildlife included over 7,000 animals that had been relocated from various areas across the country. It was a mammoth task, quite literally – just imagine the planning and preparation that goes into moving an entire herd of elephants over thousands of kilometers! Lion, rhino and cheetah were among a multitude of species that were brought in; all had been locally extinct and some, like cheetah, for over 100 years. And whilst the birdlife didn’t require the same enormous effort to make a return as their mammalian counterparts, there was one notable exception…
In the preceding years, Red-billed Oxpeckers had become locally extinct in the Eastern Cape and their reintroduction to the Kwandwe area was imperative. The small birds form half of what is probably the most recognizable symbiotic relationship in the bush, so much so that it is hard to imagine life without them.
Their demise was ultimately caused by two main factors, the first of which was the dwindling number of their preferred hosts: buffalo and rhino. This resulted in a loss of the Oxpeckers’ prey – ticks – which in turn led to the birds using domestic livestock as host species. This, however, had disastrous consequences for as early as 1890, the livestock dips in use contained arsenic trioxide, a fatal chemical, and the local population of oxpeckers was erased entirely.
After being absent for the better part of a century, the first reintroduction of Oxpeckers took place in 1990. A total of 83 birds were relocated from the Kruger National Park to three separate areas around the Eastern Cape. One of them was the Great Fish River Reserve, right next door to Kwandwe, where 31 birds were released. A further 77 birds were then released in the same area in 2003, and subsequently several others in different locations within the province. The program has proved to be a great success and the birds have bred successfully, hugely increasing their numbers.
Current distribution maps show the expanding Oxpecker population throughout the Eastern Cape, and in the Kwandwe area, one can see first hand just how well they have flourished. A decade ago, we would be lucky to see a half a dozen Oxpeckers together and usually only on large herds of buffalo. Today, that many can be seen on a single giraffe! They continue to breed well, and we frequently see lots of juveniles who lack their namesake red bills and have black bills instead, making them easy to recognize. The more the numbers grow, the more we see them on all manner of host species, ranging in size from impala to giraffe.
Such determination to protect not only the large mammals and ‘special’ birds, but smaller species too is crucial to the conservation of our ecosystem as a whole. Gone are the days when we would use our binoculars to scour the backs of a rhino or buffalo herd in the hopes of finding an Oxpecker; now the Oxpeckers show us where the rhino and buffalo are – exactly how it should be!
Have you ever had the opportunity to spend a night in the African bush? One of those nights where the only thing between you and the outside wild is a sheet of canvas, and when you turn out all the lights, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face? And then the amazing night orchestra starts to play… And it’s not an app you may have downloaded to send you to sleep. This is the real deal. Lions roaring, hyenas cackling, hippos grunting: every sound has a story to tell and the vibrations when the animals are close will change you. It may seem scary, but you also know you are completely safe in your canvas hideaway…
I had the amazing privilege of staying at the brand-new Galpin Tented Camp on Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa, and what an incredible experience it was. As I mentioned above, we had lions calling in the distance almost all night! But, before I get into too much of that, let me set the scene. The tents at Galpin are all raised on wooden platforms with lovely decks outside the front tent flaps. Inside, super-comfortable beds are piled high with extra blankets if needed during the chilly months and there’s a full, en-suite bathroom so no need to leave your tent during the night. At the back, there’s even an outdoor shower – need we say more…
When you book Galpin, the bush adventure starts before you have even arrived at camp. For the journey there, you will hop onto a safari vehicle and embark on your first game drive through the reserve. No need to wait for later to go out into the bush! As you drive, you’ll pass water holes and open grasslands, and drive over and around hills, offering the opportunity to spot just about anything and everything. Then, tucked away at the foot of a hill, with a waterhole in front and an amazing view through a valley of open plains all the way to the dam, is Galpin Tented Camp. After a refreshing welcome drink at check-in, it’s then that you realize the guide and tracker you came with and the camp assistant are the only other people you will lay eyes on for the next couple days…
After an al-fresco lunch and an afternoon to settle in, it’s back to the adventure. Galpin Tented Camp is geared around walking and exploring the reserve on foot. Walking safaris are one of the best ways to feel that connection to the landscape and offer an opportunity to learn about the smaller animals of the bush. But perhaps for your first afternoon, you may want to embark on a drive to explore as much of the area as possible? Whichever you choose, remember to stop just before sundown and enjoy a drink as the sun dips below the horizon. A memorable part of any safari activity!
Returning to camp, you’ll find the fire blazing and a good old South African braai for dinner. The only lights are those of the fire and the twinkling of the lanterns around camp. Now, it’s time to enjoy a drink, tuck into good food and talk about the day and what’s to come tomorrow. At Galpin, memorable stories are created and unforgettable connections are formed – especially when there’s no Wifi to distract you…
Back in your tent, as you lay your head down on the soft pillows and “plug in” to nature’s call, some self-reflection may kick in; you realize that this is only check in day, and there is so much to look forward to including three new leopard cubs!!!
Since its inception in 2002, one of the Grumeti Fund’s main goals has been returning eastern black rhino, an incredible special animal to see on safari, to the western Serengeti; establishing a founder population contributing to the genetic pool and bolstering the greater Serengeti-Mara ecosystem’s rhino population. A couple of months ago, this ambitious conservation project reached an important and exciting goal: the birth of the first rhino calf at Singita Grumeti in decades!
Born to Lindiwe (which means “awaited”), one of the females translocated from South Africa last year, the new arrival gives fresh hope to a species that is considered critically endangered and, for many years, was locally extinct in this part of Tanzania. Less than 1,000 eastern black rhino remain in the wild today, after their numbers were decimated by poachers, starting in the 1970s. Since then, 99% of them have been wiped out or moved to rhino sanctuaries outside of East Africa, which is why their re-establishment in this region is so important for the Serengeti’s biodiversity.
The birth of this young rhino represents the culmination of years of hard work, the nurturing of numerous strategic partnerships and the development of the technical, logistical and financial resources that would allow for the Grumeti Fund to successfully bring eastern black rhino back to the area. Singita Grumeti, a 350,000-acre wildlife concession which serves as their new home, has seen a significant reduction in poaching thanks to the Grumeti Fund’s dedicated anti-poaching efforts. This round-the-clock operation sees the deployment of a special anti-poaching task team, an intelligence-gathering unit, mobile patrols, a canine unit and an airwing, all in service of the rhino’s safety and that of the wildlife alongside which they now live.
In 2019, the Grumeti Fund, in partnership with government stakeholders (primarily the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority), translocated a breeding nucleus of rhino from an out-of-range population in South Africa. Following an arduous journey in crates, trucks and airplanes, nine black rhino arrived safely in Tanzania in September. After a few months acclimatizing in custom-built rhino enclosures, they were successfully released into the reserve in November, with the birth of the first calf following seven months later. The pair are thriving under the watchful eye of the aerial and ground teams who monitor their movements 24/7.
Stephen Cunliffe, Executive Director of the Grumeti Fund, shared the organization’s plans for the rhinos: “We hope that a few more calves will be born. The speed at which their numbers are rebounding is very encouraging. There have been hardships along the way, but it’s all worth the significant effort and investments of donor funding, because at this point the population is increasing. To all who have been a part of this ambitious and visionary project, thank you! You are part of a great comeback story.”
Plans to translocate the next group of eastern black rhino to Singita Grumeti this year have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is hoped that the next phase will take place in 2021. The steady growth of the new satellite population and their eventual integration into the broader Serengeti ecosystem is the ultimate goal of the project; an undertaking that is essential to the re-establishment of the species in their ideal natural habitat and their future survival as a whole.
HELP THE GRUMETI FUND SAVE THE RHINOS
You can help the Grumeti Fund raise the money needed to fulfil the next phase of the Black Rhino Re-Establishment Project by making a donation directly to the organization. Every penny will go toward the planning, infrastructure, security and technology required to ensure that future generations are able to see these remarkable creatures roaming free in the wild, and saving another species from a fate that would disrupt the balance of nature for centuries to come.
The sweeping plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti are perhaps some of Africa’s most iconic and evocative safari landscapes, conjuring up images of classic East African safaris and the Great Migration – the most extraordinary wildlife spectacle on Earth. Located in these rolling grasslands is Singita Sabora Tented Camp, which has captivated guests for more than a decade with its inimitable setting at eye-level with grazing herds of wildlife. Reopening this year, following an extensive redesign, the new Singita Sabora is set to embody the essence of simplicity – a restorative sanctuary under canvas where connecting with nature comes naturally.
MODERN INTERPRETATION OF CLASSIC SAFARIS
With a classically modern take on African safari experiences that are both transitional and timeless – and embracing its incomparable location – the camp will offer the ideal environment for travelers yearning for privacy and calm. Each tented suite rests lightly and close to the ground and is designed to have a minimal environmental impact. Here, guests have the freedom to enjoy unfiltered time and space, while being transformed by this vast untouched wilderness.
Subtle but deliberate architectural details and décor elements welcome the breathtaking surroundings inside, offering seamless combinations of indoor and outdoor experiences. Singita’s signature levels of comfort are the cornerstones of the experience, guiding guests towards profound connections with nature.
The rediscovered Sabora will reflect an earthy color palette representing the natural tones of the African bush and touches of leather, canvas and cotton stitching – coupled with mesh and weave finishes throughout – provides sophisticated comfort, showcasing the continent’s contemporary cultural identity.
Sabora’s nine breathtaking tented suites will celebrate the romance of spending enchanted nights under canvas – with the sounds of the bush closer than ever before. The new camp has been skillfully reorganized to capture the best views over the plains, as well as two nearby waterholes, where game regularly gather to drink. Each self-contained suite includes extensive private living areas in which to rest, relax and immerse yourself in wellness activities like outdoor yoga, meditation, and guided rituals and treatments to soothe body and soul. The spacious design features a beautifully curated pantry for in-room dining, as well as a meditation deck, private fitness area and secluded outdoor sala with shaded daybeds from which to marvel at passing wildlife.
In the main lodge area, the addition of a unique ‘Guest Deli’, offering wicker baskets and fridges filled with gourmet bites, will allow guests to pick and choose treats to enjoy in their suites – or any private picnic spot they choose. There’s also a separate pool area, two intimate dining spaces and an open-plan bar and lounge, all featuring Sabora’s understated new look, emphasizing tailored luxury.
Destined to lead the way for modern tented experiences that allow you to reconnect with yourself within nature, Singita Sabora Tented Camp awaits those looking for extraordinary experiences that restore, revive and awaken the senses. Set in 350,000 acres of protected wilderness, its reopening in 2020 will provide travelers with the wide-open expanse of the western Serengeti, experienced through Singita’s unique perspective – and the start of something new, more considered and more meaningful than the life we’ve led before.
There is a significant amount of research and knowledge surrounding the role that older female African savannah elephants play in decision-making and leading their herds, but little is understood about the contribution of older males. The assumption has generally been that these old bulls are largely redundant in terms of the overall survival of the population, but a new study conducted in Botswana has yielded results that challenge this conclusion. Instead, researchers argue that the selective harvesting of older males (through trophy hunting and illegal poaching) could have detrimental effects on wider elephant society.
The authors explain that when animals move as a coordinated group, specific individuals may consistently be observed to influence the decisions and routes taken – whether due to their hierarchical dominance, a bolder temperament or advanced age. In species with a relatively long life expectancy, such as elephants or killer whales, older individuals have been seen to respond more appropriately to a change in environment, as well as mobilizing in response to potential threats. While research into this area has tended to be mostly female-focused, there is no reason why there should be a sex-based distinction in the accumulation of knowledge over time, nor is it necessarily the case that males do not have the potential to occupy socio-cognitive roles similar to the females of the species – acting as “repositories of ecological knowledge”.
In social animals, males are typically the dispersing sex and, therefore, are assumed to be replaceable. In elephants, the males tend to leave their natal herds between 10-20 years of age, roaming vast distances and often forming temporary associations with other males of various ages. In associating with older males, the study explains, adolescent bulls could benefit from decades’ worth of experience in utilizing their environment effectively while negotiating potential risks such as conflict with people.
The study was conducted in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park – where male elephants account for some 98% of the elephant sightings. The researchers focused on all-male groups travelling on pathways to and from the Boteti River. The results indicate that young elephants show a significant preference for travelling in groups and that mature adult males were more likely to lead these group movements. These findings applied throughout the year in both the wet and dry seasons, suggesting that these mature bulls offer a signification contribution to elephant society, regardless of the season. The researchers found little evidence that size (particularly stride length) influenced the positioning of individual elephants in the group.
This observed pattern of movement is in direct contrast to that of a breeding herd, where the matriarch will initiate movement and direction but generally move to the back of the group where she can monitor the members of the herd. The process appears to be more passive in male leadership, with the older elephant making decisions and the younger members of the group choosing to follow them. It is, however, an essential role in the male society of elephants, particularly when leading young males between crucial resources such as water.
While they represent the minority in elephant populations, bull elephants are targeted by trophy hunters and poachers due to their larger body sizes and tusks. The researchers suggest that their findings regarding the leadership of older males during collective movement complements other research into the importance of mature bulls in all-male societies. The study expresses concern that targeting these old male animals in trophy hunting could disrupt these all male-societies, as well as the “inter-generational flow of information concerning decades of accumulated ecological knowledge, such as effective navigation and location of critical resources”. Instead, the authors suggest, the role of mature bulls should be recognized as similar in male groups as that of a matriarch in a breeding herd and, as such, they should be afforded equal protection.
At the heart of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s conservation activities is the Orphans’ Project, which has achieved worldwide acclaim through its hugely successful elephant rescue and rehabilitation program.
Like many other countries in Africa, and across the world, Kenya is tackling challenges like habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict and poaching. The Sheldrick Trust, founded in 1977, is a pioneering conservation organisation, dedicated to the protection of wildlife and the preservation of habitats in East Africa.
Many will be familiar with the animal orphanage on the outskirts of the Nairobi National Park. It is here where the rescued orphaned elephants are initially housed. Selfless keepers take on the role of foster parents and look after these often very traumatized young elephants. It is possible to visit the orphanage year-round and anyone passing through Nairobi should consider adding it to their itinerary.
However, at the very core of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s work lies the intent of reintroducing these orphaned elephants back into the wild. The orphans are gradually reintroduced to a more normal life whilst being at the Nairobi shelter, but eventually they get too big for the facility and the next exciting phase of their lives begins.
Established in 2004, the Ithumba Reintegration Unit was built in the extremely remote northern sector of Tsavo National Park. Once elephants reach the age of three, they are no longer able to be housed in Nairobi and so they travel down to Ithumba. Here the slow process of ‘rewilding’ takes place.
At night, the elephants are housed in secure enclosures – largely to protect them from predators such as lion, which many of them would have yet to encounter.
Every morning at first light, the elephants are hand-fed milk by their keepers. Once they have drank a few litres they are grouped into smaller units of three or four individuals. A keeper will then walk with them out into the wild. The keeper’s role is to lead the walks and to keep a watchful eye over the orphans.
It is incredible to watch these men walking through the vegetation with their small extended family of pachyderms. They will be with these specific individuals for years and years. There can honestly be no greater ‘silent heroes’ in my opinion than these men.
Like clockwork, 11 am hits and the elephants know that it is time for the midday feed and playtime. The smaller units all group together for an hour of social interaction and wallowing.
In the heat of the day, head keeper Benjamin is out with the elephants as they frolic in the water. He takes notes and photographs each elephant every day. What stories he could tell? What connections with the animal world he must have.
After the midday play session, they regroup into their smaller units and are led in various directions. The keepers will choose different areas in an attempt to get the elephants as used to the landscape as possible.
At 5pm the elephants are walked back to the main enclosure. It is the most surreal experience to see them walking in single-file behind their beloved human friend.
Once back in their enclosure, there is still time for drinking and feeding and some more socializing – and it will all be repeated tomorrow.
This process will take place every single day for about five or six years, at which point an orphan, or a group of orphans, will decide that they no longer want to return to their night enclosure. An elephant will make the decision that it is ready for the big open wilderness and it will leave. I asked Benjamin to try explain this moment to me; he struggled. I could see in his eyes that the moment an elephant decided it no longer needed a human’s help, was the greatest achievement for the team, but also the saddest moment.
I cannot imagine the bonds that they must forge together over the years, nor the mix of emotions felt when an elephant doesn’t return. Incredibly, like out of a fairy-tale, these orphaned elephants often return years later, to reacquaint with their old guardians, and sometimes even to introduce their old human keepers to their wild-born calves.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this unit and to spend time with elephants and their keepers. This portion of Tsavo East is remote and beautiful. By opening up the experience to guests, Sheldrick have provided the opportunity for guests to truly get up close and personal with the elephants and to absorb as much as possible from this encounter.
Let food be thy medicine” – wise words to live by. In times of Corona, good health, a nutrient-rich diet and medicine are all at the forefront of many a mind, which means there couldn’t be a better time to introduce the spiraled Living Pharmacy garden at Kenya’s Angama Mara Safari Lodge.
Although The Living Pharmacy was designed and built during my last visit three years ago, the Shamba team hadn’t had a moment to install its plants until the recent absence of their much-loved guests. The team are usually kept frantically busy growing and supplying ‘garden-to-table’ fresh produce to the lodge’s kitchens or guiding guests to handpick their salad greens during a Shamba Lunch.
The pharmacy lives in the Shamba’s Zone 5 just behind the Manyatta and close to the chook hotel – (yes, even the chickens at Angama reside in style). It consists of two comma-shaped raised beds which morph into spiraling towers offering a range of easy-to-clutch natural remedies.
The two beds mirror each other and welcome visitors to sit on their curved lower walls whilst the shamba keeper explains the plants’ medicinal values. In the beds surrounding the spirals, you’ll find larger sprawling herbs and indigenous medicinal trees, many of which the Maasai use daily.
Plant varieties are arranged according to which hemisphere of the body they treat – the upper body in one spiral and the lower body in the other.
The healing properties of the available plants can be enjoyed in a variety of applications:
• Freshly brewed herbal teas are known to treat many an ailment and many of which happen to be delicious. My favorites are cinnamon basil and chamomile (separately) but others to try are ‘Bushman Tea’ (congestion), lemon balm (fevers, anxiety and depression), peppermint (upset stomach), fennel (halitosis), rosemary (depression, memory, circulation and even baldness) and lavender (strong anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties)
• Dried leaves: some medicinal herbs, such as Moringa, are easier to absorb when the leaves are dried. I’ll never forget the aroma of a medicinal healer’s hut where bowls of herbs were placed to dry on top a wood burner oven
• Fresh juices extracted from leaves and stems, tamed with a drop of honey and a kick of ginger. Some seasonal health juices on offer include green alkaliser, slick citrus, and beetroot boost
• Fresh leaves: simply chew on a Bushman’s Tea leaf and your congestion disappears. James, the head shamba keeper, reported on our recent Zoom catch-up call that guests found this one most effective
• More on the scrumptious side, health smoothies are loaded with antioxidant goodness thanks to moringa leaves and blueberries and are flavored with frozen banana and Maasai honey
• Fresh flowers: calendula petals have anti-inflammatory properties and are used to treat skin conditions. They also add a yellow coloring and spicy, saffron-like flavor to soups, salads, herb butter or pasta
• Flower buds, fresh or dried, such as dandelion have excellent detoxifying properties
• Floral tea: viola’s ancient name is ‘heartsease’ as a tea made of its flowers is an effective treatment for blood pressure
• Roots: Num num roots are boiled into a soup-like broth and used to treat toothache
• Chopped stems: not healing but still fun, such as the African Olive, are used as (plastic-free) toothbrushes
These are just a few of the remedies on offer. For the full experience James will tailor your next visit to the Shamba to meet your healing requirements.
The next time you’re in the pharmacy checkout aisle, I dare you to close your eyes and imagine you’re circling Angama Mara’s herb spirals and citrus labyrinth with the smell of freshly cut lemon balm in your nose, the Maasai Mara wilderness below you and a herb bundle clutched in your hand. The visualization alone is likely to kick start your body’s immune system.