In a year when we haven’t spent as much time taking guests out on safari, my highlight came late but was nevertheless a real spectacle. “What are you hoping to see while you are here, in famous Kenya, on safari?” is a question that I always ask my guests in my ‘safari office’ which doubles as my safari vehicle.
When Eric and Randi, a couple who are time-and-again safari-goers, mentioned a kill, we all understood the effort it would take. They mentioned it as an unforeseeable occurrence which any safari enthusiast knows could happen any time, but I said, “just say it out loud – you never know! Nature might conspire to bring it home to you.”
On the final hours of their last evening out on safari, a lioness from the Angama Pride stood poised on the perch of one the trees on the way up the hill to camp, sweeping the area for potential prey.
Eland aren’t usually on a lioness’s menu, but a lonely male caught her eye and two more lionesses from her pride joined in the hunt. A quick succession of events followed and the eland ran into a gulley. Everything suggested success in favor of the three girls from the Angama Pride, but the eland ran and leapt away from them; this battle was won by the eland.
It all started just like a normal day in the Mara, with incredible sightings of elephants, lions and cheetah. I was heading back to camp when we came across a huge herd of elephants. Of course we stopped to enjoy the amazing sight and as soon as I switched off the engine of the vehicle, I noticed something unusual. An elephant cow had something bulging on her underside and for a minute I thought she had some abnormalities or a deformity. But within a blink of an eye I realized it wasn’t a deformity but a baby emerging from her birth canal.
Quickly and quietly, I told my guests, “Take videos and photos – she is going to give birth!” as I also got my phone out to capture the moment.
Within seconds the baby was on the ground, fully covered by the placenta, and the whole herd immediately rushed to the opposite side of the road right in front of our vehicle; the position where I was was incredible and as we didn’t have to move, we weren’t a disturbance. It was the most amazing sight I have witnessed in more than a decade of guiding. The sounds coming from the herd were incredible. They all surrounded the baby as the big cows rolled the baby over, trying to remove the placenta. Not all the cows were allowed to touch the baby, some of the youngsters were kneeling to the baby at some point, which I thought was some kind of welcoming ritual.
We noticed that the mother was not allowed to come close to the baby; every time she tried, one of the cows – presumably the matriarch – would chase her off. While the big cows helped the baby to stand, the rest of the herd surrounded them which was an incredible way to provide security to the little member who was helpless.
We were not ready to leave the sighting until we saw the baby walk, which happened after a long struggle of waking up, wobbling on all fours then rolling over. Luckily the big females were there to help and we could see the intelligence in those gentle eyes. After a while, the calf was able to take a few steps and within 40 minutes it was following its mum. We watched with big sighs of relief as they disappeared into the red oat grass.
On the way to the crossing we spotted a leopard dragging a baby wildebeest and eventually disappearing towards the river bank.
We proceeded onwards, and when arrived we found three male lions just resting by the crossing point with thousands of wildebeest already crossing the river. I suggested to my guests that we reposition because these males might do something.
As soon as we repositioned, the males got up and started hunting. They successfully brought down two wildebeest, and all the while the herds kept crossing the Mara River – a very exciting morning indeed.
I was on a drive with a family from Botswana, and although they were from Africa, they had never been on safari before. They were nervous about the open vehicle, but I assured them all would be well.
It turned out to be one of my shortest but most epic drives of all time. We found all the animals they had hoped to see, including Mary, a female rhino, for the first time since she’d had her calf. After that, we were off to see some lionesses and a few moments later I noticed a hyena under a tree. One of the guests seemed uneasy so I assured him it would be fine, but he insisted “are they good climbers? Would it jump into the car?”
As I started to explain, he quickly shifted seats and said, “like the other one up in the tree?” What a moment, as a leopard stormed down the tree and off into the grass!
One day my guests and I decided to take a long safari day and went looking for the Inselberg Pride of lions at the border. It didn’t take long; as soon as we got to Maji ya Chumvi, one of my colleagues informed me that one of the lions had made a kill near an area called Military Drift.
Excitement rose as we rushed there trying to find him, and true to my colleague’s word, we found him on a kill. We stayed there enjoying the sighting, and out of nowhere a lioness came running towards the male. At first I thought she wanted to join in the feast but she had other ideas she started seducing the male and they started mating right next to our vehicle!
About 300 meters from them was a female pride with cubs hiding, and these males seemed to be tracking them. As we were watching and admiring these males, one of the females appeared and suddenly two males began chasing her. She ran off, leading them towards the river and away from the cubs.
We joined the chase, and followed them from a distance. She outran them, but they never gave up and kept tracking her. She chose her hiding place, which was a very steep bank of the river, and carefully descended down the river. The males got there but couldn’t descend down the river and so opted to stay put and wait for her to come out – but that never happened as she let them doze off and cleverly sneaked downstream and escaped them.
Fred Ole Sinoni
Time to start our journey back home for lunch, it was quiet until we got to Maji ya Ndege, where our determination to get back for lunch was suddenly altered. The usual buffalo bulls that hang around a place called “Technology” were intently staring, so I slowed down to check. As I pulled off the road to have a better look, wow! Two male rhinos were running towards us.
At top speed, they came closer and eventually found one of the drainage pools. At this point I was able to figure out exactly what was happening: it was a real battle, the blows and screams filled the air, buffalo and waterbuck spectating as if they were taking sides. The fight got intense, noisy, and vigorous – I even contacted Rhino 1, the rhino monitoring team, if they could intervene. It was a real clash of the titans.
We see rhinos fairly often but that was the first time I’d seen evenly-matched bulls in a serious war. No doubt it qualified to be my sighting of the year.
My best sighting of the year was one beautiful morning when I found a male lion roaring, which is quite rare to see. And hearing this unique sound so close by is simply amazing.
Upon arrival, we found her on transit towards her territory and got a got a chance to view her in motion for a long time, very close. It was very special. She’s one of few leopards that is really used to vehicles, and she is clearly passing this on to her son.
After a couple of attacks, the baboon screamed and ran away very fast, causing nearly all the troop members to get attacked and they all got confused not knowing what to do. It was quite a spectacle.
Quite interesting, this year compared to previous years, I had several amazing serval sightings, including recently one on top of a Balanites tree spotted by my guest. Just like a tiny leopard.
It’s very strange behavior to see a big male lion mating with another male lion, I thought maybe it was a show of dominance within the coalition. It was something I had never seen before, and was my sighting of the year.
I continued arranging the table, but the jackal started barking again. We checked again with binoculars, and all of a sudden the guest shouted “cheetah!” I took my binoculars to look and confirmed it was actually a leopard! But the biggest surprise was seeing that this leopard had killed an ostrich.
Before we could get there, just on the road track, we found a lioness and her two young cubs running for their lives as something bad was about to happen. Little did we know the male lions were just a few meters away and two of the males, Kibogoyo and Doa, were chasing the lioness probably trying to get the two young cubs. Thankfully they got away.
It was beautiful to see all five male lions from the coalition walking behind one another – such mighty force. It was the most beautiful sighting I have ever seen of well-built lions mixed with dark and blonde manes having a walk together in the savannah. What a beautiful Mara we have, always full of surprises.
The lionesses took off on a chase, and were able to capture an oribi only because it was pregnant and slower than usual.
Despite this being a fascinating sighting I hadn’t seen before, it quickly became traumatic for one of my guests as the lion played with the injured oribi instead of killing it right away, so we departed to find the elephants we initially wanted to see, and the guests quickly relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed the serene herbivores going about their business with their babies playing.
It was a busy morning that highlighted the polar opposites that the Mara can offer, of high drama and calm peacefulness.
Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia has received a small founding group of cheetahs – the first of their species to return to this unique community-owned, protected wetland in almost a century.
On Thursday 17th December the Government of Zambia announced the successful translocation of an initial three cheetahs from South Africa resulting from a collaboration between Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), African Parks, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Ashia Cheetah Conservation and National Geographic. Their reintroduction is part of the ongoing process to restore Bangweulu’s biodiversity and aid efforts to secure safe spaces to promote the long-term survival of the species in the region.
“With the reintroduction of cheetahs to this extraordinary wetland, Bangweulu serves as a paragon for community conservation. Our unique partnership with the Community Resource Boards and African Parks has unlocked an opportunity here to help protect this vulnerable species from extinction in the wild while helping to revitalize Bangweulu and enhance nature-based tourism” said Dr Chuma Simukonda, Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. “We are proud to be working together to preserve biodiversity, securing lasting benefits not just for local communities and for all Zambians – but as a contribution to securing a sustainable legacy for the planet”.
The translocation initiative arises from a longstanding partnership between Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) and conservation non-profit African Parks, which has managed Bangweulu Wetlands since 2008. The partnership worked in conjunction with the EWT’s Cheetah Range Expansion Project to source three healthy males from reserves in South Africa, which were flown to Bangweulu, in north-eastern Zambia, on December 15th.
The cheetahs were safely released into temporary enclosures specially designed to support their acclimation and will be fitted with tracking collars to enable their long-term monitoring. The founder population is genetically unrelated, and the individuals were sourced from three reserves, namely Mountain Zebra National Park (Eastern Cape), Rogge Cloof (Northern Cape) and Welgevonden (Waterberg, Limpopo).
“In many parts of the continent cheetahs face an uncertain future, but today the Zambian Government and Bangweulu’s communities are providing a chance for their recovery,” said James Milanzi, African Parks’ Zambia Director. “Thanks to our 12-year partnership with the DNPW and six CRBs, Bangweulu has seen a dramatic transformation. The reintroduction of cheetahs marks a new ecological milestone and an exciting new chapter for eco-tourism to this region”.
At 6,570 km², Bangweulu is of suitable size and habitat to support a viable cheetah population. Its connectivity to other protected areas provides the added potential of establishing a healthy metapopulation to promote the long-term persistence of the species in the region.
With fewer than 7,000 cheetahs remaining in only a fraction of their historical range, safe, protected areas are essential to the survival of the species in Africa’s wild landscapes. “We’ve managed to double wild Cheetah numbers in the fenced protected areas in Africa over the past decade. Thanks to community work initiated by African Parks, reintroductions into unfenced systems are now possible. This will be our first attempt” said Vincent van der Merwe, EWT’s Cheetah Range Expansion Project Coordinator. “We are especially grateful to Ashia Cheetah Conservation which sponsored flights, collars and vet services, and to National Geographic for making this reintroduction possible. We also want to thank the Ford Wildlife Foundation, PWC, and Paul King for providing logistical and financial support for the Cheetah Range Expansion Programme”.
Bangweulu — which means ‘where the water meets the sky’— is designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International and as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance. This unique community-owned, protected wetland is not only a life source for a wide variety of wildlife but supports 50,000 people who rely on the landscape’s rich resources. Progress in restoring Bangweulu has seen poaching decline dramatically, wildlife populations steadily climb, and tourism and other enterprise projects contributing revenue to the area and its communities.
Stichting Natura Africae, WWF-The Netherlands and WWF-Zambia have provided key multi-year support for the overall management of Bangweulu Wetlands, helping to build its ecological, economic, and social sustainability.
“Witnessing the loss of a species is heartbreaking,” said James Milanzi, “but there is nothing quite as hopeful as seeing its return.”
By African Parks/Endangered Wildlife Trust
Central Mozambique is a place in constant flux: fire and rain, conflict and peace, absence, and abundance. But in the middle of it all sits the unmoving fulcrum of Gorongosa National Park, tirelessly protecting one of the most diverse ecosystems, not only in Africa, but on the planet. I was able to spend a few years documenting and living its story.
I landed in Gorongosa, fresh out of graduate school in 2016 as a biologist-turned-cinematographer and was immediately thrown right into the middle of things. My job was to track and film the nature and conservation stories that would endlessly blossom around the park. It was my first time on the continent, my first time living so far from home, and my first experience filming some of the world’s most dangerous animals in such close proximity.
Gorongosa National Park was proclaimed in 1960. The historical section covers an area of 3,719 km² (371,900 hectares), and the buffer zone around the park increases the total size of the protected area to 9,419 km² (941,900 hectares). The Gorongosa Mountain was proclaimed as a protected area in 2010.
Just as soon as the war for independence ended, civil war erupted in 1977 and continuing for decades before it finally ended in 1992. In the centre of the country, Gorongosa National Park became embroiled in the heart of the conflict. The park’s wildlife became a resource for the fighters: bushmeat filled bellies and ivory lined pockets and paid for weapons. 90% of the regions large mammal species vanished.
The park languished for nearly twelve years until the Gorongosa Restoration Project was formed in a partnership between the Mozambican government and philanthropist Greg Carr – a project intended to breathe life back into the landscape. The goal of restoring the park to its former ecological glory was an ambitious one, but it is one that has seen hard-won progress since the project’s inception.
When I arrived in Gorongosa, the process of recovery had been underway for nearly a decade. My first impression was similar to that of many visitor’s: the park was an antelope Eden. By then, their numbers had returned to pre-war levels. As the most abundant antelope species, waterbuck numbers had reached numbering over 55,000 (more than 10 times as many as during the war) and they dotted the landscape like a southern Serengeti.
Beyond the vast antelope populations, there’s a kaleidoscope of unique life. Rainforests, savannas, grasslands, and even limestone gorges support a cast of characters from the tiny (like the pygmy chameleons found nowhere else on earth) to the gigantic.
I spent days roaming the park in a specialized open Land Cruiser that had been modified for filming. Each day was a treasure hunt – searching for wildlife and showcase fascinating behaviour and chasing the perfect light and composition. One of the more common hazards were the herds of elephants. Being highly intelligent, many individuals carried physical and emotional wounds from the war.
My job entailed more than just filming natural history – it was more about telling the stories of how human and animal lives overlap, documenting the people living and working in and around the park. Stories of scientists, conservationists, veterinarians, rangers, health care workers, and the many communities outside the park.
A hands-on approach to recovery has been guided by the restoration efforts of a team of conservationists and biodiversity scientists. They monitor populations and habitats to strategize ways to build complexity into the web of life while maintaining stability for the park’s ecosystem.
Gorongosa is an entirely different place from the air – a perspective that reveals its true vastness. Watching masses of slithering crocodiles and snorting hippos from an open-door helicopter were some of my favourite moments, as were going on anti-poaching patrols with Alfredo Matavele, the pilot of the park’s Bat Hawk light aircraft.
Tensions between humans and wildlife were particularly high when I arrived, and illegal hunting was commonplace. I spent much of my time with the Carnivore Conservation Team. The above image shows tireless conservationist Paola Bouley in front of the funeral pyre of M02 – one of the park’s lions. Paola is holding the GPS collar that had been used for monitoring the lion’s movements. Like many other lions, M02 was killed by a poacher’s gin-trap – an accidental death caused by indiscriminate poaching.
Rangers are usually locals, tasked with bridging the gap of understanding between their own communities and the wildlife. In the above image, a local leader (far left) presides over a traditional ceremony to bless the translocation of a brown hyena into the park. The hyena had been killing chickens, goats and even dogs on community land, but the community reached out to the park instead of taking drastic action.
To me, the most tangible sign of the park’s success has been the reduction of snaring. Teams sweep an area to find and remove snares, creating safe zones for the larger animals.
Lions were the only large carnivore present during the park’s restoration. Now, with the lion population safe, a pack of 14 African painted wolves (wild dogs) have been reintroduced. Filming their reintroduction was my favorite project, and I spent innumerable hours with them, getting to know their unique characteristics: Beira the stoic alpha female, Minimini the young upstart, Ndarassica the trickster…
My work over the years was focused towards creating long-form documentaries, often specifically for Mozambicans to be broadcast on national television. Even in the buffer-zone, cinema finds a way and small movie-huts play DVDs for an enthralled audience. There is also a community outreach team that organizes public screenings of park media. The look of amazement on these faces makes my job worthwhile. It gives these kids a chance to understand and connect with their home in a way they might not otherwise experience – and gives them something to aspire to.
Not many people get lucky enough to live with iconic wildlife and tell the daily stories of the people doing what it takes for conservation to succeed. It was an experience that was sometimes frustrating, at times funny, and always rewarding. Even better, during my last year in Gorongosa, a litter of 18 painted wolf puppies were born, and I was there to watch them grow up.
Brett is a filmmaker and photographer who documents global wildlife, science, and conservation stories that inform and inspire action. A recovering biologist from the heartland of the United States, Brett embedded for nearly four years in Mozambique’s flagship conservation area, Gorongosa National Park. In his time there he helped create multiple award-winning films that can be seen on PBS, National Geographic, and Mozambique television. His photography of the park has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Associated Press, and Nature scientific journal.
Every once in a while, a safari sighting comes along that is simply remarkable. A sighting which is near impossible to explain in words, let alone do justice to it in photographs. Adam came across a leopard sighting this week unlike any other!
Angama’s weekly blog was established to document, and showcase, an average week in Kenya’s Mara Triangle. Normally, I go out into the park with the same objective: capture 20 photographs across a broad spectrum of subjects, so as to do the entire week justice. I am always on the lookout for new stories and fresh ideas; original ways to capture arguably the most photographed landscape in the world.
Each week is different, and the amount of time I spend out in the grasslands varies too. The Mara ecosystem is so prolific that on average it takes me about two drives to get a healthy, and honest, account of the week. Of course I am but one person, often with my radio turned off, and so I miss a huge amount of the action, but I am never disappointed.
But once in a while there is a single sighting that is so incredible, so spectacular, and unusual that regardless of what else happened that week, it simply can’t compare. And this was one of those weeks.
It seems fitting that in my last post for the year, before I head home to South Africa to visit family over the festive season, I conclude 2020 with what was without a doubt my most memorable, and unusual sighting. I must have taken about 35 000 photographs in the Mara Triangle this year, covering all aspects of life, from the raging floods, to coalition take-overs, from macro shots of ants through to tractors rebuilding roads. And I thought I had seen it all…
Until I saw a female leopard hoist an ostrich.
But first, let me rewind a bit. I decided to go out on a solo Sunday afternoon drive; it’s something I often do. I had heard reports of a leopard down in the south of the Triangle in an area known as ‘The Salt Lick’. I went out in the heat of the day knowing I was unlikely to see much, but hoping to find a sleeping cat and to sit with it until it woke.
Circling around the Salt Lick area I saw a hooded vulture take flight and I went to inspect what it had been feeding on. I was not expecting to find ostrich feathers scattered around a 10-metre radius. The black feathers gave away that it had been a male. I could see the intestines neatly discarded, but no body in sight. Feathers were everywhere – it must have been a terrific battle. The ankle-height grass and some dried mud allowed me to find a faint drag mark, giving an indication as to where the carcass had been moved. My initial assumption was that a lion must have been the cat behind the kill. I had heard a few reports of lions killing ostriches, but had never witnessed it myself.
I drove towards the solitary fig tree and was surprised not to find a splayed out ostrich, let alone a fat and sleepy lion. Almost out of habit I looked up. There high up in the trees was a ball of mangled feathers. I looked closer. It was part of an ostrich, but certainly not the whole bird. It was hard to make it out but it looked like just a portion of a wing. How odd, I thought. I looked around and in the distance could hear a bubbling stream about 150 meters away. It was very bushy in that area around another, even larger fig tree. I decided to investigate. There was nothing up in the tree; no kill nor leopard. I drove away confused. What was the explanation? I decided to wait so I parked in some shade, pulled out a novel and read. From my position, I could see both trees. Weekends are tough in the Maasai Mara. Two hours later, I saw some movement at the base of the second fig tree. My heart leapt when through my binoculars I could see the outline of a leopard…a small leopard. Surely not an adult? The cub saw me and dived back into the long grass.
I waited… Patiently.
Then not so patiently.
About 45 minutes later, the cub came out again, giving me a chance to snap off a few still images. It was inspecting the trunk and the main branches of the tree above. I have witnessed enough leopard behavior in my time to know that this is often a sign of a restless cub who wants to climb. I moved the car closer just in case. No more than 10 seconds later and she was up and climbing the trunk. My camera settings were completely off but fortunately her climbing technique was poor and I was able to rescue a few images. I was more prepared when the mother came out. But nothing could have prepared me for the fact that in her mouth was half an ostrich. Now, having lived the camp life for over a decade, I have seen plenty of genets clambering up trees with stolen chicken drumsticks out of the kitchen, but have you any idea how big and how long an ostrich leg is?
The power of this leopard was extraordinary. She rested halfway up the tree, whilst the cub tried to paw at the lifeless bird, before she lugged it even higher, and eventually out of sight. Sensing a greater confidence now in the two normally very skittish animals, I moved the car slowly closer… and closer… until I was about 25 metres away.
The inquisitive cub slowly started to grow bolder, moving along branches towards me. The mother slept. After an hour or so the cub was so bored of her sleeping mom that she proceeded to wake her up in the canopy, biting her ears and her tail. I had front row seats to the most incredible show.
Having studied the leopards in the Mara Triangle for the past three years, I knew who this female was, but I had never been able to get her to relax enough to get a good photograph of her, and certainly not to just watch and enjoy her. I had also driven through this area many times before and gazed across at this fig tree thinking to myself how amazing it would be to see a leopard in its branches.
Well, I personally feel that this is the grand finale in what has been a truly unique year. One that will never be forgotten. I have reached out to a handful of big cat experts and scientists, and have not received any confirmed reports of a leopard having hoisted an ostrich before. And whilst that is of course one incredible aspect, the other is of course the fact that the carcass was seemingly split between two trees. It leaves me wondering if this was done on purpose by the leopard, intentionally hedging her bets, or if something else had happened moments before my arrival on the scene? I guess we will never know. And isn’t that one of the best things about the bush?
BY ADAM BANNISTER
Some 580 elephants have taken everyone by surprise by moving between Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda) and the savanna area in neighboring Virunga National Park (DR Congo).
At the start of this year, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo was home to just over 100 African bush elephants (savanna elephants – Loxodonta africana). Over the past thirty years, their numbers had been decimated from some 8,000 in 1980 to around 500 in 2015 and 120 by the start of 2020. Internal conflict in the region has fueled poaching by rebel militia groups and made the work of the dedicated park staff and conservationists both vastly challenging and exceptionally dangerous. And so this latest development of significant conservation importance.
Virunga National Park, as Africa’s oldest national park, covers some 7,700km2 (nearly 800,000 hectares) and is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its exceptional variety of habitats and biodiversity. The long, narrow park lies on the eastern boundary of the Democratic Republic of Congo and is perhaps most well-known for the extensive gorilla conservation efforts in the forested portions of the park.
The Effects of Covid-19
As with most parks throughout Africa, COVID-19 has placed Virunga under severe strain without any revenue from visiting tourists and both poaching incidents and attacks on park staff and civilians have increased. April 2020 saw one of the deadliest attacks in recent history when rebel militia killed four civilians and 13 staff members. Emergency funding from UNESCO and other organizations helped park officials erect walls and hire armed protection. The park also reached out to surrounding communities to help with providing security and economic support.
While still dealing with the aftermath of the tragic incident, park officials were stunned when 580 elephants entered the park in July. While in the past it was common for small herds to move between Queen Elizabeth National Park and Virunga, years of conflict had deterred most of their natural movements, and the return of such large numbers is unprecedented.
In the absence of elephants and other large herbivores, alien plant life was running rampant in the savanna regions of the park. However, according to Virunga officials, the bolstered elephant population has begun to reshape the landscape far sooner than anyone could have expected, restoring the habitat to grassland savanna.
Perhaps even more astoundingly, in just seven months, the return of the elephants and their subsequent impact on the habitat has prompted the return of other iconic mammals including buffalo, Ugandan kob, warthog and topi. The first lions were also seen in the region for the first time in nearly two decades.
The arrival of the elephants in Virunga is testament to the dedication of park authorities and conservationists under exceedingly trying conditions. It also means that they now have their work cut out for them in ensuring the safety of the new arrivals, as well as assuming responsibility for supporting neighboring communities.
The director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel De Merode, said, “The return of large elephant herds to Virunga is the outcome of decades of extraordinary efforts on the part of Congo’s park rangers. Considerable work remains to ensure that the park makes a significant contribution to the wellbeing of the local community.”
Those wanting to support the park can do so through donations to the Virunga Fund, a joint effort between Virunga National Park, Global Wildlife Conservation, Emerson Collective, the European Commission and Leonardo DiCaprio. Funds will go towards law enforcement and security efforts in the park to protect both the wildlife and the people, as well as to the families of the rangers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
While out on a beautiful African safari bush walk at South Africa’s Kapama Reserve one morning looking for the smaller things that nature has to offer, the bush offered an amazing surprise! We had spotted a few zebras, impala and giraffes and other general game enjoying the mid-morning sun and light breeze. While I was explaining a few facts about fauna and flora in the area, we came across a beautiful specimen that surprised myself as well as our guests. We found an African Rock Python.
A few interesting facts about the rock python
- The African rock Python is a non-venomous snake and kills by constriction
- Weighing in at around 50 kilograms with a length of approximately 4 metres, it can come across as very intimidating
- The African rock python is Africa’s largest snake
- It is one of the six largest snake species in the world (this includes the green anaconda, reticulated python, Burmese python, Indian python, and amethystine python)
- The head is triangular and marked on top with a dark brown “spear-head” outlined in buffy yellow
These are ambush-hunters and rely on stealth and cryptic coloration as camouflage. They will lie and wait for their prey and as soon as they come across it they will bite into them and wrap their bodies around the prey and slowly slowly constrict.
So why was the snake out in the open today. Well the reason is most probably because we are going into summer. The African rock python comes out of a semi-hibernation period. During the colder months they actively slow down their metabolism and consume as little energy as possible. But by this time they must be very thirsty and very hungry. This particular python was on the move and it seems it had been travelled quite a distance in search of the nearest water source.
A thrilling encounter for guests and it was great to share this with them.
Story and images by Ian de Weerd
Rescue team members join Asiwa on the barge trip to the conservancy. Ami Vitale / Save Giraffes Now
In an adventurous boat rescue, wildlife and conservationist groups worked together to rescue a giraffe from its flooded rangeland in Kenya. Asiwa, a female Rothschild’s giraffe, had been stranded by herself on Longicharo Island, a rocky lava pinnacle. Other stranded giraffes will also be rescued soon.
A team from the Texas-based nonprofit Save Giraffes Now worked with local area groups and community members to capture and move the 16-foot-tall giraffe to her new home in the Ruko Community Wildlife Conservancy, a protected wildlife reserve.
“The rescue, particularly of Asiwa, who was trapped on an about one-acre island due to the flooding was challenging, as we did not want her to run into the water,” David O’Connor, president of Save Giraffes Now, tells Treehugger.
“We worked with Kenya Wildlife Service and Northern Rangelands Trust and sedated her and then put some guide ropes on her shoulders and a hood and then we got her on her feet, and slowly walked her to the specially made barge.”
Built by Ruko community members, the barge is made of rectangular steel floating atop empty drums for buoyancy. It has reinforced sides to keep the giraffe from jumping out. Boats on all sides of the barge gently maneuvered it during the four-mile trip to the 4,400-acre fenced sanctuary.
“Upon arrival, we removed the hood and she walked off to her new home,” O’Connor says.
Protecting the Giraffes
Rothschild’s giraffes once roamed from the Rift Valley of central-west Kenya across Uganda to the Nile River. Today, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are only about 1,400 adult animals left , but their numbers are increasing.1
Conservationists reintroduced the giraffes to the peninsula in 2011 , in hopes that the isolated area would protect them from poaching and increase their population numbers.1
But the animals faced breeding challenges. Eight calves have been born since then, but only two have survived. The others were believed to be lost to pythons, nutritional issues, and other natural causes.
More recently, rising lake levels have turned the peninsula into an island, trapping the giraffes. Asiwa was totally cut off from the rest of the giraffes so she was the first one to be rescued.
“When the giraffes were moved to the island it was a peninsula, but then the lake levels rose and it became an island, and the lake continued to rise,” O’Connor says. “For Asiwa, she was cut off from the rest of the giraffes on a low-lying part of the island, she would have been flooded. For the other giraffes on the bigger part of the island, in the dry season they do not have food and have to be supplementary fed.”
Coming Together in Conflict
For many years, the local communities in the Lake Baringo area were in constant conflict. But as the plight of the giraffes continued to deteriorate, the elders of the tribes brought the people together to work to protect the animals. They created the Ruko Community Conservancy, forming its name from the Rugus and Komolion areas the people inhabit.
Rangers from the conservancy have been taking food to the stranded giraffes and performing health checks to make sure they are OK. They are keeping them fed and healthy until they can also be moved to safety.
Two young juvenile females, Susan and Pasaka (also known as Easter), are scheduled to be moved later this week. Four remaining adult females (Nkarikoni, Nalangu, Awala, and Nasieku) and one adult male, Lbarnnoti, will be moved early next year.
Nkarikoni is seven months pregnant — about halfway through a 15-month gestation. If all goes well, the new calf will be born in the sanctuary.
“Save Giraffes Now and the Ruko community created a special 4,400-acre fenced giraffe sanctuary in the Ruko community,” says O’Connor.
“The community is behind these giraffes, and the sanctuary will be well protected. We hope as the giraffes in the sanctuary slowly increase in population, and conditions outside the sanctuary improve, we can release them into the broader Ruko Wildlife Conservancy.”
With views of Kenya’s famous Mount Kilimanjaro and an abundance of elephants, a recount of a recent photography expedition to Amboseli National Park!
There must be only a handful of African safari destinations where the elephant viewing is as extraordinary as it is at Amboseli National Park. As I discovered, a journey here guarantees up-close and emotional encounters with one of the true icons of wild Africa.
At just 392 square kilometers, Amboseli is a tiny park in the greater scheme of things, but it punches far above its weight when it comes to game viewing. Scenically, it is spectacular. Nestled between Lake Amboseli, and the magnificent Mount Kilimanjaro, no matter which direction you look, the views are remarkable. Classic flat-topped acacia trees, and white sandy soils top it off as one of the true wonders of Kenya.
My most recent trip was planned to coincide with the pinnacle of the dry season; a time when there is so little water around that animals are forced to congregate at the few natural springs to drink. Dust devils sweep across the landscape, adding even more drama to an already arid scene.
The highlights, of course, are the elephants. Large family units march across the dry lake bed in daily pursuit of water and food. By staying at the delightful Tortilis Camp, you are able to explore a private conservancy, just on the border of the National Park. From here, you have unrestricted access to the dry lake and it is here that the photographic magic happens.
There really are no words to describe the feeling of watching a herd of 50 elephants marching silently in single file across the muddy flats – not a blade of vegetation in sight. Whether you are a photographer or not, it is a one-of-a-kind experience that will strike a chord deep inside.
Years and years of mutual respect, and of being observed, these elephants are incredibly relaxed and patient of people. The result: you can get closer to them here than you can in most other parks in Africa.
Sitting in silence you can hear their feet break the muddy crust as they walk past just a few meters from the vehicle. For a moment, time stands still. So strikingly different from the open grasslands and lush landscape of the Maasai Mara, Amboseli offers a fantastic combination if you are looking for a safari with diversity, contrasts and unrivalled beauty.
I hope you enjoy this visual feast of some of the many, many photographs I took during my three-night stay at Tortilis Camp.
We at South Africa’s Kapama Private Game Reserve assist our local community in numerous ways, one of which is through the education of surrounding community’s children. We partnered with an NGO called EcoChildren a few years back. This non-profit organization focuses on hands-on environmental education and whole school development. EcoChildren works with schools in and around Bushbuckridge as well as Acornhoek in the Limpopo Province to improve the level of schooling and give local children a chance to escape the shackles of poverty.
One of EcoChildren’s key focus points is the construction of libraries at schools. Research done by the University of Pretoria has shown that 8 of 10 Grade 4 pupils still can’t ready at the required and appropriate level. South Africa was placed last out of 50 countries in the progress in the International Reading Literacy Study. Furthermore, our scores have not improved since 2011. This shows how imperative it is for young children to have access to books and an environment conducive to stimulate this interest. The ability to read by Grade 4 is crucial. From Grade 1-3, the focus is on learning to read, but Grade 4 onwards the focus shifts to reading to learn.
EcoChildren has recently completed construction of their sixth and seventh libraries at local schools to help pupils attending the schools to improve their level of reading and promote a culture and love for books. The buildings themselves are colorful and cool havens of learning. All they need now are books and children to complete the picture.
Now the task remains to fill the shelves!
Kapama Private Game Reserve has launched a Children’s Book Drive to assist EcoChildren in filling the shelves of the new school libraries. With your help, we can enrich the lives of these children. Educational as well as storybooks will go a long way in furthering their education.
We would love for you to get involved. If you have any children’s books lying around not being used and collecting dust, we would be more than willing to take them off your hands. The books can be English, Sepedi, Tsonga for the ages of 5-14 years.
Please feel free to contact our Community Officer Trichia Jacobs via email at email@example.com for more information on our book drive and how to get involved.
By Kapama Reserve