The Kingdom of Thulamela

There is an ancient and sacred site on the Luvuvhu River in the northern reaches of the Kruger National Park that unlocks some of the fascinating history of southern Africa. The people of the walled kingdom of Thulamela first lived here about 400 years before Europeans first settled in South Africa. This was a sophisticated society of farmers, goldsmiths and traders who thrived by selling their manufactured jewelry and other goods to people from across the globe, using the river system to transport their goods to the east coast. I spent time at Thulamela with direct descendants of the Thulamela royal family as they paid their respects at the burial sites of a king and queen from way back when.

There are about 300 identified archaeological sites in Kruger National Park, ranging from early Stone and Iron Age settlements to more recent historical buildings. The 9-hectare Thulamela site is the largest and most dramatic of several ancient stone-walled sites in the area. This stone fortress was inhabited by an estimated 2,000 people from AD  1250 to AD  1700, rediscovered in 1983 by a park ranger and painstakingly restored in the 1990s. The stone walls have been beautifully reconstructed by masons who worked for 14 months and packed more than 2,000 tons of the original stones to rebuild the ancient circular kraals – without cement or mortar, just as they were several hundred years ago.

The meaning of the name Thulamela is not clear, with some sources suggesting it to mean ‘growing mound’, in reference to the tall anthills in the area and others suggesting “the place of giving birth” or alternatively ‘seed of stillness’.

The spectacular Thulumela walled kingdom is perched on a rocky hill overlooking the Luvuvhu River and shares its spectacular view with massive baobab trees, some dating back thousands of years – certainly far earlier than human settlement in the area. The kingdom was built by the Makahane subtribe – members of the Vhalembethu clan of the Karanga tribe (Shona ethnic group) from Zimbabwe. These are the forefathers of the Venda people.

 

 

SACRED LEADERSHIP

 

This was a hierarchical society, and the royal family ruled from their stone-walled fortress on the hill, while the commoners lived below where they farmed and mined iron ore from about 200 sites. These civilizations were amongst the first in Africa to show the characteristics of sacred leadership and social classes.

According to oral histories, the people of Thulamela believed that there was a mystical relationship between their leader (the Khosi) and the land and that the ancestors of the Khosi would intercede on behalf of the nation. The Khosi was an elusive figure who lived a secluded life in a hilltop palace and could only be seen by specific individuals. If a commoner wished to meet the Khosi, he would go to a special chamber that was divided probably by a central wall separating the visitor from the Khosi. The concept of sacred leadership transcends that of today’s king and queen.

 

 

GRAVES

 

During the 1996 archaeological excavations, 2 graves were found beneath hut floors.

The first skeleton discovered was that of a female, dated to around AD 1600. Anatomists believe she was somewhere between 45 and 60 years old and measurements of her bones indicate that she was over 1.73m tall. Her body had been laid on its side with her hands folded under her cheeks – the losha position, indicating respect. As a result, archaeologists named her Queen Losha. She was buried along with 291 gold beads, a gold bracelet on her left arm and copper wire on her legs. Queen Losha was later reburied on the site, with 800 people attending the ceremony.

The second skeleton, a male, was dated to around AD 1450 and it is possible that he never lived at ThulamelaThe skeleton was broken and packed in a square shape, implying that the person did not die on the site. He had injuries to the lumbar vertebrae consistent with a sharp object and was buried with 73 gold beads and 990 ostrich egg beads. The archaeologists named him King Ingwe (leopard) because, on the day that his grave was found, a leopard was waiting as the excavating team returned to their vehicle.

 

TRADE

 

As we strolled the ancient fortress, we were shown various artefacts and tiny remnants collected from the site that reflect the extensive trade links of these people. Glass beads, Chinese porcelain, imported textiles, ivory bracelets, gold, bronze, and other jewelry have all been found. Skilled artisans forged gold and iron which were traded as currency in exchange for ivory, glass beads and grain from merchants closer to the east coast. There were likely also trade links with West Africa. Goods were ferried along the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers to Mozambique for onward distribution via Arab traders to markets in the Middle East, India, South East Asia, and China.

 

 

FARMING

 

The fertile Luvuvhu River flood plain was cultivated to yield sorghum and millet to make porridge and beer. Clay spindle wheels found in the area suggest that cotton was also cultivated for making cloth. Numerous potshards found on the site are the remains of discarded clay pots made by the women at Thulamela for cooking, eating, and drinking. The pots were of various shapes and sizes and often decorated.

 

WHY DID THEY LEAVE?

 

The Thulamela civilization lasted about 450 years, and the area continued to be occupied for another 120 years – presumably by the same people. Subsequently, the Makuleke people moved into the area and assumed control (which has lasted till current times).

The reasons for the demise of the Thulamela kingdom are not known because there is no written history from the inhabitants of the kingdom, and oral history seems to have disappeared when the city was abandoned. Archaeologists and social anthropologists have presented many theories that range from traditions surrounding the death of a ruler, an environmental disaster or war over the control of land and resources. The influence of Portuguese colonialists in Mozambique and civil war in Zimbabwe have also been mooted as reasons.

 

THREE WALLED KINGDOMS

 

Many stone-walled sites around southern Africa reflect the presence and migration of these walled-kingdom-living people in southern Africa. The three best known, and the largest, are Mapungubwe, Great Zimbabwe and Thulamela. Another example is the Khami Ruins near Bulawayo – the second-largest stone ruin site in Zimbabwe.

It is believed that there was a migration of people between these three kingdoms, in that order – from Mapungubwe to Great Zimbabwe and finally to Thulamela. The exact dates of living and departing from each site are estimates, and there are overlapping periods when more than one location was inhabited.

During the Middle Iron Age – about AD 900 – Bantu people moved from the north into the Limpopo valley and initially established themselves at Mapungubwe (circa AD 1075-1220) where they built a walled kingdom. Before this, Bantu people were mostly nomadic in the region. From there they established Great Zimbabwe (circa AD 1200-1400) and then to Thulamela (circa AD 1250-1700).

Gold found at both Thulamela and Mapungubwe was found to have the same ‘chemical fingerprint’. “The conclusion could therefore be drawn that both the Mapungubwe and Thulamela gold artefacts originated from the same gold source,” wrote a team of researchers in a paper published in 1998 in the journal Gold Bulletin.

 

 

WHO CAME BEFORE?

 

Of course, the Mapungubwe/Great Zimbabwe/Thulamela era is but a snapshot in time. Before these civilisations, the area was inhabited as far back as 100,000 years ago by San people (‘Bushmen’), as evidenced by Middle and Late Stone Age artefacts such as stone tools and rock paintings. The San people disappeared during the Late Iron Age after the arrival of the Bantu-speaking people from further north in Africa who were looking for more grazing land for their cattle. Arab slave traders were raiding the area circa AD 800, using the ports in Mozambique to ferry slaves to destination markets.

 

 

FINAL WORD

 

The experience at Thulamela deeply moved me and my long-time friend and occasional travel companion, Sharon Haussmann. There is no question that this sacred site has a deep spiritual ambience – we both felt the presence of the ancestors who still preside over this wild part of the Kruger National Park from their hilltop fortress.

We had the immense privilege of attending a ceremony conducted by Khosi Wilson Matodzi Magulasavha Makahane and Makhadzi (aunt) Lucy Lufuno Makahane. Also in attendance were community member Gilbert Munyai and SANParks guides Carel Nkuna and Daniel Shibambu.

I would also like to thank Isaac Phaala of SANParks, and his colleagues, for making this immensely spiritual sojourn possible.

 

By Simon Espley

 


Rwanda – The New Food Hot Spot!

Trees Piersma, Kigali resident and food fundi, takes you on an unexpected journey from the capital’s street food, on to Lake Kivu and back to Rwanda’s Michelin-trained chef. Those gorillas best work hard at hanging on to being the main event.

 

 

Food is key in Rwanda. Exploring the food scene is one of the best ways to experience the culture, meet the locals and enjoy dishes unique to this beautiful country. Kigali, set on a thousand hills and Africa’s cleanest city (by far), is the center of Rwanda’s culinary action.

Discovering street food is the best place to feel the heartbeat of any city and Kigali is no exception. Popular dishes are prepared with fresh, simple ingredients with fantastic flavors so be sure to visit a local restaurant in one of the city’s many vibrant neighborhoods. Enjoy a rolex (an omelets-stuffed chapatti), goat or beef brochettes, samosas, spicy beans, and grilled bananas all washed down with a great local beer like Virunga Gold. It’s not only about the taste of the food, but also the fun and vibe of dining at an outdoor local restaurant. Here you will meet Rwandan families who love to interact with travelers, especially when you are open to trying out local dishes.

 

Kigali, a vibrant city bustling with busy markets and delicious food

 

On your travels through Rwanda be sure not to miss out on sampling the delicious fresh fish from Lake Kivu; local fried lake ‘sardines’ known as sambaza are a perfect sundowner snack. The best way is to go out on a local boat with the fisherman, the highlights of the adventure being listening to their lovely songs as they head back to land and enjoying the catch of the day at a beach BBQ.

Back in Nyamirambo, Kigali’s cool quarter, order a ‘big fish’ – a whole tilapia simply grilled and served with onions, celery, garlic and carrots and big enough for two or three people to share. And the only way to eat a big fish is to tuck in with your hands.

 

Delicious fresh fish from Lake Kivu, a staple for many

 

From street food to finer fare Kigali is fast welcoming many new restaurants, as well as funky local fashion and jewellery designers, and art galleries. Visitors to the city can eat their way around the world: Ethiopian, Indian, Italian and French, but also fine dining restaurants offering African cuisine. Meza Malonga, one of Kigali’s hottest Afro-fusion restaurants, has already been acclaimed by Travel+Leisure and Food & Wine magazines as one of the “world’s best restaurants”. Chef-owner Dieuveil Malonga is an award-winning chef with his culinary skills perfected at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and was a finalist of the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize 2018. ‘We are storytellers of the history of the people and lands behind each ingredient’ is how Malonga describes his team. Using farm-to-table fruits and vegetables from the lush district of Musanze he creates exquisite African dishes with Maasai, Bantu and Zulu influences. A nine-course meal in his restaurant will leave you wanting to join Malonga’s African Fine Dining workshop. And when you overnight in the city’s newest private Villa Kigali your meals will be prepared by Chef Malonga and his team.

 

Chef Malonga, passionate about delicious food and fresh ingredients

 

These exciting developments in Rwanda inspire so many youngsters and I know the passion to learn from chefs like Malonga, hear the story behind the food, learn respect for local ingredients and embrace hospitality that is uniquely Rwandan, will grow our tourism offering from good to great.


Lessons of Compassion from Wildlife

“It’s been a lot of information to take in over the last few weeks and months. It’s overwhelming, but it’s also inspiring to see what we’re made of in times like these. The beauty to come out of it, the generosity, the service — the humanity.”  

In the matter of survival, the primitive parts of the brain overtake the conscious parts. The instinctive part of your brain kicks in when danger is happening, some feel it in the times of uncertainty and crisis, or some may feel it when facing a lion or elephant on a walking safari. 

Now more than ever, we need to focus on faith over fear. Humans are resilient beings. Anthropologist, Margaret Mead studied the femur bones of ancient humans and found that some showed evidence of healing. She considered this the first sign of civilization. In the wild, you are considered one of the weaker of the herd if you are injuredand as good as deadThe fact that the bone healed meant that someone stayed with the injured person for long enough to help them recover. This reflects the humanity in us. The ability we have to help and relieve each other’s suffering. 

Its these intricate behavioral occurrences that draw us to the animal kingdom – to become our own David Attenboroughs of Africa. Analyzing behaviors and simplifying life’s complex constructs into simple fightflight or freeze reactions. I think the fundamental pillars of humanity can be seen in wildlife — characteristics such as morality, reciprocityempathy, and altruism (behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense). 

Being no expert, not as far as our guides or anthropologists are concernednevertheless one might indicate that the empathy showed in our ancient ancestors is what started humans on the path to civilization, but in my opinion, nature already has an array of supportive and empathic emotions displayed by all kinds of wildlife animals. 

 

Elephants

elephant-pool-somalisa-1

 

Elephants are genuinely empathic animals. Our logo is a subtle nod to these incredible animals who have a strong social structure. They are an extraordinarily strong community led by a single caring matriarch. They are intentional in their actions, and there’s a reason elephants have come to  symbolize elegance, intelligence, memory, empathy and gentleness. Scientists have discovered that they display emotional contagion. This means that they notice if others are in stress and try to soothe each other. When startled or threatened in the wild, they form a circle around the weaker and younger members of the herd, where they caress their herd mates to soothe and calm each other down. 

 

Wild Dogs

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Photo by Nick Dyer

 

Wild dogs have a unique and caring bond with each other, and while they tend to have a ‘bad rap’ because of their wildly successful hunting technique when observing their interactions in the wild, it’s hard to not fall in love with them. Perhaps because we relate them to our own man’s best friend, they display a playfulness and endearing nature that makes them captivating to watch. They let their pups take priority in feeding, and they protect each other from harm if one is injured or ill. There is only onmating pair, and even once the female is pregnant, and technically, his job is done, the male protects her and cares for her and the whole pack contributes to looking after the pups. 

 

Baboons 

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The book, ‘The Soul of the Ape’ by Eugene Marais, tells a story of two male chacma baboons who go on a death march to protect their troop. The baboons attacked a leopard that had been terrorizing and killing them. Both the baboons and the leopard died in the tussle, but the longevity of the troop was safeguarded. This displays the overall altruism of these highly intelligent animals, even if it is led by hints of testosterone.  

We are an incredible species that has learned to adapt and evolve. Our core intention at African Bush Camps is to ‘Share and Conserve Africa Together.’ That means something a little different in every part of what we do, but we each feel proud as we fly the flag for Zimbabwe, Botswana & Zambia.  

 

 

By Bush Camp Bush Tales


Africa in Focus – Some Amazing Images!

Wilderness Safaris channels conservation African Safari tourism as a force for lasting positive impact for the wildlife and communities, and as such,  wanted to share some images from the 2020 Photo Competition that had a lasting positive impact.

The Africa in Focus competition was a great success this year, making a significant contribution to Wildlife Safaris Conservation Heroes campaign by raising funds for communities in need and protecting pristine wilderness areas. Altogether the entries raised a staggering ZAR250 000, which will aid in delivering food and essential supplies to those worst hit by the pandemic throughout our Wilderness Safaris regions.

This selection of photos created a particularly positive impact – i.e., not only striking images, but photos that create an emotional link between you and the subject.

 

“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”

– Karl Lagerfeld

 
“A Leopard’s Window” by Chris Renshaw; this for me was one of those experiences where a leopard and its youngster showed us the real art of camouflage

 

 

“Buffalo Herd Okavango Delta” by Peter & Beverly Pickford

 

 

“Just Chilling” by Kevin Lucke

 

 

“Rainbow Colours” by Bence Mate; bee-eaters gather before flying away to spend the night in their underground nests. I waited for the moment when the birds on the branch were motionless while the faded wings of the bird flying in the background refracted the light like a prism.

 

 

“The One and Only King” by Anja GrÃbel; the one and only king overlooking his kingdom in the morning…

 

 

“Visiting Himba” by Pawel Gluza

 

 

“We’re Out of Here” by Elize Labuschagne; the drought on the Etosha plains mad the animals skittish, and when one jumped, the rest followed

 

 

“Cautious Approach” by Janet Kleyn; hundreds of guineafowl gathered at a waterhole one morning. From a distance we could hear them start alarm calling. To our surprise this female leopard and her two cubs came walking through the guineafowls, which parted way for them.

 

 

“Dragonfly” by Graham Maskell

 

 

“Desert Lion Researcher” by Sarah Gold; Dr Philip “Flip” Stander, the world’s pre-eminent expert on vulnerable desert-adapted lions, lives in his specially outfitted vehicle for weeks at a time, following lion prides with radio telemetry. Sometimes, lacking paper, he writes their location co-ordinates on his own body.


Leopards & Tubu Tree

Suzi Eszterhas is an award-winning Africa safari wildlife photographer best known for her work documenting newborn animals and family life in the wild. She is also a great friend of Wilderness Safaris and has spent much time on the magnificent Hunda Island within the Jao Reserve, documenting the famous Tubu Camp leopardess.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Having lived in a bush camp in Africa for three years, and photographed wild animals on all seven continents, Suzi has accumulated scores of adventure stories during her prolific career. She has hugged a baby whale, swum with sloths, fended off curious grizzly bears, had hyaenas chew on her engine, insects lay eggs in her feet, was chased by a green mamba, and has hand-raised and released an orphaned serval.

 

Kambango Sinimbo and Suzi Eszterhas

Suzi spent time recently at Tubu Tree to photograph the Tubu Camp Female’s newest cub and was treated to arguably her best experience to date!

 

“In the heart of the Okavango Delta is a special leopardess named the Tubu Camp Female that recently did the most extraordinary thing. She decided to stash her newborn cub in the bathroom, behind the sink, at Tubu Tree Camp.”

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

The Tubu Camp leopard lives in the Okavango Delta’s Jao Reserve. In the heart of her territory is Tubu Tree Camp, a small and luxurious, but low impact, safari camp on Hunda Island. The Tubu Camp Female grew up around the camp, and is regularly spotted on game drives on and around the island.

 

 

The Jao Reserve is an Okavango haven, safe from poachers and vehicle crowding. This leopardess grew up around safari vehicles behaving responsibly, and having never been harassed, she trusts vehicles and is the most relaxed leopard I have ever worked with. In addition she is very used to camp and staff activity and is not threatened by it, a truly habituated leopard. She is often seen at night on the boardwalk near the tents, but has never bothered people and simply jumps off and slinks away into the bush if anyone comes across her path. She occasionally makes a kill inside the camp.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Leopard mothers of newborn cubs are notoriously secretive, but the Tubu Camp Female, with her relaxed and trusting nature, has allowed me to see and photograph her for over two years now. In 2018 I started following her with her then-litter of two females for 18 months as they grew. Both these sub-adults are now still within the reserve and thriving. I recently returned to Tubu Tree Camp right after she gave birth to her new litter – a single male cub – and to photograph him as young as one week old.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Leopard mothers with young cubs can move them often to make sure they are safe from predators, sometimes choosing a new den every three to four days.

One morning, after we had lost track of the Tubu Camp Female for a couple of days, I was out on a game drive with my guide, the amazing Kambango Sinimbo. Kambango found her tracks around camp, but we had not been able to identify the location of her new den. While out tracking we received a radio call from the camp manager alerting us to the fact that a staff member had “found a leopard cub in the camp bathroom/loo with a view”.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Kambango laughed and we both assumed that the staff member had mistakenly found a genet. Genets are animals that live in camp and are small and similarly spotted; to the untrained eye a genet could look like a cat, and even a leopard. We started back to camp, expecting a good laugh, but then another radio call from the manager. “Um, I’ve just had a look myself and it definitely looks like a leopard cub”. Though I took this call a little more seriously, I was still expecting to see a genet. Kambango, more convinced by this second call, said to me, “Grab your camera!”.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

We arrived at camp and went straight into the loo with a view to investigate. And there on the floor, behind the sink, curled up against the wall was a tiny, furry ball of spots. I could hardly believe my eyes, it was indeed the leopard cub we had been looking for! I took a few seconds to snap some photos of the tiny, two-week-old cub – which was old enough to perceive me as a threat and opened his mouth in a silent hiss. Kambango and I quickly decided to leave, so as not to stress out the cub, and also because we had no idea where his mom was.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Even the most relaxed leopards can be ferocious when something or someone comes close to their young. And now, she had claimed the bathroom as her new den, and we were standing right in the middle of it.

In awe we drove away to park at a safe distance, to wait and watch for the mother’s return.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Kambango and I discussed at length why the mother would do such a thing. Undoubtedly this leopard felt safe in camp and did not see people as a threat, but to actually hide her cub in the bathroom? Kambango, a Tubu Tree Camp guide who has known and tracked this female since she was two months old, stated, “The camp is part of her territory. This side of camp has no guests at the moment so it is very quiet, and it probably seemed like a safe place to hide her cub. Behind the vanity basin it is dark, and den-like. Also, there were lots of lion tracks around camp the night before.

 

“This leopard is very smart. She knows that the lions don’t like to use the boardwalks, so she knows they would never find her cub there.”

 

Lions are a huge threat to leopards and their cubs. With cub mortality rate at over 50%, a leopard mother has a big job to successfully raise a cub to adulthood. This includes the critical act of properly hiding the cub when it is tiny and helpless.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Cathy Kays, owner of Tubu Tree Camp and concessionaire of the surrounding Jao Reserve, states, “We’ve had leopards bring their cubs in to live in the camp environment before, but moving a newborn into the Tubu guest bathroom is a new one, even for me. I guess she is called the Tubu Camp Female for a reason. This adds a new dimension of caution into camp operations”.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Management closed off this side of camp until the leopard mother returned. After waiting a few hours in a vehicle at a distance, Kambango and I watched the Tubu Camp Female come into camp, walking stealthily along the boardwalk. She took some time to relax a bit by the camp swimming pool, having a drink and monitoring her surroundings, and then sauntered up to the bathroom. We could hear her making a quiet contact call to her cub as she entered the bathroom.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

Moments later she reappeared on the boardwalk with the tiny cub in her mouth and carried him safely to another place, this time to a more typical den site – a tall tree outside of camp with a hole in the middle of the trunk where she could safely hide him from predators.

 

Image by Suzi Eszterhas

 

This experience is undoubtedly the most bizarre of all days in the field, in my 20-year career photographing baby animals all over the planet. Though I am relieved that the mother moved the cub to a proper den site, I also feel blessed that I was able witness such a special event. For an animal to feel so safe around people that she would move her cub into camp – in the bathroom no less – is extraordinary and almost unheard of. Every day we are bombarded with tragic news about wildlife all over the world, so this experience was truly a ray of light and testament to the amazing conservation work being done within the Jao Reserve.

To see more phenomenal photos by Suzi Eszterhas and learn more about the wonderful work she does, you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

 

Written and Photographed by Suzi Eszterhas


Why Africa? – Why Now?

In 2020, terms like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘new normal’ have earned their places in the dictionary. After this time of overwhelmingly instant change, and the anxiety that comes with micro-decisions for everyday actions, you need a break. I’m here to tell you why it should be in Africa. You can have a guilt-free escape; spending your time in wide-open spaces and disconnecting from the turbulence and trepidation of it all.

 

1. Low people densities

 

 

We all crave real human connection – something that isn’t done through a computer screen. Families, couples and those venturing on a solo trip – we have options for you! For years, people have chosen to come on safari to disconnect from the fast-paced life and unwind in the stillness of Africa. Gathering around a crackling fire with no distractions aside from the sound of crickets in the background. Now, more than ever, we need a break. With our flexible postponement terms, we recommend you book a trip now and once borders open; you’ll thank yourself. Book some space with your family and have the guilt-free holiday you’ve been looking forward to. The rejuvenation that comes with an escape to nature is good for the body and soul! If you want that extra level of exclusivity, you can even book out the camp for your group and hire private vehicles for an additional fee. (contact us now for more information)

 

2. Away from cities & major disease epicenters

 

 

Africa awards you with vast spaces and time to reconnect to the stillness of nature. It can be pretty stressful being anywhere close to big crowds (and for good reason). At our camps, you get the chance to swap your current home for 15,000 hectares in our Somalisa Concession in Hwange National Park or 125,000 hectares in our Linyanti Concession. The benefit of feeling like you are the only guests in an area this size is amazingly luxurious. We are seeing a trend of less travelers committing to overcrowded destinations in urban areas and more people feeling the need to venture out into the great outdoors.

 

3. Private accommodations

 

 

The sense of place you feel in these wilderness areas is unparalleled. Our accommodation is well spaced out and private. The only peeking neighbour you may have is an elephant looking over at your private deck. As far as cleaning is concerned, strict COVID-19 compliant measures are in place at all properties. Our teams completed refresher courses on correct cleaning procedures, ensuring the very best transmission mitigation. Guests will need to vacate rooms by 8 AM on their dates of departure. Arriving guests may enter their rooms from 4 PM, allowing us time to deep clean and disinfect the rooms and their contents between visitors. Bed linen and towels will not be changed during the guest’s stay unless requested or necessary.

 

4. Widely spaced, open-air dining

 

 

During the pandemic, we learn something every day. Studies show that the coronavirus transmits more easily indoors than outdoors. Our outdoor dining counters this with the massive African outdoors. Rest assured, all our staff will be wearing masks during this time and at mealtimes, guests’ seating will be arranged according to social distancing guidelines as provided by the WHO and government recommendations. Breakfast menus, braai nights, traditional nights, etc., will have no self-service and are structured to avoid any direct guest contact with uncooked food. Sanitiser dispensers and sanitary wipes will be available on each guest table during mealtimes. Kitchen staff will sanitise before handling food or drinks. Our staff will always wear gloves and facemasks during food preparation.

 

5. Open game viewers & outdoor activities

 

 

When you’re on safari, the environment is your playground – you can enjoy activities and meals in the open, limiting interaction and the possible spread of COVID-19. Game drives are considered open-air activities and are, therefore, relatively safe. A game drive is unlikely to result in the passing of any respiratory and airborne germs. We will, however, adhere to all standard preventive measures. Game drive vehicles will be limited to a maximum of six guests unless all guests are travelling in a group. Guided walks will be restricted to people within the same group with no more than six guests. Canoes will be restricted to a maximum of two people. Hand sanitiser and sanitary wipes will be made available for each guest. During this time, we ask all guests to provide all their own clothing whilst moving around. Regrettably, communal ponchos, warm clothing, rainwear, and blankets won’t be provided.

 

6. High staff to guest ratios which means better ability to clean germs

 

 

ABC staff will go above and beyond to ensure you feel relaxed, safe, and enjoying your well-deserved holiday. We have appointed and trained members of staff in camps who’ll serve as the ‘Health Liaison Officer’ and is in charge of enforcing procedures. Guest water bottles are provided in their original packaging, and water dispensers will be available in common areas for guests to refill their own bottles.

 

7. Active incident reporting systems in place, which urban hotels don’t often have

 

 

African Bush Camps employ specialists for all medical concerns or emergencies. Because all our camps are in remote areas, we need to have procedures in place in case of emergencies. Many urban hotels simply do not have the same level of experience and preparedness that our camps have cultivated over the years.

 

8. Backup from medical support teams

 

 

This incident reporting system is needed for our core business due to the remote location of operation and useful to repurpose for real-time medical risk assessments. During the pandemic, we are required to follow country-specific government procedures to limit the potential spread of the virus and provide treatment to people who may carry the disease. Such procedures change regularly, and our expert operational team keep abreast of the alterations and adjust our processes. Current requirements can be found on the respective government websites or available from us on request.

 

9. Presence of guests in national parks helps in safeguarding wildlife

 

 

Currently, our team have been serving as guardians of wildlife, patrolling the lands on foot, and waiting for your return. The presence of a safari camp in an area is important to ensure safety of wildlife. While travelling in your game vehicle, you add to the number of boots on the ground by deferring any poachers coming into the area.

 

10. Community, conservation & education benefits from safari tourism

 

 

At African Bush Camps, we donate $10 per guest bed night to our Foundation in order to cover operational costs. Annually, 2,5 percent of ABCs turnover goes towards the Foundation. With no guests in camps currently, our Foundation is in need of funds now more than ever. When you come to Africa, you are investing in more than just a relaxing holiday, you can help better the lives of those in need and help in the process of self-empowerment through collaboration. Interconnected activities such as community empowerment, conservation support and education are supported by our Foundation in the areas in which we operate.

 

 


A World of Camouflage!

As people, we tend to want to stand out and make a statement. In the world of wildlife this isn’t the case. The more you stand out, the more risk increases to fall prey to a predator. Here are a few examples that you may find out on safari

 

1. The Viceroy Butterfly: Mimicry

 

 

Nature astounds us with its explosion of color, patterns and incredible beauty. Why? There’s always a reason why a particular animal has a specific color or pattern. Take the African Viceroy Butterfly, with its vivid orange and black design. This particular coloration is a result of something called Batesian mimicry. Essentially, they’re copy cats. The Viceroy butterfly has evolved to look exactly like the African Monarch Butterfly in an attempt to prevent itself being eaten. The African Monarch is toxic and unpalatable to birds as a result of eating the poisonous milkweed plant as a caterpillar. They use the cardiac glycosides to, in turn, make themselves poisonous to predators so that birds tend to avoid eating them. Through impressive work from its makeup artist, the Viceroy tricks birds into thinking they are Monarch Butterflies when in fact they are utterly harmless and probably quite delicious. Spot the difference.

 

2. The Nightjar: Camouflage

 

 

For ground-nesting birds, camouflage is vital. To avoid predation, many birds are adapted to blend into their surrounding environment. The nightjar is an excellent example of this incredible ability. It chooses its nesting site based on its mottled plumage showing self-awareness of its surrounding environment.
 

3. The Zebra’s Stripes: Who Knows?

 

 

Why the Zebra have stripes seem to be a mystery that no one can crack. At first glance, it seems they stick out like a sore thumb amongst their khaki colored companions. Theorists hypothesize it might be a defense mechanism to predation. As the herd flees from a lion, their intermingled stripes help to dazzle the predator so that they can’t pick out a single target. Studies have shown that black and white stripes also help in attracting fewer tsetse fly’s. Lastly, some papers suggest stripes are used in thermoregulation. More stripes help the Zebra to cool off because air moves faster over black stripes than the white ones, creating convection currents around the body. To back this up, they show that Zebras tend to have more stripes in hotter areas.

Camouflage is a spectacular phenomenon seen across the world used in predators and prey. Have a look at the pictures below to see if you can spot these extraordinary creatures.

 

 


A Day on Safari in South Africa

A safari is a real wish list trip, and something travelers dream of doing for years. But even when you’ve picked a location there are so many different options – self-drive or guided, private reserve or National Park, tented camp or lodge? For my first safari I decided to go for the classic, luxurious lodge experience at Naledi Game Lodge, in the private Balule reserve on the edge of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. We spent three days in camp, packed with a lot of wildlife (and arguably even more eating). So if you’re tempted by a safari and want to know what to expect, here’s my diary of 24 hours of game reserve life.

 

 

5AM: SUNRISE START FOR THE FIRST GAME DRIVE

The toughest part of the day on safari is the early wake up call. The animals are most active at dawn and dusk, so that means a 5am knock on the door. After getting ready (if you’re as bad as me in the mornings it’s a good idea to lay everything out the night before), we meet the rest of the group in the lodge and grab a coffee before heading off at 5.30am as it gets light.

It’s chilly in an open-top jeep in the early mornings, so we are given blankets as well as bottles of water. Our guide and tracker work out a route for us, using their knowledge of the animals and updates from other guides in the park. As we bump around the dusty roads they search for tracks or signs, and we spot a giraffe and baby hidden among the trees, as well as plenty of impala and a herd (or zeal if you know your collective nouns for animals) of zebras.

7.15AM: STOP FOR COFFEE IN THE BUSH

After a couple of hours of driving it’s time to stop and stretch our legs (and for a toilet break behind a convenient bush if you need one). Our guide Eric sets up a table in a beautiful spot overlooking the Olifants River, where a group of hippos are floating in the water. Out comes tea, coffee and hot chocolate, as well as cakes and biscuits to help us get through to breakfast.

After about 20 minutes everything’s all packed up again and we have another hour of exploring the bush before heading back to camp. By now it’s light and there are less animals around, but a group of baboons race right by us and we spot a warthog in the distance.

9AM: BREAKFAST TIME

Around 8.30am we arrive back at the camp and have half an hour to shower and change before gathering for breakfast at 9am. Everyone eats together at one long table, and breakfast is a real feast (which you totally feel that you’ve earned after being awake since 5am).

Breakfast starts with fresh fruit, juices and homemade muffins or pancakes. Then there’s a cooked breakfast, with scrambled egg, mushrooms and crispy bacon on the menu today. We’re joined by Sheldrake, one of the camp’s staff, who helps us plan the rest of our day – we’re free now until the evening game drive but he can organize activities or spa treatments for us.

10.30AM: MORNING ACTIVITY (OR SNOOZE…)

After breakfast you have a choice of activity – you can go on a bush walk or to a hide if you want to do more wildlife watching (or head back to bed if the 5am start was too much). We decide to try out the hide and are driven out to Rosie’s Pan, a watering hole 15 minutes from the camp.

We’re given binoculars and a cool box of supplies (G&Ts included!) and left on our own for a couple of hours. It’s incredibly peaceful, with just the call of birds and the buzzing of insects. It takes a while for us to see anything other than the birds, but then a lone giraffe appears and spends 20 minutes munching his way through leaves right in front of us.

 

 

1PM: RELAX AT THE CAMP

About 12.30pm we’re picked up from the hide and taken back to the camp where we have about an hour and a half of free time before lunch. The temperatures are pushing 30 degrees by now so we take a dip in the pool to cool off before grabbing a sun lounger and a book (and trying not to nod off). There are only nine of us staying in the camp and there are lots of different levels and seating areas, so it’s easy to find a quiet spot to yourself.

2.30PM: LUNCH

At 2.30pm it’s time to eat again (this is definitely not a diet holiday), this time in the upper terrace with great views out across the bush. Today’s lunch is meatballs with potato wedges and salad. We’re joined by a group of cheeky Vervet monkeys who skulk around the edge of the terrace before making a dive for the leftovers as soon as we put our knives and forks down.

One impressively manages to stuff a meatball in his mouth then grab a wedge in each hand! There are lots of wildlife books around the terrace so we check out a few of them to find out more about what we’ve been seeing before getting ready for the next game drive.

 

 

4.30PM: AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

We head out on our second game drive just before the sun sets. We get even more lucky and come across a herd of buffalo who walk right around the jeep, totally unfazed by us. Then Eric hears from another guide that a rare black rhino has been spotted across the other side of the reserve. So we speed over and spend 10 minutes watching him. By this time the light’s fading and it’s getting cold so I dig out my scarf and fleece and layer up before the sun goes down.

 

 

6.30PM: SUNDOWNERS

As the sun sets we stop for sundowner drinks on a hilltop with views right out over the reserve. Out comes the table again, this time loaded with crisps, nuts, biltong and popcorn. The drinks also come out, with ice blocks and metal wine glasses to keep the white wine nicely chilled.

We watch the sky change colour from blue to gold to red. Then when the sun finally disappears below the horizon we pack up and head off again for the last hour. Our spotter shines a torch out to see if he can see any reflections from cats’ eyes. There’s no joy until Eric hears that a leopard has been spotted so we head over and watch him chewing on a bone in the distance.

8PM: CAMPFIRES AND THREE-COURSE DINNERS

We arrive back at the camp around 7.30pm and there’s a welcoming party waiting for us with drinks and hot towels. Then there’s just enough time to shower and change before we head to the bar to grab a bottle of South African red and a couple of glasses. Everyone gathers around the campfire for a drink before going in for dinner at 8.30pm. It’s still warm so the table’s been set up outside and the chef comes to tell us what she’s made for us.

There are three courses, starting with chicken salad, followed by salmon fillet with rice and vegetables, and a pear cake with a sticky toffee sauce. A different staff member eats with us each night and tonight it’s Eric who tells us stories about his days working in anti-poaching.

 

 

 

10.30PM: BED TIME

After completely stuffing ourselves we sit around chatting for a bit before heading to bed about 10.30pm to try and get six hours sleep in before getting up at 5am and starting again!

By On The Luce


Perfectly Crafted!

When he came to Kenya from Seattle, beer aficionado Tyler Davis initially struggled with the lack of beer options available. Just six short years later, Tyler writes about this now thriving industry and all the great players on the scene.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s little better than an icy Tusker or White Cap at the end of a long, hot day on safari – but if I wanted a distinctly hoppy IPA, I had to convince visiting friends to smuggle some in their luggage, and carefully manage my slowly-built personal stock so it would last in between said visitors.

 

Despite the historical paucity of selection, Kenya actually has quite a rich brewing past, especially if you consider that nearly every one of Kenya’s 42 recognised tribes has its own traditional fermented concoction – the most well-known of which is muratina, a staple of the Kikuyu community made from the fruit of Kigelia africana, or the Sausage Tree.

 

Even Kenya’s most renowned and beloved beer, Tusker, has been around for almost a century – introduced in 1923, just a year after the inception of Kenya Breweries (now East African Breweries, Limited, or EABL) by brothers George and Charles Hurst in 1922. (Fun, if macabre, fact: the name “Tusker” comes from Charles’s homage to his brother, George, who was killed by an elephant while on a hunting trip in the same year they founded Kenya’s first licensed brewery).

 

 

EABL has been nothing short of a monumental success ever since, acquiring and merging with other brewing companies time and again since the 1930s to effectively become the near-monopoly titan of brewing in the entirety of East Africa, currently with subsidiaries in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Sudan. EABL’s products, including Tusker and White Cap, have been recognized nearly annually at the World Beer Competition Monde Selection since they debuted their products there in 1969, including the Gold Quality Award for Tusker as recently as 2020. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of EABL’s success is that, in 2005, it became the first company in East Africa to reach $1 billion in value – ah, the power of beer!

 

But as refreshing as Tusker is, those with adventurous palates desire something more. Mercifully for us beer snobs, the beginnings of a modern craft beer revolution began in Kenya a few years ago.

 

The Bila Shaka Brewery in the Kedong Valley

 

Bateleur (now Bila Shaka Brewing) broke into the market with Kenya’s first IPA in December 2017, becoming Kenya’s first brewery to put ales at the forefront of their portfolio and marking the start of the creative experimentation with hops, yeasts, malts, and other ingredients that characterises contemporary craft brewing. The brainchild of Rajiv Shah, whose family has long been involved in beverages and bottling in Kenya, Bila Shaka has taken it a step further and also aligned themselves in mindset with traditional North American-style craft breweries by applying a holistic approach that goes beyond just the beer: they use natural spring water sourced just outside the brewery’s doors; utilise biofuel boilers that also create steam to wash bottles; spent grain is fed to rescued donkeys; and the brewery property has become a nature preserve in the Kedong Valley just outside of Nairobi. And, of course, their beer is delicious.

 

254 Brewing’s brewing facility in Kikuyu, just outside Nairobi

 

Shortly after the arrival of Bila Shaka Brewing, fellow newcomers 254 Brewing began finding their way into the market. Formally incorporated at the beginning of 2018, 254’s beers didn’t hit shelves until earlier this year when, after a full two years navigating more than a dozen government departments, they finally received their license. In addition to their mainstream beers in bars and supermarkets they have also created “Beer Club” where die hards can receive new creative styles every week. Check their website or go visit the tap room in Kikuyu to try them out! 254, unique in their commitment to being unpasteurized and unfiltered across all their products, has now brewed over 100 beers, from pineapple sours to nitro stouts. They’ve also just welcomed new head brewer Matt Walsh, revered in brewing circles in the US for his time with Modern Times and Lost Coast breweries in California.

 

A selection of 254 beers (as delivered to Tyler as part of his Beer Club membership)

 

Best of all, there is great momentum in the craft beer scene in Kenya. For licensed brewers like Raj and Eoin, the community has been overwhelmingly amicable and supportive, and there is talk of more breweries joining the party in the coming years. Beyond that, there’s an estimated 200+ homebrewers in and around Nairobi. It’s all happening, and it’s an exciting time to be a beer snob in Kenya.


Stories Told By a Starry Africa Sky

 

 

Since the dawn of mankind, the human race has recorded its stories, myths, and legends in the tapestry of their starlit night sky.  Regardless of geographical location and culture, the celestial realm has long been the ultimate storyboard upon which humanity has logged its thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. Their observations not only were not purely aesthetic in nature, however, and it did not take the early settlers long to begin to understand the world by watching the passage of the stars night after night.

People quickly began to notice the cyclical nature of the heavens, and with that came the concept of time.  Of course, modern-day timekeeping was a long way off. Still, by recognizing the positions of various celestial phenomena, it soon became apparent that recurring weather conditions and temperatures could be predicted with a reasonable amount of accuracy.  This knowledge could then be used to anticipate vital information on animal movements based on rainfall, as well as fruiting times of the local flora.  By the age of the pastoralists, this knowledge would prove invaluable for farming activities.

These early observations paved the way to modern society, and it is fascinating to realize just how much of today’s world is linked to our ancestors’ observations of the darkness.  Did you know that the days of the week are all named after planets, or that our 12-month calendar is based on the phases of the Moon?? Perhaps this is why so many people are drawn to the stars and why just staring heavenwards at night is such a therapeutic and powerfully emotive experience.

Let us now delve back into history and investigate some of these stories.

The Milky Way

 

 

The ethereal, spiral arms of our galaxy can be seen arcing across the sky, particularly during the winter months when it passes almost directly overhead.  Even from suburban areas, the glow of countless stars is evident, but imagine what the sky must have looked like before the advent of electricity and industry and the pollution that they now cause!

The early African Bushman told that this celestial beacon was created when a young girl threw the ashes of her campfire high into the sky to guide her father home from his hunting trip.  To some tribes, the diffuse white streak of the Milky Way represented the bellies of a vast herd of celestial springbok, while to others it traced a prodigious footpath upon which the spirits of our ancestors still tread.  In Zulu culture, the opalescent band was created by the hooves of the gods’ great herd of cattle as they marched to and from their feeding grounds, slowly wearing through the boundary between the perpetually lit celestial realm and the Earth below.

The Moon

 

 

According to the Bushmen, the Moon is the sandal of a trickster god named !Kaggen that had been frozen in a local waterhole before being tossed into the sky to light up the night.  However, the Sun was extremely unhappy about sharing the sky with another luminous object and, to this day, chases it through the night, cutting strips from the Moon until it is almost extinguished.  At the last moment, the Moon begs for forgiveness and Sun relents its attack, allowing the Moon to recover until it becomes full again.  At this point, the Sun recommences its onslaught once more.

Due to the repetitive phases of the Moon and its seemingly regular regeneration, much African folklore found it synonymous with reincarnation and recovery.  This belief was honored by the Bushmen during their hunting trips, trusting that if one looked at the Moon after shooting their quarry with a poison arrow, it would allow the prey to recover and escape.

As it takes approximately 29 days for the Moon to go through a full cycle and return to the same phase, these phases have also been used for millennia to mark the passage of time. The ‘Ishango Bone’, found in the former Belgian Congo, is a baboon fibula decorated with various etchings that indicate its use as an ancient lunar calendar.  Scientists estimate that it is over 35,000 years old!

The Southern Cross

 

 

The Southern Cross, or Crux, is the smallest of the recognized 88 constellations but is probably the most famous in the southern sky.  Not only does it point towards the south, an invaluable navigation tool, but there are also many recognized animal associations.

The most common interpretation in southern Africa is that the four brightest stars of Crux are a herd, or ‘journey’, of female giraffe and the two Pointer Stars (Alpha and Beta Centauri) represent a pair of giraffe bulls in hot pursuit.  Another version of the story sees the cross as symbolizing the head of a giant giraffe (due to the diamond shape), with the Pointers as its neck.  Some Bushmen tribes believed that the stars of the cross are a pride of lionesses, along with their young cub (Epsilon Crucis) and the Pointers embodying their two pride males following close behind as they prowl towards the horizon.

Orion

 

 

Orion as a constellation does not have any specific African mythology associated with it, but aspects of the constellation are well documented.  Many cultures have seen the famous Belt of Orion as various animals, including both tortoises and warthogs.  One legend identifies them as three zebras.  Mintaka, the first belt-star to rise was seen as the stallion, with Alnilam and Alnitak, his two mares following behind.

One version of Bushman starlore tells the story of the great god of East who set out hunting and climbed up to the Large Magellanic Cloud where he aimed his bow at the three zebras of Orion’s belt.  According to beliefs at the time, zebras were restricted to the heavens and were not found in Earth.  However, the god missed, his arrow falling short (symbolized by Orion’s ‘sword’ and the Great Orion Nebula). The arrow could not be retrieved due to the presence of a great lion represented by the giant red star, Betelgeuse.  To honor the zebras’ escape, the god of the East sent them to Earth to live out their lives in peace.

The Magellanic Clouds

 

 

When looking directly south on a clear night, two imperfections stand out against the clarity of the darkness.  The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are sister galaxies of the Milky Way, locked in a gravitational war with us, and each other.  They are named after the great Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who documented the ever-present clouds during his circumnavigation of the globe in the early 1500s.

However, these two smudges in the sky have been known since ancient times, and early settlers considered them to be indicators of summer and wet weather when visible at night.  The Large Magellanic Cloud was often portrayed as the shield of ‘Naka’, the Horn Star (Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky), as it slowly emerged from the eastern horizon, dragging in the start of the new year.

The bushmen saw the clouds as a pair of celestial steenboks, perhaps due to their diffuse nature rendering them hard to see under less than perfect conditions, in the same way that the diminutive steenbok prefers to remain hidden. Others saw the testicles of a great lion!  As strange as this may sound, one must remember that the bushmen had massive respect for the apex predator with whom they shared the land, and there are multiple of accounts of celestial lions in their history.

Conclusion

 

 

These examples are just a tiny percentage of ancient beliefs and stories associated with the heavens. Sadly, many records having been lost through the years, and much of history has been bastardized by centuries of oral tradition.  Regardless of the specifics, it is plain to see that since mankind’s earliest origins, we have looked to the stars for guidance and a way to record our history.

This history is emblazoned in our genetics, and it is no surprise that we still gaze in awe at the glistening, inky expanse above, night after night after night.  Space may or may not be infinite, but it contains the hopes and dreams of every man, woman and child that has ever trodden the Earth and will continue to be the ultimate blackboard upon which to etch our memories.

 

 

 

By Ben Coley