“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 injured, and as good as dead. The 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.
It’s 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 fight, flight or freeze reactions. I think the fundamental pillars of humanity can be seen in wildlife — characteristics such as morality, reciprocity, empathy, 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 concerned, nevertheless 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 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 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 one mating 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.
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
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.
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.
Written and Photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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