News that Zambia is open to international travelers and ready to start safaris again has us ready to pack our bags and take flight. It’s been a while. We took some time to connect with Time + Tide’s expert guides and asked what they love most about their regions – the South Luangwa, Liuwa Plain and Lower Zambezi. Here is what they had to say…
Brian, Time + Tide Liuwa Plain
Why Liuwa Plain?
“My favorite thing about Liuwa is its vast open plains, seconded by the total isolation of the place. What makes it really special is the migrating wildebeest and the hyenas – that are actually the apex predator in Liuwa Plain.”
Liuwa Plain National Park is home to the second largest wildebeest migration on the continent. In October, the wildebeest begin to move south to give birth before beginning their return journey north, making this the best time of year to be part of this iconic experience.
The migrating wildebeest attract the attentions of Liuwa Plain’s apex predators. There are estimated to be over 350 spotted hyenas in Liuwa Plain, forming clans of up to 50 individuals and outnumbering the big cats by a significant margin. However, with reintroductions and the birth of new cubs, the lion population has been steadily increasing, due largely to the efforts of African Parks.
“Visiting the hyenas at their dens, walking safaris across the plains, and canoeing along the King’s Pool, to name a few”
If you are drawn to exploring the waterways and canoeing along King’s Pool, be sure to visit when the water levels are high between late January and early April. There are no hippos or crocodiles, and you can hop out and enjoy the water for yourself.
Abraham, Time + Tide South Luangwa
Why South Luangwa?
“Above the fact that the South Luangwa is my native land, I am privileged enough to have been mentored by Norman Carr, whose legacy is deeply woven into the history of the region. What I love most about the South Luangwa is its geographical layout, being part of the continental rift that emanates from the Red Sea through East Africa. The Luangwa river meanders along a flat valley floor, creating oxbow lagoons. These lagoons, with or without water, are a vital ecological feature as the alluvial deposits result in rich grazing grounds attracting masses of game.”
“I love walking safaris with the guests. I really enjoy the authenticity of it and how it makes me feel truly connected to mother nature. The views and scenery are spectacular!”
The South Luangwa National Park is also known as Zambia’s premier wildlife destination. Tap into your inner explorer by walking between and staying in our seasonal bush camps – named collectively as Norman’s camps in honour of his legacy. Norman Carr, the pioneer of the walking safari, believed the only way to understand a country is to walk it. To follow in his footsteps, be sure to visit from May through to mid-November. The months of October and November, the peak of the dry season, are a great time to see predator action as animals concentrate around dwindling water sources.
Ronald, Time + Tide Lower Zambezi
Why Lower Zambezi?
“The Lower Zambezi is a special place. The habitat changes every few kilometers on a game drive or boat cruise, from vast plains, jesse-bush woodlands, palm trees, albidas and more. I enjoy watching the leopards, my favorite animal, especially when they hunt. The best thing about the Lower Zambezi has to be the water, I just love to be on the river.”
“Canoeing. You can sit so low in the canoes and listen to each animal sound in its most natural form. There is no noise from the boat engine, and this makes the animals calm. You can enjoy the view and take amazing pictures as you drift past, whilst enjoying peace and quiet.”
Time + Tide Chongwe is situated at the confluence of the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers. Being right on the river where water levels are high all year round, activities such as canoeing, fishing and boating safaris are celebrated here. You can expect to see plenty hippos, crocodiles, birds and elephants congregating along the river, especially during the driest months of August to November.
Which destination are you visiting next?
What could be better than a picnic on a sunny day? A safari picnic in the middle of the Maasai Mara of course! This tree? No, that one. On the banks of the Mara River? No, tucked under the Great Rift valley, please.
With the humdrum of the usual day to day an entire continent away, we set off on a day-long safari exploring the Maasai Mara? With nothing but distant memories of nap times and break downs, we could not have been more excited about the adventure that lay ahead of us.
We started with a compulsory cappuccino fix while watching a beautiful sunrise, before boarding our safari vehicle with our guide, Jackson, and heading out to explore.
Needless to say, soon our stomachs started to grumble, and Jackson found the perfect setting on the banks of the Mara River. Our breakfast table groaned table under passion fruit iced tea, individual breakfast tins, plunger coffee and a selection of Kenyan teas. Picnic #1 exceeded our already very high expectations. Delicious breakfast buns, fresh fruits, homemade muesli and more, it was such a treat to enjoy our feast while soaking in the sights and sounds that surrounded us.
Back into our safari vehicle and just moments after breakfast, we experienced one of the best sightings of our safari – a beautiful cheetah sitting atop a mound, scanning the landscape for his breakfast. We were the first vehicle to spot him, so we were able to enjoy the moment without another soul in sight.
Next, we came across a male lion on a buffalo calf kill. Despite breakfast being just a short while earlier, our tummies were on safari time, which means it is never too soon to start thinking about the next meal. Sensing this, Jackson drove to a safe spot a little further down the road to pull out our lunch picnic tins, which we were then able to enjoy while sitting on the vehicle. Again – it was absolutely delicious, but what was even better was being able to sit and watch the action at the kill at the same time. And, needless to add, ice cold Tuskers paired perfectly with picnic #2.
Three hours and an exciting rainstorm later, we had to tear ourselves away from the sighting and head back. It was 10 hours since we had left the lodge but time flew past in an instant. The very best of safari days.
If you’ve ever been dubious about birds being the descendants of dinosaurs, look no further than the shoebill. Just look at it; it’s basically a flying dinosaur.
Even its scientific name, Balaeniceps rex (which literally translates to “King of the Whale Heads”), sounds more like a name reserved for a giant prehistoric reptile than a stork-sized modern-day waterfowl.
It’s a strange bird, and that’s saying something – in a class of animals with more than 10,500 representative species, ranging from hummingbirds to ostriches, it stands out. In fact, for a long time, scientists didn’t know where to place it – was it more closely related to herons, or storks, or pelicans, or . . .? These days, it’s in a monotypic family (meaning its closest living relative is in another family entirely) within the order that contains pelicans and herons.
For all these reasons (it’s a bird, pretty weird, and looks like a dinosaur), plus the fact that it’s a rare and threatened species, (some estimates suggest as few as 5,000 individuals left in the wild) I’ve always wanted to see one. And badly – as in, been at the top of my most-wanted list for years.
And so it was this last February, for our sixth wedding anniversary (thanks for being a good sport, love), that Shan and I went to Uganda for a long weekend getaway to find romance and a bird.
Part of the fun of this journey was the fact that AirKenya had recently launched direct flights from the Mara to Uganda (part of a brilliant plan to directly connect a Mara safari with gorilla-trekking) – which meant that we pretty much walked out of our front door to board a plane at the Angama Airfield and, after a brief stop in Kisumu for immigration, disembarked in Entebbe after about an hour-and-a-half scenic flying time.
From Entebbe, most people would board another short flight to go in search of great apes – but not us. We left the airport to drive to the other side of town and hitch a boatride across a channel, where we were picked up and driven to Nkima Forest Lodge, perched atop a hill overlooking the home of the shoebill, Mabamba Swamp.
Recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, and an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International, Mabamba has a lot more to offer than just shoebills, but shoebills are what put it on the map as perhaps the world’s most easily accessible site to find these scarce and elusive birds.
But it almost wasn’t so: while a shoebill is opportunistic in what it eats, its preferred food is fish, and local fishermen took exception to that, persecuting the birds to near extirpation. Thankfully, concerned citizens and conservation groups launched a programme to not only educate fishermen, but empower them. Now shoebills are respected and valued within the local community, and many fishermen double as birding guides, earning a respectable income from protecting these gangly fish-eating former dinos.
We found just such a bird guide, Shakul, early one morning and, after paying our conservation fees, were the first out on that day’s shoebill search. We launched the boat down a narrow channel bordered by towering papyrus, and as we motored quietly along, Shakul expertly navigating myriad channels, I couldn’t help but feel that this primordial swamp was just the place to find a dinosaur.
The chances of seeing a shoebill in Mabamba are good, but never guaranteed – it can sometimes take two or three boat rides to find one. But we were lucky – Shakul managed to find one in relatively short order, finally convincing me that these strange creatures do, in fact, exist.
Shoebills are well-known for their persistence when stalking prey, moving at a determinedly glacial pace, with patience and concentration that can last for hours, until striking forth with the speed and agility of a viper. And so it was with our bird – stealthily and unwearyingly creeping along like one of those statue street performers, only once breaking character when an otter burst forth from the water in front of it, spooking it into a short flight.
Although we never did get to witness it catch a fish, it was still a marvel to watch and somehow kept us on the edge of our seats for the better part of two hours. I didn’t want to leave, but a chilly drizzle and the promise of a hot cup of tea back at Nkima Forest Lodge coaxed us back to shore. So we set off for home, water gliding silently beneath us, and left the swamp, and the dinosaurs, behind us.
As soon as local travel opened up, a team of four accomplished Kenyan photographers and filmmakers flew to Angama Mara to capture the drama of the Great Migration in near total solitude. This is their account of how they spent their days from sun up to sun down.
As photographers and filmmakers, it’s our dream to be immersed in the ideal conditions to tell our stories. Reflecting on our Africa trip, it seems like everything just came together, from the incredible flight to the warm welcome at Kenya’s Angama Mara, the friendly staff that supported us every day to the wonderful guides who made sure we always seemed to be at just the right place at the exactly right time. For artists, this is what makes the difference between a good image and a great one.
With the ambience set to perfection, each day in paradise began with excitement, full of hope of what the new day may offer. Every morning at 6am we made our descent down the Oloololo Escarpment to make the most of the golden first light of the day in the heart of the action. The Mara Triangle offers a great canvas for artists like us.
In the mornings, the amazing landscapes transform into a dreamy scene when the sun rises and the rays pierce through the mist and trees. We have independently been to the Maasai Mara many times, but this visit was special. As it was the middle of a pandemic there were very few tourists in the Mara. Of course this was a difficult time for many hotels and people working in the tourism industry, but it favored us as photographers who wanted to document uninterrupted nature.
During the full days out on safari – picnics in tow – we were able to witness one of the best migrations any of us has ever experienced without the usual vehicle congestion at the river crossings. Each of us has witnessed how unpleasant our fellow man can be in interrupting animal behavior for their own entertainment and photography, so it was great to experience this change. It was also amazing to be with responsible guides who are completely in love with what they do, and have the utmost respect for wildlife.
As anyone who has been on safari knows, as the sun goes down on the African horizon, you have to have a sundowner or bush dinner. We looked forward to this each evening. It was that time of the day when you could take it all in at the bonfire, exchange stories of the day with other guides and travelers as you sip on a cocktail and watch the sun fade away. It’s the perfect ending to a day.
Now, imagine having that perfect day for a two whole weeks. We would like to thank the Angama management, the staff and the photography studio team for the invaluable support that made our job a dream trip. Keep up the exceptional work of providing an excellent safari destination and most importantly supporting the local community through your various projects. We can’t wait to come back!
Without the movement and noise of safari goers over the last few months, the animals of the Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve have been spending more time in Garonga Safari Camp. The camp structures may well have provided some refuge from the cold of winter, and, for prey species, there is the additional possibility that human activity could deter certain predators. For the herd of impala that had taken up residence in the camp, these hopes were to be dashed by a particular spotted feline named Patsy.
Patsy was just two years old when she was released into the reserve in 2018. Her hunting skills were still a work in progress at that age and without having mastered the necessary stranglehold, the prey she did manage to bring down often broke free and bolted away. Unfortunately for her, this regularly resulted in wasted energy and an empty stomach.
Even for mature adult cheetahs, the number of hunting attempts that result in successful kills is estimated to be between 40-50%. As a result, it is rare to be in the right place at the right time to witness a successful kill. So, you can imagine the excitement of the Garonga guides as they watched Patsy not only effectively demonstrate her maturing hunting skills, but do so right on their doorstep, between the camp tents.
Makalali’s cheetah population
Patsy currently shares the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve with five other cheetahs – two single roaming adult males, and an older adult female and her two sub-adult cubs (a male and a female). Makalali is based in the savanna biome and has a variety of habitats within its borders, including the wide-open clearings, of which the largest is the xinkankanka clearings (Xitsonga for ‘cheetah clearings’), along with thick riverine and savanna woodland.
The cheetahs have adapted very well to living within the reserve and have been known to use the border fencing to aid them in their hunting efforts. Due to the success of the current cheetah population and the size of the Makalali, there is talk of introducing two more cheetahs in the future to diversify the gene pool of the cheetah population within the reserve.
Cheetah reintroduction led by Garonga
Garonga is more than just a lodge in a Big 5 reserve. The process of introducing the first cheetah into the reserve was driven and funded by Garonga owner, Bernie Smith. When the reserve asked him to name the cheetah, he took the opportunity to honor his late grandmother, Patsy. Garonga contributes to the anti-poaching activities throughout the reserve and funds from guests’ stays ensure that the land around the lodge is dedicated to the wildlife that has historically called it home. When Garonga’s safari team is not busy with guests, they are tasked with bush clearing and road maintenance tasks to minimize the impact of game drives on the reserve.
Garonga hosts children from local schools to give them the opportunity –which is often their first – to experience their natural heritage and to inspire them to care for and protect their wildlife. By providing an internship to a graduate of the Wild Shots Outreach Program, Garonga helps to grow the interconnected community and conservation efforts within South Africa’s tourism industry. It also supports a local charity, Rhino Revolution, with their work in the field and one of Garonga’s guides doubles as a Wild Pangolin Monitor and a Pangolin Monitoring Project Coordinator.
The importance of cheetah conservation
According to the IUCN, there are currently approximately only 6,700 mature cheetahs in the wilderness across the world, and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from up to 90% of their historic range in Africa. As the continent’s wild spaces continue to dwindle, there are significant challenges facing cheetahs: habitat loss, a lack of genetic diversity, human-wildlife conflict, the illegal trafficking of cheetah parts and the exotic pet trade, as well as competition with other predators.
That is why the survival of every individual cheetah like Patsy is hugely important for the future of the species. Through Patsy, the other cheetahs of Makalali and those still to come, there is real hope to secure the future of this spectacular big cat species. Just knowing this made watching her successfully take down the impala even more special for the guides of Garonga.
When South Africa’s Kwandwe Private Game Reserve was first established for conservation and safari goers, the founding populations of wildlife included over 7,000 animals that had been relocated from various areas across the country. It was a mammoth task, quite literally – just imagine the planning and preparation that goes into moving an entire herd of elephants over thousands of kilometers! Lion, rhino and cheetah were among a multitude of species that were brought in; all had been locally extinct and some, like cheetah, for over 100 years. And whilst the birdlife didn’t require the same enormous effort to make a return as their mammalian counterparts, there was one notable exception…
In the preceding years, Red-billed Oxpeckers had become locally extinct in the Eastern Cape and their reintroduction to the Kwandwe area was imperative. The small birds form half of what is probably the most recognizable symbiotic relationship in the bush, so much so that it is hard to imagine life without them.
Their demise was ultimately caused by two main factors, the first of which was the dwindling number of their preferred hosts: buffalo and rhino. This resulted in a loss of the Oxpeckers’ prey – ticks – which in turn led to the birds using domestic livestock as host species. This, however, had disastrous consequences for as early as 1890, the livestock dips in use contained arsenic trioxide, a fatal chemical, and the local population of oxpeckers was erased entirely.
After being absent for the better part of a century, the first reintroduction of Oxpeckers took place in 1990. A total of 83 birds were relocated from the Kruger National Park to three separate areas around the Eastern Cape. One of them was the Great Fish River Reserve, right next door to Kwandwe, where 31 birds were released. A further 77 birds were then released in the same area in 2003, and subsequently several others in different locations within the province. The program has proved to be a great success and the birds have bred successfully, hugely increasing their numbers.
Current distribution maps show the expanding Oxpecker population throughout the Eastern Cape, and in the Kwandwe area, one can see first hand just how well they have flourished. A decade ago, we would be lucky to see a half a dozen Oxpeckers together and usually only on large herds of buffalo. Today, that many can be seen on a single giraffe! They continue to breed well, and we frequently see lots of juveniles who lack their namesake red bills and have black bills instead, making them easy to recognize. The more the numbers grow, the more we see them on all manner of host species, ranging in size from impala to giraffe.
Such determination to protect not only the large mammals and ‘special’ birds, but smaller species too is crucial to the conservation of our ecosystem as a whole. Gone are the days when we would use our binoculars to scour the backs of a rhino or buffalo herd in the hopes of finding an Oxpecker; now the Oxpeckers show us where the rhino and buffalo are – exactly how it should be!
Have you ever had the opportunity to spend a night in the African bush? One of those nights where the only thing between you and the outside wild is a sheet of canvas, and when you turn out all the lights, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face? And then the amazing night orchestra starts to play… And it’s not an app you may have downloaded to send you to sleep. This is the real deal. Lions roaring, hyenas cackling, hippos grunting: every sound has a story to tell and the vibrations when the animals are close will change you. It may seem scary, but you also know you are completely safe in your canvas hideaway…
I had the amazing privilege of staying at the brand-new Galpin Tented Camp on Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa, and what an incredible experience it was. As I mentioned above, we had lions calling in the distance almost all night! But, before I get into too much of that, let me set the scene. The tents at Galpin are all raised on wooden platforms with lovely decks outside the front tent flaps. Inside, super-comfortable beds are piled high with extra blankets if needed during the chilly months and there’s a full, en-suite bathroom so no need to leave your tent during the night. At the back, there’s even an outdoor shower – need we say more…
When you book Galpin, the bush adventure starts before you have even arrived at camp. For the journey there, you will hop onto a safari vehicle and embark on your first game drive through the reserve. No need to wait for later to go out into the bush! As you drive, you’ll pass water holes and open grasslands, and drive over and around hills, offering the opportunity to spot just about anything and everything. Then, tucked away at the foot of a hill, with a waterhole in front and an amazing view through a valley of open plains all the way to the dam, is Galpin Tented Camp. After a refreshing welcome drink at check-in, it’s then that you realize the guide and tracker you came with and the camp assistant are the only other people you will lay eyes on for the next couple days…
After an al-fresco lunch and an afternoon to settle in, it’s back to the adventure. Galpin Tented Camp is geared around walking and exploring the reserve on foot. Walking safaris are one of the best ways to feel that connection to the landscape and offer an opportunity to learn about the smaller animals of the bush. But perhaps for your first afternoon, you may want to embark on a drive to explore as much of the area as possible? Whichever you choose, remember to stop just before sundown and enjoy a drink as the sun dips below the horizon. A memorable part of any safari activity!
Returning to camp, you’ll find the fire blazing and a good old South African braai for dinner. The only lights are those of the fire and the twinkling of the lanterns around camp. Now, it’s time to enjoy a drink, tuck into good food and talk about the day and what’s to come tomorrow. At Galpin, memorable stories are created and unforgettable connections are formed – especially when there’s no Wifi to distract you…
Back in your tent, as you lay your head down on the soft pillows and “plug in” to nature’s call, some self-reflection may kick in; you realize that this is only check in day, and there is so much to look forward to including three new leopard cubs!!!
Since its inception in 2002, one of the Grumeti Fund’s main goals has been returning eastern black rhino, an incredible special animal to see on safari, to the western Serengeti; establishing a founder population contributing to the genetic pool and bolstering the greater Serengeti-Mara ecosystem’s rhino population. A couple of months ago, this ambitious conservation project reached an important and exciting goal: the birth of the first rhino calf at Singita Grumeti in decades!
Born to Lindiwe (which means “awaited”), one of the females translocated from South Africa last year, the new arrival gives fresh hope to a species that is considered critically endangered and, for many years, was locally extinct in this part of Tanzania. Less than 1,000 eastern black rhino remain in the wild today, after their numbers were decimated by poachers, starting in the 1970s. Since then, 99% of them have been wiped out or moved to rhino sanctuaries outside of East Africa, which is why their re-establishment in this region is so important for the Serengeti’s biodiversity.
The birth of this young rhino represents the culmination of years of hard work, the nurturing of numerous strategic partnerships and the development of the technical, logistical and financial resources that would allow for the Grumeti Fund to successfully bring eastern black rhino back to the area. Singita Grumeti, a 350,000-acre wildlife concession which serves as their new home, has seen a significant reduction in poaching thanks to the Grumeti Fund’s dedicated anti-poaching efforts. This round-the-clock operation sees the deployment of a special anti-poaching task team, an intelligence-gathering unit, mobile patrols, a canine unit and an airwing, all in service of the rhino’s safety and that of the wildlife alongside which they now live.
In 2019, the Grumeti Fund, in partnership with government stakeholders (primarily the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Tanzania Wildlife Management Authority), translocated a breeding nucleus of rhino from an out-of-range population in South Africa. Following an arduous journey in crates, trucks and airplanes, nine black rhino arrived safely in Tanzania in September. After a few months acclimatizing in custom-built rhino enclosures, they were successfully released into the reserve in November, with the birth of the first calf following seven months later. The pair are thriving under the watchful eye of the aerial and ground teams who monitor their movements 24/7.
Stephen Cunliffe, Executive Director of the Grumeti Fund, shared the organization’s plans for the rhinos: “We hope that a few more calves will be born. The speed at which their numbers are rebounding is very encouraging. There have been hardships along the way, but it’s all worth the significant effort and investments of donor funding, because at this point the population is increasing. To all who have been a part of this ambitious and visionary project, thank you! You are part of a great comeback story.”
Plans to translocate the next group of eastern black rhino to Singita Grumeti this year have been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it is hoped that the next phase will take place in 2021. The steady growth of the new satellite population and their eventual integration into the broader Serengeti ecosystem is the ultimate goal of the project; an undertaking that is essential to the re-establishment of the species in their ideal natural habitat and their future survival as a whole.
HELP THE GRUMETI FUND SAVE THE RHINOS
You can help the Grumeti Fund raise the money needed to fulfil the next phase of the Black Rhino Re-Establishment Project by making a donation directly to the organization. Every penny will go toward the planning, infrastructure, security and technology required to ensure that future generations are able to see these remarkable creatures roaming free in the wild, and saving another species from a fate that would disrupt the balance of nature for centuries to come.
The sweeping plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti are perhaps some of Africa’s most iconic and evocative safari landscapes, conjuring up images of classic East African safaris and the Great Migration – the most extraordinary wildlife spectacle on Earth. Located in these rolling grasslands is Singita Sabora Tented Camp, which has captivated guests for more than a decade with its inimitable setting at eye-level with grazing herds of wildlife. Reopening this year, following an extensive redesign, the new Singita Sabora is set to embody the essence of simplicity – a restorative sanctuary under canvas where connecting with nature comes naturally.
MODERN INTERPRETATION OF CLASSIC SAFARIS
With a classically modern take on African safari experiences that are both transitional and timeless – and embracing its incomparable location – the camp will offer the ideal environment for travelers yearning for privacy and calm. Each tented suite rests lightly and close to the ground and is designed to have a minimal environmental impact. Here, guests have the freedom to enjoy unfiltered time and space, while being transformed by this vast untouched wilderness.
Subtle but deliberate architectural details and décor elements welcome the breathtaking surroundings inside, offering seamless combinations of indoor and outdoor experiences. Singita’s signature levels of comfort are the cornerstones of the experience, guiding guests towards profound connections with nature.
The rediscovered Sabora will reflect an earthy color palette representing the natural tones of the African bush and touches of leather, canvas and cotton stitching – coupled with mesh and weave finishes throughout – provides sophisticated comfort, showcasing the continent’s contemporary cultural identity.
Sabora’s nine breathtaking tented suites will celebrate the romance of spending enchanted nights under canvas – with the sounds of the bush closer than ever before. The new camp has been skillfully reorganized to capture the best views over the plains, as well as two nearby waterholes, where game regularly gather to drink. Each self-contained suite includes extensive private living areas in which to rest, relax and immerse yourself in wellness activities like outdoor yoga, meditation, and guided rituals and treatments to soothe body and soul. The spacious design features a beautifully curated pantry for in-room dining, as well as a meditation deck, private fitness area and secluded outdoor sala with shaded daybeds from which to marvel at passing wildlife.
In the main lodge area, the addition of a unique ‘Guest Deli’, offering wicker baskets and fridges filled with gourmet bites, will allow guests to pick and choose treats to enjoy in their suites – or any private picnic spot they choose. There’s also a separate pool area, two intimate dining spaces and an open-plan bar and lounge, all featuring Sabora’s understated new look, emphasizing tailored luxury.
Destined to lead the way for modern tented experiences that allow you to reconnect with yourself within nature, Singita Sabora Tented Camp awaits those looking for extraordinary experiences that restore, revive and awaken the senses. Set in 350,000 acres of protected wilderness, its reopening in 2020 will provide travelers with the wide-open expanse of the western Serengeti, experienced through Singita’s unique perspective – and the start of something new, more considered and more meaningful than the life we’ve led before.
There is a significant amount of research and knowledge surrounding the role that older female African savannah elephants play in decision-making and leading their herds, but little is understood about the contribution of older males. The assumption has generally been that these old bulls are largely redundant in terms of the overall survival of the population, but a new study conducted in Botswana has yielded results that challenge this conclusion. Instead, researchers argue that the selective harvesting of older males (through trophy hunting and illegal poaching) could have detrimental effects on wider elephant society.
The authors explain that when animals move as a coordinated group, specific individuals may consistently be observed to influence the decisions and routes taken – whether due to their hierarchical dominance, a bolder temperament or advanced age. In species with a relatively long life expectancy, such as elephants or killer whales, older individuals have been seen to respond more appropriately to a change in environment, as well as mobilizing in response to potential threats. While research into this area has tended to be mostly female-focused, there is no reason why there should be a sex-based distinction in the accumulation of knowledge over time, nor is it necessarily the case that males do not have the potential to occupy socio-cognitive roles similar to the females of the species – acting as “repositories of ecological knowledge”.
In social animals, males are typically the dispersing sex and, therefore, are assumed to be replaceable. In elephants, the males tend to leave their natal herds between 10-20 years of age, roaming vast distances and often forming temporary associations with other males of various ages. In associating with older males, the study explains, adolescent bulls could benefit from decades’ worth of experience in utilizing their environment effectively while negotiating potential risks such as conflict with people.
The study was conducted in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park – where male elephants account for some 98% of the elephant sightings. The researchers focused on all-male groups travelling on pathways to and from the Boteti River. The results indicate that young elephants show a significant preference for travelling in groups and that mature adult males were more likely to lead these group movements. These findings applied throughout the year in both the wet and dry seasons, suggesting that these mature bulls offer a signification contribution to elephant society, regardless of the season. The researchers found little evidence that size (particularly stride length) influenced the positioning of individual elephants in the group.
This observed pattern of movement is in direct contrast to that of a breeding herd, where the matriarch will initiate movement and direction but generally move to the back of the group where she can monitor the members of the herd. The process appears to be more passive in male leadership, with the older elephant making decisions and the younger members of the group choosing to follow them. It is, however, an essential role in the male society of elephants, particularly when leading young males between crucial resources such as water.
While they represent the minority in elephant populations, bull elephants are targeted by trophy hunters and poachers due to their larger body sizes and tusks. The researchers suggest that their findings regarding the leadership of older males during collective movement complements other research into the importance of mature bulls in all-male societies. The study expresses concern that targeting these old male animals in trophy hunting could disrupt these all male-societies, as well as the “inter-generational flow of information concerning decades of accumulated ecological knowledge, such as effective navigation and location of critical resources”. Instead, the authors suggest, the role of mature bulls should be recognized as similar in male groups as that of a matriarch in a breeding herd and, as such, they should be afforded equal protection.
At the heart of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s conservation activities is the Orphans’ Project, which has achieved worldwide acclaim through its hugely successful elephant rescue and rehabilitation program.
Like many other countries in Africa, and across the world, Kenya is tackling challenges like habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict and poaching. The Sheldrick Trust, founded in 1977, is a pioneering conservation organisation, dedicated to the protection of wildlife and the preservation of habitats in East Africa.
Many will be familiar with the animal orphanage on the outskirts of the Nairobi National Park. It is here where the rescued orphaned elephants are initially housed. Selfless keepers take on the role of foster parents and look after these often very traumatized young elephants. It is possible to visit the orphanage year-round and anyone passing through Nairobi should consider adding it to their itinerary.
However, at the very core of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s work lies the intent of reintroducing these orphaned elephants back into the wild. The orphans are gradually reintroduced to a more normal life whilst being at the Nairobi shelter, but eventually they get too big for the facility and the next exciting phase of their lives begins.
Established in 2004, the Ithumba Reintegration Unit was built in the extremely remote northern sector of Tsavo National Park. Once elephants reach the age of three, they are no longer able to be housed in Nairobi and so they travel down to Ithumba. Here the slow process of ‘rewilding’ takes place.
At night, the elephants are housed in secure enclosures – largely to protect them from predators such as lion, which many of them would have yet to encounter.
Every morning at first light, the elephants are hand-fed milk by their keepers. Once they have drank a few litres they are grouped into smaller units of three or four individuals. A keeper will then walk with them out into the wild. The keeper’s role is to lead the walks and to keep a watchful eye over the orphans.
It is incredible to watch these men walking through the vegetation with their small extended family of pachyderms. They will be with these specific individuals for years and years. There can honestly be no greater ‘silent heroes’ in my opinion than these men.
Like clockwork, 11 am hits and the elephants know that it is time for the midday feed and playtime. The smaller units all group together for an hour of social interaction and wallowing.
In the heat of the day, head keeper Benjamin is out with the elephants as they frolic in the water. He takes notes and photographs each elephant every day. What stories he could tell? What connections with the animal world he must have.
After the midday play session, they regroup into their smaller units and are led in various directions. The keepers will choose different areas in an attempt to get the elephants as used to the landscape as possible.
At 5pm the elephants are walked back to the main enclosure. It is the most surreal experience to see them walking in single-file behind their beloved human friend.
Once back in their enclosure, there is still time for drinking and feeding and some more socializing – and it will all be repeated tomorrow.
This process will take place every single day for about five or six years, at which point an orphan, or a group of orphans, will decide that they no longer want to return to their night enclosure. An elephant will make the decision that it is ready for the big open wilderness and it will leave. I asked Benjamin to try explain this moment to me; he struggled. I could see in his eyes that the moment an elephant decided it no longer needed a human’s help, was the greatest achievement for the team, but also the saddest moment.
I cannot imagine the bonds that they must forge together over the years, nor the mix of emotions felt when an elephant doesn’t return. Incredibly, like out of a fairy-tale, these orphaned elephants often return years later, to reacquaint with their old guardians, and sometimes even to introduce their old human keepers to their wild-born calves.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this unit and to spend time with elephants and their keepers. This portion of Tsavo East is remote and beautiful. By opening up the experience to guests, Sheldrick have provided the opportunity for guests to truly get up close and personal with the elephants and to absorb as much as possible from this encounter.
Let food be thy medicine” – wise words to live by. In times of Corona, good health, a nutrient-rich diet and medicine are all at the forefront of many a mind, which means there couldn’t be a better time to introduce the spiraled Living Pharmacy garden at Kenya’s Angama Mara Safari Lodge.
Although The Living Pharmacy was designed and built during my last visit three years ago, the Shamba team hadn’t had a moment to install its plants until the recent absence of their much-loved guests. The team are usually kept frantically busy growing and supplying ‘garden-to-table’ fresh produce to the lodge’s kitchens or guiding guests to handpick their salad greens during a Shamba Lunch.
The pharmacy lives in the Shamba’s Zone 5 just behind the Manyatta and close to the chook hotel – (yes, even the chickens at Angama reside in style). It consists of two comma-shaped raised beds which morph into spiraling towers offering a range of easy-to-clutch natural remedies.
The two beds mirror each other and welcome visitors to sit on their curved lower walls whilst the shamba keeper explains the plants’ medicinal values. In the beds surrounding the spirals, you’ll find larger sprawling herbs and indigenous medicinal trees, many of which the Maasai use daily.
Plant varieties are arranged according to which hemisphere of the body they treat – the upper body in one spiral and the lower body in the other.
The healing properties of the available plants can be enjoyed in a variety of applications:
• Freshly brewed herbal teas are known to treat many an ailment and many of which happen to be delicious. My favorites are cinnamon basil and chamomile (separately) but others to try are ‘Bushman Tea’ (congestion), lemon balm (fevers, anxiety and depression), peppermint (upset stomach), fennel (halitosis), rosemary (depression, memory, circulation and even baldness) and lavender (strong anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties)
• Dried leaves: some medicinal herbs, such as Moringa, are easier to absorb when the leaves are dried. I’ll never forget the aroma of a medicinal healer’s hut where bowls of herbs were placed to dry on top a wood burner oven
• Fresh juices extracted from leaves and stems, tamed with a drop of honey and a kick of ginger. Some seasonal health juices on offer include green alkaliser, slick citrus, and beetroot boost
• Fresh leaves: simply chew on a Bushman’s Tea leaf and your congestion disappears. James, the head shamba keeper, reported on our recent Zoom catch-up call that guests found this one most effective
• More on the scrumptious side, health smoothies are loaded with antioxidant goodness thanks to moringa leaves and blueberries and are flavored with frozen banana and Maasai honey
• Fresh flowers: calendula petals have anti-inflammatory properties and are used to treat skin conditions. They also add a yellow coloring and spicy, saffron-like flavor to soups, salads, herb butter or pasta
• Flower buds, fresh or dried, such as dandelion have excellent detoxifying properties
• Floral tea: viola’s ancient name is ‘heartsease’ as a tea made of its flowers is an effective treatment for blood pressure
• Roots: Num num roots are boiled into a soup-like broth and used to treat toothache
• Chopped stems: not healing but still fun, such as the African Olive, are used as (plastic-free) toothbrushes
These are just a few of the remedies on offer. For the full experience James will tailor your next visit to the Shamba to meet your healing requirements.
The next time you’re in the pharmacy checkout aisle, I dare you to close your eyes and imagine you’re circling Angama Mara’s herb spirals and citrus labyrinth with the smell of freshly cut lemon balm in your nose, the Maasai Mara wilderness below you and a herb bundle clutched in your hand. The visualization alone is likely to kick start your body’s immune system.