What is conservation?
Earths’ natural resources include air, minerals, plants, soil, water, and wildlife. Conservation is the care and protection of these resources so that they can continue for future generations. Conservation focuses on protecting species from extinction, maintaining and restoring habitats, enhancing ecosystems, and protecting biological diversity. Conservation and preservation are similar as both relate to the protection of nature. Conservation seeks the proper use of nature, while preservation seeks protection of nature from use.
Why is conservation important?
1.) To Protect wildlife
The evident reason for conservation is to protect wildlife and to encourage biodiversity. Protecting our wildlife and preserving it for future generations also means that the animals we love do not become distant memories and that we can maintain a healthy and functional ecosystem. Some species cannot survive outside of their natural habitat. Without human intervention, such as zoos and Private Safari Reserves like South Africa’s Kapama, their survival is a threat. The destruction of their natural habitats poses a real threat to their survival. Additionally, species that migrate and inhabit more than one natural habitat are also vulnerable. Therefore, the preservation of these habitats helps to prevent the entire ecosystem from being harmed.
2.) To protect Earth
3.)For human health
4.) To promote tourism
Visiting South Africa, tourists get to experience its unique flora and fauna. It includes natural habitats like mountains, hiking trails, private reserves, as well as the big five and so much more. Kapama Private Game Reserve makes significant contributions to both the local community and the environment. Tourists from around the world visit our Reserve to experience the beauty and culture of our country. This gives us a platform to educate tourists on the importance of preserving and conserving the resources of our planet, protecting endangered species, as well as how our initiatives support local communities.
If everyone decides to do their part, we can make great strides in conserving our planet and its scarce resources.
Besides our sustainability efforts in place at each lodge, our water recycling plant on the Reserve and our anti-poaching unit that focuses on protecting the endangered species residing on Kapama, we support other worthwhile causes that help raise awareness for the important points mentioned above. One such fun and sportive initiative we joined was the #BurpeesForConservation
To preserve African wilderness areas and their wildlife, Tshembo Africa Foundation and Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Foundation launched the #BurpeesForConservation challenge. This fundraiser aims to raise 1 million Rand towards conservation through burpees. For each burpee completed, R1 goes towards conservation.
Kapama’s staff from all departments and lodges took up the challenge and completed a total of 2 390 burpees. Here are our team’s efforts!
Story by: Southern Camp Ranger Lindi Taljaard & video by: Buffalo Camp Ranger Rassie Jacobs
Shipwrecks and whale skeletons are not your average African safari attractions. But then there’s nothing average about Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, a fly-in destination in northern Namibia that’s otherworldly and unforgettable.
Set amidst rust-colored crags in the Namib Desert’s famed Kaokoveld , the camp’s pale olive luxury tents peak like whitecaps on an ocean of sand. The landscape may seem empty at first, but soon reveals itself to be full of life, home to desert-adapted elephant and lion, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, hyaena, black rhino, black-backed jackal, oryx, a host of various birds, and many other creatures. Hoanib prides itself on its on-site research center, where monitoring, tracking, and other studies of elephant, lion, and brown hyaena are ongoing – a source of enrichment for guests.
Morning and afternoon game drives explore the nearly always dry Hoanib riverbed, in the search for desert-adapted wildlife. Nature walks among the dunes introduce guests to some of the area’s smaller denizens, and to plants such as the ancient welwitschia, as well as to remnants of the Strandloper – beachcomber – way of life from centuries ago. Local birding yields many rewards, including raptor species and the occasional flamingo.
The highlight of a stay at Hoanib, though, is the four-hour 4X4 drive to the coast, across the wild Hoanib River floodplain and rolling dunes to the frigid Atlantic, where the cold Benguela current collides with the warmer desert and generates the region’s famed fog. Passing through the Skeleton Coast National Park, stopping at an often wildlife-rich oasis en route, you reach the windswept shore. There awaits a fascinating and quaint museum celebrating the area’s fauna, flora and wrecks, as well as Cape fur seal colonies and bleached bones on an endlessly crashing shoreline – an eerily enchanting panorama.. Yours to explore before, weather permitting, a short flight takes you back to camp – offering a nearly infinite view of a landscape like no other.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast’s General Manager; Clement Lawrence, Sales and Marketing Manager, Wilderness Safaris Namibia and former Hoanib Skeleton Coast Manager and Guide; and Max Bezuidenhout, Hoanib Skeleton Coast Head Guide, share their appreciation of this exceptional place:
What makes Hoanib Skeleton Coast special? What are the activities/services offered at Hoanib, and what are the highlights of a stay there, the aspects that guests really seem to love?
(Clement) The camp is located in a rugged outlands bordering the Skeleton Coast National Park near the banks of the Hoanib River. Its location holds many secrets, including unexpected wildlife wandering along the riverbed. The best experience is the drive from the camp to the coast. It offers incredible changes of scenery, starting off with an almost eerie, foggy morning drive through the larger ana trees, spotting the odd giraffe or desert elephant. As the weather clears, you find yourself on the floodplains, where thick salt bushes prevail; there you might spot more rarely seen wildlife, like caracal or honey badger, if luck is on your side. A tea stop on a dune looking over the sand sea is the perfect break before you make it to the coast itself. Only once there can you understand the coast’s harshness; its rocky beaches and gusty winds feel like a different planet from where you started off that morning. Guests are spoilt with an amazing lunch and cold glass of wine on the beach, absorbing the welcome sunlight as the day warms up. To finish off the day we take guests on a short scenic flight back to camp, giving them a bird’s-eye view of what they’ve just experienced.
(Munya) Hoanib is special because of the scenery that surrounds it. The mountains, the red sand dunes, the space. The Hoanib River area is rich in wildlife, which generally surprises guests who don’t expect to see so much within a desert – the elephant herds, desert lions, giraffe, hyaenas, foxes, and oryx, among others.
Hoanib Skeleton Coast Lodge offers a coastal excursion that sets it apart from many other places. This involves a drive over the dunes to the Skeleton Coast, with a stop at an oasis en route, then a drive along the beach to see seal colonies and other sights, followed by a picnic lunch at the seaside, enjoying the ocean breeze. The trip ends with a scenic flight back to the camp, wowing guests with views of the dunes and the topography below, from a different perspective. For me what stands out from the trip is that one moment you are driving in the desert, and the next moment you are at the coast, where the desert meets the ocean! The excursion also is interesting historically: there’s a brief stop at a small museum exhibiting whale skeletons – one of the reasons it’s named the Skeleton Coast.
(Max) Hoanib is a unique place, a beautiful, isolated landscape. What also makes Hoanib special is the wildlife – desert lions, elephants, hyaenas, Cape foxes, and other species move in and out of camp. The sand dunes on the way to the coast are gorgeous, hiding away two big oases in the middle of nowhere – hot spots for the desert animals and water birds like flamingoes. At the coast there’s the Cape fur seals, black-backed jackals, and hyaenas. Aside from the drive to the coast, we offer guided walks, game drives, rhino tracking if time allows, star gazing, amongst other activities.
What do YOU most love about Hoanib?
(Clement) I am in love with the weather there. Without the wind, there would be no desert. If you understand how the desert is formed, you would know that the desert breeze carries cool air. On the warmest days you can look over to the west and see the thin fog belt, a sign that the temperature is likely to cool down. Whilst sitting around the fire after dinner, you can feel the fog droplets forming and see the camp lights becoming brighter, lighting up the moisture.
(Munya) The weather – mornings and nights are very cool because of our proximity to the ocean. You almost forget that you are in a desert. I also love how well constructed the lodge is.
What does the name ‘Hoanib’ mean?
(Munya) Hoanib means the ‘place of elephants’. It’s a Damara word and has a click at the beginning. It names the ephemeral river that periodically flows through the area. When the river isn’t running, desert elephants forage up and down the riverbed, hence the name.
(Clement) I once heard from an old Himba that Hoanib means ‘for all of us’ because in the old days the Hoanib was the one place where water was consistent and the people of the land all shared it together. He did not have Google, though. I think we should go with Munya on this one.
Please talk about the wildlife at/around the camp…what are the most ‘desired’, ‘wow’ sightings/experiences?
(Max) Day and night we have wildlife drinking from the waterhole in front of camp. Game drives happen in the morning and afternoon, but often there’s quite a bit of action in camp. For instance, one evening after supper service when I was walking guests staying in Tents 3 and 4 to their rooms… We had just left the guests in Tent 4 and were on our way to Tent 3. There we found a big elephant bull eating from the tree in front of the room. What saved us was that about six metres away, I heard his stomach rumbling. I told the guests to freeze. The elephant must have heard me speaking, and moved off through the bush. Elephant eyes do not reflect in the darkness, so it’s difficult to spot them.
Another close encounter was with lion. A new male lion called Munya had entered the Hoanib riverbed, and he was not accustomed to vehicles. I was on an afternoon game drive with a family of four, tracking two female lions who’d been frequenting the area. We were circling a salvadora bush when suddenly a huge male, this ‘new’ lion, charged us. He stopped within a metre of the vehicle, leaving a cloud of dust, and us speechless, and then departed.
(Munya) Elephants are the most common animals around the camp; giraffe, oryx, ostrich, and springbok are also widely present. Other less common sightings include zebra, leopard, and cheetah. Desert lions are on the resurgence as well, with two or three prides frequenting camp.
One day we were jump starting a vehicle in front of my room. I was being assisted by the camp chef (Steven) and a guide (Moses). Moses brought another vehicle but forgot the jumper cables. So he went back and left Steven and me there. Whilst I was concentrating under the hood, Steven said, ‘Let’s get in the car, there are lions here!’ As I turned around I saw two lionesses and three cubs approaching. We both got in the car, and waited for them to pass by. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera on me, nor did Steven. The lions strolled past and the cubs playfully tagged along.
Another time, during lockdown after dark, Moses heard jackals calling, and grabbed his camera because he thought the jackals had seen lions. He followed the sound to outside my room, and I heard him call my name. I quickly went outside. Moses pointed to the mountain behind my room. There we saw a leopard on the mountain – our first time ever seeing one in the area.
(Clement) One memorable wildlife encounter for me was at our farewell gathering for Beauranzia, our food and beverage manager at the time. I cooked a wonderful potjie, if I say so myself, which we enjoyed around a fire. We sat quietly after the meal because we all ate too much. It was full moon and the perfect goodbye, as Dr Philip (‘Flip’) Stander told us incredible stories about his lion research in the desert. It was only when one of the guides got up to put his plate in the kitchen that we noticed the lioness walking past with her three cubs. Surprisingly, we all stayed somewhat calm and moved into the kitchen, but she was not a happy lady. Or so we thought. The lioness walked away from us to where her cubs had scrambled, a manager’s accommodation. She lay down on a slope where she could still see us.
Dr Flip disappeared to his car to track where the second lioness from the pride was; it turned out that while we’d been eating, she’d quietly slipped past us and was now drinking at the waterhole. The cubs could not help themselves – smelling the fire (and my potjie) they walked straight towards it, sniffing everything along the way, ignoring their mother’s calls and gathering around the fire place. The ten of us hiding in the kitchen shoved our heads through the shade net of the door to get a better view of the cubs; it was too funny. Even more hilarious was that the moon was shining right on our faces, yet we pretended to be inconspicuous. Eventually the lioness wandered past and the cubs followed, with Dr Flip in the rear. You can see that the man knows lions better than people. We called it a night after that.
Another time in camp it was 2 am, and Charlie, our resident elephant, had wandered over to a spot right next to my room, where he decided to pull on the water pipe coming from the tanks above. He broke it off easily, having an urge for a splash of water and knowing exactly where to find it. Charlie was not going to put the pipe back after he was finished, so I had to get out of bed and sneak quietly out of my room, around the back and up a massive hill to close the tanks – otherwise guests would have no water the next day. After closing the tap, I could see Charlie looking directly at me, but he couldn’t reach me because of the steep slope. It was then I found myself talking calmly to this elephant, begging him to please go and drink at the waterhole in front of camp, reminding him that we had built it for him. He had an aggressive stance but never made any noise.
I suppose he was actually listening, or just hoped I would slip and roll down the slope. Eventually, Charlie shook his head and walked off. I thanked him but got no response. I walked down the slope, checking that he was gone before reconnecting the broken pipe. It was such a wet and muddy situation that by the time I got back to my room I was wide awake. This was where I declared that karma owes me one, big time; she always delivers in the desert. Shout out to Charlie for being such a good sport – I miss him terribly.
What are some of the key bird species that guests can expect to see?
(Clement) Endemics that can be found along the Hoanib River include Ruppell’s korhaan, and on the gravel plains we have the Benguela long-billed lark. In our warmer months the olive Madagascar bee-eater moves into the area. Along the Hoanib mouth, which holds a bit of water, we also have the odd flamingo visiting for a while before heading to the large Etosha Pan.
(Munya) Hornbills, black harriers, peregrine falcons, francolins, and guinea fowl.
(Max) Ruppell’s korhaan, hornbills, pale-winged starlings, Cape turtle dove, grey go-away-bird, masked weaver, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, and so on.
How does the Hoanib experience compare to/differ from that of other WS camps in Namibia? Would you recommend that guests visit Hoanib plus other WS camps?
(Munya) Hoanib offers not only the desert experience but also the coastal experience. Temperatures aren’t as brutal there as in other parts of the desert because of its proximity to the ocean. Most of all, the wildlife there is wonderfully unexpected and diverse; other camps in Namibia do not have as much variety.
(Clement) Hoanib’s location along the Skeleton Coast National Park tells its own story of how geology has allowed for the most interesting ecosystem to evolve and what adaptation each species uses to survive, fauna and flora alike. It offers perspective on what vast landscapes are all about, and gives chills down your spine when you notice how inhospitable it can be.
What’s your favorite time of day in/around camp and why?
(Clement) Hands down, it has to be late afternoon. When the coastal breeze reaches inland the temperature noticeably drops and the light becomes so soft it’s almost tangible. Photography is off the charts at this time; you cannot believe what you are able to capture, even with only landscape through your lens. If a lone desert elephant happens to walk against the light with the dust blowing up behind him, it is just mesmerizing.
(Munya) Evenings or more specifically sundown, because this is the time elephants often converge at the waterhole. The temperatures are cool, a westerly breeze comes through, the setting sun gives off orange and reddish hues through the mountains. It is a magical, peaceful time of the day.
(Max) I love foggy mornings, they’re refreshing.
And your favorite season there?
(Munya) For me it’s winter, when wildlife converges in the riverbed. Elephants often are seen digging there trying to get groundwater. Giraffes come closer to the camp and can be seen browsing nearby treetops. It is extremely cold at night; waking up is tough, because sleep is so good. Early mornings are spectacular because fog sits low in the camp. The sun battles to shine through; when it does, condensation droplets are a common sight at the foot of the tents.
(Clement) Winter, just after the rains. It is when we witness the extremes of the desert. How strong the wind can be, how much fog can roll in from the coast, and how important this is to the ecosystem. As you follow the meandering dry riverbed early in the morning the visibility is limited. The only thing you might see, for instance, is the bold elephant track in the soft sand, which the guide has pointed out. How far did he walk last night and where is he going, you wonder. It’s still foggy, and later in the dunes you see one elephant feeding on a bush; you can make out only the silhouette. Gradually all the pieces come together and it finally makes sense how the desert works.
(Max) I like the winter. Almost every day is foggy and fresh, and you can see how trees, plants, and animals get their water from the fog. In summer it is very dry, and HOT – though if it rains then it’s great to see how fast everything turns green and comes to life.
What kind of community and conservation work is WS doing/supporting in the area? That Hoanib is involved in?
(Clement) Hoanib Skeleton Coast is in a joint venture with three conservancies as part of our agreement as concession holders in the Palmwag Concession. We as a camp support the Conservancy Outpost in the Mudorib River, which monitors movements in and out of the concession itself. We have strong ties with local communities; most of our staff are from these areas. We embrace local culture as part of our brand which reflects both ways, to communities and guests alike.
The camp has its own research center where guests have an opportunity to meet local researchers and learn more specifics about the ecosystem. Emsie Verwey, busy with brown hyena research, is our base researcher and facilitates researchers in camp. This helps researchers study in remote locations as well as providing input on which areas or species are critical to the ecosystem here.
At Hoanib conservation is not just a ‘catch phrase’ used lightly. Camp staff work to preserve the pristine nature of the desert through environmental conservation efforts, including driving on designated roads (avoiding off-road driving). The guides at Hoanib embody conservation, and work in conjunction with the research centers based at the camp, the Desert Lion Conservation Project and the brown hyaena project, observing and reporting strange animal behavior as well as sightings. This data allows researchers to know if an animal is in distress, and provides vital territorial mapping information. It also helps mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Recently, Wilderness Safaris installed the (LoRa) Long Range system in camp, an effort spearheaded by Smart Parks. The technology uses long-range communication to track not only animals but also vehicles. It is a cost-effective tool, operated by solar power and gives us real-time data on the location of animals that have tracking collars.
(Max) Around Hoanib, Wilderness Safaris has worked with the Himba, Herero, and Damara communities in many aspects, looking after the animals and the environment. We avoid off-road driving and we don’t cut down trees. A lot of research is done at Hoanib, on desert lions for instance, with a project to collar them to curb human-wildlife conflict between the lions and the local people. We’ve also worked with various NGOs to help them build kraals to protect their domestic animals. Brown hyaenas are also collared and monitored; we teach guests about their importance in the ecosystem.
What items are essential for guests to bring while on safari at Hoanib?
(Munya) Sunscreen, a pullover, sun hat, sunglasses, and closed-toe shoes.
(Clement) The Skeleton Coast can be tricky compared to the rest of Namibia, which stays sunny all day, every day. Here temperatures fluctuate according to the prevailing westerly wind off the Atlantic Ocean. So guests should definitely bring a warm jacket; early mornings can be foggy and chilly. It eventually warms up, so you will need sunblock and a hat by lunchtime. When you’re sipping your sundowner in the evening you’ll again need your jacket, as the prevailing wind cools the desert all over again. If you come in winter, bring along a scarf and a beanie as well.
(Max) Guests need to bring sunscreen, sun hats, binoculars, cameras, clothes that blend in with the landscape, and memory cards because there’s a lot to photograph.
What are your favorite areas to visit around/in camp and why? Which spots are guests’ favorites? Which places are best for sundowners?
(Max) The favorite areas to visit in and around camp are the Hoanib River, the backbone of the desert and where the wildlife will be. Guests also love to sit in front of their rooms watching animals at the waterhole, and we have hills or mountains around camp that we walk or drive up for sundowners.
(Munya) Rallies is my favorite sundowner spot because it is on a hill, with a 360-degree view from up there. Other hills do not block the sun as it sets. It is also secluded. Once whilst having a staff sundowner with the managers, two lionesses strolled past us.
(Clement) Everyone loves the pool – it’s always refreshing and the best way to cool down while enjoying a beverage. The view is fantastic, overlooking the waterhole. I also love it around the fire late at night when everyone is asleep and all the lights are off. The stars are so beautiful, and if you are lucky you can feel the fog rolling in.
Please talk about the décor/design at Hoanib, in the rooms as well as the common areas.
(Munya) Totally solar-powered, Hoanib has a modern design, it’s not the typical safari-style template. Its interior is decorated in subtle shades reflecting the environment – in beiges, browns, greys, olive greens, and blues, mostly. Both the rooms and the main areas are contemporary, with light wood tones, straight lines, and flat finishes. The rooms are characterized by large glass screens as well. They are spacious, with a large glass anterior, yet also cozy.
(Clement) The colors blend in well with the desert, with soft blue accents. The camp’s simple layout gives a feeling of space – as the desert does. Local woven baskets adorn the walls, and each room has a fantastic black and white photo of wildlife along the river taken by Graham Springer.
(Max) The camp is beautifully designed, its colors blending in with the landscape. The rooms are spacious and welcoming.
What is the dining experience at Hoanib, and some highlights on the menu? Please share the various dining options, in camp and in the bush.
(Munya) Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoanib offered the communal dining experience. There are other dining experiences available: meals in the restaurant or open air in front of the lodge facing the waterhole. The menu varies according to the season but always has nutritious vegetarian and meat options and salads. Some sample dishes from our summer menu include: honeybush poached pear and biltong salad; millet and gem risotto with tender stems and brie cheese; Namibian lamb loin served with pea and mint cauliflower mash and green beans; pan-fried kingklip with pineapple salsa, lime aioli, and coconut potato crisps; deconstructed lemon meringue pie; granadilla with meringue and mint.
(Clement) Dining under the stars is brilliant, we seize the opportunity whenever we can. Our menu is seasonal, so we adapt and incorporate new foods all the time. We focus on light, fresh, and healthy meals but also offer traditional braais for our guests. My favorite food offering is the bread rolls filled with cheese and basil pesto and cooked on hot coals.
(Max) I love the outside dining experience near the fire pit and under the stars, sometimes watching lion and elephant walking past.
What makes you most proud of the camp, and working there?
(Clement) What we have been able to contribute to the ‘family’ of Hoanib has been my greatest pride. We formed a strong team as a whole and achieved many things together, small and big. Our support of the many NGOs and governmental operations came naturally, our contributions came unconditionally – because we believe in the people we work with.
(Munya) Its location and the beautiful design of the facilities. It is one of the few camps that is close to the ocean.
(Max) It’s a beautiful camp to work at – the peace, the wildlife, and for me most of all, the landscape.
Who comprises the staff at Hoanib? Please tell us a bit about their backgrounds, training, service, relationships with guests etc.
(Munya) Most staff are from the Sesfontein area or the Anabeb Conservancy, which stretches as far as the Palmwag area. These are mixed tribes: Damara and some Himba. Most are locals who were trained by Wilderness Safaris Training Department. Guests are always curious to know where the staff are from, how long they have been working with the company, and information regarding their families.
(Clement) Most of our staff come from the local villages in the conservancies and participate in continuous training throughout our time in camp; this varies from standards to service in all departments. Staff learn so much from this training; some even grow into other positions as they develop their skill set. We have maintenance guys who become drivers and eventually guides, for instance.
At Hoanib we tried to start off with a clean slate and employ people with the least experience to give them the opportunity to grow, which has been so beneficial for all of us. We were able to implement strong principles about guests and the services we provide to them. It was an incredible journey; to see change and growth in people is so amazing. Hoanib staff are the best humans, if you ask me.
(Clement) Anyone who visits Hoanib will leave with a feeling hard to describe back home. It is hard to convey the magic of being out in the wilderness with no interference or impact other than your immediate surroundings. It gives a feeling which only the soul understands. I’ve often found myself genuflecting to the privilege the desert holds, which will stay with me for as long as I am alive. There are so many, many experiences that have humbled me throughout the time I have spent in the desert, at and around Hoanib. It is a remarkable place, and an honor to be part of it.
Written by Melissa Siebert
The African wild dog, or painted wolf, is the most persecuted predator on the continent. It is also the most elusive and enigmatic making them a not so common sighting on safari drives. However, most people are unaware of this special creature’s existence.
Here we learn more about these beautiful animals and their continued fight for survival and space in an increasingly fragmented natural environment.
Africa’s Painted Wolves
The African wild dog is known by many names, including Cape hunting dog, African hunting dog and painted wolf. Although it is a member of the Canidae family, it is in fact the last surviving member of a separate genus – Lycaon. Its scientific name, Lycaon pictus means “painted wolf”, which refers to the animal’s irregular, mottled coat, which features red, black, brown, white, and yellow fur.
Each dog has its own unique coat pattern, with long legs, big, rounded ears and a white-tipped tail, which also helps members of the pack find each other during a hunt. It is not only their coats that make them special. They each have individual characters, distinct skills, and their own idiosyncrasies. All wild dogs share a sense of fun, a gentleness of soul and a co-operative spirit, which makes them one of Africa’s most enigmatic creatures.
Unlike other dogs, which have five toes on their forefeet, these canines have only four toes per foot and no dew claw. Body weight of adults range from 18 to 36 kg (40 to 79 lb.). Females are slightly smaller than males. In a sprint, African wild dogs can reach speeds of more than 70 km per hour (44 mph).
Wild dogs are native to the African continent and wild populations cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. African wild dogs are generalist predators, occupying a range of habitats including short-grass plains, semi-desert, bushy savannahs, and upland forest. These painted wolves used to roam the whole of Africa. Now, the largest populations remain in southern Africa, especially northern Botswana, western Zimbabwe, eastern Namibia, and western Zambia and the southern part of East Africa, especially Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
A Rich and Complex Social Life
African wild dogs are deeply social and to them, the pack is everything. These packs are usually dominated by a monogamous ‘alpha’ male and female breeding pair, with the female occupying the top slot. A single pack can comprise as few as two and up to more than 30 painted dogs, but around six is the minimum for a successful hunting and breeding group. In some parks, wild dog packs can occupy a space that spreads well beyond 1 000 square kilometres.
The alpha female chooses where her pack will build their den and excavates it with help from her pack. The female may also choose an abandoned aardvark lair for her den, making sure it is heavily disguised and will also create more than one emergency escape route. The female’s pups are also cared for by the entire pack.
These dogs have strong family bonds and spend most of their time together. Social interactions are common, and the dogs communicate by touch, actions, and vocalisations. Their priority is always to protect their pack; pups get first feed after a kill, ‘aunties’ act as pup-sitters for other mothers, and if a wild dog becomes ill or injured, their pack-mates rally round to care for them. Wild dogs have also been seen mourning lost family members.
Can You Hear Me?
The species communicates well, which relates to their strong bonds. For this purpose, they make use of thin bird-like calls and a deep haunting hoo…hoo…hoo call, distinctly different ear positions, and they also change their body posture to communicate with one another.
They rely heavily on their acute sense of hearing, which seems to be more important than their sense of smell. If a pack member gets separated from the group, they can communicate over great distances by ‘hoo-calling’, where they drop their muzzle close to the ground and emit this haunting sound, which can be heard several kilometers away. It also helps that they have large and flexible bat-shaped ears, which gives them a somewhat Mickey Mouse appearance. You will notice that their ears are never still, even when sleeping, all the time detecting the sounds of approaching danger or potential prey.
The Alpha Female, Mom to Many
As with the much-loved domestic dog, painted dogs and their puppies are gorgeous. Only the alpha female carries a litter for a gestation period of 69-72 days, producing 10-11 pups of around 310 grams (11oz) each. Usually, only one litter is born per year.
The denning period lasts about three months, but wild dogs will often move to a new den after eight weeks. This may be due to the den becoming smelly, which may attract lion and hyaena. This is also part of the pups’ education, as they get to experience a walk in the big wild world before going permanently nomadic.
The puppies are weaned at around five weeks of age and become fully-fledged pack hunters at around 12 months old, though only reaching adult status at 18 months. Same-sex siblings from one pack will eventually leave to join up with those of the opposite sex from another pack, forming a family of their own. The average life span of a wild dog is 11 years of age.
A Formidable and Fierce Pack of Hunters
African wild dogs hunt in large, co-operative packs of six to 20 or more animals. An average adult painted dog eats around 4 kg (9 lb.) of carcass per day—the equivalent of around one impala per day for a 15-strong pack.
African wild dogs are among the most effective predators in the world. They use extraordinary co-operation and teamwork to pursue, overhaul and bring down their prey. As a result, up to 80% of their hunts end successfully, compared to, say, lions at 10%.
They hunt swiftly and efficiently and are mostly seen in the morning or during dusk, as well as using the light of the full moon. The pack hunts antelope by sneaking up on the herd and then running down an individual, repeatedly biting it on the legs and belly until it weakens. The wild dog can give chase for 10 to 60 minutes, running at a speed of up to 70 kilometres per hour.
When catching its prey, the lead hunter will attempt to immobilize its victim, by grabbing its nose or ear. Next, after the rest of pack joins the hunt, the trapped animal is literally ripped apart in a few seconds. Wild dogs have specially adapted curved, blade-like lower teeth, different to other canids, to enable the quick shredding of carcasses as the risk of losing their prey to lion or hyaena is very real. Their hunting method minimizes the suffering of their prey, and spoils are shared with the whole pack. Soon after the kill, the pack will erupt into a series of high-pitched squeaks. This may be an expression of excitement, but more likely it is to alert other pack members that a meal has been secured.
Wild dogs mostly hunt medium-sized antelope of around 50 kilograms in size. In most areas their principal prey is impala Aepyceros melampus, greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, Thomson’s gazelle Eudorcas thomsonii and blue wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus. Small antelope, such as dik-dik Madoqua spp., steenbok Raphicerus campestris and duiker tribe Cephalophini are important in some areas, and warthog Phacochoerus africanus is also hunted in some populations. The dogs may supplement their diet with rodents and birds. As human settlements expand, the dogs may sometimes develop a taste for livestock, though significant damage is rare, and most dogs prefer wild prey.
To Hunt or Not to Hunt? Let Us Vote by Sneezing…
Latest research by Walker et al. (2017) on free-ranging African wild dog packs in Botswana has revealed that the decision by a pack to get up from rest and hit the road to hunt as a collective pack is a democratic one, albeit with a twist – votes are cast by way of sneezes. Yes, those dogs that wish to participate in the vote do so by sneezing, and just like in company meetings, once a certain number (quorum) of votes has been reached (sneezes made) the pack will obey the results of the vote and move on. The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes must reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity.
Furthermore, it appears that higher-ranking members of the pack must sneeze less often to achieve quorum. So, for example, a high-ranking pack member may have to sneeze just three times to achieve the same result as a lower ranked member that may have to sneeze 10 times.
This is a form of democracy, modified to reflect rank. Persistent lower ranking dogs can achieve the desired results if they are determined, and sneeze often enough. As such, the ‘will of the group’ may override dominant preferences when the consensus of subordinates is sufficiently great. These findings illustrate how specific behavioral mechanisms (here, sneezing) allow for negotiation (in effect, voting) that shapes decision-making in a wild, socially complex animal society.
One of The World’s Most Endangered Large Carnivores
The painted wolf is Africa’s most persecuted predator. A century ago, approximately 500 000 painted wolves roamed across 39 countries on the African continent. Today they are all but extinct in the west, and struggling in the east, with the most robust surviving populations in the southern part of the continent. Their population is currently estimated at less than 7 000 individuals in 39 distinct subpopulations, of which only 1 400 are mature individuals. They are classified as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List, and the population size is continuing to decline.
Causes of Population Decline and Principal Threats to Wild Dog Populations
The causes of African wild dogs’ decline are reasonably well understood and include extreme sensitivity to habitat fragmentation because of the species’ wide-ranging behavior, conflict with livestock and game farmers, accidental killing by people in snares and road accidents, and infectious disease. All these causes are associated with human encroachment on African wild dog habitat and, as such, have not ceased and are unlikely to be reversible across most of the species’ historical range.
Habitat Loss and Fragmentation
The principal threat to African wild dogs is habitat fragmentation, which increases their contact with people and domestic animals, resulting in human-wildlife conflict and transmission of infectious disease. The important role played by human-induced mortality has two long-term implications. Firstly, it makes it likely that, outside protected areas, African wild dogs may be unable to coexist with increasing human populations unless land use plans and other conservation actions are implemented. Secondly, African wild dog ranging behavior leads to a very substantial ‘edge effect’, even in large reserves. Simple geometry dictates that a reserve of 5 000 km² contains no point more than 40 km from its borders – a distance well within the range of distances travelled by a pack of African wild dogs in their usual ranging behavior.
As human populations increase around reserve borders, the risks to African wild dogs venturing outside are also likely to increase. Under these conditions, only the largest unfenced reserves will be able to provide any level of protection for them. In South Africa, ‘predator proof’ fencing around small reserves has proved reasonably effective at keeping dogs confined to the reserve, but such fencing is not 100% effective and is unlikely to be beneficial for wildlife communities in the long-term.
Human-Wild Dog Conflict
Wild dogs are perfectly adapted to their natural environment but require vast territories to survive – much larger than most other carnivore species. This increased exposure to human contact poses numerous threats to the wild dogs’ survival.
Conflicts occur when wild dogs encounter people whose livelihoods rest largely on livestock and agriculture. Unfortunately, African wild dogs are often hunted and killed by farmers who fear for their livestock. The painted dogs are also injured and killed in snares and road kills, while expanding human settlement reduces suitable habitat for them and their prey. Snares used for poaching are one of the key threats facing painted dogs today. Painted dogs are particularly vulnerable because they cover relatively huge distances each day compared to most species, and consequently encounter many more snares.
Human ignorance and misinformation are perhaps the biggest issues facing the painted dog population as local landowners believe them to be dangerous, numerous, wanton, and indiscriminate pack hunters, and thus best removed from their land.
African wild dogs are susceptible to most of the same diseases as domestic dogs and contact with human settlements exposes them to infectious diseases such as canine distemper and parvovirus. This has recently led to major population crashes in several locations. Rabies has been a major factor in recent local extinctions and infection from domestic dogs remains a huge risk. Rabies has wiped out the entire wild dog population that once inhabited the Serengeti and poses a major threat elsewhere. Canine distemper and anthrax are also threatening wild dog survival.
Competition with Other Predators
Even in large, well-protected reserves, or in stable populations remaining largely independent of protected areas (as in northern Botswana), African wild dogs live at low population densities. Predation by lions, and perhaps competition with spotted hyaenas, contribute to keeping population numbers below the level that their prey base could support. Spotted hyaenas are responsible for raiding dens and killing pups that stray too far away from the pack, probably to limit future competition. These scavengers will also often attempt to steal a kill from the pack.
Such small populations are vulnerable to extinction. ‘Catastrophic’ events such as outbreaks of epidemic disease may drive them to extinction when larger populations have a greater probability of recovery – such an event seems to have led to the local extinction of the small African wild dog population in the Serengeti ecosystem on the Kenya-Tanzania border. Problems of small population size will be exacerbated if, as seems likely, small populations occur in small reserves or habitat patches. As discussed above, animals inhabiting such areas suffer a strong ‘edge effect’. Thus, small populations might be expected to suffer disproportionately high mortality because of their contact with humans and human activity.
Hope for the Species in Africa
The Painted Wolf Foundation aims to raise awareness about this much-threatened and ignored species and support other organizations that conserve this enigmatic species in the field. The foundation ultimately aims to raise awareness about the painted wolf worldwide, increase its support base, elevate the profile of all organizations working to conserve them, raise funds for field-based research and conservation, encourage best practices and support painted wolf campaigns worldwide.
The world of African wild dog conservation is multi-faceted, and not all these approaches are obvious. A full ‘toolbox’ is required to respond to diverse problems and contexts. These tools include habitat protection, biological management, monitoring and research, rehabilitation, education, raising awareness, anti-poaching and community partnerships.
Collaborating for Conservation: Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe and Painted Dog Conservation
Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe has partnered with Painted Dog Conservation in this country, to help drive the conservation of wild dog, especially in Mana Pools and Hwange national parks. Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) has put together a long-term conservation model to make a significant difference to the painted dog population in Zimbabwe, and to save the species through action and education. PDC employs more than 60 people from the local villages to run their conservation programs and education and outreach programs. These efforts include an anti-poaching unit, which patrols local areas daily to provide a direct form of protection for the dogs, as well as a rehabilitation facility where they treat injured and orphaned dogs before returning them to the wild. PDC monitors more than six packs of painted dogs daily across Hwange National Park and four packs in Mana Pools and the Mid-Zambezi Region.
In 2010 there were around 100 painted dogs in Mana Pools. That number has dwindled to as few as 20. Pressure from other predators, poor soils for denning, inbreeding and increased human disturbance from tourism activities could be among the reasons for this alarming decline in their numbers. Sir David Attenborough’s 2018 series ‘Dynasties’ explores the life of a painted wolf named Tait, the matriarch in Mana Pools National Park. The series focuses on the strength and protection but also power struggles within a family, and how this relates to their external fight for survival. Here, this beloved species is shown in a different light – challenges of a dwindling environment, rival predators, politics within the lineage and human impact. The story shows the other side to these animals – they are complex, charming and in need of space to flourish.
The African elephant Loxodonta Africana is one of the most popular safari bucket list animals all visitors to Africa want to see and photograph. Travelers are spoilt for choice when it comes to these mammals, so we have put together a list of top five destinations to see them in Africa.
Wilderness Safaris aim is to protect both the creatures and the wild areas in which they live. Nearly every region where we have developed a low-density tourism operation is an area of extremely high species diversity, and a key wilderness area. We are proud that our projects have helped to protect these areas and have often increased the amount of land under conservation protection.
Weighing up to 6 000 kg (6.6 tons) and measuring up to 3.3 m (10 ft.) at the shoulder, the African elephant is the world’s largest land mammal. It is characterised by a highly dexterous trunk, long curved tusks, and massive ears.
The African elephant is intelligent, social and always very entertaining to watch – from the Linyanti’s swimming elephants at DumaTau to the desert-adapted elephants of Damaraland and the mega-herds at Linkwasha in Hwange. Make sure at least one of these camps is on your itinerary on your next safari to Africa …
DumaTau – Conservation Corridor
DumaTau is located close to the source of the Savuti Channel, with access to the Linyanti Swamps, floodplains and mopane woodlands, thus offering an excellent combination of habitats. The Linyanti Wildlife Reserve is well-known for its elephant concentrations as they congregate along the waterways and lagoons during the dry winter months.
DumaTau is set on Osprey Lagoon on the Linyanti River, between two “elephant highways” affording unparalleled viewing of these iconic mammals, along with other wildlife
Dense mopane woodland offers an excellent combination of habitats for a plethora of wildlife, though elephants are the area’s biggest attractions. Book your trip to DumaTau here.
Abu – Explore Elephant Conservation
Time spent at Abu gives you a deeper understanding of elephant conservation – the premise on which Abu is based. The Abu Herd is comprised of elephants that have been rescued from exploitative situations and are being assessed for reintroduction to their natural habitat. Since the inception of Abu, several elephants have been successfully released into the Abu Private Reserve, and the Herd members continue to be eloquent ambassadors for elephant conservation.
Abu’s guest experience is centered around respect and appreciation for Africa’s iconic savannah elephants and the abundant wildlife and habitat of the Okavango Delta, a World Heritage Site
Abu is set in a pristine riverine forest and blends in seamlessly with the magnificent surrounding hardwood trees. Looking out over a large lagoon, an imaginative use of canvas has created a unique and luxurious style of tent. Discover this elephant wonderland here.
Linkwasha – Mega Herds of Hwange
One of the most amazing things I love to do during Hwange’s dry season is sit at a waterhole watching elephants. You can easily see over 1 000 march through in one afternoon
– Graham Simmonds, Wilderness Safaris Zimbabwe Sales Manager
Even though they are thirsty and have walked tremendous distances to get there, the respect among their species is immense. Once a herd has had a chance to drink, they know they need to do so quickly and efficiently and move along, because the next herd is already on the horizon, making its way towards the water, with many more not far behind them. “The trails to the water look like a drunk spider made a web”.
Sometimes the herd arriving to drink only numbers five or six and they can find space at the edge of the waterhole to drink , but often it could be 20 or 30, and so when it’s their turn to drink, they do so with intent and then move on; they know tomorrow when they arrive, they might be third or fourth in line… and so the conveyor belt of thirst-quenchers works like a well-oiled machine. Sharing is caring – especially in such heat.
Book your life-changing journey to Linkwasha here.
Chikwenya – Where Elephants Stand on Two Legs
What an extraordinary experience it is to see a large elephant raise itself up on to its hind legs to reach for food. Most of the trees around Chikwenya have pods, and the elephants tend to shake the trees to get at the pods.
The first time I was treated to this wonderful experience, the elephant lifted up his trunk to sniff, and then positioned himself under the branches and raised himself up, until he stood on his hind legs.” – Barlington Nemhara, Wilderness Safaris Chikwenya Kitchen Porter
It’s not every day that you witness this in the wilderness, but at Chikwenya you could very well be privy to this amazing sight – all you need to do is book your adventure here.
Damaraland – Desert-Adapted Wonders
Damaraland Camp in Namibia exists within one of the driest, most desolate regions in all of Africa. In this arid environment, the ceaseless procession of life revolves around harnessing near non-existent water resources in the most economical way possible. Obviously, this scrub landscape cannot support vast, concentrated herds of wildlife, but it nevertheless boasts a varied and breathtaking assortment of species, including magnificent desert-adapted elephant.
Morning and afternoon game drives reveal the dramatic scenery and fascinating wildlife of the region. Desert-adapted elephant are a highlight, although the natural cycle of rainfall dictates the seasonal movements of wildlife in the area.
While these elephants are the same species as the African elephant, they can appear leaner and taller due to their diet, and have bigger feet than other African elephants. The larger size of their feet allows them to walk with more ease across the very soft desert sand, an adaptation that is useful when you consider that fact that these animals have been known to travel up to 200 km (124 miles) in search of water.
Damaraland Camp is situated in the Huab River Valley, in one of the best wilderness areas in Namibia, offering endless vistas across starkly beautiful plains, ancient valleys and a stunning ochre-purple mountain backdrop. Book your journey to discover these unforgettable elephants here.
A few days ago I received an invitation to attend a tremendously special event – a Maasai warrior graduation ceremony. Taking place roughly every 5 years, this was to be held about an hour’s drive west of Angama Mara, in the direction of Lake Victoria. With absolutely no idea of what to expect, I quickly packed all my cameras into a car and sped off in hopes of capturing this rare event.
I arrived mid-morning to find red ochre-painted young men, fully kitted out in their traditional Maasai shukas, in the midst of slaughtering five cows. It was like an outdoor abattoir. Plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the pockets of forest fragments, chunks of meat, lanced onto branches, roasting on the flames. To one side a large but temporary manyatta (small village) had been erected with a number of small huts. We met the community elder who walked us through the manyatta and introduced us to a number of people. He gave us a very brief explanation of what we may see during the course of the day and why it was all happening.
He also, very kindly, allowed me to take photographs of certain parts of the ceremony. It was clear from the outset that nothing was staged. This was completely authentic and for the next few hours a handful of us ‘outsiders’ were offered a front row seat into a custom as old as the Maasai themselves.
What struck me immediately was that although the majority of what was unfolding before us was ancient in its traditions, there was definitely a modern spin and influence. First, there were the numbers of cell phones being used to record the ceremony, followed by the bottles of spring water being drunk, the sports shoes, the long cartoon-printed socks, and the photo booth being erected to the side – with a backdrop that had Lamborghinis, Porsches, fancy houses, hot air-balloons, helicopters and airplanes. This was a Maasai party for the modern day!
The catchment area around Angama Mara falls under a subset of the Maasai known as ‘The Siria Maasai’. The Siria Maasai consist of 5 sub-clans: Irkunono, Olorien, Ilaisier, Iltorobo and Irkaputie. During this phase the warriors of each sub-clan build their own camps where they live – honing their skills while learning age-old traditions.
The way I understood it, the focus of this day was for the warriors from one of the sub-clans to come together and present themselves, and their cows, to the elders of all the five sub-clans. Each sub-clan had to send a cow as an offering. The other four sub-clans will meet in the upcoming days in similar events. Once all five of the sub-clans have met the Siria Maasai elders, the warrior-group will be given a name, and a date will be set for the massive graduation ceremony for this ‘age group’ of warriors to become junior elders within the community.
There was much jumping, singing, dancing, blessing, and celebrating. It was a privilege to have been allowed to witness this special day. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the moment when the young warriors huddled up close together into a circle and started chanting – a sound so guttural, so unifying, so moving, that it hits you right in the chest. It left me in absolute awe. Fortunately, I had my camera. Because I was speechless.
By Adam Bannister of Angama
March 22 marks the annual celebration of water across the world. The purpose of such a day is so simple, yet vital, to raise awareness about the global water crisis and to hopefully get more people to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of water and sanitation by 2030.We celebrate this resource for all the different things it means to people all over the world.
Kapama Private Game Reserve is in Limpopo province of South Africa, integrated into the region known as the Lowveld, known for its dry winters. We celebrate water not only for what it means to us but for what it means to our environment and the extraordinary biodiversity it holds.
From April to September, we experience our winter. Deciduous trees lose their leaves to survive this period, some reptiles go into a state of torpor, certain birds migrate to lush, warmer areas and the bush becomes a dull, brown and dire region. Herbivores search long and hard for sufficient nutrients.
Kapama has numerous watering holes, however many dry up and remains barren in the dry season. Those watering holes that still contain water become the lifeline for many of the animals in the area. There is deliberate ‘mini migration’ towards the beautiful perennial Klaserie river, another vital water source during winter, attracting wildlife and providing relief. However, as the fauna and flora struggle through the dry season, their biological instinct tells them that it will not be forever and that relief would come.
Mid-November is a magical time, bringing about change, diversity, health and life. The first rains come down during November in the form of pleasant showers or roaring thunderstorms. The transformation from being dreary and dry to becoming lush, green and full of life is a quick one, happening right before your eyes, becoming greener and lusher every day after. Rain is connected to the fauna and flora.
Impala’s, vervet monkeys, warthogs and many more herbivorous animals are biologically programmed to give birth to their young during this period. Colour spreads across the reserve as the fruits pop up and flowers bloom. Migratory birds of all shapes and sizes, from the European roller to the Wahlbergs eagle, travel from all over the world to indulge in the bounty that comes around during the rainy summer months. Snakes and other reptiles become active. Insects and arachnids come out to play. Frogs and toads sing all through the night.
It is quite an easy conclusion, water sustains ALL life, from the smallest insect to the largest of the Big Five. That is why we should protect this valuable resource not only for us but for everything that relies on it.
Story by: River Lodge Ranger Tasha van Den Aardweg
Local Rwandan Junior Safari Guides Innocent Tuyisenge and Alphonse Ntabana are on track to becoming the first qualified FGASA guides in Rwanda. Training at our beautiful Magashi Camp in the abundant Akagera National Park, Innocent and Alphonse have had the incredible opportunity of learning from some of the best in the business, combining knowledge from Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and, of course, our senior guides at Magashi.
So we decided to catch up with these two young leaders and find out more about them.
Innocent Tuyisenge started out with Wilderness Safaris as a waiter at Bisate in 2017, and then moved to Magashi when it opened in 2019, to continue his good work. His love for all things natural, and a dream to become a guide saw him expand his daily vocation to include the great outdoors.
Born in Uganda, Innocent grew up playing football and helping his father herding cattle and keeping them safe out in the bush. Originally from Rwanda, the family moved back to their homeland in the early 2000s, and Innocent completed his high school years. With a clear interest in tourism, Innocent completed a number of studies in Travel and Tourism Management, as well as training with Umubano Tours and Rwanda Safaris Guides Association.
Innocent believes that “Wilderness has provided me with expert training opportunities both in theory and in the field, so that I am able to achieve the best results possible. I feel that whoever I come into contact with in a learning environment offers me something different in terms of skills and training. I really look forward to growing as a guide and gaining more experience, and in the future, being able to pass on my knowledge to other Rwandans”.
Innocent’s ethos is clearly aligned with that of Wilderness Safaris. Not only is he passionate about conservation, but he cares deeply for the welfare of his community, and this is noted in his previous work with Fair Children Youth Foundation and Chance for Childhood.
“I love working for Wilderness Safaris because it’s a passion of mine to make other people feel special. Also being an ambassador for nature and conservation is very important to me. ‘Our journeys change lives’ is more than just a saying – through all the training and support, Wilderness Safaris has changed my life”.
Previously a freelance community guide for African Parks, Alphonse Ntabana started working at Magashi in March 2019. Like Innocent, he is a Rwandan citizen born in Uganda. During his secondary school years, the family made their way back to their country and Alphonse grew up rearing cows and looking after the family cattle in between his studies.
As a revered profession, Alphonse grew up believing he would one day become a doctor. However after he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Uganda (Kabale University), he came home and worked in another valuable field, this one in conservation and amongst nature in Akagera National Park. His current training is going well: “Our senior guides display passion and a willingness to share their knowledge. They have really helped us understand each aspect of FGASA manuals, and it’s always exciting to be on game drives with them, learn from them and seeing how they interact with guests. Should we continue learning like this on a daily basis we could be FGASA Level 1 guides by June 2021.
“Guiding is like travelling the world – you get to know different cultures and practices from all nations around the world. And that is the challenge as well. Adapting to these. You need to accept and acknowledge some things that you might not be used to.”
“Having spent a lot of my life in Uganda, I am so thankful for His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, and how he has brought peace and growth to the people of Rwanda. One of these areas of growth is tourism, and I am thankful that Wilderness Safaris is here. It’s a great company – very concerned about their employees. They provide us with training and also provide great opportunities where possible”.
As with Innocent, the motto ‘Our journeys change Lives’ rings true to Alphonse. “By working for Wilderness Safaris as one big family, I see my future as a bright one”.
On a recent trip to Africa’s famous Serengeti, Adam captured some incredible photographs by helicopter. From a new perspective, he reflects on his new-found appreciation for this corner of the world!
Helicopters are awe-inspiring – there is simply no other way to put it. For me, the more time up in the skies, flying amongst the birds, the better. It gives a perspective and a view of the world that is otherwise impossible, along with an incredible sense of place. Join me on a visual feast of some of my favorite aerial shots taken along this flight path…
Flight path starting and ending at Mwiba River Lodge
This area has such rich and diverse geography; from its location along the Great Rift Valley to the volcanoes and craters, the salt lakes, the open plains, the deep erosion gullies, the impressive protruding koppies, and the vast tracts of untouched, and inaccessible, wilderness. Looking north along the escarpment, we flew over waterfalls, gorges, and thick forested ravines. This area is vast, largely unoccupied, super remote and breathtakingly gorgeous.
Looking out towards the salt-rich Lake Eyasi you can see the area locals are using to dry salt. The brilliant array of colours is created through different salt concentrations and temperatures. Once this water dries off, it leaves salt which the local people collect and sell. Look closely and you can see a flock of Flamingoes flying over.
We arrived at the endless open plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There can be few massive, open grasslands, such as this left in Africa.
Dropping down towards Lake Natron the temperatures started soaring. Down on the ground it can easily reach mid 40s. Life here is harsh. At this stage, we needed to turn around and start heading back south-west towards Mwiba.
We passed back into slightly more lush environs. Goats and sheep play such a crucial role to the local people here, both in terms of diet and finances.
This stream nourishes the landscape, for now
A small stream meanders its way through the conservation area – in weeks to come this will dry out and the landscape will transform.
We departed Southern Camp on a beautiful afternoon around 4h30 for our Safari Game drive to find all the amazing things that nature has to offer. Within the first 30 minutes, we spotted a breeding herd of Impala, five male giraffes, spread out feeding on the trees in the area and a leopard tortoise, which makes up of the small five, crossing the road.
As we continued down one of the reserve roads, we came across an open clearing. To our right was a couple of scrubs beside tall grass and to our left was a water puddle, with loads of activity buzzing around it. Birds were drinking and singing and others taking a bath. As we reached the end of the open clearing, my assistant guide Joseph, raised his hand, leaping forward with excitement, pointing, and struggling to find his words. Finally, he said, “Caracal!”.
I almost lost my mind when I saw the Caracal lying, with his head held down, his black-tipped ears sticking out and patches of his back exposed through the grass. By this time, my guests began asking questions, and I was trying to regain my composure to guide them through this experience. They asked, “What is that?” “Is that a lion?” “Is it a lion cub?”
I told them that it was a Caracal and that they are a rare sight, and that this is the first one that I have seen in the wild. Did you know:
- It gets his name from the Turkish word ‘garah gulak’ which means ‘black ear’
- A Caracal is the largest of the smaller cats
- It is tawny to rust-brown, with a white chest and underside
- It is powerfully built, has large paws and quite a short tail
- The ears are pointed and tipped with tufts of black hair
- It has prominent black and white marks on the face
- Caracals are Carnivores, which means they eat meat
- They mainly feed on small animals – rodents, birds, mongoose, and in some cases baby impala
- It has long back legs which allow it to leap (up to 4 m) into the air to catch birds in flight
We waited for a couple more minute, watching the Caracal as it was looking around. As I turned to my guests, they were all smiling and appeared extremely happy, taking photos of this remarkable animal. Suddenly it got up and moved further into the thickets allowing guests to see it in its full glory.
This was an extra-ordinary sighting! It most definitely made my afternoon safari so much more exciting and the guests were pleased to have shared this magnificent moment with Joseph and me.
Story by: Southern Camp Ranger Titus Ndlovu
AS THE FLOODWATERS RECEDE, THE DRY SEASON IN THE OKAVANGO DELTA IS A WONDERFUL TIME TO EXPLORE…
Some safari travelers are on a permanent mission to tick off as many new destinations as they can in one lifetime, while others form deep connections with certain places and will happily return to a favorite spot, time and time again, to maintain that soulful bond.
Returning to the same country, and even the same region, can be an entirely different journey at different times of the year. Seasons change, and with them so too do the landscapes and the feelings they evoke. Crisp winter mornings energize and invigorate, while lazy summer days call for guilt-free rest and relaxation. In spring, new life and colorful blossoms abound, and the warm colors of autumn gently signal yet another changing of the season. Mother Nature certainly puts on a constant spectacle for those who take the time to appreciate it.
A reason to return
I love exploring new destinations and experiencing different cultures, but I’m all for returning to those countries and cities that hold a special place in my heart, to restore that emotional connection and to see the same place through new eyes. Back in March, I had the wonderful opportunity to revisit the picture perfect Okavango Delta in Botswana. This was my third time setting foot in beautiful Botswana and hopefully not my last.
I fell in love with the Okavango Delta for its expansive, unspoiled and unfenced landscapes; the rich variety of wildlife and the pleasure of viewing it in the absence of other vehicles; the overly dramatic sunrises and sunsets; the remoteness and tranquility of our lodges; and the sheer wide open spaces that you seemingly have all to yourself. It is the perfect place to disconnect, get back to nature and settle down to that much-needed slower pace.
Officially declared UNESCO’s 1 000th World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, the Okavango Delta is undeniably Botswana’s crown jewel. World famous for its narrow, winding waterways, glassy lagoons and remote islands teeming with wildlife, it’s no surprise that most of the nature lovers that flock to the Delta do so during its flood season (typically May to September) when the floodwaters are in full swing. Pastel-colored lilies float upon verdant lily pads, butterflies captivate with their iridescent wings and tiny painted frogs cling to the reeds as you take to the tranquil waterways in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe).
The Delta’s dry season (typically October to April) is just as remarkable, but in an entirely different way. The famous floodwaters recede and the channels, swamps and lagoons dry up completely leaving sand, dust and shells in their wake. The once watery wonderland is then miraculously converted into a vast, open grassland allowing for some incredible wildlife sightings. This was my first time exploring the Delta during its dry season, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
The low levels of water during the dry season allow far more flexibility and increased accessibility to really get out there and truly explore the thousands upon thousands of islands that often become completely inaccessible during the flood season. During the floods, you may spot a herd of elephants splashing in the distance or a leopard sleeping in a tree, but with the floodwaters in full spate, you may not always be able to get a close-up view. The glory of the dry season is that previously inaccessible traversing areas open up and you can seemingly go anywhere, anytime, without the fear of your safari vehicle getting stuck in the mud.
Another added bonus that everyone should experience in Botswana is a walking safari. Once the swamps and channels have dried up, a whole new world opens up that can be fully explored on foot.
We stood on termite mounds to admire the uninterrupted view. We quietly walked past curious herds of zebra and a lone giraffe (my favorite) in the distance. We identified several tracks, from mighty elephants down to tiny ant lions. We even observed how the predatory ant lion stalks its prey from behind a trap door at the bottom of its cleverly constructed, cone-shaped death trap.
A wildlife spectacle
Of course the improved land access applies to the wildlife as well, and species that are not frequently seen during the flood season can be located far more easily once the channels evaporate. This higher density of wildlife makes for some truly memorable game drives.
Big prides of lion move into the area during the drier months and in addition to the relaxed prides that we observed for ages, we were also fortunate to witness a large and highly active pack of endangered African wild dogs on the hunt, not once, but twice. We also located two different and equally magnificent male leopards — on the same day, might I add — which was a definite highlight and something I’d never experienced in the Delta before.
Ever the drama queen
The tides may change (or more accurately the floodwaters in this case), but one thing remains absolutely constant. No matter what the season, the Delta will always captivate with its overly dramatic, “stop and look at me” sunrises and sunsets that are well worth waking up (and staying up) for. The reflections in the flood season will have you seeing double and the eerie mist and cloud formations of the dry season will have you falling in love with Botswana all over again.
I shall return
The freedom to explore otherwise restricted areas, by vehicle and by foot, made this Delta safari a very different one compared to my prior visits. The landscape takes on such a vastly different perspective and the experience was so different on so many levels, from the greener than green vistas, the enchanting sunsets (and sunrises) that took everyone’s breath away, and the unsurpassed game viewing that was never interrupted by other vehicles.
One of Africa’s last remaining untouched wilderness areas, the Okavango Delta, no matter the season, is a true haven for biodiversity. If you have the means and the time, try and experience it during the flood season and the dry season. Its beauty will captivate you, its wildlife will entertain you, its landscapes will ground you and its people will touch your heart.
Africa is a soul continent. One can’t quite put a finger on exactly what it is, but somehow Africa’s intoxicating kaleidoscope of dream worthy landscapes, iconic wildlife, intriguing cultures, soulful music and starry nights grab hold of one’s soul. Once you’ve experienced the heart of this ancient land, chances are, you’re incurably hooked.
Yet many who have not yet ventured to this captivating continent still hold the ‘mythconception’ that ‘deep, dark Africa’ is dangerous, dirty and backwards, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The Mother Continent may be mysterious, but she is widely misunderstood. It’s time to set the record straight and bust these 15 myths about travel to Africa.
Myth 11: don’t drink the water
Although most travelers will avoid drinking tap water in any foreign land, it is actually safe to drink from the tap in South Africa’s urban areas. Of course this is not advisable in the more rural and remote areas; however, lodges across Africa have on-site, state-of-the-art water purification and bottling plants.
Recyclable glass bottles of safe-to-drink water, both tame (natural) and wild (sparkling), are provided in every guest suite, throughout the lodge, at every meal, as well as on every game drive enabling guests to stay hydrated without any worry.
Image © Lucas Raven.
Myth 12: there’s no wifi in Africa
When we travel, the aim should be to disconnect from technology, deadlines, meetings and to-do lists and to reconnect with the natural world, each other and indeed ourselves. The goal should be to wander where the wifi is weak; however, with remote work and digital nomadism now rapidly becoming our norm, many travelers simply need to stay connected.
Due to the remote location of many of Africa’s lodges and camps, internet connectivity can and will be intermittent at times. This is to be expected. That said, many private transfer vehicles are wifi-enabled for those long drives and most properties do have wifi connection. It may not be as reliable, or as fast, as the one you have at home, nor will 100% connectivity be guaranteed at all times, but you will be able to keep in touch with work and home while you’re exploring Africa.
There are plenty of reliable options for travelers looking to work from holiday (an increasingly popular trend to emerge from the pandemic). The caveat here is to connect to technology only when absolutely necessary. Zoom into a meeting here and there, find a beautiful table with a view while you answer emails, update your social media (but don’t obsess over it) and text your loved ones, but be present in your surroundings and try not to miss out on any of the fun.
Every traveler to Africa will agree that if you allow yourself to truly disconnect from the insatiable, demanding clutches of technology and connect with nature and your surroundings, you’ll find a much deeper, more meaningful connection. Every time.
Myth 13: Africa is always hot and sunny
Given the sheer size of Africa (see myth 1), it’s not surprising that each country’s climates, temperatures and precipitation differ. There are rainy seasons, droughts, rare desert rains and some places even get the occasional dusting of snow. Although African summers can be scorchers and the winters are far milder than their northern counterparts, it is not always hot.
Yes, on a winter safari, chances are you’ll be lazing around the pool come the afternoon, but be warned, the mornings and evenings will be chilly. Layers are your best friend. You’ll be reaching for the gloves, beanie, blankets and hot water bottle on those morning game drives, but by the afternoon, you could be in a swimsuit next to the pool. Pack for all seasons and bring lots of high SPF sunscreen. Even in wintertime, Africa’s sun is surprisingly intense.
Myth 14: African food is boring
Food is an integral—and enjoyable—part of travel. Meals are meant to be lingered over and slowly devoured and going back for seconds (thirds, fourths … who’s counting?!) is always encouraged. Often some of the most memorable travel moments come in the form of a delicious impromptu snack shared en route, a celebratory drink served at sunset or a dessert savored under the stars.
The chefs at our lodges and preferred partner properties are world-class and every meal is an invitation to try something new and fall in love with the flavors of Africa. Savor every meal and step outside of your comfort zone. If you can’t get enough of a particular dish that you’d like to recreate at home, just ask our chefs for the recipe—they’re happy to share their culinary secrets.
Remember, calories don’t count when you’re on holiday and diets don’t feature on any of our suggested packing lists. Leave them at home where they belong.
Myth 15: there’s no such thing as khaki fever
Ladies (and gentlemen), be warned, the dreaded khaki fever is a real thing, for which there is no cure. It’s the age-old story: rugged leader in (khaki) uniform; protector, educator, lover of nature and gifted charmer and storyteller. Those afflicted by this fervent fever become hopelessly attracted to their safari suitors.
Africa’s undeniably charismatic ‘khakis’ provide a sense of safety and security to safari goers while they explore the wilderness. Not only do they protect, educate and entertain their guests, they also encourage them to experience nature’s beauty through their eyes.
Not everyone falls prey to the captivatingly charming khaki brigade. Some claim immunity, while others will openly confess. Although this myth remains hotly contested, deep down we know which side of the debate holds the truth.
Image © Andrew van den Broeck.
Africa is enchanting, spellbinding and truly unforgettable. It is a playground for all ages. The sun can be intense and the wildlife sightings unpredictable, but the adventure itself is deeply meaningful.
The animals don’t want to eat you—but the bugs might. Arm yourself with some sunscreen and a good insect repellent, but be warned that the most voracious bug of all is the Africa bug. Once bitten, forever addicted. You’ll fall in love with Africa’s charm and you will want to return. Often.
Image © Sean Fandam.
Africa is a soul continent. One can’t quite put a finger on exactly what it is, but somehow Africa’s intoxicating kaleidoscope of dream worthy landscapes, iconic wildlife, intriguing cultures, soulful music and starry nights grab hold of one’s soul. Once you’ve experienced the heart of this ancient land, chances are, you’re incurably hooked.
Yet many who have not yet ventured to this captivating continent still hold the ‘mythconception’ that ‘deep, dark Africa’ is dangerous, dirty and backwards, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The Mother Continent may be mysterious, but she is widely misunderstood. It’s time to set the record straight and bust these 15 myths about travel to Africa.
Myth 6: wild animals roam the streets
Surprising that people actually envision this as the norm in Africa, but no, for the most part, the wild animals much prefer their natural habitat to congested urban areas. Of course, wildlife will roam where it pleases and there are always exceptions to the norm.
Outer suburbs and smallholdings can and do see the occasional genet, mongoose and otter, while sightings of small antelope aren’t uncommon in coastal towns. Twitchers and bird-nerds will be pleased to know that Africa’s urban greenbelts boast a profusion of birdlife.
In places like Botswana and Zimbabwe, where many wilderness areas remain unfenced, the occasional hippo or elephant can be spotted in town (for example, elephants do sometimes venture into Victoria Falls to feed on vegetation when the town is quiet).
Although some smaller species have adapted to survival in the city, their numbers are by no means prolific. Sadly, Africa’s wild animals, both big and small, have been severely threatened by human encroachment and loss of natural habitat, therefore Africa’s protected wilderness areas are crucial for the ongoing protection and conservation of wildlife.
While you’re likely to see monkeys, baboons and other opportunistic creatures taking their chances in populated areas (please remember to never feed wild animals, no matter how tame they may seem), if you’re keen to spot the Big Five, Little Five, Elusive Eleven or anything in between, then you’ll need to head out on safari.
Myth 7: Africa is not for children
Africa is an enchanting playground for children, not to mention the greatest classroom. A journey to the African continent, to witness its wildlife and engage first-hand with its cultures, is infinitely more educational than any textbook at school.
There are countless award-winning, family-friendly safari lodges, island properties and city escapes for parents to choose from. And when it comes to safari, there are strict safety measures (and childminding services) in place to ensure family safety and enjoyment at all times.
There are age restrictions on safari (typically age 6 and above); however, families can opt for a private vehicle (at an additional cost) to ensure the whole family can go for short ‘bumbles’ together to learn about the habitat and view safe wildlife close to the lodge.
Safaris are not ‘boring’ for children. In most cases, the ranger soon takes on hero status in the children’s eyes and every game drive becomes an invitation to learn and explore.
Myth 8: safaris are the only drawcard
Going on safari should be on every wildlife lover’s bucket list. Fact. And there really is no such thing as “too many safaris”. However, the African continent boasts such an incredible diversity of landscapes, that travelers are truly spoiled for choice beyond the safari.
Think tropical islands, glorious beaches, world-class diving, vibrant cities, award-winning wineries, picturesque mountains, dense jungles, thunderous waterfalls, ethereal deserts, and fascinating cultural and historical sites … the list goes on. Africa has ceaseless beauty and adventure for those willing to explore it.
Myth 9: the animals want to eat you
This is perhaps one of the most commonly asked questions from first-time safari goers. No, the animals do not want to eat you. It will soon become apparent on the initial game drive that the wildlife is largely uninterested and unperturbed by the safari vehicle and its two-legged occupants.
Yes, there are insects that bite, snakes that are venomous and predators on the prowl. Africa’s wilderness areas are home to some very dangerous creatures; however, they typically keep their distance so long as humans keep theirs.
Listen to your guide at all times. Expert rangers and trackers are trained intensively to observe and understand animal behavior and to practice sensitive wildlife viewing at all times. The vehicle will be positioned unobtrusively to allow a respectful distance, ensuring guest safety and respect for wildlife at all times.
Myth 10: women shouldn’t travel alone to Africa
Refer back to myth 2 (as well as myth 4 from these common travel myths)—Africa is safer than you think and solo female travel is widely accepted, encouraged and enjoyed across the continent. The key to comfort, security and peace of mind here lies in selecting an established, trusted local operator that will ensure your safety and enjoyment at all times throughout the journey.
Private transfers can be arranged, personal guides can be booked (providing both a social and highly informative element to city escapes, historical sites and cultural community visits) and meals can be shared or enjoyed privately.
Safaris, by nature, are quite social, with up to eight hours a day spent on a safari vehicle with other guests who often become lifelong friends. Small group journeys also offer the perfect mix of socializing and security, along with that soulful and necessary privacy and quiet time.