At 180 000 hectares, or 445 000 acres, the Abu Private Reserve (APR) is one of the largest exclusive protected areas in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Given how richly diverse the area is, the vastness of the APR is able to contain a remarkable mosaic of habitats. This means that every safari day spent at Abu becomes a new journey of exploration – even if you should choose to relax in the camp rather than head out on activity.
Abu Camp was founded on a premise of elephant conservation and research, but as our understanding of conservation has become more sophisticated, this has evolved to focus on preserving the ecosystems upon which many iconic species depend for survival.
The area around Abu Camp perfectly illustrates the complex, beautiful interplay of habitats that makes the Delta so prolific. As each season rolls around, the APR is transformed almost beyond recognition by the return and recession of the annual Okavango inundation.
This cyclical yet highly variable pattern determines not only the movements of many animal species, but also the activities that are available at Abu Camp. It’s one of a select handful of Wilderness Safaris camps that can offer all the most rewarding Okavango experiences. This is a region shaped by the four elements of earth, water, air and fire, and each of these comes into play during a stay at Abu Camp.
During the dry season – which is paradoxically when the most water is present in the APR – boat and mokoro excursions give access to secret channels and islands where the only other footprints are those left by hippos and red lechwe antelope.
These species are both commonly encountered around Abu Camp, but represent only a fraction of the abundant wildlife that can be heard and seen. No two days in the Abu Private Reserve are the same, and even in the rare moments where there are no animals in sight, the sweeping vistas of palm dotted islands (created by termites) within rolling grassy floodplains possess the kind of beauty that can revive the most jaded imagination.
While some conservation tourism destinations pride themselves on a single signature activity, there are many ways to experience Abu Camp. Guided nature walks reveal details that might otherwise be overlooked. On game drives, you’ll most likely spot large elephant herds, lions, leopards and a wide variety of plains game, and many other creatures.
Taking to the skies on a scenic helicopter flight is not only breath-taking, but offers a new way to see and understand how the jigsaw pieces of the Okavango fit together. While helicopters may be the most modern way to traverse the Delta, they also allow you to travel back in time.
A flight to the Tsodilo Hills offers the chance to see centuries-old rock art that speak to how closely intertwined human history is with the seasons, flora and fauna. Returning to Abu Camp, via the point where the Okavango’s panhandle begins to fan out, the plethora of quiet corners with views ranging from the soothing to the spectacular, provide the perfect spot to reflect on the wonders you’ve seen.
The displays of books, photos and artifacts relating to the remarkable story of Abu and the other members of the Abu Herd can stand alone as a conservation success, but having ventured into the Abu Private Reserve, you’ll have a clearer sense of how even such magnificent animals are just one small piece of the astonishing mosaic that is the Okavango Delta.
Heading southwards, Angama safari guide, Sammy Komu, took his first trip to Zambia and Botswana. From river rafting to helicopter flips – and of course a rather wet Victoria Falls blessing, there was never a dull moment to be had.
Having been a safari guide for more than a decade, I have been able to meet many guests travelling from all corners of the world, and all I could do was imagine how beautiful their homelands looked.
Well this year, thanks to the Angama Foundation and The Greatest Maasai Mara Photographer of the Year competition, I was able to travel outside of East Africa and for the first time, explore two of the most iconic destinations in Southern Africa: Zambia and Botswana.
On the day of travel, I met Martin Keino, who is son to the famous marathon runner Kipchoge Keino, and who would be our travel organiser, along with the four guide winners from the competition. We immediately became fast friends. We left Nairobi early in the morning courtesy of Kenya Airways, and not only did we get to travel first class, we also got an honourable mention from the caption. We felt like real VIPs!
Our first stop was at Livingstone Harry Mwanga Nkumbula Airport, we were welcomed by our lovely guides in Zambia, Amanda and Everisto from Bush Boys Africa Safaris and travelled to a magical lodge called Royal Chundu right on the mighty Zambezi River. The staff were amazingly friendly, and knowing that we’d had a long day, they quickly made us feel at home including a quick ‘rungu’ massage.
Hensah, one of the managers, had prepared a programme for the two days we would be there, with each activity better than the next. Every morning we were awoken by the melodious sounds of the African fish eagles signalling that it was time for a sunrise cruise while fishing for the fearsome tiger fish. Although we did not catch any, the experience was still worth it. In the afternoon, we were treated to a sundowner cruise and the views as the sun set were magical.
The next day, we visited a local village meeting wonderful people who taught us about Zambian culture. Afterwards, we set off river canoeing which for me was both scary and exhilarating as it was something I’d never done before and I don’t know how to swim. And the surprises didn’t end there – after the canoeing we were treated to a picnic on an island in the middle of the Zambezi with not another person in sight.
Then it was sadly time to leave Royal Chundu and its lovely people, but we had more exploring to do. Before leaving Zambia, we had to visit one of the greatest wonders of the world: the Victoria Falls, commonly known as ‘mosi oa tunya’ by the locals, which means ‘the smoke that thunders’. You can see the ‘smoke’ from over 60km away. We were told that their ancestors believed that the spray that comes from the Falls is a blessing and one should not wear a raincoat while walking alongside it, so as to receive the blessings. Well, we did just that – and got really wet!
Then it was time to head to Botswana where we would be staying at Chobe Game Lodge for two wonderful days. We had exceptional game viewing with our guide, Maggie, with sightings of elephant, buffalo, hippo and a diverse array of birds – some of which were lifers for me. At night, we heard the sounds of lions roaring nearby.
On one of the evenings, we were able to interact with the ‘Chobe Angels’ which was our name for Chobe Game Lodge’s all-female guiding team, exchanging knowledge of the Mara and Chobe.
Then back to Zambia we went for the final leg of our trip. The fun was far from over, as we were able to choose from a range of fun activities including a helicopter flip over the Victoria Falls, bungee jumping, ziplining or a gorge swing at the bridge. I was brave enough to do the helicopter flip – the views were out of this world.
After heartfelt goodbyes, it was time to leave Zambia and fly home to Kenya. It was truly a trip of a lifetime for me and my fellow guides, so a big thank you to everyone who so kindly hosted us and who made this great adventure possible.
Using wildlife photography allows us to truly see the natural world – some not-so-often seen – species through a different lens… those animals that might be a once in-a-lifetime sighting, even for the most avid African safari goers. Our selection for this week focuses on those species that one does not see that often. In most cases, capturing this on “film” is even more special!
Ring-tailed Vontsira by Kathy West
These Ring-tailed vontsira (Galidia elegans) were entertaining and bold animals. Darting in and out of their scrubby pile of dead branches and vegetation, they would pop up unexpectedly close to us, not caring if there was a group of humans watching them.
Spacewalk of a Fennec by Marcello Galleano
A postcard from Mars? It would seem so, given the strange setting in which an animal very similar to an extra-terrestrial appears in front of me. Instead, I am in the Sahara Desert, where the sand at times tends to pink, orange and grey shadows and the creature with alien ears is of the same evanescent colour. I am photographing a Fennec, the desert fox, and I have never seen anything like it.
Serval Kitten – Playful Tree Hugger by Shivesh Ram
An adorable Serval Mother kitten playfully climbs a tree in Masai Mara National Park. My first sighting of Servals ever. Yay !! It was a joy to watch it jump and play and climb. See second image of kitten with mother.
Captain Caracal by Chanan Weiss
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of this… tree”
Better View by Les Crookes
Cape fox pups having fun but looking out for a predator.
Sundevall’s Leaf-nosed Bat having a drink by Ruth Muller
An infrared bream system set over known water drinking source at the Meletse Bat Research and Conservation Training Centre (African Bats NPC). As the bats break the beam, this triggers a master flash which triggers the other flashes to fire. Camera Cannon EOS with 100mm macro lens set to bulb, where the flashes freeze the bat in action.
Narina Trogon by Jason Glanville
This Trogon came down to a lower perch to investigate my lens for a few special moments.
Ethiopian wolves by Carol Grenier
Two female endangered Ethiopian wolves meet and greet in the Ethiopian highlands. These wolves are Africa’s most endangered carnivore. Their diet is highly specialized, their range limited, and they are threatened by habitat degradation, human encroachment, and inter-breeding from domestic dogs.
It may be the same river, but in some ways, it couldn’t be more different as a safari journey through Tanzania to Kenya showed.
You could say that the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti are two sides of the same coin. Put your foot in the Serengeti and you are venturing into Tanzania. Explore the Maasai Mara, and though you are in the same ecosystem, you’re in a different country: Kenya. I have spent a significantly larger portion of my time on the Kenyan side. After all, Angama Mara is home.
Some may not know that the Mara River is within both East African countries. It starts up north in the Mau Forest, a highland area to the north of the Maasai Mara. From here it twists and turns south, punctuated by oxbow lakes and meandering through thick riverine forests. Up in its northern segments, it is a fairly narrow, fast-flowing river with steep eroded banks. Working its way south through crocodile-infested waters and numerous deeper hippo pools, it starts to flatten out, widen and slow down. It crosses into Tanzania very close to the confluence with another smaller water body known as the Sand River. It is near here that you find Purungat Bridge, one of the few vehicle crossing points between the Mara Triangle and the Greater Mara.
When it comes to animals, the boundary is completely porous. Wildlife moves freely between the two countries and this huge open system is a refreshing case study in effective border management. The Great Migration sees millions of animals – wildebeest, zebra, topi, elands and Thomson’s gazelle – move between Tanzania and Kenya running the gauntlet of the Mara River.
Of course, the border is not porous when it comes to people, and wanting to cross the political boundary requires going through all the normal hoops required to travel internationally. For years, I had gazed south across the Tanzanian border and wondered what it would be like to explore a region known as the Lamai Wedge, to spend time with the lion and cheetah that call it home, and most importantly to drive along the banks of the southern sections of the Mara River.
In mid-September, I finally got the opportunity. Thanks to Angama Safaris, I had the opportunity to visit Serian’s Serengeti Lamai – a mobile camp that essentially moves between the northern and southern Serengeti in sync with the movements of the mega wildebeest herds – and spend time with Alex Walker himself. Plotted on a map as the crow flies, I would only be travelling 30kms south from Angama Mara. But, in order to pass through customs and to spend some time in both Nairobi and Arusha, I had to spend the greater part of a day travelling.
Landing in Lamai was a rather surreal experience. It had taken me a few hours of flying to get to a point from which I could take out a pair of binoculars and see Angama Mara perched on the escarpment in the distance to my north. Not too far away were the familiar Inselbergs dotted across the landscape. Except this time, instead of looking south towards them, I was looking north. It felt oddly familiar, but at the same time, completely new.
Serian’s Serengeti Lamai is a delightful light footprint, mobile tented camp tucked into an acacia thicket on a crest overlooking one of the most famous, and productive, Mara River crossing points in the Serengeti. Crossing Point Number Four. I had heard about it on various guide WhatsApp chats, I had read about it in books and seen photographs of it on Instagram. At last, I had the chance to see it for myself and I was not disappointed. During my four nights at the northern tip of the Serengeti, I watched three river crossings, two of which were large and dramatic, full of life and action. I leapt at the opportunity to capture intense moments and a different take on the river crossing theme.
The surrounding vegetation was also a marked change. Up north, in Kenya, our most famous crossing points are in an area known as ‘Lookout’. There are sheer drops and the river is just a few metres wide. Away from the river, you find predominately small thickets of crotons, but mostly open grasslands. Downstream, the banks here are much more vegetated, the grasslands shorter and replaced with more bushes and trees. I was also surprised by the temperatures. It was substantially warmer just a few degrees south, apparent by the change in many of the bird species encountered. I was seeing birds that were not found just five kilometres to the north.
In essence, the northern Serengeti and the Maasai Mara may indeed be two sides of the same ecological coin, but there is certainly enough variation in experiences to warrant both being included on a longer more in-depth safari. Each has unique features, beautiful scenery, different park management styles and most interestingly, both set the scene for two completely different wildlife experiences.
After a hiatus from the bush and a much-needed break to rekindle some inspiration, this week marked a return to the Mara and some amazing wildlife captures.
The Mara is the gift that keeps on giving. Even after spending so much time in the bush, I’m still completely awestruck with each descent down the Oloololo Escarpment, thrilled by the new day and the bliss that accompanies every sunrise. Being in the Mara is a moving experience and the magic renews itself on a daily basis. However, this week seemed to stand out from the rest, making it the most special since my arrival at Angama, and I’m excited to show you why.
While heading out with guests for a photoshoot, we came across Chongo strolling by the Kichwa Tembo Airstrip with a female. He gave us a real show and walked along the road for almost 200 metres. Such an astonishing display giving us great photographic opportunities and most importantly, leaving the guests with a memory that will last a lifetime. As Chongo walked by, so close he rubbed against the side of the vehicle, I watched the smiling faces of the guests on the vehicle and the atmosphere erupted with excitement. Even more special than the lion sighting itself, was witnessing someone else’s first ever close-up lion encounter.
Later that day, we approached the Egyptian Goose area, where I had my first sighting of Slit Lip, one of the most beautiful lions in the Mara and arguably, the “next Scarface”, as Adam says. He’s got a magnificent mane and is probably one of the largest lions I’ve ever come across, making him as regal as they get. To top things off, the Mara skies were showing off. It was the perfect opportunity to experiment with my creative side, and shy away from those all-too-common lion portrait shots. I decided it was my duty to frame the king in a way that celebrated not just him, but his domain as well.
The following morning, we set out without any expectations and ready for whatever we happened to encounter. As legend has it, those who lower their expectations reap the biggest rewards. We got off to a strong start, spotting three nomadic males at the Hippo Pools. We identified one of these lions as the Rekero Breakaway male. He was sired by the famous Musketeers and has a distinct wound on his back leg, sustained during a buffalo attack in July 2020. He was accompanied by two younger males and they were all deep in Bila Shaka territory, so it will be interesting to see what unfolds over the coming days.
We then proceeded further south towards the Inselbergs, one of the most beautiful areas in the Triangle. We then got a call on the radio, it was Angama guide Moses signalling that he had spotted the Egyptian Goose Pride. Lo and behold, it was Slit Lip, two adult females and several youngsters lounging around on the grass and momentarily moving around to find better sleeping spots.
The landscape provided the opportunity to get stellar shots of this iconic pride with the backdrop of those distinctive flat-topped hills. As we were having breakfast, the lions suddenly all rushed in one direction towards thick bushes. The rocks prevented us from getting closer. Shortly after, we heard some commotion within the bushes as the lions stumbled across what looked like a reedbuck. This quick shift caught us unaware and a tricky environment meant we missed the chance to capture the kill. Oh well, at least we witnessed it.
After spending around two hours with the Egyptian Goose Pride, we decided to move on. Heading towards picnic trees, as we were cruising down the road with not another vehicle in sight, we had no idea what awaited us. As I was busy admiring the landscape, Adam brought the vehicle to a halt and pointed at a fig tree by the road. There she was, the Salt Lick female in all her glory. We approached the tree slowly and noticed she was with her cub. It was the same pair of leopards I encountered while writing This Week At Angama 188. This time, quite far from where we first sighted them, an indication that their territory is huge.
With every leopard in a tree sighting comes the opportunity to capture the descent. Previously, I managed to get a few shots of the cub coming down the tree, but this time it was the mother. Few creatures possess the grace of leopards. My eyes will forever light up and heart will thump a little faster with each leopard encounter.
‘Kwita Izina’ means ‘to give a name’ in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s national language), a long-honored tradition of naming a child in the presence of friends and family – and now an annual tradition of naming the newest batch of baby mountain gorillas in the country’s Volcanoes National Park (VNP).
Held virtually this year on 24 September, Kwita Izina coincides with World Gorilla Day, which marks the date in 1967 that primatologist Dian Fossey established the VNP’s Karisoke Research Center and helped save mountain gorillas from extinction.
The baby gorilla-naming ceremony celebrates an ongoing conservation success story and a renewed commitment to the gorillas, as well as to the communities surrounding the park, now themselves involved in protecting the gorillas and in sustainable development. Since its inauguration in 2005, the ceremony has named 352 baby gorillas, including the 24 this year.
‘In our culture, giving a name is a powerful act of love’, said Ariella Kageruka, Acting Chief Tourism Officer for the Rwanda Development Board, in the taped 17th Kwita Izina ceremony. ‘And a commitment to protect and nurture the child’s wellbeing. For the mountain gorillas being named today, we’re making the same commitment – to protect them and their habitat, today and into the future’.
Sixty years ago mountain gorillas were on the brink. Today their numbers have more than doubled, estimated at just over 1 000, making their home in the rainforests of the Virunga massif in Rwanda and the DRC, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Poaching has been mitigated largely by upgrading the livelihoods and infrastructure of communities around the VNP, mostly subsistence farmers. In many cases, former poachers and their families have become informed, ardent conservationists, some working as trackers or guides within the park. Much of the income from gorilla trekking permits – generally USD1 500, even for Rwandans – goes to local farmers to offset any wildlife damage to their fields (the local golden monkeys enjoy feeding off crops, especially the potato fields).
‘We protect our wildlife by investing in our people’, Kageruka said. Local communities protecting the gorillas in effect protect the other species, flora and fauna, living in the park, promoting biodiversity.
Each year the Rwanda Development Board invites a range of distinguished people from around the world – conservationists, scientists, artists, musicians, athletes, business executives, diplomats, and others – to help name the baby gorillas.
Among the meaningful names this year: Inkomezi (Inner Strength); Rinda (Preserve); Twirinde (Protection); Ingabire (Gift); Kabeho (Live Long).
Mountain gorillas are the only great apes whose numbers are increasing. To accommodate this growth, Volcanoes National Park is expanding, with reforestation efforts (like those of our Bisate Lodge) stretching its borders. Gorilla families typically share home ranges, but in certain areas of the park, those home ranges have become overcrowded.
Though removed from the ‘critically endangered’ list three years ago, mountain gorillas remain on the endangered list. Kwita Izima reminds us how precious they are, and how remarkable is spending just one hour in their presence. Our close relatives, sharing more than 98 percent of our DNA.
‘Live Long’, long lives. May the 24 just-named newborns – and their families – thrive.
Written by Melissa Siebert
Gorilla photos by Suzi Eszterhas
It was a beautiful spring day to head out on safari in the South African bush. I asked my guests if they wanted to leave slightly earlier on our afternoon drive, as we were on the hunt for the elusive leopard. It was the one animal my guests were desperate to see out in the wild. I heard earlier from a colleague a leopard had been spotted earlier that day.
With a direction in mind, we set off. I could sense the excitement of my guests build as we headed further into the bush. As we approached the general area, Vusi, my tracker, began scanning the ground for tracks or any sign to lead us closer. After half an hour of scanning and scouting, Vusi finally picked up on some of the tracks. We continued to follow them to see where they might lead us. After about an hour or so, we still had no visibility of the leopard. We agreed to go and stop for drinks and try again afterwards when it was a little bit cooler. I decided to attempt one last loop around a section of the bush where tracks went in but did not come out.
As I rounded the corner, there stood a beautiful male leopard right next to the road. What a magnificent moment! He slowly moved back into an open section of the bush. I followed him so my guests could get a few photos in before he decided to go deeper into the thicket. However, instead of moving further in, he lay down in the open with perfect photo opportunities. To our surprise, a female leopard made her appearance from behind us. She walked straight to the male. That’s when I knew it was about to happen. I told my guests: “keep your cameras ready or put it on video mode as this is going to be quick”. I barely finished speaking when this incredible sighting of leopards mating happened just a couple of meters away from us.
Here are some interesting facts about leopards mating.
Did you know:
•Leopards mate every 15 minutes for up to 5 days and lasts only a couple of seconds
•This means that they can mate more than 250 times
•Although this may seem a little excessive, in leopards, the female requires a stimulus to start ovulation
•This is possible when the female’s hormone levels rise enough to produce eggs in a process called oestrus
•When a female enters oestrus she will and mark her territory more frequently, thereby attracting the dominant male in the area
•To stimulate the female to ovulate male leopards have barbs on their penises which dig into the female.
•These barbs make retracting the penis painful for the female which causes her to lash out at the male – you can see her reaction to the male from the images
•Leopards are a solitary breeder
•Males leave after mating frequently for about a week and the male will take no part in rearing the cubs
•If mating was successful, the gestation period will last about 100 days
With very excited guests still reveling in what we all just witnessed, we decided to spend some more time with them and follow them once again through the bushes. Just as we were about to leave the area, they treated us once again with another mating ritual. This time it was a little bit more private, behind some small shrubs. We could still hear them as they make a lot of noise during mating.
Watch the below video taken by Karula Ranger Marnus below which shows the females aggression.
The guests and I started snapping a couple of photos of them as they moved closer. I was also able to get a few shots of my fellow ranger Queen in the background to give you a perspective of how large a +/- two-year-old lion is. Leaving them and ready now to go and stop for our sundowners the guest couldn’t stop talking about this incredible event that just took place.
It just shows you once again, you must expect the unexpected and not give up too soon as you never know what your reward will be like if you do find the one thing you were looking for!
Story and photos by: Buffalo Camp Ranger Hancho Olivier
When guests come on safari, it is not only the luxurious accommodation and beautiful wildlife that is part of the experience.
Her book has been recommended by the World Bank to help Revive Tourism in Africa as she dedicated this book towards not only Tourism but Sustainable Development in Africa and Climate Action initiatives. There are over 25 safari companies in this exciting safari cookbook including adventure companies such as The Land Rover Experience as Lynnet hosted them many times in Botswana. All companies featured in the book have a passion towards Responsible Tourism and have exhibited great love for our planet, people and wildlife.
Africa Agape Safari Cookbook is about people, places, cultures, nature and adventurous trips which exhibit love through the sharing of signature recipes with the most amazing people including stories and bush tales from unique locations and safari properties in Africa. If you love the bush and are crazy about Africa you can rekindle those African memories by trying out amazing recipes featured in the book while discovering some of Lynnet’s adventures in the bush.
Her inspiration in writing this book was birthed from Peit and Jeltje Van Der Gaast who were her Hospitality mentors. They owned The Lekkerbek Family Restaurant in New Jersey, USA in the 1960s and committed their lives to embark on 20 adventurous Hospitality trips to Africa. Lynnet first met Peit and Jeltje in Botswana in 2003 when they were on their last mission.
She then made a follow up trip to The Hague, Holland that same year and came out of a Dutch newspaper as ‘Women Most Successful In Botswana.’ When Lynnet returned back from Holland she pursued her dream of working in the bush for a number of fascinating luxury safari camps as a Safari Hostess Manager for 10 years.
Why should people buy a copy of this book
If you would like pre-order a copy of the cook book and experience extraordinary cuisine from some of Africa’s top safari camps and lodges click here!
On September 22 each year we show respect to the planet’s rhino population on World Rhino Day – an occasion that gives the opportunity for cause-related organizations, NGOs, zoos, and members of the public to celebrate rhinos in their own unique ways.
Rhino are still facing existential threats in many parts of Africa – South Africa, for one, has lost half its rhino population since the incessant poaching crisis escalated in this country over the past five years. However, despite these substantial losses, and relentless poaching, there have also been several restoration success stories too. Wilderness Safaris is proud to help aid rhino conservation in three African countries, namely Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda.
In southern Africa, Wilderness Safaris aids in the conservation of two sub-species of black rhino. Namibia’s Damaraland region has become a stronghold for south-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis). Back in 2003, Wilderness Safaris joined forces with Save the Rhino Trust Namibia and local conservancies, Torra, Sesfontein and Anabeb, to ensure the survival of this arid-adapted sub-species. Community conservation in Namibia grew out of the recognition that wildlife has value, and that this value can be unlocked if local communities are empowered to manage and utilize these resources themselves. The result after so many years of dedication has been the sustained increase in range of desert-adapted black rhino, as well as the overall population.
2014 was a milestone for Wilderness Safaris – and Botswana’s rhino population – when the company, together with our government partners (Botswana and South Africa), numerous generous donors, trade partners, guests and NGOs, succeeded in moving a significant number of south-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) from South Africa to northern Botswana. While this population has had its setbacks, the fight and population recruitment successes continue.
A Rwandan conservation success story has been the reintroduction of eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) back to the tropical savannahs of Akagera National Park. After an initial founding population was translocated in 2017, a further five animals of the same sub-species were moved in 2019. In this historic move, the rhino came from Safari Park Dvůr Králové in the Czech Republic. The translocation was a joint undertaking with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and African Parks, to increase Akagera’s existing rhino population and increase the gene pool. Subsequent to their release this population has been doing well and a dedicated team of trackers monitors them daily. Wilderness Safaris is also proud to play a supporting role in terms of monitoring this rhino population in Akagera.
Today, over 90% of black rhino are found in just four countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya, with smaller populations in Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland. Black rhino are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Between 1970 and 1990, 96% were lost to poaching. By the early 1990s, the global population had plummeted to fewer than 2 500. Today, there are around 5 000 black rhino in the wild, thanks to ongoing and tireless conservation efforts by various organizations.
Many of these rhino conservation successes could not have been possible without our valued guests and donors. You can help save Africa’s rhino by making a much-needed donation to the Wilderness Wildlife Trust.
The fourth category of Africa in Focus celebrates Africa’s characters, cultures, traditions, and modern adaptations of the continent’s people, and their engagement with their natural environment. In the past, entries in this category were dominated by three traditional cultural groups: the Himba from Namibia, the Maasai from Kenya and northern Tanzania, and the small Karo tribe from the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. All three tribes fall in key tourism areas in each of these countries, and throughout the years have managed to maintain most of their ethnic traditions and values.
A few of these are highlighted below.
The Himba are an ancient Namibian people, closely related to the Herero, and mostly found in the north-west of the country. With an estimated population of about 50 000 they are semi-nomadic, pastoral people who breed cattle and goats. One of the very few indigenous groups left in the world who still respect and live according to the traditions of their ancestors.
The women are famous for rubbing their bodies with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre. They believe this protects their skin against the harsh climate. The red mixture is said to symbolise Earth’s rich red colour and the blood that symbolises life. The painting on the skin also differentiates the women from the men.
When entering one of the small villages consisting of scattered clay huts, you will always find a fire smouldering. Smoke plays an important role in their traditions. Smoke is seen as a medium to communicate with their supreme being, Mukuru. The smoke of the holy fires rises towards the heavens enabling them to communicate with their ancestors. Due to water scarcity, Himba women seldom will take a bath in water, but rather a smoke bath, to maintain personal hygiene.
Maasai, Kenya and Northern Tanzania
Another semi-nomadic group residing in Kenya and northern Tanzania, arguably one of the foremost African ethnic groups, and known internationally due to their distinct traditions, customs and dress: traditional Maasai reside mostly near the many national game parks of East Africa.
Long before the formation of any protected areas, the Maasai moved and grazed their herds throughout the Rift Valley, with very little to no damage to the land or the resident wildlife due to their nomadic lifestyle. Hunting was also very limited since their diet relies on the milk, blood and meat of their livestock. They were seen as the first conservationists.
They are well-known for Maasai jumping dance, the adamu. This is a traditional dancing ceremony performed by young Maasai men who gather in a circle, jump up and down in unison and rhythmically chant together. Each of the young men takes a turn stepping in front of the group and jumps several times straight up in the air, as high as he can. All of this is to show their strength, in the hope of attracting a wife.
Karo Tribe, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
The Lower Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia is home to over a dozen different tribes, estimated at 200 000 people. One of those tribes is the Karo, with a population of about a 1 000 to 2 000 individuals, making them one of the smallest ethnic groups on the African continent. They live on the eastern bank of the Omo River where they grow sorghum, maize and beans, through flood-retreat cultivation.
The Karo are undeniably artistic by nature. Like many of the other tribes in the Omo, the Karo paint their bodies and faces with white chalk. The chalk is mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charcoal to create the colour. Face masks are worn at times, as are clay hair buns decorated with feathers.
Both men and woman scar their bodies – the women in the belief that it makes them beautiful, while for the men it represents an enemy or dangerous animal they have killed.
Wildlife photography is one of the most popular forms of photography. However, even city dwellers do not have to venture into wild areas to photograph animals and birds, as they are all around us – including unlikely city areas such as Manhattan, where you will find birds, and surprisingly animals, that have made the city their home. The following five tips should get you started on the road to becoming an accomplished wildlife photographer, or at least prepare you for that once-in-a-lifetime African safari.
If you are hoping to take wildlife photography seriously, the hard truth is that you need high-quality equipment. Unlike landscape, portrait or travel photography, you need better equipment, and a 50mm lens will just not do the trick. You definitely need a telephoto lenses if you want to photograph distant animals or birds.
This does not mean that you need to run to your nearest photographic store and purchase the most expensive equipment. Unless you recently won the lotto or have some spare cash under your pillow, it will take time before you will have the ideal equipment in your bag.
Most hobbyists start with second-hand equipment. Photographers are always upgrading their equipment and there are good deals out there. I’ve been lucky enough a few times to sell my second-hand equipment for almost the same price as I bought it. With the extra money I saved, I was able to buy a larger and better lens.
It is also not necessary to start your photographic journey with the highest-quality goods. Your first piece of kit should be a decent mid-level zoom lens. It will be less costly, but it will give you some extra range when you start out as a wildlife photographer.
Also, if you discover you will be having access to a once-in-a-life-time photographic experience, you can always rent better equipment for that short period of time. This is not something I would suggest doing over a long period, as you may end up being able to buy the equipment by the time you return it, but it will allow you an opportunity to experiment and use the equipment before you take a big step to buying something similar.
Remember, technology has improved so much over the last few decades that a smaller point-and-shoot camera can initially get you started. I am sure you will fall in love with wildlife photography almost instantly and that you will want the larger and better equipment, but at least this will give you an opportunity to see if wildlife photography is what you want to pursue.
This photo is proof that if you are too close to your subject, you need to get creative with your longer lenses, and that owning the longest telephoto lens is not always to your benefit. I would have needed to change lenses if I wanted to capture the rest of these cheetahs taking a nap on a very cold and misty morning.
Patience is Key
Patience is key for wildlife photography. Unfortunately, you cannot tell your subject what they need to do, and wildlife is not a building that stands still, and will be there again tomorrow. Interfering in the natural behaviour of wildlife is unethical and the likelihood is that they will not listen to you anyway. Yes, it sounds pretty much like photographing kids.
Your patience should not have an expiry date when it comes to wildlife photography. If you are not in a rush to get to your next destination, take your time. Spend those extra few minutes with your subject, especially earlier and later in the day when animals tend to be more active.
Not only is it important to be patient at that specific moment, but it is also important to stick with wildlife photography for the long run. There have been a number of times that I have returned from a weekend away with just a few average photos, only to come back with a lot more and some to be really proud of the very next time. It’s the natural world and there are so many variables at play – one week to the next can be completely different and provide vastly different opportunities and results.
A photograph never tells the full story. It probably took 30 minutes and 500 shots to finally get this photo of a bee-eater coming in to land.
Practice Makes Perfect
As with most things in life, if you want to get good at it, practice. Whether it is getting that perfect golf swing or baking the perfect cupcake, everything takes some practice.
The more you practice, the more you will understand what the best settings are for each situation. So go on, photograph those birds coming for a drink at the water bowl in your garden, or the neighbour’s cat hanging out on the fence. Go to the park and photograph the squirrels playing in the trees or birds flying overhead.
I photographed this kingfisher from my bedroom window. I woke up early one morning to find this fellow perching on a tree overhanging our swimming pool. Luckily, in this case, the bird was very patient, and I had photographed some other birds the day before, allowing me to get hold of my camera and capture it before it flew off.
At the same time you will get to know your camera a lot better for those times youneed to react quickly to a change in your subject’s behaviour and make the adjustment in your settings. Not only will it increase your success rate in achieving your objectives, but there will be lot less ifs… If I only did this, or did that…
In South Africa we are fortunate to have a number of smaller protected areas within a few kilometres of where we live. In the beginning I was able to practice a few times before I was able to travel to areas like the Okavango Delta or Mana Pools, where you see the real wild Africa.
It Is All In The Eye
Unless you are photographing an animal or bird, wanting to show them within their natural environment (scenic), it is always key to make sure the eyes are in focus. Especially if they are looking right back at you.
This allows you to have a natural point of focus in your shots and helps draw the viewer into the photo. Eyes are also an easy focal point as they are a source of colour and help give your compositions a certain mood.
Although this photograph was taken from a vehicle at a 45 degree angle and not at ground level, you will still get lost in this cub’s mesmerizing eyes.
Try to be at eye-level with your subject. Definitely not easy if you are in a game drive vehicle and a lion is staring back at you from 30 metres away – but do try to get as low as you can. It is always good to be at the level of your subject. Being at your subject’s height, you’ll be able to get a better bokeh effect in the background, which will make your picture stand out even more.
According to photographylife.com, bokeh is the quality of out-of-focus or blurred parts of the image rendered by a camera lens – it is NOT the blur itself, or the amount of blur in the foreground or background of a subject. The blur that you are so used to seeing in photography is what separates a subject from its background, and is the result of shallow depth of field. It is generally simply called background blur. The quality and feel of the background/foreground blur and reflected points of light, however, is what photographers call bokeh.
From a boating activity in the Busanga Plains – a herd of lechwe was browsing on the river embankment, allowing me to be at ground level with my subject.
I was lying on my stomach on a little island in the lagoon to photograph this African oystercatcher. At least no risk of a lion attacking you…
Hopefully these few very easy, non-technical tips will get you started, or help improve your wildlife photography.
By Carel Loubser
I set off on morning safari from South Africa’s Kapama Southern Camp with my assistant guide (Sifiso) and our guests. That particular morning was freezing, so we tried to get to a spot to watch the sunrise while we defrosted our bodies before setting off on our adventure. Vervet monkeys can be observed doing a similar thing and bask in the early morning sunshine to warm up.
We always ask our guests what animal would they would like to see while out on a safari. Lions are often top of the list. While soaking up the beautiful winter sunshine, a fellow ranger, Queen from Kapama River Lodge, called in a sighting of lions on the move. I decided to respond to the sighting because we had not had a decent lion sighting up to that point. On our approach to the area, we heard impalas alarm calling, something they do if they spot a potential threat. Scanning the surroundings, I could not see any lions. Then suddenly we saw impalas running all over the place. Through the chaos of the impalas running, we caught a quick glimpse of one of the lionesses as she moved deeper into the bush. It seemed to be her tactic to try her luck again. Impala just snorted and moved out of the area.
That is when I knew that it was an unsuccessful hunt. It is common for lions to miss most of their hunting attempts. They generally only have a success rate of about 20-30%. It was also low for these particular lions we were watching. They were sub-adults from another pride that were moving on their own as the two females they belong to have recently given birth to another litter consisting of seven cubs.
After a short time, the lions started to move closer to the road again. That is when we saw the pride. It was three young lionesses and one young male lion. They moved onto the road in front of us and continued in a southerly direction while we follow behind them. When I noticed a road that made it possible for me to move around them, I took it to see if we can get a frontal view of them as they continued down the road. I managed to get ahead of them and decided to wait for them to come to us. It was not long before they made their appearance around the corner.
It was not long before they made their appearance around the corner. The first thing our guests noticed was their beautiful yellow eyes staring down at us.
The guests and I started snapping a couple of photos of them as they moved closer. I was also able to get a few shots of my fellow ranger Queen in the background to give you a perspective of how large a +/- two-year-old lion is.
We continued to view them for a couple of more minutes before we set off to go and stop for a morning coffee. It was a fantastic sighting and one I don’t think our guests would easily forget.
Story and photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Viljoen Jordaan