World Female Ranger Day on June 23 highlights the challenges and successes of women protecting wildlife in Africa and beyond.
“As a ranger, you must believe in yourself. Gather the courage and tell yourself this: ‘I’m not going to die here. If a man can do this, I can do it, too.'”
These are the words of Molly Ngulube, a 23-year-old scout in the Zambian ranger team Kufadza, meaning “inspire.” It’s Africa’s latest all-female anti-poaching team working to protect precious wildlife.
Most people imagine Africa’s rangers to be fearsome and fearless, fighting on the frontlines of conservation. But few imagine them to be female.
On June 23, the first World Female Ranger Day will raise awareness and funding to support the inspiring women constituting just 11% of the global ranger workforce. The inaugural campaign, cofounded by adventurer and conservationist Holly Budge and Margot Dempsey of U.K. charity How Many Elephants, focuses on Africa.
The Black Mambas, named after Africa’s deadliest snake, were the pioneers of women-only teams. The group, which was formed in 2013 when rhino poaching was rife, is based in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population. In April, Nkateko Mzimba received a special commendation in the prestigious IUCN WCPA International Ranger Awards – a testament to the dedication of these 36 women from local tribes who, armed with only pepper spray, patrol the park’s fence lines for unwelcome intruders, checking camera traps and sweeping the bush for snares.
Nkateko joined the team in 2014, despite her mother’s concerns that she’d be killed by lions or poachers. Her rural community was also unhappy: Many lived in poverty; some were themselves poachers.
The Mambas link their communities with conservation through Bush Babies classes in 13 schools, teaching 1,300 children every week. “We ask our community to change, to protect wildlife for their kids, trying our best to show we love and support them, and we give them food,” says Nkateko.
To date, they’ve reduced bushmeat poaching by 89% and virtually eliminated the use of snares. Should they come across rhino poachers, who generally carry guns, they contact armed backup. “I don’t need a gun. We’re not here to fight, we’re here to protect wildlife,” she explains.
Women in Nkateko’s community now aspire to be Black Mambas. “They support me,” she adds. “I am here because of them, and I want to empower them. Women were always undermined. Now, they see the importance of us in the bush. When people offer bribes, we say no – we don’t share information. Some say this is a man’s job, but we’ve proved that we can do this.”
Akashinga, meaning The Brave Ones, was Zimbabwe’s first all-female anti-poaching unit, established in 2017 in Phundundu Wildlife Park in the Zambezi Valley. Spending several weeks with both the Black Mambas and Akashinga inspired Budge to launch World Female Ranger Day.
“I wanted to bring their stories to the world,” she explains. “Some are AIDS orphans, some come from abusive marriages. Now, they’re breadwinners and their kids go to school. But other women don’t have this success, and World Female Ranger Day will bring their challenges to light.”
She adds, “I felt privileged to see their work firsthand. It was like a war zone – the Akashingas all carried AK47s, with wild animals and signs of poachers around us. It made me appreciate how dangerous their work is. They’re not playing rangers. This is real, very real.”
World Female Ranger Day provides a forum for rangers worldwide to share advice and peer support. The charity will offer grants for improved facilities and equipment, along with annual awards. “These rangers are fantastic role models, inspiring and empowering women with a strong message that anything can be overcome with training, self-belief, determination, and resilience,” says Budge.
Purity Lakara exemplifies this. She’s a community wildlife ranger in Team Lioness, protecting the vast rangelands surrounding Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, where elephants stroll in Kilimanjaro’s shadows.
The team began in 2019 after a female Maasai elder challenged conservation non-profit IFAW to create a role for young women that went beyond cultural norms. Their duties are identical to those of male teams, but they make a significant difference to law enforcement in this patriarchal Maasai culture. Women talk to other women without the communication barriers they face with men, willingly sharing previously inaccessible intelligence with the Lionesses.
The unarmed Team Lioness receives backup from Kenya Wildlife Service rangers if they encounter dangerous poachers. When they recently experienced a terrifying buffalo stampede, however, they were on their own. “Luckily, our training prepared us, and we all survived,” says Purity. “The worst thing about our work is when a buffalo or elephant kills someone.”
Purity’s husband looks after their three-year-old daughter when she’s in the bush. “Rangers must make sacrifices and leave their families to protect wildlife,” she says. “But many women want to do our job now. We must be proud of ourselves.”
Molly from Kufadza shines with pride when talking about her work for Zambian non-profit Conservation Lower Zambezi, patrolling the game-rich floodplains of the mighty Zambezi River.
The organization chose to recruit all women when forming the unit last year, realizing they could influence and make change in positive ways. Nearly 80 women applied for eight posts. Many gave up or were rejected during the grueling selection process, but Molly was driven by her love for animals and her faith.
“The Bible says God created humans to care for nature,” she explains. “This is my passport to God’s work.”
She recently spoke about Kufadza on a radio program featuring successful local women. “That day, I was that woman,” she says, smiling proudly. “At home, young girls often get pregnant and drop out of school. I wanted to inspire them. Many called in during the program, and I met 14 single mothers. I said, ‘This is not the end. You’ve got talents. Hold hands together.'”
Molly is determined to inspire more women. “On World Female Ranger Day, we’re role models to ladies out there who feel underrated,” she says. “We need a day to celebrate us. And they need to see us, to be inspired.”
Born in 2008, Scarface, named so for the unmistakable scar over his right eye, commanded a global following of passionate big cat lovers and was the most highly regarded and sought-after lion while on safari in Kenya’s famous Maasai Mara. The face of survival, resilience and courage, Scarface (or ‘Scar’) held a vast territory of over 400 square kilometres.
Photograph by Mohammad Mirza
The lifespan of a lion in the wild ranges between 10 and 14 years but even after overcoming several injuries over the years, Scarface lived to be the oldest lion in the Reserve at 13. He formed part of the ‘four musketeers’ coalition in the Marsh Pride with his three brothers: Morani, Sikio and Hunter. In 2012, when they were just four years old, Scarface and his brothers took over the Marsh pride and starred in the BBC’s documentary, Big Cat Diary.
Photographs by Christine Crosby, Gabriela Saeble, Gianmarco Minniti, Joni Munsterteiger and Pascal Munezero
Many have speculated over how Scarface got his famous scar, with the most widely accepted explanation being that he suffered an injury in 2011 in a fight. His trademark scar would reopen from time to time from him scratching it, but the Mara wildlife vets would quickly step in to stitch it back up. Once, he narrowly escaped death after being speared by a Maasai herder who was protecting his cattle. But again, thanks to the conservancy vets, he was soon back on the hunt.
Photograph by Joni Munsterteiger
As one fan wrote soon after his death, “His unruly, windswept mane that had a big patch of black hair suggesting greater virility and an abiding status among his peers, a distinctly deafening roar, and an unmistakable swagger that does remind one of the other Scarface, played by a rambunctious Al Pacino in the Brian de Palma film”.
Photograph by Adam Bannister
Beautiful words honoring a great king. We will miss his mythical presence in the Mara but he will live on in our hearts forever. Recently, the Angama family honored Scarface with a handsome steel-cut portrait that greets our guests at the entrance to our sunset boma. Designed by talented sculptor Simon Max Bannister, he will always be close.
Kwaheri Mzee Scarface.
Photograph by Huzeifa Zakir; sculpture by Simon Max Bannister
From bean to brew, Angama visited Nairobi for a behind-the-scenes journey with their coffee supplier, Spring Valley to learn about this proudly Kenyan roastery.
I first met Ritesh Doshi at Angama Mara in October of last year when we were both at the lodge on holiday. My partner, Matt, and I would run into Ritesh and his wife after game drives or before meals as you so often do on safari. We spoke about his return to Kenya after studying and working abroad and his sale of a successful pizza delivery business which allowed him to start a new business that he was most passionate about – coffee.
Fast forward a few months and I found myself on my way to Nairobi to meet Ritesh at his company, Spring Valley Coffee, as it had recently become the coffee bean supplier to the lodge and I had joined Angama’s marketing team. Part of the agenda was to “road test” some experiences in Nairobi that we were launching for Angama Safaris travellers who want to venture a bit further in exploring the bustling city. So, when I saw Spring Valley on the contact sheet, I had to smile as life always has a way of connecting the dots.
When I pulled up to Spring Valley’s roastery and café (its first location and today its flagship) I was sure I had the wrong address. Located at the end of a strip mall kitty-corner to a gas station, it’s a testament to what Ritesh has created here. Founded in 2009 to celebrate Kenyan coffee, Spring Valley Coffee uses only 100% Kenyan beans grown using artisanal techniques. Originally just a neighborhood coffee shop small-batch roasting beans by hand every day, it has grown into a small collection of cafés around Nairobi, a roastery for other brands, and supplier to leading hotels, restaurants and even grocery stores for fans to enjoy at home.
After offering me a cup of coffee right away (naturally), Ritesh asked if we could jump in the car and take a 10-minute drive. “The story really starts here,” he said as we pulled up to an unassuming mass of coffee trees along the side of the road. Jumping out to walk the rows looking for the fruit that will eventually produce beans, Ritesh explained Spring Valley was once a collection of coffee farms on the outskirts of Nairobi and one of the reasons he chose to open his first café there. After a brief history of coffee production in Kenya and the massive coffee auctions that take place in town, we headed back to the roastery for a full demo of the life cycle of a bean.
We witnessed both the ancient ritual and modern industrial aspects of coffee production; the washing, sorting, and grading, and the roasting, cooling and packaging. Watching Mohammed the head roaster (along with his team of Godwin and Fred) work his magic with the beans felt hypnotic, the result of decades-old technique mixed with years of daily trial-and-error. Of course, no visit would be complete without a proper tasting. We sampled the same beans brewed through different methods, looking for the differences. I know my way around plunger coffee and have dabbled with a Bialetti and a Chemex, but had never tried the V60 Dripper before (the newest advancement in pour-over – it’s smooth). For those curious, Ritesh’s preferred brewing method is French Press, “I’m old school!” he says.
Spring Valley recently hosted a coffee training for the butler team at Angama Mara. Led by one of the trainers, Dalmas Mugailwa, it begins with knowing the right bean for the right style of coffee. Then, more technical questions: how long to steep plunger coffee? How much hot water to use for an Americano? When I asked some of the team how it went, they were excited to demonstrate their sharpened skills. James Sadera was confident he had perfected his French Press while Boniface Wesonga noted his espresso : milk : foam ratios in a cortado vs. a cappuccino vs. a flat white were on point.
Next time you wake up at the lodge you’re in for a treat.
BY RYAN BROWN
Each June across nearly every industry, companies take different approaches to support and celebrate Pride month. Travel is no different, but one airline has gone above and beyond: Alaska Airlines now has a ‘“Fly with Pride” Airbus A320. Via Twitter, Alaska Airlines wrote of their design choice, that the “iconic rainbow stripes & inclusive colors such as brown, black, light blue, white & pink to represent BIPOC & Transgender communities. Without those groups of people & their activism, we would not have Pride today.” The plane is to stay decked out in its pride attire not just this month, but for an entire year. In addition to the artwork on the outside of the plane, on board you’ll find pride-inspired movie selections and treats. To make the story even better, Alaska Airlines is donating $1 to the It Gets Better Project for every tweet, Facebook post or Instagram post tagged with #LoveMovesUs, up to a total of $28,000. Get tagging people!
While we are Alaska Airlines doesn’t take us as far as Africa, it has for a long time been a favorite airline of Seattleites and we are thrilled to see their continued support of all of it travelers.
The widespread use of plastic bottles is a serious problem in Africa and all over the world. Millions of tons of plastic water bottles have been washing up on our shores every year and overflowing our landfills. In rural Nigeria, villages are now putting this waste to good use by building houses. Not only are the building materials an innovative way to repurpose the trash, but once filled with dirt and set into a wall, the homes built from these plastic bottles are incredibly affordable, durable, and strong enough to withstand earthquakes and even bullets. The construction of these houses, led by Nigerian nonprofit The Development Association for Renewable Energies, has been employing at-risk, out of school, and jobless youth, adding a cherry on top of a project that is already benefitting communities and the planet.
On the 12 of June, the Mara conservancy proudly celebrated their 20th anniversary. Custodians of the beautiful Mara Triangle, the Angama family is proud to not only take guests into the park each day, but to support the Mara Conservancy in every possible way!
It all began way back in 1994, when the management of Africa’s famous safari destination, the Maasai Mara National Reserve, was divided into the eastern side, managed by the Narok County Council, and the north-western sector (the Mara Triangle), then managed by the Trans Mara County Council. The Mara Triangle is 510 km/sq, representing about a third of the entire Reserve.
By the end of the 1990s, infrastructure, equipment and roads in the Mara Triangle were in disrepair. Vehicles were inoperable, staff morale was low, gate revenue was evaporating and poaching rampant. Gate buildings and ranger outposts had disintegrated and there was no running water nor functioning sanitation. The main road network, which had been constructed in the 1980s, had all but disappeared due to negligence and unregulated off-road driving had created a proliferation of tracks in the central part of the Mara Triangle.
Often not paid for months, 30% of the staff complement was present at any one time. There were several private sets of park entrance tickets and recognized revenue was 20% of the potential. Only one-third of the Mara Triangle was considered secure, with the remainder unvisited by security staff and tourists. In these areas poaching and illegal grazing were out of control, with thousands of wild animals being killed annually. Cattle theft along the escarpment was also a frequent occurrence.
Something had to be done. Fast.
In 2000, several local leaders became concerned about levels of mismanagement in the Mara Triangle, and as a result, the Mara Conservancy, a not-for-profit management company, was established to manage the Triangle in collaboration with the Trans Mara County Council. A management agreement was signed and the Mara Conservancy started operations in the Mara Triangle on 12 June 2001, only 20 short years ago.
This created the first public/private sector partnership of its kind in the region and has led to an active and cooperative partnership between conservation professionals and the local Maasai community that endeavours to improve the conservation and management of one of the most visited and well-known protected areas in the world. The management of the Mara Triangle by the Mara Conservancy is based on transparency and accountability. Operating solely on 37.5% of tourism revenue, the following has been achieved: 126 000 ha protected; 200 jobs created; 250 000 ha patrolled; 4 600 poachers arrested; 59 000 snares destroyed; and 30 000 dogs vaccinated. Nothing short of miraculous.
In celebration of 20 years of dedication, it is fitting for us to remember those with the foresight who established the Conservancy. Those who worked hard for two years to achieve what was then considered impossible, a private not-for-profit company managing a Protected Area. The Conservancy has proved that a public/private partnership can work in conservation and the model is now being touted for other National Parks.
The Angama family would like to honour the following people who work so hard to ensure that our guests experience the finest wildlife viewing in Africa: Ole Kijabe, Gov Samuel Tunai, Shadrack Seiyio, Brian Heath, the Conservancy team and the board of directors. Without the work that you all do each day we would not have a business. It is as simple as that.
Where the boundaries between land and water are often blurred…This is Jao, this is the Okavango Delta, as some of the purest waters on Earth ebb and flow, descending from the Angolan highlands to the Kalahari Desert. Jao co-owner Cathy Kays’ description captures the magic of both, of the camp and its dreamlike setting.
Built 23 years ago by the Kays family – Cathy, husband David, son Martin and team – Jao rests under a tree canopy on its own remote island, surrounded by a watery garden of channels, reeds, and lilies. Land- and water-based game viewing are spectacular there, with huge wildlife diversity, ranging from the elusive Pel’s fishing-owl, to the infamous ‘Jao Mafia’ mongoose gang, to a myriad of big cats, to cohabiting crocs and hippos, to vast antelope, buffalo, and elephant herds.
The camp itself is a knockout, one of Wilderness Safaris’ most luxurious and a multiple-award winner. Revamped in 2019, Jao is a sculptural marvel of natural and recycled materials, of steel, wood, and glass, of towering, spacious interiors embracing the light, the bush. Offering extras like its spa, library, museum, and gallery. In many places stamped with the Kays family’s personal touch – a family rooted in Botswana since the 19th century and today based in Maun, running Ngamiland Adventure Safaris (NAS) and other ventures.
Cathy, shareholder and director for finance, guest relations, and décor; Martin Kays, NAS director; Kgosi Sethoko, Jao lodge manager; Cindy Swart, Food Experience Manager, Jao Reserve; and Guide Meshack Mbwe share what they love about Jao and its floodplains…
(Cathy) ‘Jao’ comes from the maXanekwe name ‘Xao’, and in that language means ‘to try something that is good tasting’. In baYei it means ‘metsi a tsela a Mashaa’, which translates into ‘a water channel that brings new water’.
(Cindy) I have heard stories that the Jao area was named after the people who lived here many years ago. I have heard stories of the spirits who live on the Jao floodplains. But my personal favourite is that ‘Jao’ is the combination of sounds that the water trickling into the floodplains make. So to me it is standing out on the floodplain while the water is coming in, listening to the clicks and ticks of the insects and the squawks of the birds and the hoof beats of the lechwe, and far in the distance the snorts of the hippos. That’s Jao.
(Cathy) The Jao floodplains are what distinguish Jao. I know of no other place in the Okavango with such vast open plains, which provide for incredibly beautiful scenery. For me that is what Jao is all about, a very special place in the Okavango Delta – where the boundaries between land and water are often blurred.
(Cindy) I have heard many different stories of what the Jao Reserve is; for me personally it is the place where my soul is happiest, my personal touchstone. When I think of Jao I think of the joy on a guest’s face the first time that they see a sunset over the vast floodplains. Or the pure excitement of having an elephant walk right past you, so close that you can almost feel the hairs on their tails tickle your arm. Or the first time a guest walks into their room and sees what the view will be for them in their home for the next few days. I also love the library and the museum at Jao. I can spend hours in them just looking and seeing; having been a part of this extended family for so long I can put names and faces to the stories, an absolute treat. It’s been such a privilege to have been part of so many of these stories and pictures.
(Kgosi) Jao has this magic that one cannot explain or show through images. It starts with the camp itself then carries all the way to the staff – there is a lot of personality. Some of my best moments here are when guests first arrive and walk through the library to the main area, and you see the shock in their faces not believing the wonder of what they are witnessing.
(Martin) Jao for me is a true Okavango Delta experience. It’s a great place to come and unwind, as your typical safari experience is filled with excursions so you’re often pretty bushed by the end of a safari. The whole camp to me is really special. I’d call it my second home as I have years of special memories here. I’ve seen Jao grow from a wild island with nothing on it into a beautiful, award-winning camp. As a boy I helped position the first rooms by climbing trees to help the team get an idea of potential views. Then I had the opportunity 20 years later to rebuild Jao into what it is today.
(Cathy) Jao Camp is situated just south of the floodplains on a riverine island fringed with tall, lush trees. The center of the island has the remnants of a mopane forest, which became water-logged over the years, converting the trees into bonsai mopanes. Situated as it is on the edge of the permanent waterways, Jao is perfectly placed to offer a wide range of activities.
(Cindy) Guests always find the family feeling a special part of Jao. Here we are all a part of the greater Jao family, and guests staying with us can feel that. The Kays family has welcomed each of us to be a part of their dream, Jao Camp. Cathy is one of the few people who’d let my love of the mongooses and birds run wild, almost daily getting a picture or video of a baby mongoose’s growth, or of swallows building a nest near the office; there are not too many bosses willing to do that.
(Kgosi) Jao for me is the people! The love and the passion that everyone working here has for their job and being here. You must have a love for the wilderness to do what we do, and everyone here has it, and you can see it. The team has unrivalled connection and mutual support. Like any other family we have our days, but we get through them and keep getting stronger – we often laugh through it together.
(Cathy) Our Jao staff are led by a vibrant young team who are eager to please and take great satisfaction out of enhancing a guest’s stay. Many of the staff have been with us for a very long time and are very well known to us.
(Cathy) We offer mokoro trips, fishing, and boating in the wet areas and walking and game drives on dry land. Some years up to 85% of the Jao Reserve can be inundated, but we have great logistics worked out to get guests to the prime game-driving areas in between the water activities. Guests love going on the mekoro, such a peaceful, serene experience and the perfect time for noticing the smaller creatures and the magnificent flora. Highlights for many guests are Jao’s wonderful bush setups, be it an outdoor breakfast facing a hippo-filled lagoon at dawn; brunch with tables set in the shallows of the lechwe-dotted floodplain, with clear water and white sand enveloping your feet; a bush picnic on Hunda Island amongst a zebra herd; a sundowner setup or gin stop that brings the lounge into the bush; or a magnificent bush dinner set under starry skies, a mesmerizing fire as the focal point.
(Kgosi) Everyone loves a boat cruise, where you can go do catch-and-release fishing with your friends or your family and the kids. You can follow that up with a game drive and see lions and other big cats, which is amazing, but for me there is nothing better than sitting in a mokoro, cruising through the Delta channels. Being so close to nature all you can hear around you are birds, the wind blowing through the grass and the trees, the breeze hitting your face. That is what I call ‘the Okavango magic’. Then, as you round a corner, on a sand bank in the middle of the channel you have drinks waiting for you, to watch what many come here for, the sunset.
(Cathy) Jao is a place of wonder with beautifully designed buildings that fit into the landscape. The ‘new’ Jao is a major departure from the old camp with its thatch and hand-crafted woodwork. This is a far more sustainable camp, making use of the opposite spectrum of building materials, with steel and recycled plastic. It was quite terrifying, but watching the rebuild come to life was tremendously fulfilling. Jao is a very personal place for me; so much of our love and energy have been invested there. We’ve shared a lot of our history in the Jao museum.
The furnishings are hand-crafted and designed especially for Jao, so everything is unique. Elements of my childhood reflect in the sandstone slabs which come from my home town and are used as coffee tables, vanities, and kitchen counters throughout the camp. The rooms are open plan with high-pitched roofs, creating volumes of space, and glass or metal gauze aluminum doors opening out to the magnificent floodplains.
The main area has the same height off the ground as the original Jao main area had, but it is larger and designed around the trees. This area has an indoor lounge and dining area which can be opened up to the elements with its tall glass stacking and folding doors, or sealed off against the cold in winter or bugs in summer. The main feature of this area is the impressive bar with its cedar counter over an angular iron base, with a backdrop of leadwood uprights holding glass shelves. Above the bar hang hand-thrown, ceramic lily-like lights in a mass display offset with water-colored strapping and a large ceramic leaf-imprinted disc. The stately iron fireplace set on a sandstone slab creates a cozy ambiance on cold winter nights. Adjacent to this and under the same roof structure is the outdoor lounge area, with separate private eating decks set amongst the trees.
Alongside the main area two oval shaped towers house the kitchen and the gallery/museum. There you’ll find many curiosities under glass, the library, a wine cellar, and a striking giraffe skeleton.
The elevated walkways outside lead you to the two lovely, tranquil rosewood-clad spa rooms, enveloped by water pools and birdsong; to the fire deck; to the gym with all its sexy machines; and to the main pool and its intriguing bird’s nest gazebo.
(Cindy) The decor and design of Jao are all inspired by the Delta, be it in the colors of the room linen, the shape of the pool shade cover, or the colors of the recycled thatch used on the room roofs. These are all the colors, shapes, and textures you will see in the water lilies, the grassy plains, and the weavers’ nests as you make your way through our concession. Jao has just had a major revamp, going from a grand old dame to the most fashion-forward camp in the Okavango.
(Kgosi) The guides always jokingly tell us that we need to stop taking guests to the rooms first as they’ll never want to leave to go do activities – why did we build such nice rooms?!
(Cathy) Jao’s food is sophisticated yet simple, using the freshest ingredients with an African twist to the dishes. We serve light café lunches, including salads and homemade pestos, and move on to elaborate six-course dinners. For lunch, some of my favorites are Okavango bream with fried skinny stick potato chips and homemade ice cream (peanut butter is my favorite). For dinner, some of my favorite dishes include roasted carrot soup with curried ice cream; fricassee of mushrooms served with caramelized onion cigars, avocado, and compressed tomato; watermelon sorbet; seared venison loin with reduced chilli harissa jus and sweet potato and ginger puree; and an intense chocolate combo – chocolate fudge torte, dark chocolate marquise, and chocolate ice cream.
In camp we offer in-room dining, but most people love to dine at the main area where there is a choice of different dining spots – on the outdoor decks, outside dining area, inside dining area, or in the gallery. We also dine in the outdoor boma a couple of days a week. Alternatively, we can set up an out-of-camp bush dinner in a number of different locations.
(Cindy) Dining at Jao is an experience in itself, and in essence is the spirit of the Delta, simplicity made special. We offer dining in each guest room, and if staying in one of the two villas, you can have your own private chef come to your room and make your dinner for you. We can also do meals in the bush – and whether you are eating brunch with the water lapping around your ankles, or on drier land with the roar of the lions in the distance, you will hold the experience for the rest of your life.
(Cathy) I honestly cannot pick a favorite season; each season is so different and brings its own pleasures. Spring is short lived, as we seem to move quickly from winter into summer, but I would define spring as being mostly hot and dry. The water has mostly dried up on the plains, leaving the channels and the permanent water to the east with water, which attracts the animals into a more concentrated area. Large flocks of wattled crane gather on the floodplains, and the lechwe herds move out to the water in the day, then trek back to the dry floodplains at night, preferring the openness for safety. The elephants concentrate in big herds and the buffalo gather.
With summer comes the rain. Dramatic thunderstorms build up while the humidity intensifies, and then the falling rain brings sublime relief. Summer also is the baby season, with most antelope, wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo giving birth during this time. The grass becomes lush and green, providing plenty of food for the grazers, which in turn provide plenty of food for the predators. Now that the pans are filled with rainwater, the elephants move out to the drier areas in the west so that they can enjoy a different diet of mopane trees.
Autumn brings the floodwater, which has travelled down from Angola. The floodplains fill up with water and everything remains lush and green for a few months longer. With the water come large herds of lechwe, filling the Jao plains and providing easy pickings for the local predators. The crocodiles may move onto the floodplains and become more visible, and we often have the rare sitatunga on Jao Island. The channels are filled with pristine water, so clear that you can see the water lilies’ twirling stems beneath the surface. The elephant herds now return.
Winter brings cold crisp mornings, occasionally with mist. The water levels are usually at their highest, so water activities like mokoro trips and boating are a highlight. This is the perfect time of year to take a boat cruise to Hunda Island in the west, to spend a day there exploring the drier regions with the animals on offer, and enjoying a picnic along the way. I never tire of the place.
(Cindy) My favorites are the in-between times. The time approaching autumn when we are waiting for signs of the headwaters coming through, when the extra termites coming up through cracks in the ground signify that the water table is rising. When everyone is waiting on that first push of water through the channels and the tannin-rich smell of the Delta waters to hit as you step onto a boat. And the opposite time of the year, when the waters are receding and you see more animals than before, when the daily routine of the lechwes coming and going is your new timekeeper, when the birds congregate en masse, in all shapes and sizes.
(Martin) I have two favorite seasons. December has always been a special time of the year for me in terms of the landscape and weather. I love the build-up of the cumulonimbus clouds in the summer afternoons, as they make the most spectacular sunsets. We generally have short bursts of rain so the sun comes through relatively quickly and brightens up the landscape.
June and July are my other favorite months. We are generally at the peak of our flood period, which means the new waters have settled in nicely and the waterways are crystal clear, making for wonderful boating and mokoro trips.
(Meshack) All seasons are unique. From May to September the game viewing is outstanding as the grass is short; the waters are at peak flow and you get to see the Okavango at its best. On the other hand, in summer you get to see more animals giving birth and their delightful babies.
Days and Nights
(Cindy) Without a doubt sunrise is my time, before anyone else is awake and I can sit and listen to the last of the night creatures and the first of the day creatures. The Delta wakes up in a very specific order.
(Cathy) For me it’s a toss-up between morning and evening. I love waking up and listening to the bird calls, watching the day come alive while enjoying a good cup of coffee. The camp faces west, so the sunset views are frontline and ever changing – a perfect time for a dip in the pool in summer or savoring a glass of red wine in winter.
(Kgosi) Sunsets, sunsets, and more sunsets, please!
(Martin) Late afternoon, particularly the sunsets. You can’t beat an Okavango sunset and especially one in the Jao floodplains. The lions and other predators start to get active around this time of day also, so if every photo you’ve got up until this point is of a lion sleeping, this is the time you want to get your cameras out.
(Meshack) Any time of the day can make your day, but nothing beats early morning, as that is the time when both day and night animals get more active. Like the leopards moving from the open floodplains to the islands or thick bushes to spend the day there, as the other animals get ready. I have seen most of my kill action at this time.
(Cathy) One of my favorite spots is the library. I love sorting through the books, finding old friends and too many new books waiting to be read. I love spending time in the gallery building and reflecting on the happy memories of how that tricky design all came together. I love the swimming pool bird’s nest gazebo and spending a few moments watching the channel for bird life. This is the perfect spot for sundowners, set low along the channel bank. Another favorite spot for sundowners is the upstairs fire deck, with stunning views and warming fires in winter. I love the rooms, any one of them, for the beauty and comfort they provide.
(Cindy) I love the area around the Jao spa; there is a feeling of calm and restfulness under those big trees and even in the height of summer it is cool. The pool area looking onto the little lagoon and the floodplains beyond that is also very special. My favorite sundowner spots are the ‘beach’ at the hide or Riley’s Island. Both have spectacular outlooks and give you a true feeling of being out in the Delta.
(Kgosi) So many options, I don’t even know where to start. Jao has a stunning view no matter where you are. But I must say I have a soft spot in camp for the fire area downstairs closest to the main pool. It is a perfect place to sit in the evening with a fire going, having a good chat and watching the sun go down, with its reflection in the water.
(Martin) The Jao floodplains for the view and great sunsets. The waterways around Jacana, which I believe is one of the best places to mokoro and boat in the Okavango Delta. Then there’s the baobab trees we have around the reserve. Harry’s Baobab is the largest and is awesome to see up close.
(Meshack) The Jao spa! It gives you an African spa experience to help you unwind, pampering mind, body, and soul. Our treatments and products are tailor-made for Jao. Our product TDA, for instance, is botanical, natural, and organic. It contains ingredients native to Africa, such as baobab, kigelia, and morula, which are rich in oxidants, omega, vitamins, and fatty acids – all excellent for the skin. We in Africa have used these for many years to heal infections and disease. Our treatments symbolize life, grace, nature, strength, and longevity and the animals that surround us.
As for the best spot for sundowners – it definitely has to be the Jao floodplains, endlessly open to the eye and quite amazing.
(Cindy) I would like guests to leave having experienced the essence of the Delta, which to me is the calm, the simplicity, and the sheer luxury of space and peace.
(Cathy) I’d like them to go away with a feeling of peace and tranquility brought about by staying in one of the most beautiful places in the world. With an understanding of the wilderness and our place within it. And the knowledge that through visiting, they have made a difference to a people and a country.
(Kgosi) From the moment guests arrive in camp, it is my goal to make them feel free and to know that this is their home and that they have nothing to worry about during their stay. So ultimately that is what I want them to take away with them: the idea that Jao is their home, and home is a place you always want to go back to no matter where you are in the world. Once Jao is your home, you will ultimately return – it might not be tomorrow, but you will come back.
Written by Melissa Siebert
As we celebrate Kenya’s Angama Safari Camp birthday, Nicky wonders – how do you begin to measure the love that has been poured into our lodge over the past six years?
Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes
Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes so dear
How do you measure? Measure six years?
In daybreaks, in sunsets, in game drives, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a lodge?
How about love? Measure in love…Seasons of love…
Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes
Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes to plan, How do you measure all that love?
With abject apologies to Jonathan Larsen – Seasons of Love: RENT
Flicking back through our gazillions of weekly stories (well, that is what it feels like anyway) one jumped out and grabbed at my heart – Angama of 1000 Days. Written by Steve just as we had survived our first two traumatic, rollercoaster, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure years, I felt I could not let our 6th birthday go past unsung. Yes, I am counting 2020 as a year in our beloved lodge’s life because it was a year when we grew up, grew stronger, grew more determined and grew even braver than before. The calculator on my phone swiftly informed me that we had loved our guests for three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes and of course that beautiful opening chorus from the musical RENT popped straight into my head and wouldn’t go away.
How do you measure all the love that has been poured into our lovely lodge’s six years? It’s easy. Simply look into the smiling eyes of 140 members of our Angama family and there you will see the love: the love of delighting guests; the love of being of service; the love of running a good business; the love of the wildlife; the love of giving back; and above all the love for each other.
The past six years have tested us on every level but we rose to face the challenges and together found a way through them, under them, around them and over them. Our greatest test was the loss of Steve in October 2017 but together we took the first scary step without him and found that if we followed the path he had forged of ‘how’ we do things rather than ‘what’ we do it all made perfect sense. In his story of Angama of 1000 Days he wrote: ‘In 1969 I met my wife Nicky, an unmanageable whirling dervish, driven beyond comprehension, a creative and managerial whirlpool for whom ‘no’ and ‘we can’t’ are simply not acceptable.’
Unmanageable? Hmmm ….
Back to how do you measure love? I once saw this on the shirts of the wait staff in a restaurant: ‘Service Is Love Made Visible’. Three million one hundred fifty-six thousand six hundred minutes so dear and so wonderful and each one only made possible by the Angama family. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Asanteni. Ashe Oleng. What we have achieved together would not have been possible with the love we share for what we do each day and that is delight our guests.
Happy 6th birthday. Pamoja tutashinda. Together we win.
Kenya’s Angama Foundation funds the collaring and ongoing monitoring of a forest-dwelling and habitual crop raiding elephant, named Fitz. And he has been keeping the team from the Mara Elephant Project on their toes.
In 2019, the Angama Foundation granted Mara Elephant Project (MEP) US$26,000 for the protection of an elephant and his herd for three years through MEP’s approach of collaring, monitoring and data collection.
The 20-year-old bull elephant, Fitz, was collared by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and MEP on August 20, 2019, in the Nyakweri Forest. Fitz, who resides in a herd of 60 elephants, was chosen based on a need to increase protection in his home, the Nyakweri Forest, and to help MEP and KWS rangers react to conflict protecting not only Fitz and his herd, but the community bordering the forest.
Collared elephant Fitz takes after his namesake Steve Fitzgerald, founder of Angama Mara, who pushed boundaries in the short term in order to make progress in the long term.
Monitoring Fitz and his herd’s movements in the short and long term fulfils two important MEP objectives that will protect elephants and their habitats across the Greater Mara Ecosystem (GME) which aligns with the goals set out in the National Elephant Action Plan.
The first is that the Nyakweri Forest is under threat and being subdivided at an alarming rate by illegal logging and charcoal operations. The forest area is changing so fast that we are seeing the movements of this herd change to accommodate the human encroachment. Understanding the elephant movement changes as the forest changes is essential to finding a long-term solution and will help MEP define corridors between the Mara Triangle, Olosukut Conservancy and Nyakweri.
In the short term, this ranger team’s presence in the forest has deterred illegal activities inside the forest, which increased exponentially in 2020 due to the loss of revenue as a result of COVID-19. In 2020, MEP saw the highest level of illegal logging and charcoal production in its history.
As recently as late March, the MEP “Alpha” ranger unit uncovered a charcoal making operation and confiscated 90 bags of charcoal and destroyed three kilns. In total over the last year, MEP rangers stationed in the Nyakweri Forest confiscated 118 bags of charcoal, 18 power saws, 1,416 illegal timbers, 8,865 illegal posts and one illegally cutdown tree. MEP rangers alongside KWS officers and other government partners destroyed 18 kilns and arrested 50 suspects for habitat destruction activities.
Rangers note elephants they spot while on patrol in the forest and input their location into MEP’s EarthRanger system so the team can see in real time where logging or charcoal sites have been shut down in relation to elephant movements inside the forest. This helps paint a broader picture and identify patterns to inform future ranger patrol.
In the long-term, Fitz’s movements are particularly useful to show changes over time in response to environmental and anthropogenic conditions. We are now seeing Fitz and his herd move differently in the forest based on where charcoal and illegal logging sites are located. That’s why the ongoing collection of data and further analysis must continue to provide the evidence underpinning the communications and advocacy efforts of the organisation to protect this critical habitat into the future. This mission is essential for not only elephants, but all wildlife that are represented by this umbrella species.
The second objective is that Fitz and his herd are habitual crop raiders, which gets them into trouble with farming communities surrounding the forest. In the short term, tracking his movements has provided MEP with an early warning to conflict. The MEP rangers stationed in Fitz’s area respond regularly to his crop raiding in nearby communities. Luckily, our commitment to mitigating this conflict helped to ease rising tensions in the area between wildlife and communities and provided an increase in much-needed food security for people struggling during the pandemic.
A more recent incident occurred in April, when the MEP “Alpha” ranger unit stationed in the Nyakweri Forest was dealing with Fitz and his herd crop raiding at night. Fitz and his herd of 60 usually spend their days in the forest and then under the cover of night come out to raid crops in bordering community farms. This team stationed here is tasked with keeping Fitz and his herd out of the community’s homes and farms, and this is not just a day job. There were 36 total conflict incidents involving Fitz and his herd that MEP rangers responded to in the last year.
The Angama Foundation’s continued commitment to protecting Fitz, his herd and his forest has made an impact during an especially difficult year. Mara Elephant Project is celebrating 10 years, our kumi anniversary, in 2021 and our success would not have been possible without support from partners like Angama.
Douggy captures another week at Kenya’s Angama Safari Lodge with all the familiar favorites. What is most exciting is a highly anticipated update on the Sausage Tree Pride, with happy news from these much-loved lions who continue to thrive and reap the rewards of their ever-increasing numbers.
Fresh out of the Mara nursery, this baby giraffe emerged alongside several others – even its own mother had to check whether this one belonged to her. It’s striking to think that the fully grown giraffe that you come across during your safari once started out this small, eventually growing into its elegant self. The generally accepted belief that giraffe don’t give the best care to their young is debatable, especially when looking at the wonderful parent in this image. From around Angama Mara and the drive down into the Reserve, giraffe are quite a regular sighting – but it’s always special to see interactions between mother and baby.
Six is a formidable number if they make it to prime age for taking over prides. The Sausage Tree Pride sub-adults have been busy. While the girls were bringing down a buffalo, the six boys, who have been separated from the pride, also got down to business. When most of the easier animals to prey on are gone, predators tend to go for the riskier meal of buffalo. Born into a big family with the tendency to go for bigger prey, the young male lions are well into the game and have embraced the challenge very well.
A hunter by nature, a warrior in action and a beauty to view. Certainly a favourite of mine, the secretary bird dominates the plains of the Mara with her majestic long legs as she traverses looking for prey. She’s an abrupt intruder into the lives of many invertebrates that meet their end underneath her strong feet, either trampled to death or taken whole by her very strong beak.
What better way could there be for a lion to start the day than just enjoying what comes naturally. The Border Pride, which has been spotted regularly in the past couple of weeks, are finally relaxing nearby. As if too overtaken by sleep to even try to open their eyes, I found them warmly cuddled together blanketed by the tall grass. The young cubs from a year and a half ago are growing into beautiful big lions. This is one of the Mara prides that is simply flourishing.
This week, I spent a lot of time in the company of buffalo. Sometimes they show interest in the vehicle and at other times they are completely dismissive. Here, I found two of three bulls in a playfight which, as I had anticipated, quickly turned into a serious encounter. The fight escalated to a nearby mud-hole where another bull lay enjoying his mud bath and chewing some grass. Being older and stronger, he chose to decisively put the squabble to an end. One of the young males was caught awkwardly and thrown into the air. The fight ended almost as soon as it began.
Roads and tracks are often put to good use by the Mara’s many creatures, from as small as the jackal to as big and mighty as the hippo and elephant. Elephant are probably the most regular users of the roads and dung piles are a clear sign of their presence. Driving southwest in search of the Sausage Tree Pride, I found this prime-aged elephant down the road.
Guess who is trailblazing the Migration journey? Of course, it’s the wildebeests themselves! I know I have had more than my fair share of the Migration, but every journey brings excitement and prepares me for what the Mara is likely to look like in the next couple of week. True to word that they are great trekkers, I first saw them far away near the border, only to find them closer mid-range into the Reserve later in the day. Hopefully they are spared by the predators until the mega herds start to arrive.
The ladies of the Angama Pride have been busy, led by the dominant female, Mama Kali. One morning just outside of the lodge down by the hill, I caught up with them on a hunt. This lioness seemed to be listening in on the people chatting in the car; both were attracted to topi walking nearby. People and lioness in one frame, totally unaware of each other’s actions.
I came across this topi in full flight. This is one of the ways they show their strength to competitive males to keep them off their territory. Often, you will come across a topi on top of a termite mound, seeking that extra height as if to exhibit himself but also to attract females.
When I last saw the Sausage Tree Pride females, they were heavily pregnant. It’s been well over six months since I last saw them, so I was excited to go and find this massive pride. Little did I know that I had a double dose of excitement waiting for me. Firstly, they had brought down a buffalo and secondly, there were more than six cubs between the age of two and three months. Not much feeding had been done on the buffalo, so I waited to see if the cubs would come out to play or eat. My patience paid off as the cubs, though cautious, came out to try and bite into the tough skin of the carcass.
Buffalo are relatively easy to find and one of the animals that we love photographing most. My colleague Robert caught these two boys overly interested in the car just before bolting away.
Guinea fowl spend most of their time foraging for grass seeds while ostriches spend most of their time in the plains grazing. I found these guinea fowls who trooped down the road from their roosting tree, ready for the day. When I found the ostriches grazing, they seemed to ignore me until they got spooked and took off running.
The sublime light in the early hours this past week has kicked my photography into another gear. Mornings have had the most amazing golden hours, even this impala couldn’t avoid glowing in it.
It looks like the giraffes can’t stop looking for trouble. The favorable weather conditions have ensured that the young giraffes are well fed and able to stay fit to challenge any incoming offense. This giraffe fight club has continued for the whole week.
A grey crowned crane is arguably one of the most interesting birds to watch, whether they are feeding on the seeds they harvest or in flight like this pair I caught up with.
Earlier this year, Angama’s two female guides headed up north to Segera Retreat in Kenya’s Laikipia to join the ROAR AFRICA Women’s Empowerment Retreat for a week of recognizing the female pioneers in travel. This is Sophie’s story of her time up north.
When the opportunity arose to join the ROAR AFRICA’s Women’s Empowerment Retreat, I was eager and excited. Firstly, because it would be the first time I’d ever set foot on Kenya’s northern frontier, and secondly because I would have the chance to meet Segera’s first female safari guide, Mercy.
I remember the mixed feelings I first had about entering the male-dominated guiding industry. I was one of very few women who had ventured into this field and I had many doubts and great uncertainty about my ability to succeed. Now, it’s been just over a decade and I am so glad I made the decision to stay and work hard, because other women have also beaten the odds and followed suit – including Mercy of Segera.
Deborah Calmeyer, Founder and CEO of ROAR AFRICA is a big advocate of female empowerment. Shortly after she spoke with Nicky about her plans for the Women’s Empowerment Retreat for 2021, the plane set off and together with my fellow female Angama guide, Alice, we headed north to offer moral support and mentorship to Mercy as she prepared to trailblaze for the many women and girls who also dream of one day becoming guides.
Soon after arriving, we met Mercy, a woman with a contagious smile who welcomed us into her home – Laikipia – a new land filled with all kinds of exciting creatures.
Particularly exciting for me was to be in the land that the last northern white rhino, named Sudan, roamed. I immediately felt the urge to go and connect with him and visited the site where his remains were buried. Even in his death, his presence was strong.
At Segera, conservation efforts are at the forefront with guides and rangers collaborating to always take initiatives to the next level. Alice and I, alongside Mercy and her team, learnt about the perseverance involved in tracking down poachers with a canine unit – I must admit, at times it was a challenge to keep up.
The game drives were equally rewarding. Seeing the likes of the common waterbuck and grevy zebra who are absent in the Mara, was a treat.
Our adventure up north soon came to end – but next we had the opportunity to bring Mercy to my homeland, Angama and the Maasai Mara – a place she fell in love with instantly. She spent two weeks with us and we created memories that will last a lifetime. But even more importantly, she has begun a journey few are willing to undertake, which in the future I hope will inspire more girls to become grateful and great ambassadors of conservation.
About: Sophie Sadera
The first of its kind in Rwanda, Bisate Kwanda a day lounge, is a proud showcase of Rwandan creativity, resourcefulness and commitment to conservation, and a testament to a team dedicated to creating impactful Rwandan journeys. Guests of Bisate Lodge can now relax in the comfort and understated luxury of this fully-staffed day lounge, which is ideal for early arrivals and late departures.
BUT WHY KWANDA?
Kwanda is a Kinyarwanda word meaning growth or expansion; a place to gather; a gift – all three of which perfectly sum up the lounge’s unique offering. Interestingly, Kwanda is said to be the origin of the word Rwanda. When one of the early Rwandan kings was enlarging his realm, he was practising “Kwanda,” which in turn became Rwanda.
As such, the Bisate Kwanda is our gift to our guests, a place to unwind and learn more about the area, people and cultures, all while taking in the beauty and tranquillity of Bisate.
THE INSIDE STORY
Bisate Kwanda offers four spacious en-suite relaxation rooms, each with a bathroom and lounge area with coffee- and tea-making facilities. Here, guests can freshen up, shower, change and even request an in-room massage after hiking in Volcanoes National Park.
The spacious circular open-plan lounge features a traditional central fireplace, comfortable leather couches, reading materials and the Bisate Boutique – stocked with unique local art, and ingenious artisanal crafts.
With views of the area’s magnificent landscape, the lounge is set in Bisate’s impressive organic vegetable gardens. Guests can enjoy lunch at the Bisate Kwanda restaurant while surrounded by bountiful fresh produce – all harvested for the lodge’s delicious, nutritious meals.
THE RWANDANS OF KARISOKE
A beautiful tribute to Rwandan conservationists working in Volcanoes National Park during the early days of gorilla conservation is included on the walls of the main lounge, providing an overview of the personalities behind this important research work from the 1970s and ‘80s.
Pictures and stories from that time are interwoven with updates on these conservationists now, some of whom still live in the villages surrounding Bisate. To read their tales and admire the rare John Fowler photographs (an acclaimed author and photographer, famed for his publication “A forest in the Clouds: My Year Among the Mountain Gorillas in the Remote Enclave of Dian Fossey”) from those historic times offers the mind’s eye a remarkable journey through Rwandan mountain gorilla conservation history.
Other walls feature locally made floating shelves bearing framed pictures and stories of Bisate Lodge, Children in the Wilderness, the reforestation programme, the tree nursery, community involvement, and of course, the gorillas.
PRIDE OF PLACE
Located close to the main lodge but tucked out of sight, Bisate Kwanda is a celebration of community and self-sustainability. Besides the construction itself and the organic garden, local craftspeople have been instrumental in creating its authentic Rwandan flavour – from the striking entrance floors and hallways to the volcanic rock cladding and ribbed walls, hand-tooled wooden utensils, stunning ceramic artwork and hand-woven lightshades.
HOW DOES KWANDA’S GARDEN GROW?
Based on the concept of permaculture, a sustainable and self-sufficient ecosystem has been created on the Kwanda’s doorstep. Companion planting is practiced, as symbiotic relationships have been shown to enhance the growth and yield of both plants, as well as succession planting, to ensure the soil is always renewed and enriched. Resident agriculturalists are more than happy to accompany guests should they wish to walk through the garden and learn more – or simply relax and explore this calming space at leisure.
FOOD FOR THE SOUL
Bisate Kwanda’s menu comprises seasonal ingredients for freshness, the majority of which come straight from the garden or are supplied by nearby communities. For example, red-skinned and wonderfully starchy potatoes are grown in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil of the surrounding valleys and delivered to the Kwanda’s door. Eggs are brought by a local chicken farmer – organic, free range and delicious. Other treats include wild honey, avocados, tree tomatoes, coffee, tea, plantains, papayas, and chilies, to name a few. As much as possible, vegetables, garnishes and herbs are picked fresh from the garden – which is growing by the day, in every sense!
The Kwanda’s many culinary delights include hearty soups, seasonal salads, gourmet pizzas, focaccias, platters, burgers, sandwiches, desserts, cakes, fresh juices, signature beverages, smoothies, a range of fine imported wines, and of course, Rwanda’s famous coffee.
MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS
Inside the Kwanda, the colorful artisanal Bisate Boutique beckons, filled with Rwandan art, and crafts made by various small enterprises from around the country – perfect to take home as mementos, or gifts. Choose from a uniquely designed clothing line, local-grown tea blends, Rwandan coffee, handmade beeswax candles, cow horn art, jewelery, beadwork, woven goods, oils, lotions, potions, soaps and so much more.
Although each enterprise offers something different, they all have one thing in common: a desire to uplift their communities, empower women, educate children, and create a better life for themselves and the country they are so proud of.