A Boy In The African Wilds
My name is Luka, and I am ten years old. I was lucky to recently spend ten days of my school holidays in Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa – where I spent the first eight years of my life. My mom was a guide in Madikwe, and I had my first game drive when I was just days old. Some of my story here is about dead animals, which can be upsetting. But I have lived in the bushveld for most of my life, and I am used to seeing dead animals.
It was go-go-go from the first morning I woke up! An early start with my ranger friend who I was staying with for the first while. We headed off on patrol to check the anti-poaching cameras. Mostly, this means checking and replacing batteries and fixing any cameras that animals have damaged. We found one camera with a cracked screen from an elephant tusk. After about five hours of checking cameras, it was time to head back home for some banana bread – yum yum.
Early the following morning, one of the Madikwe guides radioed that he had found a dead lion. It was the big male, Monamogolo (this means ‘old man’ in English). He was the biggest and most dominant of the Madikwe lions.
We immediately drove to the carcass. The first thing we noticed was the awful smell….worse than rotten eggs! He had probably been dead for about four to five days.
We had to do a post-mortem to find out what caused the lion’s death. Only the head and the front legs were still there; hyenas must have eaten the rest. There was a broken bone in the neck from a hyena, but the clue that the cause of death was other lions came from the facial bites. We could see the tooth marks on the skull. It seemed as if the lionesses of the Jamala pride killed the old male. Monamogolo had killed three of their cubs before he died (they weren’t his cubs).
The lionesses didn’t kill him straight away but rather fought with him and then left him to die. It was weird there were no bite marks on the neck. This is where you would expect to find killing bites. Also interesting to me was that there were no injuries or cuts on the lionesses, which we bumped into later. We removed the head and paws of the lion to prevent poachers from getting hold of them and trying to sell them.
Two hours later, we received a call about a badly injured rhino bull that had been in a fight with another bull. We met up with the vet and went to the location of the injured rhino. Luckily we found the rhino easily and didn’t need to call in a chopper to look for him. The vet carefully approached the rhino on foot and successfully darted him. After the drugs took effect, we gave him some medication for his injuries. It seems the other bull hooked and stabbed the injured one behind his front legs and around his scrotum! We then drilled into his horn and inserted a microchip. The vet gave him the antidote to wake up, and then the bull peacefully went back into the bush.
It was a hectic and exciting day that I will never forget.
The next day I went to a lodge on the western side of the game reserve for a couple of days. On the first day, we had to do the shop run to a tiny town called Derdepoort. I went with my two ranger friends. On the way, we got a call to shoot a zebra to feed some male lions in the boma. (Editors note: These boma lions are part of a project to maintain the Madikwe lion population’s genetic diversity. They will be released into the reserve when they have habituated sufficiently. The bomas do not contain any other animals, and food is provided for the lions). We searched for about three hours to find a suitably sized stallion. After loading the zebra on the back of the car, we headed to the boma.
When we dropped the carcass off the back, the lions fought over the meat. The youngest male seemed to be confused about what the zebra was and played with it for about 20 minutes. These are new lions, two young males and an older lion that will be released into Madikwe, hopefully as a coalition. This will also be good for the park seeing that one of their biggest lions has just died.
My next stop was more relaxing – a private lodge on the eastern side of the reserve. We enjoyed some nice game drives and relaxation after all the conservation work we had done. We were with an excellent and experienced guide – Evan. I had a lovely time with him as we got on very well. Evan is a very interesting guy, and there was so much to see. We had elephant dung tea, rubbed our backs on rhino rubbing posts and ate VERY nice game drive snacks. We also found two lionesses one morning. One of them had blood on her face. We followed, and it turned out they were on their way to fetch their cubs. With the cubs following them, they led us to a fresh kudu carcass.
It was nice to visit Madikwe again, and to remember the places I have memories of. I will visit again – hopefully often.
Lion Settles in Zinave – The First in 30 Years
A large nomad lion has settled in the remote Zinave National Park, Mozambique, and there is evidence that a lioness has joined him. This extraordinary story of Africa’s apex predator recolonizing a former range is being hailed as a conservation success story.
This park was ravaged during the Mozambique civil war that ended in 1992 and subsequent poaching. Then, ten years ago, an intensive restoration and rewilding program was launched. The inspirational program included reintroducing more than 2,300 wild animals (14 species) – including 200 elephants – into a sanctuary within the national park.
A camera trap recently captured the image of this large lion which has since settled in the park, along with his female companion. The photographed lion is a young adult male estimated at 4 to 5 years of age. Male lions are usually pushed out of a pride at between 2 and 3 years old, becoming nomadic and attempting to establish their own territories and prides. The image was taken on a camera trap set up by park warden, Antonio Abacar. The camera trap was set up near the sanctuary fence close to one of the entry gates. Momentarily startled by the flash, the lion charged the source of the disturbance and broke the camera, but fortunately, the memory card remained intact, and the photograph was retrieved.
Incidentally, this momentous occasion comes amid an exciting new phase in Zinave’s translocation program – the introduction of predators. A clan of four spotted hyenas were settled into the park at the end of 2020 and have already produced two cubs. Two leopards, male and female, were successfully introduced in late 2021.
The populations of reintroduced herbivores have already blossomed to more than 9 000 animals, rapidly restoring the ecological balance in the park and attracting the first free-roaming lions.
Bernard van Lente, Peace Parks Foundation’s Project Manager for Zinave National Park, explains that: “With the abundant prey and safe environment available, the fact that the park can sustain large carnivores is very encouraging, and it will not be too surprising if more lion, leopard, wild dog / African painted wolf and cheetah start to make sporadic appearances, over and above the carnivores that are set for reintroduction in the coming years.”
With the assistance of several donors, the reintroduction program has been accelerated under a 20-year co-management agreement signed in 2015 between Mozambique’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Peace Parks Foundation, with the eventual goal of rewilding the entire 408,000 ha park and developing it to sustain its operating costs through ecotourism.
The last hundred years have seen lions disappearing from up to 95% of their historic range. Over 200,000 lions once roamed across Africa’s wild places; now, only an estimated 23,000 to 39,000 mature individuals remain due to habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict, poaching and poisoning.
A Fighting Chance at Kapama!
This past week South Africa’s Kapama celebrated the birth of a new rhino calf. Every new rhino born into the world is an incredible thing. However, this story did not have such a glamorous beginning.
Over five years ago, on 19 January 2016, the mother of the rhino calf endured an attack from poachers and almost lost her life. Kapama’s safari Manager Liezel recalls that devastating morning like it was yesterday.
“The day started like any other, with guests departing on their morning game drives to enjoy the beauty and splendor of an African safari and sunrise. Not long into the morning, a call came through on the radio informing me, as well as security a rhino had been poached. When a call like that comes through on the radio, chills run down your spine followed by sadness and then pure anger!”
Immediately we rushed through to the scene to identify which rhino had died. On further inspection, we realized that the female that had viciously been hacked and slaughtered for her horns was one of the females who had a calf. The next thing that raced through my mind was – where is her calf? We radioed through to all guides and security teams to be on full alert and begin looking for her calf.
That’s when the second call came through. A ranger reported the calf had been found, but both its horns had been hacked off.
The calf, about 2-3 years old, had been found a kilometer or two away from the scene but was miraculously still alive. Straight away we called our well known and renowned vet, Dr. Peter Rogers. The question on everyone’s minds was: Are we able to save the calf?
Dr. Rogers came as quickly as he could with his assistant Janelle Goodrich. They assessed the situation and that is when Dr. Rogers looked at me and said: “They all just need a fighting chance!”. It was decided we were going to give this little calf the fighting chance she deserved.
She was darted and taken to HESC (Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre ) under the care of Lindri the curator. Here Dr Rogers was able to keep a close eye on her and treat her every few weeks. It was a long, grueling process, as the horns were cut out so deeply that the sinuses of this poor animal could be seen.
A special cap was made for her from a very strong plastic used in the manufacturing of prosthetics. The cover was specially molded to fit perfectly over the exposed sinuses and acted like a scab for the wounds to heal underneath. It also prevented maggots from entering the wound and causing more damage.
“After many months of care, her wounds healed and her horns began to grow. She was released back onto Kapama Game Reserve in August 2019, having survived this treacherous ordeal. ”
Not even three years since her release back onto Kapama, we welcomed her own little calf into the Kapama rhino family. You can see from from the image below how her horns were able to grow back slightly. What a precious moment!
Conservation and preservation of nature as well as endangered species forms such a crucial part of Kapama’s vision and mission. Private Game Reserve’s like Kapama play such an important role in protecting endangered species like rhino to help their numbers grow.
For Kapama, and all involved in her story which started six years ago, seeing this particular rhino with her new young calf means so much to everyone. We are so pleased and proud that we were able to give her a fighting chance – to not only survive but thrive and have a baby of her own! Welcome to the world little one!
Nairobi’s It Girls!
No one knows a city better than the people who live there. As part of a new “Under the Hood” safari experience, Angama teamed up with two of Nairobi’s coolest!
Effortlessly chic, Annabel Onyango and Patricia Kihoro are two of Nairobi’s best-known tastemakers. Annabel (@annabelonyango) is a stylist, though studied as an environmental biologist (extra cool), and Patricia (@misskihoro) is an entertainer who sings, acts, and presents amongst other enviable talents. As a former New Yorker and admittedly somewhat jaded when it comes to discovering what cities “have to offer”, I was keen to discover a Nairobi outside of the well-tread stops in Karen.
With a directive to show us some of the best boutiques in fashion, art, and design, our first stop with Annabel was the studio of Adele Dejak, a Kenyan jeweller whose atelier is just on the outskirts of Nairobi. Dressed in a KikoRomeo tie-dye jumpsuit, a trendy Nairobi-based brand, she led us through Adele’s workshop where we chatted with women handcrafting jewellery and across the way to the browse the shop. Filled with brass cuffs and rings along with earrings made of horn and other natural materials, this is a must-stop for those wanting only-found-in-Kenya (note: our Safari Shop has a lovely collection of Adele pieces).
From there we hit Circle Art Gallery, home to the best up-and-coming names in the East African art scene for interested collectors (where Patricia serenaded me with a Toni Braxton song), followed by a quick lunch at the outdoor Pallet Café, which creates employment opportunities for those with hearing impairments, dotted by little shopfronts for local makers.
At Kuona Trust, the artists’ collective housed in old shipping containers, we visited the outpost for Michael Soi, profiled in The New York Times for his social satire paintings, along with the very on-trend line drawings of 2Endo. We drove into the up-and-coming neighborhood of Loresho, popping in to see Deepa Dosaja’s silk dresses and Wasp and Sprout’s homeware and gifts sourced from local artisans.
After hearing there was an outdoor market on at Shamba Café, we made a detour to the giant red barn home to a restaurant, fresh produce market, grocer and gift shop, set a farm which is part of the University of Nairobi’s College of Agriculture and Veterinary Science. Weekend markets are a staple in Nairobi as many are unable to maintain shopfronts, so it’s best to research which are happening when you’re there.
Our final stop, and the one I was most excited for, was Tribal Gallery, a 1930’s Tudor home-turned-furniture gallery, where just about everything is for sale — decorative boxes from Senegal, rugs from Morocco, lamps made from dhows on the Kenyan Coast. You best come with extra luggage as you’ll want to take everything home (by appointment only).
Africa Through Andrew Ling Lens
“I’m beyond excited for this opportunity — my first time to Africa. I hope to be inspired. To always be curious. To learn as much as I can about this new (to me) environment. I’m looking forward to getting to know the people, the land, the culture — and tying it all back together. Protecting and conserving it for generations to come — and to share a little bit about our culture with them. An exchanging of stories, and experiences you could call it. I can’t wait to share this adventure with you all”.
Who is Andrew Ling?
Andrew Ling — born and raised in Seattle, Washington — is a renowned photographer who has worked for the likes of Adidas, Adobe, National Geographic, Volvo, and more. Throughout December, Ling will be sharing his passion for storytelling with us as he travels to Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Antarctica. Ling’s specialty is moving others through his stills imagery.
“It’s always rewarding when we’re able to impact someone, no matter how little or how big, just by having them see an image. Sometimes it’s something as big and life-changing as helping a student realize what they want to do in life, and other times it’s just making someone’s day a little brighter. Both are great outcomes.
“As a commercial photographer, a lot of my work is tied into ‘selling’ products, services, etc., but over the years I’ve learned that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. The best type of business is win-win, where both parties leave happy. That’s sustainability, and those are the stories I’m in love with sharing. When someone travels with White Desert they get to see and experience some of the most special moments we can have as human beings. It’s good for them, it’s good for the animals, and the environment. It’s good for everyone”.
Always being up for a challenge, Africa will be an entirely new experience for Andrew. When Ling is telling stories for some of the world’s biggest brands, he often finds himself tasked not so much with competing with other brands, but competing with the future. “How can we tell this story, in a way that has never been done before?” It will be fascinating to share Andrew’s first time seeing a magnificent wilderness, through his lens.
One of Andrew’s recent projects took him to remote stretches of Alaska, with temperatures of 40° Celsius, below zero. We’re excited to flip his world upside down, to the peak of summer in Zimbabwe, where temperatures can reach up to 40° Celsius above zero. We are excited to share this transformative journey through Andrew’s eyes, and inspire others to explore the wonders of Africa.
Andrew Ling Conservation
“Photography is a medium we can communicate through. Words are great, but they are more powerful in combination with visuals. The beauty of photography is that the viewer has the freedom to interpret each photograph however they choose to. My hope is to leave them inspired in some way.”
“In 2016, I had an opportunity to travel to Patagonia, where I saw my first glacier up close. Behind these massive stretches of ice, were beautiful mountainsides — carved out by the glaciers below. But wait, I thought to myself — that’s where the glaciers were. That’s where they have been, for millions of years. But they’re not there anymore. Forever.”
“It was like a row of dominoes had all lined up and collapsed in synchrony. Drops of water landed on my face — but it wasn’t raining. It was from the glacial melt. I think that was the exact moment that I discovered what I wanted my work to do. I wanted my images to contribute to protecting these beautiful places so others would get to experience them”.
There exists a wilderness in the highlands of Kenya where love, labor and a little luck created a conservation model so successful that it has shaped the fortunes of the land and communities around it. Today, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a haven for the rare and wonderful wildlife of the region while simultaneously offering one of the most exclusive and individualized safari experiences in East Africa.
LEWA WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY AND SURROUNDS
The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy covers 250km² (25,000 hectares) in the corner of Kenya’s Meru County, bordering Laikipia and Isilio counties to the west and north, respectively. Though technically situated in a separate county, Lewa is a part of the wider Laikipia landscape. Most of the conservancy lies on the Laikipia Plateau at altitudes of over 1,500 meters. Just 40 km to the south, the jagged figure of Mount Kenya looms on the horizon, its rolling foothills imparting a dramatic topography to Lewa.
This spectacular visual contrast between the lush montane forests at the base of Kenya’s tallest mountain and the arid grasslands and sparse woodlands of Lewa is a significant ingredient in the conservancy’s wild magic. Another is, of course, the abundant wildlife. Unusual for this part of the world, Lewa is fenced but with tactical gaps left open based on animal movements. This allows the animals to move between the various surrounding ecosystems, including the vast Laikipia conservancy network and the Samburu ecosystem to the north. Lewa is also open to the neighboring Borana Conservancy to the west.
Visitors to Lewa’s lodges are granted exclusive access to this wilderness playground. They are afforded opportunities that go far beyond the average game drive (though these are, of course, still an exciting aspect of any visit, given the wildlife on display). Despite the conservancy’s burgeoning success in conservation and tourism, the atmosphere remains down-to-earth – a perfect blend of homely warmth and world-class luxury guest experience.
Lewa’s conservation journey is an integral part of the guest experience because it adds to the depth of understanding of the land, as well as her people and animals. The story is deeply rooted in Kenyan conservation history. It was once an operational cattle ranch owned by the Craig family who partnered with philanthropist Anna Merz to create a rhino sanctuary during the height of the poaching crisis in the early 1980s. Rhino numbers had been decimated, and their future was hanging very much in the balance. The remaining rhinos in northern Kenya were quickly gathered and sequestered safely away in the fenced and guarded Ngare Sergoi Rhino Sanctuary. As the numbers grew, the sanctuary was expanded to include the rest of the ranch. Thus Lewa started its journey to becoming one of Kenya’s premier safari destinations and conservation pioneers.
Cognizant that the future of any conservation mission depends on the fortunes of the surrounding communities, the Lewa approach has always been one of inclusivity and tangible contribution to rural livelihoods. With the support and encouragement of Lewa CEO Ian Craig, community-owned and managed conservancies began to spring up around Laikipia and Isilio. So successful was the multi-pronged approach to land management, security and tourism that Lewa Wildlife Conservancy was constantly called upon to support and guide the surrounding protected areas.
The result was the formation of the Northern Rangelands Trust (as a separate entity from Lewa), which now oversees over 30 different conservancies and community lands. Its mission: to develop resilient community conservancies to “transform people’s lives, secure peace and conserve natural resources” through providing funds, advice, training, and support.
A tribute to the success of Lewa’s conservation efforts came in 2013 when UNESCO declared both Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and neighboring Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve an extension of the Mount Kenya World Heritage Site.
NGARE NDARE FOREST RESERVE
Just south of Lewa is the Ngare Ndare Forest Reserve, part of the Mount Kenya forest ecosystem. This fairytale forest is one of Kenya’s hidden gems – frequented mostly by locals and Lewa guests. Thick ferns line the lush forest trails, and the trees are draped in thick vines to the point that one might be forgiven for expecting to see a yodelling Tarzan swinging in the canopy overhead. Though the forest lacks any large primates (apart from the visitors), there are plenty of elephants and black-and-white colobus monkeys hidden in and among the trees!
There are two main attractions in Ngare Ndare: the waterfall tumbling into an azure pool and the canopy walk. The first of these can be found in a spectacular rocky grotto, where swimming is permitted for those able to brave the cold of the mountain spring water. The canopy walk consists of a hanging walkway ten meters above the forest floor. This is the perfect place to take in the beauty of the forest, particularly at sunset when the trees are burnished in shades of gold and green.
THE ELEPHANTS WENT IN TWO BY TWO (HURRAH!)
One of the primary justifications for expanding the Mount Kenya World Heritage Site to include Lewa and Ngare Ndare was the 14km wildlife corridor linking the Mount Kenya National Park to Ngare Ndare. The narrow strip of fenced land runs between farmlands and has proved to be of immense value to the elephants of central and northern Kenya (as well as the surrounding farmers and their fields). From a conservation perspective, this elephant migration corridor is one of the greater Lewa landscape’s most fascinating features.
We know from recent research that elephants are now restricted to just 17% of their historical range, forced to navigate human-dominated landscapes and no longer able to follow traditional migration routes. The elephants of this ecosystem would have moved between the forests on the slopes of Mount Kenya (and, of course, the readily available streams fed by glacial runoff) and the more arid regions of the north (Samburu and the Matthews Range) depending on the seasons and rainfall. This migration corridor, created in 2010, allows the elephants to continue to do so, connecting the habitats while reducing conflict with the rural communities occupying the space between them. The underpass beneath the main highway was the first of its kind in East Africa and allows the safe passage of elephants and an assortment of other animals. Astonishingly, it took the first elephant just 12 hours to discover the completed underpass.
Lewa’s deep conservation roots have ensured a thriving wildlife population, including the Big 5 (though leopard sightings are still relatively unusual), rarities like the Grevy’s zebra. Naturally, both black and white rhinos are one of the main drawcards, and Lewa is one of the best places to view the two African rhino species. Not much compares to the sight of a critically endangered black rhino out in the open on Lewa’s grasslands, with the singular outline of Mount Kenya in the background.
The northern “specials” are all present, including the reticulated giraffe, common beisa oryx, gerenuk and Somali ostrich. The conservancy is a population stronghold of the endangered Grevy’s zebra, and the growing numbers have been translocated to bolster populations in surrounding conservancies. Lions and cheetahs abound, and packs of African painted wolves occasionally make a fleeting appearance.
TO PROTECT AND TO CONSERVE
Have you ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes in keeping a reserve operational and safe? Lewa’s phenomenal guest experience offers a transparent insight into the day-to-day realities of reserve management and even allows guests to join its various conservation initiatives where appropriate. This includes everything from visits to the local community schools and clinics to anti-poaching demonstrations and a chance to meet the tracker dogs. Rather than presenting a sanitized safari disconnected from reality, the Lewa approach is one of absolute authenticity.
EXPLORE & STAY
This freedom of experience is a trademark of the central and north Kenyan tourism mantra, and the wealth of activities on offer makes the Lewa safari unlike any other. Game drives form the backbone of sedate exploration, but guests can opt to join the guides tracking the wildlife on foot or even rock their way across the landscape on the back of a camel. The conservancy is home to several exceptionally well-trained horses and offers rides for both beginners and more advanced riders. The joy of viewing wildlife from horseback is that the wild animals respond differently to the horses than they might to people on foot. The result is a safe and close encounter with wildlife that does not affect natural behavior. Guests wanting an even more immersive experience can request a night out under the stars, and the lodges will set up a fly camp. From bush breakfasts to sundowners, nothing is ever too much trouble in Lewa…
What To Pack On Safari
The thought of packing for an African safari is sometimes intimidating—you hear about all kinds of restrictions, especially when flying on small charter planes who only accept luggage under 40 pounds in soft sided luggage.
While a big trip can always bring some stress with it in getting ready, there’s no need to worry. We have you covered! Check out our ‘What To Pack’ page and read more below for a quick outline.
1.) Losing documents is a very common occurrence, especially while travelling. As a result, packing the necessary documents safely should be your first priority before packing the rest of your luggage.
2.) A passport that has all of the necessary visas for every nation that your safari will visit or pass through. A small amount of cash, bank cards, and/or travelers’ checks are recommended.
3.)These days, you can also utilize e-wallet apps to avoid lugging around multiple credit cards and cash. Air tickets and travel vouchers for any pre-arranged organized safaris that have been purchased.
4.)Where necessary, vaccination certificates (yellow fever, mumps, etc.) will be provided. Some immunizations must be administered many weeks in advance (see Vaccinations needed for your African Safari). Medical treatment may include malaria prevention medications (see Malaria Made Simple) as well as any personal medications (also take your prescription in case of an emergency-your medication gets lost, wet, eaten by a baboon etc).
5.)The specifics of your travel insurance policy Your policy number, as well as the contact information for claims and emergencies, will be provided.
6.)Prepare a copy of all of your important documents, including your airline tickets, travel insurance policy, immunization records, and records of prescriptions and prescriptions.
WHAT TO WEAR
Wearing neutral colors such as light browns, greens, tans, and khaki is ideal for safari. These colors do not attract attention and blend in perfectly with the African bush. Wearing bright colors makes you more visible to wildlife, which you want to avoid on safari. Especially when you’re on a walking safari.
Some other tips to consider:
1.) Dress in a relaxed manner. It is important that you are comfortable with your safari experience. Pack light clothing. Wearing cotton is great for safari.
2.) Make sure you’re protected at night. Pack a few long-sleeved shirts (depending on the duration of your trip) and slacks to keep warm on your night-time game drives.
3.) On game drives, you’ll need a jacket and scarf with you because temperatures drop quickly once the sun goes down in the evening.
4.) Pack a swimsuit and some casual clothing for around camp.
5.) It is not necessary to bring heavy hiking boots with you on this trip. Walking in hiking boots would not only be uncomfortable in the heat, but they are also cumbersome to transport. Any pair of robust closed-toe shoes will suffice in this situation.
6.) Make use of the laundry service. Our camps provide laundry services, although they do not wash undergarments. Clothing that is simple to clean is recommended.
7.) Pack a hat. You will need protection from the sun. It can get extremely hot in Africa. You need a hat that is durable.
On the small aircraft that travel to Africa, the weight of luggage is severely restricted: 44 lbs. per person in a soft duffel for Southern Africa, and 33 lbs. per checked bag, per person, for East Africa. The most important thing to remember is to avoid using wheels on your luggage because they add around eight to twelve pounds to it, whereas if you use a lightweight duffel without wheels, you have significantly more weight for clothing and shoes than if you use wheels.
TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
1.) Remember to bring along all your electronic devices, including your camera, memory cards, batteries, chargers, and a tiny torch with you. The use of telephoto lenses on your camera, as well as lightweight binoculars, is highly recommended.
2.) A pair of binoculars should be brought by each participant to get the maximum enjoyment out of the safari. A general-purpose binocular with an aperture of 8×40 or 8×42 is excellent for both birding and mammal observation purposes.
3.) A waterproof/dust-proof bag/cover for your camera; good quality sunglasses; glasses (if you wear contacts, you may be more prone to dust irritation); moisturizer; and sunblock are all essentials for traveling.
4.) A flashlight or a head light, as well as a Southern African bird guide (such as Newman’s or Sasol), are recommended.
1.) An SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera with memory card ports that accommodate SD cards, or a smaller Superzoom camera, are also acceptable options. When deciding which camera to bring on safari, the size (which should not be too large) and quality of the zoom lens are important considerations.
2.) All of your chargers, batteries, and gadget power cords, as well as the correct plugs or adaptors for the regions you will be visiting on your safari.
3.) Camera storage devices have the memory to save a billion photographs! Make sure you have enough memory space on your device.
4.) Early mornings and evenings, particularly during game drives, can be cool, so bring a warm hat.
When packing for your safari in Africa, make sure to exclude the following items:
1.) Single-use plastics are a problem. Many countries, particularly in East Africa, have outlawed it.
2.) Water bottles that are disposable The majority of safari vans and hotels are equipped with water dispensers for re-filling reusable water bottles. Alternatively, purchase a large 5 or 10-litre water jug and fill it with water as needed along the trip.
3.) A digital camcorder is a compact, handheld video recorder that may be used to record personal films and upload them to YouTube. It can capture all of the activity on your vacation.
4.) You’ll need something to keep you engaged on the trip and while waiting for transfers and relaxing while on safari. A good book, iPod, iPad, or games will do the trick.
5.) A compact diary for recording your travel experiences, taking down the names of animals and birds spotted on game drives, as well as valuable local terminology and phrases,
6.) In addition to listening to audio books, headphones are useful for listening to a soundtrack while driving or falling asleep, as well as for watching the scenery.
Record Breaking Numbers!
Record-breaking numbers of male lions and endangered vultures mark yet another brilliant week in the Mara!
It’s a wonderful time to be in the Mara at the moment, especially if you are a birder as the migratory birds are moving through on their annual southward journey. Here, the elephants’ great strides disrupt all the insects living in the grass and the barn swallows follow in their wake to enjoy an aerial smorgasbord.
The hyenas and vultures have also been well fed this week, but they have to be lightning quick to get a mouthful. A zebra carcass, weighing about 350kg, lasted just 20 minutes before completely disappearing into the bellies of the scavengers. You can watch a video of this here.
Adam has been known to seemingly conjure lions out of thin air, but this week must have been an all-time high. He and a group of guests managed to see no less than 17 different males in just three days.
The Lamai Male, who killed Ol Donyo Paek earlier this year, has made the most of his new-found power by taking over the Sausage Tree Pride. Mating with the lovely Kinky Tail is just the start of what we hope will be a long and fruitful reign.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for the lions of the Mara though. This poor Angama Pride lioness had her zebra kill stolen by hyenas. If that wasn’t enough, the hyenas then chased her up a tree. Here, she waits it out in front of a beautiful violet sky.
A big contributor to the number of male lions sighted was the six sub-adults from the Sausage Tree Pride. This band of brothers had to scarper after their father was killed and they’ve been on the run ever since. It appears they’ve set up temporary residence at the base of the escarpment in a territory once belonging to Olalashe. They all appear to be doing quite well, despite their turbulent year.
Saving the best lions for last, well in my opinion at least, Adam had his first sighting of the River Pride cubs. While we’re still getting to know these new additions to the Mara lion chronicles, we know that they have an uncanny ability to melt hearts. You have been warned, so look with caution.
Another possible record was made this week for Adam who looked away from the countless male lions just long enough to spot the highly endangered white-headed vulture. Not just one white-headed vulture, but three on a single drive. To those birders-still-in-training, like myself, Adam has put this into perspective: there are approximately 20 of these vultures left in the Mara, so essentially, he saw 15% of the white-headed vulture population during a single drive.
As every week has its share of excitement, it has its gentle gestures too, be it the deep grumbles of an elephant herd talking to each other or the quiet floating movement of the balloons at sunrise. Watch a snippet of some of the sightings from this week in the video below.
BY CHARLOTTE ROSS STEWART
Fun Chameleon Facts!
Often small things will be overlooked while out on an African safari. Most guests are interested in the Big Five as they are incredible and impressive creatures to see out in the wild. But often during a sunset drive, an assistant guide will motion for the guide to stop, he will get off the vehicle, walk across to a tree and point out the smallest of creatures. That is when guests are introduced to the chameleon.
Here are a few interesting facts:
4.) Chameleons are adapted for climbing and visual hunting. Most of these species of chameleons live in trees or bushes. Their long tails assist in balancing their body. It can roll several times around a branch to help them to hang on tight.
5.) Why their skin changes color
- Most people think a chameleon changes its skin for camouflage. There are a few other reasons like mood, changes in light or temperature, or the humidity of their environment.
- Chameleons Change color to regulate their temperatures as they cannot generate their body heat. By changing the color of their skin, they maintain a favorable body temperature. A cold chameleon may become dark to absorb more heat, whereas a hotter chameleon may turn pale to reflect the heat from the sun.
- Chameleons will also use bold color changes to communicate. Males become bright to signal their dominance and turn dark in aggressive encounters. Females can let males know if they are willing to mate by changing the color of their skin.
7.) Why do they have such long tongues?
- The tongue of chameleon can be up to twice the length of its body. This exceptionally long tongue catches unsuspecting prey from a distance.
- A chameleon’s tongue has a very specialized system of complex muscles that enable it to shoot out and retract faster than the average human can blink. When the tongue reaches the insect, retractor muscles contract and pull the tongue back in the mouth of the chameleon.
- The tip of the tongue is unique on its own. On impact with the prey, sticky saliva together with a suction effect of muscles contracting, the insect is clasped and retracted in the mouth within a split second.
8.) Chameleons, unfortunately, serve as prey for many predators such as snakes, birds even monkeys. The smaller a chameleon is, the more likely it is to be eaten by a larger animal. Although they can blend in with their environment, they are near the bottom of the food chain.
Story by: Southern Camp Ranger Jaques Crosby
Celebrating a Lion
Last week as I looked through the recording booth at a famous actor while directing him through the words for our latest film. It was the voice of Scar from The Lion King that I was hearing! The movie that made the world want to go on Safari!
This new movie will be the 16th film with Jeremy Irons, a very long and fruitful partnership. Last week’s recording session, and indeed this week’s celebration of World Lion Day, is the perfect storm of reflection, centered around the role of lions in the world.
Jeremy, Beverly and I spent a little time talking about this during the week-long sessions.
When Great Plains was commissioned a study, via the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, to announce where lions were distributed 15, 10, 5 years prior and where those trends would take them into the future. I used this trend for lions as a blueprint for Great Plains’ investments and its leases. Today, Duba Plains has some of the most incredible sightings of lions who actually swim.
The Selinda pride has established and stabilized into picking up their original hippo hunting habits. In Zimbabwe’s Sapi Reserve, at Tembo Plains, a new ‘gang’ of young males promises to become the big males of the Zambezi. Kenya’s ol Donyo’s lions have become so comfortable that they are at the waterhole nowadays. Guests staying at Mara Plains Camp and Mara Nyika Camp have the opportunity to view multiple lions prides. One could do a Great Plains Lions African safari across three countries and simply see the best of the best.
But why lions?
There are ecological solid and rational reasons to protect lions. Alan Savory studied grasslands and the effects of grazers for decades. The consistent takeaway for me is that the finest and most productive grasslands result from large herds of grazing animals being chased around by herding predators. Their hooves churn up the ground, sharp hooves that leave holes in the soil for rainwater to run into, unlocking the grass seed bank, and at the same time, fertilizing that patch of land. Let’s be frank; when large herding predators like lions are circling buffalo and zebras, they can be forgiven for loosening their bowels! Predators stimulate migrations, and the prey of Africa are forced into a perpetual cycle of fitness! As expressed in a highly scientific way in that film I mentioned earlier, it is the Circle of Life! And it is all thanks to lions.
This week we were probably all thrown into post-traumatic stress again, with the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calling for a red alert for humanity and the planet, and we really do need that.
But we should not overlook one of our greatest ambassadors and assets – a vast and diverse biomass of wildlife, each with a unique role in holding this planet together. But if it is biodiversity that is king here, it is the lions and other predators that help maintain it daily. If all the wildlife is all being kept fit and healthy by their top predators, those players, especially lions, in this case, need special attention.
There are deep-rooted spiritual reasons to pay attention to lions. I once conducted my own lion survey in the ten blocks radius surrounding the National Geographic Society building in Washington DC. I found more lion statues, flags and logos than in the wild like Hwange in Zimbabwe. Zulus and so many other people in Africa have names associated with lions (Ngonyama, for example) and kings around the world associate with lions.
Last week, Mopane, yet another famous lion in Hwange, was hunted, also from a pride related to Cecil. This is madness. When I was born, there were 450,000 lions free roaming in the wild. Today we estimate that there are perhaps less than 20,000. That is not a circle of life. Their demise is entirely our doing.
Lion scientist Rae Cokes called me some years ago about the idea of creating a World Day for lions. I chose 10th August for one reason. It was my brother’s birthday, and Keith Joubert, a famous wildlife artist, was indeed a lion amongst men. In particular, his art and sculptures of lions, including many of his oil paintings of lions, live on. So World Lion Day is special, for them, for the world, and me personally; It is personal.
Our collective responsibility is that these artworks do not become the only representations of this amazing cat – the most iconic on our planet.
A New Mammal Big Day World Record!
As the clock struck midnight, Stratton Hatfield and Zarek Cockar set off on a mission to break the world record for the most mammals seen in a single day. The territory to be covered was across the Mara-Loita-Nguruman landscape of Southern Kenya, covering roughly 100 nautical miles.
It was 23:45 when the alarms on our phones went off and we groggily rolled out of our beds ready for the start of our ‘Mammal Big Day’.
“What’s a Mammal Big Day?” I hear you ask. It’s the mammal equivalent of a Birding Big Day, which is when birders aim to identify as many species as they can in the wild in a 24-hour period – usually from 00:00 to 23:59 on the same day. It’s a shorter version of a Big Year, a concept that became more widely known after a Hollywood comedy with the same name was released in 2011, starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson.
“Why do a Mammal Big Day?” is the inevitable next question. Our main motivation was to draw attention to the incredible biodiversity found in the landscape we would be journeying through – the Maasai Mara. And just because it would be a whole lot of fun.
The world record for a Mammal Big Day, held by Charles and Lara Foley, Brenden Simonson, and Phil Bowen, was set in February 2019 in the greater Tarangire ecosystem in Tanzania. At 64 species, this was always going to be a challenge to get close to, or beat, and although this wasn’t our primary goal, bagging 65 or more was an exciting prospect.
At 00:00, we emerged onto the front deck of our tent at Ngare Serian in Mara North Conservancy. We gazed upwards and spotted the first species of the day, a vervet monkey fast asleep in an elephant pepper tree in front of the tent.
Most of the day went by in a blur as we raced around the Greater Mara ecosystem and beyond searching for any mammal that would grace us with their presence. In the wee hours of the morning, Mara North Conservancy provided us with a zorillo and a mother cheetah with her three cubs.
At dawn, we were joined by Adam Bannister and Robert Kiprotich from Angama, and during our morning in the Mara Triangle, we tracked down everything from free-tailed bats to elephants. Our time in the Triangle culminated in finding tree hyrax, red-tailed monkey, blue monkey, dwarf mongoose, and red-legged sun squirrel in the forests around Kichwa Tembo.
Just after 13:00, we met Mara Elephant Project Marc Goss in his Robinson R44 Helicopter. At this point, we were sitting at 48 species and were frantically computing what combination of unseen species would take us over the magical number of 64 – the record was in reach! Our newfound rotor blades allowed us to race across the Mara, over the Nguruman Escarpment and down into the Rift Valley below. From the air, we picked up a few new species including klipspringer, guereza, black and white colobus and gerenuk.
At around 17:00, we landed at Lentorre Lodge in Olkirimatian Conservancy, which sits on a little promontory at the base of the Nguruman Escarpment. We spent the remaining hours of the day running around this spectacular wilderness picking up species like Egyptian tomb bat, unstriped ground squirrel, serval and African wild cat.
As the clock struck midnight, we gave each other a sleepy high-five. We weren’t exactly sure what our grand total was, but it was tantalizingly close to the world record. We needed to send off some images and bat recordings to experts for identification, so we tried to put any thoughts of breaking the record out of our minds. It was time for some well-earned sleep.
A few weeks later, the experts helped us finalise our rodent and bat identifications and the list settled at no less than 66 species … A new Mammal Big Day world record!
While this result was extremely satisfying and is testament to the incredible biodiversity this landscape holds, we still felt like we had missed so many species.
So now the big question is: how many mammal species are possible in this incredible conservation landscape in 24 hours? When you consider what we missed, are 80 mammal species possible in a day? There is only one way to find out. Records are set to be broken.
Every Game Drive Counts!
For those of you that have ever been on a safari, I am sure you would have heard the phrase – “if you skip a game drive, you will miss the animal that you want to see the most”. For me, this infamous phrase has come true on a couple of occasions.
There is one instance I will never forget. Nature is a very unpredictable thing. Just when you think that you are beginning to understand it, it will show you its true self leaving you in the dark.
I had a group of guests from Brazil who would be staying at Kapama Southern Camp for a few nights. The leopard sightings had been great over the last couple of weeks and I was confident I would find one during their stay. The first few drives we mainly focused on smaller things to be found in the bush. For example, I showed them the weeping wattle tree – named so because of a spittlebug which can be found on the tree. The spittlebug releases a substance on the tree that oozes on the bark and gives the appearance that the tree is crying or “weeping”. In Shangaan culture, the tree is said to bring good luck! I broke off a couple of leaves and gave one to each guest. I was hoping this would bring us the luck we needed to find a leopard during the remaining drives.
Unfortunately, we did not see a leopard on that drive. We were also struggling to find a rhino that was high up on their wish list. I was starting to get desperate to find something. I kept a positive attitude and tried my best to keep the guests interested in the game drive.
The night before the last game drive I was talking to my guests, finding out who would like the early wake-up call for the game drive. To my disbelief, only a few from the group were interested in going on the last drive. To be fair, the rest had a long way to travel and needed a good night’s rest.
Morning came, we set off and the game drive started with a bang. On the road not too far from Buffalo Camp, we came across a crash of rhinos.
It’s always a special animal to see so I was extremely excited – as were my guests. It was good that we found them in the beginning because now we could spend the rest of the drive focusing on finding a leopard.
We searched for about an hour and a half after we left the rhino but no luck. It was starting to warm up and generally, cats can be tough to find in the heat. The game drive was nearing an end, and we made our way back to the lodge. Suddenly, my assistant guide motioned for me to stop. He had seen a very fresh leopard scat on the road. The tracks were heading in the opposite direction. So, we knew that we had to turn around to follow the tracks. We followed them for a while with the suspense and anticipation from the guests and myself building. We carried on looking and I took a turn that would lead us back to the lodge.
Suddenly, just off to the side of the road was a big male leopard resting!
The vehicle came to a sudden stop and we could not believe our eyes. Safe to say we were all a little bit breathless by this magnificent animal. He slowly got up and walked right past us and it was one of the best encounters I have had with a leopard. The vehicle was abuzz with excitement as we admired this beautiful animal. The guests were thrilled, and I was elated to share this experience with them.
Now, when my guests tell me that they are not going to come on the drive, I try my best to convince them otherwise, because when you miss a game drive you may miss the very animal that they were wishing to see.
Story by: Southern Camp Ranger Joshua Radloff
Photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Joshua Radloff and Lindi Taljaard