Featured Park: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

A curious gorilla assesses photographer  Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
A curious gorilla assesses photographer Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.

Spanning the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, Bwindi is one of the few rainforests in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age. It is now regarded as one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa, with at least 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, and is ranked as one of the best parks in Uganda for forest birding, with 23 highly localized Albertine Rift endemics.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is renowned for its mountain gorilla population. An estimated 340 individuals live in 15 groups, making up about half the world’s mountain gorilla population. Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is an unparalleled encounter.

Read moreFeatured Park: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

Elephant Population on the Rise in Uganda

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Petra Kilian-Gehring took this close-up of elephants on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.

Good news about one of the world’s largest land mammal. Once nearing extinction in Uganda, the African bush elephant is now thriving there. Its population has gone from about 700 in the 1980s to 5,000 now, according to the Great Elephant Census, which seeks to survey all of Africa’s elephant populations.

Read moreElephant Population on the Rise in Uganda

Featured Lodge: House of Waine, Kenya

House ofWaine Garden smallJust a few hundred meters down the road from the home of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen), the House of Waine is an 11-room luxury boutique hotel that melds traditional English design with the spirit of modern Africa. It is located on 2.5 acres in a quiet residential area of Nairobi and is close to many art and craft galleries, two wildlife sanctuaries, and Nairobi National Park.

Read moreFeatured Lodge: House of Waine, Kenya

Featured Organization: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Orphaned elephants learn to socialize and play with each other at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphans' Project, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo taken by Kathryn Kingsbury on an Ujuzi safari.
Orphaned elephants learn to socialize and play with each other at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphans’ Project, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo taken by Kathryn Kingsbury on an Ujuzi safari.

Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world.

At the heart of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s conservation activities is the Orphans’ Project in Nairobi, which offers hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they struggle against the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought.

To date the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants and effectively reintegrated orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo East National Park. Many healthy calves have been born in the wild from former-orphaned elephants raised by the Trust.

Many safari-goers enjoy spending a day or two in Nairobi upon arrival in Kenya to adjust to the time difference. A visit to the orphanage is a wonderful way to learn about elephants and have a chance at close interaction that would be impossible in the wild.

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Visitors watch a feeding at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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A curious elephant checks out a visitor at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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Caretakers watch over baby elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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A baby elephant plays with a branch at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya. This is important practice for adulthood, when trees and shrubs become an important source of food.

Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is this Friday, May 15. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many endangered species that are beloved the world over. It is a privilege to be able to introduce people to this amazing creatures through Ujuzi Travel. I hope these safari photos of endangered animals inspire you to protect them for future generations!

(A list of organization dedicated to protecting vulnerable animals is included below.)

Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Elephant family. Photo by Petra Kilian-Gehring.
African elephant family. Photo taken by Petra Kilian-Gehring on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
Beautiful grey crowned cranes.
Beautiful crowned cranes spotted on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Read moreCelebrate Endangered Species Day

Tanzania: A 24-7 Wildlife Experience

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Jennifer Johnson of Wisconsin has been on safaris before, but her trip to Tanzania with Ujuzi stands out as the best. “Every day something happened that you thought couldn’t be topped. And then the next day, something happened that topped it.”

Johnson went on her Ujuzi safari in November with a group from Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wis. “This trip was about a 1,000 times better” than a previous safari she had gone on with a different provider, Johnson says. “We saw twice the animals. The wildlife was more abundant, and we were closer to it.”

She credits Ujuzi’s  planning and expert guides – Modi Magesa, Chris Magori, and Shadrack Didah – with making the trip such a success. “Our guides were fantastic, very easy to talk to, and very knowledgeable. They were very safe and very educated about all the animals,” she says. The guides’ familiarity with wildlife enabled them to anticipate good viewing opportunities. For example, Johnson’s guide led her group to watch a pride of lions successfully hunting a zebra, then bringing out their cubs to eat it.

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Wildebeest graze in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Johnson also got close-up views of a leopard, a rhino, many elephants and elephant calves, and migrating wildebeests. One park she especially enjoyed was Lake Manyara, a lush green forest and waterway where hippos, baboons, flamingos, and other birds were plentiful. “If anyone’s a birder, they’re going to want to go to Lake Manyara,” she says. “I don’t even know how many species of birds we saw there.”

Another highlight of the trip included a night drive where she saw serval cats, honey badgers, bat-eared foxes, and baby hyenas.

The safari experience continued at the lodges and camps where the zoo group stayed. Johnson especially enjoyed Tarangire River Camp, which is perched on the banks of an ephemeral riverbed in north-central Tanzania. “There were elephants in the riverbed digging for water, so you could go outside and look over the bank and watch them” at lunch or before the sun went down, she says. At night as Johnson fell asleep, she could hear elephants roaming about and lions roaring in the distance. “When you’re sleeping and you can hear the animals outside, it’s having an experience twenty-four–seven.”

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Her group also enjoyed a presentation by the African People & Wildlife Fund about “living walls” – fences created from living native trees and acacia thorns. Maasai people build these fences  around their livestock areas to protect them from predator attacks. Before the living walls were in place, carnivores attacked Maasai livestock in the Tarangire area about 50 times a year, and communities killed 6 or 7 lions a year to protect their livestock. Where living walls are being used, human killings of lions, cheetahs and hyenas have dropped to zero.

Johnson enjoyed the safari so much that she’s already planning to return to Tanzania in 2016. “I’ve never been on a trip before where I loved something so much that I wanted to go back to the same place again,” she says. Her next trip is also a joint venture of Ujuzi and Henry Vilas Zoo and will include a visit to Rwanda, where her group will track mountain gorillas.

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Featured Park: Lake Nakuru, Kenya

One of the highlights of my last trip to Kenya was Lake Nakuru. It is world famous for its birdlife, which is a beacon for leading ornithologists, scientists and wildlife filmmakers. Even though I wasn’t visiting at the height of the bird season, I saw a nice variety. Greater and lesser flamingo dotted the shores pink and were complemented by pelicans, hammerkops, snowy egrets, multiple heron species, sacred ibises, and more.

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The park spans an attractive range of wooded and bush grassland around the lake, offering wide ecological diversity, from lakewater and woodland, to the rocky escarpment and ridges where rock hyraxes, klipspringers and baboons make their homes.

This is one of the few places in the world where lions have adapted to climbing trees. It’s quite an astounding sight to look up in the canopy and find a king of the forest looking down at you!

Other notable game within the lake include hippos and clawless otters. White rhinos, waterbucks, Bohor’s reedbucks, zebras, cape buffalo, impalas, elands and Thomson gazelles roam the shores. Deep in the forest, shy black rhinos can occasionally be spotted as they browse among the undergrowth. I was lucky enough to spot one, as well as to view white rhinos on the lakeshore.

I also enjoyed the large social groups of baboons and vervet monkeys that could be observed throughout the forests.

Lake Nakuru is just one of many wildlife-rich parks throughout Kenya. Learn more about Kenya’s parks.

Featured Lodge: Mihingo Lodge, Uganda

Mihingo Lodge is a peaceful and luxurious retreat adjacent to Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda. Situated on privately owned land, it features 10 permanent tents on raised wooden platforms and covered by a thatched roof. Each spacious and comfortable tent includes an en-suite bathrooms with hot and cold running water, showers, and flush toilet. Each room is nested into a private spot and has a great view.

There is so much to do at Mihingo, from walking safaris and horse rides to game drives and boat trips on Lake Mburo. Guests can go on a cultural walk, ride a bike to a fishing village or visit the local primary school.

Guests at Uganda's Mahingo Lodge go mountain biking among the zebras. Photo by Ralph Schenk of Mahingo Lodge.

The main dining area is a large thatched structure built from rocks, the wood of dead olive trees found on the land, and native grasses. Below the dining area, an infinity swimming pool stretches out from the rocks and seems to disappear into the vast landscape beyond.

Infinity swimming pool at Mahingo Lodge, Uganda. Photo by Ralph Schenk of Mahingo Lodge, Uganda.

Next to the dining area is a lovely round sitting room where people can sit and relax, have a drink and watch the animals at the water hole.

Upstairs is another room with breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Kacheera and the park. This is the perfect place to chill out with a book, have a nap or play a game of backgammon or chess.

Photo by Ralph Schenk of Mahingo Lodge, Uganda.

And don’t forget the bushbaby platform – a wonderful place for cocktails and of course the best place to see Mahingo’s family of resident bushbabies up close.

Bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus). Photo by Ralph Schenk of Mahingo Lodge, Uganda.
Bushbaby (Otolemur crassicaudatus). Photo by Ralph Schenk of Mahingo Lodge, Uganda.

In appreciation of its fragile surroundings, Mihingo Lodge is an environmentally friendly accommodation. All electricity, hot water and water pumps are powered by solar panels and there is a natural water catchment system to take advantage of the rains.

Make a point to visit Mihingo Lodge and Lake Mburo National Park on your next visit to Uganda!  Both are a great stop before or after trekking to see the mountain gorillas.

Vaccinating dogs protects African wildlife

Photo taken by Jack Traeger  on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jack Traeger on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

When people think about threats to African wildlife, they often think of poaching. But it’s not the only cause of dwindling animal populations. Disease is also a big concern. For example, rabies can spread from domestic animals to lions and other wildlife, decimating their populations.

Since 2003, scientists have been offering free rabies vaccines for domestic dogs around Tanzania’s Serengeti, resulting in a dramatic drop of rabies cases among the park’s lions and also saving many human lives. Before the program began, 50 to 150 people in the area died of rabies each year.

“It’s very, very effective,” Joseph Ogwa, acting district livestock official for the Bunda District, told the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t have cases now. I remember 10 years ago it wasn’t good because there were so many cases of rabies.”

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo has been in charge of the vaccination program for the past five years and is looking for additional funding to continue it. It costs about $110,000 a year to run the program. You can donate here on the Lincoln Park Zoo website.

An article in The Verge illustrates the importance of vaccination programs in protecting wildlife. It shows how – before vaccination programs were in place for domestic dogs – canine distemper spread to Serengeti’s lions, then mutated to become endemic among the predators.