The Captivating Klipspringer

Klipspringer in the Serengeti. Photo by Megan Coughlin.

The klipspringer is a fascinating creature, unique among antelope species for its ability to easily climb rocks. (“Klipspringer” comes from the Afrikaans language and literally means “rock jumper.”) This talent helps it escape predators.

Tanzania Daily News recently published an article on this remarkable herbivore. Read it to learn more!

Best Safari Images of 2013

As we get toward the end of 2013, I thought I’d share with you some photographic highlights from Ujuzi safaris this year – both from my own safaris and those of my clients.

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

Ellen Wilson of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo took this amazing photo while gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

The year got off to a great start with a trip to Tanzania and Rwanda by a group of employees and volunteers from Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Indiana. They had an unforgettable gorilla tracking adventure. You can see more of their photos and find out more about Rwanda here.

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Lion cub

I spotted this lion cub in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

In April, I took a safari to Kenya to familiarize myself with the amazing parks and lodges there. The country is an absolute treat! It’s rich with wildlife and an astounding array of ecosystems, from arid savannah to lush riverine forest. You can can read more about Kenya and see additional photos here.

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Gazelle in a sea of grass

Photo courtesy of Tony Raab.

Siblings Tony and Becky Raab took a safari to Tanzania in spring. It was hard to pick my favorite photo from them. In addition to this gorgeous shot, they took many breathtaking panoramas and some amazing pictures from their hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti. You can read more about their trip and see video from their balloon ride here.

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Friendly elephants on the Kazinga Channel.

Photo courtesy of Cameron Hooyer

Cameron Hooyer and his family took a trip to Uganda this summer. The country holds a special place in the hearts of his family, since his grandparents lived there for many years. They explored familiar and unfamiliar places and saw amazing sites, like these elephants playing in the water at the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park. You can read more about his trip here.

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Wildebeest

I took this photo of wildebeest on a blustery day in Ngorongoro Crater. I also saw lots of zebras, lions, hippos, hyenas, jackals, ostriches and gazelles that morning.

In November I took my own trip to Tanzania to familiarize myself with new lodges and camps. Going from place to place, I managed to sneak a bit of wildlife viewing in! You can see more Tanzania photos and vote for your favorite here, and browse my blog entries about Tanzania here.

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I hope you enjoyed these photos! If you’d like to view more, please visit Ujuzi’s Flickr page.

African countries fight rhino poaching

Rhino, Lake Nakuru, Kenya

A white rhino grazes on the shore of Lake Nakuru, Kenya. Photo by Ryan Harvey.

Ujuzi will expand its tour offerings in the second half of 2014 to include South Africa, a country rich in unique wildlife and home to almost half of the continent’s rhinos. Unfortunately, the abundance of wildlife has attracted the attention of international crime syndicates, who profit from selling rare animal parts on the black market. I recently ran across this sobering article about an increase in rhino poaching in the country.

Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, which are worth more than their weight in gold in Southeast Asia. Rhino horn is a traditional medicine in that part of the world, where it’s thought to cure a variety of ailments despite modern science showing its ineffectiveness. Rhino horns have also been used to make cups, dagger handles and other ornamental items, but this use is less common now.

If poaching continues increasing at current rates, South Africa’s Environmental Affairs ministry estimates that the country’s wild rhino population could disappear by 2025. Other countries are also affected by poaching. In Kenya, the rhino population has dropped from tens of thousands to about 1,200.

However, many African countries are making a concerted effort to clamp down on poaching with improved training for wildlife rangers and by using drones and other new technologies to monitor national parks. On the demand side, Vietnamese government officials and wildlife organizations have committed to tougher enforcement of anti-poaching laws and educating consumers about the uselessness of rhino horns as medicine. China has recently increased penalties on those who import or sell poached rhino horns.

Learning About Happiness in Uganda

My dad and I on opposite sides

Cameron Hooyer and his father stand on opposite sides of the equator in Uganda.

Visiting Uganda was an eye-opening experience for Cameron Hooyer, 18, a freshman at the University of Utah. An Ujuzi safari that he took with his family this June was his second voyage abroad and his first trip to Africa. Whether he was in a town or out in the bush, there was always something new and exciting to see. “I seriously spent half the time we were driving leaning out the van taking pictures,” he says.

Cameron had heard a lot about Uganda from his father and other family members who lived there in the 1980s. But seeing the wildlife and experiencing the culture firsthand was a much different experience.

The family started its trip with an overnight in Entebbe, then spent three days in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a vast reserve that has several different microclimates including desert, acacia-studded savannahs and forests. There, he took a morning chimpanzee trek in a tree-lined canyon, seeing primates in the wild for the first time. “They would move around and we would try to move around with them. It was really an experience to be standing with them all around, hollering to let each other know that we were there.” He also saw other primates on the trek, including colobus monkeys and baboons.

Friendly elephants

Elephants playing in Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

Another memorable adventure was taking a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. “We probably saw over 100 elephants right on the water. There was a little fishing village that we passed, and there were elephants right next to these fishing boats with little kids playing in them. That was amazing.”

Taking the chicks for a walk

A pair of crested cranes take their chicks for a walk. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

From Queen Elizabeth National Park, the group went north to Murchison Falls, where they saw large game including giraffes, hippos and crocodiles. The park also proved to be a great place to see much of the country’s unique avian life. “My dad and I really like to bird, and throughout the trip that was a really great thing, because even if you’re not seeing animals, birds are everywhere, all the time. There are all these species, and the colors are just mindblowing.”

A classroom in the shade

Children attend class in the shade of a tree. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

The family also stayed in the town of Arua, where they visited family friends and local schools and churches. A visit to a children’s Sunday school class of about 50 students made a big impression on Cameron.

“Before class started, everyone was talking, being very loud, and as soon as the teacher got up everyone was very quiet. She started teaching and everyone was interacting. I could immediately tell that all the kids really wanted to learn. Here in the United States it’s ‘Why do I have to go to school?’ and ‘I can’t believe the teacher talked for an hour.’ There, kids are just captivated and they want to learn. There were little 2-year-olds in there paying attention. That was a big culture shift for me.”

Cameron recommends that any traveler to Uganda be adventurous and try some of the local flavors, such as fresh pineapples; samosas, a savory pastry filled with chickpeas;  groundnuts, a small peanut variety used in stews and for snacking; and ugali, a porridge made of millet or corn. Lodges also offer plenty of western foods; Cameron says he liked to fill up on waffles when he wanted a taste of home.“I did a food log where I took a photograph of every meal I ate. The stuff at the lodges was amazing – better than the food I’ve had in the States.”

This girl was very proud of her corn husk doll

This girl shows off her corn husk doll. Photo by Cameron Hooyer.

Learning about Uganda made Cameron reflect on his own culture. “Obviously right off the bat it was very eye opening to realize how many physical possessions I have here in the U.S, and public utilities and services like decent buses, good roads, and drinking water,” he says. “But as I spent more time getting to know the people and their culture, I noticed that everyone there seems so much more happy than the people in the U.S., which seems backwards compared to the American way of thinking that possessions make you happier.”

Featured Parks: Samburu and Shaba National Reserves

The rugged hills and undulating plains of Samburu and Shaba National Reserves in Kenya offer the quintessential safari experience. Here, the iconic acacia trees are plentiful and provide sustenance for giraffes, elephants and a long-necked gazelles called gerenuks. Euphorbias (the Eastern Hemisphere’s answer to the cactus) also dot the landscape.

Giraffe

There’s nothing like watching a giraffe towering over trees in the wild. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari in Kenya.

Inticately Striped Grevy Zebras

Intricately striped Grevy’s zebras enjoy the morning sun at Shaba National Reserve. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Kenya.

With a mix of arid grassland, riverine forest and swamp, Samburu and Shaba offer opportunities to see many different kinds of wildlife, including elephants, reticulated giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, lions, Somali ostriches, hyenas, countless antelope and gazelle species, and more. In Shaba, small herds of fine-striped Grevy’s zebras – the largest and most endangered of the three zebra species – can often be found grazing in the sun or cooling off with refreshing dust baths.

Both parks lie on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro (Nyiro) River, which flows through the middle of this area. Although its name means “muddy water” in the local language, it is a vital source of life for the resident animals and humans.  Elephants and vervet monkeys play on its shady banks and crocodiles patrol the waters in search of suitable prey.

Samburu Staff at Elephant Watch

Ujuzi African Travel owner with Samburu staff at Elephant Bedroom tented camp in Samburu National Reserve. Traditional Samburu dress includes lots of red cloth and detailed beadwork.

Nearby villages offer the opportunity to interact with local Samburu, cousins of the Maasai who traditionally raise goats and sheep for their livelihood. Many customs and dress are similar and, although the languages are different, they can often understand each other with a little effort. The Samburu are known for being very fast and dynamic talkers, and for their bright and plentiful beadwork.

Several tented camps in Samburu offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Most tents are permanent, having wooden floors that are raised off the ground; fully plumbed bathrooms with hot and cold water, showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries. Shaba features a lodge with stone buildings, a large swimming pool, fish ponds and views of the river.

Activities in the parks include game drives, bird watching, cultural activities and raft trips.

Male Cheetah With Full Stomach!

A male cheetah with a belly full of prey strolls through Samburu National Reserve. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari in Kenya.

Travel Tips: Taking Photos on Safari

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Male lion in the early morning light near Lake Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Photo from an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

“In many ways safari photos have become the hunting trophies of the modern day,” photographer Melissa Kay wrote in a recent article for the London newspaper The Independent.

Whether you’re a photography hobbyist or someone who barely knows how to take a picture with your phone, Ujuzi wants to help you bring back the best photographic trophies possible from your trip to East Africa.

If you use a digital SLR (a camera with interchangeable lenses):

  • A zoom lens has many advantages. Safari conditions aren’t always best for changing lenses on your camera — in dusty or sandy areas, debris can get inside your camera as you switch lenses. Also, the more time you spend changing lenses, the more shots you’ll miss. Choose a zoom lens that extends to at least 300 mm. Longer lenses (400 mm and above) have the advantage of enabling you to get distance shots and shots of birds and small animals, but they aren’t as good at taking focused shots when a vehicle is moving.
  • A monopod may be useful in some instances, but can be difficult to use inside a safari vehicle. Also, monopods may be prohibited on some walking excursions, such as gorilla treks, because animals (especially primates) can feel threatened by them. If your bring a monopod, it should collapse to fit easily into your daypack.
  • While in a vehicle, rest  the camera against the roof bars or window frame. Setting a bean bag under the camera adds stability. (Many companies make bean bags especially for supporting cameras; examples include the Kinesis SafariSack and the Pictureline Bean Bag Camera Support.*)
  • Pack a small camera-cleaning kit to keep the lens and sensor free of dust. A jeweler’s screwdriver will come in handy if any of the screws in your camera shake loose on a bumpy safari ride.

Not everyone wants to invest in a professional-level camera. And that’s okay. If you own one of the  newer smartphones or tablets, you already have a reasonably good camera on-hand. It won’t allow you to take amazing close-ups or crisp photos of starry nights, but it can be a great way to preserve memories of your daytime safaris.

Below are some hints for taking photos with an iPhone or iPad. Many of these tricks can be done with other phones, tablets and point-and-shoot digital cameras, although the specific commands may differ from model to model:

  • To reduce blurring when taking a shot, hold the phone close to your body.
  • Your phone will try to guess what object you want to focus on, but it won’t always guess right. On the screen, tap the part of the image where you want the camera to focus. A white or green square should appear, telling you that the camera got the message.
  • iPhones allow you to take panoramas. Do this by selecting “Panorama” under “Options,” then sweeping the camera from right to left or left to right.
  • Choose “HDR” or “High Dynamic Range” under “Options” to take better pictures when light is low or there are lots of shadows.
  • So you can always take a picture at a moment’s notice, make sure the camera icon appears on your phone’s “sleep” or “lock” screen. Unlock your phone by swiping on the camera icon, and it will go right to the camera function.
  • Check out some excellent tips for better iPhone (and general) photography from professional photographer Cotton Coulson on the National Geographic website.

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To take a picture of a bird against the sky, use your camera’s HDR setting or overexpose the shot by using a wider aperture or a slower shutter speed than suggested by the automatic settings. This helps capture the bird’s colors and other details. Photo from an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

These tips are good no matter what type of camera you use:

  • Make sure you know how to use your camera before you leave for your trip.
  • Recharge your camera or batteries each night. All accommodations that Ujuzi uses, including tented camps, have recharging facilities.
  • Bring extra memory cards — you’ll likely take more pictures than you thought possible. Some people even bring a small portable hard drive to transfer photos to at the end of each day. You may also be able to upload photos to the web at accommodations that offer WiFi; but keep in mind that internet connections can be spotty in more remote areas, so don’t rely on this as your only backup.
  • Turn off the flash when taking pictures of the sunset or sunrise.
  • Turn on the flash when taking pictures with lots of shadows, even if it’s bright outside. The flash can help illuminate whatever’s inside the shadows.
  • Take some of your pictures with your subject off-center. This often creates a more interesting shot.
  • Objects in front of the sky — for example, a goshawk on top of a tree — can end up looking dark and shadowy in photos. To prevent this, use your camera’s HDR setting or overexpose the shot by using a wider aperture or using a slower shutter speed than suggested by the automatic settings.
  • And a piece of cultural advice: Never take pictures of people without getting permission first. Some people are happy to have their picture taken, others don’t like it, and others expect compensation for modeling. Seek advice from your guide.

Last but not least, don’t forget to come out from behind your camera every once in a while! From the fragrance of wild basil to the sound of elephants munching on shrubs to the feel of the breeze against your skin, safari is an experience for all the senses.

For more information about our safaris, visit the Ujuzi website or email us.

*Products are listed as for illustrative purposes only.

 

The Jewels of East Africa

Most of us go on safari in East Africa to see the big game. And that’s understandable – for on what other continent can one encounter such a variety of large mammals? It’s breathtaking to see a giraffe bend down to nibble on the top of an acacia tree.

But if you only pay attention to the big game, you’re missing half the fun! East Africa is also home to an incredible variety of birds. Songbirds dot the landscape like small, colorful jewels, and larger birds like ostriches, crested cranes and secretary birds are quite spectacular in their own right.

Ostriches on the run

Ostriches in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari.

I recommend the book The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe to anyone who’s going on safari. Another great resource is the Wild Birds of East Africa group on Flickr. It is free and has thousands of colorful photos, as well as an interactive map that allows you to view birds by location. If you’re a member of Flickr, you can join the group to share your own bird photos from safari.

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Eastern chanting goshawk. Photo taken by Mark and David Solberg on an Ujuzi safari.

starling

Starling at Mount Kenya Safari Club, Nanyuki, Kenya. Photo taken by Kathryn Kingsbury on an Ujuzi safari.

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Vulture. Photo taken by Mark and David Solberg on an Ujuzi safari.

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Yellow throated sandgrouse. Photo taken by Mark and David Solberg on an Ujuzi safari.

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Vitelline masked weaver. Photo taken by Mark and David Solberg on an Ujuzi safari.

Tented Camps: A Luxurious Way to Experience the African Bush

Huge tents at Governor's CampA family tent at Governor’s Camp in Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Staying at a tented camp is a great way to experience the East African savannah and all it has to offer. Tented camps offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Stargaze after nightfall, then fall asleep to the singing of frogs in a nearby watering hole; wake to the cooing of doves and the songs of starlings. Before breakfast, sit outside your tent with a hot coffee and a pair of binoculars to watch the sunrise and observe game as they head out for the day.

Enjoy watching the wildlife from Governor's CampView from a veranda at Governor’s Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya.

DSC04419View of Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, from Larsen’s Tented Camp.

There are two main types of tented camps: mobile tented camps and permanent tented camps.

Mobile Tented Camps

Mobile tented camps are temporary. They may move locations every few weeks to follow game or bird migrations, or they may be set up on an as-needed basis for travelers whose safaris take them off the beaten path. Accommodations vary, but many are quite luxurious. It’s common for mobile camps to include spacious, comfortable tents with traditional beds and mattresses, rugs, chairs and tables. They often come equipped with solar-powered lights. Bathrooms may be adjacent to each tent or in a central location, and flush toilets are common. A few have sinks and showers with readily available running water; at others, attendants bring hot water for washing up in the morning, after game drive, and at other times that the guest specifies. To wash hands and face, the guest uses a Victorian-style wash basin; for bathing, the guest orders a bucket shower.

A bucket shower is just what it sounds like: an attendant fills a bucket or similar waterproof container with water, attaches it to a showerhead with a hose, and raises it up on a pulley so the water flows down through the shower head at the desired water pressure. The shower stall is in a private, enclosed space, and the individual taking the shower can refine the water flow with a knob or lever. You can read more about bucket showers here.

Masek Under Canvas Tented Camp
Dining tent at Masek Under Canvas Mobile Tented Camp, Tanzania
Masek Under Canvas Tented Camp 2
Masek Under Canvas Mobile Tented Camp, Tanzania
Naipenda mobile camp 2
Private bathroom at Naipenda Mobile Camp, Tanzania

Permanent Tented Camps

Permanent tented camps are more akin to lodges; they remain in one location year-round. Tents are similar to small cottages or bungalows, but with canvas walls rather than ones built of wood or brick. They usually have wooden or stone floors that are raised off the ground; attached, fully plumbed bathrooms with showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries.

A bath with a viewPrivate attached bathroom at Serian Mara, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Bath at Mara IntrepidBath at Mara Intrepid Tented Camp in Maasai Mara, Kenya. The shower and toilet are in private rooms to the left and right of the sinks.

Permanent tented camps tend to be built in scenic areas with good views of wildlife. For example, they may be on a river bend or in a lush savannah, usually in or near a national park or nature conservancy. Most are too far from residential areas to connect to a local power grid, so they get electricity from generators, solar power, or both. To conserve energy, generators are usually shut off for a few hours during the day while guests are away on safari, and again during the night when guests are asleep. Have no fear if you wake up in the middle of the night, though; camps supply flashlights and lanterns for use when the generator isn’t operating.

Typical facilities at permanent tented camps include a dining room and bar, public lounge, and gift shop. Swimming pools and nature activity centers are also common.

Mara Intrepid gift shop - Almost every lodge has one!Gift shop at Mara Intrepid Tented Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Elephant BedroomOutdoor lounge in the shade at Elephant Bedroom Tented Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Our breakfast at Serian MaraBreakfast patio at Serian Mara Tented Camp, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya

Pool at Larsens CampPool at Larsen’s Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Service

The level of service at tented camps matches and often exceeds what you would expect in a lodge.  For example, since tents aren’t equipped with alarm clocks, many camps offer a personal wake-up call with fresh tea or coffee and a small snack. You won’t be eating dull camp fare; four-course dinners featuring fresh, local ingredients are typical. Other common services include laundry and a la carte spa services. Staff are eager to make you as comfortable as possible on your stay, so speak up if you have any questions.

Bedroom at Elephant WatchElephant Bedroom Tented Camp, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Mara Explorer - Does this look like a tent??Four-poster bed at Mara Explorer Tented Camp, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Tented camps offer a truly unique experience that enriches your travels. Contact me for more information about tented camping options in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania or Rwanda.