Chobe National Park and its amazing elephants

DSC00139 copyI got home from my safari with Ujuzi and Dickerson Park Zoo a few days ago, but still have lots of memories to share.

Before returning home, most of our group went for a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana for more animal viewing. Chobe has several factors that make it a premier safari destination:

  • The Chobe River creates a unique ecosystem with an abundance of wildlife, and safaris via land vehicles or boat offer equally productive animal viewing.
  • The park has a spectacular elephant population numbering in the thousands. Visitors have a very high chance of seeing entire herds of elephants at work and play.
  • Chobe National Park is one of the few places one regularly sees hippos on land during the day. They do this because they’re competing with elephants for food. Getting out of the water during the day gives hippos more opportunities to graze and helps make sure the elephants don’t get all the grass.
  • Because of the river, birdwatching here is good all day, not just in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
  • The park is on the border between Botswana and Namibia, and is just an hour’s drive away from Victoria Falls, which itself is on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. You have your pick of countries to stay in when visiting Chobe.

Our group started out the day with a drive from Victoria Falls to Chobe National Park. It didn’t take long to get through Botswana’s border control, and we were outside the park at 9 a.m. We spent the next few hours on a river safari, with our two guides pointing out a lot of remarkable wildlife we hadn’t seen yet on this trip, such as African fish eagles and black herons, or hadn’t seen up close, such as hippos and a baby crocodile.

What  surprised me most was how many land mammals we could view from the river. We saw Cape buffaloes, kudus, and a red lechwe. Most of all, we saw elephants—probably close to a hundred of them, and many up close as they played and drank on the shores of the river.

Read moreChobe National Park and its amazing elephants

Look for wild dogs, find a leopard

You never know quite what to expect on safari. Make plans to see one animal, and you often end up finding another.

Such was our experience this afternoon. After yesterday’s experience finding African wild dog tracks, we were eager to see if they had wandered back to our neck of the scrublands.

Fifteen minutes into our drive, after we encountered some gorgeous nyala antelopes, our tracker Richie and guide Ally heard vervet monkeys crying out a warning call. Following the sound, we eventually found the tree where the monkeys had run from danger. One stood at the very top of the tree, calling out as it looked down on a nearby dry riverbed. We headed in that direction while Ally explained that monkeys most often warn for leopards and lions, but occasionally for other predators as well.

At the riverbed, Richie spied fresh leopard tracks. The excitement rose as he followed them through the trees. Meanwhile, Ally drove us toward a small pond that the tracks pointed toward.

At the pond, all the tracking was rewarded with the site of a large, eight-year-old female leopard.

DSC01094We decided to stay and watch her for about half an hour. Even though she didn’t hunt anything, it was fascinating to simply watch such a magnificent animal up close. The camera alone can’t convey the excitement of being near her. And even though she spent most of the time relaxing, she was still constantly moving: panting to cool herself down, looking around to see that the nearby herd of giraffes was still in sight, sipping water from the pool, and grooming herself.

Though we never found the African wild dogs, our afternoon safari was a definite success.

Table Mountain: One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature

I arrived in South Africa this morning to embark on an Ujuzi tour. After checking into our beautiful hotel, The Table Bay at the Waterfront, for a wonderful breakfast and a few hours’ rest, our group embarked on a tour of Cape Town and a visit to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature for its incredible geological features and flora. It sits at the heart of the Cape Floral Region, which has the richest concentration of plant diversity in the world.

Visitors can get to the top of Table Mountain via hiking trails or a large cable car that provides riders with 360° views of the mountain and Cape Town below. On many afternoons, visitors can watch clouds cascade over the mountaintop like a waterfall, as you can see in the video  I shot below.

Keep following the blog over the next two weeks as I share more photos and facts from Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Victoria Falls.

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who is spending two weeks in South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)

The Great Elephant Survey

The Great Elephant Census, funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, aims to count all the savannah elephants in Africa. The census will help scientists to understand the impact of poaching and help conservationists make plans to replenish the population.

The above segment from PBS Newshour gives a wonderful overview of the project. You can also learn more at the following links:

Dogs help fight poaching

It is often difficult to catch elephant and rhino poachers unless they were caught in the act of killing. Training dogs to track poachers and even come to the defense of animals is helping to change that.

“Our dogs have tracked elephant poachers for up to eight hours at a time or more, through extreme conditions—heat, rain, wetlands, mountains—and still turned up results,” Damien Bell, director of the  conservation group Big Life Tanzania, told National Geographic.

The National Geographic article also features a fascinating short video about the ways dogs, drones and other interventions are helping to protect rhinos in Kenya.

You can support anti-poaching dog training programs through Big Life Tanzania and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Pride of Namibia

“Pride of Namibia,” a short film by the World Wildlife Fund, recently won first place in the 2014 Adventure in Motion  film competition.  In just a few short minutes, it tells a compelling story about the resurgence of biodiversity in one of Africa’s most starkly beautiful countries. Enjoy!

Video Captures the Glory of the Great Migration

It’s awe-inspiring to watch wildebeest cross the Mara River as part of their annual Great Migration through Kenya and Tanzania. Brothers and wildlife photographers Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas recently captured some of the magic in a video that uses time-lapse photography to condense hours of a river crossing into just two minutes. The video captures the glory and the danger of the crossing. Watch and marvel!

(Sensitive viewers should note that there is brief footage of a wildebeest falling prey to two crocodiles in the river. This footage starts near the end of the video at 1:53 minutes.)

Creating a Safe Coexistence for Humans and Mountain Gorillas

Bwindi Imepentetrable Forest in Uganda is famous for its mountain gorillas. But another unique feature of the area is that it has one of the highest human population densities of any rural area in Africa.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, a leading Ugandan scientist, wondered if this large number of humans – combined with the popularity of gorilla tourism – was exposing mountain gorillas to human diseases. (Gorillas and humans are close genetic cousins, so many illnesses that affect one species also affect another.) She found that parasitic infections were higher among mountain gorillas who lived close to humans than in ones that lived farther away.

To help address this issue, Kalema-Zikusoka founded Conservation Through Public Health. The group works to improve healthcare and sanitation in the communities surrounding Bwindi. By reducing infectious diseases in the human community, the group also reduces diseases that could spread to mountain gorillas and further harm this endangered species. It’s a win-win for every one!

Find out more:

Elephant Orphanage Saves Lives

National Geographic has made a fascinating video about Daphne Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage, which takes care of young orphaned elephants until they are ready to be re-released into the wild. The Nairobi orphanage is a favorite destination among Ujuzi safari goers to Kenya. I had the opportunity to visit it in person last year and it was truly a life-changing experience to see these gentle youngsters – some as tall as me! – learn to eat and socialize together.

See a sample itinerary for a safari that includes a visit to the orphanage here.

See a newborn wildebeest walk for the first time

It’s amazing what you can see on safari: wildebeest giving birth, cheetahs on the prowl, and elephants taking mudbaths are just a few of my favorite sights. To help share the wonders of East Africa, Ujuzi has a YouTube channel that features some memorable moments from Ujuzi safaris. To give you an idea of what the channel has to offer, I’ve included the two most-viewed videos below.

You can watch more videos on Ujuzi’s YouTube channel. Let me know which is your favorite! Have videos of your own to share? Send me an email!