Lonely Planet ranks Rwanda park as a best destination

An Akagera lioness photographed by Matthew Poole for the Rwanda Development Board and distributed under a Creative Commons license.
An Akagera lioness photographed by Matthew Poole for the Rwanda Development Board and distributed under a Creative Commons license.

Lonely Planet put Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in the top ten of New in Travel 2016, its miniguide to the world’s best new places to visit in 2016. The park came in third out of 31 incredible destinations.

In mid-2015, lions were introduced to the park after a 15-year absence from the country. Lonely Planet editor Matt Phillips writes that 2016 will be ideal for watching these magnificent creatures: “Once the pride establishes its stomping grounds sometime in early 2016, it will be easier for safari guides to locate lions for visitors.” And since Rwanda is more well-known for its mountain gorillas than its other safari creatures, crowds at Akagera are unlikely, leading to a wonderful experience out in the wilds.

Interested in visiting Rwanda? Ujuzi has been arranging safari tours to the nation for years. Contact us with your questions.

Taking Kids on Safari

Surveying the savanna. Photo taken by Susan Thurston on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Surveying the savanna. Photo taken by Susan Thurston on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

In 2016 and 2017, Kenya is waiving visa fees for children. What a great time to introduce your kids or grandkids to the joys of exploration! The country offers a range of fun safari activities for kids of all ages, a few of which include:

  • Feeding endangered Rothschild giraffes by hand at the Giraffe Centre in Karen
  • Petting baby elephants at the Daphne Sheldrick Animal Orphanage and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
  • Visiting  chimpanzees at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  This sanctuary offers a safe haven for abused and orphaned chimpanzees from West  and Central Africa. (Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya.) After being nursed back to health, chimpanzees spend their days exploring, climbing, socializing, and learning to be chimpanzees all over again. This is an amazing project supported by the Jane Goodall Institute.

Read moreTaking Kids on Safari

24 mountain gorilla babies born in last year

Umugwaneza is one of 24 mountain gorillas born in the past year. Photo courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.
Umugwaneza is one of 24 mountain gorillas born in the past year. Photo courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.

This month, Rwanda celebrated its eleventh Kwita Izina — an annual ceremony in which mountain gorillas born in the previous year receive names. The ceremony brings international attention to the endangered gorillas of the Virunga Mountains.

Twenty-four babies received names in this year’s ceremony. You can see the full list with photos of each baby at the official Kwita Izina website.

Read more24 mountain gorilla babies born in last year

El Nault’s tips for a successful gorilla trek

El Nault on safari
El Nault on safari


In June, I had the chance to talk to El Nault about her amazing safari to Rwanda and Tanzania with Ujuzi Travel and Jodi Carrigan of Zoo Atlanta. She was a delight to speak to, and had lots of wonderful insights about wildlife, culture and having a truly memorable safari. I posted most of the interview a couple weeks ago, but there wasn’t room to include all her travel tips.

At Ujuzi, I work hard to make sure that your safari is as awe-inspiring and worry-free as possible. But little decisions you make before and on your trip can also affect your experience. So this week, I’m going to share some of El’s ideas for making the most of a gorilla trek. In a future post, I’d like to share other safari tips, so please comment with your own below or on Ujuzi’s Facebook page.

Read moreEl Nault’s tips for a successful gorilla trek

“There was a sense of being at peace together”

11025157_10153180450964198_8251660923545061947_n
El Nault and friend.

El Nault of South Carolina had never considered going to see mountain gorillas in the wild until 2010, when two friends showed her photos from a trip they’d been on with Jodi Carrigan, gorilla specialist at Zoo Atlanta.

Nault laughs when she retells the conversation. “I said, ‘I want to go.’ They said, ‘But we’re not going again for five years.’ I said, ‘I still want to go!’”

She got her wish in February when she went on a trip to Rwanda and Tanzania organized by Ujuzi Travel and led by Carrigan.


10296613_10153169080599198_7500542390331733921_nRwanda

During four days at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Nault went on three gorilla treks with Carrigan and others in the group.

The first day was the most strenuous trek. Because of rain and hail, the gorilla family Nault’s group was trying to visit kept moving in search of better shelter. After several hours of walking, the humans finally caught up with their gorilla cousins.

“When we saw them … grooming and eating and just walking around us – it was almost as if my mind could not comprehend the depth of the experience,” she recalls. “‘Moving’ is not even the word. It was a profound spiritual engagement with God’s world and his creatures. It was unbelievable.”

Several gorillas approached for a closer look at their human visitors, including one curious youngster who peered over Nault’s shoulder as a friend took a photo (above). “We felt really integrated into the [gorilla] community, and we abided by their rules and customs of courtesy with no loud noises, no flash, and getting out of the way if they were trying to get through. … There was a sense of being at peace together.”

11025638_10153169085834198_5007455636649216478_n

Read more“There was a sense of being at peace together”

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

Eco-Tourism Helps Prevent Poaching

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. Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village is helping to preserve the mountain gorillas’ rainforest ecosystem by creating income so that residents don’t need to poach for food.

CNN recently ran a fascinating story about Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, a site where many of Ujuzi’s travelers to Rwanda have learned about local arts and ways of life. Visitors can learn to grind sorghum or millet by hand, start a fire without matches, or shoot a bow and arrow. Tasting banana beer and other local foods, watching traditional dances, seeing artisans at work, and talking to village elders are unique experiences that open our eyes to a different way of life – and the commonalities that tie all humans together.

It all started when Edwin Sabuhoro was a warden in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. He had the opportunity to talk with some individuals who had been jailed for kidnapping a baby gorilla to sell to a private buyer. He heard stories of desperate poverty and hunger, and came to realize that poaching would not stop until these issues were addressed.

He provided farm land and seeds to former poachers so they could raise their own food and sell it at market. “I left them with that and they started farming, and when I came back six months after I found they had harvested enough – they had enough food at home, but they were [also] selling more in the markets,” Sabuhoro told CNN. They no longer needed to turn to poaching for income.

Looking for other ways to generate income for communities near Volcanoes National Park, Sabuhoro worked with locals to create a Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. The village has brought in enough income so families no longer  need to turn to poaching to survive.

Visit the link below to view an interview with Sabuhoro.

Rwandan mountain gorilla makes a tool for catching food

Lisanga
Lisanga gets ready to catch ants with her new tool. Photo by the Gorilla Doctors.

For the first time, scientists have seen a mountain gorilla use a tool to get and eat food in the wild.

A clever young female named Lisanga watched a silverback from her group get stung by the ants he wanted to snack on when he reached into an ant hole. He ran off hungry. But Lisanga came up with a solution, grabbing a stick from the ground and placing it into the hole. When she lifted it out, ants covered the stick and she licked them off without getting stung. It was the first time a wild mountain gorilla has been observed using a tool.

Two veterinarians from the nonprofit group Gorilla Doctors reported the incident in the American Journal of Primatology. It took place in Virunga National Park, Rwanda, where Ujuzi often leads gorilla tracking excursions.

This new observation attests to something we’ve long known: mountain gorillas have amazing levels of intelligence and creativity, and are well worth the efforts to preserve and learn from them.

Veterinarians Help Mountain Gorillas Survive

This month, a new documentary about the Gorilla Doctors – a nonprofit group of veterinarians in Rwanda who treat sick and injured mountain gorillas to ward off extinction – was released in Canada. The film is not available in the United States yet,  but you can listen to a fascinating interview with the filmmakers and the Gorilla Doctors’ head veterinarian about the risks and rewards of these efforts.

%d bloggers like this: