Saving rhinos one surgery at a time

A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.
A white rhino grazes at Lake Nakuru National Park. Photo taken by Kathy Overman on an Ujuzi Safari to Kenya.

Poaching the Creature That’s More Valuable Than Gold is a fascinating look by the BBC into the worlds of people who poach rhinos and people who protect them. Rhino poaching has increased dramatically over the past few years as demand for their horns escalates.

Rhino horn is used as a medicine in parts of Asia, where people credit it with treating everything from male impotence to cancer. None of the claims are true. Rhino horn is simply keratin, the same substance that makes up human fingernails.

Rhinos have gone extinct in parts of their range, and poaching has risen nearly 100-fold over the past decade in South Africa.

The article provides a rare look into the many aspects that contribute to poaching, including poverty and political corruption. It also profiles people risking their lives to save rhinos, and veterinarians providing care to rhinos who have survived poaching attacks.

It notes a new trend in poaching, where some poachers tranquilize rhinos rather than kill them before removing their horns. Unfortunately, these poachers don’t have veterinary experience and often end up severely injuring the rhinos.

Scroll to the bottom of the article for a (non-graphic) video of veterinarians doing facial surgery on one such rhino.

Featured Lodge: &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, South Africa

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

Situated in Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp never lets you forget that you are in the wild.

Yet there is nothing primitive about this chic and contemporary camp. Ngala is a true safari experience where guests go to bed to the sounds of lion calling, safely cosseted in modern tented suites and pampered with the warm-hearted service that embodies the soul of South Africa.

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Twenty thatched cottages with shaded verandas nestle among the trees, ensuring the perfect privacy of your retreat. The romance of canvas, with big night sounds and flickering lanterns lighting the camp grounds, mingles with the simple sophistication of polished wooden decks, textured fabrics and clean lines.

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

Nature is never far at &Beyond Ngala, with breakfast and lunch served in the shade of an enormous weeping boere bean tree. A walled courtyard provides a sheltered space to indulge in sumptuous cuisine, while the boma creates a dramatic setting for fire-lit dinners. An afternoon by the poolside rewards you with a refreshing dip as well as blissful relaxation time. Secret nooks and crannies with cushy sofas are ideal for quiet hours of contemplation in the leafy shade.

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Ngala Private Game Reserve supports a great diversity of animals, and one species of animal seen daily is the lion, or “ngala” in the local Shangaan language. There are several lion prides that patrol this reserve and many of the lions are known by name to the rangers. The reserve is also particularly known for packs of endangered African wild dogs.

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

Shamwari Conservation Experience: A More In-Depth Safari

shamwariSouth Africa’s Shamwari Game Reserve is a one-of-a-kind safari destination. Located in the Eastern Cape, Shamwari has spent the past several decades restoring overused agricultural land to its wild past. Today more than 5,000 head of game range freely, including members of the Big 5. Shamwari’s 100 square miles of wilderness covers 5 different biological ecosystems and is malaria-free.

Shamwari offers wonderful game viewing and luxury lodges for the regular safari-goer. But for those who would like a more in-depth adventure, the Shamwari Conservation Experience may be the answer. The Conservation Experience is a volunteer program in which adults of all ages spend 2 or more weeks working on the reserve in areas such as:

  • monitoring elephants, rhinos, and predators
  • restoring the landscape from previous agricultural use
  • controlling invasive plant species
  • helping with management of the breeding center
  • volunteering at the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary for rescued lions and leopards
  • research projects
  • animal rehabilitation
  • community projects in local towns and villages, such as painting classrooms or maintaining community  vegetable gardens

The Shamwari Conservation Experience is a once in a lifetime chance to get behind the scenes and involved with conservation efforts in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. You don’t need a specific educational background to participate, although a special program is available for veterinary students. Contact Ujuzi to learn about incorporating Shamwari into your next safari.

Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Volunteers survey Shamwari’s plant life.
Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Volunteers clear away brush and invasive plants on Shamwari Reserve.
Shamwari Conservation Experience for Gap Year Students
Mending a fence.

Watch this video to see Shamwari Conservation Experience volunteers humanely tag, sedate, and relocate a male antelope as part of the reserve’s wildlife restoration program:

Interested in visiting Shamwari? Please contact Ujuzi.

Getting Acquainted With South African Languages

Ujuzi expanded its safaris to South Africa  earlier this year. The country offers countless unique opportunities, including malaria-free land safaris, amazing aquatic safaris, and sea turtle tracking and observation.

South Africa has many vibrant cultures, and its list of official languages reflects that. The 11 languages include:

  • Two European languages—English and Afrikaans
  • Nine African languages—Xhosa, Zulu, Venda, Tsonga, Swati, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho and Tswana

Thankfully, you don’t have to learn all of these languages when you’re planning to travel to South Africa. Most South Africans speak more than one language, so knowing one or two of the languages will help you get by in a majority of situations. If you want to learn a South African language in addition to English and aren’t sure where to start, keep this in mind: Zulu is the most common first language for South Africans, with almost a quarter of the population learning to speak it from their parents.

The University of South Africa offers a fun website for learning about Zulu and several South African cultures and languages. The lessons don’t just teach you important words and phrases, but also how to use them. For example, the Zulu section explains that you should never greet someone with only “Sawubona!” (“Hello!”), but also ask how they and their family are doing (“Unjani?”).

Explore the website for a bit and have fun learning about South African languages!

 

Incredible Animal Interactions

Photo by Wildlife Act.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about genets who seek meals from humans, and then yesterday I encountered an amusing article about a genet that’s been spotted riding the backs of Cape buffaloes and white rhinos in South Africa. In National Geographic, a safari guide writes about  a wildlife monitoring project that caught this unique behavior on film. Genets certainly know how to interact with other members of the animal kingdom to their own benefit!

Featured Lodge: Phinda Forest Lodge

Phinda Forest Lodge is located in a private game reserve on the incomparable Maputaland Coast.
Phinda Forest Lodge is located in a private game reserve on the incomparable Maputaland Coast.

Set deep in the heart of a rare and beautiful dry sand forest near the Maputaland Coast in South Africa, &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge is a perfect home base for both land and sea safaris. Spend the morning tracking a black rhino on foot, swim with whale sharks in the afternoon, and watch loggerhead and leatherback turtles laying eggs on the beach in the evening.

Recently hatched turtles scramble out to sea.
Recently hatched turtles scramble out to sea.

Afterward, retire in a suite that fuses spectacular architectural design with the ultimate in conservation principles. Inventively designed in a style affectionately known as Zulu Zen, the 16 suites of Phinda Forest Lodge are built on stilts and appear to float between the forest floor and the towering torchwood trees.

Each handcrafted, glass-encased suite boasts a minimalist flair that incorporates high-gloss wooden floors, richly tactile fabrics and brightly accented Zulu artifacts. The suites feature luxurious en suite bathrooms with slate hand basins and viewing decks where guests can drink in the sight of graceful nyala and duiker antelopes in the dappled shade of the forest.

The suites at Phila Forest Lodge are built on stilts and appear to float between the forest floor and the towering torchwood trees.
The suites at Phila Forest Lodge are built on stilts and appear to float between the forest floor and canopy.

The lodge’s sparkling rim-flow swimming pool and expansive decks look out onto panoramic views of an open meadow where animals frequently graze. A traditional African boma is enclosed with a wooden fence and offers lantern-lit open-air dining beneath a canvas of stars.

 

Welcome to South Africa

Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism.
Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism.

I’m excited to announce that Ujuzi is now offering safari tours in South Africa.

South Africa is a unique destination for safaris. It’s one of the few places where you can plan a safari that never takes you into a malaria zone. Many of the national parks have paved roads, and visitors have more options for getting around. Self-driven tours are a possibility in addition to the traditional guided tour. On guided tours, it’s common for game vehicles to have open sides for uninterrupted viewing and a greater sense of being one with the landscape.

Springbok near Xaus Lodge, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
Springbok near Xaus Lodge, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

Malaria-free safaris are a wonderful option for individuals who are unable (or don’t want) to take malaria-prevention medications. The two malaria-free safari areas of South Africa are the Garden Route Region along the south coast and Madikwe Game Reserve near the northern border with Botswana. They have the “Big Five” (elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, lions and leopards), and Madikwe is also famous for its populations of African wild dogs. These areas offer so much great wildlife viewing that you’ll want to include them on your South Africa safari itinerary whether you need to avoid malaria medications or not!

Contact me to start planning your South African safari!

De Wildt Cheetah Farm, Hartebeestpoort, North West Province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
De Wildt Cheetah Farm, Hartebeestpoort, North West Province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

Buffalo Defeats Lion

Have you seen the amazing wildlife video that’s been making the rounds of the internet the past few days? A group on an early morning game drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa, came across a pair of juvenile lions stalking a cape buffalo and watched for 45 minutes until they went in for the kill.

But just when the lions thought the capture was certain, two other cape buffalos came along and showed the young predators who’s really king of the forest. One of the bulls came up behind the lion and, using its head and horns, flipped it several feet into the air.

Startled, the lion ran away to look for dinner elsewhere, and the rescued buffalo walked off confidently with its friends in search of safer pastures.

I came across this video because I’ll be expanding Ujuzi’s tour offerings to include South Africa in the second half of 2014. But it’s a great reminder of the astounding and unexpected things we can encounter when on safari anywhere on this incredible continent!

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.