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

Rain Brings Wild Dogs to Sabi Sands

We woke up to some much-needed rain in Sabi Sands, South Africa. The area has seen a severe drought this summer — so severe that a local hippo declared Kirkman Kamp’s swimming pool its residence for a week until the staff finally managed to scare it off.

Game drives can go on rain or shine, and a few in our group decided to tough it out. We were eager to see some of the animals that come out in the rain, such as winged termites and the birds that feed on them.

We got in our ponchos and started out on a relaxed game drive. Besides termites and birds such as franklins, brown-headed parrots, a purple roller, and a rather wet and unhappy-looking tawny eagle.

About fifteen minutes into the drive, a kudu leapt across the road in front of us. We didn’t think much of it until several more quickly followed in its path.

“Wild dog!”

I don’t remember who shouted it first – our guide Ally or our tracker Richard — but all our heads spun in the direction from which the kudu were fleeing. There was a straggler in the back, and right on its tail a lone African wild dog sprinting through the scrub.

The dog moved so fast we didn’t have a chance to get good pictures, but we were too thrilled to feel disappointed. There are only about 220 wild dogs in the 250 million hectares that make up Kruger National Park and the surrounding reserves, so getting a single glimpse is an incredible treat.

Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush?
Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush? (Hint: look for a blur beneath the tree.)

However, where there’s one wild dog, a pack is usually nearby, so we decided to see if we could find the others. Ally radioed the other guides to let them know what she’d seen, and a few minutes later another tracker found additional pack members. We joined up with them and I took this video.

I’m happy with how the video turned out, though it can’t convey the whole experience: the excitement of tracking such an elusive animal, the wet dog smell upon finding the whole pack, and the strange hooting sounds the dogs make to communicate with each other over long distances. It was a thrill to be among these rare animals — the kind of thrill one can only find on safari.

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator.)

 

We Saw All Big Five at Sabi Sands

We left Cape Town yesterday for Sabi Sands, a private game reserve on the edge of Kruger National Park. The wildlife here is incredible. Within a few hours of arriving, I had already seen a herd of elephants, a pair of leopards mating, and two young rhinos.

Today, I saw hippos, a crocodile, lions, Cape buffalo bulls, giraffes, half dozen different kinds of antelope, and enough birds to fill a few pages of my notebook.

Internet is a little slow out here in the bush, so I’ve only been able to upload a few photos and videos from the past two days to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. Please drop by those sites to browse the images.

DSC00886

The Penguins of Africa

We had an incredible journey today through the Eastern Cape to Africa’s southwesternmost point.

We started early this morning on a bus drive south to Chapman’s Peak.

DSC00341
View from Chapman’s Peak

We then continued on to Simon’s Town, where we went sea kayaking.

DSC00353

After about an hour’s paddle, we reached Boulder’s Beach, home to a large colony of endangered African penguins.

25412035261_94bd869667_z
We saw several nesting.

DSC00501

The chicks grow quickly and soon reach the size of adults. You can tell them apart by their downy brown feathers.

Read moreThe Penguins of Africa

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.

Conservation Success Stories from Tanzania and Mozambique

Cyligramma fluctuosa by Tapio Kaisla
Cyligramma fluctuosa moth at Amani Nature Preserve. Photo by Tapio Kaisla. Used with permission through a Creative Commons License.

While sad stories about poaching often dominate the conversation about African wildlife, there’s been wonderful news coming lately from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Tanzania’s authorities recently arrested crime boss Boniface Matthew Mariango, who allegedly manages 15 poaching and ivory-trafficking syndicates. They also arrested a large-scale ivory smuggler based in Dar Es Salaam. Catching such high-level criminals is much more effective than arresting individual poachers at the local level, helping to staunch the demand for ivory and other poached products.

For more good news, you can read or watch this CNN segment on Tanzanians who transformed a gold mine into a biodiversity hotspot. Amani Nature Reserve opened in 1997 as the country’s first nature reserve. It’s a lesser-known safari destination with relatively few visitors. It rewards those who go off the beaten path with a chance to see many rare butterflies, birds, reptiles, flora and fauna that haven’t been found elsewhere in the world.

Mozambique has a similar success story.

Read moreConservation Success Stories from Tanzania and Mozambique

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

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.

Links:

8978285563_f87c2ae384_z
Visitors watch a feeding at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
8979853906_caa410b25b_z
A curious elephant checks out a visitor at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
8978275531_617d45e402_z
Caretakers watch over baby elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
8978440589_911f122146_z
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.

Featured Park: Arusha National Park, Tanzania

10673014815_74ae9d0dde_o
Thousands of flamingoes dot Big Momella Lake in Arusha National Park. Photo taken on a 2013 Ujuzi safari.

The closest national park to Arusha, northern Tanzania’s safari capital, Arusha National Park is a multi-faceted jewel, offering the opportunity to explore a diversity of habitats within a few hours through game drives, hikes and canoeing.

The entrance gate leads into shadowy montane forest inhabited by inquisitive blue monkeys and colorful turaco and trogons. It is the only place on the northern safari circuit where the acrobatic black and white colobus monkeys are easily seen. In the midst of the forest stands the spectacular Ngurdoto Crater, whose steep, rocky cliffs enclose a wide, marshy floor dotted with herds of buffalo and warthog.

Read moreFeatured Park: Arusha National Park, Tanzania

%d bloggers like this: