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

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:

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Visitors watch a feeding at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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A curious elephant checks out a visitor at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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Caretakers watch over baby elephants at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya.
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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.

Tanzania: A 24-7 Wildlife Experience

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Jennifer Johnson of Wisconsin has been on safaris before, but her trip to Tanzania with Ujuzi stands out as the best. “Every day something happened that you thought couldn’t be topped. And then the next day, something happened that topped it.”

Johnson went on her Ujuzi safari in November with a group from Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wis. “This trip was about a 1,000 times better” than a previous safari she had gone on with a different provider, Johnson says. “We saw twice the animals. The wildlife was more abundant, and we were closer to it.”

She credits Ujuzi’s  planning and expert guides – Modi Magesa, Chris Magori, and Shadrack Didah – with making the trip such a success. “Our guides were fantastic, very easy to talk to, and very knowledgeable. They were very safe and very educated about all the animals,” she says. The guides’ familiarity with wildlife enabled them to anticipate good viewing opportunities. For example, Johnson’s guide led her group to watch a pride of lions successfully hunting a zebra, then bringing out their cubs to eat it.

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Wildebeest graze in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Johnson also got close-up views of a leopard, a rhino, many elephants and elephant calves, and migrating wildebeests. One park she especially enjoyed was Lake Manyara, a lush green forest and waterway where hippos, baboons, flamingos, and other birds were plentiful. “If anyone’s a birder, they’re going to want to go to Lake Manyara,” she says. “I don’t even know how many species of birds we saw there.”

Another highlight of the trip included a night drive where she saw serval cats, honey badgers, bat-eared foxes, and baby hyenas.

The safari experience continued at the lodges and camps where the zoo group stayed. Johnson especially enjoyed Tarangire River Camp, which is perched on the banks of an ephemeral riverbed in north-central Tanzania. “There were elephants in the riverbed digging for water, so you could go outside and look over the bank and watch them” at lunch or before the sun went down, she says. At night as Johnson fell asleep, she could hear elephants roaming about and lions roaring in the distance. “When you’re sleeping and you can hear the animals outside, it’s having an experience twenty-four–seven.”

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Her group also enjoyed a presentation by the African People & Wildlife Fund about “living walls” – fences created from living native trees and acacia thorns. Maasai people build these fences  around their livestock areas to protect them from predator attacks. Before the living walls were in place, carnivores attacked Maasai livestock in the Tarangire area about 50 times a year, and communities killed 6 or 7 lions a year to protect their livestock. Where living walls are being used, human killings of lions, cheetahs and hyenas have dropped to zero.

Johnson enjoyed the safari so much that she’s already planning to return to Tanzania in 2016. “I’ve never been on a trip before where I loved something so much that I wanted to go back to the same place again,” she says. Her next trip is also a joint venture of Ujuzi and Henry Vilas Zoo and will include a visit to Rwanda, where her group will track mountain gorillas.

Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Photo taken by Jennifer Johnson on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
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