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.

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Namibia: Cheetahs, Caracals, and More

namibia5Scientific American recently posted a fascinating slideshow about the cheetah breeding program of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and the Smithsonian National Zoo Center for Species Survival. The program seeks to end the practice of capturing wild cheetahs for zoos, and also helps scientists understand breeding and health issues that affect cheetah populations in the wild.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund has a wonderful sanctuary program in Namibia that rehabilitates injured and orphaned cheetahs while educating the public. Visiting the sanctuary is the highlight of many Namibian safaris. Visitors who wish to spend more time among the big cats may wish to stay at Okonjima Lodge, about 50 kilometers to the south. The Lodge is home to the AfriCat Foundation, which rehabilitates lions and leopards in addition to cheetahs. It offers many opportunities to see these cats, in addition to occasional viewings of the caracal, a smaller but still majestic cat species.

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Featured Lodge: Okonjima Bush Camp

namibia5Situated at the base of the Omboroko Mountains in Namibia, Okonjima Bush Camp is home to the AfriCat Foundation, which runs the largest cheetah and leopard rescue and release program in the world. In the last 17 years, more than 1,000 of these predators have been rescued, and more than 85 percent of those have been released back into the wild. Okonjima also has three domesticated lions – Matata, Tambo and Tessie – who were born in captivity and rescued by AfriCat. They have become long-term residents and can often be heard in the mornings before guests leave the lodge.

Activities at Okonjima Bush Camp include leopard tracking by vehicle, a visit to the cheetah welfare project, and a visit to the night hide where nocturnal animals such as porcupines, caracals, honey badgers and leopards may be seen.

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Living accommodations consist of nine luxurious rondavels. The thatched chalets are linked by walkways to a main area where meals are taken and activities begin. Each rondavel is completely private and the green canvas ‘walls’ can be rolled up to give you a 180-degree view, allowing you to watch life in the bush while relaxing in total comfort and safety.

Energetic early risers will enjoy the guided walking trails, which offer excellent opportunities for bird watching—over 300 bird species have been identified here. Two spacious animal-viewing hides are located within easy walking distance of the lodge, and another is situated at a recently established vulture feeding area just a short drive away.

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Contact Ujuzi to learn more about safaris in Namibia!

 

Namibia: Land of Stark Beauty

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This year, I’ve expanded my safari offerings to several new countries, including South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia. Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of the amazing features that make them unique, from malaria-free safaris in South Africa to coral reef explorations in Mozambique.

Today, I want to tell you about Namibia.

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Namibia is a vast country on the southwest coast of Africa, covering an area larger than Texas but with just 2 million residents – one of the lowest population densities in the world. It is also an ageless land with a heritage of stone-age rock art and a petrified forest where fossilized tree trunks have lain for more than 280 million years. A vast inland sand sea is home to some of the earth’s tallest dunes and dramatic canyons. Namibia’s wildlife is plentiful and diverse, with many animals unique to the area.

Take, for example, the desert-adapted elephant. These creatures are an ecotype unique to Namibia, behaviorally adapted to hyper-arid conditions. They walk farther for water and food then any other elephant in Africa – the distances between waterholes and feeding grounds can be as great as 42 miles. The typical home range of a family herd is larger then 770 square miles, or eight times as big as ranges in central Africa, where rainfall is much higher. Because of the desert’s daytime heat, they keep schedules that are opposite to those of their cousins in other parts of the continent: They walk and feed at night and rest during the day. They are less picky eaters, as well, browsing on 74 of the 103 plant species that grow in their range. Their ranges extend from river catchments in northern Kaokoveld as far south as the northern Namibia.

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Namibia is also home to the AfriCat Foundation, which runs the largest cheetah and leopard rescue and release program in the world. In the last 17 years, more than 1,000 of these predators have been rescued, and more than 85 percent of those have been released back into the wild. Its sanctuary is part of Okonjima Bush Camp, and guests at the camp can  track leopards, view cheetahs up-close, and take nighttime drives to view  nocturnal animals such as caracals (another wild cat), honey badgers and porcupines.

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Namibia’s low population and unique ecosystems make it an unforgettable safari destination. The dramatic scenery and spacious natural areas are almost free of human sounds, creating a feeling of antiquity, solitude and wilderness.

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about exploring Namibia!


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“The Finest Trip of My Life”

Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”

Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”

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In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.

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While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.

Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.

Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”

Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.

Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”

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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!

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New Lodge to Open in Remote Eastern Serengeti

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Namiri Plains is a new camp for safari enthusiasts who want bush luxury and a deeper wildlife experience while leaving a small environmental footprint. This luxurious six-tented camp is set among yellow-barked fever trees in a remote and beautiful area of the Eastern Serengeti called Soit le Motonye. It will open July 1.

“Namiri” means “big cat” in Swahili. A former cheetah sanctuary, the area has been unexposed to outsiders for 20 years and now has the highest cheetah density in East Africa. Lions and leopards are also abundant here. In addition, the wildebeest migration passes through this area twice annually and giant wildebeest herds are accessible from camp for three-quarters of the year.

Because Namiri Plains is the only camp in this area of the Serengeti, guests will have more of the plains to themselves and rarely encounter other vehicles on game drives. A permanent water source near the camp means unrivalled year-round access to fantastic wildlife, especially cheetah, lion and leopard.

Namiri Plains is about a one-and-a-half hour drive east of Serengeti’s Seronera airstrip. The six tents include a honeymoon tent and family tent, and the camp is open to guests 6 years old and up. It will be closed April and May.

Contact Ujuzi if you have any questions about Namiri Plains or planning a safari to the Serengeti!

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New Ujuzi Video Added to YouTube

Enjoy this music video of  highlights from my recent trip to Tanzania! It was tough narrowing hours of video down to just a couple of minutes, but somehow we managed to get dozens of animals and five national parks in there. I think my favorite capture is the cheetah stalking and chasing its prey in the Serengeti. What’s your favorite footage?

Featured Parks: Samburu and Shaba National Reserves

The rugged hills and undulating plains of Samburu and Shaba National Reserves in Kenya offer the quintessential safari experience. Here, the iconic acacia trees are plentiful and provide sustenance for giraffes, elephants and a long-necked gazelles called gerenuks. Euphorbias (the Eastern Hemisphere’s answer to the cactus) also dot the landscape.

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There’s nothing like watching a giraffe towering over trees in the wild. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari in Kenya.

Inticately Striped Grevy Zebras

Intricately striped Grevy’s zebras enjoy the morning sun at Shaba National Reserve. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Kenya.

With a mix of arid grassland, riverine forest and swamp, Samburu and Shaba offer opportunities to see many different kinds of wildlife, including elephants, reticulated giraffes, leopards, cheetahs, lions, Somali ostriches, hyenas, countless antelope and gazelle species, and more. In Shaba, small herds of fine-striped Grevy’s zebras – the largest and most endangered of the three zebra species – can often be found grazing in the sun or cooling off with refreshing dust baths.

Both parks lie on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro (Nyiro) River, which flows through the middle of this area. Although its name means “muddy water” in the local language, it is a vital source of life for the resident animals and humans.  Elephants and vervet monkeys play on its shady banks and crocodiles patrol the waters in search of suitable prey.

Samburu Staff at Elephant Watch

Ujuzi African Travel owner with Samburu staff at Elephant Bedroom tented camp in Samburu National Reserve. Traditional Samburu dress includes lots of red cloth and detailed beadwork.

Nearby villages offer the opportunity to interact with local Samburu, cousins of the Maasai who traditionally raise goats and sheep for their livelihood. Many customs and dress are similar and, although the languages are different, they can often understand each other with a little effort. The Samburu are known for being very fast and dynamic talkers, and for their bright and plentiful beadwork.

Several tented camps in Samburu offer visitors fresh air and close access to wildlife without sacrificing comfort. Most tents are permanent, having wooden floors that are raised off the ground; fully plumbed bathrooms with hot and cold water, showers, sinks and flush toilets; and outlets for charging cell phones and camera batteries. Shaba features a lodge with stone buildings, a large swimming pool, fish ponds and views of the river.

Activities in the parks include game drives, bird watching, cultural activities and raft trips.

Male Cheetah With Full Stomach!

A male cheetah with a belly full of prey strolls through Samburu National Reserve. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari in Kenya.

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