White giraffe “spotted” in Tanzania

Leucistic giraffe is mostly white with light spots and red mane.
A white giraffe in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. Photo by Wild Nature Institute.

Tarangire Park in Tanzania is home to a young giraffe with an almost-white coat, according to the Wild Nature Institute, a wildlife organization doing scientific work in Tanzania.

“This giraffe [is] not albino, but leucistic. Leucism is when some or all pigment cells (that make color) fail to develop during differentiation, so part or all of the body surface lacks cells capable of making pigment,” the institute explained in a blog post last April a few months after its scientists first “spotted” her.

Scientists from the institute saw her again in January of this year.

The 15-month-old female giraffe is known by area guides as “Omo” after a local brand of detergent. While much of her hair is white or very pale, she has an orange mane, and coloring below her knees makes it look like she’s wearing orange-dotted knee socks.

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In other giraffe news, have you ever wondered how they get water up their long throats when they bend down to slurp water from a pool or river? Scientists may have figured the physics of it out.

Featured Organization: Giraffe Centre, Kenya

Photo courtesy of the Giraffe Centre
Photo courtesy of the Giraffe Centre


Though giraffes aren’t considered endangered, their numbers have decreased in recent years and some subspecies—like the Rothschild giraffe in Kenya and Uganda—have only a few hundred members.

To help the endangered Rothschild giraffe, African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya was founded in 1979 by the late Jock and Betty Leslie-Melvile. A Kenyan citizen, Jock wanted to create an educational institution in conjunction while also actively increasing the Rothschild’s population.

To that end, the new organization opened the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. Still going strong, the center educates thousands of local school children each year about their nation’s natural heritage, raising a new generation of Kenyan conservationists. It also breeds, rehabilitates and releases Rothschilds to protected wildlife areas in various parts of Kenya.

When AFEW started, only 120 Rothschild giraffes lived in the wild. Through breeding and conservation, the Giraffe Centre has helped raise this number to 300 giraffes in five groups across Kenya.

Read moreFeatured Organization: Giraffe Centre, Kenya

Conservancies Protect Kenyan Wildlife

Giraffes at Mara North Conservancy. Photo taken on an Ujuzi safari to Kenya.

Anthropologist Kathleen A. Galvin and Robin Reid, director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University, recently published a fascinating article in The Huffington Post about the growth of private conservancies in Kenya and the benefits that they’re bringing to wildlife and humans.

Unlike parks and reserves, which are managed by local governments and the Kenya Wildlife Service, conservancies are privately owned land set aside for conservation purposes. The land is usually owned cooperatively by local pastoralists or a nonprofit corporation, and they manage the land so that it can support both wild animals and grazing herds. Conservancies typically receive income for land and wildlife management through visitor fees and rent paid by lodges located on the land.

Conservancies are great conservation model because residents benefit in tangible ways from protecting wildlife. They are less likely to view wildlife as a hassle or as a threat to their livestock and prosperity. Instead of being pushed off of their land to make way for wild animals, they are able to stay in their homes and steward the land.

Interested in visiting or wildlife conservancy? There are over 200 in Kenya alone, and many more in other parts of Africa.  The Mara North Conservancy in the Masai Mara region has proven to be a favorite destination among Ujuzi’s travelers to Kenya. Contact me for more information.

“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 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?

Tanzania Day 7 – Serengeti

View from the front veranda of a guest tent at Eco-Lodge Grumeti.

We spent another day in the Serengeti area. In the morning, we visited Eco-Lodge Grumeti on hills outside of the national park’s central gate. It has 19 beautifully furnished permanent tents on high wooden platforms that overlook the savanna. Because it’s outside of the park, it’s able to offer night game drives, walking safaris and sundowners cocktail hours in the bush. (Inside the national parks, walking safaris and night game drives are generally prohibited.)

A bush hyrax enjoys a snack.

Back inside the park, we visited Mbuzi Mawe Serena, a 16-tent permanent camp whose name in Swahili means “klipspringer.” It’s an apt name because we saw at least three of the small antelopes during our visit. In addition to klipspringers, the hilly area attracts bush hyraxes (furry, guinea-pig-sized cousins of the elephant that dine on acacias and woody plants) and yellow-spotted rock hyraxes (which eat grasses, fruits and insects). We also saw several red-headed agama lizards basking on the rocks, the males occasionally doing rapid push-ups to flash their colors and claim territory.

Mbuzi Mawe Serena guest bedroom

Guests can view resident animals both day and night, thanks to night vision binoculars that Mbuzi Mawe keeps on hand. Other onsite activities include a spa that offers massages, manicures and pedicures. The lounge and rooms reflect the local landscape with  naturalistic wood furniture built from sturdy tree branches, while also embracing the modern conveniences of 24-hour electricity and hot water.

View from Pioneer Camp’s lounge

We then drove back across Serengeti National Park toward our night lodgings: Pioneer Camp, a luxury permanent-tented camp in the acacia woodlands. It has 12 ground-level tents with canvas floors, including one family tent. The 11 standard tents feature two double beds, a desk, lounge chairs, plenty of sisal and plush rugs, and an en suite bathroom with solar-heated hot water. Electrical lights operate 24 hours a day. The lounge offers beautiful views of the Serengeti; looking out toward the horizon one can see the woodlands transition into savannah and then into grasslands farther out to the east and hills to the south. Guests who want to avoid the sometimes bumpy drive from Arusha can take a charter plane to a nearby airfield and be picked up by lodge staff. The lodge provides safari guides and vehicles to guests who choose an all-inclusive package.

A lioness and cub dine on a recently killed cape buffalo.

On our way to Pioneer Camp, we had some notable sightings. We found three adult female lions and their cubs, some feasting on a recent buffalo kill, others napping in the shade. Lions can get territorial with their food, even within the family; when one of the cubs sidled up along a dining adult, he got to close and she growled at him until he backed away to another part of the buffalo. As we watched, a few of the dozing cubs woke up and started grooming each other, which soon turned into a lazy game of swat-and-pounce, then back to napping. (Napping is important for lions; they can sleep 18 to 23 hours a day.)

A giraffe bends down to pick up a rock.

We also encountered a giraffe who was sniffing around the base of a sausage tree (named after the long, sausage-shaped green pods it produces). Our guide explained that she was looking for fallen flowers and pods to snack on. It’s not easy for giraffes to pick things up from the ground: first, they have trouble seeing directly in front of them since their eyes are located on the sides of their heads; and second, they can’t spend a lot of time with their heads lowered because too much blood will flow to their brains, leading to faintness and possibly death. So her hunt was a hit-or-miss operation. She would crouch down, lower her mouth to the ground, quicly try to pick up something with her mouth, then raise her head back up above heart level so that the blood could flow back down her neck. We watched her do this a few times, but the only success she had was in picking up a rock. She quickly spit it out when she realized it wasn’t what she was looking for.

Room at Pioneer Camp

We arrived early at Pioneer Camp and were able to enjoy the view from the lounge before dinner. I retired early and from the safety of my tent enjoyed listening to the activity outside: lions, cape buffalo, hyenas, zebras and a leopard were all active in and around the camp. (Animals do not bother visitors in their tents; if you need to leave your tent at night, a guard who is familiar with the local animals and their activities will escort you to make sure that you don’t cross paths with any unwelcome visitors.) I fell asleep to the soothing sound of rain falling softly on the thirsty savanna.

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.

Giraffe

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.

Tanzania Voted Top Safari Destination

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

Giraffes are just some of the wildlife you’re likely to view on the Tanzanian plains. Photo taken by Ellen Wilson on a 2013 Ujuzi safari in Tanzania.

Tanzania has been voted as the number one destination for safaris by reviewers on Safaribookings.com. Reviewers there recognize what we’ve known for a while:

  • Tanzania is home to superb wildlife viewing in top-class parks, including two Unesco World Heritage Sites.
  • Tanzania is a great place to view the annual great migration, where over 2.5 million wildebeest and zebra migrate from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
  • The country has a wide range of budget, mid-range and luxury safari options.
  • Travelers have the option of beach holiday extensions on Zanzibar Island.
  • Excellent chimp tracking can be done in Gombe and Mahale Mountains National Park.
  •  Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, offers enjoyment for climbers and mountaineers.
  • Tanzania is a politically stable and generally safe country.

Interested in visiting Tanzania? Whether you’re interested in wildlife viewing, cultural excursions, lounging on the beach or scaling mountains, we have plenty of options for you. View our sample itineraries or contact me at info@ujuzitravel.com

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

Hot air ballooning is a great way to view Tanzanian wildlife. Photo taken by Ellen Wilson on a 2013 Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.