Look for wild dogs, find a leopard

You never know quite what to expect on safari. Make plans to see one animal, and you often end up finding another.

Such was our experience this afternoon. After yesterday’s experience finding African wild dog tracks, we were eager to see if they had wandered back to our neck of the scrublands.

Fifteen minutes into our drive, after we encountered some gorgeous nyala antelopes, our tracker Richie and guide Ally heard vervet monkeys crying out a warning call. Following the sound, we eventually found the tree where the monkeys had run from danger. One stood at the very top of the tree, calling out as it looked down on a nearby dry riverbed. We headed in that direction while Ally explained that monkeys most often warn for leopards and lions, but occasionally for other predators as well.

At the riverbed, Richie spied fresh leopard tracks. The excitement rose as he followed them through the trees. Meanwhile, Ally drove us toward a small pond that the tracks pointed toward.

At the pond, all the tracking was rewarded with the site of a large, eight-year-old female leopard.

DSC01094We decided to stay and watch her for about half an hour. Even though she didn’t hunt anything, it was fascinating to simply watch such a magnificent animal up close. The camera alone can’t convey the excitement of being near her. And even though she spent most of the time relaxing, she was still constantly moving: panting to cool herself down, looking around to see that the nearby herd of giraffes was still in sight, sipping water from the pool, and grooming herself.

Though we never found the African wild dogs, our afternoon safari was a definite success.

Join Ujuzi in South Africa!

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Ujuzi African Travel and Dickerson Park Zoo invite you on an Ocean & Land Adventure to South Africa from March 1-13, 2016, with an optional extension to Victoria Falls! 

South Africa is a land of amazing diversity – in wildlife, culture, and geography. In just 24 hours, you can swim among African penguins, track uncommonly beautiful mountain zebras, and enjoy tastings at some of the world’s most acclaimed wineries.

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Join us this March for a magnificent journey in this land of discovery. You’ll start out in historic Cape Town, taking in a spectacular view of rocky peaks and blue ocean from the top of Table Mountain. Home to some of the richest biodiversity in the world, the Table Mountain range has more plant species than the entire United Kingdom. Other activities in the Cape include:

Read moreJoin Ujuzi in South Africa!

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.

Read moreCelebrate Endangered Species Day

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.

Read moreNamibia: Cheetahs, Caracals, and More

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.

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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