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Everything posted by Safaridude

  1. Russel Friedman Russel joined and became a director of Wilderness Safaris (WS) in 1984 and is one of the three founding partners of WS. During this time and prior, he owned and managed a natural history mail order bookshop and publishing house. Russel has been an integral part of the management team of WS throughout and remains a member of the Executive Committee of WS. He is also a trustee of Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust and is a founding member of the Vulture Study Group. Russel and his wife, Bonnie, reside in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more details about Wilderness Safaris, visit their website here - Russel, you had a successful book/publishing company before joining Wilderness Safaris. How did the change in career come about? Well, it was really fortuitous. Colin Bell and Chris MacIntyre were running a company called Afro Ventures with the office near my book business at the time. Through their company, Colin and Chris were guiding overland safaris into Botswana and Zimbabwe from Johannesburg, and I began to supply field guides and other books for them. That is how I got to know Colin and Chris. The overland safaris business was just the beginning for Colin though. He didn’t think the industry in general was contributing enough to those countries where the safaris took place, and he had in mind building businesses inside those countries that employed citizens and procured supplies from these countries – something that is the norm today but which was groundbreaking in the early 1980s. Soon, Okavango Wilderness Safaris was incorporated in Botswana and concentrated on overland safaris from Maun to Victoria Falls. I joined shortly after the company was formed with the view that I would contribute on the business and marketing end. Please tell us about the early days of WS. What were the dreams of the founding partners? The early days were about passion. It was great fun. We were made up of many passionate safari people, but in reality there was no future for us unless we built a sustainable business. Our vision internally was to create a future for the passionate people inside the company. Our vision externally was to protect and conserve the important biomes in the five countries we wanted to initially operate in (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi). The big transformation for WS occurred in the early ’90s when the Botswanan government held open tenders for photographic tourism in unprotected areas. How was WS able to both finance and manage through this expansion? In the early days, we reinvested all profits. We drew very small salaries for ourselves. We were building for the future, but we also never invested in new things unless we could finance them ourselves. In fact, 1995 was the first time we sought outside financing for expansion. In terms of managing through the process, I think once you know how to manage a mobile operation, you can manage a fixed accommodation operation. The required skills sets are not dissimilar. Even though we grew quite spectacularly during the ’90s, it did help that the growth came incrementally. At first, we really just had Xigera and Jedibe as our two camps. We then grew one by one with the acquisition of sites like Mombo being instrumental in our ability to continue to grow. Why was WS able to secure so many of the concessions in Botswana throughout the '90s? Aside from being at the right place at the right time, the primary reason was that we were willing to take risks. I think we valued the conservation land correctly and realistically. Basically, we set precedents by willing to pay higher “rents” for private concession areas. In many cases, our bids for concession leases exceeded existing rents by many multiples. I can tell you in one case, for instance, 5,000 Pula per year was being paid, and we offered to pay 100,000 Pula per year to obtain the lease. We felt this was a fair and more realistic value and that this was an important part of the evolution of wildlife land use in Botswana. While Botswana was growing by leaps and bounds in tourism during the ’90s, Zimbabwe was declining. It is noteworthy that WS has kept its Zimbabwe operation basically intact to this day. Did you ever think of pulling out of Zimbabwe? Has there been financial hardship from the investment in Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe had incredible wildlife areas with great management. We invested a lot of money in the early days. Yes, it became very, very hard. But we never, ever once thought about pulling out. We were able to scale back sensibly during the hard times, and our other operations were able to subsidize the business. I am happy to say that so many people were and continue to be positively impacted by our involvement in Zimbabwe. We estimate that we impact the livelihoods of as many as 20,000 people who live on the periphery of our areas in Zimbabwe, not to mention those directly employed by WS. Things are much better now since the demise of the Zimbabwean dollar a couple of years ago and its replacement in terms of daily usage by the US Dollar. If you haven’t been back, it is now time to go see Zimbabwe again. Colin Bell, one of the founding partners, left to form a different safari company (Great Plains Conservation) in 2006. Tell us how that came about. Great Plains has gone from strength to strength and has an interesting “conservation tourism” model. We have a close relationship with them in Botswana particularly where we work together on properties like Zarafa and Selinda. I think in essence Colin is more comfortable in a smaller organization and has used the opportunity of Great Plains to push some boundaries in the ecotourism realm – something that would have taken longer in a larger entity like WS. There was nothing personal in his move. We remain good friends, and Colin is a good friend of WS. There has been a profusion of “super-luxury” safari camps in the last 15 years or so all across Africa. Fairly or unfairly, WS is viewed as one of the leaders in that market segment. Undoubtedly, there are fans of such luxury travel, but there are also detractors. The detractors point to high costs (which leads to exclusion) and significant environmental footprint of posh lodges. How do you respond to that? Well, I think there is room for all different levels of luxury. In fact, we offer a broad spectrum of products, not just the “super-luxury” kind. At the end of the day, there is demand out there for that kind of a product, and it is one of the markets we go after. I understand there are and will always be detractors, but we have been able to achieve far more realistic “rents” for certain of our concession areas, at least partly as a result of our luxury model. Yes, some of the camps have large footprints, but at the same time, we do what we can in terms of integrating sustainable energy sources and minimizing plastic consumption and so on. Even our camps with large footprints consist largely of canvas, thatch and timber, are carefully constructed so as to be able to be removed and increasingly make use of full renewable energy solutions with specific attention paid to waste water and other aspects. We do not believe the footprints of these camps are excessive. Again, the end goal really is to achieve realistic “rents” for the areas we operate in, and we are trying to get there in the most economically feasible and efficient way possible. By the way, we do offer mobile safaris in small tents and long-drop toilets… These are our roots and we will always have one foot in this world. How has WS done in terms of fostering local employment in areas where it operates? This is perhaps more important than establishing the right “rents”. In many of our areas, many of the people living on the boundaries have no more need to poach for bushmeat or practice marginal subsistence agriculture. At last count, WS employs 2,700 people, of which approximately 85% come from local villages where we operate. Dependency ratios (the number of people supported by each permanently employed staff member) average 7 persons per employee, so there is a huge multiplier effect to consider. I can honestly say WS has had a huge positive impact on the local people. Botswana and Namibia, while of course not without problems, both appear to generally have gotten the part of sharing with the community right when it comes to tourism. Why is that the case in your opinion? I think both countries recognize that communities have to benefit from tourism – and not just in terms of money, but also in terms of other tangible benefits. Also, both countries recognize the importance of the people’s rights to the land. The Namibia community conservancy model is one that really deserves far greater exposure and credence. How do the economics of photographic safaris compare to hunting safaris in Botswana in general? Botswana is nearly phasing out hunting. Is this a good thing for conservation and the communities? Generally, photographic safaris have provided more employment (and people are generally employed all year as opposed to the hunting industry which has a shortened season), more money and more training for the communities in Botswana. For example, comparing the Mombo Concession when it was a hunting area versus now… it’s not even close in terms of how much more photographic tourism is benefitting the community now. However, we at WS do see a role for hunting in conservation, especially in areas that are not particularly suited for photographic tourism. We have an official statement on the role of hunting, which I reference here… WS___position_statement_on_hunting.pdf WS recently made a significant entry into Zambia. What can you tell us about your long-term vision there? How does a safari operator deal with countries like Zambia where the safari season is rain-shortened? Our long-term vision in Zambia is the same as our vision elsewhere. We are in it for the long haul. We want to help protect Kafue, South Luangwa and the conservation areas around Victoria Falls by creating a sustainable tourism model while uplifting the communities around us. The rain-shortened season is a challenge, but it is a challenge for all the operators in Zambia. We just have to adjust and adapt. Safari Adventure Company was formed in 2005, promoting mobile less luxurious travel compared to the generic WS model. Yearning for WS’ mobile safari roots? Actually, we had been offering “less luxurious” travel always. Safari Adventure Company was formed to prevent brand confusion. Now, we have decided to rebrand it “Wilderness Adventures”. We have also rebranded Sefofane, our air charter company, as “Wilderness Air”, bringing everything under the “Wilderness” umbrella. The mobile safaris you refer to are indeed our roots and we have enjoyed our continued homage to those roots in our existing mobile safari business. We have recently rebranded this as Wilderness Explorations to further entrench it as part of the Wilderness offering. I would be remiss not to ask you about the situation in Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana. (The Bushmen recently won its court case against the government of Botswana in their bid to return to CKGR. During the pendency of the court case, Survival International (SI) targeted WS and its Kalahari Plains Camp (KPC) in CKGR, effectively accusing WS and KPC of operating against the interest of the Bushmen. What, if anything, will happen to KPC? What will happen to CKGR? Anything you would like to say about the whole situation? Yes, this is a very complicated and unfortunate issue. I think it is best for me to refer to a press release WS put out last October. The release is very detailed and speaks for itself. WildernessCKGRStatement.pdf We feel we unfairly got dragged into the dispute between the government of Botswana and the Bushmen. I also reference a detailed January court ruling here. bushmen_water_appeal_judgement_jan_2011.pdf The net of all this is that the Bushmen have won the rights to abstract water from CKGR under certain circumstances. Our camp, Kalahari Plains Camp, sits very far from the boreholes in question, and none of this will affect our operations there. WS became a public company last year (its stock is now traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and the Botswana Stock Exchange). What was the motivation for the move? Does WS operate any differently now as a public company? We basically had a choice to make. Do we go bigger or do we go smaller? Ironically, in some ways we thought we could be more profitable by going smaller. But in many ways, we made the same decision that Colin, Chris and I made many years ago. We wanted to grow the areas WS protects, and we wanted to build a long-term sustainable model for our people. To go smaller would be all about passion, but to go bigger meant retaining the passion for a bigger cause – a company that can make more of a difference. Since going public, I think we are more disciplined in our approach, and there is no doubt that we are more transparent. Has WS become too big for its own good? I don’t think so. We see so many small operators under pressure. I think to be truly sustainable, one needs some scale. As I said, being big makes us relevant in conservation and allows us the potential to make a bigger difference. Our recent decision to venture into the Congo Basin rainforest in Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Congo (Brazzaville) is a case in point. We would have found it very difficult to justify the decision to attempt to exercise the successful “conservation tourism” from the savannah into the rainforest without the benefit of scale. Let’s talk about the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust. How was it founded? What is the grand vision of the trust? In the early days, we were simply allocating a percentage of bed-night fees for conservation purposes. It started in South Africa and Botswana first, and the foreign exchange controls imposed made it necessary to set up a formal trust. So, some 20 years ago, the Trust was formally established. You can read all about the Trust on its own website where each year’s annual report is available as a pdf download... Just to highlight though, the trust aims to raise about $2 million per year to fund various projects. To give you a brief idea… in the latest year, of the funds disbursed by the trust, 57% was in research and conservation, 20% in community empowerment, 17% in anti-poaching, and 6% in administration. Of the funds raised, 63% was from direct contributions by WS guests and friends, 31% from bed-night fee allocations, and 6% from Wilderness apparel sales. Please tell us about a particular success story relating to Wilderness Trust. One of the programs we are very proud of is our “Children in the Wilderness” program, where we close down our safari camps to our regular guests in order to host children from neighboring communities. Quite often, the children we host are those whose lives have been disrupted by disease and poverty, even HIV/AIDS. We not only give these children a safari experience (it is remarkable that for many of these children, it is their first “wildlife experience”), we provide educational and creative programs such as arts and crafts, creative writing and drama. We endeavor to continue our relationships with these children long after their initial experience by doing follow-up visits to their villages and so on. We have many examples of children who have gone through the Children in the Wilderness program who are now employees of WS. One in particular (Franco Morao) became a full-time guide in Namibia for WS in 2008. It is a clear example of a “win-win” for everyone involved, and all based initially on the sustainable tourism model. (For more details of the Wilderness Trust, visit the dedicated website here - What’s in store for WS for the next 25 years? We would like to increase the areas we manage/protect. Our official stated goal is to double the area we manage/protect and bring a financial viability to. We would like to address other critical biomes of Africa – tropical rainforests of Central Africa being an example. All the while building a sustainable tourism model and uplifting people’s lives, of course. You have a particular passion for vultures. Please tell us about that. Many, many years ago, Dr. John Ledger and Dr. Peter Mundy, both vulture experts, invited amateurs like me to join in on the research and conservation of vultures. They enlightened many of us on the paramount role vultures play in the ecosystem. I have been fascinated by vultures since and have been involved in their conservation, becoming a founding member of the Vulture Study Group. The more you learn about vultures, the more you realize that they are keystone species (like the elephant), though they are not normally recognized as such. What do you do day to day now, and what are your personal plans? We were never really big on job titles at WS and in many ways we remain as informal now as when we first began in the early 1980s. Officially, I am one of the directors of WS, and I am also a trustee of the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust. My functional role had been for many years heading up North American marketing. I actually relinquished that role recently, and I plan to focus most of my time with the ecological and conservation division within WS. Thank you Russel! The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  2. A western roan antelope bull So, Serengeti Shall Not Die and long shall live the Okavango. Sure, I vote for that. But what of the lesser-known, truly unappreciated wilderness areas of a different Africa? The Anglo-centric safari world is practically ignorant of “French Africa”. It is easy to dismiss French Africa altogether in the name of safety if one imagines it as an undifferentiated pool of chaos and political instability. Stepping back from “Palin-ism”, however, there are gems to be found in French Africa. Benin is one such gem (by the way, do you even know how to pronounce it?). And Benin’s premier park, Parc National de la Pendjari, just may be the last intact, still-functioning West African savanna park that offers a safe and uncomplicated visit. Given the dearth of information on the park and on the logistics of a visit, the initial research required was painstaking. Once in touch with Jolinaiko Eco Tours (which provided the guides and the vehicle) and Pendjari Lodge, however, the planning was smooth sailing. With Jolinaiko’s old reliable Nissan Patrol driven by Ben Mensah (a Ghanaian who speaks primarily English and dabbles in French) and with Boris Medatinsa guiding (a native French-speaking Beninese who speaks good English as well), I stayed six nights at Pendjari Lodge in January 2015 (more detail on all the logistics later). Look at the distribution maps of any number of savanna mammalian species of Africa, and you will invariably see most of East and Southern Africa well blotted and a narrow band of blot from Sudan/Chad/CAR extending west to Senegal. This narrow band is pinched between the southerly tropical breezes of the Congolese Forest/Atlantic Ocean and the desiccating northerly blasts from the Sahara Desert, resulting in a perfect “tweener” climate accommodating savanna biomes similar to those in East and Southern Africa. Numerous physical barriers (such as the highlands of Cameroon) to terrestrial animals along this narrow band served to separate the gene pools of these animals, creating morphological differences among same species – resulting in the familiar species such as elephant, buffalo, lion, etc., looking a bit funny (?) in the heart of West Africa. Buffalo Pendjari National Park is part of the much larger WAP (W, Arli (sometimes “Arly”) and Pendjari) complex spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Pendjari lies within the Sudan-Guinea savanna zone and is characterized by densely wooded, tall grass savanna and open floodplains on poor soil – comparable to the miombo woodlands and dambo grasslands of Zambia or Tanzania. The seasons are reversed in Pendjari, however, with the dry season lasting from November to April. The mythical Harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert to the Gulf of Guinea between December and February, producing variably milky skies in their path. And although its intensity wanes by the time it reaches southern Benin, Harmattan is responsible for a thin layer of fine dust on the floors of the seaside hotels in Cotonou, the commercial capitol of Benin located on the Gulf. A safari to Pendjari invariably commences at Natitingou, a northern outpost reachable from Contonou in a full day’s drive. “Nati” is a bustling town, the last of the kind before open space unfolds to the north. (Maun, Botswana was once Nati-like, I imagine.) The road from there to Pendjari skirts the Atacora Mountains, which are the source of the Pendjari River. The unassuming park entrance at Batia is reached in two hours from Nati, with another 60km to go to Pendjari Lodge. Pendjari Lodge (not to be confused with Pendjari Hotel, which is an old but still usable government-run establishment on the Pendjari River) is ideally situated between two primary dry season watering spots: (1) the Pendjari River and its various lagoon offshoots; and (2) Mare Bali (“Mare” is French for pond), which is a small sump area lagoon that holds water all year. As a practical matter, nearly all game drives in Pendjari occur on the quasi-circular circuit encompassing Pendjari Lodge, Mare Fogou/Mare Diwouni, Mare Sacrée/Mare Canard, Mare Yangouali and Mare Bali (see map below). Map of the park hanging from the mess area of Pendjari Lodge (South of Mare Bali, there are no watering points and thus scant game; east of Mare Fogou, the roads are impassable in spots; and west of Mare Yangouali, the game is skittish due to the general lack of vehicle traffic.) At the start of each game drive, a decision is made whether to push northward toward the Pendjari River and the lagoons or head south toward Mare Bali. Either way, thick Combretum/Terminalia scrub for the first several kilometers gives way to more open woodland. Northbound from the lodge, the landscape opens up decidedly near the Pendjari River, where western kobs, warthogs and black crowned cranes forage on the floodplains dotted with baobab trees. Elephants seem to prefer this better-watered area more so than the south. Southbound from the lodge, the road passes a few hills on the way to Mare Bali, where the thirsty animals and birds of the dry interior gather. There is an observation deck at Mare Bali, and countless hours can be spent observing hippos, crocodiles and western kobs, along with a multitude of water-loving birds. A typical scene at Mare Bali -- a female western kob watering with crocodiles around Black crowned cranes on a floodplain near Mare Fogou
  3. Pendjari National Park also harbors an animal with a very interesting story:
  4. Post-script... nearly three years on... A herd of korrigum in Pendjari National Park, Benin It would start at the northeastern tip of South Africa. A wide band can be drawn on the map from there going north/northeast through East Africa. Then at the western corner of Ethiopia, that band would narrow and turn sharply west and stretch all the way to the coastal countries of Senegal and Mauritania. That’s some 5,000 miles in length with variable narrow widths – of classic African savanna. Within that swath, wherever there was medium-height grass that stayed green most of the year, there were Damaliscus lunatus. So ubiquitous and fecund, Damaliscus lunatus were counted in millions. Over the millennia, geographical barriers within its range caused Damaliscus lunatus to evolve into different subspecies (or races). Today, there are six recognized: (1) tsessebe (the nominate subspecies Damaliscus lunatus lunatus, of northeastern South Africa, Zimbabwe, northern Botswana, southern Zambia, the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, and eastern Angola); (2) Bangweulu tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus superstes, restricted to the Bangweulu Wetlands of Zambia); (3) topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela, of the greater Lake Victoria region, including Serengeti/Mara); (4) coastal topi (Damaliscus lunatus topi, of the coastal floodplains of Kenya and Somalia); (5) tiang (Damaliscus lunatus tiang, of the northwestern tip of Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, southeastern Chad and The Central African Republic); and (6) korrigum (Damaliscus lunatus korrigum).1 The story of this last subspecies, korrigum2, is a wake-up call – one of conservation tragedy and hope. Historically, the korrigum, the largest bodied and longest horned of the Damaliscus lunatus subspecies, occupied, in hundreds of thousands, seasonally flooded grasslands ranging from southwestern Chad/northern Cameroon all the way west to Senegal and Mauritania. Early explorers to the region reported seeing fantastic herds of korrigum. Korrigum was to West Africa what wildebeest still is to East Africa today. From Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, African and Asiatic Sections (1935): (most likely referring to the conditions existing prior to the 20th century) “this antelope lives in enormous numbers on open plains from Senegal to (Chad) and if a census could be taken it would no doubt prove to have the greatest population of any African antelope”. Jeffrey A. Sayer, in The Pattern of the Decline of the Korrigum Damaliscus lunatus in West Africa (1982) deduced that the decline of the korrigum probably began in the waning years of the 19th century with an outbreak of rinderpest (cattle-born disease) and continued with, among other things, habitat loss, competition with cattle, poaching and additional bouts of rinderpest. Former range of korrigum The resultant extirpations of korrigum are documented in a sobering late 20th century report card, courtesy of African Antelope Database 1998: Mauritania: The korrigum formerly occurred in southern Mauritania, where it was exterminated by uncontrolled hunting and habitat degradation. Mali: The korrigum was formerly abundant in central Mali, moving seasonally between the sahel grasslands and the floodplains of the Niger Delta. It was wiped out by competition for grazing with large numbers of cattle, and by uncontrolled hunting. The last survivors disappeared in the mid-late 1970s. Niger: The korrigum was formerly abundant in the sahelian grasslands and savannas of southern Niger, but it has been exterminated widely by competition with cattle and uncontrolled hunting. By the late 1980s, it survived only in W National Park-Tamou Faunal Reserve, where the small population was gradually decreasing. No recent information on its status. Senegal: The korrigum was formerly widespread in central and northern Senegal in the semi-arid grasslands of northern savanna zone and the southern sahel. It died out before 1930 because of overhunting and competition with cattle for grazing.3 Gambia: The korrigum formerly occurred in savanna grasslands, but it died out in the early 1900s. Burkina Faso: The korrigum formerly occurred throughout, apart from the southwest. It has been eliminated from almost all of its former range by the expansion of cattle and illegal hunting. The last survivors occur in the Arly-Singou protected area complex and W National Park in the southeast. Its numbers appear to have increased in Arly National Park between 1991 and 1998, although they are still less than the estimated population in this area in the 1970s. Ghana: The korrigum formerly occurred in the northern savannas, but it had been exterminated by the mid-1970s. Togo: The korrigum formerly occurred in northern Togo. It survived in very small numbers (perhaps 20-25 individuals) within Keran National Park in the late 1980s. It has probably been exterminated by the uncontrolled poaching and large-scale encroachment of settlement which has affected this area since 1991. Nigeria: The korrigum formerly occurred widely in the northern savanna and floodplain grasslands. It has been eliminated from almost all of its former range by uncontrolled hunting and the encroachment of cattle and agriculture. It still occurs in small numbers in the northeast, mainly through seasonal immigration from Cameroon. Cameroon: The korrigum formerly occurred widely north of the Adamaoua Plateau, but it is now largely or entirely restricted to Waza National Park and North Province. It was formerly abundant in Waza, where there were an estimate 20,000 in 1962. This population has subsequently decreased markedly because of drought, poaching, rinderpest, competition with domestic livestock for food and water, and ecological degradation of the Waza-Logone floodplain because of the disruption of the natural flooding regime which has occurred since the construction of the Maga dam at the southern edge of the floodplain in the 1970s. Aerial surveys of Waza National Park in 1977 produced population estimates of only 600-800 korrigum. Its population in this park subsequently increased to an estimated 1,680 in 1994. It occurs in small but apparently stable numbers in Benoue, Bouba Ndjida and Faro National Parks and some of the adjoining hunting zones in North Province. Benin: The korrigum formerly occurred widely in floodplains and dry savanna grasslands in the north. It survives locally within its former range, with the largest numbers in Pendjari National Park and the adjoining hunting zones. This population was estimated to number about 180 in the 1970s and late 1980s. It is still relatively easy to observe korrigum in Pendjari, where its population appears to be stable. Its numbers are small and decreasing in W National Park-Djona Hunting Zone. Since this 1998 report, there has been a further significant decline in the korrigum population. A 2012 census in what was Korrigum’s main stronghold, Cameroon’s Waza National Park, estimated the population to be below 500 – a long way down from 20,000 in 1962. And since then, Waza has come under further pressure from livestock incursions and an infiltration of Boko Haram into the greater-Waza area. As a result, tourism in Waza has come to a virtual halt, and there are anecdotes suggesting that the park is in a state of disarray. Currently, only (1) Waza National Park in Cameroon, (2) parts of Cameroon’s so called “North Region” and (3) the greater-Pendjari area of Benin and Burkina Faso are host to the only viable populations of korrigum, with the three areas carrying perhaps a couple of hundred each, but with Waza’s integrity as a protected area in doubt. Current range of korrigum The recent announcement that African Parks has been contracted to manage Pendjari National Park in Benin and has secured the necessary intermediate-term funding from several sources offers hope for the korrigum, not to mention for the last properly functioning West African savanna park. In addition to korrigum, Pendjari and its greater dispersal areas harbor some of the last remaining West African populations of lion, cheetah, leopard and wild dog, as well as unique, hybrid savanna/forest elephant. It is hoped that African Parks will bring its expertise and resources to take Pendjari from strength to strength. The squandering of the millions of acres of West African savanna and the vast majority of its once most abundant herbivore stands as yet another foolish act by mankind. Conservationists now have a chance to rewrite some of that history. _____________________ 1 There are different categorizations of the various subspecies of Damaliscus. This method follows that of the IUCN. 2 Other common names for korrigum include western topi and giant topi. Locally in West Africa it is called damalisque. 3 It is sadly ironic that the korrigum was once falsely referred to as “Senegal hartebeest” due to its abundance in that country.
  5. Here are some very important details to consider when traveling to Africa (that travel agents don't stress enough in my opinion): - Disaster Prevention #1 - Make sure you have at least 3 blank visa pages in your passport (not just blank pages, but blank visa pages). One member of another family I was traveling with in 2008 could not board the plane (South African Airways)... he was sent back and had to get his new visa pages, and he had to take a flight out the next day (luckily, there was an expedited service place for visa pages in New York City). - Disaster Prevention #2 - If you have purchased your airline ticket on-line -- with many, if not all airlines -- you are required to show the credit card that you paid your ticket with as you check in. I am not sure what happens if you don't have the credit card with you, but you don't want to find out. - Disaster Prevention #3 - Bring a copy of your vaccination card with you. Take Zambia and South Africa for example... they have gone back and forth on yellow fever certificate requirements. Better to be safe and bring your vaccination records. - Disaster Prevention #4 - DO NOT EVER put anything of value in your checked luggage. I am amazed that I see this happening still... you are guaranteeing yourself of losses. Remember, the bad guys have access to X-ray machines. The good news is if you don't have anything of value in your checked luggage, they won't open your bag (the bad guys with access to X-ray machines are too busy to go through a bag with only clothes and shoes). - Minor hassle - If you are bringing US dollar bills, bring bills that have been issued after 2001. Whether true or not, there are rumors in Africa that there are counterfeit bills (issue date of 2001 and before). Some merchants won't take those older bills.
  6. “U.K. ivory exports are stimulating consumer demand globally…”, the Guardian article says. Does supply really fuel demand? Or does demand arouse supply? If the latter… and if you choke off the supply of old, legal ivory (as in dead a long time ago before the international ban) flowing to China, how would the existing demand in China then be satisfied? The answer: from the illegal killing of elephants that are alive today. This is one of the immutable laws of economics, and such is the futility of the situation. It is important to note that we have had all the regulations we need already. An international ivory ban was imposed in 1989. Basically, the ban illegalized inter-country sales (i.e., Zambia can’t sell to Germany). In-country, trades are still o.k. if you can prove that the item is pre-ban (Some countries and some districts of countries have adopted stricter rules… apparently, the U.K. being one. The 1947 timeline in the U.K. isn’t quite correct. If you have an antique item from before 1947, you can sell it as an antique without a certificate. You can still sell post-1947 items but you need a certificate authenticating that it is an old item worked some time prior to the international ban.) So, the supposed 1947 timeline in the U.K. isn't as important as it seems. So, indeed the U.K. and the U.S. have been heavy sellers of old, legal ivory to China. This proves that there is no net demand for ivory in the U.K. and the U.S. (despite hilariously misleading media articles and beliefs out there) (Demand in the West has dropped like a rock since 1989.). Very little new, illegal ivory has entered the U.K. and the U.S. since the international ban (you would have to be “a Homer Simpson” to try to push ivory into those countries, when the demand/price is much higher in China). On the other hand, there is heavy demand from China. We all already know that. So, I guess there have been violations in authenticating old ivory as antiques in the U.K. Ok, so maybe someone in the U.K. who inherited an antique item with no paperwork attached to it tried to pose the item as pre-1947 and tried to get rid of it. Yes, that is a violation worthy of some punishment. But is that activity contributing to the current elephant poaching crisis? More importantly, what happens if you stop all the flow of old, legal ivory items to China? Again, how will the demand in China then be satisfied? These tweaks in regulations seem futile to me (and more politically motivated than anything else) at best, and counterproductive (China’s demand may get satisfied from the killing of live elephants) at worst. The only way the poaching problem will be solved is… (1) through a controlled legal trade structure (ivory from natural deaths only), which is highly unlikely at this point; or (2) a combination of demand reduction and strict enforcement against illegal (new) ivory in China. Meddling with rules in countries with no net demand is moot. If the rules include choking off exports of old ivory, it is counterproductive.
  7. @douglaswise It's funny when I hear Americans "boycotting" those countries you mention because of trophy hunting. Yet they live in America where there is plenty of trophy hunting going on. Sorry, I am not trying to make this into yet another hunting vs. non-hunting debate.
  8. In my opinion, the article is yet another sweeping fluff piece that doesn't fully explain why Botswana's conservation policy works and why it doesn't work. Several points to be made: - In order for the high-quality, low-impact tourism model to work, there must be (1) high concentration of game; and (2) few people around the periphery. Prime concessions in Botswana have the game and very few people in the nearby villages (normally hundreds, not thousands) who benefit meaningfully from the commerce that is brought in (i.e., the $$ math works). But this is not possible in areas of low game concentrations (take for example, the Mababe Depression in Botswana or the dwindling wild lands in Botswana that borders Hwange, Zimbabwe) that are ecologically just as important (since they are critical dispersal areas for game). In other parts of Africa with high game concentrations, the model doesn't work so well if you have thousands or tens of thousands of people the safari commerce must benefit (i.e., the $$ math doesn't work). In those areas, poaching and general degradation of habitat tend to still be rife, no matter how good the high-quality and low-impact tourism model is. - Botswana is still, on a relative scale, among the best African countries in terms of conservation. However, as @Paolo points out, things are not all great under the hood. Most concerning is the departure from the devolved conservation model (which was working pretty well, all things considered) to the one controlled by the state (and its sometimes random autocratic rules) (per @douglaswise). Meat poaching is through the roof in many of the areas that had been under devolved ownership. It will be interesting what the new regime (about a year away) will bring. - I think it is a mistake to measure conservation success in Africa by the number of elephants or rhinos or whatever else. If measured only by the number of elephants, Namibia (which is probably the most successful African nation in terms of conservation but has limited elephant habitat), for instance, would trail Tanzania, in terms of conservation success. - Botswana is a blessed, special case -- at least the areas around the Delta and the far north, where you can successfully implement high-quality, low-impact tourism. The trick is... how do we conserve places that are "peripheral" but just as ecologically important? Can the economics of keeping these areas wild (photographic, hunting, game ranching, communal forestry, etc.) compete with other land use options for the locals?
  9. @vikramghanekar Our South African ground handler, AfriFriends, and Benson's company (Ngoko Safaris) handled the booking of KTP.
  10. Ok, let’s first deal with the pitfalls of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is a major pain in the arse to get to; the process of booking the camps actually initiates the pain (in the arse); there is heavy vehicle traffic in certain parts of the park where some self-drivers seem to be motivated more by the desire to travel at top speeds rather than viewing game; there are overgrown driedoring bushes impeding visibility on some parts of the Nossob Road; and the dearth of game loops limits your ability to control distances to sightings. All that said, Kgalagadi just might be the most addictive place I have been to in Africa. If you are keen on seeing the “small stuff” and learning about how everything fits together in nature, Kgalagadi is the place. Said another way, it’s the kind of place where the first-time, student of nature-type visitor would be blown away. And why so addictive? Kgalagadi never gives you 100% satisfaction. It’s like leaving a couple of makeable putts out there to shoot 91: you are hell bent on teeing it up again. 100% satisfaction is not a problem at Londolozi. Predators not only abound, but also, so accustomed to human gawkers, they let you into their lives. Nighttime game viewing at Londolozi simply cannot be matched. And all this comes with unapologetically opulent accommodations, inspiring rapture in some guests and sheepishness in others and awe in all. Oh, and the food… more on that later. Kgalagadi and Londolozi. They are the two ends of the safari spectrum, but they are both fitting representations of the way they do it in South Africa. The following is an account of my recent trip in April 2016.
  11. @kittykat23uk Aandeoever is lovely. Bontebok National Park can be enjoyed in morning or one afternoon. I would recommend spending more time in DeHoop if you can. At both Bontebok and DeHoop, you will see loads of bontebok, so no worries there. But at Bontebok, you can see the rarely seen grey rhebok in the hills. They are worth looking for. Also, in between Bontebok and DeHoop, keep an eye out for the beautiful blue cranes. Is it too late to change your stay to inside DeHoop? There are excellent accommodations. Below is my very short write-up on Bontebok National Park and DeHoop Nature Reserve:
  12. @Game Warden Obviously, there are many factors influencing wild dog populations, only one of which is lion density. For a couple of decades now, the Mara region and northern Serengeti have not had wild dog packs consistently denning. I believe there have only been sightings of, essentially, vagrants (perhaps some of them denned once or twice, but not consistently). A few years ago, several packs from outside national parks in Tanzania were relocated into Serengeti National Park. It may be that some of them splintered from their original packs and are showing up in some new places in the Serengeti/Mara. One thing that's not really discussed is that dogs normally don't do well on open plains. Across Africa, they do much better in lightly wooded environments. This may have to do with the detectability of the dogs' hunts by lions and hyenas, as they will steal the dogs' kills. The Mara has changed a lot in the last 40-50 years ("Mara" means spotted in Maa. The Mara used to be heavily bushed.) It is much more open than it used to be (fires and elephants). It's just not great habitat anymore for the dogs. Additionally, the lion population in Serengeti/Mara is very healthy right now. It may be due to the wildebeest population that has essentially doubled since the '70s. (Prior to the '70s, the migration did not reach the Mara.). And why has the wildebeest population doubled? Recovery from rinderpest, for sure, but also the opening up of the Mara and northern Serengeti may have had an influence. Full circle...
  13. @Kitsafari Thank you for this amazing and comprehensive account of Zakouma. I basically would like to second everything everyone has said. And many thanks also to, in no particular order, Squack, @Sangeeta, @Twaffle and Terry. Did we really not have even an infinitesimal moment of slightest friction amongst us? Kindness, respect and selflessness come to mind. I had met everyone before except Kit, and getting to know Kit was one of the highlights of the safari. And here is my little contribution to this thread… I am often asked what my favorite safari destination might be. I always answer that by saying that I won’t answer that question, because it is like asking someone, “which one of your children do you love most?” As such, I cannot say that Zakouma is my favorite safari destination. But I will say this: Zakouma was different. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ - Well, that was the river. This is the sea. Woo! The Waterboys All have been quite grand. But this was different… this Zakouma… The sheer numbers at Zakouma are shocking. In East or Southern Africa, you get excited if you encounter a flock of a few thousand queleas or a couple of dozen crowned cranes. At Zakouma, queleas and cranes, not to mention many other species of birds and mammals, subsume you. One evening, as we were photographing queleas roosting in the woodland, I noticed the temperature of the woodland rising from the innumerable quelea bodies. The escalating temperature and the noise reached a breaking point: I had to leave. The very next day, I had to temporarily abort my satellite phone call to the family due to the collective honking of 500+ black crowned cranes right in front of camp. “What in hell is that noise?” she said. During our 7-night stay at Camp Nomade, Zakouma’s dry season momentum was palpable. Every day, there was less and less water available and greater and greater concentrations of cranes, geese, ducks, herons, pelicans, queleas, hartebeests and tiangs. And it was only late February/early March. The numbers would continue to build until the first rains in 8-10 weeks thence disperse the wildlife. It was difficult to imagine that, in the coming weeks, there could actually be more cranes honking in front of camp, or there are enough fish in the dwindling pans to sustain the pelicans or the tree branches, already bending, could take any more roosting queleas. Historically, these explosions of life have been the norm everywhere on the continent of Africa, but the genuine glimpses of them are now, sadly, restricted to a handful of spots – places such as Zakouma where there is minimal human footprint. My one indelible moment has to be our last morning when the queleas put on quite a farewell show. They (“they” meaning tens of thousands of them) had been coming to drink at a shrinking pool on the floodplain in front of camp every day beginning at 5:45am on the dot, in larger gatherings each successive day. At 5:51am, the last flock of the morning and the largest flock seen to date approached with an escalating drone, having reached the threshold point in which it was thick enough to completely block out the background. Orchestrated as one giant organism, the flock swooped down suddenly, sucked up the moisture only for a few seconds, and then departed forcefully with a loud whoosh, blackening the sky in its path, looking very much like a dark, filled-in, twirling lasso. With the departure of the queleas, it was as if nothing ever happened. The floodplain cleared and fell silent, at once waiting expectantly for the cranes to arrive from their nightly roosting site to fill the void. Rivers are great. But this is the sea. A roosting Marabou Stork A tiang on the move Pelicans on the Salamat River Queleas at dusk Queleas in front of camp More queleas in front of camp The magic of Camp Nomade
  14. @@Kitsafari You are not the first failure... as I am not done with you! That roan at the Tinga waterhole is most likely a record-breaking one (in terms of horn length). And according to some experts, it's a record by a comfortable margin. Our being there at the waterhole may have saved his life (for the moment anyway). The lioness, which was later seen by me and Squack chasing after a kob, had parked herself under a thick bush and was in ambush position the entire time. If the roan hadn't been disturbed by us, he could have walked right into the lioness (and the wind direction was in the lion's favor).
  15. @@Kitsafari "Sing-sing" is a Bambara word for waterbuck. Bambara is spoken in West Africa.
  16. @@Kitsafari You continue to enthrall us with your magical writing.
  17. @@Galago First of all, speciation or sub-speciation is a combination of science and art. There are no definitive markers that define two things as separate species or subspecies. The IUCN convention has six subspecies of the topi: topi, coastal topi, tsessebe, Bangweulu tsessebe, tiang and korrigum. A recent convention elevated all six into separate species, and in addition, split the "regular topi" species into 3 separate species (thereby having 8 separate topi species). This new convention is generally not accepted. (For instance, the "regular topi" that was further split into three species by this convention... up until probably 100 years ago or so, those three populations were contiguous/continuous. So, how could they really be separate species, or even separate subspecies?) So, sticking to the IUCN convention, there are six subspecies. @@Caracal The waterbuck at Zakouma is basically defassa waterbuck (the same waterbuck you see generally west of the Rift Valley... in places like Serengeti). The ones found from Chad/CAR to Senegal are often called sing-sing waterbuck or West African defassa waterbuck. These tend to show less white on the face than those defassa waterbucks found elsewhere. But the IUCN does not recognize the sing-sing waterbuck as a separate species or subspecies.
  18. @@Kitsafari There is one more: Bangweulu tsessebe
  19. A beautiful beginning... poetically written. Wonderful memories!
  20. @@wenchy Hi there. Unfortunately, I have not been to Lama.
  21. I was completely wrong on this. In the official statement by China just released, there is a paragraph on stepped up enforcement against illegal ivory. It's only a statement, but it's clearly a positive step.
  22. The news headlines and stories coming out of this are grossly exaggerated. All China is doing is closing the 35 or so licensed ivory carving factories and 130 or so licensed ivory stores. These factories and stores are supposed to push legal ivory only. (Though historically numerous observers have found illegal ivory in these legal stores, the amount pales in comparison today to that of the off-the-grid, illegal ivory market.) The announcement out of China is silent on its plans to tackle this illegal ivory market. On the positive side, the closure of the legal network could serve as a “signaling event”, stigmatizing illegal ivory in China. On the other hand, the illegal ivory market far outpaces the soon-to-be-closed legal market. Continued virtual non-enforcement of the illegal market could result in status quo. (And yes, enforcement can actually be effective in a totalitarian state.) Separately, the “near-total ban” in the U.S. you may have heard of from a July 2016 announcement is nearly meaningless. None of the news articles written on this subject provide adequate background on the exact legal status of ivory, confusing the reader (but detailed and accurate pieces don’t sell newspapers these days). “China Banning Ivory, Thrilling Nature Groups” one says. Wait a minute, the ivory trade was legal in China? Some further Googling brings about even more surprising results: a headline from July 2016 reads, “U.S. Bans Commercial Trade of Elephant Ivory”. What? It took until July 2016 for the U.S. to ban such a gruesome practice? The fact is, there has been a ban all along… sort of… The ivory trade was banned, though only intra-country, in 1989 (i.e., Tanzania, for example, can’t sell to, say, the U.S., but the American citizens are allowed to buy and sell “pre-ban” ivory amongst themselves.) No international body had/has the jurisdiction to go beyond an intra-country ban. This system of an “international ban” and an effective grandfathering of in-country, “pre-ban” ivory buying and selling has been in place since 1989 practically everywhere in the world – that is to say, the laws governing ivory have been remarkably similar in China and the U.S., just to focus on the two countries (see footnote). There are, however, three important distinctions with respect to China: (1) China was granted a special, one-time, legal, CITES-blessed purchase of raw ivory (composed mostly of ivory from natural elephant deaths) in 2008 from four countries in Africa (the so called, “2008 one-off sale”); (2) the legal ivory market in China is institutionalized. Whereas one may find random shops in the U.S., as well as in many other countries, selling old, pawned-off ivory trinkets, there are 130 or so licensed, legal ivory shops and 35 or so licensed, legal ivory carving factories in China. Theoretically, these licensed carving factories and stores are to deal only in pre-ban and “2008 one-off sale” ivory, but this has not always been the case; and (3) China has had a rampant, off-the-grid illegal ivory market since the 1990s. In retrospect, the announcement of closing the legal, licensed factories and stores was the easiest route and the most PR “bang-for-the-buck” for China. Will this serve to stigmatize illegal ivory in China? Will China step up enforcement and bust a few powerful, connected people responsible for the illegal business? These are the unanswered, important questions. As well, the “near-total ban” in the U.S. falls short of the slogan. Not that the U.S. needs a “near-total ban”. The U.S. has not been responsible for the elephant poaching crisis since the 1989 international ban, contrary to some horribly misleading news pieces (see As alluded to, Americans have always had the legal right to, say, dispose of an inherited, pre-1989 ivory item, via a pawn shop, to an antique collector. The only substantive change that occurred this year is that such transactions can now only occur intra-state and under much more onerous conditions of proving that the item is indeed old enough. (There are a few states that have outlawed or are in the process of outlawing even intra-state transactions, but those rules may not survive court cases. This is beyond the scope of this thread.) So, a “near-total ban” it isn’t. And again, not that the U.S. needs a “near-total ban”. Footnote: Ivory is unique in terms of in-country enforcement: old ivory is legal. No other item I can think of has this temporal element in its legal status. Why not just make everything illegal? If you really take the time to think about it, you will realize, short of what essentially amounts to confiscation of property, what an impossible task that would be for countries with fair, developed legal frameworks.
  23. I am fortunate enough to have seen all six different wildebeests in the wild (black wildebeest and five subspecies of common wildebeest). Here they are: Black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou), Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, South Africa Blue wildebeest (or brindled gnu) (C. taurinus taurinus), Kruger National Park, South Africa Western white-bearded wildebeest (C. t. mearnsi), Serengeti National Park, Tanzania Eastern white-bearded wildebeest (C. t. albojubatus), Amboseli National Park, Kenya Cookson's wildebeest (C. t. cooksoni), South Luangwa National Park, Zambia Nyassa (or Johnston's) wildebeest (C. t. johnstoni), Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
  24. @@michael-ibk @@Bush dog I believe in that part of Hwange, one is more likely to encounter large herds of eland in the rainy season, as they are attracted by the herbs on the plains.
  25. @@michael-ibk It looks like you had outstanding sightings, even for Kgalagadi standards. You did well with cheetahs so far. The two males you saw on the Nossob side… where did you see them? I saw two pairs of two male cheetah coalition on the Nossob side. I have a sneaking suspicion the ones you saw are the ones I saw at Polentswa hunting. Also, I love the yellow mongoose sequence.

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