Safaridude

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Everything posted by Safaridude

  1. 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.
  2. @vikramghanekar Our South African ground handler, AfriFriends, and Benson's company (Ngoko Safaris) handled the booking of KTP.
  3. 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.
  4. @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: http://safaritalk.net/topic/6556-pula-safari-central-kalahari-okavango-delta-savuti-march-2011/?page=2#comment-48864
  5. @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...
  6. @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
  7. @@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).
  8. @@Kitsafari "Sing-sing" is a Bambara word for waterbuck. Bambara is spoken in West Africa.
  9. @@Kitsafari You continue to enthrall us with your magical writing.
  10. @@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.
  11. @@Kitsafari There is one more: Bangweulu tsessebe
  12. A beautiful beginning... poetically written. Wonderful memories!
  13. 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
  14. @@wenchy Hi there. Unfortunately, I have not been to Lama.
  15. 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.
  16. 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 http://safaritalk.net/topic/15469-huh-the-us-is-the-second-largest-market-for-what-really/?hl=%20illegal%20%20ivory). 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.
  17. 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
  18. @@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.
  19. @@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.
  20. There are no tsetse flies in Hwange. There are some in Luanagwa and Lower Zambezi but surprisingly few. So few that I don't think it's worth worrying about.
  21. Note that the Natron concession was pulled away from Tanzania Game Trackers/Wingert Windrose/Friedkin Conservation Fund after they put in $100 million to attain "Strategic Investor Status" in 2015. The Tanzanian government is essentially reneging on the deal. The Tanzanian government has tried to do the same thing to a couple of other Strategic Investors. Getting the money in first and then reneging on the deal conditions seems to be the modus operandi. The local media coverage of this Natron block tragedy is hilariously flawed and pro-government.
  22. michael-ibk Kgalagadi rocks, and you are making it come alive in this TR.
  23. @@douglaswise You could have one of two issues: (1) camera shake brought on by the lack of shutter speed (1/200th of a second); or (2) the inability for your camera/lens combo to focus in low light. With respect to the latter, many cameras often have functions which disables the shutter when nothing is in focus. You might want to engage that function... or you may not. It could also be that the camera thinks it is focused on something but it's not totally precise in low-light as you suggest. Also, try Aperture Priority as you point out. I never use the Program Mode.
  24. Green Mile Safaris (the company depicted in the video) is back. This time, they somehow got allocated a block in Natron (I believe the block that borders the lake) from Tanzania Game Trackers (owned by an American family) even though TGT's lease had not expired. TGT has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its blocks, not just in terms of conservation but also in community development.
  25. @@michael-ibk DeHoop is such a gem! I know what you say about the eland there. On my first visit to DeHoop, we saw a bull from about 300 yards. We began stalking (as you are allowed to do) very carefully and quietly. Inching toward the thing. After about 10 minutes of this, we realized the bull didn't care about us at all. We ultimately sat next to the eland (30 feet?). We felt pretty silly. Agree the restaurant is fab too.

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