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Found 86 results

  1. Human-Elephant Conflict and the use of Honeybees: A South African’s Perspective in Sri Lanka "My Master of Science degree, for example, centred on the use of African honeybees to protect marula trees from elephant impact. This research, through the Elephants Alive research organisation, was certainly relevant to the South African form of HEC. What an eye-opener it would be for me then to take over as project coordinator at the Elephants and Bees Project’s Sri Lankan study site earlier in July 2017."
  2. I was very pleased to read the following story in the Daily Telegraph this morning, it would appear from looking up this story on their website that they are moving towards being a subscription only site so you may not be able to read the full story. However I have found the same story in the Sun so I will provide a link to that as well. British Army Gurkha 'super-tracker' hunting poachers in Gabon to save last remaining elephants The Gurkhas are extremely well trained in the art of jungle warfare mainly in Brunei but I presume also in Belize and when it comes to tracking Corporal Rai is clearly the best of the best, the British Army has actually been involved in ranger training in Gabon since 2015, I hope that the skills that Corporal Rai can pass on will really start to turn the tide. Forest elephants have been taking a real hammering in recent years and evidence shows that they reproduce very slowly and that the effect of poaching is even worse than it is for their savannah cousins and could cause their extinction and without intervention certainly will cause the extinction of some populations. Like the lowland gorillas that share these forests the forest elephant is a vital component of the ecology of the rainforests of Gabon and the wider Congo Basin distributing the seeds of many different tree species. Their loss would have a huge impact on the fauna and flora of this region. Besides the ecological impact, if Gabon is ever to seriously get its act together and develop a proper wildlife tourist industry then it needs to ensure that it's elephants are safe so that tourist will be able to visit and see them as I did. It is the sad reality of poaching in Africa that rangers need to have not only excellent tracking skills but also proper combat training to deal with the people that they are up against and I am extremely glad that the British Army is helping to provide the necessary training, in particular some of our Gurkha soldiers. ONE-MAN TUSKFORCE ‘Super tracker’ soldier deployed to Africa on a mission to save elephants from cold-blooded poachers
  3. Tuesday 20th June Relaxed and warm we fit our luggage into Beryl the 4x4 and make our way out of the gate of Le Mirage our home for the past three nights. We've had a most relaxing time, watched the most amazing sunsets and this morning I awoke perfectly normally at 6.50!!!! O.M.G. We are worried, will this become the normal back in Teignmouth??? Will we suddenly change the habit of our retirement and be early risers??? Nah, of course we won't. But this is Africa, this is different, this is amazing! We set off on a long, long haul of C roads which are all gravel, corrugated (that's rutted to you and I) dusty and difficult. We've got 230 miles to travel to get to Swakopmund and our first pit stop is at Solitaire the first ‘Town’ to fill up with Diesel, have a coffee - the best we've had - and we almost drive by it. This hamlet consists of one petrol station set back from the road that we almost miss completely with adjoining thatched-roof cafe/bakery/shop. The bakery has about six sweet items to choose from (but none of the famous Apple Pie/Crumble today!) also nothing savoury for us to take for lunch later. The Oatmeal biscuit and Coconut cake are very delicious, so we go into the shop to find more supplies but except for fridges full of water and fizzy drinks and racks of crisps and nuts, this is definitely NOT a Morrisons. There are very few shelves, it's very dark, there are an assortment of old Gerry cans on the walls and other than a few tins of tuna and some small jars of mayonnaise, the choice is dreadfully limited. Doritos for lunch it is! We drive ever onward and the landscape changes rapidly. We see red dunes, we see miles of gorse, we see pale grasses, but we never see a home, a shack or a building of any sort. Occasionally we see a tiny side road with a sign to Camping, but I'm talking about over 150 miles and virtually nothing. We pass two canyons with a few parked 4x4’s where the occupants are taking time to rest and take photos. Gaub canyon is like a huge seaside switchback rollercoaster. The rock formations are spectacular and as we drive further we see Kuiseb canyon the weirdest mixture of rolling green boulders, slate stone and flint for about 5 or 6 miles. It's no more but a sandy dry river bed although it may run as a river for two or three weeks during the rainy season, but now three months on from then, there was little more than a three foot wide waterhole in just one place. This is a harsh environment. We next stop where we see half a dozen vehicles parked up close to a group of huge boulders. It's called Vogelfederberg and it's 527 metres high. It's easily climbed and has some amazing views of the surrounding area from the top. It's about 20 miles from Walvis Bay and that's where we are heading. The times getting on, that's the trouble always, so little time so much to see. So as we get to Walvis Bay it's gone 4pm and we would like to get to our hotel ready to watch the sun go down over the Atlantic Ocean, so we make the decision to carry on to Swakopmund. We pull up at the Hotel Zum Kaiser at 4.30pm and immediately book in and Peter orders 2 glasses of Wine to be served on the sun terrace and after dumping our bags in our room we're sat awaiting the going down of the sun far out, past the most fabulous huge waves that are crashing onto the beach below us. The temperature dropped like a stone as we got nearer to Swakopmund. In the desert it was about 30c all the way from Sossusvlei but the last 20 miles and it dipped to 17c so there is a real chill in the air. The waiter asks if we’d like coffee ( I guess he thinks Mad English) but we sip our Vino and as the sun sets at 5.30pm we reflect on another lovely day. The best part of Swakopmund for me another perfect sunset. Wednesday 21st June Hotel Zum Kaiser is not a luxurious stop, it's adequate. The best thing about it was a superb shower, hot and wonderful after a days travel. The staff were ok but not majorly friendly, the breakfast was minimal and the bacon sandwich cold. Never mind we'll get to know Swakopmund by having a good walk around town. We leave the hotel to be accosted by a guy trying to sell us trinkets. He's the first in a long line of pests. The only way is to be very rude and totally ignore them. Peter has to say Good Morning. As soon as they hear your voice they say Which Country? If you answer, you have a friend for life to the point they stick like Superglue, whether you tell them to go away, turn left or right they stay right at your side until I get very frustrated and Peter gets angry. These guys are also found in car parks. They wear very old hi vis jackets. If you don't park where they want you too they whistle and wave until you do. Then they'll look after your car until you return and they hope, but not always expect a tip. Peter got into a very interesting and instructive conversation with Mateo. Peter discussed the merits of the car parking facility Mateo ran and mentioned to him it was called ‘In the West’ a Protection Racket! Mateo insisted that he would never expect any reward prior to the event and that any remuneration should only be given afterwards when the vehicle was seen to be safe and sound and should only be from the heart. Ultimately he walked away, happy with this new found knowledge and also the pleasure of extracting a little financial reward from the English Gentleman! Grey, misty Swakopmund The bird life was interesting. Swakopmund is known this time of the year for its sea mist. In Teignmouth, on the English South West coast, we call it The Larry. The mist has descended and Swak is a very cold, very dull place. We spend the day wandering and driving and not doing much except visiting a museum dedicated to a very old steam traction engine known as Martin Luther. The lady and her son who ran the museum were a lovely chatty pair and we had an enjoyable afternoon with their help. Tonight we've booked into The Tug Seafood restaurant by the jetty, right overlooking the beach and even on a damp and miserable Wednesday this large eating house is packed to the rafters at 6.15pm It's a good job I booked as we'd have had no chance without and this was another recommendation this time from our local Trailfinders manager Ollie who told me about it six months ago. First rate choice, Ollie! It was buzzing, the waiting staff were flying about with trays and meals ten to the dozen. Almost every table was taken and as our first choice of table was rather in a cramped position, so much so that when Peter went to sit down a waitress with a full tray, albeit of empty glasses and bottles collided with him, we were swiftly moved to a much better position. Wine choice was quickly decided and dispensed and the extended mainly Seafood menu perused. John Dory Goujons for me, Seafood soup (including a giant Langoustine) for Peter. Now main course was a huge dilemma as the choice was mega, but eventually I chose a Kabeljou, a Namibian favourite, as yet untried by yours truly and Sir went for the a mixed Seafood curry, a superb choice by the completely clean dish when Peter had finished. If Swakopmund wasn't the must interesting or enjoyable visit on our extended holiday, The Tug certainly made up for it in quality of food, service and position of the venue. If you need a 1st class restaurant whilst visiting we can recommend it! Some of the architecture was interesting. Thursday 22nd June Up, out and away after another cold bacon butty (no H.P. like everywhere else, only mustard!) to top our dislike of the place their card machine didn't work and delayed us an extra 25minutes! Not happy! The mist is down and we drive to Hentiesbaii along the coast which resembles November in Caister (having had many Norfolk grey days as I child, I'm wounded forever.) We turn inland and I spend an hour driving along a very straight gravel road and slowly the cloud disappears and eventually 13c turns to 27c We picnic on elevenses, at a concrete table and chairs in the middle of nowhere, whilst many fellow 4x4 travellers toot their horns and wave. This is another wonderful part of driving in Namibia, the friendliness and camaraderie of fellow travellers. We motor further and see many Herero tribeswomen and children selling goodies on the side of the road. They are a nomadic tribe, famed for their red/brown skin and dreadlock type hair, all dyed with a mixture of earth, herbs and cocoa butter. They wear costumes of their German ancestors, including crinolines and numerous petticoats. We are getting close to our destination so decide to stop, close to the side of the road ‘in the bush’ for our lunch. We've hardly seen a vehicle for over an hour except for a couple of mule carts and their owners. Peter unpacks our picnic chairs whilst I plate up bread, meats, cheeses, tomatoes and crisps. We sit down to relax for half an hour, completely alone in Africa, peace and silence…………… and low and behold, every minute for the next ten, a white 4x4 passes, hoots and the folks all wave!!!!! Madness, total madness! The wilderness around us is utterly beautiful. Miles of long grasses, green trees not seen since London, small mountains of rusty red and black granite and slate as far as the eye can see on both sided of the road. Oh the road has also changed from rough gravel to sand. It's so, so different here and we are within 3 km of Mowani Mountain Lodge. The place I've looked forward to ever since Marie at Trailfinders and I put this amazing holiday together. It's one of those one off hotels of the world. Totally hidden from the road, 12 thatched, tented, large toadstool like buildings have been fitted between the natural boulders that have been nestling here for centuries, to be used as bedrooms. Larger ones are the open air lounge and dining area, smaller the office, reception and kitchens. My photos won't do the place justice, but it's incredible. We wanted a room with a view and we've certainly got that in abundance. Room 2 looks forwards as far as the eye can see and that must be 30 miles of boulders, savannah and red mountains. It's totally peaceful except for the occasional bird song. Tiny lizards sun themselves on the rocks all around. It is bliss. Similar in parts to the canyons in Utah and Arizona. But with Elephants living close by as well as Zebra and any number of animals. We unpack, explore the camp including the small plunge pool overlooking the savannah and then walk through the tiny paths in between the boulders high up to the viewpoint where there is a bar!!! Atop an enormous boulder there are cushions with old tree branches as back rests and picnic chairs for the unadventurous. This is the seating for sundowners where three waiters bring small wooden boards as menus with different choices of cocktails, then as we sit and watch the setting sun, the waiters bring trays of nibbles. The guests of which there are about 16 are made up mostly of Germans with a couple of Italians and three Americans. The sun finally drops below the mountains at 5.30 and within 20 minutes the darkness is dropping and we make our way to our chalet to prepare for a delicious dinner before an early night as the alarm must be set for 5.30am!!!!! Small pool with stunning views Friday 23rd June When??!! 5.30 am Pitch black and with a sky full of stars we dress and shuffle to breakfast. Gently raising our eyelids and sanity, it's amazing what coffee can do, we load into a Safari vehicle with a guide who introduces himself as Max. There are six of us, two Italians and two from somewhere in the Antipodes by their accents. The light is just beginning to lift and as we leave the camp we see a herd of Springbok, beautiful creatures. Within another 6 miles still on the sand road a Zebra stallion rushes across with his harem of ladies, as the girls hide within the trees and bushes he turns to watch us pass and makes a fine photo for me. We turn off-road now and see Ostrich in the distance and drive for over an hour through wide dry river beds, we see such greenery, but no water. When the rains came 3 months ago the water above land finally dried up, but under ground the trees and shrubbery feed and live healthily because of their root system. Namibia hasn't had an appreciable amount of rainfall since 2011 but this year they had a better than average lot in January and February. How they survive, I just don't quite understand. We go through a couple of small villages, perhaps twenty homes in each, but more importantly with water pumps run by solar panels and large water tanks. The Namibian government has successfully educated the villagers how important tourism is to the country. So a reciprocal facility works. The government help the villagers by providing the water tanks and solar panels so a two way system can work. The people get water for the village and their animals, ( they raise cattle, goats and chickens) and it also provides water for the passing Elephants. So the Elephants drink happily and leave the villagers in peace. But importantly tourists visit to see the Elephants and bring employment and vital income to the local economy. Namibia is a huge beautiful country and can only benefit if the infrastructure builds accordingly. So now it's gone 8am and we've been travelling for an hour and a half, tracking Elephant. We've seen all the usual signs and we know they have been in this area very recently. Peter and I are becoming ace trackers since our Botswana visit earlier this trip. It's amazing what you learn about Elephant dung! The river bed we are driving through is very lush with greenery and there are large black items moving on our right. Wow! Elephants, there are three of them feeding on the trees around us, then two more, then a mother and her baby. Max tells us the baby was born on Valentines Day last year and the slightly bigger baby one close by is the youngster the mother had six years ago. How fabulous. We slowly watch them and photograph every angle for the next hour as Max gently manoeuvres the vehicle close to them without upsetting them. But they are utterly peaceful and quite used to the couple of vehicles that frequent this area. But they are wild animals. This is not a penned in National park, this is just part of Northern Namibia, open completely to anyone. It's just a matter of knowing where these gorgeous beasts are to just sit and appreciate them. Six year old on left, 16 month old on right. Some of the many Ellie's we watch. On returning to camp smiling at the wonderful morning we've had we then spend the afternoon by the pool, amidst the rocks enjoying the sunshine 30C is perfection. Then it's the sundowner habit once more. 5pm means Cocktails, sunshine and chatter amongst nationalities. Again then we pack, it's a fine art that takes minutes, change and head down to dinner watching the huge array of stars that is the Milky Way as we go. There is a fire pit to sit around, a fabulous lounge to enjoy before once more, at a ridiculously early hour we go to bed. Tomorrow we move further north. The wonderful bar overlooking stunning scenery.
  4. 1) Name of property and country: Grootberg Lodge, Namibia 2) Website address if known: 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). Green season, February, 2015 4) Length of stay: 2 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? I read fantastic reports on TA about this property, their amazing view and their Himba tour. 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? I did the initial research an then contacted Discover Namibia. 7) How many times have you been on Safari? 4 times 8) To which countries? South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia. 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? None 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? No, we were warned to be careful 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 16 cabins 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? We had a triple room with a breathtaking view over the valley. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? The rooms were comfortable and simply furnished. We enjoyed our time mainly at the communal area enjoying the views, drinks and snacks. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. The food was fantastic and we left we recipes. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) Yes there were different things on offer. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? Single tables, no hosting. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Very good and sufficient. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. Open 4WD. 19) How many guests per row? Up to 3 in each row. 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? Game drives were varied and depended on where we wanted to visit. We only went on a Himba tour which was approximately 5/6 hours. 21) What are the standard game drive times? Are game drive times flexible: i.e., if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, i.e., not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? Drives were concentrated mainly in the early mornings but they could be all day affairs if trekking rhino or elephants. 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? Very little activity in the area 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? 24) Are you able to off-road? yes 25) Are there rotation policies for sightings i.e., You face the risk of queuing or being bumped from a sighting. N/A 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings. Excellent desert adapted elephants and rhino. 27) How was the standard of guiding? Excellent 28) If you had a bad experience with a guide, why? Did you report the issue to management, and if so, how did they deal with the issue? N/A 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: Friendly, helpful, informative. 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? The staff were extremely helpful and happy during our stay. They genuinely seemed happy to assist, were proactive in their duties and enjoyed the guests company. 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Yes, it is run by the conservancy and all money raised goes back to the people. 32) Safaritalk trip report link: 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: Grootberg Lodge offers by far the best and most professional service of any of the lodges that I visited in Namibia (and I visited 15!). This is evident as soon as you enter the property. The view is to die for and makes you easily forget the "interesting" drive up to the camp. The food/service/staff/rooms are fantastic. We loved our tour to the Himba Village and would thoroughly recommend this, our guides were brilliant too! The views from the communal area were the highlight of our stay and just sitting down with a sundowner makes you question why Namibia is not busier with so many brilliant places/experiences/animals. Thank you to all the staff who assisted us during our stay. 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings.
  5. Reports To read the full article click here.
  6. ~ This pair of articles from the U.K. Guardian discuss the ancient lineage of elephants, incluging pygmy elephants on Mediterranean islands and 4-tusked elephants on the Arabian Peninsula. As mega-herbivores and keystone species, elephant survival is critical, despite the ongoing threats of habitat loss and poaching for ivory.
  7. ~ This article from Vanderbilt University explains the WIPER technology for tracking elephant poachers. It utilizes shockwave detection technology to detect bullets, sending an alarm to rangers. Based on ballistic shockwave sensors in elephant collars, it detects the firing of muzzled high-powered weapons. Based on a grant from Vodafone, it will be made freely available as open source software to collar manufacturers.
  8. Trip report to CAR and Cameroon.pdf I just returned from a very special trips to one of the most amazing places I've ever visited: Dzangha-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic. It's a long report because it has a LOT of info about the animals we saw, and some about animals we missed. It's totally different from your typical Eastern/Southern African Safari, and there is almost no overlap in the species you see. What an amazing place. I just have to note something very important for anyone considering going to Dzanga-Sangha: It's SAFE! Yes, the Central African Republic is considered a War Zone, but it's only in the North, 100s of miles from this reserve, and from the amazing Sangha Lodge. You should get there via flight from Bangui or Yaounde, or by driving the long and turtourous road from Yaounde to Libongo. But once you get there, it's more safe than the USA has been over the past few years, with all the shootings etc... Enjoy :-)
  9. I have been doing safaris in India since 1990. But never thought i would get so lucky ever. It was December 2014, i was searching for Wild Elephants in Dudhwa National Park. Saw them at a distance of about 50 meters, it was late evening, dipping light, mist did not help, and i started to take photographs. Suddenly noticed some crouching movement between myself and the Elephants, Focussed and i could not believe my luck, a Tiger. he was stalking the baby elephant, maybe a month old, and the cow Elephant was very cautious. The Elephants would trumpet, try to scare the Tiger away, but he remained focussed, with a mission possessed, and did not leave his ground. Having watched the scene for over 20 minutes we had to leave the park as the safari time had come to a close. Left with a heavy and a praying heart that God save the baby. I left Dudhwa after 2 days, it was only after 7 days that my driver called and said, "' Sir the baby is safe, and i saw him today during the safari", was i releaved would be an understatement. Sharing the images here. Detailed article titled The Dudhwa Drama on below link
  10. After a few days rest it was time to venture out and see what splendours Ol Pejeta had in store for me. Well, those splendours were, an abundance of young. The were Zebra foals and Buffalo calves everywhere. Impala & Defassa Waterbuck were also breeding well, and as a friend at camp said, "this is good news for the Cheetah". Not a thought that sprang readily to mind, but I understood what he meant. That said, I never saw a cheetah during my time here, though I did hear they were being seen. With the dense croton/whistling thorn bush which covers a lot of Ol Pejeta seeing the cats was never going to be easy. That said, my first drive gave me my only sighting of Lions. Two big males, which made up for any other lack of sightings. They were lying out in the open about thirty meters apart enjoying the early morning sun before it became too hot. Night drives were more successful, with lions being seen quite regularly as well as Hyena. One night at camp the call of a Hyena was so loud I instantly thought it must be very close to camp. Curiosity got the better of me and with torch in hand I headed off to the far end of camp where the call came from. As I shone the torch into the bush the waterbuck, which move close to camp at night for safety, were very agitated. They suddenly moved away in that delightful trotting way they do, then suddenly there he was. The Hyena appeared from behind a bush moving across the line of the waterhole and slowly vanished into the darkness. The waterbuck settled down again and calm was restored. Ol Pejeta was very dry, but the rains were due, and with this in mind the Elephants had started to appear in good numbers. Back from their migratory wanderings on Mt Kenya and the Laikipia plateau, they too had many young among them. I was fortunate, no blessed, to see Elephants on every game drive I took. One memorable moment was when a youngster about 3/4 years showed great bravado in threatening us with mock charges. He did this several times then retreated behind a large bush. He would then peer from behind the bush at us, and as we had not taken the hint, he would repeat the scenario again. On the last charge his mother moved from where she was feeding passing behind us to feed on another bush across the road. On seeing his mother move off his bravado melted away as did he into the bush. Back at camp the resident Egyptian Geese had nine very young gosling, and I found myself counting them each day to make sure they were all safe, as there was a rather persistent Pallid Harrier taking an unhealthy interest in them. He appeared regularly through out the day, but after three days I never saw him again. An African Harrier Hawk made a brief appearance one afternoon but was chased off by a mob of starlings. I was becoming a little apprehensive about the survival of all nine goslings, though mum and dad showed great courage in the face of the Pallid Harrier. Every time he appeared, swooping low the goslings instinctively took cover and mum & dad reared up, wings spread out and Honking their contempt at his audacity to think he would be getting an easy meal. The small guy's were showing a lot of courage around the waterhole and on another occasion three Pied crows saw off a Tawney Eagle that had come a little too close to camp for their liking. Watch this space for news on Ol Pejeta's stars & more..................
  11. First time poster from California. Planning a first African Safari trip for my mom and I for 2018. We have traveled to Europe a number of times and China once and I always do my own planning, determining the itinerary, booking hotels (used Trip Advisor reviews to help me decide), figuring out where we may need advance reservations, booking flights and trains (although a few times I have used an agency to help with the in country travel or rail pass prior to leaving the USA). We are fairly laid back, love to see natural beauty, experience different cultures, historical sites, architecture, etc. We like to experience different modes of transportation but we don't want to ride any animals. We try our best to learn customs of the country we are going to so we do not unintentionally offend someone. Planning a trip is half the fun for me. We have a list of must-sees based on what we feel is important to us but we also like to have room to "play it by ear" and do things that we learn about once we are in country. We also like to have some down time to just relax and enjoy being where we are. And while on the trip I take lots of photos (Canon SX280 ) and journal almost every day to capture all the sights and emotions of these new places and experiences and make a digital scrapbook when I get home. Budget is always a concern. I don't select the lowest just because it's the lowest but I go for total value of what I am getting for the $$ spent. While we want our lodging to be safe and comfortable, we prefer fun and quirky (especially if it is a part of the cultural experience) over a standard hotel. We grew up camping for our family vacations but are at an age where we prefer to at least have a soft bed and flush toilets en suite (figuring the permanent camps over the mobile camping for us and are okay with a lodge if it's small). I have had to prioritize and compromise knowing that I cannot afford everything I want to do but am blessed with the traveling I have been able to do. As I have been researching for our trip to Africa, I am feeling a little overwhelmed and very concerned about the costs. Here are some things we do know about what we are looking for and questions we could use some guidance on: 1) Budget is important and we need to be wise in how and where we spend it. Ideally we would like to have 15 nights in Africa and spend no more than $4,000 - 5,000 for lodging/full board/guides/tips assuming it will be another $2,000 or so for international flights and in country travel (total costs around or under 6-7K and the lower the better). We are open to review this if the overall experience is going to be a lot better if we can spend some more. Do we go off season for longer nights or locations that would be out of our budget otherwise? Originally, my thought was 4 nights at 2 reserves, 3 nights at another reserve and 2 or 3 nights at/near Victoria Falls (as we would like to see it - natural beauty). So a total of 14-15 nights as I think we need to stay one night in Johannesburg before heading out on safari. Work-wise, it is better for me to travel either in the month of August or anytime from late September through the end of February but would prefer to avoid being gone over the US Thanksgiving holiday (late November) or over the Christmas holiday. 2) For this trip, wildlife viewing is our number 1 priority with our top 5 being lots of elephants, giraffe, lions, monkeys (any type) and zebra. Next would probably be rhinos, hippos, leopard, cheetah, antelope and buffalo. We enjoy birds too but that is not as big a priority. If we go in the wet season, would we still see a lot of wildlife? Is it just a matter of being more strategic in which locations we stay at? What would you recommend? Originally, I was thinking Botswana and Zimbabwe before I was told that Botswana is very expensive. So, I am trying to decide what's the best places for the viewing and experiences we want. 3) We would like to go to reserves that are not full of large groups of tourists and vehicles. We know these are probably going to be more expensive and eat up our budget both for the full board and the transportation to get there but that is where we could use advice on which ones are worth it and the best time to go to get the wildlife viewing for the best value in costs. 4) We would like some opportunities to get out of the vehicles and be on foot or on the water. We want our camps to be more permanent so not looking to be out all day and overnight camping but want the opportunity to explore the reserves and view wildlife from a vehicle, on foot or from a boat/canoe. 5) We want to sleep in a comfortable bed and want our toilet to be en suite. We don't need fancy or luxury but we do want comfortable and if it has a fun personality or decor, an added bonus. And, great, friendly staff is a huge plus but reading many comments on this site it sounds like that is the norm of the people we will encounter. 6) While my mom will eat most anything offered, I have Celiac and cannot eat anything with gluten or dairy. They make me ill. I will have medications with me to help but would prefer accommodations where they will work with me. 7) We have no problem getting up early or needing to walk a lot as long as we are not trekking uphill for miles. We live near the coast of California so we are used to fairly mild temperatures year round. My home does not have air conditioning as the few days it gets hot enough that you wish you had it, it still cools down at night. Dry heat in the 80s should be fine but hotter or if humid, then I might start wilting. 8) Booking everything - Is it better to use one agency to book everything or try to do it on our own? Or a mixture? We don't want to get in country and have issues that take up time to resolve. For my mom, I think she prefers we use an agency that will handle everything but will that add significantly to our costs? If an agency, would you use one from the USA (where we live) or use one from one of the countries we will be traveling to? Remember, this is our first time to southern Africa (we have been to Marrakech, Morocco but from the airport we had a driver the riad we were staying at arrange to get us to the city center and then we just walked, took a taxi or took a bus). 9) What am I missing? Am I off the mark? Are there other things I should be considering? 10) Itinerary options: Where would you spend 3 nights, where should we try and spend 4 nights? Option A) 1 reserve in Botswana (Chobe?), 1 reserve in Zimbabwe (Huange or Mana Pools?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?), private reserve in Krueger, South Africa Option B ) 1 reserve in Botswana (Chobe?), 2 reserves in Zimbabwe (Huange and Mana Pools or ?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?) Option C) 2 reserves in Zimbabwe (Huange and Mana Pools or ?), in or near Victoria Falls (stay in town or on a reserve?), private reserve in Krueger, South Africa Option D) Other suggestions from those of you who have traveled to southern Africa I know this was a lot so I appreciate you reading through and thank you in advance for your advice based on your experiences and understanding what we are looking for.
  12. In January, 4 new elephants were shot down by poachers at Zakouma National Park, Chad. But as the title of the articule states, Zakouma is one of APN best conservation story.
  13. This is a fascinating article about what could someday be an incredible safari destination. When I met Rod Cassidy who was literally the one man that I wanted to meet more than ever in the whole world I was quite struck by his honesty. He admitted that the game viewing was too uncertain and the flight too long and expensive to justify visiting Chinko. I think that like Zakouma,it would pair very well with Dzsanga-Sangha Special Reserve. However,in all probability it will probably take a minimum of 10 years and more like 20 before it's a possibility. The first thing that has to happen is that the Central African Republic needs to become more stable,and the civil war has to end. I have to say that I'm happy that African Parks is dedicated to saving it.As Rod explained to me,African parks will not support an area unless hunting is ended.
  14. Recent update on my research in the Greater Kruger National Park: "In South Africa, Protected Areas managers and tourists alike are concerned that our expanding elephant population will negatively affect the number and structure of iconic tree species such as the Marula (Sclerocarya birrea). Elephants Alive were approached by South Africa National Parks (SANParks) in 2012 to discuss methods which could be used to keep elephants out of particular areas where certain landscape features such as tall trees needed to be preserved as part of the biodiversity objectives of SANParks..." Read more here:
  15. This report relates mainly to my ten day stay in March this year. I have included pictures, scans of slides, made in May 1998 during a business trip as well as those taken in September 2000 during a ten day stay. In 1998, I spent only one night in Hwange and I completely forgotten where it was (nothing unforgettable, I guess ?). I made one game drive from Main Camp to Robin’s Camp. I saw a lot of elephants and hippos. The following pictures were taken somewhere between Sinamatela and Robin. If I remember rightly, ten days in high season, even with better viewing conditions (less vegetation and no tall grass), sixteen years ago, were not better than ten days in green season, nowadays, but this is only my opinion.
  16. Samburu in July, after the rains, is a proverbial garden of Eden. The landscape changes dramatically from being semi arid into a verdant oasis with an abundance of grasses & foliage for the game to feed upon.The Elephant herds which left the area at the height of the dry season return, their numbers bolstered by new born calves, and even the greater Kudu come down from the surrounding hills. The whole reserve springs into life and at this time the birdlife is prolific. During a morning game drive we picked up on the smell of a dead animal. We were following a track which ran parallel with the river. The smell was getting stronger the further along we drove. The breeze was coming from the rivers direction so we followed a track that looped and took us closer to the river. Stopping half way we could see in a small open area the cause of the smell. There were two of them, big males, feeding leisurely. One had his head inside of the victims underbelly while the other was feeding on a large piece of meat. The Lion on, or should I say in, the kill started backing away pulling a large piece of flesh from within the victims belly. His light coloured mane was darkened with the blood of the young Elephant. It must have been several days since they had made the kill but they had devoured most of the abdomen, in contrast their bellies were bulging. We returned the next day, and as we approached we could see the top of an Elephants head & back. We stopped in the same spot and the Elephant, a female, was standing just to the right of the dead Elephant, swaying slightly side to side. We could not see the lions anywhere, we assumed she must have chased them away. After about fifteen minutes she raised her trunk into the air in our direction, was she picking up on our scent or could she still smell the Lions? Suddenly she let out an enormous trumpeting and half charged towards us. We were at least 3meters above where she was, was it us she was angry with? No, it was the Lions who were right below us in the scrub. She trumpeted again and this time charged in earnest. The two Lions appeared at speed from beneath us running off through the bush to the right. The Elephant did not pursue them but turned and walked slowly to where the dead Elephant lay, her trunk reaching out towards the lifeless body. By chance I looked towards the rear of our vehicle and saw one of the Lions appear from the bush. He walked around the rear of the vehicle and as he did he defecated, rather loosely, no doubt because of the shock of the Elephant charge and the close call it was. The other Lion appeared from the bushes a little further back and they both moved off together, no doubt to return later as there was still a lot of meat on the carcass. The Elephant must have been the dead calf's mother. Standing over her youngster she gently touched and meticulously examined every inch of what remained. It was such a sad scene and she looked so forlorn. We felt like we were intruding so we left her to mourn as only Elephants do. Over the next few days the remains of the carcass was devoured and the Vultures did the rest.
  17. I've been making this point repeatedly in many discussions about legalisation of ivory and rhino horn trade. It's nice to see that proper research from two highly regarded university confirms my points. Prof Christopher Alden, at the London School of Economics, who is not involved on the new analysis, said: “The linkage [of the 2008 sale] with the surge in poaching is a sound one based on rigorous scholarly research.”e said it was true that the elephant poaching crisis in east Africa has yet to hit southern Africa as hard, but that it was very likely to do so if a new sale was allowed: “[The proposal] is deeply disingenuous and one which flies in the face of the contemporary moves by China and the US to shut down the market for ivory.” The new analysis was possible because poachers do not hide or destroy the carcasses of the elephants they poach. “It’s not worth the trouble,” said Hsiang. “So they’ve basically left us a complete and visible record of their activity.” The 2008 ivory sale also corresponded with a 70% rise in the seizures of illegal ivory. The surges in poaching and seizures occurred right across Africa and the researchers checked for other factors that might have been involved, such as an increase in Chinese workers in Africa or rising affluence in China or Japan. “We looked for alternative explanations in the data, but the best evidence still indicates that the legal sale exacerbated the destruction of elephant populations across Africa,” Sekar said. A guardian article about it, and a link to the original article.
  18. Good luck to Kenisa Adrobiago and Park Manager Erik Mararv and peace for the 3 remarquable park rangers who passed away yesterday. APN shows a lot of courage to protect Garamba.
  19. Their numbers plummeting due to poaching, elephants have become a cause du jour for Hollywood, fashion and the art world luminaries.
  20. I was coming from Selinda. As my stay in Great Plains two camps exceeded six days, I had the advantage of a helicopter transfer, a thirty-five minutes flight at very low altitude, with some showers on the way. Duba was the fourth and last stopping place of a three weeks trip in Zimbabwe and Botswana. It was my first trip since October 2014 and after a year 2015 to forget, due to serious health problems. Thus far, I had never been in Africa in March, it was my first green season safari and my first visit to Duba . Throughout the trip, thunder storms and rains were present until they abruptly stop the day after I arrived in Duba. I was one of the last guests. Indeed, at the moment, the full demolition of the camp is in progress and construction of a new, that will open on April 10, is nearing completion a few hundred meters further. The priority concern of Great Plains is the Guest. He is king. In this context, game drive times are extremely flexible. Secondly, their policy is to allocate , to the extent possible, a vehicle by visiting entity (family, small group or individual). In fact, it is almost a private vehicle included in the daily rate. I was lucky, the guide that was allocated to me was Vundi. Indeed he was by far the best of all those present during my stay. The first two days, Dereck and Beverly Joubert were in the camp and as, at mealtimes, it is communal dining, it was an opportunity to discuss with them about many issues related to wildlife conservation. Duba is a unique place, the scenery like nowhere else. Despite the absence, of the fact that it is an island, of a number of species, this place is really mesmerizing. On the island, there are no cheetahs, or wild dogs, or zebras, or wildebeests, or black-backed jackals, or elands, or giraffes, or roan and sable antelopes, or ostriches. It was the first time that I visited a place without impalas and that was rather disconcerting. Red lechwes and warthogs are in great number and lions and elephants, the stars. There are also, in broad daylight, a lot of hippos on the ground, as many as in the water. It was a moment question of introducing white rhinos but the project was canceled, perhaps because all the guarantees of their safety and protection were not met.
  21. We were spending a couple of nights at Mt lodge on the slopes of Mt Kenya. It is primarily a night viewing lodge where you can stay up, all night if you wish, to see the game that comes and goes through-out the night. There are no game drives here, but they do have nature & bird walks. Being relatively keen birders we opted for the latter. It was on our morning bird walk that we had a rather close encounter with Elephants. Escorted by an armed ranger, our guide & we set off on our bird walk which followed the main road from the lodge to the gate. Over a couple of hours we saw a myriad of colourful mountain bird life. It had been quite a long walk so we decided to take a rest, and as we did we noticed our vehicle parked just off the road. The guide had arranged for our driver and some staff to bring tea, coffee & cake down and set it up just of the road in a small clearing. It was a most welcome surprise after what had become a rather hot morning. We sat chatting to the guide about the flora & fauna of the area, when the ranger slowly got to his feet, his head slightly tilted to the side as if straining to hear something. He signalled to us to get up slowly and make our way back to the vehicle. As we did, we heard the sound of bushes rustling with the solitary crack of a breaking twig. It was about 15 meters back to the vehicle, though it seemed more like 1500 in the circumstances. Then, as we set off, a young Elephant went crashing through the bushes just behind where we had been sitting and on into the forest. We now quickened our pace & as we did another young Elephant came through chasing after the other one. Safely back in the vehicle we looked back, the ranger was just approaching the vehicle, and we saw the remainder of the Elephants pass through where we had been only moments earlier sitting having a quite cup of tea. As things calmed down the ranger climbed into the vehicle with a big smile on his face. A few years later; the same walk, the same road: We had walked a lot further this time, and after we had enjoyed our tea & cake, in a more open area next to the road, we prepared to walk back. My wife was not too keen on that so she went with our driver & the staff in the vehicle. As the vehicle left we started walking. The ranger was about 20/30 meters ahead of us, and we were discussing what we would do that afternoon. It never ceases to amaze me how sensitive the rangers are to their surroundings. About half way back to the lodge the ranger stopped, put up his hand, his palm facing us to tell us to do likewise. We starred hard along the road but could not see anything, but after last time I had a healthy respect for the rangers ability to detect danger. Suddenly a big female Elephant stepped out of the bushes ahead of us on the right. She stopped half way across the road starring long and hard in our direction, her trunk raised; taking in all the smells she could muster, trying to discern what was there. A young calf then appeared from the bush and stood beside her. The ranger now raised his rifle pointing it into the air, this was purely precautionary. Satisfied it was safe, the Elephant moved on across the road calf in tow, and letting out a low rumbling sound she signalling to the rest of the herd to follow. Out they came, dozens of them, scampering across the road before us. We waited 15/20 minutes before moving cautiously on. The remainder of our walk back was cautious but mostly uneventful. Don’t you just love Africa.
  22. I'm always keen to draw attention to some of Africa's less familiar parks so I thought I'd post this about a park that is sadly on the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites under threat. While looking on YouTube for videos of Zakouma NP I came across this amazing French film “La Rivieres des Lions, la Gounda” Gounda the River of Lions filmed in Manovo Gounda St Floris NP just to the south of Zakouma over the border in northern CAR. Ever since I first read about this park many years ago in a copy of the East African Wildlife Society’s magazine Swara I’ve wanted to go there as much as anything to look for Derby’s “giant” eland. Almost constant instability has made this part of CAR pretty much off limits or at least very difficult to visit and has allowed poachers particularly from Sudan free reign to destroy the areas wildlife. The once very abundant but now entirely extinct western black rhinos were wiped out some time ago and elephants have been receiving a severe hammering from the Janjaweed horsemen from Sudan so just how many elephants are left there now I’m really not sure. Quite what the situation is as far as the other species is concerned I’m not sure either but I fear that in the recent chaos most of the wildlife will have been lost to meat poaching I really hope this is not the case. There is no doubt also a severe problem with illegal grazing which can only have got worse in recent years. Perhaps one day peace will be restored to CAR and the country will have a proper government for once, then maybe if there is some wildlife left this once glorious national park can be restored and protected like Zakouma now is.The following film which is entirely in French is dated 1998 so it just goes to show what an amazing place Manovo Gounda St Floris NP still was very recently and I hope could be again one day.
  23. 1) Name of property and country: (Please also include name of property and country as topic title and include as tags as well) Tawi Lodge, Tawi Conservancy (near Amboseli National Park), Kenya 2) Website address if known: 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). February 2016 4) Length of stay: 3 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? Recommended to me by safari planner. I wanted to visit Amboseli, no idea where I wanted to say. 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? Safari planner did all the work 7) How many times have you been on Safari? This was my third 8) To which countries? Tanzania and Kenya, one time each prior 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? Ngorongoro Farmhouse, Maramboi Tented Camp in TZ. Nothing comparable on my last Kenya visit (all Porini camps) 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? Yes, fenced 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 12 "bandas" or thatched-roofed cottages 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? All bandas have a view of Kilimanjaro from the bed and bath. There was a banda behind mine, in the sense they'd have to walk along my deck area to get to theirs. Other than overnight security checks, I heard no one outside my banda. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? Very comfortable: overstuffed chairs in front of fireplace, large queen sized bed, soaker tub, waterfall shower, toilet, double-sinks in bathroom, porch with lounge chairs and deck area. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. I LOVED THE FOOD. I'm a vegetarian and Tawi had some of the freshest, most creative, vegetarian options I've had anywhere, let alone Kenya. Most veg are grown on site, and they sundry their own tomatoes. Every meal was wonderful. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) It was a set menu. Yes, they catered to vegetarian, unsure of other diets. I requested this in advance through my safari planner. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? Single tables. Manager was around most of the time, socializing with guests. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Did not have any meals out on game drives. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. Typical Land-Rovers, open sides, canopy top (could open fully if we wanted), three rows of seats 19) How many guests per row? 2 in the first row 2 rows behind driver, 3 in the last row 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? I would go out 6:15-10 and again 4-6:30 (Amboseli closes at 6:30, you have to be heading out then) Drive through the conservancy back to camp lasted 10-15 minutes, unless wildlife encountered. 21) What are the standard game drive times? Are game drive times flexible: i.e., if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, i.e., not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? I’m assuming they are the hours I went out. I never asked to stay out all day or longer. 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? It is a private concession, and when on it, I never saw any other vehicles or lodges. 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? I was surprised in Amboseli how few other vehicles I saw. On one elephant crossing, maybe two others, but most of the time we were alone. On one rare lioness sighting where there were 7 vehicles total. 24) Are you able to off-road? Not in the park, but yes in the conservancy. 25) Are there rotation policies for sightings i.e., You face the risk of queuing or being bumped from a sighting. It never came up, unsure. 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? Elephants, elephants, elephants. Amazing sightings and encounters. Closer than I ever anticipated without even trying (they would pass right next to the vehicle). Some plains game in the National Park was good. Some giraffes and native elephants outside of the lodge on the conservancy and a bunch of "regulars" who would show up to the lodge's private watering hole every day around mealtimes. Three elephants in particular came around at almost every mealtime. 27) How was the standard of guiding? Excellent. 28) If you had a bad experience with a guide, why? Did you report the issue to management, and if so, how did they deal with the issue? None 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: I thought Julius knew the elephant families and habits extremely well, which worked to my advantage. He could tell what family was what from quite a ways. He also knows where to find other wildlife if you're interested. He's very aware of how to position a vehicle for good light, for wildlife crossings and for interactions that he sees coming that I don't. I was very happy with the guiding and my time in ANP. Also very knowledgeable about elephant behavior. Despite my reassurance that I don't need to see cats, he really tried to find them. We did see a lioness. Four cheetahs were spotted on the far side of Amboseli by other guests, but I opted not to drive that far hoping to see them. 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? Extremely so. They were very friendly to me as a single traveler, engaging with me to feel welcome and entertained but not overdoing it. 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Tawi Lodge is on its own conservancy (Tawi - Kilitome Conservancy) that is a result of a joint partnership with African Wildlife Foundation. 32) Safaritalk trip report link: 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: Outside of game rides, you can do nature walks with the guides, or have massages/spa treatments. I took them up on neither, choosing instead to read/nap on my back porch or deck. Menno, the manager at Tawi, is a rock star. Extremely friendly, a joy to sit and talk to over a G&T at the bar, accommodating and resourceful. He's someone I'd want to be friends with in non-safari life. This lodge was a bit more plush/luxe than what I thought I wanted. I really thought I wanted to be out in the mobile tents, bucket showering it up and being right in the middle of the wildlife. This is just as in the middle of wildlife, but with all the comforts of home. No wifi, don't even think about it. And I say that as a positive, not a negative. 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings. Elephant at watering hole near pool/dining/firepit area -- photo from the lunch table Pre-dawn Kilimanjaro from my private deck:
  24. Hardly a day goes by without another depressing story about the plight of Africa's elephants. Elephant numbers across Africa are declining at an alarming rate under the onslaught of ivory poachers yet one National Park, Zimbabwe's Hwange NP, faces an entirely different problem; its elephant population just keeps on growing. But what, on the face of it, might appear to be good news has become, in fact, an equally serious problem; one that is as much a threat to the elephants' long term survival as ivory poaching. To make matters worse, after successive years of poor rainfall, 2016 is shaping up to be an even drier year and Hwange is facing the very real prospect of drought. To get a better understanding of the situation facing this iconic Zimbabwean park I sought out someone who knows the park and its history better than most; Mark 'Butch' Butcher, Director of Imvelo Safari Lodges. Mark Butcher Butch’s wildlife career started in 1979, when he became a ranger for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. He completed a BSc in Zoology and Botany at Rhodes University, before moving on to work for Zimbabwe’s Forestry Commission. As Provincial Wildlife Officer, Butch was responsible for all the wildlife that roamed within 1.8-million acres of indigenous forest. Whilst undertaking this enormous task, he quickly discovered how essential the local people’s support was to the well-being of the estate. Butch began to develop programs that would both engage the people and benefit the natural ecosystems. He finally left the Commission to develop these initiatives from the other side of the fence. Butch’s lifelong passion for Hwange – it’s elephants, wildlife and communities – formed the cornerstone for Imvelo Safari Lodges to grow into what it is today. MD How many elephant are there in Hwange? MB There's 44,000 according to last year's aerial count done by Elephants Without Borders, using rock solid techniques and for the first time ever we counted at the same time as Botswana counted. MD So there was no chance of them being double counted if they moved between the two countries? MB Well, they don't move that much within a month but there was always that doubt. Anyway the number they came up with, rock solid, 44,000. In fact we, all the old Hwange hands said we had in the low 40's so it concurs with what we expected. MD The natural follow up question to that is: “How many should there be? How many can the habitat sustain? MB Every single person has a different theory about it. When Ted Davison came to work here - he came in 1928, prior to that the area had been hunted by informal ivory hunters - he said he had about 500 elephants. If you extrapolate the very good data that we have now, if you extrapolate backwards, we think that there were actually closer to 1,000 elephants when Ted Davison came to work here. So the question is, 'is that the number there should be here?' When I was a young ranger in the early 80's we used to have – don't quote me on the exact number – approximately 30,000 – 35,000 elephants here in Hwange. Heavy elephant culling in the early 1980's – for better or for worse that's what was done in the old days – got the numbers down to about 14,000. It was a massive programme; it was argued a lot but, right or wrong, that's what was done. Hwange used to work quite well when the numbers were between 14,000 and 20,000. I used to hang around water holes and the pumped water was enough: there wasn't congestion and the other animals used to flourish; we had a lot more sable and a lot more buffalo then. We had young trees, young acacia trees. Now, as you drive around the park you'll see, we have a lot of very big trees and a lot of very, very small ones and nothing in between. Our woodlands are in an absolute nose-dive. Back then I have heard it argued that we should have elephants at one per square mile, which would be 5,000 elephants because Hwange is 5,000 square miles, or one per square kilometre, which is 14,000 elephants. But clearly 44,000 is unsustainable. So what do we do about it? MD Hwange and its wildlife depends on the pumps for water. When you drive around you see there's no vegetation close to the pumps, it's like little bits of desert. The pumps create an artificial habitat. If the pumps weren't there would there be any water? And if not, what would the animals do? MB I try to rationalise it a lot. I put myself in Ted Davison's shoes. If you read Ted Davison's book; here's a young ranger, one of Africa's five great rangers of the colonial period. When Ted Davison came to work here he had a couple of lines drawn on a map; this was his park. He walked around in here for donkey's years and he had the local San people - there were a couple of families of San people lived here - he had them show him around and what he found out within a few years of arriving here was that there was no permanent surface water in Hwange. So he had this huge “game reserve” with no year round water supply. So what used to happen was that the wildlife that was here during the wet season would migrate out of the park during the dry season. What started to happen for him in the early 30's as a young ranger he saw he was looking after his animals, he was stopping the uncontrolled hunting, he was getting on top of things but every year his animals would migrate out and when they migrated out the next rainy season when they came back there were fewer and there were lots of them wounded and there were all kinds of major issues because what was happening during the same period was that human populations were building up around the park. So, he decided to put some windmills in to pump water in the dry season so that his animals wouldn't have to migrate out and then he could look after them; they would be in his protection year round. It worked brilliantly, maybe better than he ever expected. He started putting windmills and, slowly but surely, elephants started staying and flourishing. Gradually they became sedentary. By the 1960's his windmills weren't keeping up; they weren't pumping enough water because the elephant population so increased. I say elephants but it wasn't just the elephants; elephants, buffalo, giraffe, all the wildlife flourished under his stewardship and he started pumping more and more water. Then his windmills couldn't keep up and he had to start using engines. By the late 1960's we had this huge conservation success story where the elephant population has been taken from between 500 – 1,000 up to 20,000. We've got people flying from all over the world to see Hwange's wildlife but it's essentially all artificial; it's all pumped. Fast forward now to the 1980's. The elephant population is still flourishing. When I was a young ranger here we had 60-70 water pumps and a huge elephant population. So back then, the powers that be and the ecologists said we needed to cull. So they culled the elephant population back down. Then the culling was stopped because by 1992 there was an ivory ban, no trade in ivory, ivory couldn't be sold to fund the culling, which was a good thing. We had the elephant population down to where we wanted it. Come back to the early 2000's and what we've got is an elephant population that has blossomed. Not only has our local population increased but we've drawn in elephants from Botswana and the population is back up around the low 30,000's and at the same time the Department of National Parks and Wildlife is going into a nose-dive financially because of the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar. So now they can't fund their operations. By now we've already started Bomani Lodge which has been our pipe-dream to get lodges on the periphery of the park. We're in the south east corner of the park, we have a small waterhole by our camp, we have a couple of hundred elephant come to drink each day and the whole thing is starting to come together. Suddenly, in the dry season of 2002, probably about June/July of that year, I suddenly had a monstrous influx of elephants come pouring into our waterholes, literally thousands. I had 2 or 3 thousand elephants arrive to come and drink at a waterhole where previously we'd had a couple of hundred. Knowing what was going on in the park I said “I know what's happened, they've switched the water off inside the park.” I went deeper into the park, down along the old pumps runs I used to do as a young ranger and sure enough they'd all been abandoned. Clearly this wasn't something I could walk away from. I couldn't just let these animals die, nor could I let them devastate the area around our camp. I had to do something; so we started pumping the water to buy ourselves breathing space until we could get on top of things. I know full well that pumping water is not the answer, because we've created an artificial system. My problem today is that I've been handed this artificial situation and what do we do with it? People say “you should do this and you should do that”. One of the options that are on the table is to turn off some of the waterholes. Now I know from experience that turning off just a few of the waterholes doesn't achieve anything because the elephants just move. They just crowd the others, they go to waterholes that are being pumped. What you do kill is animals like warthogs and baboons that have become dependent on certain waterholes and don't know where the other waterholes are. They are not migratory. So, turning off a few waterholes doesn't work. What we're faced with is we have to turn off ALL the waterholes or nothing. MD Are there people who argue that would be a more natural state of affairs? MB Yes. What is interesting and which follows on from that is; we could recreate the old Hwange with 500 – 1,000 elephant, 2-3 prides of lions, half a pack of wild dogs, 2-3 cheetah, 10 sable, 5 giraffe. But what would happen is that there would be no tourism. Whether we like it or not, Africa's game reserves, National Parks and wildlife survive on the back of tourism. If there is tourism and tourism dollars coming into an area there is a moral justification to the people of Africa of why they should set aside land for wildlife. In the absence of the animals, why would people come to Hwange? They wouldn't come. So there would be no tourism dollar and people would think: “Why don't we just open up the area for grazing our cattle? Why don't we just kill those 5 sable because we're bloody hungry?” And we would lose Hwange National Park. The second thing is that we've spent a lot of time developing the communities around the park to become dependent upon the park. So if we turn off the water inside the park it will potentially kill off all the animals but we're also going to devastate the communities. MD How much impact does such a vast population of elephants have on other species? MB In my opinion we don't have enough scientific study done on the elephant in our park. People go for the sexy animals; the wild dogs, the lions; but clearly the elephant is the most important animal in our National Park. They comprise over 90% of the biomass but we don't really know what's going on. What we do have anecdotal evidence, from old men like myself. I remember we used to see herds of 100+ sable in the park; to see herds of 3,000 – 4,000 buffalo was not uncommon. We would see big herds of eland, 500-800. You just don't see that any more. When I go round with the young guys, guys like Vusa, and we see a herd of 70-80 eland Vusa jumps up & down with excitement. When we see a herd of 200 buffalo it's “Oh man, we saw 200 buffalo.” A massive herd of buffaloes look like ants when viewed from Sinematella I know a lot of that is down to competition with the elephant; because what is the single limiting factor on Hwange's wildlife is the water at the end of each dry season. Hwange is a paradise for 9 months of the year; for 3 months of the year it's a tough dry season environment with fantastic game viewing, but difficult if you're an animal trying to survive. Once every 5 years you get that dry season where we have drought and the last month of that dry season is incredibly tough. Let's say Hwange is down to around 40 functioning waterholes, with 44,000 elephants drinking there. By the time we get to the end of that season we've been working hard; all of our engines, all of our equipment tied together with pieces of string. We've got more and more breakdowns as you get later and later into the dry season so by the end of October you've often only got something like 15-20 functioning waterholes. By the time you've only got 15-20 functioning waterholes you've got something like 2,000 – 3,000 elephants trying to drink at each waterhole. When you have 100 elephants around each waterhole 24/7 the other stuff can't drink. That's when the sable herds get absolutely devastated and the buffalo are struggling and everything else struggles too. MD Because the elephants take so much of the vegetation other species that need food and water and can't really travel the distances between the two are going to struggle. MB Yes, absolutely. Elephants have got long legs, warthogs have got short legs. Elephants can walk 20-30 kilometres to feeding grounds and walk 20-30 kilometres back; warthogs can't. Warthogs die. MD How do you think the elephant population could, or should, be managed? MB I know how they used to do it in the old days. Clearly and critically that's not politically acceptable. I believe that if they tried to do it in the old dinosaur way of going and culling Hwange's elephant again the backlash from tourism would be massive. Our tourism dollar would collapse and Hwange would collapse anyway. So culling is not an option. We know that contraception is not an option. We know also that the old migration routes are essentially closed. The migration routes that are open have been occupied, the routes to the Chobe river, the Zambezi river are full up. Chobe's got as many elephant as we have, maybe more. There's a lot of talk about going back to the old way of migrating around the place, that's not going to happen. The migration routes that are open to elephant have already been taken up. When Ted Davison came to work here Zimbabwe had a human population of quarter of a million, we've now got 14 million people. We know that we can't just turn off some of the water, so we'd have to turn off all of the water. If we turn off all of the water there will be a collapse of tourism. I believe that there is no single magic solution. I also believe it may come down to some kind of a combination of different things; a whole different management regime. Now I do know that what I know is not enough. I really, really, really would like to see some serious science and some seriously big brains, and some serious dollars brought in Hwange to try and look at this problem. Because essentially we have one of Africa's greatest parks, we have one of Africa's greatest elephant populations in a continent where elephant populations are collapsing and we are faced with potential disaster. MD So even a partial cull, a small cull, is just too unacceptable to conservationists, even though it would be killing some to save the majority. MB I know that as a young ranger in the 1980's we were fighting and dying protecting elephants. I had friends that were killed fighting elephant poachers. We put our lives on the line frequently looking after these animals. We worked our backsides off pumping water for them. When I was a young ranger, if you let a waterhole go dry it was a dismissable offence, you got fired, your career was over. That's how seriously it was taken. Now, in that environment the ecologists came to us and said “Guys, we believe there are too many elephants and these are all the reasons. We don't know of anything else to do other than cull the elephants. We think that if we're wrong the elephant populations will bounce back quickly but if we leave it without doing anything the woodlands will take hundreds of years to recover. So we'll decide in favour of reducing the elephant population.” When those things were brought to us my bosses, I was a young cadet ranger, but my bosses almost had fist fights over going out and shooting elephants in those kind of numbers. Nobody wanted to do it, and everybody was dead against it, we thought they were wrong. But the ecologists convinced my bosses that that was the way to go. But it required a massive cull. I don't know what the western world, where our tourism dollar comes from, would say if they said that 20,000 elephants need to be shot. We know that 44,000 elephants increase at around 5% per annum, that's about 2,000 elephant a year. So we know that just to hold the population they would need to kill about 2,000. We do know that in very bad drought years we lose a couple of thousand but clearly some significant numbers would need to be culled and clearly that's not acceptable. Those days are gone now, we have to start looking for other solutions; I don't know what they are. I would love to see some science and brain power brought to this debate because I believe there could be something out there that we haven't thought of. MD How bad is poaching here in Hwange? MB We have two kinds of poaching. We have subsistence poaching: In a really tough year someone from one of the communities beside the park sneaks into the park and kills a duiker to feed the family. We have that level of poaching which I believe we can live with. When I was a young ranger if we saw that kind of thing going on we didn't necessarily go after those guys hot foot. The guys we went after hot foot were the commercial poachers. The commercial poachers were the guys who were stealing wire and putting up huge snare lines and killing big numbers of buffalo and wildebeest and damaging elephant and then of course the commercial ivory and rhino poachers who were coming in armed. Very few of them at that time were from Zimbabwe, most of them were coming from outside the country. Some from as far afield as the Congo and Sudan. And those were our major serious, serious problem. Now in Hwange today we've got a very similar meat poaching problem to what I remember from back in the old days. What we've also got is an upswing in elephant poaching, the likes of which we've never seen. The elephant poisoning incident in 2013 was the worst case of elephant poaching we've ever had in the history of this park. We put paid to those guys, most of them went to jail, we stopped the situation. We've opened our camp down at Jozibanini, the old ranger station there and we're kind of keeping a lid on it. But now there's an influx of armed poachers into Hwange. What is interesting is that this year more elephants will die of starvation in Hwange National Park than will be poached in Hwange National Park and yet we got more elephant poaching going on in Hwange than we've ever had. But it's not nearly the problem that it is in East Africa. MD Is it local now, or are the poachers – the commercial ones – still coming from outside? MB We've got two kinds coming here. We've got the guys coming from outside who we call Zambians because they are coming from Zambia but they're not necessarily always Zambians and then we have out of work, often military types, from Zimbabwe who know how to handle themselves, how to handle weapons in the field, they're getting involved in it. Before, in Zimbabwe it wasn't that easy for a guy with a set of ivory to get rid of it. You can't walk into Bulawayo or Harare with a set of 50 pound tusks and wander round trying to sell them. It's not an easy thing to hide. In East Africa the guys used to just take down to the coast and slip it onto a dhow and move it out. That's why there was so much poaching there. What has happened in recent years is we've had a big influx of companies, mainly coming from China, a lot of them involved with mining etc, and now suddenly there is a source market for ivory here. So we have two issues: There's been an increase of experienced men with guns within the country and now they've got a way to move ivory. That I believe is what's fuelling our current ivory problem here. MD In general, how supportive of the park and its wildlife are the communities that live on the periphery? Here at Ngamo you are in one corner of the park and you have excellent support from the local communities, how is that replicated in other areas of the park? MB If you put communities on a scale of 1 to 5; where a community that does not poach, works really well with the parks people, the guys are involved with the safari lodges, they've got an income from tourism would be a 1. At the other end of the scale a community that dislikes the national park, hates living next to it, hates wildlife; if they had a chance to vote they'd say 'let's kill all elephant, all the lion because we don't like them' – would be a 5. I would suggest the communities around our park, on the Zimbabwean side, only 10% of them are a 1. I would say probably 20% -30% are a 5 and the rest are intermediate. We have shown with some of the communities around us what can be done; our challenge over the next 5-10 years is to expand that model all the way around the boundary of Hwange National Park. We don't have communities living on the park boundary all the way around but certainly on our most problematic boundaries, particularly the southern boundary, we do. MD Does that mean other operators would have to adopt a model similar to yours or is that something that National Parks would have to get behind? MB It think it is a combination and I strongly think it is something driven by the tourism dollar. If you are a responsible tourist you should make sure that at least one of stops on your itinerary is one of those peripheral lodges – at any of the parks in Africa – that are supporting local communities and are involved with the local communities. I think we need the tourism dollar to be behind it, I think we need operators to be behind it and I think we need National Parks and government to be behind it. I know from our own experience at Bomani, Camelthorn and Gorges that we can make it work when everybody gets behind it and we can push it forward. MD Given that they are badly underfunded, is there much initiative coming from the Parks Department to try and involve communities and deter them from working with poachers? MB On the ground, the guys I work with give me a lot of support and I think that given more resources they would give us more support. I know that the responsible rangers and managers on the ground within the park here are more than happy to help us out wherever they can but their hands are pretty full just looking after their park. I think there's a lot of synergy needed; where they've got their hands full responsible operators should be picking up the ball where our parks department can't. I obviously would like more support from parks department but there is a limit to the support they can give us. MD Your prediction for the next five years for Hwange? MB I think Hwange is under the biggest threat it has ever been under. Firstly from our massive elephant population. Secondly from the massive threat of elephant poaching that is looming. But I really am a glass half full guy; I really am quietly confident that this is a fight we can win. We've got a lot of good responsible operators on the ground here, we've got a lot of communities that are coming onside and we've got tourism dollars. Responsible tourism is really beginning to understand this kind of thing and responsible tourism is getting behind Hwange again. I really am quietly confident. I think we'll take some knocks, it's going to be hard and there will a lot of ups and downs but I'm quietly confident that Hwange is still going to be a place that you'll want to come to 5 or 10 years from now. MD Presumably with tourism to Zimbabwe regaining popularity that position should strengthen? MB Yes. I think as people understand more and more what is going on in Zimbabwe and understand more and more what is going on in Hwange they understand how abandoning Zimbabwe is not the answer. Particularly if you are concerned about the wildlife, because if you abandon Zimbabwe you are abandoning the wildlife. The amount of resources I can throw at looking after elephant and looking after communities and looking after poaching problems become less and less if I have less tourism dollars to work with, it's very simple mathematics. As more people look to visit Zimbabwe it gives us more clout. It gives us more clout with government too. Suddenly if we are a bigger industry than we were five years ago we can go to government and say “Hey guys you need to listen to us, this is how we need to do it.” And they do listen. They don't always listen to everything we say but they do listen, which gives us more confidence for the future. Our interview with Mark Butcher was conducted in Hwange in September 2015. At that time the park had experienced 2 successive years of lower than average rainfall and needed the 2016 rains to be good. Sadly, at the time of going to print (Feb 2016) those much needed rains have not yet materialised and Hwange's wildlife is facing tough times ahead. Want to know more about Hwange National Park? Check out these links: Friends of Hwange Trust Imvelo Elephant Trust Hwange's Dilemma

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