FlyTraveler

Ruaha and Zanzibar - September / October 2014

454 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

I and my wife came back from a trip to Tanzania three days ago and I am rushing to get started with the trip report. Most of the photos are not edited yet, so there will be a new installment whenever I am ready with the photos and I have free time to write.

 

This was our third safari trip to Africa after Kenya in 2013 (Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, Lake Naivasha, Selenkay Conservancy, Amboseli NP, Ol Kinyei and Naibosho conservancies and Masai Mara NR), South Africa (Cape Peninsula, TImbavati and Sabi Sand) and Botswana (Chobe NP, Jao and Khwai concessions, Moremi GR) in May / June 2014.

 

Where does Ruaha NP stand compared to the parks and reserves mentioned above in my personal opinion? The previous two trips involved multiple parks / reserves / concessions, but if I had to choose only one place to visit in Africa, that would be Ruaha National Park. True wilderness (based on my safari experience so far), absolutely stunning and varied scenery, relatively few visitors, lots of wildlife.

 

My obsession with Ruaha started from this forum when I read the report of @ about his first trip to Ruaha during the green season. Then I read the report of @stockeygirl and her posts and statements that Ruaha is her close second favorite park after SLNP and when the report of Paco (@africawild) with his excellent photographs came out, I already had Ruaha on my list. Since there are quite a few places on this list, the priority was the main issue.

 

After having certain parts of Eastern and Southern Africa covered I thought that it would be nice to see the area where these to regions are overlapping which is exactly Ruaha NP. There was a very serious hesitation between Ruaha and South Luangwa NP, at certain point I was thinking to do both parks on the same trip using the new low cost airline FastJet, which offers budget friendly flights between Dar es Salaam and Lusaka. Then it turned out that my wife has only 12 days off work left for this year and she really wanted to see Zanzibar, so we had to do either SLNP + Zanzibar or Ruaha and possibly Selous + Zanzibar.

 

The question about the budget of the trip was also very important. Airfare to Dar es Salaam was slightly cheaper than to Lusaka, but not to the extend to make this factor a decision maker. Both Ruaha and SLNP required domestic flights respectively from Lusaka and Dar, which were similarly priced, so the decision maker in terms of budget had to be to cost of the safari itself and we all know that this always represents the bulk of the budget. We always take safari trips on the budget side, but this time I had to be even more careful after the South Africa / Zambia / Botswana trip just four months ago. If we had chosen SLNP it had to be either Marula Lodge or Croc Valley Lodge, located just outside the gate and we had to share vehicle with other guests. For Ruaha there was an interesting budget option on the table.

 

After reading a lot about the park and possible budget accommodation, I stumbled upon an article about the TANAPA government owned bandas, located in Msembe area, not far from the park HQ. They would cost only 60 dollars per night for two of us, but the problem was that they didn't have en-suite toilet and we (especially my wife) would feel uncomfortable using the ablution block in the middle of the night, should that becomes necessary. Then I discovered that TANAPA have also en-suite cottages up the hill, about one and a half kilometers from the bandas.

 

Would having a toilet inside be an important issue? When we arrived in Ruaha it turned out that it would, not that we ever used the toilet at night, but our guide told us that just two weeks ago there has been a fatal lion attack on one of the Mwagusi Camp guides, the second within a month's time, the first one being on a road maintenance machine operator. Both attacks occurred during the early morning hours - the guide has been checking around camp before the guests wake up and the other guy left his tent to check his machinery. They say that it has been a single sick lion that could not hunt anything else. The lion has been found and shot by the rangers, but our guide and some others thought that different lions have been involved in the incidents. After hearing about this it was a great comfort to know that we had an en-suite toilet. I will show detailed photos about the cottages later on during the report. On the very last game drive, we went to see also the bandas and I took some photos there, as well.

 

After finding the accommodation the next step was to find a vehicle and a guide. I had written to Warthog Adventures in Iringa last year and they gave me very good prices, but we decided to do S. Africa and Botswana instead of Ruaha. Now I wrote them again and they confirmed the prices + they reserved the TANAPA cottage for us. I asked about duration of game drives and unlimited mileage and the guy replied that this is to be negotiated with the driver, which didn't feel quite reassuring. They didn't require any deposit either, so all we had before we left was just an email from a guy in Iringa stating the price and the dates for the safari. I found very few websites on the Internet where the company was mentioned plus one album on flickr.com with photos of their vehicle, but they were good. I had talked to @@PauloT from the forum who is a guide based in Iringa and took his phone number, in case something goes wrong with Warthog Adventures.

 

My biggest concern was the quality of the guide and the condition of the vehicle. Both turned out to be excellent, our guide Alphonce was one of the best we ever had, for six days he actually tracked leopard twice for us, the second time all Kwihala vehicles (including Lorenzo Rossi) plus Mwagusi, Old Mdonya camps and Ruaha River Lodge vehicles gathered the leopard, which Alphonce tracked (we stayed at the side alone for at least half an hour before the other vehicles started arriving).

 

To make the long story short - an excellent safari for me (I would not think that it will fit the discerning safarista's taste, though):

1. No thrills accommodation without the adventurous feeling of a safari camp or the luxury of a lodge, but with all comforts that we needed - a bedroom and a seating room with panoramic windows, large comfortable bed with mosquito net, en-suite toilet and shower, solar electrical system, good enough for recharging multiple camera batteries, a few hours of generator power, good enough to recharge the laptop and a million dollar view from the top of the hill towards the Great Ruaha River, the plains with the acacia trees and the mountains beyond.

 

2. No stops for coffee, tea, sundowners and other activities of this kind which in my humble opinion just take time from game viewing. The vehicle had a fridge and we were able to bring drinks and snacks with us, which we would consume while driving. Drinks were strictly water only, so we will be always fresh for the early morning game drives. We arranged with Alphonce to leave at 06:30 in the morning, skipping breakfast every day, coming back for lunch about 13:30-14:00. Leaving again for the afternoon drive at 16:00 h and coming back just before dark about 18:30-19:00.

 

3. Private vehicle, a pop-up roof Land Rover in great technical condition - we had all the comforts we needed for undisturbed 360 degrees viewing and more than enough space for equipment. I made the back seat my office, shoes off, so we can step on the seats at any time. Ability to stop for every single little thing of interest and stay at each sighting for as long as we wished.

 

4. For food we had a choice of 3-4 dishes (beef with rice, chicken with rice, beef with ugali, beef with spaghetti, chicken with spaghetti and combination of those). Nothing fancy, but good enough for us and for the cost of 7,000 shillings (about 5 dollras) per meal. We ate at a dining hall with the same amazing view located just about 40 meters from our cottage. For lunch the cook would call the guide while we are on a game drive to ask what we would like to have, for dinner, we would tell the cook about our choice during lunch. They also sell water, beer, other drinks and some souvenirs.

 

After dinner we were accompanied to the cottage by a ranger armed with AK-47 (not sure if this is a good weapon against lions, but it will help with automatic bursts and still better than nothing).

 

All these for about 200 dollars per person per night total, including park fees (excluding tips), oh boy, this was heaven on earth. Would do it again withing the snap of a finger!

 

 

And last, but not least, I would like to thank @@PauloT and @@pault for their replies regarding my questions about the park, as well as to thank @russel, @@madaboutcheetah, @@xelas and especially @@Peter Connan for their input regarding continuous auto focus settings of my camera. The input helped very much, I stayed on tracking AF constantly, just tapping the back button for single AF mode and I hope that I got decent results (you will be the one to judge the photos).

 

Ruaha sunrise with a giraffe, as seen from our cottage:

post-46619-0-35728200-1413187935_thumb.jpg

 

 

Sunset with a baobab tree:

post-46619-0-01991400-1413187981_thumb.jpg

 

Just couldn't resist posting two teasers. :) :)

Edited by FlyTraveler
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@FlyTraveler

 

Glad to see you had a great trip! You are most welcome for the information. We want more people to visit Ruaha so thanks for posting and karibu tena!

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Sept. 28-29, 2014. Turkish Airlines night flight from Istanbul, Turkey to Dar es Salaam.

 

As with most of you, the anticipation of Africa starts usually during the last leg of the international flights (if not flying direct). In our case this was a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Dar es Salaam. Unfortunately the outbound flight was entirely during the night, so I couldn't enjoy the great scenery over Egypt, Sudan and Kenya on the way to Dar. During the return flight I was able to take some nice aerials of the Sahara desert, the Nile river valley and even the pyramids in Sudan and Egypt.

 

We flew on a last generation brand new Boeing 737-900 ER, here is just a snapshot with point a shoot camera before boarding:

 

 

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Comfortable (for economy class) seats with a modern inflight entertainment system (you can see the color of my safari pants):


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Quite nice lighting system:


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Fabulous aerial views of Istanbul after take off. Really pushing the limits of low light capability of my camera (very high ISO).

 

 

The historical district (Sultanahmet), the Bosphorus straight, the Golden Horn with the bridges and the cruise ship terminal with three ships docked:


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The bridge over the Bosphorus straight:


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Great menu for economy class (there is even a chef, traveling on each long-haul flight):


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The menu in 3D:

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Crossing the Equator, just east of the town of Nakuru, Kenya (have crossed it there on land last year when traveling to Lake Bogoria):

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Landing in Dar es Salaam at about 02:35 in the morning. A sign "No Tipping" over the immigration counter shows clearly the level of corruption in the country. It took us about an hour to purchase the visa, go through immigration and collect the luggage. Then we hung around (outside) the airport for another 2 hours. The Flamingo restaurant which according to tripadvisor reviews is open 24 hours is closing at 22:00 at night, so no option to spend time there. Our Auric Air domestic flight to Iringa was departing at 07:00 in the morning so there was no sense going to a hotel for 3 hours. Around 06:00 we took a taxi to the domestic terminal and checked in for the flight to Iringa.

 

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@FlyTraveler

 

Glad to see you had a great trip! You are most welcome for the information. We want more people to visit Ruaha so thanks for posting and karibu tena!

 

Asante sana, PauloT! I was hoping to see you while driving around the park, was looking at the vehicles we met on the way, but didn't know neither what your vehicle was nor how you looked like... Should have asked in advance. Everything was OK with Warthog Adventures, so there was no need to call you. Thanks again for offering your help!

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@@FlyTraveler

I am glad you had a great time -and I am looking forward to reading about it!

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Ooh... You may not have been able to spot Paul, but we won't have any trouble spotting you on safari if your trousers are really the colour I see there! Like the pictures in the aircraft and of Istanbul. Glad to hear you had a good time at the cottages and with Warthog Adventures. It's really great to hear you can still do that in Ruaha, which I agree is a special, wonderful park.

 

Looking forward to hearing all about it.

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Thanks @@TonyQ and @@pault. I wonder that no one comments on the two people eaten by lion(s) within a month - the Mwagusi Camp guide and the road maintenance worker...

 

@@pault - I see that you have not reached the Ruaha part of your TR, looks like I will have to "compete" with your excellent writing and photography on top of the great Ruaha and Katavi report by @@Africalover... :)

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. I wonder that no one comments on the two people eaten by lion(s) within a month - the Mwagusi Camp guide and the road maintenance worker...

 

@FlyTraveler - I think it was discussed in a thread while you away - poor people.

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. I wonder that no one comments on the two people eaten by lion(s) within a month - the Mwagusi Camp guide and the road maintenance worker...

 

@FlyTraveler - I think it was discussed in a thread while you away - poor people.

 

 

I am sorry for them, too... We should learn a lesson and be more careful, though...

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I remember that you were a bit anxious how your trip would turn out, especially with guiding of pretty much unknown quality. Very glad it all worked out for you, and if Ruaha was better than your previous trips it must have been stellar indeed. Looking forward to it. Very good to know that Ruaha can be done on a budget.

 

And starting just 3 days after returning, you really did get cracking. :)

 

We had the very same menu on our flight btw.

 

But ... those are very green trousers. :P

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Posted (edited)

@@FlyTraveler

 

Looking forward to you report; I loved our Ruaha adventure back in Sept. 2013....truly wild and wonderful.

 

This safariesta would indeed stay in one of those bandas. They sounded perfect (as opposed to a few fly tents I've seen - without facilities!)

 

We did not have ensuite tents in Ruaha but had plenty of lanterns lit between us and the loo/shower. I believe @@Zim Girl has new shots of that on her Ruaha TR.

I never felt unsafe; but of course the incidents you refer to where a year off.

 

Can't wait for photos!

Edited by graceland
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Posted (edited)

Sept. 29, 2014. Auric Air flight from Dar es Salaam to Iringa.

 

 

Since for this safari we were using Warthog Adventures, based in Iringa, I decided to save some money and fly to Iringa instead directly to Ruaha. This was the very first flight in the morning (07:00 h), we didn't have to wait very long at the airport in Dar es Salaam, plus we would get to see Iringa and the countryside while driving to Ruaha.

 

 

We flew on this Auric Air Cessna Grand Caravan:


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We didn't have a chance to spend time in Dar es Salaam, but it looked kind of nice from the air, except the traffic jam on the road right next to the airport:

 

 

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The plane was packed and a passenger was seating even on the co-pilot's seat. I have never seen a pilot so remotely interested in what was going on in the cockpit - he took off, after 5-6 minutes switched on the autopilot, turned towards us and said that we had an hour and thirty minutes left to Iringa, then read newspapers for an hour and twenty five minutes without looking at the controls or the screens even once. We were not really alarmed, because it looked like he knew what he was doing and the plane had a glass cockpit and fancy avionics. I guess this was "Hakuna Matata" Tanzanian style of piloting, just wander how he would react if I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the controls :) :)

 

 

post-46619-0-76801900-1413199911_thumb.jpg

 

 

Of course I didn't tap the pilot on the shoulder, the scenery was amazing and I was busy taking photos. There is a very convenient technique for shooting in a packed plane with limited space if we sit on the left side - turning towards the window and placing the camera on the left shoulder. This plane, though was flying in south-west direction, so I figured that early in the morning the sun would be on the left side and we took seats on the right side, thus not being able to ease the shooting with this technique.

 

 

post-46619-0-99607900-1413200036_thumb.jpg

 

 

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The landscape became drier as we approached Iringa:


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Bomas with livestock:


post-46619-0-41798600-1413200623_thumb.jpg

Edited by FlyTraveler
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I remember that you were a bit anxious how your trip would turn out, especially with guiding of pretty much unknown quality. Very glad it all worked out for you, and if Ruaha was better than your previous trips it must have been stellar indeed. Looking forward to it. Very good to know that Ruaha can be done on a budget.

 

And starting just 3 days after returning, you really did get cracking. :)

 

We had the very same menu on our flight btw.

 

But ... those are very green trousers. :P

 

Thanks @@michael-ibk! I love my safari pants, they actually have been my travel pants for a long time before we did our first safari. :P

 

Ruaha can indeed be done on a budget and it worked out better than I would have ever imagined.

 

It is important to clarify, that I would choose this trip compared to the previous safari trips that we have done if I had to see ONE park only. The previous trips included multitude of parks / reserves and neither of those individually has been as interesting as Ruaha to me, but combined they would match the Ruaha experience.

 

Reading with great interest your Kenya TR, I've been thinking quite a lot about Meru and Samburu for the past month (I was hesitating between Namibia / Kgalagadi TP and this part of Kenya, finally chose Namibia / KTP for the end of April).

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@@FlyTraveler

 

Looking forward to you report; I loved our Ruaha adventure back in Sept. 2013....truly wild and wonderful.

 

This safariesta would indeed stay in one of those bandas. They sounded perfect (as opposed to a few fly tents I've seen - without facilities!)

 

We did not have ensuite tents in Ruaha but had plenty of lanterns lit between us and the loo/shower. I believe @@Zim Girl has new shots of that on her Ruaha TR.

I never felt unsafe; but of course the incidents you refer to where a year off.

 

Can't wait for photos!

 

I enjoyed very much your trip report from Ruaha, would be nice to go over it again, now already familiar with the park. It was there where your husband had his pants teared off, was it (speaking of safari trousers)? :)

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Posted (edited)

@@FlyTraveler

Ahhh, I love everything that comes with a "reasonable budget" sticker. Please do not skip on details, and do not forget about Zanzibar part of your trip. Teaser photos excellent. in-flight ones very informative. Turkish Airlines?! Hey, they are operating from Ljubljana to Istanbul direct flight :) . Immediate research showed a very reasonable fare (632 Eur) and short 1 stop flight !!!

Edited by xelas
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Posted (edited)

@@FlyTraveler

Ahhh, I love everything that comes with a "reasonable budget" sticker. Please do not skip on details, and do not forget about Zanzibar part of your trip. Teaser photos excellent. in-flight ones very informative. Turkish Airlines?! Hey, they are operating from Ljubljana to Istanbul direct flight :) . Immediate research showed a very reasonable fare (632 Eur) and short 1 stop flight !!!

 

There you go. Ljubljana ==> Istanbul ==> Dar es Salaam ==> Iringa ==> Ruaha ==> Safari of a lifetime :lol: Very simple design. :)

 

Will not spare details, even interior photos of the cottages and the bandas. Will include Zanzibar, as well.

Edited by FlyTraveler

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Keep it comming. I will enjoy the rest of your TR. I made a topic on the people getting killed by lions, when I returned from my safari.

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I am very glad you enjoyed your trip, and also that I was able to help in some small way.

 

Lovely photos so far, what length of lens did you use for the in-flight photos?

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Keep it comming. I will enjoy the rest of your TR. I made a topic on the people getting killed by lions, when I returned from my safari.

 

Hi, Africalover, would you please give me a link to this topic.

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Posted (edited)

I am very glad you enjoyed your trip, and also that I was able to help in some small way.

 

Lovely photos so far, what length of lens did you use for the in-flight photos?

 

Thanks Peter, the trip was very nice, indeed. When not shooting wildlife I always use Nikon 24-70, f:2.8 lens, which is a top Nikon glass. It seems to be very good for aerial photos, too. Unfortunately, I do not have the same quality telephoto lens... Always thinking that it would be better to do another safari than to buy a better telephoto lens :)

Edited by FlyTraveler
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@@FlyTraveler

 

Looking forward to you report; I loved our Ruaha adventure back in Sept. 2013....truly wild and wonderful.

 

This safariesta would indeed stay in one of those bandas. They sounded perfect (as opposed to a few fly tents I've seen - without facilities!)

 

We did not have ensuite tents in Ruaha but had plenty of lanterns lit between us and the loo/shower. I believe @@Zim Girl has new shots of that on her Ruaha TR.

I never felt unsafe; but of course the incidents you refer to where a year off.

 

Can't wait for photos!

 

I enjoyed very much your trip report from Ruaha, would be nice to go over it again, now already familiar with the park. It was there where your husband had his pants teared off, was it (speaking of safari trousers)? :)

 

Yes...he remembers that well and loves to tell folks who are heading out to safari..

 

In Zim he only wore shorts...it was not as thorny :D

 

The landscapes look great with the aerial shots. Thanks for including those; mine rarely turn out.

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Sept. 29, 2014. Auric Air flight from Dar es Salaam to Iringa

 

 

Landing at Iringa airport:


post-46619-0-31577900-1413219040_thumb.jpg

 

 

The terminal:

 

 

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The pilot walking away while the plane gets refueled for the next flight:


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Sept. 29, 2014. Drive from Iringa to Ruaha NP

 

 

 

Our guide Alphonce was waiting for us at the airport. Very modest young guy from the Hehe tribe who lives in Iringa. The more time we spent with him, the more we liked him. Very accurate, always on time, actually five minutes earlier, the vehicle was always clean, good knowledge about wildlife, good tracking skills. He did observe my shooting habits and adjusted his style of driving and stopping accordingly to my needs, for example he would switch off the engine a bit earlier before stopping for a sighting and use the momentum of the vehicle to get to the exact spot in order not to scare the animal or the bird and to reduce vibrations at the moment of stopping. Can not think of anything more that I could ask for.

 

Alphonce took us to the office of Warthog Adventures first, so we can go over the formalities. The place serves also as a restaurant, cafe and a bookstore:

post-46619-0-00120200-1413220180_thumb.jpg

 

 

The person at the office named Geoffrey also arranged for us to exchange shillings at a descent rate. The money changer just came to their office. If you are changing US dollars in Tanzania, please keep in mind that you must have clean not marked or stamped bills issued in 2006 or later.

 

Then we stopped at the market, where I filled my beanbag with small beans, got some snacks and dry dates and off to Ruaha. I was using the ride to observe and photograph local people. There isn't a huge safari business in Iringa and the town seems to very authentic.

 

 

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There were also some villages on the way to Ruaha:


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I knew that the Greek owners of Tandala Camp are building Greek Orthodox churches in the area, but did not know that there was actually a Greek community in the region.

 

 

 

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About two hours after we left Iringa, we reached the gate of Ruaha NP. At the gate I paid the park fees and the accommodation by credit card. This seems to be the only option for payment, I guess they are fighting corruption this way. We had an argument about the number of days I needed to pay park fees for. Finally he agreed that we needed to pay for 6, not for 7 days. From there straight to the TANAPA cottages to settle in, leave our baggage and have lunch.

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Welcome back FlyTraveller , i am Glad Ruaha fulfilled your expectations!!!

 

Looking forward for photos and stories , i am sure they will bring memories from this amazing place that also i had the privilege to visit .

 

Paco

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@@FlyTraveler Really enjoyed seeing the photos from Iringa. Lovely vivid colours.

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Great TR so far, really looking forward to more.

I´m of to SLNP in three weeks, maybe Ruaha next year or KTP or Zakouma.. difficult choices..

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