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Posted (edited)

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Whilst I am not going to do any proper, fully fledged, trip report, I thought to post something about my safaris with Anita in 2016. I reckon that the wide diversity of landscapes, wildlife and experiences we enjoyed was pretty unique and sort of one of a kind and hence makes sense to show it as one report.

The past year has in fact been nothing short of fantastic for African safaris for us. We have been incredibly lucky and privileged to get some once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such us taking part in African Parks''s great elephant translocation in Malawi, or spending some days in the life of a few African Wild Dog packs in northern Botswana with Michael Lorentz and Dr. Tico McNutt, arguably the world's leading expert on these fascinating canids. We have been shivering in the cold of the early mornings of the southern Kalahari in July, and wrapped ourselves in wet kikois trying to fight the sweltering midday heat of the lower Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe in November - the ride has been awesome, fun, soul-inspiring, humbling, moving, mind opening....you name it.

A week at Tswalu Kalahari in early/mid July delivered all the special wildlife the place is known for in spades. The service did not disappoint either. Many thanks to our guide Cameron Pearce ( who is a freelance guide invited by Tswalu to guide at times and we highly recommend him or Adrian Bantich -who was very helpful on suggestions for the trip- for Tswalu ), our tracker Pete and the very attentive lodge management.
We then spent a couple of delightful days in Hermanus, enjoying some early season whale watching and great food at the beautiful Birkenhead House, before moving to Northern Botswana for our wild dog-focused expedition.

For me, being exposed to Tico's and Michael's knowledge (on all sorts of wildlife/conservation/land policy matters and more) and experience, drawn out from 30 years of passionate work on the ground, in their respective capacity as researcher and safari guide, has been a true eye-opener, even for someone like me who at times presumptuously thinks to know something about conservation in Africa. I reckon that the time spent with Michael and Tico has possibly been the most informative ever in all my years of African travels (incidentally, I have now reached safari #32). Much of what we learned was quite sobering - and depicts a very worrying situation for our beloved wildlife - but at the same time, also thanks to fabulous wild dog sightings, a great atmosphere in camp, several adventures and a lot of fun (and some finest champagne courtesy of Michael for Anita's birthday) those days have really been some of the happiest.

Similarly, participating in the elephant translocation in Liwonde (a beautiful park in its own right) was an incredible privilege, and really made us appreciate the superb and effective job that African Parks does, on the ground conservation, a far cry from the useless hysteria often dominating on social media. The professionalism and skills of the team are beyond amazing. Just interacting with some of the key people and hearing about their experiences was humbling. Our helicopter pilot, Frank (a senior gentleman tough as nails) has been involved in wildlife work since the 1970s and has been on extensive duty in "hot" places like Chinko in CAR and Garamba in DRC. The vets, Andre (in charge of darting the elephants from the air) and Kester (taking the lead with the ground operations and the awakening of the tranquilized elephants) have done, amongst other things, most of the translocation restocking Tswalu as well as moving elephants and other species to Gorongosa in Mozambique and Majete in Malawi. All nicest people to boot.

We were staunch supporters of AP after our Zakouma visits, and we are now even more so.

Mana Pools in November was really a sweet spot for us - a continuous string of good sightings, all to ourselves (in 8 days, we only shared one sighting with other people). Craig and his camp crew were superb as usual - Abel, Kismo, Tich, Shumba and Agrippa, who are now for me more than familiar faces and names after a few safaris with Craig, really went the extra mile to treat us not like clients or guests but friends and Craig's amazing bush skills were very much to the fore.

That in short was my 2016 safari year. Hopefully this year will be equally as good with 2 weeks in Zakouma (Chad) in April again with Michael Lorentz and then Kenya in September with another of our very favourite guide and friend Sean Dundas before rounding off a celebratory visit to Hermanus for my parents 50th wedding anniversary.

P.S.: Earlier in the year, Anita had an excellent trip to Virunga in DRC with Doug Macdonald and hence I am adding some photos from that adventure too. This was her 40th birthday year, so some of the plans were made according to her wishlist and some like having Michael and Tico for a wild dog focused trip even further made the plans, dream like, none more so than when African Parks asked us in May, if we wanted to join for the elephant translocation in July. In a heartbeat, the answer was a vehement Yes, rounding off a perfect birthday year. Except for Virunga, DRC I went along with everything but did not realize how incredible it would all turn out to be, apart from having been so enjoyable as well. Now a job well done, we can focus on my Big One in just a little less than 3 years!

P.P.S.: I have put this in the Photography section as I do not want to split this country by country and it will consist almost entirely of photographs. However i am happy if its moved to any Trip Report section as long as the report is not asked to be divided. I will post updates as and when time permits.

Edited by Paolo
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Sketches of Tswalu-July 2016



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Amazing @@Paolo - this is wonderful - beautiful photos of incredible sightings in a year that was obviously filled with all manner of amazing experiences.

 

I can confidently say that I'm speaking for many when saying that I hope time permits for many and frequent updates. The more the better.

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Fabulous to see you here. We have missed you. Its going to one heck of a great report in pictures, just based on these early photos. Very excited to hear more!

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Good to see this here @@Paolo and to share in your adventures and Anita's great photography.

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Happy to have another TM Paolo report (even a "light" one) after too long - and some stellar @@Anita photography. All fantastic shots, but the third Aardvark picture is just extraordinary.

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Welcome back to Safaritalk @@Paolo and @@Anita. Look forward to learning about your adventures and incredible experiences on Safari. Thanks for sharing this and a happy New Year to both of you.

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@@Anita, the brokeh in the meerkat picture and the monochromatic rhino shots are just stunning.

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What a great year @@Paolo - I look forward to seeing/reading more. It's good to hear that after 32 safaris you still have a sense of learning and enjoyment.

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Anita has a real talent for taking pictures! Congratulations these pictures are absolutely amazing!

Thank you Paolo for sharing these journeys! Really nice and quality trips.

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Sketches of Tswalu-July 2016 has me wide eyed with dropped jaw. You had a wonderful 2016 to "ring out."

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@@Paolo I have to say that I just love your photos of Tswalu Kalahari. I'm ecstastic that you saw a pangolin,as well as an aardvark. I can't wait until I go in September.

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Paolo- great to see you are more active on ST. As allways your contribution and knowledge is outstanding. Such great photos.

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Thanks everybody for the kind comments.

 

I'm ecstastic that you saw a pangolin,as well as an aardvark.

 

Actually, throughout our stay at Tswalu we saw 6 aardvarks and 4 pangolins.

 

The ardvaarks shown in the photos in post#2 are all different animals.

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@@Paolo and @@Anita

 

Such an amazing Safari year for you both - all wonderful adventures.

 

All brilliant photos, more please!!

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I can't stop smiling after seeing the Aardvark pictures and to imagine being there and spotting a pangolin looking rather like the white rabbit, just checking its pocket watch before heading down the hole! but of course all the photos are splendid!

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I hope that when I go to Tswalu Kalahari and get truly luck: I'll see caracal, zorilla, and cape fox. Of course I'll be delighted with everything that I see.

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More photos of Aardvark and Pangolin.....

 

These creatures are notoriously a "special" of the Southern Kalahari. The freezing conditions during mid winter(from the end of June to early August) cause them to be much less nocturnal than their normal habits, and guides and trackers at Tswalu have really refined the art of tracking and finding them. As mentioned, we saw 6 different aardvarks (including one taking a power nap!) and 4 different pangolins during our stay. All our encounters were on foot.

 

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Posted (edited)

@@Paolo I never realized before that aardvark were so cute. I also have to say that your photos of the pangolin are just fabulous. I just love that your photos show just how beautiful is the red sand of the Kalahari desert.

Edited by optig
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@@Paolo - Absolutely fantastic photos. Paolo you have been more so less everywhere in Africa - in wildest Africa. What do you think about the fact that lions are separated from the largest part of the reserve?

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Posted (edited)

@@Paolo - Absolutely fantastic photos. Paolo you have been more so less everywhere in Africa - in wildest Africa. What do you think about the fact that lions are separated from the largest part of the reserve?

 

@@Africalover

 

This is a slightly complex issue, which I will try to summarize to the best of my knowledge.

 

We had dinner and some further conversation with the Reserve Manager, Gus Van Dyk, and the impression I have got is that the goal is to have medium term the lions roaming the enire reserve (which is constantly expanding thanks to purchases of adjacent farmlands).

 

At the moment there are two obstacles.

 

One is the public road running along the fence. It will have to be de-gazetted or privatized before the fence can actually be removed.

 

The second is the local population of....Sable.

 

Tswalu is geographically in a very peculiar position, since it has the only mountains of the Kalahari (the Korannaberg). To the east of those mountains the vegetation type is the so called "Kalahari Bushveld", which is made of more succulent, higher nutritious grass, to the west there is the "Kalahari Sandveld", much more similar to what you have in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in SA/Botswana or the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

 

Historically (Gus showed me a fantastic book with all the records of the different mammal species in the Northern Cape) the Kalhari Bushveld hosted species like Roan, Tsessebe, Buffalo and White Rhino, which you would normally not associate with the Kalahari (interestingly, the first skull of White Rhino ever recorded - ny Europeans of course - came from Kuruman, roughly 70 km NE of Tswalu on the border with Botswana).

 

So, whilst reintroduced , when you see a Roan or a White Rhino or a Buffalo at Tswalu you should bear in mind that in all likelihood they are not alien species. But the stunning Sable that mostly roam in the immediate proximity of the lodge are.

 

You may then wonder why- if the Oppenheimer project is so "purist" - Sable (originally introduced when Tswalu was a game ranch for hunting) have not been removed. The answer is because they are a formidable tool for financing the reserve.

 

Tswalu's Sable are genetically amongst the best - if not THE best - in South Africa, and they sell (to other reserves, game farms etc....) for remarkably high prices. So what the management is trying to do is keeping the overall number stable, selling the surplus and in this way helping the sustainibility of the reserve.

 

But the moment you throw powerful Kalahari lions creating havoc and preying on the Sable population, then you have a problem.

 

This is not going to last forever, and Gus was adamant that they will have to get rid of their Sables at some point, but really shows how difficult and how intricate is managing a private reserve of the immense size as Tswalu, even if you have the backing of the resources of the Oppenheimer family.

 

On a personal level, it is understood that I would prefer seeing the lions roaming everywhere even now and - as you say - this is definitely not wildest Africa, but I understand the reason of what is going on, and I am quite upbeat on the entire Tswalu project

Edited by Paolo
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@@Paolo - as allways very informative, thanks for taking you time. Great to hear that they keep expanding the reserve. We need more filantropist to save what's left of Africas wildlife and especially African Parks, who does a great job for future generations.

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@@Paolo and @@Anita just this glimmer of your trips and pics sound and look breathtaking; inspirational in fact. You guys should write a book.

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@@Paolo

It is great to hear from you (and Anita) about a wonderful 2016. Superb photos from Tswalu. I look forward to updates about your other trips!

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The picture of the Aardvark "napping" in the winter sun is a real joy and a privilege to see and the last photo of the pangolin moving is splendid! but @optig-never realized an Aardvark wasn't cute?-they are the cutest thing in cute land and the most intelligent animal in the world oh sorry just made that last bit up.

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