Category Archives: safari

Orphaned baby elephants

The impact of elephant poaching for ivory or bushmeat goes far and wide as elephants are keystone species known as the landscapers of Africa.


Elephants have voracious appetites to maintain nutrition for their large bodies eating grasses and different parts of trees. They will push down or break branches select trees to eat the roots and bark, this has knock-on effects:

  • to create homes for smaller animals and rodents under the leafy branches  that now hug the ground,
  • protect the ground below allowing the grasses to grow without grazers eating it all up,
  • giving smaller animals access to the nutritious leaves from higher branches previously exclusive to giraffes and elephants,
  • gives more food like dead branches to termites.

The other impact of elephant poaching is that sometimes baby elephants get left behind!  The stress of losing their mother, having to fend for themselves and not having the resources to do so greatly affects their survival rate.


A number of organisations around Africa have rescued these orphans and create facilities to nurture these animals back to health and eventual release them back in the wild.

I had the fortune to visit one such facility on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia: Game Ranger International’s Elephant Orphanage Project Nursery. Their philosophy is simple:

  1. Orphaned baby elephant survival and capacity to return to the wild is priority.
  2. Use the site for education and promotion of conservation.


Because of priority number one, human interaction with these gorgeous creatures is  limited and at a distance- which I 100% support and love. This gives the elephant the best chance to survive in the wild and also means they don’t look to humans to survive and hopefully will less likely rampage through a neighbouring village feeling like it’s part of the tribe!


GRI is doing fantastic work in a holistic manner to save the elephants in Zambia:

  • They have this orphanage project comprising of nursery and release facility, where older elephants are reassimilated into the wild and introduced/adopted into matriarchal herds. 
  • Anti-poaching unit patrolling Kafue National Park, running investigations and pinning the syndicate poaching network down in a few of the layers, not just the poachers themselves.
  • Community outreach programs empowering surrounding villages so they don’t turn to poaching for a quick buck, become self-sufficient beyond just surviving, learn to appreciate wildlife and become willing to report wildlife crime.

Their community outreach has been really effective and includes school projects, women’s groups and a radio program with reminders of wildlife crime reporting to a hotline after every show!


I am excited about these guys as they have a genuine desire to effectively solve this issue and a willingness to collaborate and share their lessons learnt with others who legitimately want the same outcomes.

GRI need support as they recently got their funding halved due to a long term donor restrategising their allocations! We are hoping to support their efforts through Elephant Cooperation too!

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Conservation: Noah’s Ark and trophy hunting

Conservation is a complex business. Life, real natural life, is full of interactions, butterfly effects and things we are yet to understand. 

There’s a great project to relocate animals from one park in Zimbabwe to another in Mozambique. It’s going to cost a lot and allegedly a significant portion has been provided from hunting.

What do you think of this?

Mozambique: 6,000 animals to rewild park is part-funded by trophy hunting


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2017/jun/19/rewilding-mozambique-trophy-hunting-elephants-giraffe-poaching-zimbabwe-sango-save-zinave?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Copy_to_clipboard

Buffalo

The African buffalo is one of the Big Five, a term that signifies what hunters classed as the most difficult animals to hunt on foot. The buffalo is known for being cantankerous animals, easily spooked into a stampede or worse, to nose up with their eyes straight at the threat and run, buck their heads down just before and attempt to hook their horns into the intended victim.

There was a period of time back in the late 1800’s when the African buffalo was nearly wiped out due to disease. Rinderpest was one of the most devastating of animal diseases killing millions of buffalo affecting about 90% of the buffalo population.

These days African buffalo still suffer, during drought seasons when water sources dry up. Several parks around Africa include as part of their conservation management practices a game count of African buffalo especially in dry season, in order to monitor and maintain the species.

Giraffa camelopardalis

Being such a unique looking animal, the giraffe has a special place in many people’s hearts. Its name “giraffa” is derived from an Arabic word meaning fast-walker. When it was first observed by English-speaking people, it was thought to look like a camel with leopard-like colouring, hence the second part of its species name “camelopardalis”.

It has evolved over time with such unique characteristics in order to survive in the wilderness of Africa.  As the tallest animal in the world, it’s long neck enables it to reach food at the tops of the acacia trees, minimising it’s competition from other herbivores.  A very long tongue and flexible upper lip enable the giraffe to reach the crowns of small trees and nimbly pull leaves from amongst the thorns.  It even has horny papillae on its lips and tongue to further protect it from thorns!

Giraffe eating leaves

Like many even-hooved animals, the giraffe is a ruminant with 4 stomach chambers much like the cow.  Below you can see the giraffe chewing the cud it has regurgitated to further extract nutrients from the food it has digested.

Big ball of cud
Chewing the cud

Black & white

Zebras are a beautiful species, with their stunning black and white stripes.

There are many theories for the colouring, the most postured one being that it enables the individuals to gather together and “dazzle” a predator to the point of confusion where they have difficulty isolating a particular individual as potential prey.  Another one is that it helps with discouraging biting flies and thermal regulation.

So is the zebra black with white stripes OR white with black stripes?

 

 

Blue Wildebeest

The African wildebeest are internationally renowned for their great migrations through the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti. During my time at college, the local students would tell me that generally these animals are known for not being the brightest animal, and there always seems to be the one wildebeest with an identity crisis hanging out with the zebras. Even I’ve observed this in Kruger, in Marataba and in Hwange!

They are more locally known as gnu, an indigenous word originating probably from the sound that the wildebeest make. When we were walking in the bush as part of our Back-up Trails Guide course, these animals would gruffly snort when they see/smell you and stand to attention and watch as you walk past.

Wildebeest are territorial animals and they leave scent marks in order to communicate to other animals where their territory is. This is a photo of one making its mark in the dirt – they turn and twist as if they are trying to scratch an itch on their back… quite funny to watch and very different to those grizzly bears who cleverly scratch their backs on tree trunks.

Wildebeest territorial marking
Wildebeest territorial marking

Birding in Hwange 

During rainy season the bush is very thick so it’s not the best time for big game viewing. But summer is an amazing time for bird viewing as there are so many migratory birds around.

I also find that without the distraction of the big game then you do notice the birds more.

The featured image are a pair of cuddling laughing doves, appropriate for this Valentine’s week!

Below are some more birds from a game drive in Hwange.

Curious looking Knob-billed duck. Up close you get to see the beautiful aqua green colouring at his rear! Sensational.

The Lilac-breasted roller, one of my favourite birds due to the magnificent array of colours. It unfortunately has a horrible screeching call but it’s very distinct and is usually a lead into its aerobatic rolling when finding a mate.

I find birds of prey very difficult to identify. This one I think is a tawny eagle due to the yellow gape below the eye and the legs which aren’t stovepipe so can’t be a lesser spotted eagle and they aren’t broad so it’s not a steppe eagle. If you can confirm or identify correctly please do! I would appreciate it.

Best game drive ever

Last year at NJ More college, we created so many wonderful memories and there were so many days where we said to ourselves: ‘Could it really get any better than this?’

Then came the best day ever. This leopard was my personal highlight of this game drive and I was so rapt that I could capture it in the brief moment we were allowed into its world before it turned off into the thick veld.

Leopards are definitely my favourite predator. There’s something magical about them… their elusiveness leaves you mystified and wanting more, their instinctive nature to hunt or hide is mesmerising in its totality and physically they are solid yet elegant, strong but dainty & silent on their feet. Such an impressive animal to watch.

I am happy that they are so elusive as it helps them survive in this day and age of humans, the destroyers.

There are many stories of leopards and lions around the world being manhunters and whilst it is chilling to read, in some ways nature fighting back for its rightful place on this planet is heartwarming. It’s a shame that humans are so effective due to sheer numbers in outdoing nature. Happy to be part of those trying to rectify humanity’s mistakes.

Grey-crowned Cranes

These stunning birds I first saw in a breeding farm in South Africa where they have a vulnerable status. In Botswana and Zimbabwe we were able to see them in the wild.

This pair from Hwange national park are so relaxed around vehicles and so beautiful in their plumage.

During breeding season you normally see them in pairs. I’ve only seen one solo bird hanging around the airstrip one day when we were test flying our drones after some maintenance updates and repairs.

I have yet to hear them call and do their mating display. They are called “mahem” in Afrikaans as this is the sound of their mournful call.

Chelonians

From our course on nature guiding we learnt to distinguish 3 types of chelonians: the tortoise, terrapin and turtle.

The tortoise is the one you typically find on land and has feet appropriate for walking.

At NJ More we managed to witness this leopard tortoise swim!

A terrapin lives in freshwater unlike the turtle which lives in seawater.

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As a comparison here is a sea turtle from a diving trip in Bali many moons ago.

The leopard tortoise is one of my favourites and are awesome to see in the wild.  They are part of Africa’s Little Five. Below is a photo I took of one during our Wildlife Photography sessions at NJ More Field Guide College with Mike Tucker from Big5Photos.

Leopard tortoise

Ode to Botswana – December 2016

This December Massi and Cookie

Took us to Botswana for a look-see

Plenty of lifers and mopane

Boom boom trees and AFB’s

Camping and 4×4’ing through the mud

This holiday has been far from a dud

Long-toed Plover
Long-toed Plover
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“Boom boom” tree
The largest boscia tree we've ever seen!
The largest boscia tree we’ve ever seen!

We had such an amazing campsite in Khwai community
We had such an amazing campsite in Khwai community development trust.
We had elephants and hyenas pass right next to our cars/tents at night.
Stunning bird
Stunning bird
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Mopane
Purple cluster-leaf is the thing here in Nata
Purple cluster-leaf is the thing here in Nata

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4×4’ing isn’t fun if you don’t have to get helped out of a hole

Andrew and Matt

Tracked and followed big cats

Quin and Maggie

Were happy to see wild doggie!

“Vehicle 1 do you copy?”

Was repeated together with coffee

For us it’s been so magical

We couldn’t be more lyrical

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Lioness crosses the Khwai river
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The male trails behind
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Lioness begins to stalk a zebra

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Squirrels are at attention as the lioness moves on from the loss into the thicket
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Lioness of Okavango
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Impala stand alert watching as the lioness comes past them
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The zebra is completely unaware of what is happening behind it

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Lioness looks on as the zebra makes a get away

In the heat of summer, along the Okavango

While Extra poled our dug-out mokoro

We worried about crocs and hippo

When only lifers and frogs were on show

People of Botswana with friendly smiles and dimples

Their beautiful villages were clean and simple

They’ll shoot on sight if they see you with a rifle

Wildlife is so important, free to roam not stifled

A mokoro is a traditional boat carved out of a tree trunk. This was our very happy mokoro poler & guide Extra.
A mokoro is a traditional boat carved out of a tree trunk. This was our very happy mokoro poler & guide Extra.
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Swimming in the Okavango Delta
Our wonderful mokoro polers and guides
Our wonderful mokoro polers and guides
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Typical hut of village Khwai

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The local shopping centre of Khwai village.
Typical local village. Simple and so clean. They really take pride in their country and home. It's so lovely to see.
Typical local village en route to Maun. Simple and so clean. They really take pride in their country and home. It’s so lovely to see.
Elephant crossings are also typical on certain sections of the main highway of Botswana!
Elephant crossings are also typical on certain sections of the main highway of Botswana!
In Botswana it is normal to see donkeys, cattle and dogs crossing and walking the highways.
In Botswana it is normal to see donkeys, cattle and dogs crossing and walking the highways.
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Our first kill was actually watching this yellow billed kite take out this other bird along the highway en route to Maun.
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Locally made huts with recycled bottles – sustainability is always in action in places with little resources.

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Local child from Khwai with his “remote control” set of wheels.

Graham and Massi

Nata, Khwai, Kalahari

We’ve had a fabulous time

Thank you for the rhymes

These experiences etched forever

So sad to see it over

This trip exceeded expectations

Now at the border we say our last salutations

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Bird of prey landing
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Wild dogs at a kill! What a thrill

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Imagining the Okavango Delta in full flood atop this termite mound would-be island (Photo courtesy of Massi)
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Wild dog on duty. No threat currently so time to chill.
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Wild dogs chase away the marabou storks
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An elephant walked to my pancake cooking station at camp! (Photo courtesy of Massi)

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Planet Baobab at night

To lead vehicle and vehicle 1

We wish for everyone

A very happy new year

To the future, and our new careers!

 

Right here, right now

Vehicle 2 over and out.

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Christmas dinner at Okavango Lodge

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Our Christmas cracker gifts
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Vehicle 1 do you copy?

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Enjoying an African sunset at camp

Sunsets in Africa never get old. Only more beautiful.
Sunsets in Africa never get old. Only more beautiful.

Botswana Part 4 – Central Kalahari – December 2016

We visited Deception Valley in the Central Kalahari and at this time of year it was not what we thought of when we think Kalahari! But it was amazing to see the change all the same.