Rhino conservation in Kenya – Borana and Lewa, dog squads and evening deployment

This is the second part of my blog about my trip to Kenya last May to see specific rhino projects which Real Africa is supporting through our partnership with Save the Rhino International. To find out more about this partnership or to support our #RealRhinos campaign please click here. To find out about our new partnership with Animals Saving Animals, a small organisation working in sub-Saharan Africa to train and deploy anti-poaching dogs, please click here.

We arrived at the gates to Lewa late morning. An open 4×4 pulled up with two armed rangers fully clad in camouflage fatigues. Rianto beamed at us, taking out a cake tin to reveal freshly baked banana bread – it was still warm. He passed back a battered holdall which tinkled with the sound of bottles. Then came a bottle opener as we headed off down a track, “Beer?”

 

Driving across the Lewa Conservancy, jewel green following May rain, we saw a plethora of wildlife – huge herds of zebra, including Grevy’s Zebra with their distinct stripes and white bellies, antelope scattering as we made our way, and warthog raising their tails in alarm as we passed.

After around 20 minutes we stopped as Rianto grabbed the binoculars and pointed to the horizon,  where focusing our gaze we saw at first one, then two, then five rhino – a mix of both black and white. Rianto then counted and announced “Eleven Rhino” – we looked again, scanning the horizon, and sure enough wallowing in the mud and high on the brow of the hill were more rhino. I’ve never seen so many all in one place before – a great testament to the work of the Borana and Lewa rangers and conservation teams.

We carried on until reaching the headquarters of the Anti-poaching Dog Squad, one of the projects supported by Save the Rhino International which I had specifically come to Kenya to visit.  I could see a large bloodhound, poised and ready for action and the rangers all gathered around a small thatched boma. After being introduced to softly-spoken Wilfred and the rest of his dedicated team of rangers, Rianto helped to explain how the dog squads are used on Lewa and Borana to protect the rhino. There are around 160 precious rhino across the two conservancies – around 97 black and 63 white, although with the rhino successfully breeding this number will hopefully increase. Some of the rhino have the most spectacular horns, like Wai Wai, a female black rhino who has reared a number of calves on Borana –  all need to be protected – patrolled day and night against the threat of poachers. All the 4×4 safari vehicles have detailed ID booklets with pictures to allow you to identify the rhino as you move around the conservancies.

The anti-poaching dogs have two key roles: to track and attack poachers.  Bloodhounds are the trackers with the ability to cover vast distances over tricky terrain, tracking scent from a single footstep for over 24 hours. Belgian malinois are the attack dogs although they also have the ability to sniff out illegal arms and caches of ivory and horn.  GPS tracking devices are attached to weapons when they are discovered by the dog teams, who then retreat, waiting for the poachers to return for them. They can then apprehend the whole group. With regards to attack, dogs are naturally feared in Africa so add to this a dog which has been specifically trained to attack and disable the ‘gun arm’ and you have a very powerful deterrent.

Wilfred was keen to show the dogs and the rangers in action having given us a summary of their skills. Tony the malinois was out on a mission so the job lay with Tipper the bloodhound. It was decided that my husband Mark become a dummy ‘poacher’ and I would join the tracking team to see the process from start to finish.

Mark was asked to walk on the stony sand, leaving a single footprint, before heading off across the grassy plains accompanied by some rangers. I stayed with Wilfred and his track team with Tipper. First Wilfred explained how Tipper had been trained  – when the chest harness is put on to the dog, he knows it is time to go to work. True enough, as soon as Tipper was harnessed his body language seemed to change and he was eager to move off, just like a dog at home waiting for his walk.

One of the rangers then put gloves on and got a polythene bag with a gauze pad within it. Being very careful not to contaminate the gauze, he pressed it down hard on the stony sand where Mark’s footprint was. He then placed the bag containing the gauze over Tipper’s nose for no more than a few seconds. Tipper immediately started to pull his handler and off we went, first along the stony sand track at a fast walk, then a gentle jog and before I knew it we took a sharp left, leaving the track, running through the long grasses of Lewa.

The track team, who train hard with long runs led by Pete Newland, ex British military, had no trouble keeping up with Tipper. I wish I could say the same!  In the back of my mind I was thinking about puff adders in the long grass where we were running!  When we finished the exercise and had regained normal breathing I did ask Pete about this and he said they haven’t had too much trouble at Lewa/Borana but further north in the Sera Conservancy where he also works with the Northern Rangelands Trust,  puff adders can at certain times of year be a problem. He had just purchased six viles of antidote at $1,000 US a vile . The antidote can be used for rangers and also for the dogs should they be bitten.
Tipper was incredibly focused on his path and there was no dithering about. A few kilometres later, we found ourselves on a dry river bed and by the time I caught up with the rangers, Tipper was happily slobbering all over Mark who had been primed for his arrival with a treat. It was an impressive display of how these track dogs play an important role in protecting rhinos.

50% of the money that we raised through our #RealRhinos campaign in aid of Save the Rhino International has gone to help the Dog Squads in Kenya. We hope to buy vital equipment for them, from bite suits which cost around £500 each to dog food at £7 per week. We want to help pay for veterinary care for the dogs and also the rhinos – to pay for a vet to treat a rhino that has been shot costs around £1000. The rangers need our support too – they need basic supplies like boots and hats so that they can carry out their day to day duties. To date our campaign has raised £6500. By going on safari with us or buying a rhino Tshirt from our Real World Store you can help us raise even more.

We have also ‘adopted’ a puppy – a Belgian Malnois – who is now 5 months old, has had his vaccinations and has started his training with Daryll Pleasants from Animals Saving Animals. The puppy will eventually be deployed to an anti-poaching dog squad working in the Save Valley in Zimbabwe where one of only eight viable black rhino breeding populations can be found.

Visiting Borana or Lewa

This was my first visit to the eastern Laikipia region – I  wish someone had told me how beautiful this region is as I would never have waited so long to visit. Part of the appeal of this area to me is seeing how the traditional cattle ranches have diversified, embracing conservation and tourism. The lodge at Borana has a real homestead feel, with beautiful gardens and guinea fowl casually strutting across the lawns. The walls are adorned with historic black and white images telling the story of Borana from the trophy hunting days to the forefront of the modern conservation movement. Borana remains family owned,  by Michael and Nicky Dyer .

There are just eight beautiful cottages perched on the side of the valley – all thatched, with decks and log fires. We were in Room 4 – a very pretty room close to the main area decorated in blue and white with a huge four poster bed carved from local wood at the centre of the room. Downstairs was a lovely bathroom, fashioned from the rock. We enjoyed an alfresco lunch at the pool, with produce from the farm –  quiche with salads and beef carpaccio. The beef comes from the Borana cattle and is supplied by Michael Dyer’s son, the ‘Well Hung Butcher’ . Cattle ranching is how Borana started but nowadays although cattle still graze the grassland there is holistic land management with their grazing carefully monitored in order to enhance grazing for wildlife. Cattle play an important and often overlooked role, reducing moribund grass biomass, promoting seed dispersal and increasing the nutritional value of the grass while decreasing the risk of bush fires.

Milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables are harvested from Michael’s parents garden, Tony & Rose who still live on Borana – Tony just celebrated his 90th birthday. All this fresh produce and a wonderful kitchen team ensured all the food we enjoyed was just delicious.

In the afternoon we joined Flick, who manages the lodge, for afternoon tea and cake before Rianto collected us and took us to the anti-poaching headquarters to meet Flick’s husband Sam Taylor, who heads up operations. It was fascinating to see the HQ and speak to Sam and the rangers about their work. We were invited to join the rangers on a deployment. On our way we saw lots of wildlife including a very friendly herd of elephants. It was great to see the rangers all whip out their phones to take photos for their families and get as much joy out of the encounter as us.

The rangers talked us through their kit, which includes weapons and a heat seeking camera per team. They explained how they stay in the same team of four of five rangers – this way they get to know their roles and how best to work together. The rangers receive training, board and lodging and a good salary in Kenyan terms of around $500 US per month. What struck us was the pride the rangers took in their position – they want to protect the rhinos just as much as we want them to.

During our short stay it was overwhelmingly apparent that the conservancies work very much in partnership with the community. From funding a mobile clinic which roams for miles providing health care in areas that would have very little access otherwise, to an education support programme which has helped to put dozens of children through school.


We checked in on Linda, one of the rhinos that the team we had joined were working to protect before reaching a site on the western border of the conservancy where the rangers were to set up their overnight watch. We watched the rangers go through their routine, climbing to a brow of a hill to make a camp before setting off. The sun was starting to dip, jackals crossed our path and a huge herd of buffalo seemed to surround us as we made our way to neighbouring Laragai House for sundowners. A perfect setting for ice cold gin and tonics and nibbles.

Returning to the lodge, after negotiating hyenas, we found a cosy glow from the newly laid fire in our cottage and steaming hot water with an abundance of lovely Cinnabar Green natural soaps and shampoo to enjoy.  Dinner was a real ritual and felt very special- first we met for drinks in an imposing sitting room with long bar and a vast fireplace surrounded by comfy sofas and arm chairs with dogs snoozing on the rugs around the room. We then moved  into the dining room to sit at a huge wooden table for a leisurely candlelit dinner. The chocolate souffle (with a glass of Amaretto) was divine!

Exclusive Offer – book by 31 March 2017

One night free at Borana – valid for travel all year excluding Christmas/New Year. Borana Conservation fee of $105 per person payable for free night.

You can now stay 3 nights for the price of 2 at Borana – exclusive to Real Africa’s #RealRhinos campaign. In addition to you benefiting from a wonderful free night, the Dog Squad will also benefit as the Real Africa Trust will make a £50 donation to Save the Rhino International,  per person on behalf of all clients booking this deal.

To find out more please click here.

Visit the Dog Squad

To visit the dog squad from Borana costs an additional £90 per person – this comprises a small fee for the dog squad plus the Lewa conservation fee of $105 per person per day. We recommend heading over to Lewa for the whole day, enjoying a safari on this side of the conservancy, a dog squad visit and a lovely picnic lunch before returning to Borana.  Please ask us for details.


 

Laikipia is currently experiencing a drought – you may have read reports of looting in the western region of Laikipia – please visit our News section for an update here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhino conservation in Kenya – meeting Sudan, last male standing

This is the story of Sudan who I was lucky enough to come face-to-face with in May this year at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya.  I travelled to Kenya to specifically visit a number of rhino conservation projects which Real Africa is proud to be supporting this year through our #RealRhinos fundraising and awareness campaign for conservation charity Save the Rhino International (registered charity number 1035072.). Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the largest black rhino sanctuary in East Africa and a haven for the last remaining Northern White Rhinos in the world. It seems fitting on World Rhino Day (22 September) to share my experience of meeting both Sudan and baby orphan rhino, Ringo. 

  • Meeting Sudan #LASTMALESSTANDING

Sudan is a formidable figure. At around 3 tonnes he looms large on the landscape. He is the last surviving male Northern White Rhino – northern whites are known to be the most sociable of the five rhino species, and it was easy to see he had a special bond with his rangers who affectionately tickled him behind the ear and on his mud-caked belly. Also in this special 700 acre enclosure, patrolled by 24 hour armed guard and only accessible by 4WD are two female Northen White Rhino, Fatu and Najin, making up the last three of their species in the entire world. In an effort to protect Sudan and his family, his horn has been filed down to make him less of a target to poachers.

Sudan
Sudan was born in Shambe,  Southern Sudan in the same year as me – 1973 – but was captured at the age of one and spent much of his life in captivity in a zoo in the Czech Republic. When he was born there were around 700 Northern Whites in the world, their numbers having plummeted from an estimated 2000 wild Northern Whites in the 1960s.  By the early eighties, as I prepared to progress to secondary school without a care in the world,  the picture was bleak for Sudan and his kind with just 350 Northern White Rhinos remaining, decimated by poaching. By 1984, as famine crippled Ethiopia, there were, shockingly,  just 15 Northern Whites left.
Sudan was safe at least – he stayed in captivity until moving to Ol Pejeta in 2009. At this time the numbers had dwindled further with only 7 Northern Whites surviving, all now in captivity. Sudan moved to Kenya  with another younger male Suni, his daughter Najin and grand-daughter Fatu as part of the ‘Last Chance to Survive’ project. Breeding was unfortunately unsuccessful at Ol Pejeta and despite there being hopes in 2012 of Suni and Najin mating, it came to nothing.  In 2014 Suni sadly passed away – a bitter blow.
Sudan did have a son while in captivity in thr Czech Republic, Nabire, who stayed in captivity at the zoo but tragically died in 2015.  There was one other male Northern White at this time, Angalifu, who was in captivity with a female, Nola, in San Diego Zoo. Angalifu was older than Sudan however and past breeding age – he died in 2014, followed by Nola in 2015. Sudan is 43 now, which is old in rhino terms.  His back legs are weak and buckled and his sperm count is low so there is very little hope that he will sire naturally.
With just 3 Northern Whites left, all from the same family, attempts are now being made to cross-breed with the closely related southern white rhino. The rangers told us that in vitro fertilisation techniques and stem cell technology are also being explored, although these costly and complicated procedures have never before been attempted in rhinos. One other idea is to use a southern white as a surrogate mother for a northern white embryo.
Everyone says that baby rhinos are cute – and they’re right –  but meeting a 3 tonne, 43 year old rhino is an even more impactful experience. Since my return I feel an even greater commitment to supporting conservation efforts in the hope that my own children and their children will be able to one day see rhinos as mighty as Sudan roaming the great African wilderness.
Visiting the Northern Whites at Ol Pejeta
Visitors to Ol Pejeta can book a 45 minute visit to the Northern White Enclosure for $40 US per person – this takes you on a behind the scenes journey, meeting the Northern Whites and their rangers. We can book this on your behalf, or you can do it directly on the Ol Pejeta website – proceeds from your visit go back into rhino conservation on the conservancy. Visits to the enclosure are in 4×4 vehicles only – if you are in a micro-van, it is possible to switch to a conservancy 4×4 at the Education Centre.
  • A tribute to Ringo the Rhino Calf on World Rhino Day
Ringo was abandoned by his mother, a southern white rhino at just 2 weeks old. I had been following his progress closely from the UK and was particularly keen to meet him during my stay at Ol Pejeta. The rangers  have been giving Ringo 24 hour care since his rescue. Ringo was 5 months old  when I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him.
I was devastated to hear that little Ringo had been taken ill in early July – specialists from South Africa were consulted and every effort was made but sadly he passed away on the night of 19th July surrounded by his devoted rangers.
As the conservancy said, “During his short life, Ringo inspired hundreds of people all over the world with his playful antics and irresistible charm. In simply being himself, he helped to raise awareness about the plight of rhinos in Africa.” We hope that through our #RealRhinos campaign with Save the Rhino International we can continue to raise awareness and raise vital funds for important field programmes – we welcome your support in communicating this message.  You can find out more and get involved here.
When I arrived with my husband to meet with ranger Peter at 245pm sharp for my visit with young Ringo, I thought I must be horribly late. Ringo was charging around impatiently, kicking up dust, eager for his giant bottles of milk. He nudged our legs forcefully and lent heavily on the legs of the rangers before making a brief detour to a wheelbarrow propped in the corner for a scratch.  On seeing the two giant bottles he was back in a flash –  guzzled his milk enthusiastically, before positioning himself perfectly, seeking a good old tickle on his perfectly round little belly.

Ringo was adorable. Full of charm and incredibly expressive.  I was able to stay in his enclosure, with my husband Mark, chatting to the rangers and interacting with Ringo for a good half hour or so before his full belly and the Kenyan sunshine had the predictable effect and made him rather sleepy! His ranger led him through the gate to a stable like set-up for him to sleep at which point on the other side of the fence, a far larger rhino cast a huge slice of shade over sleepy little Ringo.
  • Southern White meets Northern White
Ringo immediately seemed re-energised and backed out of the stables to go and greet who I immediately recognised to be the famous Sudan.
I felt incredibly fortunate to watch on as Sudan and Ringo greeted one another. Sudan was very tender with Ringo. He bumped noses and they seemed to complete a playful little dance moving gently back and forth across the yard. Sudan then came right up to the open gate and just like a friendly labrador seemed to ask for attention – I  gave him a scratch behind the ear, which he seemed to like, backing up a little , getting closer still. Encouraged by the rangers and heeding the warning to watch my toes, I then gave him a belly scratch,  a cloud of dust like icing sugar floating into the air.  It was a special 10 minutes.
  • Rhino Population figures
Fact: there are just 29,000 rhino in the world today.
AFRICA
20,000 Southern White Rhino: of the five species the southern white is the most populous, although it is important to remember that this species was decimated in the early 1900s with only 50 in existence. It is a tribute to conservationists that the population has managed to bounce back to around 20,000 in Africa today.
5,000 Black Rhino: Black rhino suffered a 96% decline from 65,000 in 1970 to 2,300 in 1993. Their numbers have risen steadily with the help of conservancies like Ol Pejeta, Lewa and Borana and the efforts of wildlife conservation organisations like Save the Rhino.
3 Northern White Rhino: guarded by rangers at the Ol Pejeta conservancy
ASIA
100 Sumatran Rhino – there are less than 100 individuals. A captive breeding programme hopes to boost the population.
60 Javan Rhino – a single population exists in Ujung Kulon National Park – they desperately need more habitat.
3,500 Greater One Horned Rhino – also known as the Indian Rhino, this species has recovered from just 200 or so in the 1900s thanks to the efforts of the Indian and Nepalese wildlife authorities.
Approximate figures – with thanks to Save the Rhino International.
Visiting Ol Pejeta

Ol Pejeta was purchased in 2004 by  Flora and Fauna International, with financial support from a private philanthropic organisation,  Arcus Foundation. 90,000 acres of savannah grassland was converted from cattle ranch to national land trust. As well as being a sanctuary for rhino, Ol Pejeta has one of the highest densities of predators in Kenya and a chimp sanctuary, opened by Jane Goodall, to rehabilitate rescued animals.

The conservancy is very beautiful. Our game drives were undoubtedly enhanced by the May rain which made the elephants of Ol Pejeta incredibly playful as they trumpeted at each other and chased the poor crowned cranes from one puddle to another. May is also a great time for seeing baby animals – there were new-born elephants, impala, zebra and giraffe all in abundance.

There are several places to stay – Sweetwaters Tented Camp, Kicheche Laikipia and Porini Rhino Camp among the choices.

 

Arriving at Sweetwaters, Ol Pejeta
After an international flight you have two choices to reach Ol Pejeta and the Laikipia Plateau – you can be driven or you can fly.  Check-in is usually at lunchtime so I stopped to freshen up and have some breakfast at one of the many airport hotels around Nairobi, before making the drive which depending on traffic takes anywhere between four and five hours.  You can imagine the delight as we pulled up  at the gates to Ol Pejeta to complete conservancy formalities while the bright yellow weaver birds busied themselves overhead.
Just a short ten or fifteen minute drive via dozens of zebra and impala we reached Sweetwaters. Caroline, from reception was there to greet us with a broad smile, cold towel and a fresh juice. We were then invited to join lunch  – a delicious curry buffet accompanied by an ice cold Tusker beer overlooking the camp waterhole. A pair of  rhino sauntered over to the waterhole, flanked by impala – a fine welcoming committee.
Following lunch, we settled into our tent and were delighted to see more rhino, just yards from the deck. The Morani tents fan out  to the right from the main lodge building – all have wonderful views across the plains and down to the waterhole. The tents are incredibly spacious, and very comfortable with huge wooden bed, dressing table and a comfy armchair. Although the main structure is canvas, there are glass French doors, a wooden deck and a modern ensuite bathroom with walk-in shower, flush loo,  double basin and tiled file.
Sample safari itineraries featuring Ol Pejeta
On behalf of every client travelling we donate £50 per person to Save the Rhino International.
If you, like us, care about the future of rhino, then please do support our #RealRhinos campaign. To find out more please click here.
We are holding a special fund-raising evening at London’s Royal Geographical Society on 2nd November 2016 with special guest, the explorer and Save the Rhino patron, Benedict Allen. Benedict will be taking us on gallop around the globe sharing his ‘Close Encounters’ before a panel of rhino conservation experts give an inside track on the world of rhino conservation. Guests include Save the Rhino Director Cathy Dean and Darryl Pleasants an ex military dog trainer who now selects and trains dogs and deploys them in Africa within anti poaching units. Both have many fascinating stories to share.
Tickets £15-£25 from Ticket Source

 

 

Where should I go on safari?

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down! 

In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.

In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore  – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!

Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.

Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).


Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions. 

Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
 A.Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti (depending on time of year).
Take a look at this classic tented safari holiday, put together with the Migration in mind.

Q.We’re on a budget – where do you recommend? 
 A.South Africa and Kenya currently offer the best value in Africa. 
This 19 day trip to South Africa, including a stay in a tented camp in the Greater Kruger is fantastic value.

Q.We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Where do you recommend?
A.It has to be Botswana…ideally combined with Victoria Falls (but the answer will vary depending on who you speak to!)
To be honest, if you go once, and do it right, we know you’ll be smitten and desperate to return to Africa!
Q.We’ve travelled lots in Africa and are after something completely different? 
A.Namibia or Ethiopia will make a big impression.

Q.Where can I see rhino?
 A.Your best chances are in Kenya (Lake Nakuru or Laikipia); South Africa (KwaZulu Natal); Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland)

Q.Where can we have an adventure? 
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)

Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
 A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve.  Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of  Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.

Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!

Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
 A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger  are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and  June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.

By Sara White.

 

Top 10 Wild Gifts for Christmas

There’re  just 10 days to go till Christmas Day. Are you stuck for gift ideas? Here’s our Top 10 Wild Christmas gifts for that ‘hard to buy for’ person in your life.

1.Spend time with the relations – Gorilla trekking permit, from US $600 (Uganda) to US $750 (Rwanda)

  • Find out more about gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda here.
  • See sample gorilla trekking safari holidays here.
  • Read Lily’s account of gorilla trekking here.

2.Mistletoe moment – fall in love with Africa and give a subscription to Travel Africa, the world’s only magazine dedicated to exploring Africa, from £15. Check out their subscription offers here.

3.Cloud Nine Experience – take to the skies at sunrise with a hot air balloon safari, complete with champagne breakfast from £325  (available in the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Tarangire)

  • Read about Robert’s experience in Tarangire here.
  • Find out more about hot air balloon safaris and other unforgettable safari experiences here.

4.Christmas Cracker – traditional cool, colourful cotton Kenyan Kikoys (try saving that after a few sherries) from £25. We love these ones from Blue Summer.

5.Flight of Angels – fly high over Victoria Falls, from £100 – £180 per person. A fabulous way to take in the full drama of this natural spectacle.

  • See a video of the Flight of Angels here.
  • There are many excursions from Victoria Falls – you can get some ideas here.
  • See sample safari itineraries in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

6.Trumpet Fanfare – adopt an elephant, from US $50 per year. Enjoy monthly emails updating you on your elephant with pictures and videos.

  • Find out more about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fostering programme here.
  • Read about Kithaka and Arruba, the elephants fostered by the Real Africa Trust here.

7.Give a Great White Christmas – adventurous cage diving in South Africa from £120 per person. It  might not be the most obvious thing to give your loved one, but cage diving with  a Great White in South Africa’s glorious Cape is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Cage diving can be easily added to any tailormade safari in the Cape. Find out more about our safaris and holidays in South Africa here.
8.A Night with the Stars – sleep out under the great African night sky from US $625 per person per night. Romantic, wonderful, unforgettable – this is a real Christmas cracker. There are many lodges offering a star bed experience including Loisaba and Serian in Kenya, Little Kulala in Namibia, Tswalu in South Africa, Baines and Jao Camp in Botswana. We love Nkwichi on Lake Malawi and the Dove’s Nest at The Hide in Hwange. 

Read our blog about the best star beds in Africa here.

9.Jumbo Bells – Real Africa silver elephant pendant, from £140 each. These beautiful hand-finished eles, as worn by Saba Douglas-Hamilton, are made by jeweller, Penny Price and were specially commissioned by Real Africa for our 15th anniversary. 30% from each and every one (all the profit) is donated to conservation charity Save the Elephants.

To find out more or to order online please click here. Please note: due to overwhelming demand we are now looking at New Year deliveries!

10. Gold, Frankincence, Myrrh …and travel show tickets of course – let Brian Jackman, Monty Halls and other travel experts inspire you in the travel theatres and spend your day consulting the specialists about your future travels plans. Compliments of Real Africa.

Request your complimentary tickets to the new Telegraph Travel Show or Destinations Manchester or London here.

 

 

 

The Hunt

The new BBC1 series The Hunt, narrated by Sir David Attenborough looks at predation in the natural world.  Viewers are transported at 9pm on a Sunday evening to a range of wonderful locations around the world to witness real-life dramas unfolding before their eyes.

Credit: BBC/Silverback Films/Huw Cordey. Filming wild dogs in Zambia.

Executive Producer Alastair Fothergill writes on the BBC website, “the kill itself isn’t interesting, because once animals have killed, the story’s over. What is interesting is the build up, the strategies adopted by both the predators and prey. This has never been looked at in detail, and that is the aim of The Hunt”.

At the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair, where we exhibited in November, we were lucky enough to enjoy a talk in the Expert Theatre and meet BBC wildlife cameraman Doug Allan, who worked on Blue Planet, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet, also produced by Alastair Fothergill. Doug told us that it takes on average 450 days of filming to get enough footage for a one hour episode. Taking such stats into account the team here at Real Africa has even more reverence for the BBC’s latest sensational wildlife series.

The Hunt

Catch the next episode of The Hunt, Nowhere to Hide, on BBC 1 on Sunday at 9pm. The episode follows cheetahs, bald eagles and lions on their hunt for prey in the exposed plains landscape with much of the 60 minutes filmed in Africa.

So where are the best places in Africa to see some of The Hunt’s leading ladies?

Cheetahs are diurnal, hunting in the morning and afternoon, and can be seen perched on termite mounds, rock kopjes and even on safari vehicles on occasion in order to survey the horizon – they can see prey 5km away and accelerate from 0 to 64kmh in just three strides. The Hunt filmed cheetahs in Kenya’s Masai Mara – we would recommend the Mara or the Serengeti to see these beautiful cats in action.

Real Africa clients get closer than expected!

 

Leopards are more tricky to see being nocturnal and relying on ambush. They need to get within 4m of their prey to be successful. Leopards are most often spotted draped in umbrella acacias in East Africa or on night drives when their eyes shine brightly. Zambia’s South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see leopard as is Sabi Sands in South Africa’s Kruger.

Leopard siblings playing taken by guests Diana & Walt at Nkwali, Zambia.

 

Lionesses …well, put it this way, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t seen a lion/lioness in the Masai Mara. The Marsh Pride were made famous by the BBC Big Cat Diary series and can still be observed hunting in the Mara along with many other prides. The Hunt filmed specific lion behaviour, as they stalked zebra in Namibia, in Etosha, another excellent place to see them, especially during the peak of the dry season in September and October when game congregates around waterholes. When it comes to lions, you have a great choice, from Kenya and Tanzania, or the lions of Duba Plains, Botswana to the prolific Luwi Lions of Zambia’s South Luangwa, or Cecil’s offspring in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.  You can even see them in trees in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park and Uganda’s QE National Park.

See Real Africa footage of lions hunting buffalo in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Lion cubs try out stalking – picture taken by our guide Gaudence.

 

Nile Crocs– Get to the Grumeti River in the Northern Serengeti between July and September and you will see plenty of giant Nile Crocodiles feasting on wildebeest as they make the crossing from one side to the other enroute to Kenya’s Masai Mara. Murchison Falls in Uganda is another great place to observe these beasts.

Credit: BBC / Silverback Films / Huw Cordey. Nile Crocodile taking wildebeest on the Grumeti River.

 

Ethiopian Wolves– With only around 500 of these long-legged fox-like creatures remaining in the highlands of Ethiopia, you have to be lucky to get a glimpse. Give yourself every chance by staying in the Bale Mountains at the wonderful Bale Mountain Lodge.

Elusive Ethiopian Wolf in the Bale Mountains.

 

Wild Dogs-The formidable wild dog or painted dog thrives in packs of around 6 to 20 dogs, roaming open plains and woodland. Wild dogs are also endangered but the Linyanti region is Botswana has very  reliable sightings with several packs denning in the area. Another good place to try and see Wild Dogs is in Zambia’s South Luangwa – but, as I well know, the dogs move very quickly, with incredible stamina, and can be elusive so it doesn’t always work out. I spent a week trying to see them in Zambia – saw their prints, heard them, glimpsed them but never quite managed to catch up with them! The positive news is that in the last ten years the wild dog numbers in the valley have increased. By the way…I saw everything else when I was there, from lions chasing impala into jeeps and leopards sheltering from the rain in thorn bushes…

Wild Dog Pups taken from Kwando Lebala.

 

Watching wildlife is of course, unpredictable so although we can’t guarantee you’ll witness a sequence like the cheetah taking a wildebeest calf during your safari holiday,  we can ensure we use our expert knowledge, experience and wonderful guides to get you to the best places at the best times for what you want to experience.

Here are our Top Five recommendations for places to catch some serious safari action.

1.TANZANIA – THE SERENGETI

The Serengeti promises a special safari whenever you go, with the wildebeest migration making its circular journey year-round . However, the southern plains of the Serengeti play host to calving season during January and February and is said to be the best place in the world to observe cheetah hunting.

During a dramatic 3 week window, starting in late January depending on the arrival of the rains, the wildebeest have their calves with thousands being born daily, long legged and unsteady as they take their first steps on the short grassy plains of the Serengeti, their nursery.

During these key few months, this area of the southern Serengeti and western Ngorongoro Conservation Area is home to Africa’s densest concentration of predators. The big cats patrol the  grassland waiting for an opportunity to strike. Cheetah sightings are especially good along with large prides of lion while other predators like hyena and caracal can also be seen.

If you are keen to witness stalking behaviours then heading to the area around Ndutu in February would be our number one recommendation – many would say that this is the absolute best time to be in the Serengeti.

Mobile camps come into their own, moving to be within reach of the migration and offering an authentic ‘Out of Africa’ safari experience. Our favourites include Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti South, Lemala Ndutu Tented Camp and &Beyond’s Serengeti Under Canvas. Mobile camps are seasonal tented camps which move depending on the location of the herds.

If you prefer a permanent camp then we would recommend Ndutu Safari Lodge,  Lake Masek Camp and Sanctuary’s Kusini Camp but there are several lodges and camps in this area so do ask!

INSPIRATION

Lemala Migration Safari 

Wildlife Extra

Serengeti Under Canvas

Alex Walker’s Serian Camps

Lemala Ndutu

2.KENYA – THE MASAI MARA

The Masai Mara is synonymous with big cats. The Marsh Pride came to life on our screens during the BBC Big Cat Diaries – you can even stay, like the BBC film crew did, at Governors Camps in the Mara, well placed for visiting the Marsh Pride.  Several big cat projects are based in the Mara including the Mara Predator Project, the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project as well as a Spotted Hyena research centre so this is a indication that the area is rich with wildlife.

Research in the 1990s by Joseph Oguto showed that there were roughly 3 lions per 10 square kilometres in the Mara, the largest pride of 48 being the Talek Pride. It is true that lion numbers have dropped by around a third  in the last twenty years, as they have all over Africa but the Masai Mara is still one of the very best places to see these beautiful big cats.

Visit the Mara between July and October when the Great Wildebeest Migration is in the vicinity and chances are you may see something very special. We recommend staying in one of the private concessions as opposed to within the National Reserve itself. The main reserve has many lodges, often quite large ones, and as such can see high vehicle densities at peak times. In the private conessions which work in partnership with the local Maasai communities, visitor numbers are restricted to 1 guest to around 350 acres allowing for a more exclusive experience.

You’ll find lovely small lodges, classy mobile tented camps like Saruni Wild and Alex Walker’s Serian as well as affordable riverside camps like Karen Blixen Tented Camp on the Mara River, one of our favourite ‘good value’ tented camps in the Mara North concession, which bridges the gap between the tiny, top end  lodges/camps and the larger 3 star lodges/camps in the national park.

For  observing predators and their prey the Masai Mara is a fabulous place to safari.

See Real Africa footage of cheetah hunting.

INSPIRATION

Karen Blixen Fly-in Safari

Masai Mara Fly-in & Lake Malawi

Saruni Wild

Little Governors

Kicheche Mara

3.NAMIBIA – ETOSHA

The best time to be in Etosha for wildlife is in the peak of the dry season when vast numbers migrate to waterholes (August – October). As the dry season progresses the landscape becomes increasingly arid and by October, the hottest month, can be quite dusty. It is at this time that the BBC film crew captured the incredible footage of lions hunting – with the swirling dust storm confusing their prey and masking their scent.

Many of our clients choose to explore Namibia on a self-drive itinerary over 16 or so days with a 4×4. You can also explore with a flying safari.

You may be interested in our blog, Namibia – In the Driving Seat.

INSPIRATION

Self Drive of Namibia

Namibia Fly-in Safari

Ongava Lodge, Etosha

Onguma Tented Camp, Etosha

4.BOTSWANA – DUBA PLAINS

Duba Plains in Botswana is famous for its clashes between lions and buffalo in particular. The special thing about the Duba lions is that they hunt during the day allowing visitors to witness them at work rather than simply lazing in the shade. Many will remember the film made by the Jouberts about the lions of Duba and it is a stay at the Joubert’s camp, Duba Plains, with just six ensuite tents that will get you close to the lions here.

When the film was made there was one big pride, the Tsaro pride but in the last few years this pride has split into two so interactions in the area are transforming all the time and are rather unpredictable. However Duba Plains is still rated one of the best places to see lions hunting.

Safari elsewhere in Botswana and I don’t think you will be disappointed. Linyanti is a good choice for seeing predators with the guiding teams focused on finding lion, leopard and cheetah – night drives are possible from Lebala Camp which sits in a private concession and wild dogs den in the area. Lebala is on the plains/marsh and combines well with sister camp, Lagoon, which sits on the banks of the Kwando river.

If Botswana is of interest to you, you may enjoy our country guide called Botswana – Wilderness & Wildlife. 

INSPIRATION

Duba Plains Camp

Ultimate Botswana

Kwando Lebala Camp, Linyanti

Botswana Explorer

5.ZAMBIA – SOUTH LUANGWA

South Luangwa is a fantastic place to see predators. The Luwi Sand River, close to Nsolo Bush Camp  is where several lion pride territories overlap, while leopard use the dry river bed a bit like a super highway. South Luangwa is one of the few National Park’s allowing night drives with trackers and spot lights which gives you a good chance to see leopards actively hunting.

This area is very unspoilt with few vehicle tracks in the area and much of the exploration done on foot with guided walking safaris. Accommodation is in seasonal bush camps which are erected for the duration of the dry season between May and October time. This means minimal disturbance to the environment and as a result wildlife is prolific. For lion, leopard, spotted hyena and wild dog (if you are lucky!) this area is truly fabulous.

DID YOU KNOW? BBC wildlife cameraman, Simon King, and crew stayed at Robin Pope’s Nsefu Camp in the Luangwa’s Nsefu sector when filming lion hunting buffalo.

INSPIRATION

Zambia Walking Safari

Nsolo Camp

Classic Zambia

Luwi Camp

 

Tailor-made Safaris with Real Africa

Tell us what you are keen to try and see and we will be able to give you independent advice on the best time of year, the best guides and the best lodges/camps to visit in order to realise your specific ambition. You can call us on 01603 283 517.