Big cat central: a review of Mahali Mzuri, Masai Mara, Kenya

Blog DSC_8585Blog DSC_8586“Welcome to Olare Orok” grinned the barefoot co-pilot as he flung open the doors of the Cessna Caravan and pulled down the steps to let the sunshine in.

Waiting at the tiny airstrip were our Masai guides John and Dickson from Mahali Mzuri, Sir Richard Branson’s safari camp, one of five camps in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara, an hour’s flight west of Nairobi.

Branson’s camp opened in 2013 and works in partnership with the Maasai landowners to protect the ecosystem for the benefit of both community and wildlife. We’d had a number of guests stay at the camp in 2017 but I had not visited for myself so was very much looking forward to our stay.

Blog DSC_8592The transfer to camp in open Landcruisers is no more than 20 minutes but easily stretched to an hour as we discovered a beautiful female cheetah relaxing in the shade of an acacia within moments of leaving the airstrip.  We then came across a huge herd of buffalo – 100 or more flicking their ears and munching the lush grass, enriched by early rains in the Mara.

blog DSC_9055I was travelling with my wider family – seven of us in all. For the grannies, who both grew up in Kenya in the 50s it was a welcome, and emotional return. For my children, it was their first taste of East Africa.

Mahali Mzuri means ‘beautiful place’ and we were not disappointed.  The emerald cloak of the Mara in late March was captivating. Early rains had given the landscape a freshness and vibrancy.  The camp itself overlooks a valley with a rocky river at its heart. Giraffe lolloped along the valley as we settled down to an alfresco lunch, ably looked after by Johnstone, who had all our names within the first five minutes. Swahili started to come back to the grannies after a wine or two, much to his amusement and delight. A plump hippo waddled on the river bank and monkeys chattered nervously in the acacias.

blog DSC_8811Blog DSC_8691blog DSC_8820blog DSC_8827Mahali Mzuri does not have the look of your average tented camp.  The striking design, by Kenyan architects, pays homage to the local Ndorobo tribe who in times past used the ridge as a lookout,  while the interiors are inspired by the landscape with a natural palate of stone grey, red-oat rust and sun gold injected by bold prints, art and basketry all sourced locally. All the wood was harvested from sustainable sources and the site’s environmental impact was also addressed, with each canopy structure only touching the ground at three points, and all waste water being processed through gravity-fed anaerobic bio-digesters.

Each of the twelve tents is strung high above the valley, with six either side of the main camp area.  All enjoy wonderful panoramic views and are linked by a series of walkways. Each tent is raised up on a concrete plinth and stretched on a giant arching steel structure, surrounded by a spacious wooden deck. The interior, which is linear in design features a bedroom, living space and luxury bathroom complete with shower and roll top foot and claw bath. The tents are breeze cooled and incredibly comfortable – perfect for our multi generational group. Two of the tents are configured for families and can accommodate four sharing.

Although the tent interiors don’t feel huge, especially the family tent where our teenagers slept on wide sofabeds in the living room,  there’s everything you could possibly need, from torches and filtered water to bug spray and sunscreen. There’s even a complimentary mini bar in case you fancy a cold Tusker on the deck and don’t fancy the stroll to the main bar.  The outside area really does feel generous and has the most wonderful vista.

The communal camp area consists of three main sections. The main dining tent has several large dining tables arranged both indoors and outdoors on the deck, with  fallen trees as their bases and solid glass tops, as well as smaller tables.  The second central tent is a welcoming  lounge and bar area where tasty snacks appear three times a day at dawn, tea and during sundowners.  Both of these two open fronted tented areas are linked by steps to a lower decked tier with a large fire pit and further seating. Softly illuminated by lanterns and the glow of a camp fire, this was a wonderful place to sit with a nightcap as Olare’s big male lions warmed up their roar.

The third section of the communal camp area, also linked by decking, and favoured by the resident camp hyrax families offers a small gift shop, the office and washrooms. Steps down from here lead to a glorious sundeck and infinity pool, with a small spa on the level below.

Stays at Mahali Mzuri are all-inclusive from bubbles on arrival at the airstrip to a warming after dinner amaretto or whatever you fancy  – it’s great to be able to budget for all this from home rather than during your holiday and we found it extremely relaxing to know everything was included from the word go. The only exceptions to this rule are the additional activities, for example the spa, community visits and hot air balloon safaris.

Food was of a very high standard with several choices offered at lunch and dinner – both being leisurely three course affairs. All our dining was private with our own table set up. The chef would often come out to chat with diners which was a lovely touch. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juices, toast and preserves, pastries and an expansive cooked menu from eggs and bacon to pancakes.

Blog DSC_8682blog DSC_9001For the next three days we followed a safari routine,  rising at around 530am in the dark, and escorted by the waiting ‘askaris’ to the lounge for a hot brew and a warm pastry as dawn unveiled the valley. We’d leave at first light, by 630am, kept cosy in the open Landcruisers by lovely hot water bottles,  ponchos and Maasai blankets, provided by camp. We’d be out until 930/10am, peeling off layers as the sun got higher in the sky, ready for a big breakfast back at camp mid morning.

The middle part of the day was spent having a swim, reading on the deck, watching the wildlife come and go from the valley and eating and drinking. The pool was a great distraction in the heat of the day, especially for the children. The pool deck offers some lovely deep shade. We’d meet in the lounge at 4pm for tea, which was always very sociable with the other camp guests,and be out on safari from 430pm till around 7pm when we’d return for a gin and tonic on the deck before dinner. On our final night we dined by the pool, surrounded by lanterns. After sundown the askaris guide you around camp, ensuring your safety.

blogDSC_8904We were able to explore a number of different areas in the conservancy during our stay, crossing rivers and crawling carefully down rocky hills to the wide open plains below, the children taking turns to sit up front with Dickson, completing their ‘warrior’ booklet as they went. Children 6 years+ are warmly welcomed.

On our first morning game drive we explored the valley immediately below camp. Some of our best wildlife sightings were right here. We had not long been on the valley floor when Dickson’s efforts were rewarded. The monkeys were nosier than usual and the birds were squawking. Then we saw her…

Blog DSC_8714Slinking along the valley, on the opposite side to the river from us, with her coat golden in the morning sun was a lioness. Dickson recognised her and said she had four cubs up on the slopes further along from camp. We waited patiently as she crossed the river and came towards us, almost brushing the tyres of the Landcrusier as she went.

blog DSC_8760The monkeys continued to chatter nervously and as we followed the lioness, a large hippo appeared on the horizon – I’ve never seen a hippo so far from water  – it looked like a huge boulder.

Suddenly there was a great explosion of movement from a thicket lower down the slope. What looked to be a leopard shot out of the bushes at lightning speed, pursued rapaciously by our lioness, who stretched herself up the tree as far as she could, clawing at the bark.

We held our breath. All was still again save for the hippo who continued to traverse the hillside. The lioness lay in wait for a few moments before deciding to continue her journey along the valley. We sat and watched. And waited in the hope the leopard would emerge.

blog DSC_8748blog DSC_8738The dark rosettes of the leopard could just about be seen with the binoculars but he was well concealed in the highest boughs of the tree. It took about 15 minutes until we saw any movement at all. Gradually, gracefully he picked his way down the tree. He was a huge thick-set male leopard. He sidled casually along the river bank, standing proudly in the long grass before disappearing out of sight…

We never did catch up with the lioness and her four cubs – we saw them from a distance and we glimpsed them playing in the trees as a dramatic storm swept through the valley one afternoon, pelting our Landcruiser and turning the sky black and moody. The storm curtailed the afternoon drive a little but it was very exciting.

blog DSC_8802We may not have spent time with the lioness and cubs but our stay in the Mara was not short of big cats  – this area is densely populated – we even got to watch a ‘super pride’ of 17 lion hunting warthog, and we also found the two huge male lions who woke us every night with their spine tingling roars. On the second night the roar was so loud it literally felt like the lion was right outside the tent. Thrilling.

blog DSC_8984In the valley and area immediately around Mahali Mzuri we did not see another vehicle – on the other side of the valley, down on the plains, we did see other vehicles, but most of our sightings were enjoyed on our own or with only one other vehicle. This included watching the wonderful cheetah brothers.

One of our highlights at Mahali Mzuri was coming across a one hour old baby elephant being nursed by her mother. Truly magical. We stayed watching until well after 1030am before returning to camp for a late breakfast.

We stayed three nights at Mahali Mzuri and wish we had stayed four – testament to the fact we had a great time.  We loved the staff who were all so warm and friendly, from our superb guide Dickson, to the managers Mariana and Wilson. We were incredibly comfortable, saw some amazing wildlife and laughed continually for three days. What more could you want?

Blog DSC_8597Green season travel

blog DSC_9126We chose to travel in the Green season – we enjoyed hot sunny days, some incredible sunsets and sunrises and only one big downpour which arrived just before sunset and lasted several hours. Some of the roads were badly damaged by heavy rain earlier in the month and we had to travel to the larger Ol Kiombo airstrip an hour away from camp to fly on to our next stop because Olare Orok was too soft to land on but other than that the weather did not impact on our plans. Mornings and after sunset it got quite chilly and you needed to dress with plenty of layers but the middle of the day was blazing hot. There are many young animals during the Green Season, the birding is fantastic and the landscape is beautiful. I love visiting at this time of year.

Special Offers

The benefit of the Green season is that there are very few other visitors in the Mara and you can take advantage of lower rates and special offers, for example Mahali has stay and pay offers and also a ‘children go free’ offer running at certain times of year. Look out for these for travel between March and June and often in November time too.  We include some offers on our ‘Special Offer‘ page on the website.

To find out more about Mahali Mzuri please click here.

To find out more about Kenya as a holiday destination please click here.

To discuss your family journey to Africa, or for a tailor-made itinerary,  please call us on 01603 964 730.

17 April 2018, by Sara White

 

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 2016  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 support 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 seemed fitting on World Rhino Day (22 September 2016) to share my experience of meeting both Sudan and baby orphan rhino, Ringo via this blog.

  • 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, 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 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 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 the 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, now 44, 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.
**UPDATE**
Ol Pejeta has joined forces with Tinder to try and raise money to save Sudan’s species and invest in a breeding project. Find out about the World’s Most Eligible Bachelor and the mission to save the Northern White Rhino here. 
Everyone says that baby rhinos are cute – and they’re right –  but meeting a 3 tonne, 44 year old rhino is an even more impactful. 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 so it was fantastic to get the chance to meet him and speak to his rangers. The rangers provide Ringo with 24 hour care. He was 5 months old and full of energy  when I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him in May 2016.
In July 2016 I heard that Ringo’s health had deteriorated – 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.” When I heard the news I immediately questioned whether close contact with humans was advisable and had possibly contributed to Ringo’s demise. As much as it was lovely to be close and to feed him – this was a rhino destined for a wild life again one day.  Raising these animal orphans is undoubtedly an incredibly complex issue. We hope that through our #RealRhinos campaign with Save the Rhino International we can raise awareness about rhino conservation and raise vital funds for important field programmes – we welcome your support in communicating this message.  You can find out more here.
Remembering Ringo
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.  After he had his milk, 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 Sudan.
Sudan was very tender with Ringo. They bumped noses and 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.  Alternatively you can fly. 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.
To find out more about the work of the Real Africa Trust please click here.
Explorers against Extinction and Sketch for Survival
We are holding a special fund-raising evening at London’s Royal Geographical Society on 12th October 2017 called Explorers against Extinction. This will also incorporate a major art exhibition called Sketch for Survival. To find out more please visit the event website here.

 

 

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.