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.

 

 

Wildly romantic honeymoons and romantic escapes

As we gallop towards Valentine’s Day we thought it a fitting time to focus on some romantic holiday ideas. Whether it’s a honeymoon you are deliberating or simply a romantic escape to celebrate a special milestone, you’ll find plenty of inspiration here at Real Africa.

Undeniably romantic, Africa offers starry skies, wonderful candle-lit camps and incredible barefoot beach retreats. Add to that a bounty of wildlife and culture and you have the perfect romantic escape.

Ultimate off -the-beaten-track romance – it has to be Botswana

The Okavango from the air

Many of the lodges and camps we use in Botswana are small varying from 4 tents (Zarafa) to a dozen or so in the Delta and even in Chobe National Park, our preferred lodge, Muchenje, is hidden away in the quiet Forest Reserve in the west, on an escarpment overlooking the Chobe River and far from the crowds associated with Kasane. There are only 11 chalets, all with private decks and wonderful views over Chobe.

Chobe is an excellent option if you want to experience the natural wonders of Botswana but are on a tighter budget. You can combine Victoria Falls with a side-trip to Botswana’s Chobe National Park for a safari, which can easily be accessed on tarred roads from The Falls. This makes a great week long itinerary, and a stay at The Falls is romantic in itself. Chobe is impressive – it has the densest concentration of wildlife in Africa and is famous for its huge herds of elephants. To see a sample itinerary click here.

Another way to experience Botswana on a budget is to travel out of the peak season which runs from April to October. There is a safari special called Five Rivers which we get every winter and is offered on our newsletter and website for travel Nov to March – it always fills up within a week or so. There are also a number of lodges owned and managed by the same company which can be combined to make a cost effective itineraries  – these include Ker & Downey, Kwando, Footsteps Across the Delta and Desert & Delta among others.


But if you really crave isolation,  then it has to be Duba Plains (pictured above) on the western side of the Okavango Delta,  reputed to be the very best place to observe lion, and said to be Botswana’s most remote camp amidst a 77,000 acre reserve. Before last year there was a very large pride and you could often see lion and buffalo going head to head.
The camp advise us that the lion pride has now splintered so although you have a good chance of seeing big cats the real joy at Duba Plains is being at a traditional rustic tented camp in a remote and very beautiful part of the Delta with guides that really know their stuff. That’s what you pay for.

Mombo Camp, and Little Mombo (possibly Botswana’s most expensive camp) sit on Mombo Island on the northern tip of Chiefs Island in the Delta. This offers the best all year round game viewing. There are only 9 tents at Mombo (plus another 3 at Little Mombo). You’ll see big herds of game as well as an excellent chance of observing big cats – there are 7 prides of lion in the area.

Honeymoon idea: embrace adventure and join the Selinda Canoe Trail, exploring remote waterways and fly-camping on deserted islands beneath the stars. Combines brilliantly with a couple of nights in a luxurious lodge in the Delta.

New horizons – Zimbabwe

Yes, Zimbabwe is back on the holiday map and feedback from our senior consultant Lily who was there last year is that it promises a sensational trip for those with the time and budget. The infrastructure and distances involved means that most areas are best accessed by light aircraft, and the camps are certainly pricey due to their remote nature, but having said that, some have already established a reputation for superb guiding and warm hospitality.  Mana Pools is considered a real gem in southern Africa. You can explore by 4×4, by boat on the Zambezi and also walking. Please do ask to speak to Lily if Zimbabwe is of interest. You can see some sample itineraries and lodges here.

Honeymoon idea: Looking for a once in a lifetime experience? Consider Singita Pamushana, part of our Ultimate Collection.

Zambia – camping – but not as you know it!

For those who want a pristine environment then staying at a mobile camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa is as close as you can get. The camps are taken down at the end of the dry season in October leaving very little impact on the environment and put up again in April/May time. Sightings of wildlife in and around camp are excellent and these mobile camps naturally have a different feel to them.

Camps can be combined in a safari circuit – each one is different in its outlook and construction so they combine really well. You can even enjoy bush walks between them.

We all have our favourites camps but tend to use Robin Pope and Norman Carr properties for most of our clients. You can find out more here.

Honeymoon idea: enjoy the thrill of a big game safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa and then crash out on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi for lazy days in the sun. See our Valley & Lake itinerary here.

Other suggestions for getting off the beaten track in Africa…

Have you considered Mozambique? Ibo Island Dhow and Lodge Safari

Being partial to boats, being barefoot, water and islands the Ibo Island Dhow Safari is right up there on my wish list. If you like your holiday to have a balance of activity and downtime then this combination of dhow and lodge safari could be perfect for you.

Ibo Island lies in the incredibly beautiful Quirimbas Archipelago in Mozambique. The crystal clear waters lap sun-drenched white sand beaches.  Beautiful coral reefs teem with life from turtles and rays to spectacular reef fish such as parrotfish, groupers and batfish. Common, bottlenose and spinner dolphins can also be seen while humpback whale sightings are good between June and December. Turtle nesting generally occurs on beaches between October and February.

This 7 night module ex Pemba includes 4 nights island hopping and 3 nights at Ibo Island lodge itself. You island hop on a traditional Arab 12 metre dhow looked after by a Mozambican skipper, crew and chef. The dhow has been modernised and has an engine as well as sails giving lots of flexibility. You don’t sleep on board but camp ashore in some wonderful deserted spots.

Days are spent barefoot, exploring by kayak, swimming, snorkelling and sailing and by night you star gaze and cosy up by the camp fire to feast on freshly caught seafood prepared by the chef. The crayfish comes highly recommended! Ibo is one of 32 islands in the archipelago so there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and sand banks to explore.Camping ashore involves comfortable 2 person 3x3m walk-in dome tents with safari style stretcher bed with 2 in memory foam mattress and  insect screen. Mobile eco camp bathrooms are set up for you, with  traditional bucket showers and bush loo.

Ibo Island Lodge won the Best Marine Safari Property Award in the 2014 Safari Awards. The lodge itself, where you spend the final 3 nights, comprises three historic 150 year old mansions which have all been lovingly restored to their former glory. The luxury lodge sits in lush gardens with a pool. Each of the ensuite air-conditioned 14 rooms have been individually designed and enjoy wide airy verandahs to soak up the ocean views. The roof top restaurant is a wonderful place to enjoy a sundowner and watch the sun set. The island, which was an important trading post and which our senior consultant Lily has been lucky enough to explore is a real fairytale destination with a 200 year old historic town, 16th century fort,  crumbling ruins, wonderful architecture and small communities. The island’s interesting history as a result of being split between Portuguese and Omani-Arab rule for several centuries means there are many interesting forts and buildings amidst the fig trees and bourgainvillea to explore.

You can join scheduled departures with a maximum of 7-10 guests. There are also private departures (please ask) so as well as appealing to groups of friends and families, this is a great option for a honeymoon or romantic break. You can choose to lose yourself amidst a group or set sail exclusively.

You can see a day to day itinerary and find out more here.

Honeymoon idea: this 7 night dhow and lodge safari works brilliantly well when paired with South Africa since flights to Pemba naturally route via Johannesburg – depending on how much time you have, you could add  a 4×4 safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, staying in a beautiful tented camp like Honeyguide Mantobeni. The best time to safari in Kruger is during the dry winter months between May and November – and this is also the optimum time to be island hopping in Mozambique. There are many wonderful properties in Mozambique, some can be accessed more readily than others, for example Machangulo and White Pearl. Please do ask us for details.See a sample South Africa and Mozambique itinerary here.

Kenya – the quest to get off the beaten track!

Alex Walker’s Serian sits in the private Mara North Conservancy, bordering the famous Masai Mara National Park. For a stylish safari which embraces authentic Africa then Serian is a superb choice. Many of our clients combine Serian with either Borana on the Laikipia Plateau and/or Saruni Samburu further north – both fabulous and very much off the beaten track.  Our In Style sample itinerary combines Tortilis Camp in Amboseli with Borana in Lewa Downs and Serian in the Mara and can of course be adapted to suit you.

We also offer a week in the Mara for those who don’t want to move around too much and for whom the primary focus is wildlife.  You can combine Alex Walker’s  Ngare Serian camp with the Nkorombo mobile camp and a night in the ‘Nest’ – a treehouse overlooking the river – a fabulous safari combination. Serian also employs local Masai guides which enhances your experience with a cultural element. See a sample itinerary here.

Ngare Serian is a permanent camp set up on the Mara River with just six specious marquee  guest tents on hardwood decks. You access the lodge by a rope bridge.  The Nest suspended in an Elephant Pepper tree, is a treehouse over a salt lick on the Mara River, which you can walk to, guided by a Masai guide. The Masai keep watch from a distance while you enjoy fairytale privacy, game viewing, supper and a night under the stars. The treehouse is equipped with night vision camera, safari bathroom and a very comfortable nest for two. The Nkorombo mobile camp offers a different experience again, with just 5 traditional Meru style tents with ensuite facilities consisting of a bucket safari shower and flush loo. The salt lick harbours a variety of wildlife including black rhino, leopard and lion and gets you really close to the action.

Honeymoon idea: ask us about pre-booking a dawn hot air balloon flight over the Masai Mara, settling back down on the plains after an hour’s flight to a champagne bush breakfast.

There are more economical options in the private concessions bordering the Masai Mara. Karen Blixen Tented Camp sits on the banks of the river with 26 ensuite tents for example. You get all the benefits of being in a private concession but can keep costs down by staying at a slightly larger camp.

Very few visitors to Kenya get to explore the north – both Samburu and the Mathews Range  offer a fantastic experience and wonderful options for you. These areas offer a different more arid landscape, the Samburu people and their culture and a stay here combines perfectly with the big game of the Mara. Sarara Camp is our most northerly camp and really embodies off the beaten track.

Tanzania – Southern Parks and Islands

For a first time in Africa then Tanzania’s Northern Circuit is hard to beat, giving you that dense concentration of animals, diverse landscapes and a superb choice of camps and lodges.

But if you long to get off the beaten track and to see a quieter Africa then the Southern Parks of Selous and Ruaha can reap real rewards. We recommend you spend longer in each destination, 4 nights is a good amount of time in each park,  as the wildlife is certainly more challenging and unpredictable being spread out over a vast area. The best wildlife viewing is usually during the dry months of May to November time when wildlife concentrates around the water sources.

Ruaha is actually Tanzania’s largest national park. The mighty Ruaha River snakes along the southern border, with baobabs and floodplains fanning out from the river. You also have rolling hills. You fly into Ruaha from Dar es Salaam, a 3 hour flights, and then enjoy game drives from the camp/lodge you are staying at which can normally be accessed within an hour of the airstrip. This gives you an idea of the remote nature of the camps.

In Ruaha, if you really want to embrace the wild and remote nature of Ruaha, we recommend the small mobile tented camp, Kwihala by the Mwagusi Sand River. With just 6 tents Kwihala combines understated luxury in a very wild and beautiful environment. You have lots of comfort and a high level of service but its not flash or over the top. Tents have ensuite bathrooms with safari bucket showers (hot water!) and flush loo. Part of Asilia Camps, Kwihala gets incredible feedback with guiding at an exceptional level. You are unlikely to come across other safari vehicles and the area feels truly untamed. You can explore on foot, and enjoy game drives by day and night. This sort of rare environment does come at a price but you really do have a special experience.

If you prefer something more permanent and slightly less wild feeling, then the long established and more affordable Ruaha River Camp, run by the Fox family, would be our recommendation. It was the first camp in the park and gives you a very personal service even though perhaps looking slightly dated these days. There are 20+ individual stone and thatch riverside Bandas set over a hillside looking out over the Great Ruaha River and linked by two central mess areas. The bedroom and bathroom are really spacious. The Foxes’ children were raised here and so they are geared up for family stays. The location is really good with wildlife attracted to the river and it is not uncommon to find elephants strolling amidst the camp. Ruaha River Camp tends to be a more realistic option for many of our clients seeking the remote reaches of the southern parks but not wishing to completely blow the budget.

You can fly from Ruaha to the Selous, Tanzania’s other southern star. Selous Game Reserve is twice the size of the Serengeti with the Rufiji River at its heart and creating a network of swamps and channels. Virtually all of the lodges are in the northern tip of the reserve. We tend to use Rufiji River Camp, just inside the gate and again the original camp built by the Fox family, because of its superb location right on the river. You can explore by 4×4 here and by boat, a wonderful option. The camp is smaller than the one in Ruaha with just a dozen or so tents strung along the river bank with great views.

We also offer one of the newer lodges in the Selous, Azura Selous, formerly known as Amara Selous when it opened in 2010. There are only 8 tented rooms and the feel is smart and sophisticated. The location on the river is good although the camp is situated further west than the Rufiji Camp which is in the plum position for the densest wildlife. We know that Azura are keen to make Azura Selous a real beacon for expert guiding and hospitality and we look forward to seeing how they develop the camp. The manager is a keen photographer and knows where to go when!

See a sample southern Tanzania itinerary here.

Just as the Southern parks are less explored than the Northern parks, so is the southern coast and islands. Zanzibar attracts the vast majority of visitors attracted by the Spice Islands lush interior, atmospheric Stone Town with its magical architecture and markets. Very few people seem to make it to the quieter island of Pemba and Chumbe, both reached via Zanzibar but a very different prospec, or to the wondrous beaches and islands further south and accessible from Dar es Salaam.

Lazy Lagoon is a beach resort set on Bagamoyo island in the Zanzibar Channel around 80 km north from Dar . You reach the island by boat. It hit the headlines when Boris Johnson holidayed here and subsequently floated out into the Indian Ocean on his lilo! There are only 12 private beach bungalows or bandas with thatched roofs right on the beach with super ocean views – a great place to unwind.

While the alternative Mafia Island is accessed by a flight from Dar and is the Africa of old with sandy streets, overgrown ruins, few visitors and surrounded by a sensational marine reserve. We are fans of the laid back and rustic tree houses at Chole Mjini, or for more traditional comforts,  Pole Pole. Many people forget that you can enjoy white sand beaches lapped by the Indian Ocean at exceptionally good value by heading to the beaches south of Dar. This maximises holiday time by cutting out long journeys and makes great use of your budget. We love Protea Amani Beach and Ras Kutani.

Honeymoon idea: explore Pemba and enjoy the best of barefoot luxury with a stay at Fundu Lagoon. The small and laid back island of Pemba is Zanzibar’s sleepy and very beautiful neighbour.

South Africa Desert Dreaming – Tswalu Kalahari

South Africa offers a myriad romantic choices suitable for all levels of budget – from small guesthouses with individually styled rooms and lush gardens in the heart of the Cape winelands (we like Wedgeview and Akademie Street) to cool tented camps in Kruger, like Honeyguide Mantobeni.

There are places just perfect for romance, for that special occasion, like Grootbos on Walker Bay, or Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse in the Drakensberg Mountains with its sumptuous food. Very much off the beaten track in the midst of the Kalahari is Tswalu Kalahari, a very special safari lodge. Tswalu has it all – it has the dramatic landscape, it has the wildlife. Service is impeccable, food delicious and the 8 suites at The Motse are beautifully appointed with open fires, indoor and outdoor shower and private sundeck overlooking a watering hole.  It is so off the beaten track that many would struggle to pinpoint its positon on a map…

Honeymoon idea: combine the Kalahari with the Cape for a week of pure luxury. See sample itinerary here.

We want to be alone…

Africa’s most exclusive destinations

The number one question at travel shows from prospective clients looking at honeymoon options is: will it be busy? In answer, it depends very much on your budget and the season you wish to travel. Africa has plenty of places where you can escape the crowds; the most exclusive destinations being Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Here you can really relish space. Camps are small, with only half a dozen or so tents,  and are located in remote and vast wild areas which need to be accessed by a light aircraft more often than not.  The emphasis is on the quality of experience with guiding exceptional.

Avoid the crowds and travel in the Green Season

If you are happy to travel out of peak season you can look forward to a real treat. The rains in Africa are often referred to as the Green or Emerald Season and although you can expect thundery showers every afternoon (perfect siesta time…) you can also expect to see wonderful dramatic skies, nursery herds, with many of the animals having calves and pups at this time of year , and a lush landscape with flowers on the plains and trees in fruit. To get a flavour of the Green Season check out this new’s post on Zambia.

Seek out quiet corners

Even in the world-famous Masai Mara in Kenya, it is possible to find hidden gems – there are private concessions surrounding the main national park where visitor numbers are strictly monitored.  These concessions, which you fly-in to, have a handful of small secluded camps tucked away along a river’s edge or in a quiet grove, like Alex Walker’s Serian. In the Mara North Conservancy for example,  there is a ratio of just 1 guest to 350 acres allowing the camps here to offer a premium safari experience and a chance to escape the crowds associated with certain times of year in the main national park where larger lodges operate at maximum capacity.

We would urge you to be realistic in your expectations and to discuss your requirements fully with us so we can advise accordingly – if you are heading to East Africa to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration then do not expect to be alone!

Please note: all of the suggestions made here can be tailored to suit you and to make a complete itinerary including flights from the UK.

To find out more about any of the properties or holiday ideas here please call us on 01603 283 517.

Because many of the camps and lodges detailed are very small, the most important thing is to contact us as early as you can in order to avoid disappointment!

By Sara White

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budget Day – how to enjoy a champagne style safari on a beer budget

Who knows exactly what will be in the Chancellor’s briefcase this year. Something we do know here at Real Africa though is that everyone loves good value for money.

We’ll tell you how to sniff out those killer deals, what destinations offer best value and when to go.

1. Go off-season

By travelling off season you can save yourself serious money and avoid the crowds.

Botswana

In Botswana, the Green Season stretches from November to March with lodges offering superb savings at this time of year compared to the peak dry season months of July-October when costs can double. If you don’t mind a bit of rain or the odd thunder storm, you will be rewarded with some incredibly exciting wildlife. The latest sightings report from Kwando in Botswana talks about lions with cubs, wild dogs up close and plentiful bird life.

You can find out more about Botswana’s Green Season and read the latest Sightings Report here.

Green Season specials for Botswana are usually released at the end of February or in early March time. They always book up very quickly. Keep an eye on our news posts.

South Africa

In South Africa, December and January are the peak hot and dry months – many local South Africans take their holiday at this time and it can get very busy. In contrast September to November are far quieter – this is a particularly good time for whale watching along the Cape coast with the Whale Festival in Hermanus in September/October. Game viewing in Kruger is excellent during these dry months as wildlife congregates around water holes (and the slightly cooler dry weather means fewer mosquitoes). March and April are also good months to travel in South Africa since the weather is pleasantly warm and not too windy. After Easter, lodges tend to be far quieter and flight prices come down too. There are usually some good special offers about at this time, like the exceptional City & Safari offer which stays at Amakhala Game Reserve.

East Africa

In East Africa the long rains arrive from March to May and the region is quieter overall with good value to be enjoyed at the lodges – in the Masai Mara in Kenya you can expect heavy afternoon downpours but game viewing can be scheduled around this. March is actually a fantastic time to be in the Mara. Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular and children love the excitement of a downpour and the slippery mud roads which result.

With the first rain, flowers start to bloom, like the fireball lillies out on the plains. Trees start to fruit, like the Warburgia, which brings wildlife like elephants and monkeys in around camp. March is also the start of the Mini Migration, often overshadowed by the Great Migration but still a notable event. Around 300,000 zebra and wildebeest, many of which have calves born in February, arrive from the Loita Hills to graze on the Mara plains. There are many baby animals to be seen from hyena cubs to baby giraffe.

In Tanzania the Southern Parks offer best value. Ruaha and Selous are not as visited as the Northern Circuit parks and therefore demand is less and rates tend to be more competitive. You’ll find prime bush, excellent wildlife and rustic but characterful lodges in great locations.

Click here to see a sample safari and beach itinerary in Southern Tanzania.

2. Consider which park

National Park lodges and camps are usually more affordable than those in private concessions, followed as a general rule, by the lesser known reserves.  In Kenya, rather than stay in the Masai Mara itself, opt for the Mara North Conservancy and in South Africa consider Manyeleti Game Reserve which borders Kruger as an alternative to well-known Sabi Sands. There are no fences to constrict the movement of the game and so you will still enjoy prime bush and wildlife but without the inflated price tag.

Click here to find out more about Honeyguide Mantobeni camp in Manyeleti Game Reserve.

If you are desperate to visit iconic reserves then consider new lodges or camps which may have introductory offers until they are established. We often post announcements like this on our news pages on our website.

3.Consider the exchange rate

The exchange rate undeniably makes South Africa a fabulously good value destination at the moment. Currently you can get around 17 Rand to the Pound which means that you can eat, drink and stay like a king if you want to. Namibia also works off the rand exchange rate.

4. Look at the detail

Many of our lodges are full board or all-inclusive offering great value for money. You pay for everything up front and this takes away any hassle about paying in local currency.  This can make a real difference to your enjoyment and overall spend.  One of our favourite lodges is Karen Blixen Tented Camp in Kenya’s Mara North Conservancy – not only are all local drinks included in the full-board stay but we also have an incredible offer allowing you to enjoy four nights for the price of three.

Click here to see a sample itinerary.

Our safaris in East Africa use a private vehicle and guide, and comfortably seat 6 guests, giving you maximum flexibility. By going with friends or family members and sharing the vehicle you can keep prices down.

With holidays to South Africa if you are travelling on a standard UK passport then you should not need a visa which represents a significant saving for a family of four, for instance. In addition, game reserves in the Eastern Cape are malaria free saving you a further outlay on anti-malarials.

5. Stay connected

The best way to keep track of safari news, like new lodges and wildlife sightings, or to hear about special offers is to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and to ‘like’ us on Facebook.

Summary

Can I go on safari for less than £3000?

Yes you can. South Africa and Kenya would currently be the best value safari destinations and you can safari here for less than £2500 – our sample 19 day itinerary Ultimate Garden Route gives you an idea of the exceptional value. Week long lodge safaris in Kenya, like the Kenya Express or the Family Half Term Safari Fix, in the off-season start at just over £2000 per person including international flights, taxes and transfers – and with a private vehicle and guide.

Our current Botswana Green Season special including all flights and transfers is £3,095.

By Sara White

Lily’s Kenyan Safari – Sweetwaters & Ol Pejeta

Once again Real Africa’s most intrepid explorer, Lily, has been on another epic trip. This time she went to Kenya to visit some of our favourite properties and catching up with all our wonderful safari guides and local personnel. She has as usual written it all down and given us some superbly detailed reports. Her fascinating journal acts as an excellent guide as what to expect on a Real Africa safari in Kenya. Over to you Lily! 

Nairobi to Ol Pejeta

After a very comfortable overnight flight on Kenya Airways from Heathrow to Nairobi my journey started straight away with a fascinating 3 and a half hour drive from Nairobi, passing through the Central Highlands which are the political and economic heartlands of Kenya. En route I passed the signpost to Thika which immediately brought back memories of Elspeth Huxley’s famous book “The Flame Trees of Thika” which tells all about her childhood in the early settler days of the 20th Century in rural Kenya. It’s a great read and I highly recommend reading it before a trip to Kenya. This area was heavily colonised by the British and it was  Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak, that gave the colonial nation its English name. The majority of British and European settlers carved their farms from the countryside around it and it is easy to understand why this was favoured White Settler country.

The range of scenery I passed by was amazing in its diversity.  In this area the cultivation of land on farms and plantations reveals rich red earth giving forth plenty of crops, many of which end up on tables in the UK such as coffee and green beans. Mount Kenya looms over the area although when I visited it was covered in cloud marking the beginning of the autumn rainy season.  The scenery is so interesting all along the route with brightly coloured jungle and shambas, pale windswept moors, dense conifer plantations as well as busy towns and villages en route.  Another noteworthy sight included five people crammed onto a motorbike (a new law permits only two but in Kenya rules don’t always apply!).

Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp

By lunchtime we reached the gates of our first destination, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. This is a non-profit wildlife conservancy supporting endangered species, tourism and also vital community work and outreach support. We carried on to our accommodation for the night,  Serena Sweetwaters Tented Camp where we were warmly welcomed by the management team.  Having sent many clients to this camp, it was a pleasure to be here in person at last. We stayed in one of the new luxurious Morani tents with a thatched roof. It was very spacious indeed with decking and great views out to the plain.  The camp is fenced but that doesn’t stop plains game from hopping over to spend time in camp with the guests.  Mind you for them it is a much safer option than the other side of the fence amongst the Sweetwaters’ various prides of lion!  We had company throughout the night in the form of five waterbuck and impala who grazed contentedly outside our tent. But, first of all, after showering away the travel dust, we made our way to the dining tent and were served a truly delicious buffet with such helpful staff.  Although the camp was full the attention  of staff was very superb and personal and it really felt like a small, intimate camp. Finally at the end of my first day in Kenya it was off to bed with hot water bottles and with our camp antelope to stand guard, we had a very good night’s sleep!

The following day a very welcome hot coffee was brought to our tent before we headed off to breakfast. Then it was back to work as I went off on a site inspection of the camp to investigate all the different ranges of tents and accommodation available. The whole camp is expertly run and very comfortable and the opportunities to observe the wildlife and get involved with the conservation effort are fantastic. Only two minutes from the camp gates, we came across a lion pride – about 4 lionesses and cubs.  Amazing! – they were just lazing about by the track and then they ambled in front of the vehicle, gave us a good look then wandered off into the bush. It wasn’t even a proper game drive – we were on a transfer off to the  Sweetwaters Chimp Sanctuary! That was definitely worth a visit and we were all very impressed with the work the team do in protecting and looking after the chimps.  We walked into the forested area with a very knowledgeable guide which gave us all a good insight into the habitat of the chimps.  There is also a very interesting museum and information centre on the site.

At the Morani Information Centre, we were taken to meet Baracka, the blind black rhino, who we fed with hay from a raised wooden viewing platform. Getting so close to a rare rhino was an incredible experience indeed.  We also visited the information centre where we learned from our hosts all about rhinos;  from how to differentiate one set of horns from another, to ways of telling apart different kinds of droppings, the guides take it upon themselves to demonstrate the fact that there is no such thing as “too much” information. After a fascinating morning I sadly left Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a place with so much to offer the visitor, and headed off to the next stage of my Kenyan adventure.

More about the wildlife on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy

A real experience at Ol Pejeta is the Endangered Species Boma where it is possible to drive in the Boma and get really close to some of the world’s most endangered species (booking essential). Ol Pejeta has the largest concentration of Black Rhino, about 88 of them,  in one place in all of in Africa.  It is also home to seven Southern White rhino and four of the seven last remaining Northern White rhino which had been living in a Czech Republic zoo and who were brought to Ol Pejeta in 2009.

The Morani Information Centre named after a favourite black rhino now educates visitors on black rhinos and their work to conserve these highly endangered animals.  It also offers visitors a chance to learn about the various species of wildlife present on the Conservancy and to provide comprehensive information about how a modern wildlife Conservancy works.

The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary is the only place in Kenya where this highly endangered, intelligent species can be seen.  It was opened in 1993 in a negotiated agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. The facility was initially established to receive and provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees  from West and Central Africa. An initial group of three chimpanzee orphans were brought to the sanctuary from a facility in Bujumbura, Burundi in 1993.  Over the last decade Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary has been compelled to keep accepting chimpanzees rescued from traumatic situations bringing the total number of chimpanzees in the sanctuary nowadays to 42. At Sweetwaters Sanctuary chimpanzees are being carefully nursed back to health so they can enjoy the rest of their days in the safety of a vast natural enclosure. The chimpanzees live in two large groups separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River. Sweetwaters is a chartered member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), an alliance of 18 sanctuaries in 12 African countries, currently caring for over 800 orphaned and/or confiscated chimpanzees. PASA’s role is to help conserve chimpanzees and other primates and their habitats through public education and lobbying for political goodwill.

Lion Tracking

Ol Pejeta has some of the highest densities of predators in Kenya and is home to some magnificent lion prides. Some of these lions are collared for monitoring purposes to help the management make crucial decisions on their conservation. The African lion population has declined by 30-50% in just over two decades, a reduction largely due to habitat loss and conflict with humans. Statistics reveal that the national population of lions in Kenya is reduced by an average of 100 lions each year! To come up with solutions aimed at mitigating the human-lion conflict, conservationists monitor lion movements through collars. Visitors have the opportunity to be involved in this crucial research by booking a unique lion tracking safari only available at Sweetwaters Camp.

Posted by Lily Appleby Newby

Masai Mara, Kenya Game Report: Governors Camp

Here is the latest Game report from Governors Camp in the northern Masai Mara. Famous as the base for the crews filming the Big Cat Diaries on the BBC, this traditional old camp is a great place to enjoy the ultimate safari experience, luxury and service from yesteryear:

The Masai Mara had plenty of rain in the first two weeks of the month, with rain showers becoming isolated and lighter towards mid-month and drying out in the last week. Towards the end of the month the midday temperatures were higher, reaching around 30 Celsius and the days longer. The sun is rising noticeably earlier with first light at 6am. The grass on the plains has been short and lush, it would be a couple of foot higher after the unseasonal amount of rain we have had over the last months, but for the constant grazing by the zebra and wildebeest. Fireball and Pyjama lilies dot the plains bringing unexpected splashes of colour to the grasslands.

The Wildebeest Migration

October has been a great month for the wildebeest migration, the vast herds moving around a little more, following the smell of rain and searching for the new nutritious growth. From one day to the next they moved around, travelling from the marsh area, over Rhino Ridge and to the Talek River and back again. The last two weeks of the month saw the majority moving south towards the Serengeti, but some large groups remained in the area and we managed to see some really good river crossings. The crocodiles were still hunting the wildebeest as they crossed. There have been huge herds of zebra moving into the long grass which still stands at this late stage, followed by the wildebeest and topi. These immense herds have been providing spectacular game viewing from the hot air balloon.

The resident Loita migration has settled back into the Northern part of the Mara. The Loita plains to the east which can be seen on the flight to Nairobi before the rift valley drops away has not received the rains that the Mara has.

Resident Wildlife

Our very large resident buffalo herd with all its maturing young has spent most of its time in search of any remaining long grass that the zebra and wildebeest may have graciously left behind. They return every few days to the marsh for water or drink from the pools left by the seasonal streams leading to the Mara River. The buffalo herd practiced a great survival tactic, giving birth to their young whilst the migration were in the area, this meant their main predators, lion and hyena were busy preying on easier game.

Most plains game had their calves in October in anticipation of the November rain. The gazelles and warthog gave birth toward the start of the month and the impala, topi and hartebeest at the end. Right now there are some very anxious and protective mothers, bounding away from the slightest threat with their calf following in hot pursuit on their precarious legs.

The elephant have some very young calves too, still so small they fit easily under their mother’s chest and with a thick protective coat of bristled hair.

We have had a few migratory birds through the Mara: European and White-fronted bee-eaters, Montague and Pallid harriers, Common Kestrels, Steppes Eagles, African Cuckoos, Spoon-billed storks. There have been a couple of rare sightings of Egyptian Vultures.

The trees and lianas in the Mara River forest have been flowering and fruiting, one in particular the Turrea floribunda has flowers and has a beautiful scent almost like Jasmine. The Pristemera polyantha seeds have dropped off and fly away cleverly as mini helicopters. The bright red fruit of the Lepisanthes senagalensis is a big favourite with the baboons as well.

We have had few sightings of the rhino our side of the river, but on one occasion a male just stayed undisturbed whilst our guests managed to get some great shots and spend some time with him. The ballooners have been lucky enough to see the mother and calf and a male rhino on many of their flights and game drives.

The Mara River hippos are very content as they have plenty of grazing, although moving further out on to the plains than usual. There has been the odd mating, but no serious fights and territorial displays, so all fairly peaceful in the river.

The Marsh Pride of lions have been spending their time at the Marsh in front of the Governors’ Camps as they have for the past few months now, they are seen as far as Bila Shaka river, which is still close by. The pride hunt at night and are found coming back to the marsh after following the wildebeest which are on the move further afield. The lioness with the three younger cubs tends to stay behind. The pride males are mostly with the pride, the older male Claude happy not to move very far as he still has a bad limp and has become dependent on the lionesses. The sub-adults from the previous litter are spending all their time away from their maternal pride. The five males have been moving along with the wildebeest towards Paradise Plains, they had killed a young hippo which is quite a feat for the young fellows.

Two large but young nomadic males slipped into the Bila Shaka area where the sub-adult females have been and mated with two of them. Being too young to have cubs, these females took exception to the intrusion and fought them off. The nomads have not been seen again.

The Ridge Pride has not been seen much with only two reported sightings of two of the lionesses and four cubs. They may be confused with other lions as they follow the migration into other territories.

The Paradise Pride has also been fairly elusive. The three females and their six cubs being seen on most days near the main crossing area. The other females and cubs must be further into the croton bushes or have moved across the river. The five males which are nearly the same size as Notch now with deeper darker manes have been moonlighting elsewhere. Only two have been seen a few times with Notch. Notch has been mating with a single lioness, she has not been sighted after their ordeal either.

Finally we have found Shakira, the cheetah last seen nearly a year ago with three large cubs. She was first spotted beyond Talek river toward the Ol keju Rongai river and not alone, she has six 4 – 5 month old cubs. She is definitely one of the most successful cheetah mothers in the Mara. We presume her three cubs are still well and somewhere in the Mara Triangle west of the Mara River. Shakira has been killing most days, we had a wonderful sighting of her taking down a fully grown Grants Gazelle and all the cubs called over to feast.

The female and her one cub with the bad eye have been seen regularly, she has jumped up on a few cars as well much to peoples delight.

The three male cheetahs were around the Governors area the first few weeks of the month, then venturing further over the Talek river towards ‘Look out hill’

We had a short time with the mother and two male cubs at the beginning of the month, she then moved on into the Ol-Kinyei area and has as yet not returned.

Olive the leopard has been seen regularly and together with her two sons on occasion, who seem reluctant to leave home. Olive disappeared for a couple of weeks during the month, some people believing she may have been pregnant and could have a new litter, we will be sure to keep you posted.

There have been sightings of the female with one cub higher up on the Ntiakitiak river as well as another female not too far away up on the Talek river with her two older cubs.

The Il Moran leopard has been around, preferring the denser growth of the forest and keeping away from the company of lions and baboons during the day. She has been seen up at the marsh hiding behind fallen trees and keeping a low profile. Late in the evening once the baboons band back together to head back to the trees she relaxes and will become a bit more visible.