All posts by Ruth

Treehouses in Africa

Have you always fancied spending the night in a treehouse? I have, ever since having a treehouse as a child. Well you can make that dream come true in Africa by staying in one of their famous safari treehouses in either Kenya or Tanzania.

One of  the most famous treehouses of all is Treetops which is where Queen Elizabeth was staying when she learned of her father’s death and when she became Queen. This historic treehouse was built in 1932 in Aberdare National Park in Kenya. This treehouse started life as a platform built up high in the trees for watching game safely whilst still being in close proximity to the wildlife. The wife of the original owner was a fan of treehouses so he built it for her. They added a couple of rooms to the platform to make it more permanent and sheltered from the elements which is pretty much how it was in 1952 when the Princess Elizabeth stayed there. Nowadays it is a 50 roomed hotel built from timber and still based around the original trees close to a popular watering hole. It has been built to blend in with the trees with timber panelling and lifted up on stilts to look even more treelike. It is a popular hotel with excellent facilities, a real sense of history and being on a major elephant migration route it is a wonderful place for game viewing.

Another popular treehouse hotel is Mountain Lodge also in Kenya. Based on the lower slopes of  Mount Kenya in pristine forest this timbered tree hotel sweeping views across the tree-canopy and walking tours through the surrounding forest. It is actually quite high being built at 2,134 metres above sea level meaning that the lodge remains cool and tranquil unlike much of Kenya especially in the winter months. The game viewing from here is spectacular with an open-air viewing-deck looking down on to the lodge’s own water hole and salt-lick, which both attract large numbers of elephant. Although called Mountain Lodge due to its location on Mount Kenya this really is a proper treehouse. It is raised on stilts above the forest canopy with a timbered drawbridge leading in from the forest and up on to the wooden ‘decks’ of the lodge. It also feels a bit like a wooden ship as it is panelled throughout and the rooms are styled like log cabins appropriate to its mountain location. Activities include guided walks through the forest, trout fishing in the clear mountain streams, trips to the high moorlands of the mountain, and 5-day luxury climbs of the mountain. Mount Kenya (5,199 m) is Kenya’s highest mountain, and also a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and although not as famous as Kilimanjaro it is most definitely worth a visit.

Finally our third treehouse is in neighbouring Tanzania and is also called Treetops. This treehouse is in the wonderful Tarangire National Park. Centred about a Main Lodge – which itself encases a thousand year-old baobab tree,  Tarangire Treetops comprises of 20 treehouses all of which are elevated above the ground affording views over the tops of trees. This is a truly atmospheric and unique place to stay whilst in Tanzania.  Each private treehouse boasts large bedrooms and en suite bathrooms. With furnishings that create warmth and demonstrate a commitment to local craftsmanship, the ‘up-in-the-air’ experience is completed by the open-fronted room design affording views across the Tarangire plains from an expansive but private balcony. Tarangire has the greatest concentration of wildlife outside the Serengeti ecosystem and is a fantastic place to stay for world beating game viewing.

Spotlight on the African Hunting Dog

When you think of endangered African animals you probably think of the mountain gorilla, the rhino and the elephant. However it is actually a rangy, scruffy and well, to be truthful, down right ugly mutt that is actually one of  the most threatened of all – the increasingly rare African hunting dog. They may be ugly but to me they are also one of the most fascinating creatures living and hunting in Africa today.

African Hunting Dogs or African Wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus) are a canid that look a bit like a cross between a wolf and a hyena. They are the largest type of wild canine breed in Africa and across the world only the North American Grey wolf is larger.  They are around the size of a large Alsation at around 75 cms to the shoulder and weighing around 20 – 30 kilos on average. They have very distinctive fur which is mainly sandy brown with darker brown and black markings and brighter white patches. Their markings mean that they are also sometimes called the painted wolf, spotted hunting dog or even the ornate wolf.   They also have very distinctive large ears which help them hunt and also socialise.

They live in large family packs  but are quite unusual amongst carnivorous groups in that the males stay within the pack they were born into and do not fight to become alpha male or pack leader. The females have litters of around 10 pups every year or so and look after them until they are a couple of years old before moving on to a new pack. Only the alpha female gets to breed and produce a litter. The group hierarchy is based on submission and they do not fight each other even when feeding. They do have an alpha male and an alpha female but the males and females both hunt and also stay to guard the pups.

They hunt mainly large herbivores such as impala, gazelles and wildebeest and they are very successful with a kill rate of around 80-90% which is three times that of a lion!  They are very co-ordinated with different dogs taking on different roles during the hunt and kill but without being able to communicate verbally they work incredibly well as a team. These skills are truly impressive and it is not sure whether this is learned behaviour or instinctive.

They live in similar areas to other carnivores, in the open scrubland, deciduous woodland or  typical savannah of Africa but they are so rare that is very unusual to spot one whilst on safari. They are most commonly found in Southern and Eastern Africa with a few remaining outposts in west and central Africa. The densest populations can be found in the Selous National Park in Tanzania, northern Botswana and eastern Namibia. They can also be found in the Serengeti and Ruaha areas of Tanzania, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and the Kruger National Park in South Africa with a handful in Mozambique, Kenya and Zambia.

Their numbers have diminished over the years like many of the carnivores in Africa due to encroachment from humans. They need large areas to hunt in and human development and farming has reduced their space significantly. They have also been hunted by farmers to protect livestock. They also have to compete with other more powerful predators such as lions and hyenas who can attack them and will force them to move on to new hunting grounds. Nowadays they can only survive in the really large and isolated national parks that can provide enough protected space for them.