Category Archives: Africa

World Giraffe Day – how do you move a giraffe? Q&A with Dr Sara Ferguson from Giraffe Conservation Foundation

This is a the second part of our blog celebrating World Giraffe Day.

World Giraffe Day is an exciting annual event initiated by Giraffe Conservation Foundation to celebrate the longest-necked animal on the longest day or night (depending on which hemisphere you live!) of the year – 21 June.

Not only is it a worldwide celebration of these amazing and much-loved animals, but an annual event to raise support, create awareness and shed light on the challenges giraffe face in the wild.

Here we focus specifically on one of the projects being supported by Explorers against Extinction 2019 – the translocation of critically endangered Nubian Giraffe from Murchison Falls to Pian Upe in Uganda this autumn. You can find out more about this project here.

shutterstock_112144487Travelling to Uganda  is one way to support conservation efforts in the country. We are delighted to also partner with Tourism Uganda this year and to highlight some of the amazing experiences Uganda offers, from visiting Murchison Falls (pictured) to trekking to see endangered mountain gorillas. Find out more about travelling to Uganda here.

 

HOW DO YOU MOVE A GIRAFFE?

Q&A with Dr Sara Ferguson, Conservation Researcher, Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF).

Dr Ferguson is heading up the Nubian Giraffe Translocation from Murchison Falls to Pian Upe in Uganda this autumn. The translocation is a joint GCF / Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) operation.

  • How many Nubian giraffe are being moved?

Approximately 15 but ultimate decision on number will be decided by UWA as will the ratio of males/females to be moved.

  • How are these selected?

We look for a specific size and age – mainly smaller subadults, between the ages of 2-4. Smaller individuals are easier to immobilise and move, and young enough to be weaned from the dam (female) but not yet at sexual maturity.  Avoid any pregnant females is the goal. Individuals are usually selected during the translocation process. We go out with the UWA team and scan herds for individuals who would be suitable and make the choice out in the field.

  • Can you give us a broad summary of the key stages of the translocation process? Nubian MF

1.Identifying appropriate translocation environment/destination (includes habitat assessment; park/reserve analysis; looks at historical or current presence of giraffe; threat assessment; community awareness and sensitization, etc.)

boma22.Government approval of translocation

3.Route determination (road conditions, obstacles, duration)

4.Boma construction (corral to hold giraffe pre and post translocation)

5.Location determination and logistics (when is the best season to move the giraffe; how many individuals, what age/sex)

truck-in-landscape6.Logistical planning (transport truck assessment; chariot assessment; team organization; resource allocation and necessity).

 

 

 

  • Can you outline the translocation process for us including capture and release? 

We will plan on darting at least two giraffe on the same day to move to the boma (likely three or four if we can manage).  Giraffe are social animals and will stress if left alone in the boma for an extended period of time.

We usually begin in the early morning when it is cool (around 7 am), drive to an area with giraffe (we scout this out the day before to identify some herds with good potential).

Once an individual is selected, it will be immobilised via a CO2 powered dart gun with etorphine HCl (M99), the drug usually takes about 3-6 minutes to take effect, then the ground team moves in to rope the darted giraffe and assist to the ground (this is quite an exciting process and it aids in reduction of injury to the giraffe).

The giraffe is then immediately reversed with the antidote naltraxone as a blindfold and ear plugs are placed and the giraffe is restrained with manpower on the neck and body.  All giraffe also receive prophylactic antibiotic and antiinflammatory injections to reduce the impact of immobilisations.

Ropes are placed to help guide the giraffe once up into the transport chariot which is pulled by a tractor. Once the giraffe is on the transport chariot, the guiding ropes are removed and  it is brought to the boma, the blindfold and ear plugs are removed and the giraffe is released into the boma where ample water and fresh browse are available.

Then the process is quickly repeated to have a companion as quickly as possible. Once there are at least two giraffe in the boma, we do not need to rush to get more giraffe so depending on temperature (if it is too hot) we may or may not continue that day.

Over the next few days we collect more individuals and add them to the boma (usually aiming to get 5 animals, maybe 10). There is always a rest day for the team and the giraffe to allow them to adjust to the boma and transport truck (situated where the giraffe can access it while in the boma).Chariot

5 individuals are loaded up onto the transport truck and driven to their new destination (Pian Upe is approximately a10-12 hour drive away from Murchison Falls).

There will be another boma at the reserve where the giraffe will be placed overnight to allow them to get a good drink of water, food, and recover from the drive. UWA will determine how long they would like the giraffe to remain in the boma prior to release into Pian Upe.

Then the process is repeated until we have the entire herd transported. UWA rangers will then monitor the giraffe closely, making sure they do not immediately try to leave the reserve and adjust well.
release

How many staff are involved?

A huge team from UWA and a moderate team from GCF — unsure on the actual number of individuals but usually enough to have two grounds teams (6-10 rangers each), three to four veterinarians, two drivers, 3-6 researches gathering biological data…

It is a huge process!

What does the project cost?

We estimate the whole operation to cost just over $100,000 USD. Each giraffe costs approximately $6, 700 to move.

 

SUPPORT THIS PROJECT

There are many ways to show your support – come along to one of our autumn exhibitions and events, shop at the Real World Store, buy a ticket for our ‘Win a Safari’ raffle or simply make a donation here – find out more here.

THANK YOU.

 

 

 

Giraffe – the gentle giants facing an uncertain future

With their long eyelashes and graceful gait, giraffe are an iconic symbol of Africa. It is impossible to imagine an African
landscape without them.

However in recent years giraffe have seen a decline in numbers. Two sub species, Nubian and Kordofan, are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List.

In 2018 our conservation campaign Explorers against Extinction supported a project in Garamba National Park, DRC.  Garamba is home to one of these giraffe sub species – the Kordofan giraffe. The working dogs programme we assisted African Parks to establish in Garamba is helping the rangers to protect not only elephant but also the Kordofan giraffe.

This year we are partnering with Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF),  the only NGO in the world that concentrates solely on the conservation and management of giraffe. Our aim is to raise awareness about the plight of giraffe while also directly contributing to the conservation of the Nubian giraffe.

We want to cover the cost of moving a pair of Nubian Giraffe from Murchison Falls to Pian Upe, Uganda. This pair will be part of a group of 15 or so giraffe making the move from Murchison Falls. It is hoped  the group will go on to establish a viable, free-ranging population. Find out more about this project here.

WGDIn the first of a two-part blog celebrating World Giraffe Day on Friday 21 June, we take a closer look at the different species and the threats facing them.

Statistics

In the 1980s, the total number of giraffe in Africa was estimated at more than 155,000 individuals.

Today, GCF estimates the current Africa-wide giraffe population at approximately 111,000 individuals.

This is a drop by almost 30%. Unfortunately, in some areas traditionally regarded as prime giraffe habitat, numbers have dropped by 95% in the same period.

DSC_0353Threats

The combined impacts of habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation, human population growth, poaching, disease, war and civil unrest threaten the remaining giraffe numbers and their distribution throughout Africa.

Many threats arise from direct, indirect or perceived competition for resources with humans, their livestock and agricultural land. Habitat degradation and destruction is caused by an increasing human demand for agricultural land, pastoralism, and uncontrolled timber and fuel-wood harvesting.

Human-giraffe conflict can develop due to crop loss and damage, and potential disease transmission can result from habitat sharing with domestic livestock. Sadly, giraffe outside protected areas are sometimes also struck by vehicles and trains.

The fragmentation and loss of giraffe habitat caused by human encroachment often leads to the isolation of giraffe populations which, in turn, limits the flow and exchange of genetic diversity between populations.

Although there is very little evidence of species interbreeding in the wild, the translocation of one species of giraffe to an area already occupied by a different species could create the risk of hybridisation. Should they interbreed, the genetic uniqueness of each individual species would be lost.

Sw Giraffe DSC_6263Species

Giraffe occur in 21 countries in Africa. While the IUCN Red List currently recognises one species of giraffe and nine subspecies, new findings by GCF and partners clearly show four species and five confirmed subspecies of giraffe:

 

  • Masai (35,000): further studies required to see if Thornicroft giraffe is genetically identical to Masai giraffe, or a distinct sub species
  • Northern (5,600): Kordofan (2,000); Nubian (Rothschild’s giraffe has been identified as genetically identical to Nubian giraffe) (3,000); West African (600)
  • Reticulated (15,780)
  • Southern (54,750): Angolan (17,750); Southern African (37,000)

This updated species information is currently under further review and will hopefully soon be taken into consideration by the IUCN for future conservation assessments, giving each giraffe their own taxonomical status and mandate for increased conservation.

boma2Focus on Nubian Giraffe

At present, fewer than 200 Nubian Giraffe occur in western Ethiopia, 450 in eastern South Sudan, 800 in Kenya, and more than 1,550 in Uganda.

Based on the rate of decline, estimated at 95% in the last three decades, Nubian giraffe were, for the first time, added to the IUCN Red List and listed as Critically Endangered in 2018.

In 2010, the formerly known Rothschild’s subspecies was classified as Endangered and of high conservation importance on the IUCN Red List, but based on good conservation efforts of governments and partners, including GCF, the Rothschild’s giraffe was downlisted to Near Threatened as populations and numbers have increased. Once the IUCN recognises the two subspecies as one, the conservation status on the IUCN Red List for Nubian giraffe as a whole will most likely remain Critically Endangered, indicating an urgent need for increased conservation measures.

The Nubian giraffe’s patches are large, rectangular and chestnut-brown. The patches are surrounded by an off-white, creamy colour. There are no markings on their lower legs.

Statistics sourced from Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Sunset DSC_8682

  • Did you know? The word giraffe is believed to come from the Arab word zarafa, which means fast walker.

 

 

Giraffing Around: 4 species, 4 ways.
Some of the best places to see Giraffe.
1.See Reticulated Giraffe in Samburu, Kenya, one of Samburu’s ‘Special Five’ (Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Somali Ostrich, Gerenuk and Grevy’s Zebra). You’ll also find Samburu’s famous herds of elephants here, usually by the river. Of course, if you’re visiting Kenya and love giraffe, don’t miss a visit to the AFEW Giraffe Centre in Karen, Nairobi where you can learn about efforts to save another species – the Nubian (Rothschild’s Giraffe) where you can feed them from a special platform. Next door you’ll find the famous Giraffe Manor hotel – find out more here.
2.See beautiful Nubian Giraffe (Rothschild’s), a sub species of Northern Giraffe at Murchison Falls, in Uganda – this is a giraffe conservation hot spot with the population increasing eightfold over 20 years – a fabulous success story.
3.Southern Africa’s giraffe population has nearly doubled in the past 20 years thanks to concerted conservation efforts – Etosha in Namibia is one of the best places to observe Southern Giraffe alongside big cats, rhino and elephant.
4.See huge herds of Masai giraffe against a Serengeti sunset in Tanzania. The giraffe is Tanzania’s national animal and both Tarangire and the Serengeti offer excellent opportunity to observe them.

 

 

The Great Migration – everything you need to know about calving in the southern Serengeti, Tanzania

The Great Migration of wildebeest, zebra and other plains game  in search of fresh grazing between Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Masai Mara is the largest overland migration in the world involving over 1.5 million animals.

Migration TZCatching up with the Great Migration is a spectacle on many people’s bucket list. The first image that comes to mind for many may be the river crossings, particularly the dramatic crossing of the Mara River, the last obstacle before reaching the Masai Mara (July-September time). However, being on the Serengeti’s southern plains in the early part of the year for calving is another excellent time to see the migration .

The migration is not one super herd but a collection of herds moving in different directions and at different speeds. The herds move in search of fresh grazing and so their progress is dictated by rainfall. With rainfall becoming increasingly erratic the path and timings of the migration has become a little more unpredictable in recent years but you can expect to see the migration in Tanzania for around 75% of the year and in Kenya for 25%.

The annual cycle is punctuated by a number of key events – calving being one of them.

Calving season on the Serengeti’s southern plainssLIDER DSC_8606

The migration arrives and stays on the Serengeti’s southern plains and on the edges of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area between January and March annually.

During these first few months of the year the wildebeest are grazing on the nutrient rich short grass following the short rains in November. This is the perfect arena for giving birth to their young – the grass is still low enabling them to see predators more easily, and the new shoots are soft and full of goodness, thanks to the fertility of the volcanic soil in this region.

Remarkably virtually all the wildebeest calve within a 3 week window which usually falls between late January and late February. Around 8,000 calves are born each day at the peak of the calving season.

WWshutterstock_139534196shutterstock_128317355Compared to the rest of the year, the herds are fairly sedentary while they feast and calve so this is an excellent time to observe them.

Predator density at this time on the southern plains is said to be higher than anywhere else in the world. Many predators also raise their young at this time, with  young wildebeest the perfect target for young cubs learning survival skills.

What to expect

-Epic views – short-grassy savannah studded with rocky ‘kopje’ outcrops – sometimes punctuated by the occasional Serengeti leopard or cheetah.

-Noise! Wildebeest have the nickname ‘gnu’ and this is the sound you will hear.

-Fabulous wildlife sightings with the chance to see predators and predator/prey interaction – short grass means good visibility.

When should I book if I want to visit during calving season?

If you have your heart set on a  specific week, particularly in February and around school half term,  then you should try and book a year in advance – camps are small and it is high season offering good weather and excellent wildlife sightings so the earlier you book the more likely you are to secure your dates and preferred camp.

If you are flexible then 6-9 months in advance is ideal.

Where to stay and for how longKusini your-private-serengeti

Ewanjan18We recommend lodges around the Ndutu area in the first three months of the year.

There are a number of excellent mobile camps including the Serian Mobile, Lemala Ndutu and the Asilia mobile camps.  Sanctuary Kusini, Lake Masek Tented Camp, Ndutu Lodge and the new Ndutu Kati Kati tented camp are permanent options in this area. Depending on the position of the herds and the timing of your visit we also recommend the high quality Lemala Ewanjan and the excellent Elewana Pioneer Camp in the south-central area.

2-3 nights at one camp is the minimum amount of time we recommend – you could easily stay longer. It is great to combine a stay in Ndutu with a camp in the south/central or central area of the Serengeti for a contrast (these areas have excellent resident wildlife), or how about combining your Serengeti experience with a visit to other parks on the Northern Circuit? (Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Tarangire).

Tented camps are very comfortable offering walk-in tents,  ensuite bathroom and an outdoor seating area. Camps vary in size, luxury and budget.

You can expect a 7 or 8 day safari trip to Tanzania including the Serengeti to cost anything from £2,040 per person plus international flights (Small Group Escorted Tour) to over £4,500 for a luxury private safari. (Please note: during the migration months these prices rise).

What will the safari day look like?13fac_lemala-1

Custom safari 4×4 vehicles are used to view the migration. You rise just before dawn, and have a snack before heading out with your professional guide on your morning safari for 2-3 hours before returning for a hearty breakfast in camp. In private concessions you may head out with a picnic breakfast.

If you fly-in to your camp, camp vehicles are usually shared with other guests (there are a few exceptions). If you are enjoying a drive-in safari with a private vehicle and driver/guide then you have the luxury of your own space.

You have the day to relax at camp, enjoy lunch and view wildlife as it comes and goes. Some camps offer additional activities during the day.

After a light afternoon tea you depart on the afternoon game drive, usually at about 330pm until sundown around 6/630pm. In private concessions your vehicle can stay out beyond sundown and you can night drive. It is also possible to off-road in the private concessions of the Serengeti.

Can I combine a migration trip with the beach?Breezes beach NCP7775

Yes – December to March offers lovely weather for the beach, and good water visibility for diving/snorkelling. Zanzibar is the most easily accessible destination from the Serengeti and offers a wide range of lodges.

Here’s an example luxury bush and beach combination.

Sample trips

See our Tanzania page for inspiration.

For Migration safari inspiration specifically please click here>>

WWKusini SR001411By March the plains have usually started to dry out and food is depleted so the herds start to move north and west on their epic journey to Kenya, pausing only as they reach the rivers that block their path.

This is the next phase of the migration…

If you are thinking of a wildlife holiday to Africa please contact us on 01603 964 730 or email enquiries@realafrica.co.uk

You can find further information about the sub-Saharan destinations we visit on our website. 

Family safari holidays

Africa offers the best family holidays – you just can’t beat a bit of safari and beach. Enjoy close encounters with wildlife, nights around the camp fire, sleeping under canvas in the African bush, animal tracking, conservation visits and a whole host of activities from horse riding, boating, night drives, walking and whale watching to snorkelling and beach combing. 

Still not convinced? Practicality is on Africa’s side too…

There’s very little time change to deal with – from the UK you’re looking at 1-3 hours time change so you can hit the ground running and not return to the UK 2 weeks later feeling totally spangled.

Easy access – Kenya, for instance, is only 8 hours away on a direct flight from London.

Stimulation – fresh air and lots of new exciting experiences ensures no one nods off on this holiday.

Value for money – a safari is likely to be the most expensive holiday you’re ever likely to enjoy.  However, it’s worth pointing out that most safaris are all-inclusive so you’re looking at a ‘holiday spend’, which you can budget for, rather than a holiday framework.

If Africa is firmly on your family holiday wish-list, you may be interested in the following suggestions:

Robin Pope Safaris - Zambia
Robin Pope Safaris – Zambia

Where should we go?

East – Kenya would be my top pick for a family safari. It’s easy to get to and relatively compact to explore.  There’s amazing density and diversity of wildlife, contrasting landscapes, good family friendly accommodation options and the people are wonderful.

South – South Africa is a brilliant family holiday destination and one of the best value destinations in Africa because of the exchange rate with the Rand (currently about 18 to the Pound). You can see the Marine Big Five as well as the Safari Big Five. Many families ask us about malaria free safari options – the Cape coast of South Africa is the perfect option with the Eastern Cape game reserves all malaria free. Madikwe near Johannesburg is also a ‘Big Five’ option and malaria free. These areas combine well with exploration of the Cape (Cape Town, Winelands, Garden Route) or with a beach break in Mauritius.

If you have older children and are looking for more adventurous options then Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are all wonderful. See out Family page for further info.

The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats
The Masai Mara is fabulous for big cats

How long should we go on safari for?

3 nights is an ideal length of stay in any one camp/lodge, up to around 5 nights – you can do 2 nights but this tends to feel a bit short in our experience.

Combining two contrasting areas and staying 3-4 nights in each would be ideal. After this most people are ready for a lie in…

For the perfect family holiday, extend your stay with time at the coast or lake/river.

Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya
Real Africa guides and vehicles in Kenya

Fly-in or Drive-in? There are pros and cons to each… 

Driving -In Tanzania the Northern Circuit lends itself to exploration with private 4×4 and driver/guide – this is a very flexible and economical way to travel for a family and also gives you a chance to see the country in more depth as you pass through villages and communities. However you need to consider time in the vehicle overall – you are driving between destinations and also then in the vehicle for your safari. In addition you will be visiting national parks which means staying to the main tracks and not going off-road. Drive- in safaris are also possible in Kenya.

In South Africa and Namibia you can self-drive, however when on safari (e.g, Etosha) you have the option to park your hire car and join guided drives offering an ideal balance.

Flying – If you fly into a private conservancy you can enjoy a wonderful bird’s eye view of the landscape and you are able to maxime your holiday time. There are other significant benefits – you can off road, usually in custom 4×4 vehicles, and this helps you get much closer to the wildlife. You can also enjoy extra activities like bush meals, sundowners out on the plains, walking and tracking and you are not restricted to being on safari only between sunrise and sunset (as you are in a national park). It is a more expensive option.  Just be aware that there are luggage restrictions (15 kg max in a soft sided bag) and flights are often operated in small 12 seater prop planes, landing on remote and rough airstrips, so not ideal for those nervous about flying…

You can combine flying and driving for a more balanced itinerary. We will often give clients the option to drive in one direction and then fly back to save time/long journeys.

zzDSC_8583Framework for a family safari to Kenya

Nairobi – 1 night

Most trips require an overnight in Nairobi at the start or end because of international flight schedules – don’t waste this time in an airport hotel but get out and explore.  You can stay at a lodge in the national park and enjoy game viewing (very easy to access from either airport) or visit the Sheldrick Trust and/or AFEW Giraffe Centre. We can organise all this for you.

+Safari – 3 nights plus

3 nights per camp is the minimum time we would suggest on safari.

If budget and time allows it’s fantastic to combine two (or even three) contrasting areas. After around a week on safari, unless you are a real safari addict, you may start to long for a lie in so we think 5- 7 nights is the optimum amount of time giving you plenty of chance to see and experience as much as possible.

If it’s your first trip to Kenya we’d recommend including the Masai Mara, for example a 5 night fly-in to the Mara with time on the beach afterwards keeps things simple. Conveniently there’s a flight from the Mara to Diani (without going back to Nairobi).

Here are some of our favourite Mara safari combos:

Masai Mara and Samburu; Masai Mara and Laikipia; Masai Mara and Amboseli/Tsavo

+Beach – 4-7 nights

A few days on the coast is a perfect extension to a safari. Kenya offers several options. We love Diani and Msambweni, south of Mombasa. We also like Watamu. Lamu on the north coast is also very beautiful.

Optimum (and most expensive) time for Kenya is the long school summer holidays of July/August. Also a good time to visit is the Christmas and half term holidays (Oct, Dec, Feb). If Easter is early you can get a trip in during late March/early April (one of our favourite times to go because it is so quiet – this is also the most affordable time of the year) but the long rains tend to arrive in April and last through May so this is something to be aware of.

White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa
White Rhino in Greater Kruger, South Africa

Framework for a South Africa family safari

Kruger & beach –  time on safari + a week in Mauritius (this combination requires 1 night at a Johannesburg airport hotel due to schedules). Alternatively you can fly or take a road transfer across the border to Mozambique for time on the beach. Optimum time for this type of trip is May to October.

Family Caper – 10-14 day self-drive trip exploring Cape Town, winelands, the Garden Route and a safari in the Eastern Cape. Optimum time for this is October to April. You can expect wild beaches, the chance to spot whales from the coast, boat trips, characterful and small boutique style accommodation and a grand finale in the Eastern Cape on safari.page 15 inset FAMILY 5

 

 

 

 

There are plenty of other exciting family holiday options in Southern Africa – how about Zambia and Malawi, or Zimbabwe and Botswana?

Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season
Victoria Falls in the Emerald Season

Things to consider

  • Rooms – family units – it can be a bit intimidating if it’s your first time staying in a safari tent so where possible we recommend family units so that all the family can be together. If you hear a lion roar in the night it’s good to be on hand and share the experience.
  • Camps with swimming pools are great for families, inviting relaxing time after breakfast or before the afternoon drive.
  • Depending on season you may prefer properties with air con.
  • Some camps offer special ‘Little Warrior’ or kids’ programmes as well as kids meals and even babysitting so please do enquire depending on the age of your children.
  • Vehicles – it is usual for you to share game drives with other guests in the camp vehicles. Some camps offer exclusive vehicles for a supplement – please enquire. Some camps insist that families with young children (under 7) book an exclusive vehicle. Most vehicles seat 6 guests but it does vary from place to place.
  • Age restrictions – many camps/lodges have a minimum age of 7 years so please check with us if you are travelling with younger children. We do have some camps that have discreetly fenced boundaries which might be safer for families with young children rather than those which are completely open. Camp staff (known as Askaris in East Africa) accompany you to and from you room after sundown.
Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi
Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi

What does it cost?

Cost depends on a range of factors including time of year you travel, how far in advance you book, availability and number of people/ages of children in your family.  Your preferred style of safari/ length of stay will also impact spend. £3000-£5000 per person is a realistic budget bracket.

More inspiration and suggested itineraries at realafrica.co.uk

 

Captivated by Kruger: review of MalaMala Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sands, South Africa

The Greater Kruger is an unfenced wilderness in South Africa , stretching over 400km from north to south. It combines private reserves and the national park and is known for high densities of lion, leopard and elephant. There are many ways to explore this wonderful and very accessible region which is at its peak between May and October during the long cool winter months. A safari in Kruger lends itself perfectly to being incorporated into a longer holiday in Southern Africa. 

Here, we review our recent stay at MalaMala as well as giving general information about the Kruger and how to combine it in your holiday.

Location

Three distinct camps (Main Camp, Sable Camp, Rattray’s Camp) stretch out along the Sand River in the vast MalaMala Private Game Reserve. The reserve is sandwiched between the famous Sabi Sands region of Greater Kruger and Kruger National Park itself -it  is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa, comprising 13 300 ha (33 000 acres). The borders are unfenced allowing wildlife to migrate unhindered. The size of the reserve ensures guests enjoy an exclusive safari experience – you’ll see other MalaMala vehicles and anti-poaching teams going about their work but very little other traffic.

This area is known to be one of the best in Africa for seeing leopard. Guests have a good chance of seeing the MalaMala Big Seven (Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Wild Dog).

The setting is very beautiful with the Sand River in front of camp. The reserve has lots of contrasting scenery with dramatic granite kopjes (punctuated with klipspringer), mud holes perfect for white rhino and buffalo wallowing,  the river for crocodile, hippo and elephant, open plains, forest, huge sausage trees and statuesque euphorbia candelabrum.

Access

MMDSC_1771The camp can be accessed via fly-in from Johannesburg (and Cape Town), either fly and transfer via Skukuza (about an hour’s drive away) or Nelspruit KMIA (2 hour road transfer) or a private charter to the airstrip moments from camp.

We hired an SUV in Johannesburg and stopped off in Hazyview for a night (staying at Rissington Inn – an easy 4 hour drive mostly on the N12, from OR Tambo) which then made MalaMala a simple 2 hour drive the following morning. The first hour or so is on tarred road, we then registered at Shaws Gate, paying our park fees, to enter the reserve area. There is an undulating  dirt track which is well sign -posted with plenty of passing places. We came across this beautiful male leopard within moments of starting our 20km journey to MalaMala. We also saw elephant and white rhino along with many antelope and zebra.MMIMG_4930

view IMG_4971Accommodation and style

MalaMala Camp Bar3MalaMala Camp Rooms5.6_2We stayed at Main Camp, the largest of the three camps, which consists of 19 luxury air-conditioned thatched rooms and suites. The lodge has been on this spot since the 1930s, originally a hunting lodge and converting to conservation and photography in the 60s – the first to do so. The camp was completely refurbished in 2018 and transformed from the old-school and old-fashioned hunting lodge style,  to a beautiful far more contemporary property – the refurb has been sensitive with the historic exterior, boma, where Nelson Mandela has dined and various artworks all preserved.

MMDSC_1786Travelling as a family we stayed in one of the Waterhole Suites. Other rooms/suites face the other direction towards the Sand River. The children had their own twin room and bathroom which led to a huge double bedroom, bathroom with bath and shower and wonderful outdoor shower.

Along the front of the room and accessed from both bedrooms by sliding glass doors was a wooden deck looking over the waterhole where we had hippo, nyala, kudu and mongoose as visitors. Rooms are extremely comfortable and stylish, retaining an African flavour with a natural colour palate, porqupine quill  lamp and wildlife artworks. There are many thoughtful touches, for instance umbrellas in the hall, USB ports, extensive mini bar and fresh ice, a sweetie jar for the children. Closets had lighting, towels were fluffy and complimentary bath products smelt divine.

Sable and Rattray’s camp are smaller and quieter. No children under 12 are permitted at Sable Camp and no children under 16 at Rattray’s Camp.

Seasonality

MMDSC_1736MalaMala is open year-round. Visiting in April we knew it was the end of the rainy season and the bush would be very lush. As expected the weather was rather unpredictable. One day we had blue skies and temperatures of 38 degrees and the next it was 22 degrees cloudy and raining – we quite enjoyed the contrast – we still saw amazing wildlife, the landscape was beautiful,  and even when we got soaked on the morning drive we knew we were returning to lovely hot showers, coffee and breakfast!

May to October (the cool dry winter) is considered the peak time for this area – the bush starts to dry out and die back, and weather is more  consistent and reliable. Wildlife is easier to see as it gathers around the water sources and is not so easily concealed by the bush.  If you are keen to combine a safari in Greater Kruger with a stay in Cape Town then April/May and September/October are the best months.

The safari day

MMDSC_1734The daily schedule changes with the seasons – for our stay we would be woken at 515am, for tea/coffee and a light snack on the deck at 545am with other guests,  before departing at 6am. We would usually be back at camp for a hearty breakfast by about 9am.

After breakfast there is time to relax and enjoy the camp – for instance the swimming pool with its glorious views over the Sand River. It’s lovely to sit and read, or watch the wildlife come and go from the waterhole. We’d have lunch about 1pm – lunch is delicious!! Depending how much you indulge you may need a lie down afterwards…

Breakfast and lunch are both in a buffet format and very high quality with a good choice. Where possible we dined alfresco on the deck. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juice, a hot buffet including pancakes or waffles and fresh breads. Lunch  always included a lovely selection of salads plus cold meats, quiche and condiments as well as a hot option, for example, a curry. There was a choice of desert from fruit salad and ice-cream to lemon meringue.

In the afternoon we would meet at 3-315pm (more bite size treats on offer plus tea/coffee and cold drinks) and leave at 345pm, returning to camp at around 7pm. On one evening we did stop for sundowners out on the reserve but wildlife viewing certainly takes priority here. Pre dinner drinks and nibbles would be in the bar at around 745pm with dinner following. We enjoyed gathering in the bar and completing the ‘sightings board’ each evening with all the guests and rangers – a very communal activity.

Dinner is chosen from a set menu with Michael the barman suggesting suitable wine pairings from the delicious range of South African wines. We enjoyed a candle-lit dinner on the deck on our first evening and joined fellow guests around the camp fire in the ancient boma, beneath the jackalberry tree on the following evening. Members of staff presented a cake and sang traditional songs around the fire to help one couple celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Staff

MMDSC_1707The staff added greatly to our experience from the efficient management team of Nerine, Alex and Vusi to the waiting staff such as smiling Stephalina with 22 years service. Everyone gets to know Michael-the-barman, who is a joy.  Our guide was Thabisani from Richard’s Bay – he was a lovely chap, a skilful driver and very knowledgeable – we even learnt some Zulu and Shangaan in two days. We enjoyed talking to him about all manner of things from culture to wildlife. It is customary for rangers to join guests for breakfast and sometimes at other meals as well.

The folder in the room dodges the question of tipping and leaves it very much at the discretion of guests which we can understand as it is a tricky one. For many people, a safari holiday is the most expensive trip they will ever make but if you can tip then it is hugely appreciated by the staff.  As a very general budget we usually work on $10-$30 US per person per day.  You tip your guide/ranger directly with the ‘golden handshake’ at the end of the stay,  and place your contribution for behind the scenes staff into the tip box (usually at reception).

Vehicles

The vehicles are completely open allowing for unrivalled wildlife viewing. They have 3 rows of 2 seats meaning everyone had a great view. They are very comfortable and the camp has steps to help those with reduced mobility get in and out more easily. There is a central hatch between each pair of seats for putting your camera or binos. In here you’ll also find blankets and ponchos. There is also a place to put your water bottle (each guest is presented with a smart named metal water bottle on arrival and can refill this with still or sparkling water from the main deck water station as needed).

Wildlife

Leo DSC_1716webIMG_5003Sabi Sands is known to be one of the best places to see leopard in Africa but we really did not expect to come across one within 5 minutes of driving through Shaw’s Gate! This was one of three leopard sightings during our short 2 night stay. We also had the joy of observing a pack of 8 Cape Hunting Dogs (wild dogs) as they socialised and warmed up on the tarred airstrip as the sun came up. I was not expecting to see cheetah with the bush so dense but we were treated to a fascinating face off on the last morning between an injured male and a hyena.

MMDSC_1655We enjoyed numerous and incredibly rewarding white rhino sightings, seeing several young with their mothers and being able to watch really interesting behaviour.

MMDSC_1808We saw elephant on the way to MalaMala and caught up with a lovely big bull on one of the afternoon drives but we had to work hard to see any others which is unusual for this area. Rhino DSC_1699  We were rewarded for our patience in the end with one the most memorable elephant sightings I’ve ever had – a huge herd on the move surrounded our vehicle just before sundown – there must have been at least 80 elephants with lots of babies. It was incredibly special – you can see the short video clip on our social media feeds (Facebook; Instagram; Twitter).

MMDSC_1867Lion were equally elusive – one large pride had been feeding on a rhino carcass for a couple of days (died from natural causes) on the neighbouring conservancy of Londolozi and continued to feast there during our stay, not appearing until we left! (We managed to see fabulous lion feeding on a buffalo kill further south in Kruger National Park.)

Antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, hippo and many different bird species were all easy to see. We even saw a crocodile in the river. The most unusual sighting had to be the honey badger as it raced across the track right in front of us.

Value for money

Make no mistake, MalaMala is at the top end of the safari spectrum. Rates included all meals, drinks, game activities and WiFi. Hospitality, food and drink, guiding and accommodation were all exceptional, generous and wildlife sightings were rich and varied.

South Africa is an excellent holiday choice currently – the South African Rand is about 18 to the Pound (April 2019) so you can enjoy a diverse holiday combining a few days on safari with time on the Cape coast for example, for really good value, in comparison to other destinations.

Staying in a private reserve permits off-roading and the chance to have very close wildlife encounters. You can also drive at night. If you are on safari in the national park you are limited to using the set road routes and you can only drive between sunrise and sunset. They each offer very different experiences.

We offer many different camps and lodges in the Greater Kruger covering a range of price points, from small tented camps such as Garonga and Honeyguide to luxury lodges including MalaMala, Arathusa and Motswari. Please speak to us for advice.

 

cropped-logo-1.pngWild weekend – how we like to incorporate a safari to Greater Kruger within a holiday

How long to safari? 2 nights is really too short – we prefer a minimum stay of 3 nights in any one camp so you can really have a chance to see as much as possible (Kruger is a vast area so it also works  well combining stays in different locations as we did).

Whether you fly-in or drive-in there are many ways to combine safari time in Greater Kruger within a longer holiday. Here are a few ideas:

CPTshutterstock_102271513Stay in the Cape – fly from Johannesburg or KMIA Nelspruit to/from Cape Town. Kruger and the Cape are best combined April/May or September/October.

Visit Victoria Falls – you can fly on to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg or to Livingstone (the Zambian side of the Falls) from KMIA Nelspruit making for a fabulous cross border holiday.

Zambia 1 Coral Lodge Kayaking on lagoonEscape to the beaches of Mozambique or Mauritius – there are many options here – you can travel by road from Southern Kruger across the border to Maputo in about 3 hours, for beaches in Southern Mozambique, or you can fly to Vilanculos for the Quirimbas. Alternatively you can overnight at Johannesburg airport and fly to the island of Mauritius.

Go golfing – wish list golf courses are within reach of Kruger including Leopard Creek on the southern edge. Sun City is also easily combined with a safari to Kruger.

Take the train –  two of the world’s most luxurious trains operate in southern Africa out of Pretoria including the Blue Train and Rovos Rail. The Blue Train has a special Kruger itinerary as well as a 2 night journey to Cape Town. Rovos operates to Cape Town as well as a special golf and safari itinerary.

Explore by car –  self-drive the stunning Panorama route in Mpumalanga or connect south to Durban to explore the battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. The Drakensberg Mountains are another option.

Looking for a malaria free safari option? South Africa has several malaria free Big Five reserves – speak to us about Madikwe or the Eastern Cape.

To find out more about holidays to South Africa please visit the dedicated country page on the Real Africa website or call us for a chat on 01603 964 730.