In mid-September I'll be in Kenya to undertake a 12-day, 75-kilometers (120 miles) long walk across West and East Tsavo National Parks... big game country the entire way. Over ten years ago, my host accompanied writer Rick Ridgeway from the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean, a foot safari later described in Ridgeway's book The Shadow of Kilimanjaro and from which this shorter walk has been adapted. Next dry season (June through October, dates to be announced) I invite you to join me and my host when we do this great walk again through Tsavo to the beautiful Kenyan coastline around Malindi. It promises to be an unforgettable adventure. Distance per day averages between 13 kms and 21 kms (8 and 13 miles). Supporting vehicles carry our belongings. Stylish camps await us by the Tsavo and Galana Rivers. At the end of the day there is the bonus of game drives in camp vehicles. See December's newsletter for details.
From Kenya, I travel to Tanzania to organize the final details of the 2009 safari to the remote area southwest of Lake Eyasi where some Hadza and Datoga people live in relative isolation to their brethren closer to the lake. The 2009 trip will be timed to catch wet season ceremonies of the Datoga. See the December newsletter for dates and details. Also in the December newsletter I will have information for you about a 2009 walking safari in Zambia and a trip report on October 08's Congo and Central African Republic gorilla and forest elephant safari.
Would you prefer to travel alone? All escorted programs can be arranged as private tours.
February 05 to 19, 2009: 15 days: Northern Tanzania:
All-in-One Wildebeest Migration & Foaling Season, & Ngorongoro Highlands on foot.
Late June 2009: estimated eight to 10 days: Northern Tanzania:
Datoga lands and ceremonies, Hadza hunter-and-gatherers, Yaeda Valley, by vehicle and on foot.
Early July 2009: estimated 10 days: Southern Tanzania:
Ruaha National Park on foot.
Late July 2009: 15 days: Kenya's East and West Tsavo National Parks:
The longest foot safari in Africa: 75 kilometers (120 miles) across Tsavo to Malindi on the Indian Ocean.
October 2009: 10 days: Nouabale-Ndoki (Republic of Congo) and Dzanga-Ndoki (Central African Republic) National Parks:
Western Lowland Gorillas and Forest Elephants.
A walking safari in Zambia and a cultural safari to Cameroon.
In short, you are out of your vehicle from several hours to one day to many days. You are accompanied at all times by a local guide as well as an armed ranger. For longer hikes, fly-camping is required. Supplies and belongings make it to remote bush camps for overnights in different ways depending upon the location of the hike. In Northern Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, for example, Maasai donkeys are used to transport supplies. In Ruaha National Park, support vehicles are used to help set up camps. You don't have to be in blistering shape to undertake a walking safari; they aren't forced marches but opportunities to enjoy some spectacular landscapes. There is plenty of time to take photos. But neither would I recommend you undertake a three hike if you don't do regular exercise at home. Northern Tanzania is mountainous; hikes can be all downhill or all uphill. Depending upon the month you travel, you could be walking under a hot African sun. For longer hikes, consider getting in good enough shape to manage 20 kms (13 miles) a day.
The Tanzanian parks and reserves which allow walking are Arusha NP, Tarangire NP, Ruaha NP, and the Selous Game Reserve. Buffer zones around national parks also permit walking - Loliondo for example, which is located to the east of the Northern Serengeti; and the Gol Mountains, part of which lie within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) and part without. Outside of the Ngorongoro Crater itself, you are allowed to walk most everywhere in the NCA as long as you have along the mandatory ranger. There is always the risk of encountering wildlife - buffalo on Mount Lemagrut perhaps, or elephant and buffalo on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. Overall, however, as long as the group keeps together and obeys the ranger's and guide's instructions walking is safe. Wildlife goes out of its way to avoid us. Why consider a walking safari? Well, even the best planned safari involves a great deal of vehicle time; that is perhaps the most difficult thing about a safari for active people. It feels so good to get out of that vehicle. Also, on foot is the best way to get in touch with our inner animal which we tend to forget, living as we do our urban lives so distanced from instinct and nature.
I recently caught the week-long "Elephant Diaries" on Animal Planet about Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick's elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. The aim of the orphanage is to rear the orphaned elephants in such a way that they grow up psychologically sound. In time, they are returned to the wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park, there to enjoy the quality of life as wild elephants.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has two Elephant Rehabilitation facilities in Tsavo East National Park to accommodate the orphans who have successfully completed their fragile, milk-dependent first year in the Nairobi Nursery. The Trust has successfully hand-reared over 75 orphaned elephants, 49 of which were still Keeper dependent and the rest now fully rehabilitated and living wild amongst the wild herds of Tsavo.
Each orphan decides when to leave the human family and become a "wild" elephant again. The choice of when rests with each and every individual. They are never forced out, just introduced to the wild world gradually through access and exposure. Once "wild" again, many elephants still keep in touch, returning to visit their human and orphaned "family" when they decide they need to, or when in need of assistance. Says Daphne, "An elephant never forgets, and each orphan will remember and love those particular individuals who comprised its human family during infancy and adolescence. This love does not extend to all humans - it encompasses only specific individuals who represented the family, and who will be recognized instantly years later."
When I am in Nairobi I never miss a visit to the Sheldrick Nairobi nursery. Late morning is usually feeding time. "Elephant Diaries" motivated me to go to the website and sponsor an orphan. I chose an elephant called Kimana who had been found alone at the tender age of three weeks hiding among Maasai cattle for security and comfort. Through monthly updates from the trust, I am now part of the rewarding process of Kimana's upbringing, education, and ultimately, his reintroduction to the wild.
Kimana wasn't the newest orphan for very long. Young female Wasessa joined him at the nursery in early July 08. I received the story of her rescue by email and paste it below. She needs sponsors too.
During a routine surveillance patrol by our Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit, a lone baby elephant was spotted on the plains beyond Irima Hill in Tsavo East National Park. This was the afternoon of 22nd June 2008 and the calf, estimated to be between approximately 18 months old, still milk dependent, was completely alone with no elephants in the area other than a lone bull some distance away. The Mobile Veterinary Unit monitored the baby for some hours during which time she gravitated towards the lone bull who was passing by. However, the bull was obviously disinclined to become encumbered by an adoptee, because he kept on pushing her gently away, although due to her persistence he decided to remain within reach. This was fortunate because just 50 yards away, a pride of lions was taking great interest in events and would have taken an un-protected baby elephant in a flash had she not found the bull for protection.
By this time darkness was setting in, and having ascertained that the bull was unlikely to remain with the calf overnight, and that she would definitely fall prey to the pride, the Mobile Veterinary Unit alerted the Voi Elephant Keepers and mobilize a rescue to save the calf. As the men approached, the bull became more protective of his small appendage and had to be physically driven off by the vehicle. Once the calf had been sedated, she was transported to the Voi Elephant Stockades for the night, and Nairobi was alerted that a plane would be needed the following morning, since the calf was milk dependent and needed the company of other elephants to calm it down. It was extremely wild and unmanageable as it was.
Having landed at Voi our Nairobi Elephant Keepers were driven to the Voi Elephant Stockades. The team was then faced with the problem of having to overpower an extremely wild elephant, who simply wanted to kill every human in sight. This was a challenging prospect and took some doing, it being necessary to avoid sedation, due to the risk of bloat, which, in the past, has cost the life of orphans of that age immobilized for what was to be a long journey. She was, however, given a Stressnil injection, which didn’t seem to have much effect. She gave the Keepers a real run around before she was overpowered, her legs tied, and lain down on the rescue tarpaulin, in order to be driven to the airfield and eventually loaded onto the plane.
She arrived in Nairobi at 6.30 p.m. and was carried recumbent into the Taming Stockade. Once the ropes that tied her legs were removed, however, she was up in a flash, and all present had to take instant evasive action in order to avoid being flattened. She was, indeed, extremely wild and extremely fierce. Even Mishak, who has been an elephant Keeper for the past 20 years, announced that she held this unenviable record, for never had there been another more so! She charged the stout iron grid entrance to her Stockade repeatedly until it buckled outwards in a half-loop, looking precariously vulnerable, that we feared it might come down completely!
By the next morning she was still unmanageable but would take water and eventually some milk from a bucket. Maxwell (a black rhino) was thrilled to have a near neighbour throughout the night, and slept pressed up against his side of the separating poles. Max loves the elephant orphans, for they come to greet him each morning with a trunk-touch on the face! The other elephants were then brought around to see her, but being older and bigger than Lesanju, and therefore a competitor for the babies, Lesanju didn’t linger long, and hurried her little troupe off again as quickly as possible, probably also sensing the aggression of the newcomer!
Taming this particular elephant is going to be difficult. She has obviously seen something terrible, probably witness to the death of her elephant mother and family, probably in a human/wildlife situation (There have been a number of reported poaching cases outside of the Park) but we are sure that in the fullness of time she will become gentle, trusting and loving, because she is, after all, an elephant! We have decided to name her “Wasessa”, the name of a small hill in Tsavo East close to where she was found.
For an update on both Kimana and Wasessa go to
Between January and March of this year in Tanzania, we saw many cheetahs with young cubs. In the Ngorongoro Crater, a mother and her three cubs passed right behind our vehicle allowing us an excellent look at the cubs' distinctive coats. The fur of newborn cheetahs is dark grey and what will be its adult spots are barely distinguishable. In addition, a heavy golden-grey mantle runs the length of their bodies over the darker fur. This extra layer provides camouflage when mother hides them in shadowy places, protection against rain and the sun, and the disguise of a honey badger, a vicious little animal that is left alone by most other predators. Despite this help from nature, cub mortality from predators during the first weeks of its life can be as high as ninety percent. Mother cheetahs must leave their babies alone when they hunt, and even though they move the cubs from den to den every few days they are still vulnerable to detection by enemies. The cubs only begin to follow their mothers at six weeks of age. When you see mantled cubs with their mothers, you know they must be at least six weeks of age or they wouldn't be out of hiding.
A lion in captivity in Colombia, South America shows his love for the woman who rescued him.
Oldoinyo Lengai is Tanzania's last active volcano located just south of Lake Natron. Beginning July 2007, when a series of earthquakes struck Northern Tanzania, Lengai has become increasingly active. Earlier this year, I made three visits to the Natron area. Each time Lengai's ash plume was more impressive. Between the January and February visits, a big crack appeared on Lengai's east side which February guests got a good look at it from the Engaruka to Engare Sero track which winds around that side of the mountain. In late February, a group and I were at Empakai Crater. The hike into Empakai was more difficult when black rain from Lengai descended. We decided not to camp on Empakai's rim that night but at Bulati instead. Our tents were still covered in a layer of volcanic grit, the size and texture of ground pepper, the following morning. At Bulati, the Maasai reported that they had evacuated their cattle from Naiyobi village beyond Empakai because the animals fell ill after eating ash-covered vegetation.
In March, Lengai's plume reportedly reached 50,000 feet. This time a group and I were camped at Ol Karien Gorge. Lengai was a remarkable sight from the campsite, even if the massive dark cloud of ash which drifted in our direction caused a few moments of concern. (It drifted right over us to affect the Gol Mountains more to the west.) Truthfully, there weren't too many places on the northern circuit earlier this year where you couldn't see Lengai's eruptions.
This is a great website (frank.mtsu.edu/~fbelton/latestnews.html) if you want to understand more about Lengai and are keen to follow its status, although, be prepared for volcanologist-speak..." hybrid magma formed by the assimilation of natrocarbonatite by a nephelinitic magma. The material resulting from the desilication of nephelinite is a novel magma for Lengai..."
On a Congo gorilla safari guests spend two nights at Mbeli Camp. After an early breakfast, they take a forty minute walk through the forest to where a nine-meter high observation tower has been built over a bai, a 13 hectare swampy clearing in the forest. This is where they spend the day, observing what wildlife frequents the bai, just like the resident Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientists of Mbeli Camp, who have probably beaten visitors to the platform and have already settled in with their spotting scopes on a private platform above the tower's main floor.
Of several forest clearings in the area, Mbeli's is the largest and center of the park's wildlife demographics study, in particular of western lowland gorillas, which has been continuous since 1995. The fact that gorillas congregate at the bai to feed on a protein-packed aquatic plant makes them easier to study than in the forest where it is difficult to see them. At Mbeli, the gorillas are now accustomed to being observed from the platform. Over the last eight years, scientists have compiled long term records on group size and composition. It is the most complete demographic data compiled to date on western lowland gorillas. Some watershed observations at Mbeli include a female called Leah testing the depth of water using a stick as a tool, and of the same female Leah having face-to-face copulation with a male called George.
Fifteen family groups, 10 solitary silverbacks, and around 150 individuals total are known to Mbeli researchers. Around 25 percent of the gorilla population is under six years of age which means that the community is healthy and reproducing. Scientists say it takes about three months to recognize all the gorillas individually. They identify them by noting the shapes of their brows, ears and "nose prints". The nose print is particularly important because each is as unique as our human fingerprints.
Here is some gorilla observation terminology you might find helpful at Mbeli:
- SSB: solitary silverback
- ASB: adult silverback: 18 + years
- YSB: young silverback: 14 to 18 years
- AF: adult female: 11 + years
- SAD: sub adult: eight to 11 years
- Juvenile: four to 7.9 years
- Infant: not yet weaned: zero to 3.7 years
- RG: reproductive group: groups with fertile females
- NRG: non-reproductive group: groups without fertile females
Last July, seven members of a family of mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park were murdered by armed men. The July 08 National Geographic article, written by Mark Jenkins, addresses this horrific event. It is a thorough piece of investigative journalism and well worth reading in order to understand how complex and dangerous wildlife conservation is to carry out among three warring armies, poachers of wildlife and trees, refugees, subsistence farmers, desperate poverty, corruption and greed. As you will learn, the gorillas were victims of the battle for control of the illegal charcoal trade, estimated to be worth $30 million USD a year, by two rival militias and the Congolese army.
Setting the scene for the Virunga gorillas' slaughter in his opening paragraph, Jenkins writes, "The patriarch of the gorilla family, a 500-pound silverback named Senkwekwe, would have sensed that the assailants were near, perhaps wrinkled his wide, black nose at their unfortunate smell, but he would not have been alarmed. Senkwekwe had seen thousands of people and had come to accept their proximity as irritating but unavoidable."
If Senkwekwe had remained wild and distrustful of man would this have improved his and his family's chances of survival? Or is no species, wild or habituated, ever safe from man? I have wrestled with the concept of habituation since I met Kingo and Makumba, the habituated silverbacks of Nouabale-Ndoki and Dzanga-Ndoki National Parks. In order to protect gorillas we need to know more about them. But I am not persuaded that what we undertake in the interests of science is altruistic. Once we have habituated gorillas, we have a responsibility to protect them which we can only do if we are present. To be present takes funding, which is where revenue from tourism comes in once funding for science dries up or is focussed elsewhere. But what happens if, in the case of the Virungas, we can no longer be there to protect habituated animals? Ultimately, gorillas might be better off without us. Last week, Nouabale researchers announced their new estimation (extrapolated from nests they counted each morning) of how many western lowland gorilla survive in Central African forests - the encouraging number of 125,000. I immediately thought "What excellent news, now let's leave them alone!"
BBC Film: The Secret Gorillas of Mondika
This 2005 BBC video, recently aired again on Animal Planet, is well worth finding if you are interested in a Republic of Congo gorilla safari. It centers on Kingo, the habituated silverback of ROC's Nouabale-Ndoki National Park.
On the outskirts of Brazzaville, we slowed to a stop behind unmoving traffic and a commotion ahead. On the opposite side of the road a minibus passed, an agitated chanting crowd chased it. It was then we noticed that men clutched their genitals. Some of them were laughing, but they still held on to their crotches for dear life. There were three women in the car. One of us rolled down a window and asked a taxi driver what was going on. He shrugged. "Ask your husband" was his unhelpful reply.
We had encountered a case of witchcraft: A man, who walked along the road minding his own business, brushed by a black magician who subsequently stole his penis. The perpetrator was captured and taken away in the minibus which had passed us, whether for his protection from the superstitious mob or to impose unofficial justice from the people elsewhere.
I'm told by Congolese friends that Congolese "fetisheurs" are capable of more than stealing body parts. A young boy recently disappeared along a Pointe Noire beach. I would suggest he drowned but his family believes that a sorcerer spirited him away. In Congo, when you order a Coke or a beer the removed cap is left over the open bottle, which, sensibly, keeps the flies out of the drink. But I have been warned that in certain villages a witchdoctor up to no good will enter the drink if it is left uncapped. You ingest him and once inside he can wreak unmentionable harm.
In the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, you find the word "ndoki" attached to a river in the north and to two national parks - Nouable-Ndoki and Dzanga-Ndoki. In the Lingala language "ndoki" means sorcerer.
The stories of witchcraft I enjoy best are about the imaginative magic flying machines which sorcerers use to whizz about at night. In the case of a witchdoctor from a Congolese village near Brazzaville, his magic broomstick was a six-inch long model aircraft which he enlarged to a 747 and flew to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France. In rural Tanzania, witches zoomed through the night skies on the backs of animals such as hyenas and lions. When I lived in Tanzania, a newspaper article appeared one morning about a tribal shaman who crash landed his magical craft in the midst of a gathering of Christians, who gave him clothes to cover his loincloth. The wizard took it as a sign that his magic wasn't as great as theirs so he burned his talismans and converted to Christianity. The following day, a Dar expatriate - okay, it was me - wrote in to ask if the wizard would give flying lessons.