Birding in Ruaha National Park is extremely interesting and rewarding. Ruaha is located in south-central Tanzania, a location that until recently has been difficult and expensive to get to. Due to its vast size, thanks to a massive extension to incorporate the Usangu wetlands,Ruaha has doubled from 10,200 to 20,220 sq.km. In addition to this, Ruaha is fortunate to be surrounded almost 360 degrees, by Game Reserves, plus west of these Reserves are yet more Forest Reserves, so the whole ecosystem, is a vast, virtually untouched, wilderness area of more than 45,000 sq. km. The remote areas are difficult to access particularly during the wet season, therefore, little ʻseriousʼ birding has been done in these seldom visited places. Rob and I are both artists, Rob a sculptor and I am a painter, and in our spare time we are avid birders. We have been extremely privileged to have lived in Ruaha National Park for 17 years, during that time Rob compiled the official, Annotated Park Bird list, which now stands at 572 species. We have managed to pull up some very interesting records, two of them new species.
Whilst birding is good at all times the inclusion of migrant species would be from September to late May. There is only one rainy season, generally it begins in December and ends late March or mid April. During the rains the Park is very lush and green, with wonderful flowers and breeding birds, the Ruaha River looks superb too. In my view, April through to the end of June is an extremely beautiful time of year, especially for flowers and trees, though game viewing is not as rewarding as it is later in the dry season. From end of July the vegetation begins to dry, by September it looks very grey with little greenery, these drier months are however, a great time for game viewing. October and November tend to be very dry, and hot, but at all times Ruaha holds its own charm, and every season has its own particular magic. Most areas of the Park are accessible all year round, however, some of the more remote Miombo areas are difficult during the rainy season but are accessible from July to December.
Three days to unwind, rediscover yourself and detox with healthy food and Yoga Asanas.
We will do lots and lots of Yoga, Meditation and Pranayama but also go for meditative bush walks and canoeing all in the enchanting surroundings of Sadaani by the Wami River just over a couple of hours drive from Dar-es-Salaam.
In the morning we will focus on the Asanas part of the practice going through the Ashtanga sequence with specific adjustments and groundings, while the afternoon will see a much softer practice concentrating on Meditation and specific Pranayama exercises.
Certified instructor Oriane Torode
"You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions." Karen Blixen
Last week I had the pleasure of spending time at our camp in the Lamai. This remarkable piece of the northern Serengeti is truly heaven! Nestled amongst the vast plains of long grass only weeks before the arrival of this years wildebeest migration – our camp looks out onto the majestic Mara ecosystem.
The start to the season found me surrounded by lions. My first encounter of the week was an old male laying in the shade scratching his wounds….probably no too much of life left. Not far from him all squashed under a small shade patch were 8 lionesses with their 6 cubs and also, one young male snoozing the day away. From time to time, an eye is opened and scans for trouble. Later in the afternoon a playful cub under a large tree and his nearby sibling resting in a cub-by-size line up to say farewell as I drive back towards Arusha and home.
And just as you think its all over…. you look up to find an ever so mysterious lion looking at you from a tree! I think our best season ever is about to begin.
Two exhilarating hours away in a six-seat plane, and a million miles away scenically, is the Ruaha Game Reserve. There is nothing on the airstrip apart from a lone giraffe. No sleepy official, no hut, no customs check, no tarmac, no lights, no billboards, telegraph poles, signs or advertising. Driving along small dirt tracks to the reserve, there are stately, ancient baobabs everywhere, with their bark stripped back around the trunks.
“It’s the elephants,” explains Mollel, the guide. “They eat the bark for moisture in the dry season.” This is a bleak, harsh, unforgiving landscape with occasional dashes of colour from ‘toothbrush trees’. Their bright red pods taste like pistachio nuts. It is hard to imagine this exploding rudely into colour after the rains. The baobabs are the oldest tree, many thousand years old, testimony to slow growing and prehistoric life. The first mention of the baobab is by Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan trader and historian, who wrote in 1353, “The trees are of a great age and size, a caravan can shelter under a single one of them, some have no branches or leaves, but the trunk gives enough shade to shelter many men; some have rotted inside, and rainwater has collected, as if it were a well.” I expect to see a dinosaur gently wandering amongst the branches.
In reality, Ruaha is teeming with impala, duiker, and giant kudu with their huge ears. Giraffes and zebras work in coalition (zebras have an excellent sense of smell, giraffes excellent eyesight) as do baboons and impala: baboons shake the leaves of the high trees, impala stay below (again, good eyesight and smell). It’s all about survival and working together. I almost feel sorry for these animals: life is a neurotically tense experience.
No wildlife documentary can prepare you for the thud of your own heart as a matriarch elephant purposefully eyes you across open savannah. She is 20 metres away, her one-year-old baby snuggling up under chest and trunk, peeping out. The jeep wheels make unhelpful groaning sounds, as the tyres embed deeper and deeper into the sand of a completely dry river bed. “It’s fine, watch her ears” says Mollel. “She’s not angry, just curious.” Still, seven tonnes of mammal defending her offspring is something to be taken seriously.
When Rob Barbour asked me whether I wanted to spend a week at our camp in Ruaha there wasn’t a doubt in my mind – I had to go – I had heard so many wonderful stories about this untamed piece of Tanzania and even the name conjured up mystical wilderness with a whisper of danger. So I left my island paradise of Chole Mjini and headed via Dar es Salaam to Msembe Airstrip. The flight in itself was an absolute delight – after leaving the urban sites of Dar, vast green plains spread out below us, uncultivated and undisturbed, followed by rugged mountain ranges and finally the sight of the Great Ruaha River flowing across sand bars. We dropped passengers off at Jongomero first and then the 10 minute flight to Msembe, following this great river, was a true Robert Redford / Dennis Finch-Hatton experience – seeing Africa from the sky – grazing treetops while scattering game from their shaded slumber - it was magical and a heavenly start to my week at the National Park.
My time at Kigelia camp was wonderful – I could wax lyrical about the atmosphere, the delightful simplicity of being a visitor in nature, the changing colours of the landscape but I feel I might lose you as readers so I’ll just tell you two of my highlights. The first one came Day Two – it was mid-afternoon and I was in my tent when trumpeting and crashing shrubs sounded around me – I edged forward on the bed and peered through the canvas onto the sand river below and there were 3 adult elephants and the tiniest of babies grazing and digging for water in the sand. Merely 30ft from my bed and I could have watched them for hours, especially the little one who was cavorting on the ground, playing with his trunk and obviously embarrassing his Mum…It was amazing to see these phenomenal creatures up close – a pure delight.
The other highlight I want to touch on and will always stay with me was a dawn game drive with our experienced guides, Raffa and Amos. On my last day we woke up at 5.30am and filled the car with warm blankets and hot coffee, because by jove, in comparison to Chole it was freezing – I thought I was back in the UK again! We saw so much during this solitary drive (we did not pass one other vehicle) - I could reel off a list of animals which would make any zoologist jealous; giraffes, including a large group of over forty with several babies, kudu, jackel, rollers, rock hyrax, giant buffalo, impala, huge herds of elephant, zebra, eagles, mongoose and two very sleepy lions who were merely 4ft away from the vehicle and I will never forget the gold of that lady’s eyes watching me. But even through all those fantastic experiences, the one that will stick in my mind is when we stopped at the brow of the hill just as the sun, a ball of fire, rose in the tinted sky – wow – deep red – flooding light over this phenomenal vista – picture perfect with rolling hills, majestic baobabs, wispy grasses and tagalala trees with dikdiks scampering, giraffes nodding for leaves and me with a cup of coffee, under a blanket wondering how did life get this good.
Lyndsey Fair, Chole Mjini Lodge Manager
Early this June Kisampa was graced by the visit of three young Canadian volunteers: Amy Warm, Sam McDermott and Sammy Godfriedson. There stay with us included volunteer sessions with pre- primary and primary kids in Matipwili and Kisampa. The three young ladies arrived here on Sunday 5th June with the intention to volunteer their skills as early learning professionals to the under six year olds in our community. Hannes and Bori introduced the ladies to the village elders and together they discussed the opportunities. The ladies then spent the next few days in the village with the 4 to 6 year olds at the primary school in Matipwili. As the primary school would close for the holidays on Friday 10th June, the ladies were invited to help honour the children from the primary school that had scored highest in the end of year school tests.
Amy, Sam and Sammy had brought with them an enormous amount of teaching supplies. Some of these items were offered to the best students of each class as an incentive to continue to do their best and study hard. The children were delighted to receive special gifts of pens and pencils, colouring books, crayons and much more. The three volunteers will end their time at Kisampa by visiting Gongo village and the Gongo school and community, as well as visit the Mingogi settlement and more visits to Matipwili to sit with the children to play, learn and enjoy each other's company.
Chole Mjini Lodge in my mind is always the epicentre of calm and serenity – no cars, traffic, sirens, phones, electricity, radios, tvs; just you, a treehouse, blue skies and long sunny days…but for the last four days Chole has become even more harmonious. We’ve been delighted to host Jo Fox’s Yoga Retreat. During sunrise and sunset you can hear Jo’s dulcet tones whisper “now breathe in…and out” – it has been wonderful. The sessions have taken place all over the Lodge – in the fig-lined ruins, on the balcony of the Red Herring facing the sunset and under a tamarind tree looking over the harbour. Not only have the people of Chole been fascinated with these exercises (especially when they passed the Red Herring to see ten pairs of feet up in the air with no heads!) but our staff have also entered into the spirit of the retreat – to the extent where Jo offered Hassani, a waiter at the Lodge to join them. Here is a photo of Hassani in his first ever yoga session – I am expecting him to be all zen-like for work tomorrow!
The group have also had time between sessions to sample some of the many activities we offer including one of the first turtle hatchings of the season on Juani; a walk through the village which was made even more special by the Kindergarten, funded by the Chole Mjini Trust Fund, singing them a song; scuba diving and snorkelling in Chole Bay and lazing on the sandbar. It’s been a wonderful beginning of the season and I hope Jo’s guests got as much out of their experience as Hassani!
Photos by: Francesca McKenna
Make sure to check out Epic Private Journeys exclusive photographic school coming up during this years great migration in the Serengeti. Greg du Toit is a professional wildlife photographer and 8th generation African. Born in South Africa in 1977, he has lived and worked in four different African countries. From a young age, he has engaged the wilds of Africa, and there was never any doubt as to what he would do with his life. It was therefore no surprise that after completing his tertiary education in Nature Conservation, he went to live permanently in the African bush.
The first few years of his career were spent in Timbavati Game Reserve (South Africa), where he served an apprenticeship as a Wilderness Trails Guide. It was during these years that he set aside devoted time to study every aspect of the African bush, from identifying wild flowers and dung beetles through to stalking big game on foot. These skills later proved invaluable as he focused his attention on photography. Since those early days, he spent more than a decade living in and photographing some of Africa’s wildest, remotest and largest ecosystems. His photography and writing is however, much more than a career; it is a way for him to channel his passion for Africa and to share the beauty and awe of Africa’s wild places with others, hopefully contributing to their continued existence.
An excert from The Ecologist- Tanzania: can the country's booming eco-tourism sector ever be truly green?
From local participation to wildlife conservation, Tanzania’s green tourism projects show how responsible travellers and tour operators can improve lives and ecosystems - but there's still much to do.
Tourist trips to developing countries is increasing by six per cent per year. Twenty per cent of these new tourists go to Africa, with Morocco, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania scooping up the majority. So what’s driving the trend? The answer is eco-tourism. Ecotourism appeared as early as the 1960’s in Kenya, when hunters in search of game flocked to the savannas and forests, providing an economic reason for conservation. Since then, eco-tourism - happily minus hunting - has become the fastest growing sub-sector of the tourist industry. With an annual growth rate of between 10 and 15 per cent worldwide, it’s no wonder that the travel industry regards it as a sort of wonder pill. But what exactly is eco-tourism and is it really as green as it’s supposed to be?
Some see eco-tourism as a marketing ploy. Others regard it as a genuine effort to imaginatively dispose of waste, employ and train local people, preserve the environment and support local communities. Obviously prominent sprinklers on the lawns of some of the big hotels in Dar-Es-Salaam are a bit of a giveaway, as are daily deliveries of imported strawberries and foie gras to luxury South African boltholes. Ironically, it is often the smaller, independent lodges who are best at involving local communities in macro tourist initiatives but they are also the ones who find it most difficult: long-term training, secure employment and monitoring whether profits really are ploughed back into their surrounding villages is expensive and labour intensive. Rob Barbour, of AfrikaAfrika runs four eco-camps in Tanzania. He’s one of a handful of travel operators here who uses his imagination, thinking broadly, laterally and holistically. Uniquely he employs a trained, local community co-ordinator and the salaries he pays are higher than normal. His challenges include involving locals in the development of the camps, reducing poaching with snares and encouraging work such as beekeeping. For him, eco-tourism has to include secure employment. He says: ‘Promotion of ethical working practices has to come from within. It has to come from the top. It has to be done with communities in mind. Involving local communities is not a difficult thing to do. You have to build trust and the best way to do that is to always deliver on the things you say you are going to deliver on with no exceptions. Always keep the communication channels open to the community - tell them your issues and problems and ask them to do the same.’
Link to complete article written by Themi Mutch
AfrikaAfrika offers a prize at the Rafiki Ball Auction with a free stay at our Chole Mjini Lodge on the stunning indian ocean island of Mafia.
Established in 2004, Rafiki Surgical Missions is a non-profit charity that sends teams of qualified surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and allied therapists to Tanzania to provide free surgical treatment and medical training.
The organisation raises funds in Australia and Tanzania to support professional surgical teams who travel to Tanzania from Australia. The teams and other volunteers work in collaboration with Tanzanian Hospitals, Governments and other stakeholders to provide surgical treatment and surgical teaching. Rafiki Surgical Missions has earned an enviable reputation for quality outcomes, and is known for its high level of industry support. ince our first mission in 2004, a total of 11 surgical missions to Tanzania have changed the lives of more than 650 Tanzanians with conditions such as cleft lip, cleft palates and burns contractures. The operations undertaken have not just helped the patients by alleviating the pain and suffering, but they have helped them become accepted members of their community. Our surgical teams are all volunteers, consisting of plastic surgeons, anaethestists, theatre nurses, occupational therapists and other health professionals who donate their time to travel to Tanzania. Each mission takes almost everything required for the treatment and care of the patients to Tanzania, including medical supplies and surgical equipment. The charity has also sent desperately needed second-hand equipment to hospitals for use outside of the missions. Based in Perth, a small volunteer committee coordinates both the missions and the fundraising required to cover costs, such as the team's airfares and accommodation and medical supplies.
Bill and Vonnie Wavish came on an Epic Safari which I guided to the Ngorongoro Crater, the northern Serengeti and the Maasai Mara in August of 2010. They came with a group of friends to celebrate Vonnie's 50th Birthday. Whilst at Serengeti Mara Camp in the Lamai Wedge (in the far north Serengeti) Raymond Teekishe - Conservation and Community Development Manager for AfrikaAfrika - and I gave a presentation on the efforts that AfrikaAfrika and Epic were doing in terms of conservation and community development. As a result of this discussion Vonnie and Bill made an on the spot commitment to fund the building of a teacher's house in Gibaso Village. This project was high on the development agenda of the Gibaso Village Government. The house will be in honour of Vonnie's mother and so will be known as the Colleen Bayliss School Teacher's House.
Rob Barbour, Managing Director
Lucky for us we have just had wonderful photographers - Petra & Marko Balenovic of Whalerock Studio at our camps! They have been working hard at capturing the essence of our brand, the lovely details or our camps, the incredible surrounding environments and what guests can expect when arriving at one of AfrikaAfrika's stunning properties. The accommodation, the dining, the activites, the tiniest of details and the vastest of views. You will soon see their work on our website, in our new brochures and in new advertising.
We would like to say a huge THANK YOU t the both of them!
Anna Jonsson, Marketing Manager
A popular misconception on Astronomy is that it requires high-priced equipment as well as great prior knowledge. However, Astronomy starts with 'star watching'. Star watching is engaging but not necessarily difficult. It does not require an expensive telescope or remarkable skills. Star gazing is flexible enough to meet everyone's enthusiasm. You can start out with your naked eye learning to identify a number of constellations and stars. You will gradually be able to recognize any constellation on a clear night sky visible to the naked eye on any time of the year. This demands of you nothing more than a bit of enthusiasm and basic knowledge of star watching.
With our last four guests of the season now with us it offers me an opportunity to reflect on my wonderful three months on Chole. Since arriving on this island I have swum with 30ft whale sharks – an experience so awe inspiring its nearly impossible to describe; snorkelled in crystal clear water which makes Finding Nemo a reality; been lucky enough to watch turtles hatching and make their first journey to the sea; thanks to SeaPoint I now have an open water dive certification which has opened the door to diving outside the Bay which is quite simply glorious - seeing gigantic moray eels, large turtles, red anemones, leaf fish, sting rays, potato grouper and huge Napoleon wrasse (the list goes on and on) in their habitat is a gift; and finally being welcomed and becoming part of the friendliest communities I have ever had the pleasure in living in. My forever summer is coming to an end, well only for 2 months, but suffice to say I will miss Chole and island living – living with walls again will be a challenge and I’m not looking forward to putting on shoes!
Lyndsey Fair, Chole Mjini Lodge Manager
Mwinyi Mmadi Mwinyi is 45 years old and has worked at Chole Mjini Lodge from the beginning, 13 years ago. Before working with Jean and Anne he was a line fisherman - his catch was from Chole Bay, most probably on sites now designated as "no-take zones"; these sites were put in place by the Mafia Island Marine Park to conserve the snorkel and dive sites. Over the years Mwinyi has tried his hand at everything at the hotel, including helping to build our treehouses but now he works as a boatman. This picture was taken by a guest on a whale-shark excursion - as you can see Mwinyi is just as excited as the guests to snorkel alongside these gentle giants - they never fail to inspire awe and get the adrenalin pumping! Mwinyi's love for the sea and Jean and Anne's commitment to conservation has motivated not only Mwinyi but all our staff to consider the environment as a blessing which should be nurtured and conserved rather than something to be fished and destroyed. Mafia offers some of the finest snorkelling and diving on Earth - all our guests are blown away by the variety and amount of fish and coral life we have here - and with the help of the Marine Park and ex-fishermen like Mwinyi we can ensure this beauty is conserved for future generations.
Lyndsey Fair, Chole Mjini Lodge Manager
Then she was seen bathing in the waterhole below the camp for several days. This is unusual: A female adult waterbuck all by herself for several days. Yesterday afternoon we went down to have a closer look. On the way down we saw a group of about 12 waterbuck near the water hole, but she had been by herself all day. We made a film of her in the water and then caught her on camera as she walked/limped out of the water. The right hind leg is cut and swollen... She is dragging a piece of string or metal wire behind her. She limps and is obviously in pain. She's probably been caught in a snare but has managed to drag the snare clear of the bush.
This morning she was not there at the water hole, but at lunch time she was seen grazing and laying up next to the water hole. It's hot out there in the sun. Stats of waterbuck: average weight 160kg, average height 120cm, average danger to Jackie and Hannes on rescue attempt = high, average time to re-think plan =maybe tomorrow. Question: Should we try to get the snare off or not?
Kisampa Animal Rescue Team
The action never stops at our bush retreat Kisampa.
Here is a snake making breakfast out of a baby robin!
Jackie Barbour, AfrikaAfrika partner