Saving the Magnificent African Elephant

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Once upon a time, elephants ruled the continent of Africa. Their historical habitat range literally stretched all the way from the Cape of Good Hope to Tangier. An estimated 27 million individuals lived in family groups throughout most of Africa, foraging in both the bush and forest.

Now, fewer than 300,000 remain. Like a cloth burnt down to mere scraps, African elephants’ habitat range now clings to sparse protected areas dotting the continent. The most aggressive estimates project that the African elephant could be extinct by as early as 2020 unless something is done to save them.

You can do your part by seeing these gorgeous, almost-magical animals in person and bringing back inspiring tales and photos to others. When your African elephant safari is booked through companies that support conservancies, your trip provides the funds needed to combat poaching. Book a safari now to promote the cause for keeping these wonderful beasts alive so that yet another generation can say “I have seen an elephant.”

The Resurgence of Poaching

In 1989, the conservation community breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) passed a global ban on the sale and trade of ivory. Before the ban was passed, over 50 percent of the African elephant population had been slaughtered.

Afterwards, the elephant populations slowly began to bounce back. Poaching plummeted as trade restrictions and anti-poaching efforts made their mark.

But the resurgence could not last forever. Black market ivory supplies dwindled across the globe, effectively raising the price of ivory dramatically as demand from plutocrats — who cared little for laws and even less for elephants’ well-being — held strong. Poachers could now invest in their operations and still turn a profit, especially when backed by international criminal organizations that also controlled illegal trade. Conservationists and rangers suddenly began to face a foe better equipped than they were, and elephants were dying once more.

Between 2007 and 2014, 30 percent of the savannah elephant population was brought down by poachers. An estimated 100,000 elephants were killed from 2010 to 2012. Things have gotten so bad that rangers find themselves not only outwitted but outgunned. Well-funded poaching operations have begun to use the same technologies empowering special-ops military groups: drones, infrared sensors, tracking devices and even booby traps.

Elephant populations are falling once more — around 8 percent every year. Governments and people must step up their efforts to push back against this resurgence and fight with every breath to ensure that elephants can continue to survive on our planet.

Help Support Conservation With an African Elephant Safari

With things more desperate than ever, every penny counts when it comes to saving Africa’s elephants. People can support conservation and anti-poaching groups by choosing African safari tour operators that donate money and labor. Your journey to meet these animals in person in their own habitat could very well save a few of their lives in the process.

So, please, come to Africa and deliberately seek out tour groups that can make a genuine difference. You can take a look at your options for African safari tour companies that help save the elephants and book your journey today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Honey Bees of South Africa

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Just like the rest of the world, many of South Africa’s most important plants and crops only continue to exist because of one animal: the honey bee. South Africa’s honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) are a subspecies of the same Western honey bee you see in your backyard. South Africa also has its own unique subspecies, the Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis) that only occurs in the extreme southern coastal regions near South Africa’s capes.

Both subspecies and their hybrids help form the backbone of the South African agricultural economy, not to mention our ecology. You can learn more about the humble honey bee and its amazing abilities by reading on and then visiting some of our incredible apiaries on a South African safari tour.

The African Honey Bee

African honey bees can be found throughout most of central and southern Africa. Compared to their European cousins to the north, they are smaller and have a less “fuzzy” appearance. A typical worker is around 19 mm (.74 inches) in length.

A worker bee will have five eyes, with three small single-lens eyes and two larger compound eyes. Each compound eye will have almost 7,000 lenses, giving bees a multi-angle view of its surroundings at all times.

To look for food, hives send out thousands of workers in search of flowering plants and other sources of nectar. The bees will feed on the sweet, sugary nectar from these flowers, storing it in their abdomen to bring back to the hive. Bees will also carry back pollen to the colony, which can be used to create specific blends used to feed growing bee pupae as well as the queen. Electrostatically charged hairs attract pollen and hold it tight in “pollen baskets” found on the bees’ rear legs. Bees will scrape this pollen in order to collect it while also feeding on nectar with their long proboscis “tongues.”

While feeding and collecting pollen, bees inevitably cause the pollen to cross from the pollen-rich anther to the sticky stigma on plants, fertilizing them. Bees are especially helpful to the ecosystem when they carry pollen from plants across great distances to other plants of the same species, creating hardier crossbreeds compared to plants born from the same local genetic pool.

During the winter, hives appear to “hibernate” but they actually remain active inside. Bees live off of stored honey and maintain slow vibrations of their wings to create ambient warmth, allowing the queen and many workers to survive the cold.

Cape Honey Bees

Cape honey bees are a subspecies unique to the southernmost tip of the African continent, where winter rains are common. Unlike all other honey bees, worker Cape bees can reproduce asexually by laying female diploid eggs, whereas all other species’ workers can only lay haploid male eggs.

Many of South Africa’s most productive apiaries use Cape honey bees to produce honey and other agricultural products.

Meeting African Honey Bees on a South African Safari Tour

African bee colonies can be found in the wild all throughout areas like Kruger Park and Namaqua National Park. We also have many farms dedicated to helping bee colonies succeed, grow and multiply, like the Simply Bee Observation Centre and Hudsonville Honey.

Come meet these incredible workers — both the bees and the people! — and see why South Africans have a closer appreciation of nature when you embark on your South African safari tour.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

The Adorable African Civet

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One of Africa’s cutest yet least understood animals are the African civets. That unfamiliarity is likely because these solitary, nocturnal creatures are difficult to spot. They spend most of the day sleeping in dense vegetation, venturing at night to snack on whatever prey they can find.

Despite their elusiveness, they are spread throughout most of central Africa. Their habitat ranges throughout the entire middle of the continent to the sub-Saharan region and all the way to the northern tip of South Africa.

Catching a glimpse of one of these common yet crafty critters on an African safari tour is difficult, but with a keen eye and some patience, you may be able to get a gander at one on its nighttime prowl.

African Civet Appearance and Behavior

At a glance, the African civet looks like a cross between a huge tortoiseshell cat and a raccoon. They have long, lithe bodies and a cat-like tail. Their front quarters look decidedly less like a cat as a result of the slouching shoulders and tiny dog-like head. Dark circles cover the eyes, and small but slightly pointed ears afford them excellent hearing.

Black markings may appear to make the civet stand out, but as they hunt through the underbrush at night, these quiet creatures are incredibly hard to spot. They are also shy, fleeing most potential confrontations quickly as a defense mechanism. Non-retractable claws give it amazing climbing abilities, and civets will spend much of their life foraging or sleeping in trees. Civets have 40 sharp teeth they use to quickly catch and bite into prey. They live around 15 years in the wild but can live over 20 years in captivity.

An Acquired Taste?

Because civets are quite hard to locate in the wild, biologists actually know little about their behavior compared to most other animals. What is known is that while civets are not usually physically aggressive, they are fiercely territorial. They have large scent glands that they use to spray and mark their territory.

This pungent musk actually caused the civet to be highly sought after by perfumers . They would hunt civets and capture them to regularly milk them for their scent glands. The scent was used as a fixative and base ingredient for many fine perfumes, but synthetic versions that can imitate the properties of civet musk have replaced the practice of milking civets.

When milked, a male civet only produces around three to four grams of pure musk a week, causing the substance to command extremely high prices on the global market — up to $500 for a kilogram.

Where to See Civets on an African Safari Tour

Civets have a wide habitat range and are most often found in non-arid locations near permanent bodies of water. You can most easily find them along river systems and lakes.

See if you can spot a civet during your African safari when you book one of our multi-country African vacation packages today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

image by Kruger Park

 

Marvel at the Beautiful Man Pools National Park

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Mana Pools Park sits on the south bank of the Zambezi River within the northernmost section of Zimbabwe. In the rainy season, the Lower Zambezi Valley floods, opening up a colorful and rich ecosystem as vegetation flourishes and small insects, fish and other creatures’ populations explode. Birds, foragers and top-level predators grow fat on this fodder, enabling them to give birth to their next generation of kin.

When the rainy season ends, these flood pools gradually dry up. Water sources begin to become more and more concentrated, making animals have to travel further and gather in large groups to find something to drink.

During this time, from April to November, a Mana Pools safari can deliver some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. Elephants, wild dogs, lions, zebra, impala and dozens of other majestic species can be spotted bending into the last remnants of water for a drink. Walking safaris can help you get up close and personal with this wildlife as you sit and observe some of the most interesting scenes imaginable.

Why a Mana Pools Safari Is So Unique

Over the course of thousands of years, the mighty Zambezi River has shifted course. As it did, it left behind several oxbow bends cut off from the new main flow. These bends became oxbow lakes. The four biggest ones persist all year round, leading the park to be named “Mana” pools. “Mana” means “four” in the Shona language spoken by many Zimbabwean natives.

Every rainy season, the oxbow lakes and the whole region of Mana Pools Park floods, creating sweeping marshlands and thousands of tiny pools for birds, fish and other wildlife to gather. As the rainy season wanes, these pools dry up. The area’s animals are then left with just the four main lakes to drink from, leading to some pretty remarkable sights.

Nature in Its Purest Form

Another interesting aspect about Mana Pools is how undeveloped it is. The rainy season tends to make short work of roads and trails, meaning that much of the park is inaccessible throughout the year by vehicle. Even walking into the park is extremely difficult at the height of rainy season, when mud can often swallow you up to your hips.

In the dry season, vehicles are still a rare sight. Voyaging into the interior of Mana Pools is often done on foot. Canoeing safaris are also possible along the Zambezi. These walking and canoeing safaris allow visitors an intimate look at wildlife.

Hippos bathe in the water and mud while elephants gather water in their long trunks. You can also find elephants, gazelle, impala and other animals standing on their hind legs trying to reach the last remnants of leaves upon the mahogany and ebony trees to the north.

All of these incredible sights make Mana Pools a uniquely stunning way to observe the wildlife of southern Africa.

Book a Zimbabwe Safari to Visit Mana Pools Today

You can find safaris to Mana Pools Park in many of our most popular Zimbabwe safari tour packages. Take a look at our sample itineraries, and then book your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

 

Enjoy Canoeing Safari for a Change of Pace

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As you slide down the Okavango Delta, an egret dabs its beak into the shallow waters by the shore. It pays your canoe no mind as you slip past, your paddles gently splashing in the water. Ahead, the guide boat spots a hippo. You correct course. The hippo stares at you as you give it a respectfully wide berth. It snorts and blows some bubbles in reply.

Game drive safaris in an offroad vehicle are one of the most popular ways to experience wildlife during a trip to Africa, but canoeing safaris are a completely different breed. You can put yourself up close next to nature and feel truly a part of your surroundings. Your expert guides help you set up camp at night, and they cook simple but delicious homestyle meals over a campfire.

This method of traversing the wild African landscape has only grown in popularity over the past few years, but for now it still remains a relatively well-kept secret that only the most enthusiastic adventurers enquire about. You and your fellow travellers get to enjoy a wholly unique experience that will stick with you for a lifetime.

Immerse Yourself in Nature

As the imagined scenario above shows, canoe safari trips remove many of the barriers between you and the world you intend to observe. The water sits high upon the edge of your canoe, and you can see the lilies and reeds glide past, sometimes bumping softly into your boat as you navigate channels and marshlands.

Wildlife tend to be curious but largely indifferent to your presence. While roads and trails carve through their territory, putting yourself in the midst of the water means you are in theirs. Guides scout ahead to warn you of impending hippos and other concerns. If one is spotted, your guide will instruct you on how to avoid piercing their comfort zone. Sometimes, you must use punting poles to shove through marshlands to seek alternate passage. Other times, you wait. When animals do get too close, you and your guide slap paddles on top of the water, which ring out like gunshots and frighten them away.

At the end of a long day of paddling, your body feels weary but relaxed. You smell the juicy seared meats coming to the right level of doneness as they roast over a wood fire. Vegetables wrapped in foil quietly steam and simmer in butter and their own juices. Your guide regales you with stories of adventures past — a recap of their closest calls.

On some nights during your trip, you can slip into a plush lodge bed after sipping wine by a roaring fireplace, but tonight, your tent and watchful guards are all that separates you from the wilderness. These experiences make canoeing safaris utterly unforgettable and affect travellers in profound ways. After weeks of living life in the suburbs or city at a breakneck pace, safari-goers get to slow down and listen to what nature has to say all around them.

Book a Canoeing Safari in Africa Today

Whether you want to see the Okavango Delta, the Zambezi or other incredible waterfront locales in Africa, a canoeing safari is an incredible way to experience them from an intimate viewpoint. You can book your canoeing safari trip today along with other amazing activities when you contact us and create a custom itinerary for you and your fellow travellers.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Beautiful Bats of Africa

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Bats are incredible, unique and underappreciated mammals that supply important roles in the ecosystem. Many suburbanites fail to recognize just how common bats are in their lives; bats’ high-pitched squeals tend to blend into other twilight sounds, and the fluttering black figure in the night sky could just as easily be a swallow or a nighthawk as it is a bat.

Yet, when you come to a continent like Africa where nature is often so much more visible, bats begin to reveal their piece in the puzzle of the great natural order. Africa has around 321 species of bats — around 25% of known global bat species — which help pollinate and plant some of the continent’s most characteristic flora while others manage insect populations to the delight of its fauna.

You can read on to learn about the different types of bats you can encounter during a twilight safari in Africa and hopefully come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of just how amazing and essential the bats of Africa bats can be.

All About the Bats of Africa

Bats are members of the order Chiroptera, which means “hand-wing” in Greek. They are the only mammals capable of sustaining true flight, whereas other animals like “flying” squirrels can only glide for short distances. Bats fly by using their hands, which have been modified over millions of years of evolution to have long, thin bones connected by leathery wings or “patagium.”

You can find bats in Africa all throughout the continent except in the arid, non-forested regions around the Sahara and Kalahari deserts. They tend to roost in large colonies at the tops of tall trees, although some live in caves like their New World counterparts.

There are over 1,200 species of bats worldwide, making them the second-most diverse mammalian order following rodents. Because bats require small, light, delicate bones to enable their flight, our fossil record of bats is spotty at best. The earliest records recovered date back 52.5 million years ago, when bats had already developed the capability to fly but lacked the echolocation abilities seen in modern microbats.

This discovery makes sense given that bats show several distinct differences at the genus level. Breaking these differences down into broad terms, we have the fruit-eating megabats with their more fox-like heads; and microbats, which have smaller heads, large ears and wrinkled noses — all of which make it easier for them to use high-pitched sound waves to locate insect prey.

Africa has these two types of bats as well as examples of more specific families of bats, which you can learn more about below.

Types of Bats in Africa

  • Fruit bats have fox-like heads and typically feed on nectar from flowers and fruits. The most widespread fruit bat species in Africa is the straw-coloured fruit bat, which lives in colonies of over 100,000.
  • Horseshoe bats use their radar-dish-like noses to emit high-pitched squeaks, helping them find their insect prey.
  • Old World leaf-nosed bats have specialized nose shapes like horseshoe bats that tend to be more textured, similar in appearance to a dead leaf.
  • False vampire bats are relatively large insect-eating bats with very prominent ears and a large, pointy nose. Africa has only one species: the yellow-winged false vampire bat.
  • Sheath-tailed bats are tiny bats with pointed faces and small tails covered in a sheath. The Egyptian tomb bat is one famous example, and its habitat range follows the Nile down to Ethiopia, although it appears in other areas of Africa and India.
  • Slit-faced bats have a split nose and tall ears. The Egyptian slit-faced bat is spread throughout Africa and the Middle East.
  • Free-tailed bats are small, agile flyers that have some of the fastest flying speeds of any bats. They are also noted for their dog-like faces that resemble mastiff breeds.
  • Long-fingered bats have bonier-looking arms and more noticeable digits at the tops of their wings. They tend to live in more arid regions than Africa’s other bats.
  • Vesper or “common” bats include the largest and most diverse range of bat species.

Meet Africa’s Bats

You can go see bats on safari in the early morning or at dusk as they venture out to find their food. You can also learn about how fruit bats help pollinate and spread seeds for some of the most important plant species we have.

Take a look at our safari vacation packages today to book your trip and meet your new flying, furry, squinty, squeaky friends.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

 

Zimbabwe’s Elusive and Critical Endangered Pangolin

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The shy and reclusive pangolin tries to keep a low profile while going about its business of eating ants and termites, but despite this unassuming demeanor — the pangolin is the biggest victim of poaching on earth. Tens of thousands of pangolins are illegally trafficked every year, leading to major seizures like one in China that contained over 3 tons of pangolin scales.

As the eight pangolin species are poached near extinction, advocates of the species are all that stands between them and being wiped off the face of the planet. Their champions include Zimbabwe’s Tikki Hywood Trust, which fosters orphaned and rescued pangolins, spreads awareness of their plight, fights for policies that protect threatened species, and engages in breeding programs to help restore their numbers.

Visitors on a Zimbabwe safari vacation who love animals should therefore make sure visit the Tikki Hywood Trust web page first to learn about how locals are fighting to protect the unique species that help make our planet beautiful.

Pangolins: Nature’s Insectivorous Knights in Scaled Armor

Pangolins are the sole remnants of the family Manidae, which are the only mammals to have hard scales made of keratin. While pangolin look like a cross between anteaters and armadillos, they are actually not closely related to either.

The pangolin’s natural diet consists of ants, termites and various insect larvae. They have a highly particular diet designed to give them optimal nutrition. Because of this picky eating, pangolins have to forage widely to find the species they prefer, making habitat loss another devastating contributor to their dwindling numbers.

Pangolins are also solitary and shy, foraging only and night and avoiding contact with others in their species outside of mating periods. Since they are somewhat short, blend in with the forest floor and can be quite fast, they are elusive to researchers, sometimes preventing accurate counts of their numbers in the wild.

When threatened, the pangolin curls up into tight balls as a defense mechanism. Its scales are so tough that even lions have trouble getting through them. Unfortunately, these beautiful and unique scales also make the pangolin a target of poachers. The scales are prized as fashion accessories or components of ancient Chinese medicine — although modern medical research indicates no benefits whatsoever. Pangolin meat is also considered an exotic delicacy, although personal accounts suggest that the animal is not particularly tasty by any means.

So, because of unfortunate misconceptions and the tragic desire for status symbols, the pangolin is being hunted to death based on myths and misunderstandings.

Protecting Pangolins on Your Zimbabwe Safari Tour

If your aim is to help lift the chances of pangolin survival, make sure you engage in the following activities:

  • Familiarize yourself with wildlife protection laws and policy so that you can educate yourself and others on what it takes for governments and people to take action
  • Seek vendors who partner with organizations like the Tikki Hywood Trust when going on a Zimbabwe safari tour
  • Recognize the beauty of pangolins and the bravery and compassion of those who try to protect them
  • Report any pangolin scale artifacts or serving of pangolin “bush meat” to the Zimbabwe authorities; refuse to give money to vendors who engage in these practices

You can begin to explore the world of the gorgeous and enchanting pangolin on a Zimbabwe safari tour with your family.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

image: Getty Images