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

Meerkat Fun on a Kalahari Safari

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Meerkats: they may not have quite as much personality as Nathan Lane imbued Timon with in The Lion King, but they certainly come close. Their expressive faces and social tendencies endear them to humans for being similar to us but also ridiculously cute.

But make no mistake: meerkats may be cute, but they are ruthlessly efficient when it comes to working as a team while foraging, burrowing or even waging war over territory with other meerkat clans. Catching a glimpse of them in the wild can be fascinating, so keep these fun meerkat facts in mind during your Kalahari safari trip.

Meerkats Are Only Found in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts

Meerkats are a unique species. While they belong in the Herpestidae family with mongooses, they are the only species in the genus Suricata.

They exhibit highly unique traits compared to other mongooses, as well, including an evolved social structure and a tendency to live in burrows. They also mostly live in one place on the planet: the Kalahari desert. They can also be found in parts of the Namib desert along the coast of Namibia.

Therefore, if you want to see meerkats, the best places to visit would be Botswana, Namibia or South Africa.

Meerkats Live in Advanced Societies

Meerkats live in family “clans” dominated by a matriarch and her male mate. Labor is divided among the adult meerkats when it comes to digging burrows, foraging for food, standing watch for predators, and even nursing the matriarch’s pups.

One of the most notable of these duties is how several meerkats will act as sentries during the day while other members forage, play, or relax. These sentries will rotate, like people keeping watch. When a sentry spots a threat like a tawny eagle wheeling in the sky, they will bark out a specific warning call and send everyone scurrying back into the burrow. The drongo bird will even take advantage of this behavior by sounding a false alert when it can get a free meal.

Meerkats Have Highly Adapted Bodies

Adaptive traits of the meerkat include:

  • Large eyes set at slight angles for great sweeping visibility as well as an acute sense of depth
  • Dark circles around their eyes to reduce glare
  • Large ears for excellent hearing and also to radiate heat
  • Transparent third eyelids and an ability to shut their ears tight, both of which protect them during digging
  • Long, slender bodies adapted for tunneling but also advantageous for keeping watch; strong hind legs and a stiff tail also help them stand upright
  • Shovel-like claws for digging and snatching insects
  • An immunity to scorpion poison at adulthood
  • Thin-skinned bellies perfect for sunbathing when the meerkat wants to warm up

Meerkats Are Family-Oriented

Meerkat matriarchs only give birth to about four pups in a breeding season, so the entire clan looks after these pups to ensure their future survival. Some females will even help the matriarch nurse her pups by acting as wet nurses.

When meerkats sense danger, they will ensure that the pups are the first to flee. If they must confront threats, meerkat clans will place themselves in between pups and the danger to act as a shield.

One of the most surprising traits of meerkats, though, is how they can recognize individual’s voices like we would recognize our siblings’.

Come See Meerkats on Your Kalahari Safari

You can book a trip for a Kalahari safari tour in Botswana or South Africa to get a wild and personal look at meerkats in their home habitat.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Experience the Sheer Diversity of South African Plant Life

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South Africa has a boggling amount of diversity in its plant life, including over 9,000 different species on its Cape Floristic Region. While many may think solely of the savanna when they think of South Africa, the country has seven other completely different ecological life zones, or biomes. Each biome has a unique mixture of native flora, including thousands of endemic species and many native flowering plants that should be familiar to gardening enthusiasts.

Explore each of these biomes with us as we highlight their rich diversity and unique traits, but remember that you can only truly experience them with your own eyes on an African safari vacation.

Plant Biomes Found in South Africa

  • Savanna
  • Desert
  • Grassland
  • Thicket
  • Forest
  • Succulent karoo
  • Nama karoo
  • Fynbos

Cape Floristic Kingdom

Plant “kingdoms” are biogeological groupings that attempt to group together as many endemic species as possible by similarities in traits, heredity, and more. Most of these kingdoms stretch across the globe; the Holarctic, or Boreal, Kingdom for instance spans most of North America and all of Europe as well as parts of North Africa.

South Africa’s Cape Peninsula boast a floral kingdom that occupies a relatively tiny area — the smallest of all the six plant kingdoms found on the globe. This cluster exists because 69 percent of the species here are endemic, which is to say they can be found nowhere else.

20 percent of all the African continent’s plant species can be found here. The Cape Peninsula also has more overall plant species within it than all of the isle of Great Britain.

Fynbos

Fynbos or “fine bush” is an arid, Mediterranean-like biome characterized by scrub grasses and brightly colored flowering plants. Many familiar garden species hail from here, including irises, geraniums (pelargoniums), white arum lilies, Barberton daisies and more.

Make of the Cape Floral Kingdom is composed of fynbos.

Namaqualand

While the Cape Floral Kingdom is impressive, the Namaqualand region astounds the mind with raw beauty and emotion. Throughout most of the year, this region is arid, rocky and very desert-like. But every spring, it erupts in fields of shockingly intense color.

Images of this period can stir the soul, but they do not do the actual sight of the orange, yellow, and violet fields justice. If you want to time your trip to South Africa just right, make sure it happens when you can catch a glimpse of the Namaqualand in full bloom.

Forests, Savanna, Grassland and More

In addition to these natural gardens, South Africa has the familiar acacia trees, iconic baobab trees, ancient cycads and more. Many of these plants provide more than just beauty; medical researchers are now prizing them for their potent medicinal effects.

Sadly, many of these gorgeous and beneficial plants are threatened, including 1,435 species in the Cape Floristic Kingdom. Support their biodiversity by raising awareness and embarking on South African safari tours that contribute money to the preservation of South Africa’s wild, unique and wonderful landscapes.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

What to Expect on an African Riverboat Safari

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An African riverboat safari is a less-often considered adventure option that provides many unique benefits. When staying aboard the riverboat, you have the opportunity to let wildlife quite literally come to you. You can also depart on smaller flat-bottomed boats throughout the day to enjoy a leisurely alternative to the game drives or walking safaris.

Those who want to see elephants, hippos, Cape buffalo, exotic birds and many of the most remarkable African species can enjoy doing so on a riverboat cruise while also partaking in delicious meals throughout the day. Here is just a sample of what you can expect:

Up Close Encounters

Many animals you see on game drives are used to the sounds of cars, but others will be elusive. They have few reasons to stray towards the paved roads and well-trod dirt paths in parks except for to get from point A to B. On walking safaris, you often have a better chance at seeing more elusive creatures like wild dogs but must earn the privilege through some quite literal leg work.

By contrast, a boating safari means that the animals often surround you or come close to you despite the presence of a large riverboat or small craft. Animals like elephants and giraffe come to the river to bathe and drink, while others like Cape buffalo make their crossing.

Then, there are semi-aquatic species like crocodiles and hippopotami, which spend most of their day in the water. While gliding past, you are likely to see plenty of eyeballs poking above the river surface.

This distinction is not to say that you should not book walking safaris and game drive tours at all. They can offer access to important regions of parks to enjoy sights and animals you would not otherwise see. But, on the whole, riverboat safaris are an underappreciated way to enjoy wildlife from a different perspective.

A Relaxed Pace

Staying at a game lodge and going on drives means a small amount of scheduling and going from place to place. You still have an itinerary on riverboat safaris, but you will most often be walking out onto the deck to take part in them. Scheduled activities like lunch can take place on these decks while some of Africa’s most majestic creatures glide by.

Five Star Treatment

Many riverboat safari tours roll out the red carpet for their guests with amenities and gourmet foods that would not feel out of place at a luxury resort. The Zambezi Queen, a popular riverboat lodge, serves up gourmet twists on local favorites, including Namibian beef, fresh fish or even the occasional game food like impala filet.

Book Your African Riverboat Safari Vacation Now

Every safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but an African riverboat safari is even more special. You can take a look at our African safari tour packages to find the riverfront experience you desire or contact us directly to book a specialty tour today.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

 

The famousZambia

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Zambia is home to some of the most spectacular aquatic sites in the world, including its lengthy list of majestic and stunningly unique waterfalls. Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world in terms of sheer size, counts among these.

You will also find all manner of spectacular waterfalls and cascades all throughout the country. Here are our top five we recommend:

Victoria Falls

One of the most iconic natural landmarks in Africa and one of the officially designated “Seven Wonders of the World,” Victoria Falls sits in a league all unto its own. Locals know it as “Mosi-oa-Tunya” or “the smoke that thunders” because its spray and thunderous roar can be seen and heard from miles away.

In total, Victoria Falls measures 5,604 ft in width and 354 ft in height, creating the world’s largest single curtain of falling water. During the height of the rainy season, over five hundred million cubic meters of water cascade over its edge. Cutting through zigzagging gorges, the pools that result from the falls draw rare wildlife from all around the region, including Grant’s zebra, Katanga lions, water buffalo, giraffe, elephants, vervet monkeys, baboons and many more.

Kalambo Falls

Located on the border between Zambia and Tanzania, Kalambo Falls is among the tallest waterfalls in Africa. Here, you will not only find rare sights like marabou stork nests but also fascinating anthropological sites. These extensively excavated sites were once home to prehistoric cultures dating back tens of thousands of years.

Ngonye Falls

Next to Victoria Falls, the Ngonye Falls make up some of the most majestic and incredible waterfalls in Zambia. They surround a wide, horseshoe-shaped basin at the transition point between the Zambezi River’s wide Kalahari flatland region and its more tumultuous and narrower path through basalt rock.

On either end of the falls, you can stand on rocks while the water gushes underneath. Below in the gorge, you will frequently find herds of elephants bathing, drinking or taking a rest.

The Kundalila Falls

The Kundalila Falls are not quite as noteworthy for their water flows as they are for the unique ecological habitat they create. Thin veils of water cascade over a wide swathe of rock, carving out deep pools on the bottom while sending sprays throughout the area. These sprays sustain a striking array of wild flowers as well as a richly diverse community of wildlife.

Lumangwe Falls

These falls are like a thunderous version of Victoria Falls writ small. They are found at a sudden drop in the Kalungwishi River in the Northern Province, providing a remote and frequently secluded camping spot for visitors. New lodges and visitor facilities have also been recently built nearby, making this area the perfect getaway spot for those on safari.

Come See Victoria Falls and the Other Famous Waterfalls of Zambia on a Safari Tour

You can book a trip to Victoria Falls, one of Africa’s most famous locations, as well as to any and all of these other gorgeous waterfalls when you enjoy one of our Zambia safari tour packages. Find your perfect safari vacation itinerary, and then book your trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Most Unique African Safari Animals: African Elephant

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The African elephant is a staple of safari iconography, identified just as easily in silhouette as they are in person. Their tall profile, broad backs, sweeping trunks and prominent tusks all make them a unique combination of features unlike anything else on the planet. Many people travel thousands of miles to African countries just to get a glimpse of these huge, majestic beasts.

You can join their ranks and have a camera roll filled with snaps of wild elephant herds when you go an African safari tour and tell your guide that seeing elephants is your priority. Here are some interesting facts to help your search while also helping you understand just how amazing and special the elephant is.

Physical Traits of the African Elephant

African bush elephants are the largest land animal on the planet. Males typically grow to between 10 and 13 feet tall at their shoulder and weigh anywhere from 5,000 to 14,000 lbs. The largest recorded individual was 13.1 ft tall at its shoulders and weighed nearly 22,000 lbs!

Their prehensile trunks can grow seven feet long and weigh up to 400 lbs. These appendages are truly remarkable, acting like a fifth limb used for everything from picking off foliage to moving tree trunks to even acting like a snorkel or a straw.

Zoologists estimate that the trunk has over 100,000 muscles and tendons inside of it, which give it both an incredible amount of strength and substantial dexterity. African elephants have two finger-like “tip” projections on the end of their trunk, which is used to grasp objects as well as feel about with its sense of touch.

Of course, this schnozzola can be used to smell just like ours can. An elephant will raise their trunk into the air and wave it around to gather scent particles like a radar array gathers data. Small scent particles are trapped in the hairs inside the trunk and brought to a highly refined scent gland known as Jacobson’s organ on the roof of the mouth. They can use this organ to detect sexually active females up to 12 miles away. Some trainers are experimenting by using the African elephant’s highly sensitive scent glands to detect explosives or poachers, turning the tables on the people who wish to hunt them into extinction.

These poachers want to hunt them for their valuable ivory tusks. Tusks are incisor teeth modified through generations of evolution to form tools for the elephant. They will use them to dig in the ground, scrape bark off trees, lift objects and other tasks. Males also use them when charging, but bull elephants are more likely to intimidate with their large tusks than risk injury in a full-on charge.

Subspecies of African Elephant

  • Savannah or Bush Elephant — These elephants are the largest subspecies and can be found across the grassy savannah plains throughout southern and central Africa.
  • Forest Elephant — These African elephants are actually considered a separate species by some taxonomists because of their divergent DNA and evolutionary heritage. They are smaller, have darker skin and spend less time foraging compared to their larger bush counterparts.
  • Desert Elephants — These African elephants are not a true subspecies but rather a sub-community that has become partially adapted to dry conditions. They are mostly found in Namibia, but their populations have become extremely threatened by poaching.

Where to Find Elephants on an African Safari Tour

Although their territories have been interrupted by deforestation, poaching and other risks, African elephant populations are still fortunately widespread across the continent. You can find herds roaming Kruger Park in South Africa, the Okavango Delta or Chobe National Park in Botswana, the Amboseli National Park in Kenya and many other locations.

Book your elephant safari today by looking at our comprehensive African safari tour packages.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Magic Masai Mara, Kenya

The Maasai Mara in the south-west of Kenya is contiguous plain with the Serengeti in Tanzania and is part of the greater Mara ecosystem.  The Maasai Mara National Reserve (MMNR) is a small fraction of this ecosystem, but fraction is kind of relative as the MMNR still measures 1500 square kilometres. The landscape is dominated by open grasslands with numerous seasonal creeks and the famous acacia trees in some areas.

If you can remember the 1980’s movie “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford that plays in the Masai Mara for the most part, this is exactly the landscape you will find when visiting today. And yes, it is even much more impressive when you are there in person as compared to the film.

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The Mara is mainly at an altitude of 1600 meters where you have the rain season from November till May and the dry season from June till November. This climate change is also responsible for what is known as the great migration, where over 1.5 million wildebeest arrive in July and leave again in November, one of the most impressive spectacles repeating itself on earth annually and the perfect background for stunning wildlife photography and cinematography.

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This makes the Mara to one of the finest wildlife destinations where you almost have the guarantee to see the big five but also cheetah, hyena, jackal, hippo, crocodile and for sure vulture whenever there was a kill.

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Vultures are one of the easiest and safest ways to find kills with sometimes even some lions around still eating, as the birds are waiting in the trees till the lions or other predators have finished their meal and leave the rest of the kill for them.

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If you are lucky you can even see some rhinos that are slowly coming back to this part of Africa.

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There are many lodges and camps to be found and you have a rich choice from very luxurious places to ones where you stay as close as possible to the animals and the nature, the tented camps, that do actually not lack too much luxury as well. We were staying in the Sand River Camp as well as the Elephant Pepper Camp and I can recommend both as being extremely friendly, authentic and as close to nature as possible, while offering all you need to feel perfect and rest between the numerous game drives.

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There is nothing like the Mara morning sky before sunrise, these are colours that cannot be described, you have to see and feel them yourself.

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This scenery evolves during the early morning hours, when you can find all kind of animals out on the grasslands like these zebras that enjoyed the green and did not seem to be scared about predators.

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But this can fool you as predators are always around, like this young male lion we found nearby sleeping in the morning sun. This male was approximately 4 to 5 years old and you can see this by the colour of the nose that is still pink but starts already getting black around the corners.

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He will be grown up with 5 to 6 years, but he is already a perfect killing machine at this age. He was roaring during the previous night in our camp close to our tent and I can tell you this sound goes through and through – you will never forget that!

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But now he sometimes is still playful at least if he is no longer hungry as he showed when welcoming his brother a few minutes later.

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You want to have adventures like this in magnificent landscape and stunning places? You want to photograph all this or take videos and want to get guidance for how to do this best and in an optimal way? Well then join me on one of the many safaris organized by Roho Ya Chui and you will have the adventure of your lifetime that you will never forget!

Peter Tomsu for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa