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

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

 

Wildlife Photography Camera Tips – Part 3

In Camera Tips – Part 1 and 2 we discussed the move from analogue to digital photography, basics of camera functions and different formats aka sensor sizes, advantages and disadvantages of modern camera systems and cameras with mirrors versus mirrorless cameras. In Part 3 we will concentrate on video and the importance of image stabilization.

 

Video with Modern Digital Camera Systems

It was around 2008 when the first serious video capabilities were introduced in modern digital cameras. The first to offer full high definition (Full HD) video was the Canon 5Dmark2 introduced in late 2008. This camera should change video and cinematography completely as it allowed not only to shoot high quality video footage but also offered the usage of the complete lens arsenal of Canon EF lenses without any restrictions. That offered many benefits as instant availability of focal length for extreme wide angle to extreme telephoto and allowed to record either camera internal or to an external recorder. You could view the image on the rear LCD and if you wanted to have better than that either use the LCD of the external recorder or even connect an external EVF.

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This started a new trend and today there is no modern digital camera lacking the function of video. But there is one big caveat and this is in a DSLR like the 5D2 you have to lock the mirror up in order to allow the light rays coming through the lens to reach the sensor permanently that is required for video shooting. Soon camera vendors came to a solution with mirrorless cameras, we discussed the differences been mirror based and mirrorless cameras in Part 2 of this series.

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In a mirrorless system light rays coming through the lens can always reach the sensor and on top of that there is the built in EVF that can be used for exact viewing of the scene without the need to connect an external EVF. Everyone who already has worked with external components for a camera like recorders and EVFs that are either directly connected to the camera or all the components are maybe mounted to a rig knows how big and relatively cumbersome this whole setup can easily become. For professional filmmakers that is usually not a problem, but for us who want to take some great footage during safaris or in our leisure time it can definitely be much simpler and convenient to work with a mirrorless system.

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Almost all of the modern digital cameras today support not only full HD video, but also 4K video with different frame rates that delivers 4 times the resolution of full HD but in most cases only uses a part of the image sensor for recording that results in some crop factor of the final footage. That means the focal length of a lens needs to be multiplied with that crop factor that can usually range from 1.1 to 1.7. This leads on one side to more telephoto reach with a certain lens that is in general something welcome for wildlife and telephoto work, but on the downside also each wide-angle lens becomes longer limiting the range on the wide side for what it was designed for.

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If you are really looking to work with 4K you should also consider that you end up with much more data even if there are compression mechanisms and also computing all of these data takes a lot of processing power during recording in camera and during editing. The first is the reason why there are often limitations for the duration of video footage in order to limit overheating and the second means you probably need a faster computer for editing 4K footage.

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Image Stabilization

We so far did not discuss that a video usually looks only good if it is not shaky. There are systems out on the market that are called gimbals and help significantly minimize camera shake resulting in stable footage. Of course you also can use a tripod, but that is rather complicated to handle and not the easiest solution for Safari, especially if you consider taking your videos out of a small and shaky safari vehicle.

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Another solution is to rely on the optical image stabilisation (OIS) that is available today in many lenses, especially telephoto lenses. But be careful because OIS only helps to a certain degree to compensate for camera shake and if camera movement becomes too much you again will finally see camera shake.

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In the recent years there was also the development of in body image stabilisation (IBIS) that in some cases even works together with OIS. IBIS moves the sensor in the camera usually in a magnetic field in order to compensate for any camera movement. There are some DSLRs as well as CSCs available offering this systems and I myself have only the best experiences with IBIS. Another advantage of IBIS is the fact that also un-stabilized lenses can be stabilized, opening this enhancement for many old lenses.

The conclusion is that with most of the available modern camera systems shooting video became a pretty simple thing and one can nicely improve the experience of recording memories by adding video footage to still images.

Learn more about cameras and wildlife photography with our Specialist Safaris.

Peter Tomsu for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa

Wildlife Photography Camera Tips – Part 2

In Camera Tips – Part 1 we discussed the move from analogue to digital photography, camera function basics and different formats aka sensor sizes. In Part 2 we will describe the advantages and disadvantages (if any) of modern digital camera systems and compare cameras with mirrors and mirrorless cameras.

 

Different Digital Camera Systems

What does different digital camera systems mean? Today we are in the lucky situation that we can find complete systems built around all different sensor sizes we discussed in Part 1 like 1”-, 43-, m43 (micro 43)-, APSC-, FF-, and MF (medium format)-sensors. We will get into some more details about these systems soon, but what are the major decision criteria for a specific system or better sensor size?

We already got out of the way in Part 1 that sensor size should not be the major determining factor when it comes to decent image quality even in low light situations. Sensor and processing technology have come a long way and that means that even smaller sensors can achieve great IQ today for the average shooter, that is more than enough for most of the photographic situations we can find ourselves in.

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Sure enough there will always be arguments for professional usage like resolution combined with best high ISO capabilities that would make the choice of larger sensors preferable. But I can tell you from my experiences that even with the prior generation of m43 sensor based cameras I was already able to master the most demanding situations and get great results and with the latest incarnations of these cameras it is only getting better.

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While we see that final IQ will not necessarily get noticeably better with bigger sensors the significant advantages of a smaller sensor based systems are generally lower price and smaller cameras and lenses. Again 43 or today m43 (micro four third, that is using the 43-sensor but without the mirror) allows cameras and lenses to be built smaller delivers today 20MP resolution with stunning low noise at high sensitivity up to ISO6400 and even sometimes ISO12800.

So why choose a FF camera system, if already an m43-based system can deliver what we want with the benefit of lower weight, smaller size and considerably lower price? The true answer besides higher resolution is how the system (sensor and lenses) renders out of focus areas in our images often also referred to as bokeh that is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens. Now to make even this argument melt away it is worth to mention that all modern smaller than FF camera systems offer at least one or most times even more very fast lenses that are delivering beautiful and dreamy-soft bokeh.

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I am using primarily an APSC as well as an m43 system besides my FF system and especially when travelling for example on safari a smaller and lighter camera system is a real advantage. Just think about carry on luggage in airplanes or also the weight you constantly have to lug around with a FF system. And on top of that a smaller sensor based system becomes increasingly cheaper compared to what you would have to invest in a FF system. Finally also updating cameras to the ever-newest models is reasonably cheaper whenever you need or desire to do so.

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DSLR (Mirror) versus CSC (Mirrorless)

What is now the big hype about a mirrorless based on a so-called CSC (Compact System Camera) versus a mirror systems based on a so-called DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex)? If you consider that there is a senor in each digital camera that produces the final image (or video) one of the big benefits is that the final image can be visualized in real time during the photographic process. It is a be big benefit for the photographer to view the image in the viewfinder exactly the same way as the final image would look like – exposure, exposure compensation, colour (what white balance you use), how good one can see the shadows and highlights (controlling the dynamic range), any black and white setting etc. already before taking the final image.

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This is only possible when using a screen that shows the image the camera and sensor sees in real time. This screen could be the back screen of the digital camera, but we all know how cumbersome this can become when you have to work in bright sunlight. But the screen is put into the viewfinder, the disturbing influence of external light is gone and you can view a high-resolution image in the so-called Electronic View Finder (EVF). Today EVFs have become so good that many photographers including myself prefer them compared to the old-school Optical View Finders (OVFs) of DSLRs.

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But there is another big benefit of mirrorless and this is the lack of the mirror. This allows not only to build the camera much smaller, as you do no longer need the mirror and mirrorbox, but you also get rid of any shake introduced by the swinging mirror during the picture taking process. And this is actually the most sensible part of the whole photographic process, as any camera shake should be avoided during that phase as good as possible.

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While all this pros and cons can easily result in religious discussions about the benefits of one concept over the other I would recommend you just try it yourself if you can live with an EVF or not. I definitely can and now use all the advantages of seeing any of my dialled in parameters already before and while I take the picture. This means I have to do much less control after the shot in reviewing the result on the camera back screen. That is a huge advantage especially in dynamic situations like safaris can easily become.

Learn more about cameras and wildlife photography with our Specialist Safaris.

Peter Tomsu for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa