All About the Hyrax, the Elephant’s Cousin That Looks Like a Rodent

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In a continent full of unique and unusual animals, the plucky hyrax still manages to stand out. These medium-sized mammals are survivors of a primitive group of species that later split off to evolve into elephants, manatees and dugongs. They have some interesting characteristics, including complex barking “songs” and elephant-like rubbery footpads adapted for climbing.

You can find the four different species of hyrax all throughout Africa during an African safari tour. Observing them in the wild is a rare treat that makes them every bit as worth seeking out as any of the Big Five.

The Four Species of Hyrax

There are four different species of hyrax — also called “dassies” by those who speak Afrikaans — and they all have their own distinct habits and habitat ranges.

  • Rock Hyrax — Also called the “rock badger,” these hyraxes are highly social and adept climbers thanks to their thick rubber-like pads. They spend 95% of their time sleeping or resting in the sun.
    • Distribution: Cape Hyraxes are found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia as well as across Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Yellow-Spotted Hyrax — Also called the “bush hyrax” or the “yellow-spotted rock hyrax” this species lives in clusters of boulders and rocky natural outcroppings found on the plains called kopjes. They are smaller and less-round than the rock hyrax.
    • Distribution: Found along the eastern coast of Africa and also within limited areas of Angola.
  • Western Tree Hyrax — Unlike the social rock hyraxes, this hyrax tends to live alone within tree clusters. They have coarser fur and unique white markings that resemble eyebrows or beards.
    • Distribution: Found in a limited range in western subtropical Africa, including the D.R. Congo and southern Cameroon.
  • Southern Tree Hyrax — The most elusive and smallest of the hyrax species, the southern tree hyrax lives alone or in pairs. They prefer humid regions of forests and savannas as well as rocky areas.
    • Distribution: A limited range in east-central Africa, including most of Tanzania and parts of the D.R. Congo.

Hyrax Size and Appearance

Hyraxes appear similar to rodents or guinea pigs, with the rock hyrax looking rather rotund and the other species looking more-lean. They can grow up to 28 inches in length and 11 pounds.

Hyraxes have interesting teeth structures, with front incisors that grow out into tusk-like formations, similar to their elephant cousins. They also have hoof-like blunt nails that resemble elephant feet.

Hyrax Group Behaviors

The two rock hyrax species are highly social, living in groups of up to 30. As a result of their social organization, they show signs of high intelligence, including the ability to communicate through 20 different vocal noises. In captivity, they tend to be extremely “talkative,” responding actively to caregivers when they approach. They also make chomping/chewing movements as a form of communication.

Unique Adaptations

All hyrax species have unique foot pad structures and sweat glands in between their toes to help them grip rocks and tree trunks. The foot muscles all curve inward to create a suction-cup-like grip.

Another interesting adaptation is the hyrax’s highly efficient kidneys, which can filter waste with minimal use of water. In fact, their concentrated urine creates mineral deposits over time called hyraceum, and the musky scent is highly prized as an ingredient in perfumes.

One thing the hyraxes are not well-adapted for is maintaining their internal heat. Rock hyraxes in particular must huddle together, rest frequently and bask in the sun to maintain their internal body temperature.

See Rock Hyraxes and Other Incredible Species During Your African Safari Tour

You can encounter hyraxes and other charming, unique creatures during your African safari trip when you book one of our safari tour packages.

Take a look at our sample safari tours to book your trip today, and contact us if you want to create a custom safari vacation where you can meet hyraxes in person.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Meet Africa’s Plucky “Small Five” During Your Safari Adventure

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Much attention is given to Africa’s “Big Five” game animals — and deservedly so — but those who come to Africa to look at just five species will miss out on incredible opportunities to see other beautiful wildlife.

Tackling this problem, conservationists decided to band together and make a push to recognize the not­so­big and not­quite­so­iconic animals you can find throughout the continent. The result was the “Small Five.”

None of these creatures are particularly rare, but they do feature names from each of the Big Five as a clever nod. The real purpose in highlighting these animals is to help people headed to top­rated African safari destinations focus on all the small details that make Africa great, not just Five of them.

Get to know the Little Five and what makes them so endearing by reading their species profiles below.

 

1.   Red­Billed Buffalo Weaver

The buffalo weaver lives in large colonies on savannas south of the Sahara all throughout Africa. Each colony is made up of breeding groups of 3­4 females and one male. The groups make huge nests in baobab trees and other plains trees on the savanna. Each nest contains multiple compartments for individual females to lay eggs and nest upon them.

Even though males often compete for female mates, and females do not tolerate other females in their chamber, red­billed buffalo weavers do cooperate when it comes to building their large nests. Males will even cooperate with one another to build nests, gather food for females and defend the colony territory from invaders.

 

2.   Elephant Shrew

The elephant shrew is a fascinating creature known for their long snouts and rapid speeds. Even though the animals typically measure less than a foot in length, they can sprint at speeds of nearly 18 miles an hour for short distances.

Some species even modify their environment by clearing “lanes” or paths through the underbrush to make finding insects easier. They can also use the cleared lanes to rapidly scurry to safety when a threat comes near.

3.   Leopard Tortoise

Named for the vibrant leopard­like patterns sometimes seen on their hard domed shells, leopard tortoises are desert­loving reptiles found from Sudan all the way to the southern Cape. They eat grasses but prefer desert succulents and spiny thistles, making quick work of them with their leathery tongues.

Leopard tortoises are the fourth­largest species of tortoise in the world, growing up to 16 inches in overall length and 29 pounds in weight. Some tortoises along the Cape have gotten even bigger, growing to 28 inches and weighing more than 88 pounds!

4.   Rhinoceros Beetle

Africa has over a dozen species of rhinoceros beetle throughout its lands, including the huge Archon centaurus at nearly three inches long and Oryctes boas, which has a single horn large enough to make even a real rhino jealous!

Both male and female rhino beetles have horns, but only the males use them to battle for mates. They also use the horn as real rhinos do: to dig, lift objects and help navigate their environment. When threatened, some rhino beetle species “squeak” by rubbing their abdomens against their thin inner wings.

5.   Ant Lion

The most­common of the Little Five but nonetheless fascinating, the ant lion species can be found all throughout Africa and the world. These voracious insect predators are actually the larva of lacewing insects. They burrow into the ground and make trademark “funnel traps” in the sand to capture unsuspecting insect prey. Antlions’ powerful jaws can seize prey many times their size, and their large abdomens and forward­facing bristles help keep them anchored during the struggle.

Africa is home to some of the largest antlion species, including one species of Palpares that grows to 6.3 inches as an adult!

Come Meet the Small Five at Top­Rated African Safari Destinations

When you book a safari destination vacation package, feel free to get excited about lion, leopard and elephant sightings, but don’t forget to take a closer look at the world around you. You just may see an ant lion funnel, or catch the call of a buffalo weaver as they exit their large nests.

Take a second to appreciate all of Africa in this way, and you will get much more out of your trip to come home feeling like you truly experienced as much splendor as possible.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

 

Where to Visit Africa in August

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Africa’s predictable seasons make planning your African safari tour easy. Different parts of the continent have peak visiting times throughout the year for various attractions, helping you pick the most astonishing and memorable activities to take part in during your trip depending on the time you choose.

If you aim to visit Africa in August, for instance, it is the perfect time for both viewing wild game and experiencing some of the most incredible cities on the continent. To help you plan your trip, take a look at the following exciting places to see and activities you can do there.

Botswana

August means that the long, dry winter season in southern Africa is finally winding to a close. During the course of the winter, a lack of rain causes much of the vegetation to die and the temporary water holes to deplete.

This may not sound like the most scenic time to visit, but less vegetation means it will be easier to spot animals that are unable to hide in the tall summer grasses. A lack of water also means that many animals like elephants, lions, gazelle and antelope will all gather near the remaining rivers and permanent water holes, creating spectacular interactions and perfect photo ops.

To get the best viewing in Botswana during your August safari, make sure to visit Chobe National Park and the Moremi Game Reserve.

Namibia

Winter in Africa can bring some surprisingly chilly winds and frigid nights. In August, these temperatures finally begin to inch their way back up, creating the perfect in-between weather for a light jacket and mild days.

There may be no better time on the calendar to visit the deserts of Namibia. You can take sunrise pictures of the towering dunes to capture magnificent photos worthy of a National Geographic spread.

Cape Town, South Africa

Mild weather makes Cape Town a veritable paradise in August. The incredible wildflowers of Table Mountain first begin to bloom around this time, and many wineries are just beginning to roll out the red carpet for Spring’s slew of guests.

Whale watching is also incredible during this time of year. Many pods of southern right whales converge upon South Africa’s coast to calve during this time, offering one of the best opportunities of the year to see them breaching with their mates and newborn calves.

Zambia

Travelling to Zambia in August offers a fair mix of weather and small crowds as the area’s bush camps begin to prepare for their busy season. Mana Pools National Park is a great place to visit during this time as there are few mosquitos, the days are often clear and wildlife viewing is optimal thanks to the thinned vegetation.

You could also travel to South Luangwa National Park for a unique canoeing safari trip where you can get up close and personal with some of the continent’s most iconic animals.

Lake Malawi

The start of spring also happens to be amazing beach weather, giving you a wonderful excuse to explore the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Malawi on a sailboat or kayak.

Book Your August African Safari Tour Now to Save

Booking your African safari tour for August right now can give you the perfect opportunity to save on lodging and game viewing rates. As the peak tourism season approaches, many game lodges and camps still struggle with vacancies and sometimes offer incentives to fill their books.

Take a look at our sample African safari tour itineraries to get an idea of the amazing time you could be having on your luxurious African vacation in August.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

What to Expect on a Game Drive During Your African Safari Tour

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When people think of an “African safari tour,” they are typically thinking of game drives. Parks like Kruger and the Maasai Mara are enormous, so riding in a vehicle is one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground without getting exhausted. You can also make sure to see some of the best viewing experiences all in short time.

You are definitely encouraged to try other sorts of activities during your stay, such as a “bush walk” walking safari or a canoeing safari upon a river, but game drives will likely comprise a large portion of your wildlife viewings and give you a chance to become more familiar with a park.

So what can first-timers expect on a game drive? Even though every experience is unique and every lodge will do drives differently, there are plenty of common threads. You can learn about a typical game drive by reading on.

Open Air Vehicles

Most game drive vehicles have an open top for maximum viewing. There are three rows of seats that can accommodate 2-3 people each. These are raised like theatre seats so that each row is taller than the one in front, with the rear row as the tallest. One person may have the option to sit next to the ranger in the front, which will be the lowest seat but one with unobstructed front views.

Usually Two Guides: A Ranger and a Spotter

You will be most likely accompanied by two people on your drive. A ranger drives the vehicle and is responsible for serving as your direct guide, telling you stories and information while answering questions. The second person is a “spotter,” who stays focused on helping you locate wildlife while keeping an eye out for possible threats.

Interacting with your ranger is highly encouraged, but try not to distract the spotter.

Game Lodges Working as a Team

Game drive operators understand that the best way for everyone to enjoy their trip and see as many animals as possible is to work together. They will usually communicate over radio when a significant find is spotted, like a family of elephants, an elusive leopard with a kill or lions sunbathing near the road.

No one wants ten cars crowded around a single lion, though, so guides refer to an implied set of etiquette rules, giving the reporting vehicle the best position while other vehicles try to hang slightly back until the first vehicle departs. You may even find yourself in a sort of “queue” as each vehicle pauses to give everyone a satisfactory photo op.

Stay patient and be respectful of other groups since this system provides the best benefits for everyone!

A Rigid Schedule

Wildlife have certain patterns throughout the day, and one of the times they are most active is in the very early morning. That means for morning drives you will be waking up anywhere from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m.

Even if you are not a morning person, it is still important to drag yourself into the 4×4 to ensure that everyone gets to leave on time and can get the most out of their drive. You can choose to sleep in at your camp instead, but you will likely feel envious if everyone comes back with stories to tell!

Evening drives are also common, usually departing around 4:00 p.m. or so. These drives usually see less action at first because the animals are still shrugging off the heat of the afternoon sun, but nocturnal animals begin to stir and get active as the sun goes down. Some lodges offer special night drives, which can come at an added cost but often see active predators and sometimes even a kill.

Plenty of Time for Snacks and Natural Business

Just because you are getting up early does not mean you will have an empty stomach! Game lodges usually provide a light “morning tea” before your drive and a heavy breakfast when you return. You can then enjoy lunch and sleep off the afternoon heat. Evening drives also have “high tea” or “sundowner meals,” which are enjoyed right in the bush.

Drivers also understand that nature calls to us all, so they will take breaks for everyone to relieve themselves in the “bush loo.” Bring your own toilet paper and a sealable, disposable bag so that you can take everything back with you. You may not want it, but the bush definitely doesn’t, either!

Book Your Perfect Lodge for Thrilling Game Drives on Your African Safari Tour

Each lodge and park offers its own set of activities and style of game drives. You can take a look at what options you may have by exploring our available safari vacation packages and then booking your exciting trip today!

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

Money Saving Tips for a Cheap African Safari Tour

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Many people do not realize just how affordable an African safari vacation can be when you use the right money-saving techniques. With some smarts, know-how and plenty of research, you can significantly reduce the cost of your trip to make it a cheap African safari tour, especially on a per-day basis.

If you are interested in spending less during your trip or finding a way to plan an affordable African safari, you can use the following money-saving tips to reduce the overall cost of your vacation.

Come During the Low Season

In places like South Africa’s Kruger Park, slow times of the year mean not only better accessibility throughout the park but also cheaper prices. Local vendors and businesses change their prices to match the season. Periods of higher demand allow them to charge higher prices, but lulls in the calendar are often accompanied by discounts to lure in more customers.

Take advantage of these times! Winter is a low season in southern and eastern African parks and reserves, for instance. Everything from lodging and airfare to tours, services, goods, food and drink can all receive hefty discounts when you visit from April to October. You can also negotiate cheaper group rates for game drives, lodge stays and other services when these business owners are more motivated to earn a sale.

Keep an Eye Out for Flight Specials, But Watch Out for Remote Airports

Flight prices change nearly every hour, so the time you buy your flight to Africa can make a huge difference in terms of the final price. Set up price alerts on services like Kayak, and look up travel blogs to see if any specials or promotions are coming up soon.

With all that said, pay attention to the hidden costs of your flight, as well. Flying into a more remote town can appear to save you money, but then you must hire a taxi or bus to reach your intended destination, tacking on extra costs. Always try to calculate the final costs of your travel when buying tickets.

Another tip: Johannesburg and Cape Town often have cheap flights to other destinations throughout Africa, so consider buying separate tickets and comparing the price to other connecting flight options.

Shop Around With Lodging and Safari Tours

Many tourists come into African countries not realizing how much cheaper goods and services typically are. They then make the mistake of booking a hotel or game lodge stay at a far higher price than would be normally reasonable.

For that reason, try to find accommodation with a good reputation for quality and safety but also rates closer to what locals would expect to pay. Unless you demand the absolute best luxury, the difference in price will not affect the enjoyment you get out of your trip.

Buy From Locals, and Realize You Can Haggle

Haggling, bartering and negotiation are all common activities at local markets in many African countries. Your best bet on a great price on artisan goods is therefore to buy directly from the artists at markets and to negotiate.

Do not be too shrewd since people are trying to earn a living through their goods, but also recognize that many quoted prices may be trying to take advantage if you are clearly a foreigner.

Use a Safari Company for Cheap Safari Tour Packages

Experienced safari companies know the best places for tours, lodging and dining that provide amazing quality service at an affordable rate. When you book a vacation package through a company like Roho Ya Chui, you can get the best deals on everything, and you are also better-equipped to estimate the whole cost of your trip.

Take a look at the pre-planned safari vacation packages we offer to get an idea of just how affordable your trip can be, or contact us for a custom safari tour package based on your budget and preferred plans.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui

What do Wild Lions Do All Day?

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With their lithe, muscular bodies, flowing manes and breathtaking eyes that seem to pierce with their gaze, lions are no doubt one of the single-most beautiful creatures on the planet. But just what the heck do they do all day when they live out in the wild?

If you have ever been on a trip with an African safari tour operator, you would see that a lions’ typical agenda appears quite similar to the average housecat. They sleep most of the day, play and interact with one another, and spend large amounts of time stalking and hunting prey. Of course, when the lion tends to do it, it looks a lot more majestic!

You can learn the specifics of the average lion’s routine as well as some interesting facts about lions by reading on.

Sleeping and Resting — 16-20 Hours a Day

Lions are fairly massive creatures, with the average female weigh nearly 300 pounds and the average male around 420 pounds. They also tend to spend a slim but important part of their day in vigorous physical activity, hunting, meaning they use up a lot of energy all at once.

To help build up these energy levels and maintain all that mass on a somewhat scarce diet, the typical lion will lounge around during most of the daylight hours. They will alternate between sunny and shaded areas, usually relegating themselves to a chosen section of their overall territory for a number of days.

If the females happen to have cubs, they will establish a temporary den and play area for the entire pride to get their rest around while protecting the young brood.

Grooming, Socializing, Playing and Exploring — 1-2 Hours a Day

Most of the awake time lions spend actively is divided between eating and what one might call social or leisure activities. At dusk, lions are the most active, grooming one another, interacting and finding places to go defecate. Lions may also play or interact with one another in bursts of activity leading up to the nightly hunt.

Walking, Searching for Prey — 2 Hours a Day

The most time-consuming activity on a lion’s agenda besides sleeping is walking. Lions spend around two hours a day on average patrolling their territory, looking for both prey and competitors. They may also be exploring looking for new sources of shelter, water or places to establish a temporary den for cubs. Lionesses will relocate cubs to a new den once every few weeks to ensure that the vulnerable cubs do not build up a scent for predators to notice.

Lions may shift to new parts of their territory as they patrol it, or they may return to their lounging site once they are done hunting and eating for the day.

Hunting — Less Than 10 Minutes a Day

Not counting the time lions spend locating and stalking prey, they dedicate very little time doing actual hunting. Lions are large and often noticeable, so their strategy is to flank their prey and encroach slowly. They must get very close before performing a short, powerful strike, usually at the end of a burst of speed.

Lionesses typically spend their time hunting in the early hours of dawn while males watch after the cubs.

Eating — Around 50 Minutes a Day

To preserve their body mass and get the need nutrition, adult male lions must consume around 15 lbs of meat a day and adult lionesses 11 lbs. Small prey is usually consumed quickly on site by the lion who earned the kill, while larger prey is shared in groups. Eating and protecting kills also spends up a large portion of the their energy, so they will often go home with full bellies and no stamina left, leading to another daily session of legendary naps.

Come See Lions With a Safari Tour Operator

Lions can be readily seen in many of Africa’s most popular parks, including Kruger National Park in South Africa. Their trademark naps can be observed on game drives as sleepy lions sprawl out near paved roads in the early morning. Nighttime hunts can be rarely spotted, but going on a nighttime walking safari can help you see lions when they are more active.

Come take an up-close look at wild lions by booking a safari tour package today!

Jill Liphart for www.rohoyachui.com

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