Final tally for rhino conservation

A massive big THANK YOU to everyone who supported our efforts at raising money for rhino conservation

We raised $716 which will support the Botswana Rhino Reintroduction & Monitoring Project run by the Wilderness Wildlife Trust.

We couldn’t have done it without you.

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Cheetah Conservation Fund

At the start of our week long visit, when driving north from Windhoek to Etosha, we saw the signboards for Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). I had been in contact with them years before when living in the UK, but hadn’t realised where they were located in Namibia. Now I knew. We made a mental note to visit on our way back to Windhoek.

The turn-off to CCF is just north of Otjiwarango, 44km into the farming area on a gravel road. Exiting Etosha and making our way there took much longer than expected, and so we were only just in time for the cheetah feeding at 2pm. We also happened to arrive at the same time as a bus load of American school children arrived. Although we were a lot of people at the feeding, the staff were accustomed to handling large groups, and everyone had a chance to watch the feeding while listening to the stories of the resident cheetah, and learning about cheetah in general.

Unfortunately, the cheetah that we saw are those who cannot be released back into the wild. The stories of how they arrived are heart rending: one cheetah’s mother was shot by a farmer when the cub was only a few months old because the farmer fancied a pet. 10 days later, he realised that raising a wild cheetah cub was quite an undertaking and so changed his mind. One life wasted, but fortunately the cub found its way to CCF. These resident cheetah play such an important role at CCF. Not only are they part of the ongoing research into the biology, physiology and behaviour, but they also form an important role in eduction of visitors to the sanctuary.

Next stop, we wandered through the education centre and museum. It was far larger than any similar education centre I have seen, and packed full of information for young children through to adults. All topics related to cheetah were covered, from ecology to biology, from habitat to human interaction. There were numerous visual displays, lots of activities and even a cheetah skeleton in a glass box!

The other important work that CCF undertakes is that of educating farmers and helping farmers work in conjunction with cheetah rather than treat them as pests. CCF has a Livestock Guarding Dog Program where Anatolian dogs are bred. These dogs form a strong bond with their herd (sheep and goats typically) and guard them from predators, cheetah included. The farmers in the greater area have seen dramatic decreases in livestock loss from having their guard dogs. We visited some of the resident dogs to learn more.

We didn’t have the time to see everything, or take part in the many activities on site. There were Cheetah Game Drives, Cheetah run (early in the morning when it is cooler) and other game drives. Accommodation is available onsite, but we needed to continue southwards towards Windhoek.

We enjoyed a meal at the onsite cafe, and parted with our dollars in the souvenir shop (all funds going to a worthy cause obviously!) before departing. I would definitely recommend staying overnight and watching the cheetah run in the morning.

 

Lots more information here: http://cheetah.org/

 

 

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My favourite surprise

Our days in Etosha were drawing to a close. We still had one full day before we started the extended journey back to Windhoek to catch our flight. And it turned out to be a very special day.

The morning dawned glorious and golden – and rather chilly – as it had most days. Our plan for the day, aside from visiting the numerous waterholes, included a detour to a lookout point located about a kilometre onto the pan itself. We set our route accordingly.

It is difficult to describe the view, and capturing it on a camera was virtually impossible. The only distinction between the road and the pan itself was a very low line of poles linked together in places by a stout cable. Otherwise it was just a white expanse devoid of vegetation for as far as the eye could see. It felt like being adrift on a vast lake, peering back at the land – only there was no water. It was a very eerie feeling and absolutely spectacular.

A little further on we stopped at a reststop for a leg stretch and comfort break. Here we were allowed to leave the vehicle and walk down to the edge of the pan. Photos do not do justice to the vastness. We soaked in the atmosphere.

Again our day was filled with many birds and animals – some of the usual suspects as we called them: black-faced impala, zebra, kudu, springbok, steenbok, giraffe. Still special for us to see these animals in the wild.

Our route for the day took us back to Kalkheuwel, the waterhole where previously (in 2013) we had seen six lion and two herds of elephant (60 in total). It was much later in the day this time, and we parked up under the shade of the lone tree covering the parking area and had a snooze. About an hour or so later, the sound of other vehicles arriving woke us.

What I particularly love about revisiting national parks is seeing the changes from one visit to another. There were many changes here. Since our last visit in 2013, a fire had swept through parts of the park, and so Kalkheuwel was more open than last time. Many trees had lost lower branches, and some trees were gone altogether. One waterhole on the one side of the parking area had dried up significantly, and another one had materialised on the far side of the parking lot. But we did see the same intelligent elephants as last time – the cunning creatures who prefer to drink straight from the water pump rather than from the waterhole!! There were numerous kudu who came down to drink and a couple of giraffe. Still a magical place.

Our last beautiful surprise came in the final kilometres for the day, as we neared our campsite for the night at Namutoni. We saw a group of about six vehicles parked on the side of the road – more vehicles than we had seen the entire day! Something special was lurking within sight of the road so we joined drove up quietly and joined the queue.

It was my favourite. My all time favourite and ever so rare to see in Etosha due to their low numbers.

A female cheetah with two slightly older cubs were lying in the shade of the trees next to the road. There was a herd of springbok just too far away, and it was still just too hot, but the mother was making movements to indicate she wanted to hunt. She moved stealthily from tree to tree. We watched her as she watched the herd. Her offspring waited patiently. Eventually common sense prevailed and she gathered up her cubs and the group moved quietly into a cooler, denser clump of trees further away from the road out of sight of tourists. We returned a little later when the day had cooled. Using binoculars we found the trio still resting in the shade. No kill in site.

What a truly magical way to end our time in Etosha. Seeing cheetah in the wild.

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A day of birds

I woke up warm and happy for the first time in Etosha! I had a failed negotiation with Viking Explorer the night before. I thought, being the kind, caring man that he is, he would be only too happy to relinquish his Norwegian sleeping bag and take my North Face sleeping bag. I wanted to understand whether it was the sleeping bag or me that was the problem. The negotiation was very short. “No” was the answer.

I remembered that the kind car hire people had supplied a very light weight sleeping bag when my bag was missing (there is NO WAY that sleeping bag was sufficient for winter camping!). On other trips, I have been known to camp wrapped in 2 sleeping bags, and realised that this was the next option available to me. So, I donned my thermals, wrapped myself in my fleece blanket, climbed into my winter sleeping bag, and then everything went into the summer sleeping bag. With beanie on my head, and the cowl of the winter sleeping bag drawn tightly over my head … I slept warm and comfy the whole night!

Success. Finally. Thank goodness.

Our day on the road was a very successful day on the birding front. We stopped more often and took the time to identify the smaller birds that we had been ignoring. The waterholes we visited had more water and many water birds on the edges and swimming in the reeds. The vegetation changed and the new habitats brought us even more new species. Even as amateurs, we managed to add 20 new birds to our list of 30. A rewarding day.

Animals were less numerous, but still very active at the waterholes. We watched beautiful herds of kudu – the males magnificent with their twisted horns. Zebra were our constant companions. Black faced impala – unique to this eastern part of the park – started becoming more frequent. Springbok were ever present – even unconcerned by a small jackal curled up sleeping.  We discovered that red hartebees have also learned that the freshest water comes straight from the supply pipe. Again, we were fortunate to see elephant – a lone bull having a quick drink.

We stopped for a snack and leg stretch at one of the rest stops. Here, a french couple were obviously having car problems. Their rear passenger side tyre was completely flat. The looks on their faces were of exasperation. We watched as numerous others cars stopped and all but ignored them. As though flat tyres were contagious. During our big trip we had a rule to help where we could – it is the right thing to do – and never leave people in a situation where we could help. Viking Explorer soon joined them on the ground trying to re-inflat the tyre (their car hire company DID NOT provide a compressor whereas our company had!!) and then realised that changing the wheel was necessary.  They were immensely grateful. They changed the wheel and we waved them on their way while we finished our mid morning snack.

We managed to find a campsite at Halali rest camp – successfully avoiding parking near to the overland trucks that had materialised! I was disappointed and saddened by the presence of these big vehicles in the park.

Then, we grabbed our cameras, binoculars and walked to the waterhole nearby. I love the end of the day – the heat breaks, and you can almost feel all life take a contented sigh of relief. Another glorious day in Africa.

 

 

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A magical day in Etosha

That first night in the park (and I think the second too!) I froze. The answer to “how cold can it really get in Africa in Winter?” is VERY! Despite a very good quality winter sleeping supposedly temperature rated to -7C, my newly purchased fleece blanket tucked inside, full thermal base layers AND a beanie on my head, I froze. Viking Explorer was no earthly help tucked away in his Norwegian sleeping back as I tossed and turned trying to keep warm. I was distinctly bleary eyed and in need of a hot cup of tea when the alarm rang at 5am.

We quickly fell back into our long established travel routine. The best time of the day to see wildlife is close to sunrise and sunset, requiring a lot of setting up, breaking down and eating in the dark! Before long, the kettle was on the boil and delicious rusks ready for dunking.

Breakfast out of the back of the vehicle

Sunrise – with the last of the almost-new moon visible

There was not a stir from the rest of the camp until close to sunrise, by which time we were ready at the gate for a day of game viewing.

There are no guarantees of seeing wildlife, and at times we drove for almost half an hour without seeing very much at all. The scenery was beautiful – lots of grasslands which we hadn’t expected – and low granite hills.

Zebra and springbok crossing the grass plains

We stopped past most of the waterholes along the way, and more often than not something would be visiting to drink. At one waterhole, we were particularly fortunate to see a real mix of animals all drinking at the same time. There was definitely some hierarchy, but more eyes and ears to catch the first sign of predators meant all animals were somewhat safer.

Zebra, giraffe and red hartebees together at the waterhole, with sandgrouse flying.

By lunchtime we needed a little snooze. Since we weren’t allowed to leave the vehicle, and we were still quite far from our campsite, we stopped at the next waterhole instead. We parked in the shade of a small tree, put our seats back and closed our eyes. I drifted off with the sounds of birds and smells of the bush floating in through the window.

After about an hour, a few park rangers came past the waterhole. I am not sure what they thought of us, but came over to check our permits were legitimate. Suspicious but content they left us in peace.

My most memorable experience of they day came at the next waterhole we visited. Most waterholes are almost adjacent to the main road or not far from. This one was almost 11km down a narrow track and so we nearly opted to skip it. We wound our way along the track and emerged at the end … to see a large breeding herd of elephants drinking about 200 metres away.

Breeding herd of elephants

There was a wide range of ages: small babies still huddled close their their moms, adolescents jostling with each other, and the matriarch and other elder aunts keeping an eye on the herd and surrounding. One or two sentries were always posted while the group drank, and everyone rotated to have a chance to drink. With elephants requiring between 100-250 litres a day, drinking is a slow process and the group took an hour to refil.

In the meantime, at the water reservoir tank a couple of hundred metres to the left, a small bachelor herd of about 6 male elephants were quenching their thirst in a different way. Rather than drink from the waterhole where other animals had been drinking and walking in, they chose to drink from the water tank, or even better, directly from the water spout where water was pumped from the ground.

Eventually, the matriarch decided that they were finished. Without any fanfare, she started moving away from the waterhole, and everyone followed until we were left alone.

Other views from the day:

Time to head back to the campsite. What a beautiful day! We parked the car and grabbed a sundowner to take with us to the hide at the waterhole (next to the campsite) and celebrate another gorgeous day in Africa.

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Northwards … Etosha here we come!

I eased into consciousness, snuggled warmly under the duvet. The events of the previous day all but forgotten. Today, we could start on our holiday.

Now, we would never recommend anyone to visit Namibia for 1 week. It is just too short to see very much, the distances are far and the driving can be monotonous. So, we threw our own advice clean out the window and visited for only a week.*

Winter African mornings are chilly. I was grateful that my winter clothes had arrived the night before as I put them into use immediately. A hearty breakfast served beside a roaring fire (stoked and brought to life by the Viking) put us instantly into holiday mode. We were off to Etosha!

The roads were quiet as we set off for Etosha. I remembered this long, straight, tarred road well. The roads were as mesemerising and hypnotic as before. Travelling northwards, we faced directly into the low Winter sun The day warmed up and the winter layers were shed in favour of summer tops. There are few places I have travelled where I need thermals and winter layers in the evenings, and summer clothes by lunchtime!

Our entrance to the park lay almost 6 hours drive from Windhoek – Galton Gate of Etosha. On the way, we stopped  briefly in Otjiwarongo to pick up venison meat for dinners, droe wors and biltong (South African dried meat specialities) and a fleece blanket for me (I was still concerned about keeping warm at night). Onwards we continued, passing by the farm of our cheetah experience two years previously, and the campsite Oppikoppi in Kamanjab. We would have loved to stop at both, but time was running out to reach our campsite for the night, 60km inside the park.**

Ahhh – the smell of the bush. There is something about the aroma of animal mingled with dust, dung mixed with grasses. The dry, dry air carried the tentalising smells. There was almost no-one at the gate, and in spite of that, we still had to visit 3 offices to pay all our permits! Anyway, it gave us a chance for a leg stretch before the last drive of the day to our campsite – 60km and 2 hours away.

The park did not disappoint. We left the tarred road at the gate and started rattling along the corrugated gravel roads. Not a very well used part of the park, and the quality of roads bore testament. Our eyes were pealed. We stopped along the way at the various waterholes – some natural and some manmade – to see what animals were coming down to drink at the end of a hot day.

As the sun was setting, we finally reached the the campsite, sneaking in just as the gates closed for the night.

Finally, we were back in the bush. Animals and birds had welcomed us already and we were excited about the days that lay ahead.

* I do still firmly believe that 1 week is not enough time to visit Namibia. Especially if it is the first timevisiting the country. Because we had spent 5 weeks back in 2013, we reluctantly returned for a short week, rationing our precious annual leave. Next time, though, we will make it 2 weeks.

** I don’t like travelling this quickly, being pushed for time.

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Not the start I anticipated

I stood forlornly gazing at the lone burgundy wheelie bag circling in front of me on the otherwise empty baggage carousel. A bag that unfortunately wasn’t mine.

Sigh.

Not exactly the start I had anticipated to our Namibian adventure.

Sigh.

Last time my bags were lost, it took the airline 5 days to reunite me and my precious belongings. The holiday was only a week long.

Grrr.

The handling agent couldn’t have been more disinterested. He wouldn’t even start opening a ‘lost bag’ file until the carousel had stopped moving. As if my bag was just playing hide and seek beyond view and any minute it would appear with a monumentous “ta da” and burst of fanfare.

“Did I have a local contact phone number?” Well, let me see. I have just stepped off the plane, not even entered the country, and I am a tourist, hmmm …

“Where are we staying tonight?”

My frustration mounted. “Well, that all depends on how quickly you get my bag to me” I blurted. “But I suppose we won’t be leaving the city to start our holiday!”

Extracting information from him was akin to drawing blood from stone: no, he didn’t know where my bag was; no, he couldn’t get hold of anyone in Johannesburg (despite a feeble attempt); yes, they would refund the cost of replacing lost items – to the sum of US$30 per day!

I was livid. I was tired after 3 flights and not nearly enough sleep. I was grumpy from eating too much airline food. Standing in my summer clothes (the journey started in the Middle East) the challenge of kitting myself out to camp in African winter on US$30 was becoming obvious. My intial solution was to spend it all on hard liquor which would, no doubt, keep the cold at bay.

Viking Explorer – sensing my increasing desperation – gently pushed me aside. He asked a few pertinent questions, no doubt ones that would actually reunite my with my bag, and took the pile of paperwork thrust at us. Giving me a big hug, he steered me through customs to meet Lester. “Come” he said. “Let’s get moving. It’ll get sorted.”

By this stage I had calmed down to a panic.That is what travelling is all about! Just deal with it! And as we learned on our big trip, helpful people do appear when you need them.

Lester drove us to pick up our rental car. While Viking Explorer was given the grand tour and how-to’s about our camping kitted Toyota Hilux, the car rental company parked me in front of their office phone so I could locate my bag and arrange for it to join us on our holiday. They reassured me that they often have guest arriving without bags and the baggage agents are actually well practised – even efficient! – at reunited bags and passengers.

Bernadette at at the airline’s Customer Service was far more caring and concerned than the baggage agent had been. Over the course of the afternoon, she managed to get hold of the right guy in Johanessburg, find my bag, arrange for it to be loaded on the next flight to Windhoek, and arrange for it to be delivered to our accommodation.

In the meantime, the car rental company found somewhere in Windhoek for us to stay for the night, booked our accommodation and given us directions to get there. They also added a sleeping bag and pillow for me into the vehicle in case I needed it.

We arrived at the guest house in the pitch black and rapidly dropping temperatures. Thank goodness we were staying indoors. I just wanted food, my bag, a hot shower and bed. We must have looked exhausted standing in reception. Our hostess dispatched us immediately to a local restaurant for dinner, promising that she would take care of my bag when it arrived.

A large glass of wine and huge piece of steak later…

… I found myself tucked up in bed in my own PJs, warm and clean.

TOP TIPS:

1. Always carry a clean change of undies and socks in your carry on bag. You never know when you’ll need them!

2. An item or two of your own clothing in your travel companion’s bag is useful.

3. Place a sheet of paper inside the top of your checked in bag which has your name and contact details on it. That way, if all your tags are ripped off the outside of your bag, there is still a way for someone to identify who the bag belongs to. (This tip was given to me years ago by airport baggage handlers)

4. Helpful people are always around. Just keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

5. A glass of wine and piece of steak after 24 hours of travelling make the world a happier place.

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Where the rhino money goes

Have a look at this great video – it is only 6 minutes long, I am sure you have the time.

In late 2014, Rhino Conservation Botswana along with Wilderness Wildlife Trust (who we are supporting!) and other stakeholders and funders announced the successful translocation of a small founder population of Critically Endangered black rhino in a joint collaboration with the Botswana and South African Governments. The rhino have been moved from higher risk areas in South Africa to a safe haven in Botswana. This is part of an ongoing conservation project to establish a core population of this threatened species in Botswana.

Watch on YouTube: Black Rhino Translocation 2014

Wilderness Wildlife Trust’s project to relocate rhinos has been going on for more than 10 years, and is consistently proving its success.

How can you help this great work continue? Please visit our SHOP and buy our ebook for only US$5.95   /   £3.94   /   ZAR72   /   €5.31.

ALL proceeds from books sold in May go to support this worthy project. In addition, for every book sold, we’ll top up with $2.50.

Our aim: $1,000 which is a little over 100 books.

We are making progress to our goal – can you help us get there?

Only 2 weeks to go …

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Raising money for Rhino conservation

As you know, we are passionate about wildlife – it was one of the driving forces behind our decision to explore Africa. We are also very concerned about the plight of rhinos in Africa. We were incredibly fortunate on our  adventure to see rhino in the wild. It was a magical experience, and one that we hope the coming generations will enjoy.

So, to celebrate the launch of our new online shop (where you can buy our recently published book) we are turning May into Rhino Month.

During the month of May, we will donate all proceeds from our book sales to Botswana Rhino Reintroduction & Monitoring Project, which is one of many projects run by Wilderness Wildlife Trust. We have been researching potential projects to support for a long time, and this project is consistently proving its success.

In addition, we are putting our money where our mouthes are (so to speak): we will add an additional US$2.50 for every book that you buy. We are that committed to helping save rhinos. We hope you are too.

Our target for May is US$1,000 which is just over 130 books.

We know that with your help we can reach our target.

Actually, we’d like to be even more ambitious – we’d really like to see if we reach US$1,500 which would be an awesome 200 books sold. So we’ll keep matching with US$2.50 until we reach 200 books.

So now, it is over to you:

Please go to our shop and buy a copy of the book for US$5.95   /   £3.94   /   ZAR72   /   €5.31.

If you already have a copy, consider purchasing another copy as your proceeds are supporting a worthy cause.

And then tell all your friends and family about our initiative and encourage them to buy a copy of the book too.

 

Info about Botswana Rhino Reintroduction & Monitoring Project

Since the project’s first reintroductions, under this joint programme, of white and black rhino into the Okavango Delta in October 2001 and November 2003 respectively, populations of both species have grown and the country has proven its credentials in being able to provide a safe habitat for these charismatic and dramatically threatened species.

Following the next phase of translocations – valued at well over R7 million (approx. £400K  /  US$600K) – the project will have moved nearly 1% of the continent’s remaining black rhino population to Botswana, the success of which has already been measured in the number of calves born in the wild. (Please note that specific figures and locations are not mentioned in order to avoid drawing unwelcome illicit attention and to ensure the ongoing safety and security of the rhino.)

Once released into the wild, the rhino are constantly monitored by Wilderness Safaris’ Rhino Monitoring Officers, the Botswana Defence Force, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks’ specialised Anti-Poaching Unit and officers of Rhino Conservation Botswana, in order to ensure that they are not exposed to any potential threats.

source: Botswana Rhino Reintroduction & Monitoring Project website. Please visit their website for lots more information on this successful project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Senegal scraps visas

Good news for all of you planning to visit Senegal: they have now decided to scrap the visa requirements for tourists. This is especially good news for all overlanders, as it removes the uncertainty around how to obtain a biometric visa and how to get across the border.

Here is a link to the article on Reuters:

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/04/04/uk-senegal-government-tourism-idUKKBN0MV0F820150404

Happy travels

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