With Expert Africa’s last newsletter of 2021, it’s a pleasure to bring you a raft of good news and hope for the future. Without question, this year has been filled with disappointments and difficulties for everyone involved in the African travel industry.
It has also seen many successes: individuals and organisations, Expert Africa’s own specialists very much included, have risen to new challenges, countering adversity to come together as a team and very much ‘keep the faith’. There have been uplifting, joyful moments too, many from our own travellers’ sharing their holiday highlights with us and reminding us constantly of the wonders of Africa. Never have we appreciated your feedback more. In fact, the incredible photograph of 9 lion cubs at the top of this newsletter comes courtesy of one traveller, Bob Greenberg, from his trip to Kenya in November. What a sighting!
And so, we are choosing to end the year with stories of joy, hope and innovation. These have continued unabated across Africa this year – and two of those chosen have reminded us of the most remote and amazing national parks that we know of in Africa: Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains and Zambia’s Liuwa Plain.
Next year will doubtless be filled with many more tales of adventure and discovery, and we look forward to sharing them with you all here. Until then, we wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Christmas and a safari-studded 2022!
Rwanda’s New Rhinos – the Largest-Ever Single Translocation
In the last few weeks, Rwanda has cemented its position as a globally important sanctuary for both black and white rhinoceros.
In the largest ever single translocation of the species, 30 southern white rhinos were successfully moved from South Africa’s Phinda Private Game Reserve to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. This historic translocation is aimed at establishing a secure new stronghold for white rhinos in a park that has invested so much time, effort and resources into protecting a safe, intact, wild landscape. Extending the current rhino range and introducing a new, safe breeding area helps to secures the long-term survival of this threatened species.
The white rhino is the largest and most social of the five living species of rhinoceros. Living in herds – or crashes – and noted for its two, solid keratin horns, large size (second only to elephants in body mass), poor eyesight and distinctive broad mouth (a mistranslation of the Dutch ‘wijd’ meaning ‘wide’ leading to its English colour moniker), the white rhino is a gentle giant and an ever-popular safari sighting.
After travelling 3,400km by road and plane, each of the relocated rhinos has been fitted with a transmitter to enable constant monitoring by dedicated tracking teams, from the brilliant anti-poaching canine unit to advanced helicopter surveillance. Over a decade of hard work in Akagera has gone into robust anti-poaching programmes, positive community engagement and wildlife reintroductions in the park. New populations of lions and black rhinos are already success stories here, so it is with high hopes that this significant white rhino population joins Rwanda’s wildlife conservation drive.
There are two camps in Akagera we like very much: the rustic Ruzizi Tented Lodge in the south of the park and the more luxurious Magashi Camp in the north, either of which combines well with a guided trip to see the mountain gorillas, in Volcanoes National Park. Have a look at our Golden Monkey Safari for an example of such a trip, or give Expert Africa’s Rwanda team a call to hear all the latest news and views.
Tanzania’s Pathfinder Award Success
The Pathfinder Award is an annual celebration of innovative conservation approaches which seek both to protect nature and to enable sustainable human development.
Jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), these awards showcase successful conservation management models from around the globe. Prestige aside, in recognition of the advances and achievements highlighted, the three annual award winners each receive a US$10,000 grant to further develop their projects. This year two very deserving projects in Tanzania were finalists, one of which went on to become overall winner.
The first organisation, Lion Landscapes, operates several scientific research programmes and a number of community-focused projects across Tanzania. The simple but effective community camera-trapping project entered for the Pathfinder Award, aims to demonstrate to local communities the immediate, tangible benefits of protecting their local wildlife. Under their scheme, communities are trained and employed to place camera traps on their land. Each wild animal image captured generates points, with more points awarded for conflict-causing and threatened species. A small antelope may earn 1000 points, while an endangered African wild dog generates 20,000 points. Every three months, these points are swapped for community benefits, based on the needs and wants of the local community. The resulting community gains in education and healthcare, derived directly from the presences of wildlife on their land, improve local lives and opportunities, and quickly open peoples’ eyes to the benefits of conservation. While this initiative didn’t scoop a prize this time, it’s a very sound project from a dedicated team and can be very easily replicated across the continent with potentially significant gains all round.
The project that did claim the 2021 Pathfinder Award was the Ntakata Mountains Project run by Carbon Tanzania. A social enterprise tackling climate change, deforestation and under-development, Carbon Tanzania allows local people to earn an income from the international carbon-offsetting market by protecting their community-owned forest reserves.
Described as a ‘natural climate solution’, the Ntakata Mountains Project is based in western Tanzania between the Mahale Mountains and Katavi national parks. Part of the Greater Mahale Ecosystem, this area of dense miombo forests was threatened by poor slash and burn agricultural practices, deforestation by migrating pastoralists seeking grazing land, and mining, and was experiencing a deforestation rate three times higher than the national average. Thanks to the Carbon Tanzania project, this trend has been reversed. Village Land Forest Reserves have been established in eight forest communities, and more than 800 square miles of village-owned forests are now being carefully protected as a valuable income source. By keeping the forests intact, the valuable stored carbon can be sold as certified carbon credits around the world, allowing the 38,000 villagers who collectively own these lands to benefit financially from their conservation.
Since the project’s inception five years ago, the good news has been significant: some 5m trees have been saved from felling, avoiding 1.2m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and generating the community US$349,000. The benefits to local people have been far-reaching, and include improved local governance, free school meals, some major building projects and a much better environment overall. Around US$70,000 has been spent on village infrastructure, including 16 classrooms, new school desks and toilet blocks, while US$18,000 has gone to improve healthcare with the creation of dispensaries, pharmacies, hospital wards and a Community Health Fund, which has already covered the medical expenses of more than 25,000 people. No less than 63 villagers are now directly employed in forest and wildlife conservation work, and everyone is reaping the benefits.
If the idea appeals of chimpanzee encounters in Tanzania’s remote and beautiful mountain forests, then have a look at Expert Africa’s Chimpanzee Fly-in Safari for an example of what is possible in this region.
Wild Dogs Return to Zambia’s Liuwa Plains
There are only 6,600 wild dogs left in Africa, a figure which includes around 700 breeding pairs. Habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, indiscriminate use of snares and diseases like rabies and canine distemper have all played a part in their demise. Zambia is one of only six countries with strong, viable populations.
The recent translocation of three female wild dogs (with a male set to join them imminently), from Kafue National Park to the magnificent Liuwa Plain, is part of the country’s ‘National Wild Dog Plan’. It is an opportunity to re-establish a population here, a key milestone on the road to restoring healthy populations of wild dogs across Zambia, helping to secure the future of this iconic species.
Once the vast hunting ground of the King of Barotseland, Liuwa Plain National Park is a wild and remote wilderness in Zambia’s Western Province. Its vast, sweeping grasslands, stretching to the horizon across some 1,400 square miles, are perfect wild dog territory. These are wide-open hunting grounds, broken only by the occasional shady tree-island, with herbivores in their thousands during the rains. Perennial shallow pans of water support the wildlife whilst a team led by the respected African Parks non-profit organisation protects and monitors it.
Initiatives like this – moving healthy wild dogs to secure parks, and monitoring their location and habitat use – are vital to the long-term survival of the species. The wild dogs in this translocation are all fitted with satellite collars to enable their continual monitoring. We look forward to tracking this new pack’s success over years to come.
See Expert Africa’s Puku Safari for an example of one possible trip, which includes the wild, expansive grasslands of Liuwa Plain National Park – a paradise for bird-watchers and wilderness lovers alike.