Here at Expert Africa, we frequently marvel at ingenuity in Africa: remote outposts where mechanics mend machines with whatever comes to hand; bushcamps where chefs conjure towering soufflés from primitive ground-ovens; businesses which take a local problem and transform it into something valuable; small charities that get creative with limited resources; individuals who open our eyes to a whole new way of thinking; and the many camp staff and conservationists who are constantly ‘making a plan’…
So June’s newsletter shines a light on bush innovation, resourcefulness, and one-off brilliance. Enjoy!
Sweet Dream Cruiser
As if the thrill of sleeping under canvas on safari wasn’t enough, the creative adventurers at Onguma Nature Reserve, adjoining Etosha National Park, in Namibia, have gone one better. In a madcap moment, sipping drinks under the Milky Way and wishing the evening didn’t have to end, inspiration struck. What if sundowners at the waterhole didn’t have to end back at camp? What if that was just the beginning of an overnight adventure? And so, the Dream Cruiser was conceived.
Home for the night is a splendid, custom-built, double-decker Land Cruiser, complete with a panoramic upper deck bedroom and lounge and a fully kitted out bathroom, hot shower and all! Tuck into an al-fresco picnic dinner, sip something suitably celebratory, listen to the bush come alive as the sun sets, gaze up at the stars from bed, soak up the sense of space….and give the ranger a call on the two-way radio if you need anything at all. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘mobile safari’…and what better addition to an adventure to Etosha.
With a brilliant David and Goliath-style initiative, the dedicated team at the Conservation and Tourism Society (CATS) in Livingstone are aiming to tackle the town’s significant human-elephant interactions with bees.
From April to December, but especially in the heat of September and October, large numbers of elephants travel north to Livingstone, on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, the giant pachyderms often pass directly through densely populated suburbs, devouring crops in smallholdings as they go. It’s easy to see why their interactions with the local people often turn to conflict.
The Elephant Response Team works 24-7 to resolve these situations and educate people about peaceful co-existence with wildlife and the potential rewards. But encouraging elephants away from these busy areas is important. CATS have already worked with the community to install chilli powder deterrents and create noisy distractions with recycled cans and recovered snare wire, but the team are now expanding their low-tech arsenal with the introduction of thirty handmade, local beehives. For elephants are terrfied of bees.
Fearful of stings to their sensitive trunks and ears, elephants respond instantly to encounters with bees with head shaking, running away and a low rumbling warning call to other members of the herd to do the same. In a 2007 behavioural study by Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, recordings of disturbed bees, among other noises, were played to groups of wild elephants. Sixteen of the 17 elephant groups under observation, exhibited a rapid-retreat reaction to the buzzing. The elephants associated the bees with something strongly negative, whether from individual experience or social learning.
We hope that The Livingstone Beehive Project will entice honeybees into the most affected communities to serve as a natural deterrent to passing elephants, while providing a sweet bonus in honey and beeswax for resident beekeepers. We wish the project every success.
Beauty from Brutality
Strikingly simple ideas often conceal a little genius: the first brilliant spark of a notion that sets a much bigger plan in motion. And that is exactly what the wonderfully creative people at Mulberry Mongoose have done. From their joyous workshop on the edge of Zambia’s wonderful South Luangwa National Park, they have taken a readily available, anti-poaching by-product (tangles of thick steel wire from snare traps) and built a business by carefully fashioning it into stylish, contemporary jewellery, while empowering the women who live by the national park and providing funds for park conservation.
While the media usually associates wildlife poaching with guns and ivory, the reality is more nuanced. In most of Africa, bush meat poachers usually uses crude snares – home-made loops of metal designed to trap the legs and necks of unsuspecting animals. Simple and indiscriminate, they trap anything from antelope to elephants and kill tens of thousands of animals every year. In South Luangwa alone, anti-poaching patrols have recovered more than 10,000 snares in the last 15 years and rescued dozens of injured animals.
Snaring wild animals in and around parks is easy: animals are plentiful, wire is cheap and there’s a ready market for bush meat. Poachers can make high returns at relatively low risk. For the wildlife, however, it’s devastating and so the courageous park rangers from Conservation South Luangwa patrol the bush for up to 10 days at a time, sometimes risking their lives, to prevent poaching.
They collect snares and deliver them to Mulberry Mongoose, where the magic begins. The ladies here are made of strong stuff, full of vision and aspirations, committed to improving their families’ lives and physically powerful: uncoiling and flattening steel snare wire is no mean feat. Transforming the snares into something beautiful takes hours of effort and care – a single snare bead takes an hour of crafting. They cut, hammer, drill and sand the metal into shape, before adding hand-carved wooden beads and delicately dotted guinea fowl feathers obtained from local farmers.
Not only do safari-lovers and supermodels love the results, in a full-circle partnership, every accessory purchased results in a $5 donation to local anti-poaching efforts. If you’re visiting the Luangwa Valley on your safari, Expert Africa can easily arrange a visit to Mulberry Mongoose, but for now, have a look at their snare wire collection online: it is indeed ‘Beauty from Brutality’.
The Lion’s Share
Africa’s lions are in trouble. The population has declined nearly 90% in the last 50 years and these apex predators now occur in only 8% of their original range. In fact, with only 20,000 lions left in the wild, there are now fewer lions left than rhinos.
Habitat loss and human-lion conflict killings are significant issues, and with more than 50% of lions’ remaining range lying in unprotected, community areas, the situation is grave. But lions don’t go down without a fight, and neither do their guardians.
Lead by a formidable, all-female team of lion conservationists, The Pride Alliance is dedicated to collaboration in the name of conservation. By sharing their knowledge, resources and often limited funding, they aim to improve lion conservation effectiveness across Africa. With a raft of impressive lion and carnivore projects, these scientists are driving the fight to protect these impressive cats.
The Pride Alliance has recently published an interesting opinion piece addressing the pressure to sanitise the wild and arguing strongly for the need to keep animals wild as well as simply safe, by focusing on entire populations and wilderness protection schemes, over and above individual animals. As scientists who dedicate their lives to wildlife conservation in the field, their commentary makes for an interesting read.
The need to appropriately protect the continent’s most iconic predator is a hot topic in conservation circles, coming in the same month that South Africa banned the breeding of captive lions to provide adults for canned trophy hunting and cubs for tourist petting zoos.
Expert Africa remains dedicated to working with camps in areas where a wholistic approach to conservation has long been a priority. Lions remain very high on the sightings wish-list for many of our travellers. We’re delighted to recommend camps with consistently great lion sightings, and thanks to the tireless conservation efforts of so many people, we look forward to seeing lions in the wild for generations to come.
Under His Wing
Finally, as Father’s Day approaches, we’ll leave you with an admiring shout-out to Africa’s ‘Best Avian Dad’: the jacana. As utterly dedicated single parents, the male jacana has evolved some ingenious parenting techniques, none more helpful than the ability to tuck his chicks under his wings and escort them from trouble. Enjoy this Okavango footage of super-dad in action.