Here at Expert Africa, we’re not ones for a pushy sales pitch or bombarding our travellers with marketing. But we’d like to keep you in the loop with where our team are travelling to hone their expertise, tell you about the most exciting new experiences and share uplifting conservation stories from our incredible network on the ground.
So, our newsletters will be exactly that – news. We promise to keep it interesting, enjoyable and informative.
We’re also rolling out our new look, so keep an eye out for the brand new website we’ve been busy readying for launch in the very near future.
Richard Trillo discovers Rwanda
I’ve travelled all over Africa, but I’d never visited Rwanda until an opportunity came up last month to do a comprehensive trip there. I wasn’t sure what to expect – disciplined, progressive and incredibly clean were all adjectives I’d seen applied to this “Land of a Thousand Hills”, along with its terrible genocide of 1994 and famous encounters with our closest primate relatives – gorillas and chimpanzees.
We started in the renascent Akagera National Park, staying at the pretty Ruzizi Tented Lodge, with its deck jutting out over Lake Ihema. While the park’s most famous inhabitants – translocated black rhinos – eluded us, we had excellent sightings of elephant, Masai giraffe, plains zebra, buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, topi, reedbuck and warthog – as well as hippos, crocs and outstanding birdlife on an afternoon boat trip. One of many highlights was a giant kingfisher. Predators are around but elusive: we finally spotted two lions deep in a thicket, sleeping off a hog lunch, and we were told that fifteen leopards have been identified, and are often seen in the north of the park.
We moved on to the mountainous rainforests of Nyungwe in the southwest of the country. Chilly pre-dawn starts and frequent rain showers made us glad of walking boots and waterproofs. We plodded down a muddy path as clouds drifted across the valley until we heard the unmistakable hooting of a chimp troop. Cameras clattered as we struggled to get a few shots of a hunched, hairy figure on the path ahead. And then they were gone. Our trackers emerged from higher up beckoning us to follow. After 20 minutes of thigh-burning trudge we crept into a tiny clearing and watched in awe for an hour as our chimps gorged themselves on figs just 20 metres away.
Nyungwe is about much more than chimpanzees. The forest is home to more than a dozen species of monkeys, including dramatic-looking black and white colobus, along with countless birds. The feathered stars are the gorgeous turacos, with the great blue turaco being the prima donna.
Leaving the lake, we drove north to Rwanda’s pièce de résistance, Volcanoes National Park. Five peaks tower over landscape, blanketed by thick, tangled forest and giant bamboo. Our group of eight were joined by François Bigirimana, a jovial and charming guide who was one of Dian Fossey’s original porters and fluent in gorilla. He taught as the basic grunts of humble greetings and submissive body language, and an hour’s walk from our vehicle, left on a mud track in the village, we had our first encounter with the Hirwa group.
I found myself, draped in cameras like uncomfortable fruit, crawling through the undergrowth in a ludicrous attempt to go unnoticed. I needn’t have bothered: the suckling females and a pair of clowning, year-old toddlers seemed quite unconcerned, while the colossal silverback, when he finally stirred, strode past us just inches away in order to mate with a female in oestrus.
The whole encounter was unique, unexpectedly beautiful and moving. Being so close to these…beings (in person they resist description as animals) was an incredible all-sensory experience.
It was an outstanding road trip, with a brilliant driver-guide, to a country that easily stands alone as a worthy safari destination in its own right. And with a quarter of a century of rebirth since the nightmare of 1994, it’s a deeply rewarding and truly remarkable place to explore.
A Serengeti favourite renewed
Namiri Plains Camp is one of our favourite spots on the Serengeti – remote, wild and far away from the crowds. It’s also one of the best places south of Kenya to see cheetah. In the last 16 months, all of our travellers staying there have seen not only the world’s fastest land animal, but lion and spotted hyena too.
And now it has been completely rebuilt with 10 striking new tented suites made from cutting edge sustainable materials and traditional local crafts. They’ve also added a pool overlooking a riverbed, and a private spa.
Described by our first guests there as “otherworldly”, with exciting game drives often without encountering another vehicle and the same high standard of service of the old camp, we can’t wait to check out the new Namiri Plains for ourselves this month.
How to collar a giraffe
There is still some debate about whether to classify reticulated giraffe – along with the northern, southern and Masai giraffe – as a unique species or subspecies. But whichever side of the fence you fall (we go with the work of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation that gives DNA evidence for the former), Kenya’s reticulated giraffe face the same pressures as the rest of their family in Africa, where numbers in the wild have dropped by around a third since 1985.
The arid plains of northern Kenya, especially the Laikipia plateau, are one of the reticulated giraffe’s last prime habitats, so studying their movements and behaviour here is of great importance. Joining forces with the Kenya Wildlife Service, Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Smithsonian Institute and others, the Loisaba Conservancy successfully collared five individuals last month. And how do you collar a giraffe? Not around their neck, but with a special solar powered device that fits snuggly around one of their ossicones (horn-like cartilage found elsewhere only on male okapis).