The beginning of the year is always busy at Expert Africa. Repeat travellers start seeking out their next adventure as first-time safari goers begin chatting to us about wildlife wishlists. It’s an exciting, engaging time in the team with everyone talking through myriad holiday options. Naturally, there are superb guides and timeless experiences that are ever popular with both our team and travellers, but every year it’s a joy to discover new camps or experiences and to share those with you too. There are some stand-out new arrivals on the scene this year, which are well worth checking out, so we’ve chosen to highlight them here.
As in every issue, we look to celebrate the great conservation successes taking place across the continent. This edition we’ve highlighted two very different good-news stories: an avian triumph in South Africa and the global recognition of the superb North Luangwa National Park.
Enjoy an uplifting read and we’ll look forward to talking travel with you soon… where will you head this year?
Penguin Conservation: Great Egg-spectations
Even the least enthusiastic birdwatcher cannot help but be excited by spotting a penguin. There is something delightful in their monochrome looks and quirky, comical movements. They enchant us on Christmas cards and Hollywood has turned them into countless endearing characters: the tuxedo-clad waiters in Mary Poppins, the social misfit in Happy Feet, the cool dude in Surf’s Up! and the scheming SWAT team in Madagascar. They make us laugh and we love them in return.
Their off-screen prospects have not been so positive though. Overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change are major threats to penguin species around the world, including the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus). Most commonly seen on South Africa’s Western Cape, their situation has become pretty dire: a shocking 60% decline in numbers in the last 30 years and potential extinction of the species being discussed in scientific circles.
Scientists have been working on penguin conservation in South Africa for years, and it’s known that penguins are more likely to choose a colony if it appears that other penguins are already breeding there. As a result, scientists had to make the De Hoop site appear to be an active breeding colony. As we shared in our article back in October ‘21, BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds have tried numerous techniques over the last decade to lure breeding penguins to the fish-rich shoreline at De Hoop Nature Reserve: installing life-like decoy penguins on the rocks, playing round-the-clock penguin calls from speakers and installing a predator-proof fence around the proposed colony.
Abandoned eggs or chicks from the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay were hand-reared by SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) – an impressive non-profit organisation spearheading seabird rescue, rehabilitation and return-to-the wild initiatives. Released whilst still young, to imprint on the De Hoop site, the penguins head to sea for their first few years before ultimately selecting a breeding location. Over the course of 2021–22, 148 juvenile penguins were released at the reserve.
The years of patient conservation work were set to continue, until a surprise recent development: a pair of African penguin chicks has been spotted at this new colony, much earlier than anticipated! The first hatchlings of this new colony have brought a glimmer of hope for the African penguin’s future and, whilst it will take time for the colony to grow to a size significant enough to meaningfully contribute to the species’ survival, this is a huge milestone for the project.
If African penguins are on your wildlife wishlist, check out the Bontebok Self-Drive Safari to South Africa, which combines time in Cape Town, from where you can visit the Boulder’s Beach penguin colony, with the De Hoop Nature Reserve and the glorious Garden Route National Park.
North Luangwa: Green is the new Gold
At the end of 2022, the United Nations held a global Biodiversity Conference (COP15). Its aim was to halt and reverse worldwide nature loss. The conference addressed unsustainable practices from pollution to over-exploitation of resources, agreed global targets and sought to ensure that finance was available to back environmentally sustainable initiatives through the newly created Global Biodiversity Fund. It also commended and shared best practice.
The IUCN Green List is the global gold standard for nature conservation that meets 21st-century environmental challenges in a way that is fair, effective and respectful of local communities. It’s a demanding set of assessment criteria, so we were thrilled when, at COP15, North Luangwa National Park in Zambia was awarded Green List status for conservation excellence – one of only 61 protected areas meeting the mark globally. Chosen as a beacon to showcase long-term, successful conservation results for both people and nature, it’s a huge accolade for the dedicated conservation team in this wild and beautiful park.
From supporting the creation of a micro-finance system for eco-friendly community businesses to ensuring the ongoing protection of Zambia’s only black rhino population – which currently has one of the highest growth rates in Africa – and the country’s largest elephant population, the North Luangwa Conservation Project certainly has a proven track record in successful conservation outcomes and positive community development.
Known simply as “North Park” in Zambia, the region is veined with tributaries of the Luangwa River that hug its eastern fringe and, like South Luangwa, remains inaccessible for six months of the year. But when it is open, the privileged few who venture here can stay in its clutch of simple, intimate camps, and explore 4,636km² of untamed land, largely on foot, in the company of seasoned guides. For adventures and wilderness enthusiasts, it’s absolute magic!
Check out the Giraffe Safari incorporating Mwaleshi and Takwela camps in North Luangwa and Tafika in South Luangwa – a terrific trip to experience this fabulously remote and beautiful corner of Zambia with a guiding team who know the environment and the project’s conservationists well.
The 2023 Safari Scene – Fancy Something New?
Opened just last year, Usangu Expedition Camp has only four tents in the Usangu Wetlands, a remote area of Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park. At this intimate, seasonal camp with a deep focus on conservation, you can set up your own camera-trap on arrival, visit the nearby Douglas Bell Eco Research Station to see scientific fieldwork in action, use telemetry to track collared big cats, fly-camp in the “star cubes”, go on a guided walking safari, or take a leisurely boat trip along the maze of seasonal waterways.
With just three, beautiful suites, Sitatunga Private Island Camp is set to be the Okavango’s most exclusive new retreat when it opens in July 2023. Hidden away in a pristine, deep-water area in the north-west of the Okavango Delta, this latest camp in the impressive Great Plains portfolio will have three large, elegant suites, including one with two bedrooms offering real seclusion and private guiding for a family or travelling friends. With water-based activities – boat safaris, mokoro trips and catch-and-release fishing – the primary focus (walking can be arranged but not driving), this is an incredibly peaceful wildlife-viewing location, and keen photographers, like camp owners Dereck and Beverly Joubert, will fall in love with the watery wilderness!
Another bijou Okavango camp on the northern fringes of the Delta, North Island Okavango also opens in June 2023, the latest addition to Natural Selection’s eclectic range of camps across Botswana. Offering safari activities on land and water, it promises wildlife viewing from the surrounding waterways, savannah plains and woodland in great numbers, with a variety of birds and animals. The camp itself is set on a tree-shaded private island with just three luxurious tents, each overlooking the lagoon.
Tafika and Remote Africa’s South Luangwa walking safaris have been Expert Africa favourites since we started operating 25 years ago. The guiding is superb, the area beautiful, and the camps the perfect balance of rustic and comfort. This year, a new walking camp, Big Lagoon, has opened on the Chikoko Trails walking circuit. Expect neat grass rooms with huge picture windows overlooking the water, an ebony-shaded deck cantilevered over the lagoon for laid back birdwatching and delicious trademark food from the ground oven behind camp. All in the context of low-key, low-impact tranquillity and some top-notch guided walking to get there.
Joining its sister property Etosha Oberland in offering relaxed safari comfort with a modern edge, Kalahari Red Dunes and Namib Outpost are old favourites, reimaged and completely rebuilt for this year. Opening in April 2023, Namib Outpost sits on stilts above the unearthly gravel plains with panoramic views and some serious hiking and horse-riding opportunities. The spectacular Namib-Naukluft Park is within striking distance, but the lodge retains a sense of real remoteness as a retreat from Sossuvlei’s busier areas. In a contrasting desert environment, Kalahari Red Dunes, set in the vibrant sands that the name suggests, will reopen in June 2023. With excellent marked trails across the undulating dunes, it’s a terrific spot to get active on safari.
Do get in touch with us to find out how any of these new camps can be incorporated into a tailor-made Expert Africa safari…we’d be delighted to help!