OnSafari: with the flow

OnSafari: with the flow

luangwaWell, we aren’t where we’re supposed to be! We’re supposed to be in Zambia, heading to the great South Luangwa National Park shown in the picture. But our flight from Nairobi was canceled. And the next flight was canceled, and it makes me worry that something bad is happening in Zimbabwe, where both flights were supposed to make a stop, first.

So we’re finally booked tomorrow on a nonstop flight right into Lusaka, with just exactly enough time to jump onto the domestic flight to the far east of the country to the national park. Hope we make it! If we do, I’ll be out of touch for a while. But I promise to post as soon as possible!

OnSafari: Zanzibar

OnSafari: Zanzibar

dhow.zanzibarI wish everyone I know could have been with us in Zanzibar. The troubles in the world are like flotsam in a still lake: just when you think you see an object it dissolves into murk. In Zanzibar we experienced one small puddle of clarity: the hatred between the Shia and Suni.

As we telescope in from our incomplete and unsatisfactory understanding of the world, today, we learn that refusal to compromise is the only position shared by all. Here’s how we saw that in Zanzibar:

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OnSafari: Central Tanzania

OnSafari: Central Tanzania

group.889.chefanWe just ended six days in Tanzania’s remote central game parks of The Selous and Ruaha. Zanzibar is not exactly Manhattan, but flying into here from Ruaha was like returning to civilization from a Jurassic Park time warp.

The entire massive area is defined by great sand, catchment rivers that drain nearly 100,000 square miles into the Indian Ocean. We spent almost all our time game viewing in Ruaha along the Ruaha, Mwagusi and smaller rivers. Here in this most remote wilderness the rivers are mostly sand and little flowing. Most of the landscape is dominated by expansive bushland not unlike California’s chaparral country.

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OnSafari: Ruaha Struggles

OnSafari: Ruaha Struggles

leopardonbaboonThe Mwagusi and its little tributaries were dry, and this was early. The drought of last season, which had followed a devastating El Nino flooding, had broken but weakly. A major moisture deficit crinkled most of the bush leaves and had turned everything brown early. Only along the Great Ruaha itself, or in slight depressions in the veld, did the sandpaper trees and acacia flitter lively green leaves in the warm breezes.

But this made one giant tamarind tree on the embankment a perfect place for the dominant troop of baboon in the area. Its deep roots and self-shading had protected it from the drought and rejuvenated it from the light summer rains. It had produced abundant seeds, its leaves were still succulent green and its ever winding and gnarled trunks provided numerous places for the dominant troop of baboon to feel safe at night.

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OnSafari: Sand Rivers

OnSafari: Sand Rivers

Rufiji.selous.aerialOnSafari: Going into the bush, again! A wonderful small group of people, and joined for part of the time by the most important person in the world, my wife!

We’re truly heading off the beaten track to the sand rivers of central Tanzania and Zambia. How will this differ from a more traditional safari in East or southern Africa?

First of all we’re likely to encounter fewer animals overall, but more kinds (species) of animals. This is because we’ll be far removed from the popular and heavily used game parks that abut newly developing areas in northern Tanzania and Kenya, and the eastern “Transvaal” of South Africa.

That human/wildlife conflict that flares so often on the periphery of the great, traditional parks buffers wildness from seeping into the human populated areas. When wild animals and their habitat is more seriously confined, they tend to accelerate their own survival behaviors and this increases the ecosystem tensions.

What this has meant in places like the Serengeti or the Kruger area is that herbivore populations are exploding. In Kruger they cull. In East Africa they do nothing, but in both cases it tends to put at serious disadvantage many smaller animals and animals with fewer numbers to begin with.

I think several species of antelope provide the example. Both sable, roan and oryx were once seen regularly in the big parks, but they are no longer. This in part is because the exploding populations of the more common antelope like wildebeest and partner species like zebra have simply squeezed out these more specialized antelope. I hope to see some of these on our safari, now.

Now don’t jump to too many conclusions! The Serengeti is still my favorite place in the world. It is normally these big, popular parks that a first safari should choose to visit.

But many factors should be considered in deciding where to go, and where we’re going is little seen, very very wild and with great biodiversity. Perhaps most importantly of all, it is a cohesive group of friends with similar hopes and anticipations.

We start in The Selous which vies with Etosha Pan of Namibia to be the largest wildlife park on earth, exceeding 20,000 sq. miles. This is the same size as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware combined!

The Selous is mostly a giant wetlands, defined by great rivers which become sand rivers as they stretch away from the coast. What is particularly urgent about visiting The Selous is that one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects is being built here. The great Rufiji River will be dammed up. No one is sure how this will effect this massive wilderness.

We then go into the center of Tanzania to the great Ruaha National Park, another massive wilderness with the lowest density of tourists in any of Tanzania’s major big game parks.

We’ll then have an exciting stint in Zanzibar before going to Zambia and visiting it’s most important wilderness, the great South Luangwa.

Stay tuned! I’ll blog as often as wifi allows.

Yuge Kenyan Rallies

Yuge Kenyan Rallies

kenyaelctionI’m in Kenya and you can’t walk out your door without feeling the buzz! Keep your eyes squarely here: It all happens on August 8. A national election that increasingly looks like it will be a major upset.

Kenyans have always been incredibly open people, and they are brimming over with optimism about this election! It’s not about their candidate. It’s what they think is about to happen:

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OnSafari: Seychelles Style

OnSafari: Seychelles Style

JimAtHonestyBarDown one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Anse Lazio, past the boyfriend doing a photo shoot of his girlfriend, past the Rasties selling organic coconut elixir, through gorgeous sand paths around huge artistic boulders leading from one spectacular beach to another, to the end of the cove is Honesty Bar.

Reached only by foot, tucked into the thick mangrove and wild mango forests of Praslin, you find the price list, stand behind the bar, make your drink or pull it out of the fridge, and put the cash in a plastic dish labeled “change.”

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OnSafari: Ghosts & Cactuses

OnSafari: Ghosts & Cactuses

SpinyForestsMadagascar’s internal airline is so unreliable that we had to charter a long way from Tana to the South to see what is perhaps the island’s most unique ecosystem, the Spiny Forests.

We were not the first to seek the unique treasures of this weird part of the world. Olivier Lavasseur (aka ‘The Buzzard’) and Edward Seegar (aka ‘Edward the Pirate England’) teamed up in the 1720s to bury a $1 billion dollar treasure here.

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OnSafari: Maddening Madagascar

OnSafari: Maddening Madagascar

miramazoaWe’d seen up-close and personal the pointy nose black-and-white ruffed lemur. In fact, they jumped on our backs and ate out of our hands! But now we wanted to see them in the wild. This would be a challenge.

Virtually all tourists to Madagascar see lemurs in private reserves, as we did at “Lemur Island” in the east, or as many tourists do in Berenty in the south. These aren’t wild lemurs. They are as domesticated as circus animals. To see our pointy nose black-and-white was going to take some extraordinary effort.

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OnSafari: Andasibe

OnSafari: Andasibe

I’m in Madagascar with very bad wifi. No photos possible today, but my account follows. Note that starting tomorrow we may be out of touch for a week!

There is nothing comparable to Madagascar in the wild. Isolation for millions of years has created an ecology unique to earth. It’s an absolutely essential trip for anyone who truly wants to understand the wilderness of our planet.

But Madagascar isn’t easy to do. Accommodations are poor. Urban areas are congested, impoverished and polluted. Roads are horrible. Especially important for tourism, its airlines are notoriously inadequate and unreliable. And to fully appreciate what it’s all about, considerable physical exertion is required.

So it’s an ideal destination for young, adventurous people deeply curious about our nature world. It’s not friendly to a 60+-year old veteran of African safaris. Yet almost all visitors to Madagascar are exactly that, older safari veterans. Why?

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OnSafari: Lemurs

OnSafari: Lemurs

susanandinrdriBarely two months ago an historic hurricane devastated much of the eastern side of Madagascar. This is where so many of its precious endemic species are found, especially the lemurs.

The two largest lemurs, the sifaka and indri, were among the hardest hit. In the forest of Analamazaotra where we trekked today, the rivers had quintipled in size for two days of rage, tearing down not only pedestrian bridges, but many trees on which the lemurs feed.

Normally benign towards one another, we saw them fighting today.

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