This morning I listened to all sorts of estimates of how many soldiers we have in Africa. We’ll never know: It’s classified. But I would be surprised if there were fewer than 50,000 soldiers, private contractors, and even National Guard troops. This is a lot more than being reported in conjunction with the current tragedy in Niger.
Two weeks ago four American soldiers were killed in Niger. The delay in the discussion was not a machination of the Pentagon, which made the announcement the day after it happened. But no one wanted to talk about it until the president didn’t.
Trump is expected to lift sanctions on The Sudan today, in place for 20 years and indeed a complex policy with a checkered history. Trump’s move is bereft of any ideology intended simply to get government out of business. There’s oil there, you know.
Whether this ideology-free policy, business first, policy will have any value except to increase the bottom line of ExxonMobil is unlikely. Appropriately, the lifting will be announced by Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s former CEO.
In Madagascar, Jim is enjoying an immersion into the forest. This unique wildlife experience, frolicking with the island’s endemic species, is worth the trade-off of sporadic wifi. Check back in – Jim will soon be able to connect again and recount his adventures.
Yesterday South Africa’s highest court legalized the domestic sales and marketing of rhino horn.
Technically, this does not alter South Africa’s avowed adherence to the CITES treaty which bans international sales and marketing, but technically, this is nonsense. The South Africans have loop-holed the international treaty.
After several days to recoup from the long flights, at no better a place than Ndarakwai Ranch in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we headed into nearby Arusha National Park.
Evan Lavallee expressed typical ten-year old sentiment when he told the manager at Ndarakwai that he’d like to stay longer! The Lavallee’s had fed the bushbaby at dinner, seen a large variety of game on the drives around the 11,000-acre ranch and walked to the edge of a butte for a view of nearly 100 sq miles of West Kili veld.
Demonstrations in Zimbabwe are increasing and the firestorm is building for tomorrow’s nationwide shutdown.
Canadian, American and British embassies in Harare have all issued notices of concern asking the Zimbabwe government to restrain its security forces. NGOs are universally condemning the fierce government reaction so far.
Conditions in tourism can change as fast as political and economic conditions. The question for many potential safari travelers is where should I go? If wildlife is the primary goal, then the choice is between Kenya or Tanzania.
I’ve just completed my 40th year of guiding in sub-Saharan Africa. In March I guided veteran travelers on a 30-day Kenya/Tanzania trip, and I just ended with a wonderful family from San Diego on an 18-day Kenya/Tanzania. Most Americans take 10-12 days for safari.
So my gigs this year gave me an excellent chance to answer the question, Kenya or Tanzania? – not just from my own experience, but that of my clients.
There’s no right answer for everyone. So let’s start with the things which are the same:
SECURITY: KENYA ✌ TANZANIA
Until two years ago, there was little doubt that Tanzania’s security for tourists was better than Kenya’s, but that’s no longer the case. Multiple tourist incidents in Zanzibar and virtually none in Kenya for more than 18 months has for right now leveled the security in both countries.
Kenya’s upcoming national elections and the increasingly unstable situation in Zanzibar are the two single-most situations that could potentially change the current good security situations in both countries.
But recent terrorism in popular destinations like Paris and Brussels has forced travelers to recognize that insecurity is, unfortunately, a growing component of traveling virtually anywhere. Viewed in this context, both Tanzania and Kenya appear to me a better bet when planning a future vacation than many, many other parts of world, including those like Europe which previously were considered completely safe.
COST: KENYA ✌ TANZANIA
Both countries offer a wide range of tourist products. There’s no significant difference in prices for the same sort of accommodations and activities.
Kenya’s economy is performing better than Tanzania’s. Normally when a country’s economy underperforms (such as today in Britain) it creates a buy for tourism: vendor costs decline relative to world prices. This has happened in Tanzania, but unfortunately the government’s reaction in part was to significantly increase tourist taxes erasing what would have otherwise been an advantage in costs.
WILDLIFE: KENYA ✌ TANZANIA
Both countries have all the great wild beasts that attract folks to a safari. Tanzania has an edge with elephants and other herbivores, Kenya with cats, but they are subtle and unlikely to be noticed on an ordinary safari. Tanzania is a bigger place with more wildlife overall, but you’re not going to travel everywhere and Kenya’s density of wildlife in places like the Mara is higher than Tanzania’s.
Kenya has a greater number of species, in part because of its Great Northern Frontier, the last real wilderness before Africa’s great deserts. There are several big animals like the reticulated giraffe and a number of smaller animals like unusual duikers found in northern Kenya that don’t exist in Tanzania. This unique ecosystem – somewhat like America’s southwest – also gives Kenya an edge with birds.
But Tanzania’s sheer quantity of game is greater than Kenya’s. So while Kenya has more kinds of animals and birds, Tanzania has more animals and birds. But Kenya’s quantity of animals wows most travelers anyway, and few travelers have the biological training to appreciate Kenya’s greater number of species.
AS FOR THE DIFFERENCES…
Many differences are subtle and often radically adjusted by season. Traveling during the northern hemisphere’s summer flips, for example, where the great migration is normally found from Tanzania to Kenya.
But even that can be quickly altered by unusual weather, which is quickly becoming the new norm.
So please recognize I’m making generalizations that might not apply to your own dates and needs:
WILDERNESS: KENYA/ ☛ TANZANIA
As opposed to “wildlife” there is much more pristine, undeveloped “wilderness” in Tanzania that you can include on a typical safari than in Kenya. That often doesn’t correlate with animal viewing, by the way, because it often means that wild animals are more easily spooked. It’s also the reason that there’s greater poaching in Tanzania, because the areas are more difficult to police.
Kenya’s stunningly rapid economic development compared to Tanzania’s has pressured its wilderness in a way not seen yet in Tanzania. Kenyans are very sensitive to this, by the way, and I also think Kenyans as a whole are much more conservation oriented than Tanzanians.
But for the “great open country” often associated with a safari, Tanzania is the choice.
BEYOND WILDLIFE: TANZANIA/ ☛ KENYA
Both countries offer exceptional beach resorts, and note that half of all travelers to both countries never see an animal! They go strictly for the wonderful beaches and resorts.
Tanzania’s early man sites like Olduvai Gorge have no comparable venues as easy to visit in Kenya. Both countries offer adventure climbing, but Kilimanjaro in Tanzania attracts 5-7 times more people than Kenya’s comparable hiking.
Beyond that, though, Kenya offers much more than Tanzania, starting with the innumerable attractions of Nairobi. Nairobi is a real cosmopolitan city, replete with entertainment, museums and historical attractions available nowhere in Tanzania.
INFRASTRUCTURE: TANZANIA/ ☛ KENYA
Airports, roads, wifi, security stations, immigration and customs, taxis, charter air flights, stores and shops, medical care, access to daily essentials like toothpaste and sunblock – all are much better in Kenya than Tanzania. It’s a simple reflection of one country developing much more quickly than the other.
One important caveat to this is the traffic congestion of Nairobi. If properly designed, you can avoid this, but most of the time you can’t. Tanzania’s second main airport, Kilimanjaro, allows incoming visitors to avoid the similar congestion of Dar-es-Salaam. Nairobi has no such alternative. (Mombasa is actually a larger airport than Kilimanjaro, but it serves almost exclusively the beaches, like Zanzibar in Tanzania.)
ACCOMMODATIONS: TANZANIA/ ☛ KENYA
There are outstanding accommodations in both countries. With proper care a safari in Tanzania can enjoy just as complete and comfortable accommodations as in Kenya. In general, though, Kenyan accommodations through all market levels are superior to Tanzania’s.
SERVICE & FRIENDLINESS: TANZANIA/ ☛ KENYA
There is a great difference between Tanzania and Kenya in this regards. Kenyans are friendlier, kinder, less officious, better educated and trained, and much more willing to help a foreign visitor. Bribing remains terrible in Tanzania and seems under control in Kenya. The likelihood of you being asked on entry, for example, for a bribe is much greater in Tanzania than Kenya.
You can see from the above that Kenya is in a much better long-term position for attracting visitors if it can conserve its pressured wildernesses. Tanzania is still the place for a wild and wooly wilderness experience, something increasingly precious in today’s rapidly developing world.
No one right answer fits everyone and these generalities easily fall apart through different seasons and types of experiences. Never rely just on your friends’ recommendations, although that’s important. Single or even twice-enjoyed experiences often miss the nuances of season and market level. It’s the reason reviews on such places as TripAdvisor can be so misleading.
Never judge a book by its cover, or a safari company or property by its website alone.
Many decisions you should not make alone. Consider an experienced travel professional that can prove his actual experience and who can command your trust, just as you would when purchasing a home or making any other type of investment.
In the end ridiculously few first-time safari travelers are anything but totally satisfied with their safari, usually considering it among the best vacations of their lives!
In light of yesterday’s events in Texas, the Kenyan Department of State warns Kenyan citizens of the risks of travel to the United States.
Kenyan citizens living in the United States, and those considering travel to America, should be aware of continuing and recently heightened threats from terrorism and the high rate of violent crime in some areas.
Although thousands of Kenyans live and visit the U.S. each year without incident, caution and keen awareness of one’s personal security situation is vitally important. Terrorist acts can include suicide operations like the University of Oklahoma disaster, car bombings as in Times Square, New York; thousands of kidnappings, and attacks on civil aviation.
Militias in the U.S. like the affiliates in Waco, Texas, yesterday, duke it out like Shia and Suni all over the country.
Just this year alone, there have been more violent attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosive devices in the United States, killing tens of thousands of people and causing injury to hundreds more, clearly defining America as the most violent nation on earth.
Much involves the ease with which anyone in America can obtain a very destructive weapon. There is no other country in the world which allows such free enterprise in deadly force.
The American FBI working with local police forces have disrupted several other terrorist plots throughout the country, which may have prevented additional deaths and injury from terrorist attacks. Although the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist activities continues, some of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region.
Ethnic clashes sometimes occur in various parts of America, primarily in America’s south like Ferguson, Missouri, and many parts of Florida which is otherwise considered an important tourist destination; as in Waco.
Keep in mind regarding Texas, that there was no ebola in Kenya recently, but there were several cases in Dallas.
The violent clashes in America are often fueled by disagreements over land or ownership of what militia’s call “turf.” While this violence is not directed at foreigners, ethnic clashes and protests are unpredictable and may affect non-Americans. Kenyan citizens are advised to check conditions and monitor local media reports before traveling to these areas.
Violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed carjackings, grenade attacks, home invasions and burglaries, and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, particularly in large cities like Chicago which has the highest crime rate in the country, much higher than cities of similar size in other parts of the world.
Kenyan citizens in the U.S. should be extremely vigilant with regard to their personal security, particularly in crowded public places such as clubs, hotels, resorts, shopping centers, restaurants, bus stations, and places of worship. Remain alert in residential areas, at schools, and at outdoor recreational events. Use commonsense precautions at all times, to include the following practices: avoid crowded transportation venues; visit only legitimate businesses and tourist areas only during daylight hours; use well-marked taxis and be sure to lock vehicle doors and keep windows up; lock all lodging doors and windows; carry minimal amounts of cash and credit cards; do not wear jewelry which attracts undue attention; know emergency phone numbers; do not resist or antagonize armed criminals; and always be aware of your surroundings. These measures can help prevent a “wrong place, wrong time” scenario in the event of an attack as well as ensuring that your travel to America is safe and enjoyable.
* * * There is, of course, no Kenyan “Department of State.” The spoof above was taken directly from the most recent travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State to U.S. citizens contemplating travel to Kenya: click here.
Kenya’s insistence on closing the Dadaab refugee camp will increase terrorism. Tourists and business investors should remain vigilant.
Dadaab is now the largest single refugee camp in the world. There are nearly a half million people in a “camp” operated and maintained by the United Nations.
Imagine if Grand Rapids, New Haven, McAllen or Toledo – each an American city with about a half million population – were a “camp.”
Here’s an equally frightening way to look at it: compared to America’s and Kenya’s total populations, a refugee camp of similar size in America would be 3½ million, the size of Seattle, Minneapolis or San Diego.
The cost of maintaining Dadaab is paid by the United Nations, which in turn gets its funds for this specific project mostly from the U.S. and Britain. It isn’t just putting up tents. There are schools, churches, entertainment centers, telecommunication and power (electricity) facilities, security vehicles and buildings, waste treatment facilities, and potable water facilities in what is essentially a desert.
The cost is staggering, but Kenya insists the cost to its own security is even greater. It wants the UN to close Dadaab and repatriate the half million people – almost exclusively Somalis – to Somalia.
Somalia is doing better than ever. There are fewer violent attacks in Somalia than in Iraq or Afghanistan. Kenya’s argument is that the situation in Somalia is now peaceful enough to close the camp.
Needless to say, there are many who disagree, including probably all of the refugees in the camp. The fact is that life in a UN operated refugee camp is considerably safer, usually healthier, and often with better education opportunities than in many of the towns and villages in northeast Kenya where the camp is located.
It would be one thing if Kenya were making this decision separate from its overall policy towards Somalis in the country. There are more than 4,000,000 ethnic Somalis in Kenya who are legitimate Kenyans, many who have resided here for several generations or more.
Since the Somali invasion by Kenya in October, 2011, Somalis in Kenya have been terribly mistreated. In fact, according to a Kenyan government report four years Somalis have always been discriminated against! The invasion made it worse.
Consider this: a refugee from anywhere, a Libyan fleeing to Italy, or a Guatemalan fleeing to the U.S. or a Somali fleeing to Kenya, these are people who don’t want to fight. They are escaping conflict. They give up whatever and however little they have … for peace and security.
Closing Dadaab will infuriate and radicalize the youth currently living in the camp. Many Somalis in Kenya already have been. The “mastermind” of the Garissa bombing is a youth who grew up in Kenya and graduated from a Kenyan law school with honors.
The rationale Kenya gives to closing Dadaab is that terrorists are bred in the camp who regularly harm Kenya, yet there is to date no evidence of this, and it is simply counter-intuitive to the nature of a refugee.
The handful of infiltrators that manage to infect every refugee camp in the world is real but so small it’s ludicrous to suppose they wouldn’t infect small towns and villages in Kenya the same way if Dadaab didn’t exist.
In other words, closing Dadaab will not impede this dynamic an iota.
What it will do is increase hostility, mistrust and fire the conflict even further. It’s one of the worst decisions Kenya has ever made.
Jim’s award winning novel,Chasm Gorge, set in Kenya, tells the story of a kidnapping by terrorists of the son of the man who wants to become the President of the United States. The book is available online in e-editions, soft and hard cover, from Amazon, B&N and bookstores around the world.
The rains returned! There’s no way of predicting for how long, of course, or if the serious deficit in moisture will be significantly reduced, but the two days of thunderstorms in my opinion was the reason our game viewing ended so well.
We ended our Botswana safari with three days in Moremi, our third ecosystem after the Kalahari and the Delta.
Moremi is Botswana richest game viewing area. Much of it spills into the Delta, and it includes the large Chief’s Island in the middle of the Delta. We were near the Xaxanaka gate, pretty much in the middle.
Two game drives daily netted us 9 lion, a leopard on a kill, a giant family of buffalo and about two dozen elephant.
The circuit that brought us to the lion went through thick mopane forests and shorter thick bushlands so typical of central Botswana. This makes game viewing difficult, but when we emerged onto the edges of several ponds we found good game.
Kudu, sassaby, impala, giraffe zebra and wildebeest were also seen on this single game drive. The giraffe here, by the way, seem to be bulkier and have a boxier face than those I know so well in East Africa. Their coloration was radically different from individual to individual, from near powdery white to nearly black.
What was also interesting was that the coloration of the giraffe did not completely follow the rule of thumb that the older males are darker. There were old white males and dark females.
When coming upon one pond, we watched a massive hippo jump out into the adjacent forests, scattering three good-size crocs.
Earlier we saw a marvelous family of buffalo, probably numbering close to 50, with quite a few youngsters and several very young babies. They were on and around a ridge of stunted bushes surrounded by a sea of high oat grass. The afternoon light provided an absolutely beautiful canvas.
It’s been hot. My thermometer registered 103F for each of three days at between 1 and 2 p.m. Everyone would be sleeping, relaxing or swimming then, and by sundowners it had cooled down considerably, especially because (fortunately) the rains seem to be returning. By dinner we were in the upper 80s.
We saw so much damage in Moremi from the radical climate swings of the last few years : from horrible flooding to near droughts. Large stands of old trees had been killed. When the delta raised to unnaturally high levels in heavily forested areas that hadn’t seen water for decades, it created a thick alkaline froth.
On our last evening together there was much celebration of the trip’s success. Many of the non-veterans said the game viewing exceeded their expectations. From my perspective, the game viewing was a bit slow until the last day, when the game drives really delivered.
Also in my opinion, the real prize of the trip was the Pell’s Fishing Owl. I’ve only seen it once before – in the Delta – and not as close as we got this time. Although I didn’t see one, others in the group did get a fleeting glimpse of a sitatunga, the extremely unique water antelope with webbed feet.
So in spite of a serious lack of rain that preceded our arrival, and fires that besieged much of our actual trip, I think it’s fair to say Botswana performed well for us. Of course much in the wild is simple chance but that’s part of the exhilaration!
For some on the trip, now, it’s on to VicFalls. To others, they’re returning home. And for me … to East Africa!
The one-of-the-kind Okavango Delta in far off Botswana, like every other part of the world, is threatened by climate change caused by factories in China and soccer moms’ SUVs in Minneapolis. It makes our time here now even more treasured.
Numerous studies as early as 2007, from a variety of high-tech government organizations around the world, have established that the Okavango is in for a mighty wallop
I experienced it myself two years ago when the flow from Angola was so severe we were flooded out of our first camp.
Last year was “unusually normal.”
This year is a near-drought. With about a quarter of the normal rainfall and record high temperatures, about a quarter of the Delta has been lost to fire.
When natural and moderate, fire is a good and necessary part of any wilderness, but this year was excessive. Fewer birds, fewer animals, more hoof and mouth disease, and many dislocated animals are the result of this massive inferno.In our camp in Xugana a poor vervet monkey leaped from tree to tree screaming. There had never been vervets on Xugana Island. He was running from the smoke and flames.
Few places in the wild world are studied as intensely as The Delta. This is because it’s so unique. No one is happy with what is happening or what is expected to come soon. If all this fire is followed by flood, it will be terrible for the natural regeneration of plants. Too much water alone will significantly change the Delta.
But what does this mean for animals and plants, for the system as a whole? I’ve often written that the ecology of Africa is marvelously adaptable. The problem is what will that adaptation be? Retreat from man? A part of the downwards spiral of increased carbon emissions?
For my clients the last two days have been magnificent.
With sufficient time to experience multiple Botswana ecosystems, we were able to dedicate two entire days to an exclusively water-based camp, located on Xugana Island.
At the edge of the Delta from Camp Moremi we saw the rarest owl in the world! The Pell’s Fishing Owl, the only owl that fishes. It was a beautiful, large, red sand colored bird. We saw hippo, of course, and hippo with newborns. On the poled mokoros many saw the unique painted frog. We saw croc and monitor lizard and many of the spectacular resident birds like the blue-cheeked bee-eater… which in fact we watched snatch a bee out of the air!
On a walk on nearby Sausage Island, clients saw red lechwe, elephant, water buck and impala. Several of us fished, successfully, for the tasty red-breasted bream.
And everyone enjoyed the spectacular sunsets and sunrises, the unique colors of the fall papyrus and late blooming water lilies picking out the deep resonance of the afternoon sun.
And we all watched the fires. From the air when we flew from camp to camp, and even from our camps. At night when the breeze stilled, the smell of smoke was everywhere. Ash was on our table cloths.
Zimbabwe has rejected an U.S./European entreaty not to sell 60 baby elephants to unnamed, likely disreputable buyers abroad.
Just before Christmas the Zimbabwean Tourist & Natural Resource Minister said the country would sell the baby elephants, and he named China, U.A.E. and France as the destination countries.
The actual buyers, though, were not named. The outcry was immediate and resulted in a joint petition by the U.S. and the European Union to Zimbabwe to rescind the sale.
Separately, a worldwide petition drive continues to stop the sale. Click here to sign that petition.
There is nothing illegal in the sale, as the CITES convention which governs international commerce in elephants allows countries to relocate endangered animals to other places in the world provided due diligence is undertaken.
That “due diligence” is supposed to carefully assess the need for reducing the animal in the habitat from which it’s being taken, and equally with the capability of the buyer to humanely safeguard the animal.
All the above is in serious dispute in Zimbabwe, but there are no mechanisms within the CITES convention to monitor individual government determinations.
“We are sure there are 25,000 elephants in the Hwange elephant Park,” Colin Gillies, of the Zimbabwe Wildlife and Environment Association, told South African reporters, whereas the Zim government has claimed from 50 to 75,000 elephant exist in the park.
There is nothing within CITES to mediate this dispute. 25,000 could suggest far less than capacity in Zimbabwe’s largest national park, whereas 75,000 would indeed be too many.
Zim’s action is brutal. The country is the most corrupt in sub-Saharan Africa, its national parks are a mere shadow of the greatness that existed before the current regime began 35 years ago, and I have little doubt there may, indeed, be too many elephants.
In poorly managed wildernesses, some animals literally take over. In war zones, for example like the DRC, you can find literally tens of thousands of hippo.
Moreover, southern African wildernesses require considerably more management than East African wildernesses, and one of the tools that has been used for decades are bore holes, wells.
Most of Hwange National Park’s elephants get their water from manmade and sustained water wells. The cost of drilling and maintaining is high and the current Zim regime has allowed a number of these wells to die.
In that regards, without working wells, there may indeed be too many elephant regardless that the figure might be as low as 25,000.
Elephant census are unreliable to begin with, virtually impossible in ravaged Zimbabwe. In other parts of sub-Saharan Africa I’ve argued there are too many elephants, and not scientifically but socially and politically.
It may seem odd from a conservation point of view to argue something from other than a scientific point of view, but the situation in Zimbabwe is a perfect if ironic validation of my reasoning.
Until the people in control of a society feel a need to conserve their natural resources, it simply won’t happen. In most other places in sub-Saharan Africa other than Zimbabwe, there are legitimate debates over the cost-benefit of elephants to local populations, and many of these are sophisticated conversations that include global responsibilities to preserving our biospheres.
But in Zimbabwe it’s been reduced to the roughly $35,000 per baby elephant that someone in the Zimbabwe government is going to pocket. That’s because Zim society has allowed this dictatorial corruption.
In Tanzania it’s more subtle corruption. In Kenya it’s a public movement to protect, against corruption.
Ultimately among those three countries, the elephant will survive and prosper in Kenya, its future is questionable in Tanzania, and elephant in Zimbabwe are on the skids right now.
Yet in all three countries a legitimate tension exists between man and elephant, a dynamic often overlooked by outside conservationists who become obsessed with the end-game.
There’s more to do, and the first move is the local citizen’s. Outsiders with noble concerns must nonetheless engage and respect these local concerns as paramount or nothing good will happen.