Tuesday, June 28, 2011


A few years ago my wife and I were staying at a small tented safari camp just outside of the famous Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The camp was situated high on a cliff overlooking a dry river bed, where a small water hole was floodlit at night so that guests could sit in comfy chairs at the cliff edge with a glass of Amarula Cream and watch the nocturnal comings and goings below. It was late afternoon when we arrived and having had a quick snack we were whisked out on a game drive into the National Park itself. As the sun was setting we arrived at a large waterhole surrounded by mopane trees.

Two elephants were drinking at one end and a small herd (or dazzle) of zebra were at the other end. The scene was idyllically peaceful, with a red, swollen sun resting on top of the trees, reflecting in the rippling water. It was the perfect place and time for sunset drinks. Then as we watch, clutching our glasses of wine, more elephants started to arrive. In ones and twos to begin with, then in family groups and then in entire herds. It was an awe inspiring site. Soon there were more than three hundred elephants crowded around the waterhole. they came through the bush behind us, ignoring our vehicle as they strode purposefully towards the water. We were surrounded by pachyderms of every size, enormous bulls, matriarchs, juveniles, babies.

Then a hundred metres away a zebra coughed, startling one of the elephant calves, who ran to it's nearby mother. This startled other elephants and soon the panic had spread to the entire herd. Suddenly we were in the midst of a stampede. Across the other side of the waterhole elephants were charging off into the trees, while on our side they were rushing past our vehicle, literally brushing the sides of the open landcruiser. Trumpeting and dust filled the twilight and we held on tight, expecting a devastating collision at any moment. None came, even in their panic the ellies were careful not to run into us, even though their already poor eyesight would have been further restricted by the clouds of thick orange dust. Then they had gone. It's simply amazing how three hundred elephants can disappear- just like that. All that was left was a pall of dust, the zebras had long since fled and the water now reflected a solitary scarlet cloud painted by the dying sun, now invisible behind the mopane trees. We sat quietly in the vehicle for a while, then someone suggested another drink. Everybody thought that a splendid idea, though it was hard to keep the glasses still in our trembling hands. Finally we drove in through the darkness back to the camp, our headlights picking out glittering eyes along the roadside. Back at the camp a member of staff greeted us with. "How was the game drive? Did you see anything?"
  "Yes." I said. "One or two elephants." Then my wife and I made our way to the bar.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Erection Problems? Chew Your Fingernails.

What a complex business wildlife conservation is. I read that a rhino park has recently opened in China. At this park, which will hold several white rhinos, they will humanely harvest the horns by tranquilizing the animals and removing the horn. In this way it will grow back and the Chinese will have a sustainable supply of rhino horn to sell to those men who very misguidedly believe it will solve their erection problems.
Rhino horn is just keratin - the same as your finger nails, so if you'll pardon the expression - if you have a limp willy, chew your nails, it has the same effect as rhino horn. Now on the face of it you may think that the rhino park is a good idea, and that it will take the pressure off a wild population which is being decimated by poaching. Sadly this is not necessarily the case. I have a horrible feeling that all it will do is increase the demand for powdered rhino horn and therefore increase the poaching problem. I really hope I'm wrong.

Certain African governments have moved to have the ban on the sale of ivory lifted so that they can sell their huge stockpiles of confiscated ivory in order to gain much needed revenue. Where's the harm in that? You might ask. No elephants are being slaughtered. All they're doing is selling ivory from elephants that were poached long ago. However, once again, you run the risk of increasing demand. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of the fact that ivory is once again a legal commodity and will step up their poaching activities, and how can you tell whether the ivory you've bought is from a legal stockpile or an illegally poached animal?

Many parts of Africa - Chobe National Park in Botswana for example, have far too many elephants. The result of this is the destruction of habitat for many other species as well as for the elephants themselves. Authorities try to avoid culling, because with elephants you cannot just kill individual animals as this traumatises the entire herd and can make them wary and aggressive. Imagine someone coming into your house and shooting your brother. You'd be wary and aggressive too right? They would have to destroy the entire herd, including calves, and apart from the public outcry that this would cause, no one really wants to go down that path. So, the only option left is relocation, but again the whole herd has to go which is immensely time consuming and massively expensive.

When male elephant calves reach a certain age they are booted out of the family group which helps to prevent in-breeding within the herd. These boys often form a bachelor herd and do what most groups of young men will do - hang out together, chase girls and generally behave in an obnoxious manner. Old lone bulls that they come into contact with will act as mentors and will have a calming effect on the younger bulls. In addition the old fellows will pass on their bush wisdom, teaching the lads the proper way be behave and where to find the best grazing and water holes for example. Hunting concessions usually sell these old bulls to hunters who pay thousands of dollars to shoot an elephant. Why anyone would want to kill such a magnificent animal is beyond me, but a lot of that money is then ploughed back into conservation. Of course the problem with that is that there are then a shortage of old bulls to teach the youngsters in the bachelor herd how to behave, and so they go a bit "feral" as kids without proper adult guidance will. They then start breaking down fences, raiding crops, destroying water pipes and painting graffiti. Of course this is not tolerated by the human populace and both animals and humans are often killed in the battles that break out. This problem is not confined to Africa either, India has similar issues to deal with.

So, whatever you do, don't go thinking that African wildlife conservation is a simple issue. There are so many things to consider, and an action that may be taken for the good of one species of animal in good faith can easily backfire with unexpected disastrous consequences for another species. These things have to be thought through and researched. There is no quick fix, but as long as there are people who care about preserving wild Africa we will at least be heading in the right direction.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

Africa With Emirates

I recently travelled to London with Emirates, and quite frankly I wouldn't fly with anyone else now if I had the choice. I'd flown with them a couple of time from Brisbane to Auckland, but that's only about three hours. This was my first long haul experience with them.  It seems to me that they have at least two inches more legroom in economy than most other airlines. I'm six feet two inches tall (or whatever that is in this new- fangled metric system - 4 billion nanometres or something) so I really noticed the difference. They have a superb, easy to use personal entertainment system, friendly cabin crew and edible food - a rarity in economy class these days.

The other thing I really appreciated was the various cameras that gave you views of what was happening outside. They have a camera mounted on the tail, one on the nose and a downward facing camera which I don't recommend for those of you suffering from vertigo. All you have to do it touch your personal screen and you get the view from whatever camera you want. The reason I like this is that I get a little claustrophobic when I can't see out of a window when the aircraft is on it's final approach. In other words I like to be able to see what we're about to crash into. The trouble with having a window seat on a long haul flight is that you can't stretch your legs or visit the toilet without climbing over and disturbing two other passengers and probably spilling hot tea in their laps. However, due to the forward facing cameras I was able to see where we were going and have an aisle seat to stretch out in too. I loved it.

What's all this got to do with Africa? You ask. Well, Emirates service many cities in my favourite continent. Naturally, you have to travel via their hub in Dubai, but the extra comfort on Emirates is worth a couple of extra hours flying and in any case they are the most direct option to some African destinations. Below is a list of African cities services by Emirates.

Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, Luanda, Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Accra, Abijan, Dakar, Casablanca, Tunis, Tripoli (I'd probably avoid this one at the moment.), and Cairo. They also service Mauritius and Seychelles.

As well as being my first long haul flight with Emirates, my latest trip was also my first flight on an Airbus A380. Emirates economy class configuration on this monster is 3-4-3. The same as a Boeing 747-400. Indeed it doesn't seem that much bigger on the inside than a 747, except that you have to remember that there's another cabin of roughly the same proportion above you. Emirates have the lower cabin as economy class and the upper cabin is a mix of First and Business class.

Try them on your next trip wherever it may be. They may not always be the cheapest, but they're very rarely the dearest and in any case, it's value for money that counts and I think Emirates certainly give you plenty of that.      

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Forest Elephants of Dzanga-Ndoki

Okay. Quiz time. Name three countries bordering the Central African Republic (C.A.R.). Answers at the end of this post. No cheating by looking at the map on this page please. Give yourself five points for each correct answer and fifty points if you've actually been there. It lies within Africa's steamy equatorial belt and is largely covered with rain forest. C.A.R.'s capital city is Bangui. It is the nation's main gateway and is most easily reached by air from Nairobi.

A fascinating if somewhat bumpy ten hour drive or a less interesting short charter flight from Bangui lies Doli Lodge, tucked away in the a remote, pristine part of the country. Located beside the Sangha River, Doli lodge is a wooden construction raised on stilts. There are just eight bungalows, ensuring a personalised safari experience - very important in my view. The highlight of a stay at Doli Lodge is a visit to what is known as a "Baai". It's a clearing in the jungle visited by highly endangered forest elephants as well as other animals like the beautiful bongo antelope - a personal favourite of mine. You'll see these rare elephants interacting and displaying the natural behaviour that they have developed over thousands of years visiting baais like this which contain minerals vital to the well being of the animal. You will also have the chance to meet world famous field biologist Andrea Turkalo, who over the twenty years of her research has become the first to decipher elephant vocalisations and to compile an "elephant dictionary".

You will also have the chance to trek to see lowland gorillas, beautiful, endangered and impressive, though a little smaller than their better know highland cousins. In addition you'll also track the colourful mangabey monkeys.

Doli lodge is in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park and is a very, very special place. I probably wouldn't recommend it to first time visitors to Africa unless they have a special interest in gorillas or forest elephants, but for second, third or veteran "Africaphiles" it really is a fascinating experience.

The link below will take you to the Doli Lodge website for further information. If you are interested please drop me an email peter.emery@ucango.com.au or call Ucango Travel on 1300 822 646 and ask for me.


Meanwhile, here's the answer to the question above.
Chad, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan.
How did you do?