What’s THE first image in your mind when you think “Safari”?
If you’re like most of us, images of ‘Africa’, ‘Kenya’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’ are up there on the big screen, right…! Exactly, there are dozens of the more typical ‘African Safari’ destinations, as I’ve explored here in Tanzania and the Ngoro Ngoro region. However, if you prefer to go off the beaten track, there is also an emerging trend towards increasingly popular eco safaris where tourism entrepreneurs have tapped their vision and turned creative with ideas to use tourism to help impact positively on fragile ecosystems and threatened wildlife, as well as the local human populations who share these rich resources in Africa. So let’s not waste any time and enjoy a taste of what’s so great about Safaris on the Edge!
Everyone has heard of Kenya, right; but this week I am focusing on Tanzania – less well known to the average tourist, but very well known as a quality Safari destination. Tanzania has some incredible National Parks including “The Serengeti”, “Lake Manyara”, “Tarangire”, “Arusha”, “Kilimanjaro”, “Ruaha”, “Mikumi”, “Udzungwa”, “Rubondo Island”, “Saadani” and “Katavi”, of which you may only be familiar with a handfull!
Then there are the protected areas with: “Ngorongoro Crater”, “Selous” and the smallest park of all, the “Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve” on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Western Tanzania, famous through decades of well documented research by renowned primatologist, Jane Goodall.
Ngorongoro towered alongside Mount Kilimanjaro nearly 3 million years ago as one of the tallest peaks in Africa. However, with the cataclysmic birth of the Rift Valley (which cuts it’s geological swathe thousands of miles south, (even through the farm my family owned in Zimbabwe) Ngorongoro blew it’s lid and created a giant crater. Today the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) covers 8,300 square kilometers of prime African wilderness, populated by diverse wildlife populations, ethnic communities and archeological treasures.
For the best Tanzania has to offer in a Safari (Swahili word for ‘travel’) look for one of the many good TOUR operators that operate in Ngorongoro and elsewhere in Tanzania / Africa e.g. Deeper Africa or Africa Adventure Consultants. Those that have a strong commitment to the environment that sustains them, use eco-friendly lodges. These retreats are built to sustain a low profile where they don’t “stand out” from the scenery, but blend in… you will find beautiful lodges sensitively built out of local river rock and sand, right at the edge of the Ngorongoro crater, where visitors enjoy incredible views e.g. The Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge blends in with the environment in a sustainable, minimalistic manner, benefiting both mammals and visitors while remaining completely invisible from the crater, some 600 m below!
The rich pasture and permanent water supply in the crater provide the perfect habitat for a huge and stable population of nearly 25,000 mammals who stay by choice. They remain, not because they can’t leave, but because the conditions are perfect; only migrating when the water levels get too low. Here you will enjoy seeing mostly grassland zebra, buffalo, eland, gazelles, gnu, hartebeest and warthog; while the swamps and enormous Fever tree and Fig tree forests provide a canopy of shade for smaller populations of hippos, elephant, bushbuck, reedbuck, waterbuck, baboons and vervet monkeys.
If you want to see bird life, be aware of the seasons as this will determine what you see most during your stay. Bird migrations usually coincide with the rainy seasons, between November and May. However, there are also sporadic migrations of flamingo, duck and storks in response to local water levels. This is an African basket full of Creation’s finest – one large volcanic crater full!
Another beautiful park to explore is the “Selous” Game Reserve, which is one of the largest in the world, four times the size of the Serengeti. The Selous park is pristine and offers a high quality Safari experience with low impact safari lodges and quality accommodations like this one at Deeper Africa. Selous caters to discerning tourists rather than the mass tourism which has cut numerous trails across the savannah up in more popular Kenyan parks.
“Deeper Africa” also have a strong commitment to their host country and those people who work for them from local communities. Both are committed to make your safari experience more memorable. Ethical Tourism is one way of giving back to both the wildlife and these communities that live alongside them in Africa. This organization is a flag ship for those who are serious about nurturing such programs in Eastern Africa.
Here are just three of the many programs they promote – especially popular with those who climb Mount Kilimanjaro: “Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project”, care about baby elephants orphaned due to poaching and support education in the communities nearby, e.g. the “Sheldrick Animal Orphanage” and “BEADS for Education”. Click on the following links to learn more about these community projects:
Unfortunately, safaris are not without their problems. An over population of tourists can be just as invasive for resident wildlife and communities, as it is for the tourist. As tourists, we all dream of that magic “Out of Africa” experience on an open African plain, surrounded by vast silent panoramas on a hot, sunny afternoon. The luxury of the ‘now‘ with African heat, scents, sounds and light – bright and limitless can be “Oh, so spoilt,” when load after load of noisy, camera clicking fellow tourists, arrive at a lion kill… For the communities and safari operators who rely on the income from such tourism, the sustainability of their future is slowly being eroded. To survive, tourism in it’s many forms has to be both culturally and eco-friendly. National parks and governing bodies are increasingly aware of this and measures to protect these precious ecosystems from mass erosion by those who have come to enjoy it have become more visible.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, The Selous is a vast African wilderness which spans over 54,600 sq. kilometers with only a small portion to the north open to photographic safaris. This park used to boast close on 3,000 black rhino. Despite it’s remoteness, populations were decimated in the 70’s and early 80’s to the point of near extinction by heavy poaching.
“The Selous Rhino Project” is part of a larger Rhino protection project being carried out through TUSK to renew the number of black rhino to their former populations. They now stand somewhere between 50 and 100, the largest in Africa, but pitifully less than they should be. Tusk has attracted the support of some extremely well connected conservation personalities and organizations, who have helped support their work all over Africa and Prince William is one of their most popular.
Africa is a vast continent and it’s true… she will steal a piece of your heart when you spend time with her. Whatever you are looking for in Africa, you will find a way to enjoy it on Safari. Whether you choose to explore by boat trips, canoeing, kayaking, rafting her wild rivers and unspoilt coastline or digging deeper with cultural tours… you can… and you will never forget. Some prefer taking to the air with flying safaris and hot air balloon trips… they will dream about it forever. Others prefer safaris the classic way with game drives, horseback or camel rides, nature hikes, photography, scuba diving, snorkeling or trekking and walking on foot… it’s all possible, it’s all memorable, and it will all have an impact – on your life – and on those you leave behind!
Next month we head East for the equally unspoilt African Coast and beyond, the coastal Islands. Some of these archipelagos are Africa’s best kept secret; gateway to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean… and underwater safaris.