Posts Tagged ‘Nature Conservation’

Cape Town, Javelin and a New Project in Zambia, South Africa – Jan 2012

The month kicked off with an entertaining Test Match between the Proteas and Sri Lanka at Newlands.  After losing a week to the cricket, work restarted in earnest as I struggled to meet magazine deadlines with two stories for the March issue of Africa Geographic, a Namibian piece for Go, and a cover story on Nepal for the April issue of Getaway International. All four were due by mid-January and, thankfully, I somehow succeeded in getting all the copy and images in pretty much on time.

The biggest event of the month took place on January 16th when I began work at Javelin Capital in Claremont.  This job heralds the start of a new adventure and the latest challenge in my life, as I take on responsibility for progressing an innovative business-conservation project in the Western Province of Zambia.  Centred on the Upper Zambezi River and within the KAZA TFCA, the aim of this challenging and exciting project is to develop the lands of the Sisheke Chiefdom into a self-sustaining community conservancy of 1.5 million hectares.  The area forms a critical linkage and migration corridor between Chobe in Botswana and Kafue in Zambia.

I will continue to write for my stable of magazines while working on this new venture, so having two jobs running concurrently should definitely keep me busy and out of trouble!

January also treated me to two great weekend escapes in and around Cape Town.  The first one was the Hoerikwaggo Hiking Trail (www.hoerikwaggotrail.org): an iconic 5-day hiking trail that covers 75km through the World Heritage-listed Table Mountain National Park.  We were treated to an unforgettable experience of incredible natural beauty, pristine fynbos and stunning ocean views as we tramped up, down and all around the Hoerikwaggo – the ‘mountain in the sea’.  The two-day stretch of trail that we covered started at Slangkop Lighthouse near Kommetjie and, after crossing Noordhoek Beach winding up over Chapman’s and Noordhoek Peaks, descended to a beautiful new tented camp a stone’s throw from Silvermine dam.  The next day we climbed back over Noordehoek ridge, contoured above Hout Bay and walked over the Vlakenberg before finishing up at Constantia Nek.

The last weekend of the month saw me join some old Varsity mates for a trip out to Bontebok Ridge (www.bontebokridge.com) near Wellington.  Located in the heart of the Winelands and only an hour from Cape Town, Bontebok Ridge is a small slither of natural paradise that forms part of the greater Renosterveld Conservancy in the Limietberg Valley.  Owner Tom Turner (previously of African Parks) hosted us in grand style with his venison braais proving a real highlight.

It’s looking like I’ll have my nose to the grindstone for much of February, as I strive to find the right balance between my photojournalism assignments, my new job, enjoying Cape Town and running a couple of marathons.  Watch this space for the lowdown…

Kalahari, Namibrand, Sossusvlei and the Orange River, Namibia – Nov 2011

November proved to be a standout month packed with new experiences and great adventures, which is not a bad effort considering that 2011 has been a year dominated by some fantastic travels, incredible magazine assignments and epic new experiences.

The latest four-week trip kicked off with an Africa Geographic magazine assignment to 26,485 ha Mokala (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/mokala/) and it was fascinating to explore and learn about South Africa’s newest national park. The reserve is a stronghold for rare and endangered species and it’s doing great work breeding up and relocating the progeny of these threatened species to a wide range of national parks and private game reserves throughout South Africa.

Next stop was the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (www.sanparks.org.za/parks/kgalagadi/) and after six long years away, it was every bit as good as I remembered … with the exception of the roads! The increase in the park’s popularity and a newly paved road running all the way from Upington to Twee Rivieren Entrance Gate meant that more vehicles are bumping and bouncing along the park’s heavily corrugated roads. But the energising experience of being in this arid, wildlife-rich wilderness of rolling red dunes is well worth the price of a pair of new rear shocks!  We enjoyed good cheetah cub viewing, hyaena clans escaping the heat by relaxing in the waterholes, great lion interactions, a couple of Cape fox den sites with tiny playful puppies, and the emotional sight of a springbok ewe give birth to twins!

After five nights in the Kalahari, we made use of the special tourist border facility at Mata Mata to cross into neighbouring Namibia and the friendly faces of smiling border officials were a very unexpected and pleasant surprise. The excellent dirt roads of southern Namibia – with the exception of the well-used routes around Sossusvlei – were regularly graded and in considerably better condition than the South African park roads; our little VW polo breathed a huge sigh of relief as we exited the Kgalagadi.

The first Namibian port of call on the itinerary was &Beyond’s stunningly situated Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (www.andbeyondafrica.com/african_safari/namibia). Perched on a hillside below the Nuimib Mountains in the northeastern corner of the NamibRand Nature Reserve (www.namibrand.com), it is the ideal spot from which to appreciate the reserve’s arid landscapes and incredible natural beauty. The sophisticated desert-chic lodge comprises ten ultra-luxurious en suite stone and glass villas with private verandas and outdoor showers with superlative views.  If you rate your lodges according to their location, then I’d give this spot 13 out of 10!

After five fun-filled days exploring the northern NamibRand, we moved on to Kulala Desert Lodge (www.wilderness-safaris.com/namibia_sossusvlei/kulala_desert_lodge/) and found ourselves within spitting distance of the world-renowned Sossusvlei dunes. Those dunes are something special and looking down onto a soupy sea of dense fog shrouding the skeletal trees of Dead Vlei below us as we slogged up Big Daddy is an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

The NamibRand was so good that we headed back for round two, exploring the southern concession in Namibia’s largest private nature reserve. Tok Tokkie Trails (www.toktokkietrails.com) caters for a max of eight guests, but we were fortunate enough to have the the fully catered three-day trail all to ourselves and the personal attention bestowed upon us by guide Domingo and his back up team made for an extraordinary and unforgettable nature experience. Tramping through the desert and sleeping amongst the red dunes under a billion bright stars was the absolute best way to get up close and personal with the Namib.

After recharging with a couple of R&R days at the historical Hansa Hotel (www.hansahotel.com.na) and enjoying  a mandatory German beer tasting extravaganza around Swakopmund, there was one last stop at Camp Provenance on the Orange River before we headed for home. The following morning we scrambled into a glass-fibre canoe and set off to explore the Ai-Ais-Richtersveld TFCA with Felix Unite River Adventures (www.felixunite.com/river_trips/orange_river), embarking on a six-day paddle all the way from Noordoewer to the Fish River Canyon confluence. It was a great trip with good food, excellent guides, incredible stars and big enough rapids to ensure people took an involuntary swim at Shambok, Surprise and De Hoop rapids!

What an incredible trip made possible by magazine assignments from Africa Geographic, Explore and Travel Namibia.

Hermanus whale-watching and the Northern Cape, South Africa – Oct 2011

October has been a manic month.  Katherine’s arrival from Kenya proved to be the catalyst for an admin-filled couple of weeks as we searched for a new home in Cape Town, while simultaneously organising phones, bank accounts, credit cards, insurance, jobs and all the rest of that ‘fun’ stuff.

Anyway, after a couple of frantic weeks, we seem to have made good headway and are already feeling decidedly more settled (if somewhat exhausted as well).  Today we signed a lease on a lovely little two-bedroom apartment on Beach Road in Sea Point with awesome sea views and two balconies for my braais!  It has all the potential to become a great new base for us, as we start the newest chapter of our life together in Cape Town.

We did manage to sneak in a long weekend away with mates to check out the whales off the coast of Hermanus (www.hermanus.co.za/whales.asp).  It was a fun-filled and action-packed couple of days with lots of exercise, beach time, whale-spotting walks and rugby watching: an all round super-cool weekend away with good friends.

Tomorrow we depart on our much anticipated trip to the parks of the Northern Cape and Namibia.  First stop is Mokala (www.sanparks.org/parks/mokala/) where South Africa’s newest national park has already carved out a reputation as a stronghold and breeding ground for endangered herbivores and I look forward to discovering more about this little-known park, which lies a stone’s throw from Kimberly.

After three nights in Mokala, we head to the Kgalagadi (www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/) for the last week of October.  The Kalahari thirst-lands are undoubtedly my favourite wilderness area in South Africa.  It has been six long years since I last visited this iconic national park and I am extremely excited to finally be headed back there.

After reacquainting myself with the Kalahari, magazine assignments will take me into Namibia.  The trip will predominantly focus on the NamibRand Nature Reserve and Sossusvlei area, although it looks like we will also manage to squeeze in a couple of days in Swakopmund and a six-day river trip down the Orange River on our way home.

With so much to look forward to … this hardly classifies as ‘another tough month in Africa’!

African Success Stories, Rwanda & Zambia – June 2010

During June I was privileged to travel to two of Africa’s most exciting conservation projects: Akagera National Park in Rwanda and Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.  These previously neglected reserves form part of African Parks Network’s (APN) portfolio of privately managed conservation areas across the Africa continent.  APN have pioneered an innovative approach to conservation with a park management model that combines sound conservation practices with solid business principles.  They only enter into management agreements for neglected conservation areas at the request of sovereign governments and in partnership with local communities and wildlife authorities.  Their management style is hands on and long-term with the goal of slowly building capacity and sustainability over time.  The end result is that neglected and abused chunks of wilderness are effectively rehabilitated into fully functioning ecosystems capable of sustaining themselves long after African Parks have pulled out.

After 36 hours of flight delays courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines, I finally arrived in Kigali and made my way east to Akagera National park on the Tanzanian border.  Akagera is the newest addition to APN’s portfolio of parks and the project is still in its infancy, yet there is an undeniable feeling that the tide has turned and the park is looking forward to a bright and exciting future.  New vehicles, uniforms and infrastructure development have raised morale, while training and capacity building are underway to mould an effective team capable of propelling Akagera onto the tourism map as a must-visit East African safari destination.  Under the direction of Bryan Havemann, the project looks to have made impressive headway in its first few months of operation.  A great accolade to the new team’s tireless efforts was being asked by the incumbents to please not work so hard!  A sure sign that things have changed for the better.

The park is made up of an incredible diversity of habitats from rolling hills and open grasslands to lakes, wetlands and woodlands.  The Kilala Plains in the north of the park still boast sizable herds of game with good numbers of topi, bohor reedbuck, zebra, buffalo and defassa waterbuck, as well as giraffe and eland.  Sightings of elephants near the lake shore and rare roan antelope in the surrounding hills, not to mention an incredible array of 525 bird species within its 110,100 ha, means that Akagera has the potential to rapidly bounce back from decades of heavy poaching and neglect.  With the committed support of the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and the resources and expertise of APN, there is little doubt that Akagera will soon realise its massive potential and emerge as a successfully rehabilitated and fully-functional conservation area.

My next stop was Liuwa Plain National Park in western Zambia; a park that already stands out as a rare African success story.  In 2004 APN partnered with the local Lozi people and the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) to take over managerial responsibility for Liuwa.  During the last six years poaching has all but been eradicated from the park and animal numbers have swelled.  This is best illustrated by considering that the number of migrating wildebeest has more than doubled to over 40,000 during the last five years.  Liuwa is home to Africa’s second largest wildebeest migration, but boasts considerably better birdlife than the Mara or Serengeti can offer.  Predators abound.  Huge clans of hyaenas dominate the open plains, while wild dog packs and cheetah have returned to roam the grasslands in search of their favoured oribi and steenbok prey.  However, Lady Liuwa, the much publicised ‘last lioness in Liuwa’, inevitably steals the show.  After many years of solitude, this fine ambassador for Liuwa was recently joined by two majestic male lions from Kafue and it is hoped that cubs will once again stalk the plain before the year is out.

In the space 48 hours, accompanied by Craig Reid the Liuwa park manager, I witnessed some of the most amazing wildlife viewing of my entire career.  We watched lions stalk wildebeest, three wild dog kills (including one scrub hare chase viewed ‘Planet Earth style’ from the air in a microlight), hyaena-wild dog wars over the carcasses and all of this under a full moon on the wide desolately beautiful plains of Liuwa.  It has been my privilege to visit hundreds of parks through out Africa and indeed the world, so when I say Liuwa is in my top three parks worldwide,  I genuinely mean that this is a very special place and one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories.

Adventures in Darkest Africa, Congo & Zambia – May 2010

It took me a little while to get back into the swing of things after all the fun and festivities that dominated April.  However, there was no easing my way back into things and I hit the ground running with a three-week trip to Zambia and the DRC.  My assignment was to collect information and photographic material to document and publicise the good work that African Parks Network (APN) are doing to restore and manage some of Africa’s most valuable and neglected wilderness areas.

My first stop was the Bangweulu Wetlands where an old friend, Ian Stevenson, is managing a community conservation project to sustainably protect these valuable swamps in conjunction with the local fishing communities.  Bangweulu is Zambia’s Okavango Delta: a totally undeveloped and neglected chunk of watery wilderness.  The birdlife is spectacular and includes reliable sightings of the enigmatic shoebill.  Wildlife numbers have been depleted, although we still saw countless herds of endemic black lechwe (estimated to number in the tens of thousands), along with zebra, buffalo, elephant and hyaena!  While working with the communities can be challenging and the decision-making process can be excruciatingly slow at times, the wetlands undoubtedly have incredible potential and should take off as a unique Zambian safari destination in the near future.

After my week in northern Zambia, I travelled via Nairobi to Uganda driving from Entebbe diagonally across the country to Arua and across the border to Aru in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  An APN light aircraft with a crazy French pilot, Stephan, met me for the 50-minute flight into Garamba in the northeastern DRC.  Garamba is a World Heritage Site and one of the oldest national parks in Africa.  It is unique in that it is a rare savanna ecosystem hemmed in by the rain forests of Central Africa.  The result is a reserve characterised by vastly differing habitats and an incredible diversity of species.

Garamba was also the last stronghold of the critically endangered northern white rhino.  However, with no sighting since 2007, the rhino has almost certainly been relegated to the pages of history by Congolese and Sudanese poachers armed with automatic weapons.  The tyrannical Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) retreated into the Congo and set up their headquarters in Garamba in 2005 ensuring that there was no respite for the beleaguered wildlife sanctuary.  Not surprisingly, the worst poachers of all are the undisciplined soldiers that constitute the rag-tag FRDC (Congolese army), which is supposedly in Garamba to fight the LRA.

While rhino have been slaughtered into extinction, the elephant population that numbered over 40,000 in the 1960s has been blasted to 3,500 in less than fifty years!  There is no denying that Garamba has been ravaged by poachers; however, the park’s wildlife is stubbornly hanging on.  When I drove through and flew over Garamba, I saw huge herds of buffalo, elephant, hartebeest, kob, defassa waterbuck and hippo, along with even more spectacular sightings of rare Congolese giraffe, regal lions and an excited clan of hyaena noisily devouring a hippo carcass!

Although Garamba is undoubtedly one of the most difficult, logistically challenging and volatile parks in Africa, APN (somewhat surprisingly) agreed to come in and manage the desperate park.   They opened a new tourist lodge in the park this month providing an incentive to dedicated visitors who take the plunge and embark on the adventurous trek into wildest Africa.  Garamba is one of Africa’s greatest wilderness areas, so, with the demise of the LRA and the dedication of APN, lets hope that it can finally embark on the long-awaited road to recovery.

After spending ten days delving into the history, challenges and quagmire that constitute Garamba, I bid farewell to the park and its dedicated APN team and headed for South Africa.  Knee surgery fixed a 16-month old running-induced ITB injury before I boarded a plane and returned to the brutally hot temperatures of pre-monsoon India where I was reunited with my very understanding wife!

Next month I will be back in Africa when I travel on an assignment to cover Akagera National Park in Rwanda and a carnivore research project in Zambia’s Liuwa Plain National Park.  However, before I return to the wilds of Africa, it’s time to do some long-overdue work and get cracking on a growing list of magazine articles with looming deadlines.

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