EPIC ROAD'S SAFARI BLOG

Monday
Apr072014

Singita Conservation: Counting Wildlife in Tanzania

Singita Conservation - Counting Wildlife in Tanzania

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Singita is widely known as one of Africa’s top providers of luxury lodging and personalized safari experiences, but behind the scenes the company is also working hard to protect endangered species and advance innovative approaches to conservation across the continent.  Many of Singita’s camps and lodges are located on private concessions, a model that allows the company to take an active role in land and species preservation, and engage directly with local communities by funding education and training in sustainable, economically viable enterprises. 

Efforts spearheaded by private groups like Singita also complement the work of public conservation organizations, which often face constraints due to limited budgets or political factors.  Singita’s mandate is promote low-impact tourism, which involves managing all its concessions sustainably re-investing profits into projects that will protect the land and all its inhabitants.  This arrangement, so far, has led to successful partnerships with local organizations and conservation NGOs, who provide the knowledge and expertise required to implement innovative initiatives via the Singita network, such as anti-poaching systems, species re-introduction and tracking technologies.

For example, Singita Grumeti—a flagship reserve which includes a premier collection of luxury lodges and camps on a 350,000-acre concession in northern Tanzania—each year, conducts a wildlife census to track animal populations that live on the reserve.  Results reveal important facts about the state of each species under protection, marking which populations are thriving (like impalas and antelopes, the numbers of which, according to last year’s survey, spiked by over 20%) and which need more care and attention (like the beloved, beleaguered African elephant, which declined by almost 30%, sadly a reflection of the current crisis state for elephants across Africa). The information provided by the survey then becomes highly beneficial for Singita and local conservation organizations, who will use the results to plot their strategy and areas of focus for the coming year. Knowing which species are thriving or not—and why—will help conservation workers know where to direct their energy, and choose best course that will allow all populations to flourish.

Singita Grumeti is just one of the many gorgeous properties in Tanzania on which Singita does its important work, and each offers its own unique set of activities, animals and distinctive design experiences.  Whether its the friendly elephant bulls who roam the grounds at the Mara River Tented Camp, the old school romance and classic touches found at Faru Faru, or the spacious cottages and family-friendly African adventures at Singita Sasakwa—guests everywhere enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that their stay also contributes to an innovative, dedicated commitment to conservation that makes Singita stand apart. 

Tuesday
Apr012014

Top Ten Music Festivals in Africa

African Safari Music FestivalsMusic speaks volumes about a nation’s identity, and there is no more entertaining way to explore a culture than to dive deep into the rhythm and groove to which it moves.  This is especially true in Africa, where music and dance infuse the cadence of life at all levels, and nowhere is this more evident than in the number of vibrant music and cultural festivals held throughout the year.  Dates vary from year to year, but many are well worth checking out during your African Safari.  So here is the low down on some of our favorites, listed chronologically, to better help you plan. 

  • Festival sur le Niger – Mali (early February): For the first week in February the historic city of Segou, Mali serves as the central hub for Francophone African music, art and culture.   This eclectic festival was originally envisioned to celebrate the distinctive music and dance of West Africa, but has now evolved to also offer a series of workshops and seminars in which musicians, artists, and intellectuals join together to discuss, debate and connect—an unbeatable schooling in the creative forces that shape contemporary African culture, delivered directly by the artists themselves.   
  • Sauti za Busara – Zanzibar (mid February):  One of Africa’s longest standing annual festivals, this landmark event is held in a world heritage site—the Old Stone Fort in Zanzibar’s historic district—and is a can’t-miss a for connoisseurs of African culture.  First founded to celebrate the music and dance East Africa, Sauti za Busara has since expanded its roster to include international artists, and actively encourages collaboration between performers from all parts, both on-stage and off.  No wonder many consider it to be the “friendliest music festival on the planet.” 
  • Asa Baako – Ghana (early March):  Held on beautiful Busua Beach in Western Ghana, Asa Baako is an authentic celebration of African soul, covering generations of music and dance, from 1970’s Afro-funk all the way to modern hip-hop and house.   And you definitely can’t beat the locale:  a tiny, tropical fishing community where guests can groove right alongside the locals—who may even teach you a few of their own moves! 
  • Maitisong Festival – Botswana (late April):  The Maitisong Festival is held in the Botswana capital Gaborone, and offers a slightly more sophisticated urban cultural experience.  Classical gospel choral performances in venues like the National Museum and Anglican Cathedral are scheduled alongside traditional music, dance and theatrical productions, and delicious street food is available in parks and outdoor venues throughout the city. 
  • Kigali Up – Rwanda (mid July):  In just a few short years Kigali Up has become an important platform for Rwandan artists and musicians to step up and shine, and show the world that the country is entering an exciting new phase of positive growth and development.  While the festival is primarily for Rwandan artists, performers from other parts of Africa and beyond now clamor to take part—no doubt to help celebrate Rwanda’s resurgence, and to connect with the close to 4000 attendees who gather every year to sing out on the country’s behalf.   
  • Lake of Stars Music + Arts Project – Malawi (late September): After a few years hiatus, Lake of Stars is back in full force in 2014 to celebrate the warmth, vitality and low-key exuberance that epitomize the very soul of this tiny African republic.  The Lake of Stars festival is also held on the gorgeous shores of Lake Malawi—one of Africa’s largest and most beautiful—providing a dazzling natural backdrop against which to watch some of West Africa’s top artists perform. 
  • Delicious Festival – Johannesburg, South Africa (early October): Delicious is where foodies and music lovers come to play—and the result is one of the most popular fusion festivals in the entire world.   Held on a rolling equestrian estate outside of Johannesburg, festival goers can stroll the beautiful grounds and sample artisanal cuisine from one of the many restaurants and food stands that pop up for the course of the event, or else enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch while listening to a the line up that includes some of the top entertainers from Southern Africa.   
  • Rocking the Daisies – Cape Town, South Africa (late October): This 3-day music and lifestyle festival on a wine estate outside of Cape Town takes its name to heart, creating a world class, yet low impact, experience that also celebrates the ecological innovation and green design.   Activities surrounding the event feature everything from a local artisans market, to creative outdoor installations, and the festival is considered a premier space for passionate and progressive enthusiasts of global culture to gather and share their love for art, the environment and indie music.   
  • Lagos Jazz Series – Nigeria (late November/early December): This festival is a relative newcomer to the world circuit, but in the world of jazz it has already made its mark.  In just three years the event has attracted a collection of extraordinary artists—think Pat Methany, Brandford Marsalis and Marcus Miller—that rivals the line up at some of the greatest global music festivals, and as a result has attracted the attention of media and music enthusiasts worldwide.  One can only expect that, each year, the pool of talent at Lagos will just continue to grow.   
  • Vic Falls Carnival – Zimbabwe (Dec.  29-31):  Usher in the New Year with one of the most high-energy festivals Africa has to offer:  three consecutive days of music, fun and non-stop activity, featuring the top artists of southern Africa and revelers from around the world.  The adventure begins with an evening party on a vintage steam train and ends with a carnival of over 5,000 guests, dancing to the beat of some of Africa’s best music.   Those in need of an extra rush can also sneak in some white water rafting, gorge swinging or bungee jumping—all before the evening’s festivities begin. 

 

 

Thursday
Mar132014

Top Natural Wonders of Africa

Botswana SafariAt Epic Road we’re privileged to have travelled through some of nature’s most breathtaking places and inspiring landscapes,  and we’re often asked which would make it onto our bucket list of the world's most spectacular must-see natural wonders. It’s a tough choice, but here are our favorites for sub-Saharan Africa:

1.) Botswana – The Okavango Delta: In the middle of the arid Kalahari Desert lies a miracle of nature: a lush oasis of waterways and islands, teeming with birds, wildlife, and flowers. This remote, remarkable wetland known as The Okavango Delta is flooded each year with approximately 2.63 cubic miles of water, which eventually evaporates, transpires and drains into the adjacent Lake Ngami.  The floods peak between June and August when the delta expands to three times its normal size, and the abundance of water attracts animals from surrounding territories, resulting in one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. Visitors to the Delta can expect to see bush elephant and buffalo, hippopotamus, blue wildebeest, giraffe, lion, cheetah, leopard, brown hyena, spotted hyena, black rhinos and white rhinos, along with one of the Africa's richest pack densities of the endangered wild dog. Birders will also be kept busy trying to spot the more than 400 species of birds that inhabit the area.

We love the Okavango Delta because it is a place where conservation is prioritized and travelers have access not only to a place of great natural beauty and peaceful energy, but can also learn, explore and experience amazing adventures while on their luxury African safari

Related Epic Road Luxury African Safaris:

Selinda & Okavango Delta - Botswana's Water Wonderland

Botswana Family Safari: The Lion King Experience

2.) Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda – The Virunga National Park: The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo runs along the border between Uganda and Rwanda, and boasts a rich diversity that surpasses any other park in Africa.  This UNESCO World Heritage site covers an area close to 2,000,000 acres, with multiple habitats that include swamps and steppes, the snowfields of Rwenzori, lava plains and grassy savannahs. The Virunga Mountain range also consists of eight, mostly dormant volcanoes, except for Mounts Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira (both in the Democratic Republic of Congo)—which also happen to be the most active volcanoes on the continent.

The park is also home to iconic African animal and plant species—many of which are red listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—including the critically endangered mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorillas, African elephants, chimpanzees, owl-faced monkeys,  and more than 20,000 hippos.  We are in awe of the men and women who toil tirelessly in efforts to protect all wildlife in the park.  It is one of the most incredible biomes in the world, definitely worth saving, and definitely worth a visit on your African safari !

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda

Rare and Endangered Wildlife in Uganda

3.) Kenya – the Rift Valley: If watching the Great Wildebeest Migration from a hot air balloon isn’t on your bucket-list, well, it should be, as the the experience is an unbeatable way in which to view one of nature’s most incredible shows.  The Migration ends in Kenya's Maasai Mara region,  situated in the Rift Valley, with the Serengeti Plains running along its southern end.  The Mara covers 200 square miles of open plains, woodlands and riverine forests and is home to an enormous variety of wild life, including zebra, giraffe, gazelles, monkeys, buffalo, elephants, and hippos. It is a place where mighty herds congregate, where the cycle of life plays out daily, and Maasai warriors share their ancestral homeland with the fierce predators of Africa.

From July to October every year, the search for fertile grazing grounds and water draws more than 1.3 million Wildebeest who migrate in a single massive herd across the Serengeti over the border into Kenya—an amazing display of nature that stretches from one horizon to the other. The Mara River presents a formidable challenge for the Wildebeest, who plunge into the raging waters, fighting against swift currents and the constant threat of hungry crocodiles.  The Wildebeest herds are then followed by predators, most especially lions, though cheetah, hyena and jackals are also commonly sighted.

The region is also home to the Maasi people, who value tradition and ritual, and who rarely hunt, preferring to live harmoniously alongside wildlife. It is this rare co-existence of man and wildlife that makes the Maasai one of the most unique natural habitats in the world, and one of the most unforgettable places you can visit on your luxury African safari.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Crossing the Mighty Mara River

Maasai Wilderness and Elephant Conservation Safari

Maasai Walking Safari: A Slow Safari Experience

Conserving Africa's Big Cats - Kenya

4.) Mozambique - Vamizi: There are times when it’s not only what you see on the surface that takes your breath away; sometimes you have to look a little deeper, like the beautiful landscapes of Vamizi, one of 32 tropical islands in the Quirimbas Archipelago. This narrow stretch of land is covered with thick forests of Acacia, Hibiscus and Casuarina trees, and edged by glittering white-sand beaches that give way to the pristine turquoise ocean. Vamizi is a sanctuary for humans and animals alike: a place where green turtles make arduous journies up the sands to lay their eggs, giant coconut crabs nestle within the coral, and rare samango monkeys and exotic birds make their homes within mangrove forests.

It is when you venture beneath the surface of the gentle waves, that you realise the true natural beauty of Vamizi. Here, the coral reefs have been protected from bleaching by cool rising currents from the deep, and are alive with vibrant colourful sponges, corals and a myriad of fish species. The huge laced gorgonian fan corals which cling to the sides of the drop offs and the whip corals swaying in the gentle currents are mesmirizing, and for experienced divers the opportunity to explore Neptune’s Arm—considered one of the top ten dive sites in the world—will be impossible to resist.

We love Vamizi for its exquisite tranquility above and below the surface, and because of the emphasis on sustainable luxury safaris, leaving the island refreshingly free of the damage that often results from tourism and development.  

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Vamizi Island, Mozambique: Castaway Chic

5.) Namibia – the Namib-Naukluft National Park and the Kunene Region: Namibia is known for its varied dramatic landscapes, and the strikingly beautiful dune fields of the Namib and the Sossusvlei, found in the Namib-Naukluft National Park in the southern part of the Namib Desert, are absolute must-sees. The Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan surrounded by massive dunes, many of which exceed 600 feet, and glow vivid shades of red, orange and pink, the result of high iron deposits in the sand.  Vegetation grows on the higher dunes, drawing water from underground ephemeral rivers which occasionally flood the surface, and when dry the pans turn almost white from the resulting concentration of salt.  While the Sossusvlei is not teeming with wildlife, there are many small animals in their area which can survive with little water, including small reptiles, rodents and jackals, as well as larger mammals such as oryxes and springboks and ostriches.

The Kunene region is one of even more contrasts. You wouldn’t expect it but the arid, lunar-like landscape is becoming a genuine wildlife destination where you’ll regularly see desert-adapted animals including elephants, black rhino, lions, Hartmanns Zebra, giraffe and gemsbok. We love that the government had the foresight to give local communities land management rights, resulting in more than 70 conservancies and wildlife sanctuaries, and successful conservation efforts that have led to an increase in the number of desert-adapted black rhinos, one of the largest and fastest-growing rhino populations on the continent.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Romance and Luxury in the Nambian Desert

6.) South Africa – the whole country: South Africa has so much to offer visitors that we’re declaring the entire country a natural wonder!  This modern, cosmopolitan nation has an incredibly rich biodiversity, which plays out across some of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, along with rich forests, stunning coastlines and deserts. The Cape Floral Kingdom, found in the southwest portion of the Western Cape, contains 9600 plant species, 70% of which do not grow naturally anywhere else on earth. Table Mountain, in the heart of the Floral Kingdom, has more than 1,500 plant species alone, and the views from the 3,500 fot, flat-topped sandstone peak are spectacular. 

Then there’s the incredible wildlife. While South Africa covers less than one percent of the earth’s land mass, it is home to six percent of the world’s mammal and reptile species, and ten percent of the world’s plant, fish and bird species. Sightings of Africa’s Big Five happen on a daily basis, particularly in the Kruger National Park. South Africa is also the custodian of 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, and the opportunity to catch sight of one of these prehistoric creatures during your South African safari is an experience that will linger for a lifetime.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Jet Set in Cape Town

Vintage Wine and Fantastic Food in Cape Winelands

Microchip a Rhino in the African Wild

South Africa Family Safari: Luxury, Wildlife and Adventure for All

7.) Tanzania - Kilimanjaro National ParksNgorongoro Crater: With Serengeti (shared with Kenya) and Kilimanjaro National Parks and Ngorongoro included on the list of winners of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, it’s easy to understand why we include it on our top ten.  To begin with, the Great Wildebeest Migration, which occurs from July to October of every year, starts in the Serengeti, and is considered one of the most spectacular wildlife events in all of nature. Then there's the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, one of Africa’s best known attractions and one of the the most accessible of the world's highest peaks.  The landscapes of Kilimanjaro are diverse, with the cultivated lower slopes making way for lush forest, and encompassing habitats for elephants, leopard, buffalo and the endangered abbot’s duiker, along with other small antelope and primates. Higher up the slopes you’ll find the moorland zone. Higher still, the alpine desert which supports very little life, and gives way to the ice, snow and majestic views from atop the roof of continent.

In addition to these wonders, Tanzania contains the nearly three-million-year-old Ngorongoro Crater, a vast un-flooded volcanic caldera home to almost every species of wildlife in East Africa—an estimated 25,000 animals.  And also not to be missed on your Tanzania safari: the fascinating, historical Zanzibar Archipelago, off the Tanzanian coast, which include the culturally significant islands of Unguja (known more commonly as Zanzibar) and Pemba. Zanibar's location in the Indian Ocean made it a natural regional trading center, famous for its spices, Stone Town (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and exquisite coastlines.  Unguja especially is renowned for its powdery white sand beaches and fringing coral reefs, rich in marine biodiversity.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Safari in the Ngorongoro Crater

Serengeti Safari: Witness the Great Migration

Safari in Zanzibar: Low Key and Local

Tanzania Family Safari: A Classic African Experience

8.) Zambia and Zimbabwe - Victoria Falls: When it comes to understanding the incredible power of nature, there is nothing like an African adventure safari at Victoria Falls. Located on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, this awe inspiring curtain of water has columns of spray that can be seen from miles away. The falls are classified as the largest in the world based on their width of 5,604 feet and height of 354 feet, and at the peak of the rainy season more than 1.766 cubic feet of water per minute plunges into the river gorges below, transforming the generally placid Zambezi into a ferocious torrent of rolling rapids and rolicking waves.

The walls that encase Victoria Falls are capped by mist-soaked rainforest, and the surrounding area also contains two national parks: The UNESCO designated Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park which runs over 16,000 acres on the Zambian side, and the 5,683 acre Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe.  There are also a number of smaller parks—including the Zambezi National Park, Matetsi Safari Area, Kazuma Pan National Park and Hwange National Park—containing sizeable populations of elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, and a variety of antelope. Vervet monkeys and baboons are also common, and the portion of the Zambezi River above the falls is also home to large populations of hippos and crocodile.

Related Epic Road Luxury Safaris:

Re-Imagining Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe Safari: Autheticity by Car, Boat and Foot

Victoria Falls Family Safari: A Water Wonderland

 

Wednesday
Feb262014

Best Books to Prepare for Your African Safari

African Safari Preparation BooksYour African safari is quickly approaching.  You’ve spent weeks planning your packing list, comparing camera gear online, and mapping out tracking techniques to maximize your chances of encounterig all the amazing wildlife you want to see.  How else can you prepare for what is bound to be one of the most exciting adventures of your life? How about the old fashioned way – by getting off Google, and reading a book!

There are so many classic travelogues and remarkable stories that have been written about Africa, it’s hard to narrow them all down.  But following is a list of our favorites, including everything from hilarious first-person safari tales, to thoughtful explorations of the human impact on Africa’s delicate ecosystems and wildlife communities.  The best travelers are those who take the time to learn, and who journey with an open mind: it is our belief that these books will help get you started on your path to adventure and awareness.

  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens: Delve into the passions and professional escapades of two young, idealistic zoologists, whose world revolves around their love for Africa’s wildlife—and for each other!  Their personal account of intimacy amidst adventure spans seven years living and working in the Kalahari Desert in the 1970s, documenting and protecting Africa’s greatest species, often while facing down natural dangers like drought, storms and bush fires.  This classic best seller offers unique insights into the sophisticated social hierarchies of animals and humans, and is a must read for romantics and animal lovers alike.
  • The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence: This e-book chronicles the journey of one man—through war, political instability and other remarkably difficult circumstances—to help save one of the world’s greatest species from extinction.  When poachers started targeting the northern white rhino for their commercially coveted horns, Anthony saw no choice but to venture deep into the jungles of the war torn Congo to deal with the situation head on. With little help from the government, Anthony develops an even deeper respect and appreciation for the value of all life—animal, human and beyond. 
  • Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allsion: Cautionary travel tales with a comedic twist, this highly entertaining collection of essays comes from an uber-experienced Botswana safari guide who has seen and done it all.  Thirteen years of tracking big game in the bush, surviving face-to-face encounters with pythons and learning the intricacies of “monkey language” straight from the source has led to this compilation of anecdotes that are both hilarious and informative, as well as a wildly enjoyable read.  
  • Across the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt: Brandt’s third installment of photographs takes us through the dark world of dwindling animal populations in East Africa, and offers a realistic window into the current precarious state of much Africa’s wildlife.  His incredibly raw images are both touching and tragic, exposing the predatory side of human progress, and the damage our behaviors have wrought on some of the world's greatest species.  His work will add a dose of perspective to your African safari and—it is hoped—a greater depth of appreciation for the especially delicate lives of the creatures you will encounter. 
  • Around Africa On My Bicycle by Riaan Manser: It took Manser a little more than two years to ride his bike around the entire continent of Africa, starting and ending in Cape Town.  Wanting to highlight the awesome beauty and diversity of his beloved birth land, Manser rode across 34 countries through tremendous highs and lows—from navigating extreme conditions in the Sahara, to facing arrest and resorting to eating a rat.  His story is far more than a simple travelogue: not just the tale of a man adventuring through Africa, but also the story of Africa itself, its glorious natural history, and the remarkable people who have shaped it.
  • Soul of a Lion: Biography of Marieta van der Merwe, by Barbara Bennett: This biographical e-book tells the story of the Harnas Wildlife Foundation in Namibia, and its inspiring founder, Mariete van der Merwe.  Raised in a wealthy ranching family, van der Merwe converted a portion of her family's land to care for animals that are disabled or had been mistreated in captivity.  Her charges include a one-eyed lioness, a baboon with epilepsy, and a lion mistakenly injected with the AIDs virus, and her story is filled with grit, humor and an undeniable call to action.  You will be moved by the love and dedication she brings to her mission, and amazed by the remarkable resilience of the animals under her care.

 

 

 

Monday
Feb242014

Best Workout Video when You’re on the Road

Even the most active travellers will tell you that not every day on the road is jam packed with opportunities for high-octane adventure.  Most who are travelling for weeks at a time rightly worry about missing their normal routine—and it’s no guarantee that the yoga classes or gym facilities offered will meet their unique fitness goals and needs.  But there are some amazing options for online training that can expertly fill the void, and our favorite by far is Brian Delmonico's Circuit of Change:  a challenging, routine of yoga, pilates, gymnastics, martial arts and movement—coupled with exercises in breathing and mediation that also calm the mind, and can easily reduce some of the inevitable stressors (like jetlag!) associated with long-distance travel. The exercises in the video above start off slow preparing the mind and body, and by the end you'll feel totallly invigorated.

Manhattan-based Delmonico has long been a favored trainer for high energy New Yorkers (his Circuit of Change bootcamp was named a “Best of” by New York Magazine in 2012).  His You Tube series offers videos of varying lengths and impact, designed to be done from your hotel room or private deck, or surrounded by inspiring landscape outside your luxury tented suite.  Anywhere you have access to a screen and internet connection, Circuit of Change will allow you stick to your exercise routine on the road, and maintain your accustomed level of fitness—thousands of miles away from your favorite yoga studio!

Ready for a physical, emotional and spiritual change? Watch the video and visit Circuit of Change's website where you can register for a class and sign up for Brian's incredible free motivating newsletter.

Tuesday
Feb182014

What to Pack for a Gorilla Tracking Safari

Packing for a Gorilla Tracking Safari

Gorilla tracking is arguably the most memorable experience you will ever have on an African safari, and knowing what to pack for gorilla tracking will certainly help you enjoy the activity even more!  Whether gorilla tracking in Rwanda, gorilla tracking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or gorilla tracking in Uganda—the best places in Africa to do so—you will never forget the pure entertainment of hanging out with gentle packs of mountain gorillas as they frolic, play, nap, and break bread over giant stalks of bamboo: just like your very own family!  (Though we do hope you feed your family more than bamboo).   Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo all feature mountainous rainforest terrain and—in some places—extinct volcanoes, and all are excellent natural habitats in which gorillas thrive.   But there are only around 800 mountain gorillas left in the world, so seeing them in the wild is not something most travelers will ever have the chance to do.  You want to make sure you don’t miss a thing for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Epic Road has come up with the following list so you will be fully prepared to join in the fun on your Gorilla tracking safari.

WHAT TO PACK FOR GORILLA TRACKING:

  • A small, lightweight day backpack
  • Light, water resistant hiking boots, with ankle support
  • Walking socks
  • Canvas or leather gloves (to protect your hands from ‘spiky’ vegetation)
  • Water resistant trousers/pants
  • Water resistant jacket or poncho, with hood (or water resistant hat)
  • Lightweight, quick-dry hiking trousers
  • Long-sleeved shirt (to protect arms)
  • A down/fleece vest or safari jacket
  • Water bottle or canteen (a packed lunch will be provided by your Lodge)
  • A camera or video-camera with high-speed settings (or ISO 800 speed film minimum—no flash photography is allowed)
  • Sunscreen & after-sun care
  • Insect repellent (30% DEET or more)

Still have more questions about how to plan for your gorilla tracking African safari?  Email Epic Road and learn how we can help! 

Thursday
Feb132014

Interview with Jena Gardner, Co-Founder of Bodhi Tree Foundation, on Safeguarding a Future for Africa's Elephants 

 

Jena Gardner - Bodhi Tree Foundation

The world’s elephants are under siege: It is estimated that four elephants an hour are lost across Africa, and over 90% of the elephant population has been decimated in the last 50 years alone.  Elephants are hunted primarily for their ivory, feeding an illicit global demand for ivory products that has deadly repercussions.  Epic Road sat down with Jena Gardner, Co-founder of the Bodhi Tree Foundation, to learn more about its new S.A.F.E. Campaigncreated to heighten awareness among travel providers and their clients about this alarming issue, and the important work the Foundation is doing to protect these beautiful creatures from extinction.  

1. What is The Bodhi Tree Foundation and what is its vision for the future of travel and the travel industry?

I co-founded The Bodhi Tree Foundation in 2009 with the idea of harnessing the significant resources of the travel industry and using them to protect places and support cultures in under-served areas around the world. We – as an industry and as individuals – have an important role to play in ensuring that future generations can experience the natural and cultural wonders of our planet, many which are under threat like never before. Since we created the foundation, I am pleased to say we have provided grants to 18 worthy grassroots projects all over the world.

As for the future, there is no shortage of important projects that need funding to continue their incredible work.  I would like to see The Bodhi Tree Foundation evolve to become a philanthropic platform where grass roots organizations  and travel suppliers can converge and showcase their philanthropic efforts to travelers and industry insiders.  Travelers are increasingly seeking authentic and enriching journeys, while travel consultants are looking to become more informed about responsible options.  At the same time, conservation-focused suppliers and charities are looking for ways to reach these audiences.  The Bodhi Tree Foundation can fill this void, and connect all of these groups. 

2. The Bodhi Tree Foundation’s main focus currently is the S.A.F.E. Campaign. What is the goal of this initiative and why is it so critically important now?

S.A.F.E. stands for Safeguarding A Future for Africa’s Elephants.  Its spark stems from a conversation I had in summer 2013 with my friends at Singita (one of our JG Black Book clients in Africa), in which I was first made aware of the dire situation facing Africa’s elephants: Elephants are being massacred across all of Africa right now because the desire for ivory, especially from Asia, is insatiable.  Over 90% of the elephant population has been decimated in the last 50 years, and 35,000 were killed in 2012 alone—that’s one elephant every fifteen minutes!  At this rate experts are predicting that elephants will be extinct by 2025, which is absolutely alarming. 

It’s unfathomable that my children may grow up and live in world where wild elephants don’t exist.   If we don’t do something now, elephants will be gone—vanished from the planet—and once that happens the population cannot be replenished.  

I work in the travel industry, have a number of clients in Africa and have been there numerous times myself, yet until that conversation I had no idea the severity of the poaching crisis.  So many of us serve as a reference point for travelers and we still don’t fully understand how the poaching crisis impacts us all.  The primary reason people travel to Africa is to go on safari and see wildlife: take the animals away, and you also take away much of the motivation to travel to Africa.  Many African countries also rely on tourism for their primary income, so a fall off would be devastating for their economies, and their people.  I believe our industry has a responsibility to help avert this, to educate ourselves and our clients on what is happening, and to also make a united commitment as an industry to protect Africa’s remaining elephants: now that would be a powerful thing!

3. The S.A.F.E. Campaign is a fundraising vehicle for beneficiary organizations on the ground in Africa that are already working to save Africa's elephants.  Which organizations are you partnering with and why have you chosen them?

After careful review, the Bodhi Tree Foundation Board chose four organizations based on the work they were doing in research, elephant protection and tackling the demand for ivory.  Each organization does incredible work, but vary significantly in focus.

African Wildlife Foundation funds and operates wildlife conservation initiatives, particularly zoning in areas where elephants are exceptionally vulnerable and in need of protection.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust works diligently in anti-poaching and is renowned for its orphaned baby elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in Kenya.

Save The Elephants conducts critical research and elephant protection initiatives and is seen as one of the foremost experts on this area.

WildAid focuses on public service messages and educational initiatives targeted solely on reducing demand for ivory in Asia.

Of course, there are so many other organizations doing incredible work for elephants.  We made a deliberate choice to support only a few partners at first, but as we further enhance our website we will be including other organizations so travelers can learn more and connect to them as well. 

4. How will the funds raised be allocated among the various beneficiaries? Can a donor choose how to allocate the funds?

It is important for us to enable donors to have flexibility and ease.  If they don’t have a direct preference, we will allocate the funds evenly among our four beneficiary organizations.  If they want to donate to a specific organization(s), they can do so through our website or by calling our main office. JG Black Book absorbs most administrative and marketing expenses, and we also rely on the generosity of corporate partners who donate their services, so we can keep our overhead costs low.

5. JG Black Book provides expert sales, marketing, public relations and distribution services to the world’s most exclusive travel experiences.  What role does JG Black Book play in the work of The Bodhi Tree Foundation and the S.A.F.E. campaign? 

JG Black Book is a for-profit travel marketing, communications and public relations firm, and The Bodhi Tree Foundation is able to harness our assets and long-term relationships to help move our efforts forward.  Being global citizens and stewards of the world’s most precious natural and cultural resources is a cornerstone of our company, and everyone on our team sees travel as a vehicle for making the world a better place now and in the future.  Many of the vendors we work with are equally passionate about the efforts of Foundation, and through donating their time and expertise they have been instrumental in launching the S.A.F.E. Campaign. We are truly thankful for their generosity and commitment.

6. The S.A.F.E. initiative was launched in December of 2013 and you have been fortunate in already gaining some of the biggest and best names in travel as donors, partners, and sponsors. To what do you attribute this success?

Many of our partners were already familiar with The Bodhi Tree Foundation when we approached them about the S.A.F.E. campaign, so the reception was very encouraging.  All of our partner organizations have one thing in common: a commitment to sustainable tourism and to giving back.

We also know there is strength in numbers, and the more who join in S.A.F.E.’s efforts, the more strength we will have to make a difference.  We encourage any organization or traveler with ties to African tourism—or who simply cares passionately about the continent and its wildlife—to get involved.

7. How can those who have not yet joined the S.A.F.E Campaign get involved?

There are so many ways! The most immediate is to make a direct donation via our website, the entirety of which will go to support our partner organizations in the field.  You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter--and please retweet and share our updates! If you're a travel provider you can write a blog post about the campaign on your company website,  or incorporate our messaging into itineraries, or designate a small percentage of your bookings for contributions to the campaign.  And for travellers who are planning a trip to Africa, I would encourage them to make sure to book with a responsible conservation-focused travel company. Anyone who has the opportunity to go on safari, or visit an elephant conservation project, and see these majestic animals in their habitat will understand: elephants share our planet and have a right to live peacefully on it. You will come back transformed, I promise. And then you can start to help S.A.F.E. transform the future for African elephants, and for us all.

Epic Road is a proud partner of the S.A.F.E. Campaign, creating signature travel experiences for travelers to Africa that include once in a lifetime elephant interactions and conservation experiences.  Contact Epic Road today to learn more about how we can arrange your visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can engage directly with the sweet, orphaned elephants the Trust is working tirelessly to save.  Or we can facilitate your private stay at Ithumba Camp where older orphaned elephants are reintroduced into the wild, and you will spend your days surrounded by these gentle giants, protected and thriving in their natural habitat. 

Friday
Feb072014

Big Bird Pelican and the Chimpanzees of Greystoke Mahale

Early in October last year a young Pelican rocked up on the beach at Greystoke Mahale in remote Tanzania, seemingly blown off course by a storm and a little discombobulated. He wandered into the mess, made friends with the staff, and generally made himself at home. He was named Big Bird and in the intervening months he's been learning to fish (quite successfully) and fly (less so). Various guests and the Mahale staff have been running hectically up and down the beach with arms flapping in an effort to show him how it's done. He's been a bit slow off the mark, but we're proud that he's finally taken to the sky and he's taken us along for the ride.

Greystoke Mahale sits on a pristine, white sandy beach overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Tanganyika, with the forested slopes of the 8000 ft Mahale Mountains rising behind. The Mahale Mountains are home to one of the largest known populations of wild Chimpanzees left on our planet.

Epic Road is a huge fan of Greystoke Mahale! It's perfect on its own or as as a complement to a great migration river crossing safari.

Thursday
Feb062014

Beyond and Great Plains Conservation Join Forces to Save the African Rhino

Beyond The Great Plains Rhino MicrochippingRhino poaching is at an all-time high, and rhinos in South Africa have been particularly hard hit:  an estimated 1004 rhinos lost to poaching in 2013 alone—that’s one every nine hours, and an increase of more than two-thirds since 2012.  Overall more than 90% of the world’s rhino population has been lost in the last 50 years and, considering that the remains of many lost rhinos are never discovered, the correct figure is likely much higher.  This is what filmmaker and Chairman of Great Plains Foundation Dereck Joubert calls the “Battle for Africa,” and two of Africa’s leading conservation companies have now joined forces to fight the war.

Great Plains Conservation, which uses tourism to support land preservation and ecological initiatives in Africa, is working with &Beyond, one of the world’s leading luxury experiential travel brands, to translocate rhinos from South Africa to the safe haven of Botswana.  Botswana is considered a beacon for animal protection, and has an excellent national security system in place to track poachers and protect endangered species.  Six rhinos were already translocated from South Africa last year, and on the heels of that success conservation teams from both organizations will capture and safely transport 100 more this year for release into Botswana’s remote wilderness.  Each rhino will be tagged and microchipped, and a dedicated anti-poaching team will then work in partnership with government agencies to monitor the animals, and then track their horn should they ever fall prey to poachers.

Joss Kent, &Beyond CEO, acknowledges that, apart from the right partner, a project of this size also requires a large pool of resources—an estimated $US 8million for the translocation alone.  And Joubert is quick to point out that this is far from “branded conservation.”  In order to succeed, rhino protection needs to be a global effort, and something everyone can get behind at a number of different levels.   Both Great Plains and &Beyond will oversee specific fundraising and support initiatives in which all stakeholders—travel partners, tour operators and guests—can participate in the fight to help save this iconic species, and ensure that Africa’s Big Five survive for future generations to enjoy.  Epic Road is doing its part by arranging signature experiences around rhino conservation for our clients, that allow them the amazing opportunity to join a top-notch anti-poaching team as they tag and microchip rhinos in the wild.  

The battle to save the rhino from extinction won’t be won tomorrow.  However, with joint initiatives such as this, neither will it be lost tomorrow.   And when what’s at stake is an animal’s very survival? Then there is little choice but to pull out all the stops to win the war.

 

Monday
Feb032014

Top Ten African Family Safari Lodges

Top Family African Safari LodgesPlanning the perfect family safari in Africa can be challenging: Your daughter wants to see an elephant, and your son wants to glide across the desert in a hot air balloon.  Dad wants to try out the new camera and photograph some lions, and Mom is in dire need of a day at the spa.  Epic Road will custom design your family's African safari to take everyone's desires into account and excite all of the members of your clan—from considering the animals you would like to see and the adventures you will share, to selecting luxurious and cozy accommodations where you will all unwind after a long day at play.  There are some amazing lodges across Africa that cater to guests of all ages, offering a dizzying array of activities and amenities to ensure that all family members are treated to an unforgettable experience.  Below Epic Road has compiled a list of the top ten safari lodges for families in Africa, from luxurious desert accommodations, to eco-friendly tented camps that put you in the heart of the action in the African bush.  All you need to do is tell us the major ingredients that will make your family safari perfect—and Epic Road will take care of the rest!

  • Londolozi Game Reserve – South Africa:  Londolozi is located on the Sand River in Sabi Sand Game Reserve, and boasts the highest concentration of white rhino and lions in the area. Londolozi encourages wildlife encounters that are adventurous and educational, and offers a number of creative camp experiences such as drumming, African dance and even bug catching that can be tailored to meet the preferences of all ages.
  • Azura Quilalea – Mozambique: This luxurious hideaway is the ultimate sea safari for your family. Azura Quilalea is located on a beautiful private island, with stunning seaside villas and plenty of opportunities to get up close with marine life. The whole family can participate in private diving lessons, kayaking through mangroves, and catered beachside picnics. You can also learn about local culture and history with an excursion to the amazing Ibo Island.
  • Sossusvlei Lodge – Namibia: Sossusvlei Lodge is situated alongside the oldest desert in the world, and its eco-friendly design melds harmoniously with the ancient natural landscape.  Guests have unparalleled access to outdoor adventures and animal sightings.  And for families that want to get their adrenaline pumping, Sossusvlei also offers eco-friendly quad biking trips, hot air ballooning and guided sunset walks.  
  • Clouds Lodge – Uganda: For those interested in tracking and observing primates in the wild, Clouds Lodge is the best spot for gorilla trekking in Uganda. The Lodge is located right next to the Biwindi Impenetrable Forest and near the Great Rift Valley, an area thought to be home to more than half the world's population of mountain gorillas.  Younger animal lovers will delight in watching baby gorillas play in the safety of their natural habitat. Each guest is also treated to his or her own private butler, ensuring that your family is looked after and pampered to the highest possible degree.  
  • Thornybush Game Lodge  South Africa: A five-star game lodge and popular event destination, Thornybush's offerings are diverse enough to accommodate large groups with ease. Their self-contained suites allow for privacy, while the expansive grounds with roaming wildlife make for constant entertainment.  The children will enjoy walking and driving safaris with their own personal ranger that are tailored to their age level and interests, while adults can indulge in some alone time at the spa or on a private cruise along the Blyde River Canon.
  • Selinda Camp – Botswana: Don't let the fun end when your family's safari is over.  The lodge at Selinda Camp, right in the heart of the Selinda Reserve, is adjacent to an area rich with wildlife, and you only need to step outside your doorstep to witness animals going about their daily routine. The nine luxury tents provide stunning views of the rolling landscape, as well as access to an open-air dining area and traditional evening campfires, where your children can sing songs and swap stories about their adventures. 
  • Singita Pamushana Lodge – Zimbabwe: This ecotourism reserve helps fund the protection of 130,000 acres of land next to the Gonarezhou National Park, and also participates in animal conservation and community development, so a stay at Singita Pamushana will also mean that your family is giving back.  Pamushana is home to hundreds of plants and animal species, including tourist favorites like the cheetah, lion, and klipspringer.  The reserve also contains a population of black rhino, one of the most endangered species in the world: if your family has the opportunity to catch sight of one in the wild, it is an experience you will never forget. 
  • Tswalu Kalahari  South Africa: For families seeking a more intimate getaway during their African safari, Tswalu Kalahari is located along a remote stretch of desert tucked between two towering mountain ranges.  Your family can enjoy the glorious comfort of newly redesigned luxury tented suites, and be tended to by your own butler, personal chef and private tour guide.  The adults in your group can also opt to join an expert anti-poaching team and help them tag and microchip endangered rhinos in the wild—an experience that will surely satisfy their desire for adventure!
  • Chem Chem – Tanzania: Enjoy the vintage feel of a safari campsite with the modern amenities of a luxury lodge. Chem Chem lies in the middle of a wildlife management area in Northern Tanzania, and the breathtaking scenery will inspire travellers of all ages. The main house includes a gourmet restaurant and bar with an outdoor fireplace, along with a deck and outdoor pool, which offer sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Apoka Lodge – Uganda: Apoka fully immerses you in the golden hills and grassy plains of Kidepo Valley National Park—the most remote national park in all of Uganda.  The wood, thatch and canvas rooms disappear into the orange of the landscape, allowing for a subtle presence that does not scare off wildlife. Your family can watch elephants, giraffes, zebras and wildebeest gather at the nearby watering hole, visit a local Karamojong tribal village and learn about their traditional way of life, and count the stars while relaxing in an outdoor bath. 

 

Wednesday
Jan292014

A Crush Heard Round the World: A Global Front Against the Ivory Trade Takes Hold

The ivory trade between Africa and Asia has a long and brutal history. Ivory in Asia—much like the diamond everywhere—is now a status symbol, and signifier of extreme wealth, used most commonly to carve buttons, combs, piano keys, and other trivial objects.  A pound of ivory in China can go for as much as $1,000 on the black market, which plays right into the pockets of the China's rising rings organized crime. Even more alarming: although it is thought that up to 70% of illegally obtained African Ivory is imported to China, 70% of Chinese polled in a recent survey by the International Federation for Animal Welfare (IFAW) were not aware that ivory came from dead elephants.

The seizure of illegally extracted elephant tusks reached an all-time high in 2011, with ivory from an estimated 4,000 plus animals flooding the market worldwide (though predominantly in Asia).  It is estimated that nearly 8% of the planet's elephants are poached every year, putting African elephants on the verge of endangerment. (And with only about 20,000 left, Asian Elephants are now officially considered an endangered species). Poachers will go to extreme lengths to remove elephant tusks, either by tranquilzing grown elephants, or using machine guns or chemicals like cyanide to murder dozens—sometimes entire families—at a time.  If the animals are not killed immediately, after mutilation an elephant’s chance of survival is nearly non-existent.

In recent months, the U.S. government has gotten involved in a growing global movement against the trade by supporting a number of public "ivory crushes."  Just last November, in Colorado, over 6 tons of illicit ivory—estimated to have been taken from at least 2,000 fallen elephants and seized over the past 25 years—were pulverized by an industrial rock-crushing device on loan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Not only was this event a symbol of the government’s dedication to combatting the ivory trade, it was also an opportunity to bring together a community of like-minded conservationists and government officials to create a dialogue and, hopefully, increase public awareness around the urgency of the issue.

Hope is not completely lost in Asia.  In June 2013, the Philippine government crushed and burned over 5 tons of smuggled ivory worth an estimated $10 million, and even China hosted its first crush early this year—an unprecendented display of comradery with anti-poaching activists in other parts of the world, and a signal that governments in Asia are ready to get on board with the message for consumers everywhere: The demand for ivory is destroying an entire popularion of animals.  And the best way to stop it? Simply stop buying.   

Monday
Jan272014

Interview with Samson Parshina, President & Chairman of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

Epic Road recently had the pleasure of speaking with Samson Parashina, President and Chairman of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. We discussed the inspiration behind the Trust, its unique mission and impact it’s having on the ground dealing with wildlife conservation and human/wildlife conflict, as well as preservation of the Maasai Culture.

1. What is the MWCT and what inspired its creation?

The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) is a community-based organization, founded in 2000 by Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi, founders of Campi ya Kanzi, our tourism partner.  The mission of the Trust is to protect biodiversity, encourage sustainable management practices, nurture young leaders, and empower local Maasai communities to play an active role in the conservation of their natural ecosystem (in this case, the Kuku Group Ranch concession in Chyulu Hills, also part of Campi ya Kanzi). 

Luca and Antonella worked hard to develop a pioneering partnership between professional conservationists and the Maasai community, and I proudly assisted them in communicating the key message that conserving wilderness and allowing wildlife to thrive can indeed be economically beneficial.  

2. What are the goals of the MWCT and where does the work primarily take place?

The work of the Trust takes place in the southern part of Kenya, specifically on the Maasai land that lies between the protected National Parks (Tsavo, Amboseli, Chyulu) within the world-famous Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and Chyulu Hills—Hemingway’s "Green Hills of Africa."  MWCT's programs operate in the collectively owned Kuku Group Ranch, an area of 280,000 acres, which contains critical wildlife migration corridors and habitat reserves, as well as rivers and springs that supply fresh water to more than 7 million Kenyans.

MWCT has three main programs areas: Conservation, Health, and Education, and the Trust manages a number of initiatives within each, including:

  • Sanctioning conservation zones to secure critical wildlife corridors, grassland reserves, watersheds, springs and forests.
  • Coordinating efforts to assess carbon credits proposals and other watershed services to bring additional revenue to the community as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).
  • Supporting 19 primary schools and one secondary school within Kuku Group Ranch, reaching approximately 7000 students.
  • Running Kanzi Academy, a special academy for highly talented students, along with a post-secondary training program in tourism. 
  • Conducting medical outreach to remote areas, and developing innovative ways to advocate for the improvement of health in Maasailand.  
  • Supporting four local health care facilities and employing the only doctor serving the community, along with nurses and support staff.

3. What makes the MWCT unique? How does it get its funding, and does it make a difference that the Trust is spearheaded by a Maasai? Can you elaborate?

MWCT’s model is unique in that our programs are designed to provide sustainable economic benefits to the Maasai.  By partnering with and employing local Maasai, MWCT ensures the community’s full participation in working to ensure our mutually beneficial long-term interests.

As an ambassador, I negotiate all MWCT agreements with local leaders.  My fellow Maasai embrace this, especially when they recognize that my efforts and their participation result in tangible economic benefits paid directly to them.  Before the existence of the Trust, the nearest healthcare service was 60km away.  Now, everybody in this community benefits, and understands that their future depends on the sustainable management and conservation of all natural resources, from wildlife to rangeland.

Our funding is providing trough the tourism partnership with Campi ya Kanzi and through fund raising efforts, spearheaded in the US by our US Chairman Edward Norton, who is also a UN Ambassador for Biodiversity.  We also have a multiyear funding platform, supported by organizations such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, Planet Heritage Foundations, and many others.

MWCT has also helped Kuku Group Ranch implement an innovative PES model, which levies a tourism surcharge of $100/day on every guest who stays at Campi ya Kanzi. Proceeds from the surcharge go to fund a number of Education, Health and Conservation programs.

4.  How does the MWCT take a collaborative approach to wildlife protection and Maasai Culture preservation?

Within the community, MWCT helps to organize the Maasai Olympics, which offers young Maasai warriors the alternative to compete athletically—not hunt and kill lions to prove their bravery, as would be a traditional rite of passage at this stage.  We also employ warriors to monitor our predator population, another way to encourage them embrace conservation, while still keeping them engaged with lions.

Outside the community MWCT works with several important public and private partners, including the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) to prevent illegal activities, reduce human/wildlife conflict, and monitor impact on biodiversity.  KWS has also provided professional training to our rangers and relies on them to manage the ecosystem fauna.

We also have a very productive partnership with the Zoological Society of London (with whom we have pioneered a monitoring protocol which will be adopted in the entire eco-system); with Conservation International (with whom we are developing a carbon credit PES); and with AECOM (with whom we are studying a watershed PES).

5.  What gets you excited about the work you're doing? Are you seeing an impact on the ground that is measurable?

On the ground, holistic conservation—which is what MWCT is all about—clearly pays off.  The Trust employs 247 people (not including the 70 people employed by Campi ya Kanzi).  We also support over 50 teachers and 20 local primary schools, which reach 7,000 pupils.  We supply health care to literally thousands of people who have never had access, and the wildlife population on our land—including predators—is steadily increasing.   All these point to a better livelihood overall for my community, and Trust just continues to grow.  I hope to not sound presumptuous, but I honestly think that what we do is simply amazing.

6. What's the easiest way for people to get involved with your work?

You can help us, and get involved in three main ways:

  • Come and visit. The ecotourism safari experience you will experience at Campi ya Kanzi is profound and unmatched in all of Africa, and the conservation fee paid to the Trust will ensure that your visit has a direct impact on preserving the very same wilderness, wildlife and people you will encounter while there.
  • Donate directly.  Your donations will help support amazing projects in conservation, education and health, and are tax deductible for both U.S. and Italian citizens. 
  • Doctors, nurses and teachers are encouraged to volunteer at MWCT, and we are working on developing other volunteer programs, as well as expanding community services opportunities for guests at Campi ya Kanzi. 

7. For people who do visit, do you see a transformation? Do any of them stay involved and, if so, in what capacity?

Each visitor to Campi ya Kanzi and, as such, to the Trust itself, have their own individual experiences, but guests who are willing to engage and learn get involved in a very profound manner with the Maasai culture, and often develop a strong sense of attachment, not just to the community but to our entire approach.  Our guests often leave impassioned, and with a strong desire to support us, and will do so in a variety of ways—donations, fundraisers, promoting us on social media etc.—and this ongoing dedication has certainly helped MWCT become what it is today.  We love showing our model to people around the world, and the ongoing support we continue to receive from past visitors is astounding.

 

Monday
Jan202014

The School of St. Jude: An African Success Story in Tanzania



Travelers to Tanzania head to the safari parks for that close encounter with Africa’s wildlife, clamber to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro or sip cocktails by the opalescent waters of Zanzibar. But thousands of visitors each year now enjoy a different experience:  an opportunity to visit one of the great success stories of East Africa. The School of St. Jude, founded by a young Australian woman, opened in 2002 with three students, and today there are over 1,650 bright students from impoverished families enjoying a totally free, high-quality education thanks to the support the school has received from individuals and groups across the globe. Without this opportunity, these students would have had little or no education, and would likely have continued living within the cycle of poverty into which they were born. Today, their futures are much brighter, as they work hard to achieve previously out-of-reach goals such as university degrees, running their own businesses and serving as future leaders in their communities.

Visitors to the school are able to spend a few hours touring the classrooms and facilities, or can take advantage of the onsite accommodations and enjoy a few days interacting with the students and staff in this unique institution. And Epic Road offers experiences that allow visitors the opportunity to deliver pre-packed care packages that include soccer balls or collapsible solar lights for students and their families, who otherwise would be relying on dangerous candles and kerosene lamps after dark. No visitor returns untouched by the humble circumstances and grateful Tanzanians who warmly welcome them to share some time and stories over a cup of chai or a soda in their homes – a truly memorable and enlightening experience.

Meet some of St. Jude’s students in the inspiring video above, and visit St. Jude's website to learn more about how you can support this very special group of children.

 

Friday
Jan102014

Winning the Battle for Africa

African Safari Facts

Just consider the following:

  • Every nine hours, a rhino is killed in South Africa
  • Five elephants an hour are lost across Africa
  • In the last 50 years 95% of the lion and leopard population in Africa has been lost
  • The single greatest threat to all of these and other big game species in Africa is illegal poaching

Statistics such as these speak for themselves, and what they are saying quite clearly is that, at current rates of loss, the extinction of some of the world’s most beloved species is imminent—in some cases perhaps as soon as the next five years.  This is what filmmaker and activist Dereck Joubert calls the “Battle for Africa,” and his Great Plains Foundation, launched late last year, is gearing up now to win the war on Africa’s wildlife. 

Great Plains Foundation is an offshoot of Great Plains Conservation, a commercial entity that works to conserve land in Africa by strategically acquiring areas under threat (often next to national parks and reserves) and by creating protected zones for carrying out sustainable economic initiatives like eco safaris or photo tourism. While preserving land in this way is an important first step to saving Africa's natural ecosystems—and while profits from these endeavors are in many cases invested back into the local communities that inhabit the land—the amount of acreage and resources in play is often not enough to protect resident wildlife.  This is where Great Plains Foundation comes in. 

Operating on all lands owned and managed by Great Plains Conservation, the Great Plains Foundation will work to identify initiatives and best practices for replenishing local wildlife and protecting species under threat from poaching.   While Conservation will continue to expand its holdings (GPC has set a goal of increasing the amount of land under management from 1 million to 5 million acres in the next decade) and run educational safaris for the public, the Foundation will concern itself with aggressive conservation initiatives that are expected to include species re-location and the creation of safe havens and breeding grounds for endangered animal populations; micro-chipping rhinos and elephants to track their horns; installing state-of-the-art security and anti-poaching monitoring systems in protected areas; and grassroots education campaigns to ensure that all members of Great Plains communities and beyond understand the unique threat facing each of Afria’s big species at this moment in time, and what they can do to help. 

But the Foundation is still new, and their work has just started.  To show your support and to make a donation, please visit their website to learn more about how you can help, and keep checking back on Epic Road's blog to follow future developments!

Tuesday
Jan072014

An Ivory Crush in China Turns the Tide

China Ivory Crush

 

An outstanding development in the fight against the illegal ivory trade: after years of not much progress, China held its first ever ivory crush in Guangdong province, publically destroying over 6 tons of ivory carvings, trinkets, ornaments and tusks.  While ivory crushes are common in the U.S. and Europe, until now efforts by conservation and anti-poaching activists in China have been largely thwarted by an insatiable demand for ivory among the country’s growing middle class.  The crush in Guangdong has now changed that, almost overnight.

The event was preceded by a story published a month earlier on the front page of Southern Weekly, one of the most influential news publications in China.  Entitled “Blood Ivory: Behind the Largest Ivory Smuggling Cases in China,” the piece named Chinese consumption of ivory as the main driver behind the alarming increase in elephant poaching in the past decade­­—more than 35,000 elephants were slaughtered for their tusks in 2012 alone, an overwhelming majority in Africa—and also directly established links between the ivory trade and rebel and terrorist groups in Africa.  The Southern Weekly story went viral almost immediately, garnering more than 10 million comments on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform used predominantly by the connected urban professional class. (In other words, affluent consumers—the very group that is driving the demand for ivory). 

The news also likely played a large role in spurring public and government support for the crush, which was broadcast on state television, sending a clear message that the Chinese government will be stepping up its efforts to punish those involved in the illegal smuggling, sale and purchase of ivory.   While only the first step, it is long overdue, and clearly one in the right direction. 

Monday
Dec162013

Elephant Orphanage Project: Raising Elephants and Awareness in Zambia

 

Elephant Conservation SafariWhen 86 elephants in the Republic of Chad fell prey to poachers last March, one little calf in particular made international headlines when he ran 30 miles to escape the poachers, and then returned to the scene of the crime in search of his mother.  Local villagers tried to save the orphaned elephant (eventually named Max) by feeding him cow's milk—the only resource they had on hand.  Sadly, cow's milk is poisonous for elephants, and Max did not survive.  But his moving story draws attention to the plight of orphaned elephants throughout Africa, and the importance of endeavors like the Elephant Orphanage Project in Zambia that work tirelessly to save and protect elephant calves in humane ways that will allow them to survive and, eventually, to thrive back in the wild. 

Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP) operates on a seven-acre homestead in the Kafue National Park—the second largest park in Africa, and one of the most pristine wildlife habitats for elephants and over 50 other species in Zambia.  On the homestead calves ranging from a few months to three years live under the watchful eye of wildlife experts, and are nurtured and allowed to grow in a protected environment.  Each of the elephants at EOP was separated from their families under devastating circumstances, and each was rescued from the wild and brought to the orphanage specifically to create a new kinship with other calves.  Trained keepers work around the clock, feeding bottled formula created specifically for elephant calves, and encouraging socialization with other orphans at every opportunity possible.

EOP started off small in 2008, and initially brought in only one or two orphans each year. Once word spread, however, community members began calling in with tips on orphaned elephant sightings, and EOP now rescues six or seven elephants annually.  Apart from nurturing the calves back to health—with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them back into the wild—EOP also works to raise awareness around poaching and its incredibly harmful consequences.  Staff at EOP offer information sessions every day to interested visitors and members of the community, and also produce a local radio show to educate all in the community on how to get involved in anti-poaching efforts at the grassroots.

When the time is right, and a calf has matured and healed from its trauma, orphans are released independently into the Kafue National Park at large.  Once an area active with poachers, the Park is now protected by active security surveillance and a protected orphan release site known as Camp Phoenix, where interaction with other herds and re-socialized elephants is maximized.  From there, the rescued elephants are free to go find a new herd, and live long, safe, happy lives the way they were intended to—in the wild.  

           


 

Friday
Dec062013

Interview with Kelvin Alie, IFAW Director of Wildlife Trade

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kelvin Alie, the International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) Director of Wildlife Trade. Kelvin has worked with IFAW for over a decade and is focused on law enforcement and curbing of wildlife trafficking that is putting enormous extinction pressures on wildlife across the planet. IFAW has been working for over 40 years to save individual animals, animal populations and their habitats around the world, and currently has projects in more than 40 countries. IFAW also runs a number of active ongoing campaigns to fight wildlife trafficking (think elephants, rhinos, and tigers), as well as defend whales and seals and rescue domestic animals.   

1. What is the IFAW Wildlife Trade Program and what inspired its creation?

IFAW was founded in 1969 to stop the annual mass slaughter of harp seals in Canada, so IFAW has been actively combatting the commercial wildlife trade since its inception. Because IFAW has always been concerned with the wellbeing of individual animals as well as the conservation of whole populations, it was a natural evolution to expand into other areas of commercial wildlife exploitation, both legal and illegal. About 16 years ago IFAW established a program department dedicated specifically to address commercial wildlife exploitation and trade.

2. What makes the IFAW Wildlife Trade Program unique? 

IFAW focuses on the welfare of individual animals and entire species. Most conservation organizations address global wildlife trade at the species level, a critically important issue to be sure, but IFAW adds an ethical dimension to its work that considers the cruelty and suffering endured by individual animals killed or captured for commercial wildlife trade. Our work connects animal welfare and conservation, demonstrating that healthy populations, naturally sustaining habitats, and the welfare of individual animals are intertwined.

In addition, with offices in 13 countries and projects in more than 40, IFAW operates on an international level, while at the same time benefiting from the local expertise and leadership in our field offices. Through strong international coordination, we leverage regional campaigns and projects to achieve global influence and impact. Our ability to operate both locally, regionally, and internationally, enables us to address the main drivers of wildlife trafficking -- insufficient regulation, inadequate policy, and growing demand -- along the entire wildlife trade chain. 

3. What are the goals of the IFAW Wildlife Trade Program and where does the work primarily take place? 

IFAW’s Wildlife Trade Program vision statement is: The welfare of wild animals improves through reduced consumption of wildlife and wildlife products and reduction in wildlife trafficking worldwide. Our goal is to have genuine impact on the commercial wildlife trade: to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the consumer demand.

IFAW has identified three fundamental threats to wildlife posed by global commercial wildlife trafficking: increasing demand for wildlife products; lack of wildlife law enforcement capacity; and uncontrolled and unregulated markets for wildlife products.

To address these threats we have developed four core areas of work:

  • Demand Reduction (primarily but not exclusively focused on China)
  • Internet Trade (which includes overlapping enforcement, demand reduction, and policy-change components)
  • Policy & Legislation (includes work done on a national level, as well as within international conventions and global institutions)
  • Wildlife Law Enforcement and Capacity Building (through training of customs and law enforcement officials, rangers and other frontline staff, and improving enforcement networks).  

4.  How does the IFAW Wildlife Trade Program take a collaborative approach and policy approach to curbing poaching? 

IFAW collaborates with local, regional, and international partners in many aspects of our work. We have been an NGO participant in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for many years and have contributed scientific research and our ethical perspective to their proceedings.

We have a unique and productive partnership with INTERPOL through which we have increased and intensified the impact of our wildlife law enforcement work, from holding joint wildlife law enforcement trainings to supporting enforcement operations in many countries, particularly in Africa.

Many of our country-specific projects are also based on collaborations with other organizations and government agencies. For example, in our Amboseli landscape elephant habitat protection project we work closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the local Masaai community, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, and the School for Field Studies. As part of our Liwonde National Park protection project, we partnered with the Microloan Foundation and Malawi government to establish the Chikolongo Community Fish Farm. We also work with many others on training workshops, policy change and legislative advocacy - including the Clinton Global Initiative, the International Ranger Federation, and partners of the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), just to name a few.

About two years ago, IFAW received a USAID grant via Freeland Foundation to implement the ARREST (Asia Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking) program in China. This year, we are again collaborating with Freeland Foundation, as well as with the African Wildlife Foundation, to establish a Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network (HA-WEN). The multiple crises affecting the world’s wildlife are too large from any one organization. IFAW recognizes this fact and acts on it in for the betterment of animals worldwide.

5.  Some people say that enforcement is only part of the solution and that to really stop these species from becoming extinct we need to focus on curbing demand and consumption of endangered species. Can you tell us about this and IFAW's efforts in the area? Besides enforcement do you get involved in public awareness initiatives?

IFAW is working to break the wildlife trade chain in source, transit, and end-user countries. We understand that curbing demand is one of the keys to winning the battle against wildlife trafficking, but changing consumer behavior is a long-term prospect. In the meantime, to reduce wildlife suffering and death – and to prevent the extinction of highly endangered species such as tigers, rhinos, and certain elephant populations -- it is important to stop poaching and prevent smuggling.

That said, IFAW has long been involved in consumer awareness and education campaigns. Although we’ve campaigned in European and African nations to encourage tourists not to buy wildlife products, our primary focus over the last few years has been China. IFAW continues to mount educational advertisements in public spaces, such as subways and airports; participate in educational events; and collaborate with government agencies to reduce the consumption of wildlife products such as ivory.

Additionally, IFAW’s ground-breaking investigations on wildlife trade on the Internet have led to tighter regulation, voluntary product bans by website owners, and increased consumer awareness of the deadly consequences of purchasing wildlife products - not just in China, but worldwide.

6. We recently heard about the Big Ivory Crush. We also heard about the book Elephants and Ivory that just came out this year. Can you tell us more about both and your involvement? 

IFAW played a central role in the events surrounding the US government's historic destruction of six tons of seized ivory in Denver, Colorado, in November 2013.  IFAW and WWF were the official government partners at the Crush, and together we planned and implemented activities that catalyzed the event and helped bring more global attention to the elephant crisis. Some of our efforts included:

  • Organizing an expert wildlife trade panel for one hundred top-tier media officials and VIPs;
  • Hosting a reception for the 225 guests invited to the Crush;
  • Facilitating media and VIP tours of the government seized wildlife repository;
  • Hosting a collaborative brainstorming session on the trade crisis attended by 50 NGO representatives;
  • Creating a 300 foot art-installation memorializing elephants killed for ivory; 
  • Hosting a private dinner for 50 top-level donors, celebrities, government officials (including FWS Director Dan Ashe), and other VIPs;
  • ·Securing IFAW celebrity spokespersons to attend the event and engage media: Joely Fisher; Kristin Bauer, star of True Blood; and Sex in the City star Kristin Davis. IFAW had also Goodall and Iain Douglas-Hamilton to attend the Crush before it was delayed, however they both generously agreed to have IFAW create a video of them that was played at the Crush 
  • Engaging national and international media with IFAW staff appearing in more than 150 print and broadcast outlets, including interviews on the CBS Nightly News, CNN, NPR, the Boston Globe, NBC News.com, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, International Press Service and the Associated Press.

7. What are some ways to get involved in IFAW's endangered species work?

  • Support IFAW with charitable donations.
  • Don’t buy wildlife products.
  • Respond to IFAW calls for action by sending letters, emails, and petitions to governments and businesses to demand effective protections of wildlife and an end to wildlife trafficking.
  • Educate family, friends, and colleagues about the poaching crisis and the urgent need to better protect wildlife and the world’s natural heritage.

IFAW believes that all life has intrinsic value: Individual animals, populations, species and the ecosystems in which they live all have worth, for their own sake, independent of their usefulness to humans. Therefore, IFAW is not just concerned about the survival and wellbeing of endangered species such as elephants and tigers, but of all animals.

 

Wednesday
Oct092013

Epic Road Launches Signature Rhino Conservation Safari 

Have you ever dreamed of meeting a Rhino?  Witnessing first hand their quiet lives of grazing, mud-bathing and secret late-night social gatherings by the waterhole.  This is how full-grown rhinos live in the wild: untouched and undisturbed, with no natural predators – except humans.

The rhino population has fallen over 96% in just half a century, and little of this decline is due to disease or change in natural habitat.   Today, the vast majority of rhinos are poached due to voracious global demand for their horns, which in China and other parts of Asia are erroneously believed to hold healing properties.   To combat this notion, and to raise global awareness around the issue of rhino poaching, Epic Road has partnered with organizations like South Africa’s Kwandwe Private Game Reserve to create signature travel experiences around anti-poaching efforts, including offering clients the once-in-a-lifetime chance to help track and microchip rhinos in the wild—a surefire way to prosecute poachers and protect wild rhinos.  

Microchips are not tracking devices, but rather serial numbers that can immediately tell global law enforcement agencies the exact origin of a horn.   Anti-poaching teams like those at Kwandwe patrol thousands of miles of African wilderness in search of would-be poachers, and combine monitoring, a top security unit, and DNA banking to ensure the best rhino protection possible. 

Epic Road participates by giving passionate travelers a rare opportunity to help directly preserve an endangered species by arranging for clients to accompany specialist ranger teams on dart-and-microchip missions.  These exhilarating trips begin with sedation of the rhino, by helicopter, for safety.  Afterwards, participants join the team on the ground and help in administering medication, taking measurements for scientific and medical purposes, performing a DNA test and monitoring the animal while still sedated.  They help drill small holes in the horns in order to insert the microchips, attach a tracking anklet and perform ear-notching procedures for future identification. Afterwards, guests can enjoy a breathtaking aerial exploration of the reserve by helicopter—where they will witness the newly microchippled rhino run off unharmed, yet protected. 

Epic Road client Amanda Manchia recently traveled to Kwandwe, along with Epic Road co-founder Mark Lakin, where they joined in on tracking a rhino calf and his two ton mother.

“It was a really cold morning on safari--winter in the Eastern Cape,’” says Lakin. “When the rhino went down, Amanda and I were there to help. It’s a very hands-on experience. I was able to feel the difference between the soft underbelly of the rhino and the hard outer layer. I felt the pads on his feet; the hair on his ears and face. I was so chilly at a certain point that I huddled myself in between the calf’s stomach and front legs, and drew heat from his body.”

Manchia describes the feeling as singularly moving, and unexpectedly emotional. “It was an incredibly special feeling to be that close to a prehistoric beast and to feel so safe. You have feelings of care and empathy, and a newfound understanding of why this species needs to survive.  This was a transformative and thrilling experience that was both exciting and inspiring for me."

Epic Road offers this signature activity at several different game reserves.  Prices for a personalized Rhino Microchipping experience start around US$2300 per person, and can be incorporated as an add on to custom-designed itineraries that include traditional safari activities.  Watch a video here of a Microchipping in action, and hear more from Mark and Amanda on this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thursday
Sep262013

Tips for Your Family's Luxury African Safari

 

luxury family safariThere is no travel experience more memorable than one shared across generations, and there are a number of luxury family safari options that allow you to explore Africa's wildlife and vibrant culture safely in the company of those you know and trust the most.  Depending on the country and activities you choose, children as young as three can journey with their family in Africa, and many companies offer game drives that can accommodate those as young as eight.   Of course, only you know what’s best for your children, but as rule ask yourself basic questions like:

1.)  How well do your children listen?

2.)  How well do they take instruction, especially regarding safety tips?

3.)  Do you feel comfortable giving your children preventatives for Malaria and other diseases that pose a potential risk?

To better prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, Epic Road offers some additional tips on how to tailor a holiday in Africa to appeal to family members of all ages – and make the trip one that will be remembered fondly for years to come! 

Plan Ahead

After taking a look at the Best Time to Go On A Safari and working with ER to decide on the right country and time of year to go, get ready to start prepping for your family’s African Safari. Two important factors that will ensure a safe holiday are visas and vaccines. Although ER will help you along the way, be sure to do your research on both of these things well ahead of time. 

Each country has different laws regarding visas, some of which require you to apply in advance, while others you can get upon arrival. To find out the specific visa regulations for the African country your family is visiting, we recommend consulting with an official passport and visa service agency like Visa HQ

Your family’s health is the main priority while on an African safari, so make sure you know exactly what vaccines are required before you leave. Once again, this will vary country by country but we have found the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be helpful in making this information readily available for travelers. 

Read Up

Although the unexpected surprise of stumbling on a herd of elephants while on an African safari can be thrilling, it is important that your family goes into the experience as well-informed as possible. This is especially true of younger children, but all travelers can be startled when seeing wild creatures up close! Familiarize yourself with some of the animals you are bound to see, like the Big Five, so seeing them up close is more of a pleasant surprise than a shock!

Safety precautions are also something you need to discuss beforehand. Your safari guide will brief you on the rules, but be sure your family remembers to:

  • Wear thick boots and socks in order to avoid stepping on any venomous creatures
  • Avoid swimming in bodies of water unless a guide says it is safe
  • If in a car: stay inside the vehicle and don’t stand or stick any limbs out the windows
  • If by foot: follow your guide, walk slowly and stay alert

Get Ready

To make the most of the heat, keep these tips in mind when preparing your family the morning before your big African safari!

  • Don't leave without lots of sunscreen, bug spray, and water! 
  • Stick to light colors so the sun and bugs stay away
  • Pick moisture-wicking materials to ward off discomfort from the heat
  • The sun can be a lot to handle, so keep sunglasses and brimmed hats on hand

For more useful tips and information, check our blog weekly!

 

Monday
Sep232013

The New Place for Secluded African Luxury Safaris

luxury african safari 

“Why does it seem everyone is going to Namibia?” The question, overheard at an end-of-summer gathering of creative urban nomadic types, could certainly elicit a number of responses.

Maybe, for the nature lover, they opt for a luxury safari to explore the country’s deep diversity of animal and plant wildlife.  For the artist, to soak up the endless Namib Desert vistas, punctuated by rolling reddish pockets of pristine dunes.  For the adventure junkie, to surf the rocky, rugged Skeleton Coast, in misty waters still haunted by the ghosts of ancient shipwrecks.  And—perhaps of particular interest to overcrowded New Yorkers—many go to simply just feel the almost divine sense of utter remoteness that stems from time spent in one of the least densely populated places on earth.  There is no better cocktail for inspiration than isolation, surrounded by spectacular natural landscapes, with opportunities for life-changing encounters thrown in.  

Unlike other destinations where “everyone” seems to be going these days, the Namibia experience is not about exporting Brooklyn or Burning Man to the African desert.  Namibia’s history runs deep, its ethnic and cultural makeup is highly diverse, and it is also home to some of the oldest—and still most isolated—tribal communities on the continent. 

True, travelers to Namibia can arrange to go on a desert safari to see first hand rare species like the Black Rhino; engage in adrenaline-fueled activities like ATV off-roading or hot-air ballooning across the dunes at Sossusvlei; and relax afterwards in romantic resorts that boast high organic design, and even higher rustic luxury.   When traveling to Namibia via Epic Road, however, you will also have the opportunity to engage in a mind-altering exchange of culture, social enterprise and good will that can (quite literally) enlighten your life—and the lives of the communities you visit—forever.

Participating in a Luci Solar Light drop is one of the most unique elements of an Epic Road expedition, and one that also encompasses our core mission of transformative travel.  Partnering with MPOWERD Inc, a B-corp enterprise that sells innovative and affordable solar powered products, Epic Road is working to develop local, micro-distribution channels to bring Luci lamps to members of the nomadic Himba tribe.   A Luci drop can be included as part of an itinerary personalized by Epic Road, where you can also experience the privilege of visiting and working with communities within range of Serra Cafema, one of the most remote camps in all of Africa.  In the words of one Epic Road traveler, time spent working with the Himba sent her home with a “renewed sense of self, that any obstacle is surmountable, and that anything is possible.” 

 Why is everyone going to Namibia?  If anything is possible, perhaps, the question should be: Why Not?