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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Precision Air - Flight changes

Effective April 1, Precision Air will change its schedule as follows:

PW701 from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam will depart at 23h30, arriving at 04h10
PW700 from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg will depart at 16h30, arriving at 19h15.

Zanzibar connections – the following flights connect:

PW421: Zanzibar/Dar es Salaam 12H05 12h35
PW423: Zanzibar/Dar es Salaam 14H40 15h10

Kilimanjaro connections – the following flights connect: (The airline is, however, looking at the 13h10 flight out of Kilimanjaro for connecting Serengeti passengers)

PW421: Kilimanjaro/Dar es Salaam 10h30 12h35
PW423: Kilimanjaro/Dar es Salaam 13h10 15h10

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Kenya- Tourism minister replaced.

The Kenyan tourism industry has been taken by surprise with the unexpected announcement that Kenya's tourism minister Nagib Balala has been replaced. A cabinet reshuffle announced yesterday afternoon in Nairobi revealed that Kenya’s Minister of Tourism, Balala been removed from his ministerial post and replaced by a relatively unknown assistant agricultural minister, Danson Mwazo.

Balala was last year elected as Chairman of the UNWTO Executive Committee, a post he is now expected to relinquish.

The moves come ahead of the general election expected to be held in March 2013 but still subject to controversy.

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Friday, 23 March 2012

The Yellow-Eye Pride of Abu Camp

07 Mar 2012
Sighting: The Yellow-Eye Pride... An Amazing Story
Location: Abu Camp, Abu Concession, Botswana
Date: 28 February 2012
Observers: Joseph Molekoa, Motamo Mate, Ben Ndjavera, Jaco Tlotlego, Mike and Anne Marchington, Julian Münder, Nina Reichling, Caylee Christos and Virgil Geach.

Since the annual inundation started subsiding on the Abu Concession last year in September, we have been getting to know the Yellow-Eye Pride of lions: A tenacious lioness with her three offspring, who are now about two years old, two males and a female. Naming them the Yellow-Eye Pride stems from the fact that one of the young males has amazingly bright yellow eyes.

The dominant female is an extremely adept hunter, taking down large prey such as young giraffe, large male kudu, roan antelope, zebra as well as regular smaller kills such as impala, all of which have been well photographed. The best photographs we have so far of the youngsters is when they came across a pangolin one morning. Guests were treated to the most amazing spectacle of them playing with the rolled up scaly ant-eater, as if it were a football.

The pride have become very accustomed to our game drive vehicles, to the extent that the young female likes to follow the vehicles for a short distance when the guides pull out of a sighting.

We have all become rather possessive over this pride, having got to know them so well. Life around our camp is harsh for the lions, which constantly have to compete with the dominant predator - the hyaena. With the large hyaena clans that continually skulk around their territory, lion and leopard continually have to defend their prey and they often lose their bounty to these formidable packs. The Yellow-Eye Pride seems to have managed well and has been witnessed teaching a couple of hyaena a lesson when they get too close to their dinner - but they have also been observed losing the battle, so they have been found hunting as much in the day as they do at night.

On the 28th of February, a disturbing incident took place.

Guides had heard some lion interaction near the airstrip and decided to investigate. The first sign they picked up, besides their tracks in the sand, was a splash of fresh blood in the middle of the road. Thinking that the lions had just made a kill, they followed. What they found was not what they expected: a large, black-maned lion lying in a clearing. Their immediate thoughts were that this intruder had come into the area and managed to chase the Yellow-Eye Pride off their kill. This was not so.

A short distance from where the intruder lay, they came across the Yellow-Eyed male - he was clearly badly wounded and the blood we had found was unfortunately his. While still observing, the large male got up and approached the young male once again who tried desperately to back away, cowering, growling and mewing. He was begging for his life. Fortunately the big male did not attack again. He scent-marked, raked the ground and moved off without so much as looking back at the havoc he had just wreaked.

The guides continued to observe the young male who then bravely got up, and literally dragging his hind quarters behind him, moved into the thicket on a nearby island. The news spread around the concession and a veil of sorrow hung around the camps.

That evening, some of the managers approached the island where the young male was last observed - they could see eyes shining in the spot light but no sound or movement. The worst was feared.

The following afternoon, another contingent of managers went to visit the island, not a blade of grass moved. Just as the sun was going down, the remaining three pride members appeared from the tall grass. It was pitiful; they approached the island uttering low mewing sounds, calling their fallen family member. It was extremely difficult to say whether there were any answering calls coming from the island and all watched in great sorrow. The pride stayed for a few minutes and then left the island heading south over the wet floodplains uttering soft calls as they departed. Everyone felt that a conclusion had been reached - he was dead.

The remaining three members of the pride have been seen in and around the area since then. On at least three different occasions when the pride was spotted, they appeared restless, uttering the same soft mewing calls. This is apparently not unusual behaviour for a pride that has recently lost a family member.

The three remaining Yellow-Eye Pride members have been spotted and photographed by guides and guests quite regularly this month and on the 11th of March, our Dutch guests at Seba had a morning game drive out of the top drawer.

Their first exciting encounter was with a leopard, sitting in the middle of the road. The sheer size of the beast automatically indicated that it was a male. Their guide, Joseph, immediately stopped the vehicle and all the guests got their cameras ready to photograph him. As they honed in on the creature, he suddenly shot off into the tall grass next to the road and came out with a kicking, struggling steenbok clamped in his jaws. As soon as he managed to get his kill under control he slowly dragged it back into the tall grass where they lost sight of him.

As if this was not enough excitement for one day, they had no sooner left the leopard sighting when they came across the three members of the Yellow-Eye Pride a short distance further, swimming across a deep channel. They were lucky enough to be able to follow the trio who were then observed climbing a fallen baobab tree nearby. Not too shabby for a morning drive!

On their last morning at Seba, the 13th of March, our Dutch guests were treated to the most amazing sight of all. They were once again driving in the vicinity of fallen baobab, when they came across the Yellow-Eyed male! The news has spread like wildfire filling the camps with huge excitement and anticipation.

He is very thin and walking with a limp but he is still alive! He was observed again this afternoon lying in a thicket calling his pride. For a short while our spirits are lifted - now we all hold thumbs that he can pull through.

The last time that the pride of four was seen together on a kill was the 25th of February when they were found feeding on a large male kudu. Considering that he has managed to stay alive for 19 days with such bad injuries, one has to ask the question: has he had help from his pride?

I am really not certain if any observations have ever been made of "Brood Care" among lions but all of us who have been observing this pride on the Abu Concession are of the opinion that the three healthy members of the Yellow-Eye Pride have been caring for their stricken son and brother. Is this fact or fantasy?

We'll continue to observe and report back on our findings and let's hope it has a happy ending.

By Anne Marchington

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Mombo Camp Switches to 100% Renewable Energy

On 7 March 2012, following an investment of BWP6 million (US$ 860 000), Mombo Camp officially switched over from diesel-powered generators to renewable solar energy.

Since the announcement, plaudits have been rolling in for what is most likely Botswana's largest solar array and the news has sped excitedly around the Wilderness staff family both in Botswana as well as other parts of Africa. According to Group Sustainability Director, Derek de la Harpe, "Wilderness will not build another camp without incorporating a major element of renewable energy. At the same time we have embarked on an ambitious retrofitting process with Mombo now joining Xigera, Kalahari Plains, Banoka Bush Camp and Zarafa as being 100% solar powered. Over the course of 2012 we anticipate completing this process for at least another three camps, the rebuilt DumaTau among them."

The Mombo solar array consists of 396 photovoltaic panels of 230W each, with 194 batteries. This equates to a 91 kilowatt array that produces in excess of 450kWh per day. In addition 30 solar geysers have reduced the need for fossil fuel usage even further meaning that the risk (and carbon footprint) of delivering fuel to Mombo across the fragile Okavango Delta is even further mitigated.

In simple terms this means that reduction in expected carbon emissions for Mombo over 2012 are of the order of 97%! We thus expect to emit only 6.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents over the course of 2012 compared to 215 tonnes during 2011.

As Wilderness Safaris Botswana MD, Grant Woodrow, said at an announcement in Maun, "This has been a mammoth task, and many contractors and Wilderness staff need to be congratulated for taking this bold financial step and getting the job done. Pula!"

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Good News: Reintroduced lions thriving in Karoo National Park

The lions released into Karoo National Park in November 2010 have adapted well to their new home and are in excellent condition. Both Park rangers and visitors have reported sightings of the lions at various areas in the Park over the past year and the lions have definitely brought a new aspect to wildlife viewing in the Great Karoo.

South African National Parks (SANParks) took the decision to introduce lions to the Karoo National Park in a bid to restore the natural functioning of the predator-prey balance in the ecosystem as well as to ensure that all historically-occurring species are once again conserved in the Park.

Eight lions were originally translocated to the Karoo National Park from Addo Elephant National Park. Three of these lions were part of the original group of lions brought into Addo in 2003 from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Kgalagadi lions were chosen for their genetic similarity to the Cape lions which would historically have occurred in the area and for their disease-free status. Lions can suffer from diseases such as tuberculosis and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) which can be transmitted to other species.

Two of the lions have satellite collars which enable rangers and researchers to track their whereabouts for monitoring purposes. Visitors can also enquire about the latest location of lions at reception to enhance chances of spotting lions.

According to rangers and researchers, although the lions originally preyed on a few different species of animals in the Park, they have now begun to concentrate mainly on gemsbok.

Lions seem to frequent the area around the Park's 4x4 trails: Afsaal, Nuweveld and the area around Embizweni cottage. The lionesses and subadult lions also move to the area around the Doornhoek picnic site at times while the male lions sometimes appear around the Lammertjiesleegte and Restcamp areas.

Preceding the introduction of lions, the restcamp area, including the fossil trail, swimming pool and accommodation units as well as the camping ground were fenced with low-level electrified fencing to allow visitors the freedom to walk around this area. Doornhoek picnic site, the Ou Schuur Interpretive Centre and Bulkraal day visitors' site are also fenced. To cater for those who always enjoyed exploring the Karoo on foot, the Park now offers free guided walks (subject to availability) with an armed ranger to day and overnight visitors.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Good News: Serengeti Legal Case Going to Trial

The East African Court of Justice ruled against objections by the Tanzanian government and decided that the legal action against a proposed commercial highway across the Serengeti could proceed to a full trial.

A legal case was filed in December, 2010, in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW), a Kenyan nonprofit organization. It challenged the Tanzanian government's right to build a highway across the Serengeti National Park.

This case is significant in its own right, as it could stop future plans to build a commercial corridor (which might include a railway!) through the Serengeti ecosystem.

But the case is also significant for several other reasons:
• It was initiated completely by a local East African conservation organization, not a foreign NGO, government, or UN body.
• It operates within the legal framework of an East African court system designed expressly to deal with such issues.
• It is a test of the power and jurisdiction of the EACJ to decide on transboundary issues within East Africa, especially those relating to conservation.

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Monday, 19 March 2012

Sad News: Two Rangeres killed by poachers.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has announced that two of its rangers were killed on duty whilst on a patrol mission to remove wire snares used to kill wild animals on Sagala Ranch on the edge of Tsavo National Park; the rangers were ambushed by poachers who shot them and stole their rifles and bullets.

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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Elite anti-poaching canine unit to track poachers.

The National Park Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo has deployed an elite anti-poaching canine unit to track poachers.

The first operation of the specially-trained bloodhounds was launched after a succession of elephant-poaching incidents in Virunga National Park. The operation lasted two days and resulted in an armed contact between park rangers and suspected elephant poachers followed by the recovery of an illegal cache of weapons.

Through routine park aerial surveillance, the dead elephant was discovered in the savannah region on the eastern edge of the park with the tusks cut off its face. Two of the park's five bloodhounds were deployed by air with their handlers, together with a trained ranger protection unit.

Once at the scene, they followed the scent for 7km - directly towards a small fishing village. A unit of rangers patrolled the area through the night, and in the early morning intercepted a group of suspects who opened fire.

After a short exchange, the suspects fled leaving their rifles on the scene. The park will continue the investigation.

Park authorities believe the new bloodhound programme will have a significant impact on the poaching problem in the park, particularly in protecting the vulnerable elephant population as demands for ivory increase worldwide.

Dr Emmanuel de Merode, the park's chief warden, commented on the operation saying: ‘We are extremely pleased with the outcome. After a year of intensive training, both the hounds and the rangers proved to be very effective weapons against ivory poachers.'

The training was carried out by a specialised Swiss centre, which has trained many of the police canine units in Europe and North America.

Dr Marlene Zähner, who leads the training programme, said: ‘The rangers of Virunga National Park are exceptionally motivated, professional, and talented men who have learned the skills as fast and effectively as any of the teams I have trained elsewhere in the world. I feel very proud of their achievements.'
The canine unit will continue to be deployed in Virunga National Park as part of a European Union funded programme to protect the park's exceptional wildlife.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Migration Movement Update

In the last days the majority of the migration was back in the Ndutu area with their calves. Thousands of wildebeest and zebra are also around Ubuntu South. Olakira guests are perfectly placed driving towards Ubuntu location (Ubuntu closed for the season this week).

Naboisho Camp in Kenya reported thousands of wildebeest (image) and zebra arriving from the Loita Plains, filling the grassland plains and providing guests with perfect migration images. These herds do not normally reach the Reserve and are confined to conservancies to north of the Mara.

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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Kenya’s new deep draft "World Class" Port

Work has started on Kenya’s new deep draft "World Class" Port which has received extensive media exposure this weekend.

Where is it?
The northern Kenyan coastal town of Lamu

What’s it all about?
Well, if you build a port, the ships will come. If you build a railway, the trains will run. If you build a pipeline, the oil will flow. If you build all of the above, as intended by the new Ethiopia-Kenya-South Sudan axis, then you might just revolutionise the lives of people in East Africa forever.

What’s it costing and why?
Underlying the construction of an estimated $24-billion port, which officially started on Friday, the port section alone taking 4 years, is Kenya’s vision of the future, a bustling hub of trade in the pre-colonial era, restored to its former glory as East Africa’s premier centre of commerce.

• Replacing fishing trawlers and dhows will be huge ultra-large crude carriers and cargo ships waiting to take East African oil and manufactured goods to the markets of the world.

• Leading to the port are standard gauge railways from Ethiopia and South Sudan, giving both land-locked countries a lifeline to the sea.

• Fibre optic cables take high-speed low-cost Internet to the heart of Africa

• A massive pipeline from South Sudan keeps the oil flowing – to the tankers.

• Border controls are all but eliminated, making the movement of products and people across East Africa effortless.

As visions of the future go the leaders of the countries concerned Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia were certainly enthusiastic at the ground breaking ceremony last week, the beginning of an optimistically estimated four years of construction for the port itself.

So what are the objections?

• Environmental, as the construction will inevitably eat into the area’s mangrove forests.

• Local land rights, with residents concerned that they will be forced off their land to make way for the new development. Already there have been some allegations of profiteering, as those in the know bought up land years ago at a pittance, ready to sell it at vastly prices now. To allay these concerns, the government has pledged to build a technical college in the area and provide at least 1,000 jobs to locals.

• Lamu’s proximity to Somalia. The area is currently within o an FCO "non-essential" travel warning zone and thus a no go area for international shipping.

• Lamu is a world heritage site, famed for its old African-Muslim architecture. Critics are worried that much of this will be wiped out by the development.

So what happens now?
The most obvious problem is funding. Rumours abound, perhaps private equity firms and/or the Chinese. Certainly the Kenyan taxpayer will be footing some of the bill, with an initial $30-million invested at this stage.

Will it work?
It’s still very early days in the life of Lamu’s new port. There’s enough regional support for the project, it’s been well planned in terms of communications and transport linkages and, while money to complete it will be difficult, it is feasible, especially with South Sudan’s oil at the center of the plan.

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Kenya's elephants are being thrown a much-needed lifeline.

Kenya's elephants are being thrown a much-needed lifeline in response to mounting threats and the resurgence of the world's illegal ivory trade. Creating elephant-friendly and elephant-free zones, along with wildlife corridors and heightened law enforcement, are some of the bold initiatives to be rolled out as part of Kenya's first 10-year national strategy for the conservation and management of elephants.

Developed by conservationists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Kenya Wildlife Service and other partner organisations, the strategy's launch comes after a recent surge in poaching. This worrying development is sparking fears of a re-run of the catastrophic slaughter of elephants in Kenya during the 1970s and 1980s, which resulted in numbers crashing from 167,000 to just 20,000 individuals.

Rajan Amin, a senior conservation biologist at ZSL who has been one of the lead authors in compiling the strategy, says: "Kenya is surrounded by countries in conflict and the continual and inevitable flow of arms is rendering the nation and its elephants at constant risk; all the more worrying in the face of a growing demand for ivory.

"The launch of this ground-breaking national strategy comes at a critical time for Kenya's remaining 35,000 elephants. As well as tackling the pressing issue of poaching, overcoming the challenges associated with Kenya's growing human population will be essential if we are to secure a safe and lasting future for this national treasure."

Kenyan elephant coordinator Dr Shadrack Ngene, says: "The elephant is a keystone species and maintaining a healthy population is vital to the long term ecological integrity of its entire habitat. Feeding from the strategy's seven key objectives, specific actions and measurable targets will now begin to be implemented at both local and national level to help maintain and grow elephant populations in Kenya."

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