Best Safaris in Africa cont……
– Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda
With less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world, seeing some of these magnificent, intelligent creatures is a must for an African safari tour. Even though you only get to spend an hour with a gorilla family per trek, the excitement of getting close to such huge, gentle but wild animals is a thrill few get to experience.
When visiting gorillas there are two main things that need to be understood;
Firstly, the gorilla trekking fees are expensive but when taken in context, it just seems that it is a bargain at the price. Here my math background comes to the fore, so bear with me. There are 10 habituated families in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, eight permits per day are allowed per family, making it 80 permits per day and at the current cost of USD1500 per permit, this amounts to USD 120 000 per day. This money is used to maintain the park, its roads and infrastructure, its boundaries, pay the staff, share the spoils with the surrounding villages so that they benefit and are incentivised to protect rather than destroy the gorillas. Should the gorillas wonder into the villages and destroy their crops, the villages need to be compensated. All this on USD 120 000 per day (assuming all the spots are full every day).
Secondly, the issue of permits is on a first come, first serve basis. All the slots for one family are filled before booking for the next family starts. These permits are booked well in advance and there is no way to predict whether the family will be close to or far away from the starting station. This may mean that for some people a trip of a couple of hours over a bumpy road followed by a trek into the forest that could be anything from a few minutes to several hours is in the offing. For this reason, a reasonable level of fitness is required. It is however possible, in extreme cases, for a visitor to be carried through the forest on a rudimentary stretcher to visit the gorilla family. This is quite an expensive exercise, but possible.
Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are the two other places that gorilla trekking can be experienced. The only two locations in the world are the Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in Uganda and the Virunga range of mountains that spans Rwanda and the DRC. Due to the current fighting and Ebola outbreak, we do not recommend trips to the DRC, only safaris to Uganda and Rwanda.
Is gorilla trekking better in Rwanda or Uganda?
It is often asked which is better, Uganda or Rwanda and the answer is the experience in both is almost identical. Having said that several issues will help you decide which option you would prefer. The permits in Uganda are currently US$ 700 but getting to the Bwindi area in the far south-west of the country is more expensive and if you are driving it takes a full day to get there. Volcanoes National Park is only a two-hour drive on good roads from Kigali in Rwanda, so access is quicker and less costly. The add-on safari options in Uganda are many a varied and include Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semuliki National Park and Murchison Falls (to name a few) while it is only really Akagera in Rwanda that works as an elegant add-on to a gorilla safari in that country.
Fun Fact: Some gorillas in captivity have managed to learn sign language.
– Desert Adapted Rhino and Elephant of Namibia
When speaking of African safari tours, very few can compare with trekking the desert adapted rhino or elephant of the Damaraland and Kaokaland regions of Namibia, collectively known as the Kunene region. What is less well-known is that there are also desert adapted lions that frequent this area as well.
When referring to the desert adapted rhino, we are referring to a black rhino in particular. These rhinos can be told apart from other black rhino as their horns are slightly longer and thinner than their cousins. They are also for the most part solitary with the exception being mother a calf who can be seen together for about 2 years. With a range of about 500km² in an area just smaller than Belgium, you will have to work for your sighting, but this is what makes and Africa safari tour so special.
The desert adapted elephant are not a separate species but have adapted certain characteristics to cope with the harsh environment they live in. They, on the whole, weigh less, have longer legs, wider feet and destroy less trees than their savannah counterparts. The family groupings are also smaller.
The desert adapted elephants get their water from the vegetation they eat and the waterholes in the region. Waterholes are often great distances apart, so the elephants have adapted to be able to survive for several days without water. This is in stark contrast to their adult cousins that need in the region of 150 to 180 liters of water per day.
A small population of desert adapted lions live in the northern Namib Desert of Namibia. It is the only place in the world where lions naturally occur against the background of sand dunes or on a beach. The harsh conditions, extreme heat during the day and cold nights, barren gravel plains and mountains and looming dunes have forced these lions to adapt their feeding habits, patterns and ranges to survive.
Occasionally some of these lions are seen on the Skeleton Coast and have been known to kill seals. Other food sources are birds, porcupine and oryx.
Their wide ranges inevitably bring them into conflict with the human populations of the area where easy prey in the form of cattle, donkeys and sheep are available. It is an ongoing battle to manage these situations and preserve the last vestiges of these uniquely adapted beasts.
Fun Fact: Desert adapted rhino are nocturnal in order to miss the heat of the day.
– Lemurs of Madagascar
The most famous of all lemurs is King Julien of Madagascar movie fame. Contrary to the character in the movie, lemurs have very few pretensions and are as unique an ingredient in an African safari tour as you are likely to find. Occurring only in Madagascar and a few in the Comoros, over 100 species of lemur range from big to small.
The biggest is the Indri which can grow to be just short of a metre tall and 15 kgs in weight. The smallest lemur is Berthe’s mouse lemur which is about 9 cm tall and reaches a whapping 30g in weight. The rarest of the lemurs is the northern sportive lemur of which there are only about 50 individuals left.
Lemurs have TWO tongues. Under the main tongue is a smaller, tougher tongue used for grooming and they can be used independently of each other. A lemur can be manipulating food into its mouth while grooming its friend.
Lemurs are important pollinators of the forests in Madagascar. They live in troops and do what all normal holiday makers do, eat, groom and sunbathe. The small species are nocturnal and the larger species diurnal (active both day and night).
Lemurs are among the most endangered species’ in the world so make a plan in the near future to go on an Africa safari trip to see these incredible primates.
Fun Facts: Lemurs do not hang by their tails; some may hibernate and the male lemur with the smelliest tail becomes the dominant male of the troop.