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Zambia's South Luangwa National Park - posted March '10
Zambia's South Luangwa National Park is a very different place in the wet season. Between late November and April, the Luangwa River floods, filling channels, streams and lagoons. These photos were taken during a wet season safari at Norman Carr's Kakuli Camp, one of only two bush camps that remains open, and accessible only by boat. Game drives must be by boat too, and wildlife such as hippos, crocs, elephants, birds and the odd antelope and giraffe seen on the riverbanks take a backseat to wet season skies and the sheer beauty of a green and verdant bush.

Zambia - posted December '09
Zambia is described as the "real Africa" in a tourism marketing campaign. I'm not sure what that means exactly since Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya are as "real" as anywhere else on the continent. However, what I think this moniker implies, and I am in complete agreement with it, is that Zambia is, as of yet, unspoiled by tourism. Those who have already discovered this fact come again and again.

Southern Tanzania - posted May '09
See More Tanzania: Southern Tanzanian destinations include the Selous Game Reserve and Mikumi and Ruaha National Parks. These locations offer a different safari experience. You work harder for your wildlife sightings but chances are excellent that you either have them all to yourself or you share them with only a handful of game viewing vehicles instead of fifty other cars. Ruaha National Park is gorgeous, some of the finest looking bush anywhere. Camping is the best way to spend your time in Ruaha. The photo of one such MTT Ruaha camp included in this show will give you some idea of how comfortable camping can be.

Project Protection des Gorilles, The Lesio-Louna Sanctaury - posted May '09
Commercial hunting for the bush meat trade, the devastating impact of the Ebola virus, and the destruction of forest habitats, threatens the survival of Africa's western lowland gorillas. One direct result of the bush meat trade is the number of orphaned infant gorillas. Ranging in age from a few months to a few years, these orphans are too young to eat. Furthermore, they are worth more as pets than they are as food. To combat the trade in orphaned gorillas in the Republic of Congo, the John Aspinall Foundation established an orphanage in the capital city of Brazzaville in 1986. Their aim was to eventually release the orphans back into the wild. In the early 1990s, reconnaissance for a release site was found in the Lesio-Louna Sanctuary, rolling grasslands and forests some 140 kms north of Brazzaville which borders the Lefini Forest Reserve. Project Protection des Gorilles is now a partnership between the John Aspinall Foundation and the Republic of Congo's government.

Fifty gorillas have been reintroduced successfully into the reserve and some of the females have given birth. But five young male gorillas couldn't overcome their lack of socialization skills they would have received in the wild from their mother and highly structured primate society. Their freedom brought more trouble. They became dangers to themselves, to the other released gorillas, especially the females, and to human populations around the reserve. They were recaptured and spent some years in cages before being released onto "Bachelor Island", a small man-made spit of forest in the middle of the Louna River inside the reserve. There isn't enough food on the island so the gorillas' diet is supplemented by fruit brought to them by the canoe-load. It is not an ideal situation for these animals, but it is better than captivity in a cage for the rest of their lives or certain death if they were allowed to remain free and lawless.

Visitors to the project visit the nursery where the orphans receive round the clock attention from Congolese staff (although visitors view the babies from the distance of a viewing platform across a short stretch of river.) They can also accompany the rangers to Bachelor Island for the released "captive" gorillas' feeding. Bachelor Island is reached from Albio camp inside the sanctuary, about forty minutes drive from the nursery. It is possible to visit the two locations within the project as a long day trip from Brazzaville; but it is better to remain overnight at the main headquarters of Iboubikro (where the babies are based) where there are simple bandas and a kitchen area for cooking.

Brazzaville - posted March '09
There are two Congos, and the one which is in the news and where a complicated war has been waged for years is the Democratic Rep of Congo (DRC), and not the Rep of Congo (ROC) where I lived. The Rep of Congo is also known as Congo-Brazzaville, Brazzaville being its small and quiet capital. The ROC did suffer an intense civil war in the late 90s which lasted about one year. However, trouble in the DRC continues, fought mainly over that country's mineral wealth by any number of international players, the DRC army, local warlords, armies from neighboring African countries, and international mining companies.

If Congo-Brazzaville is a gentler and kinder version of the DRC, the difference is reflected in its recent history. Newly independent African countries were quick to change their names or those of their important cities if they evoked their previous colonial masters. Congo-Brazzaville, which used to be a French colony, has not. In downtown Brazzaville today there is a museum and memorial to the 19th century Italian-born explorer named de Brazza who is credited with Brazzaville's founding for France as well as establishing French sovereignty over much of west central Africa. De Brazza's competitor, just across the Congo River from Brazzaville, was Henry Morton Stanley, the same explorer who located the AWOL Dr David Livingstone in western Tanzania - and who worked for claiming what is now the DRC for King Leopold of Belgium. By all accounts, the two men were completely different. Stanley took by force - he was known as the "breaker of rocks" - while Brazza used diplomacy.

The rapids on the Congo River which stopped Victorian era explorers from opening up a maritime trade route from the Atlantic Coast into the African interior is five minutes from Brazzaville. There is still no way past these cascades. They are the reason that de Brazza went no further and planted the French flag on one side of the river, while Stanley planted the Belgian flag on the other, where the DRC capital of Kinshasa stands today.

I took these photos in and around Brazzaville over an 18 month period beginning in 2007. I hope they offer a different perspective of life in the Congo from what you see on the TV.

Central Africa - posted March '09
The Central African safaris focus on the only two habituated groups of western lowland gorillas in the world, as well as on Africa's highest densities of forest elephants. It is a true adventure and unique wildlife experience - only a handful of visitors make it to Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo and Dzanga-Ndoki National Park the Central African Republic. Conservationist J Michael Fay, who pioneered conservation efforts in this remote area, has said that there are few places left which are truly wild. He counts the Congo Basin parks among them. On a personal level, my travels in Central Africa have brought me the closest to an understanding of the complex, tenuous and costly process of wildlife conservation.

Yaeda Valley - posted March '09
Surrounding Lake Eyasi, south of the Ngorongoro Crater, are ancient percipitous rifts, remnants of the volcanic forces which shaped the Great Rift Valley. To visit the Eyasi lakeside area is a precious enough experience; the ancientness of the land is tangible, and somehow survives despite all the modern influences of late, many of them good and many of them lamentable. But travel to Eyasi's extreme southern shores where the sandy track climbs up and over an old rift to the 3975 square kilometer Yaeda Valley Valley beyond, is really experiencing a step back in time. Yaeda is the true home of the hunter and gatherer group known as the Hadza as well the Datoga, pastoralists like the Maasai. There is no infrasructure in Yaeda; you must camp if you visit. I haven't seen another car besides mine in three days in Yaeda, but this doesn't mean that Yaeda is or will be left untouched. An Arab hunting concession gave up its rights to a swathe of it recently when the Hadza opposed the deal. Mining companies are the new threat. See Yaeda now. These photos of Yaeda were taken September 2008.

Africa's Longest Walking Safari - posted March '09
The 12-day, 120-mile walk (75 km) across Kenya's Tsavo National Parks is the best I have experienced for imparting the sense of connectedness that I feel is paramount to Africa travel. What motivated its creator - Kenyan mountaineer Iain Allen - is that the spring snow-melt from Mt Kilimanjaro and all the watershed areas of that great mountain - Africa's highest today - are connected to the Tsavo lowlands below. He liked the idea of connectedness. So this walking safari was born. It crosses two ecosystems: the riverine forest along the Tsavo River which rises in the highlands around Kili, and made up of thickets of fig and tamarind trees, doum and raffia palms, gives way to the east to more open acacia forest and savannah and finally to semi-arid desert. Along the way the Tsavo River reaches the confluence of the Athi River where it becomes the Galana River which flows into the Indian Ocean. Within these two ecosystems certain animals have adapted better - like hippo in the heavy riverine vegetation near the Tsavo River - and elephants along the Galana. I got the closest to elephants while on foot than I have anywhere else in Africa, and after the first few close encounters, under Iain's tutelage, I felt perfectly at ease with it. This is a walk not quite like any other: it incorporates breath-taking geography and wildlife sightings with geology, history and animal behavior lessons, the physical challenge of walking no less than 10 miles (6.5 kms) every day across Kenya's largest national parks (they make up the size of Wales) under what is often a blistering hot sun, and extremely comfortable camps and fine dining.

Tanzania's Northern Circuit - January through March
Any travel through northern Tanzania at this time of the year focuses on the location of the wildebeest and zebra migration. With the short rains called "mvuli", which typically begin end of November, the wildebeest return to Tanzania from Kenya on their cycle which moves clockwise following the rain and ensuing new grasses. In the first few months of the year, the herds tend to be in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and along its border with the southern reaches of the Serengeti National Park. If I HAD to name my favorite time to visit the north, it would have to be January through mid-March, with February as the most ideal month - not only is it birthing season for wildebeest, it's a perfect time to see the Ndutu area and the Gol Mountains of the NCA, as it is hiking weather for all those walks in the NCA which I love to do. These photos are a compilation culled from five back-to-back safaris beginning in early January of 2008 and ending in mid March with a hike along the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. A few of these safaris also included visits to Lake Natron - where a busy Mt Lengai entertained us with its impressive eruptions; Ol Karien and San Jan Gorges, Nasera Rock, and Lake Eyasi, where we met the Hadzabe, the remaining numbers of a hunter and gatherer tribe whose cultural survival is tenuous.

A Wildebeest's First Minutes
Wildebeest calving is unique to the bovid family. The females produce the majority of their foals within a three week period, which typically falls in Tanzania beginning late January. A short calving season provides a glut of prey for spotted hyenas and other wildebeest predators, ensuring survival for at least four out of five newborns; while large maternity herds of females and yearlings provide the additional cover and protection needed for so many young born at the same time to grow stronger and imprint on their mothers. Birth takes place in the morning too so that newborns have the day to prepare for nightfall which brings predators. Wildebeest babies can stand within three to seven minutes and run off with mother, albeit none too steadily. It's the school of hard knocks from the start: I've seen bulls in the herd flip newborns in the air with their horns. These photos document the first few minutes of a wildebeest's life. Once it rose to its feet, Mother kept it there by gently pushing it around in circles, refusing to allow it milk until it was capable of walking behind her.

The following two shows' photos were taken June 2008 over several days of observing elephants at Dzanga Bai and gorillas at Mbeli Bai.

Village of Elephants
In Central African forests there are low, marshy clearings called "bais". These are visited daily for their nutritious plants and soil's high mineral content by wildlife such as western lowland gorillas, sitatunga and bongo antelopes, forest buffalos, African grey parrots, and forest elephants. Dzanga Bai, in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, is best known for its elephants. As many as 100 a day can be observed there, pumping mineral salts which lie in solution at the bottom of deep holes which the elephants have dug. They collect the salts, which compensate for any diet imbalances, by inserting their trunks into these depressions and blowing noisily first to empty them of air. The word "bai" comes from the Aka language and is thought to mean "where the animals eat" or in Dzanga Bai's case, "the village of elephants".

Mbeli Bai
In Central African forests there are low, marshy clearings called "bais''. These are visited daily for their nutritious plants and soil's high mineral content by wildlife such as western lowland gorillas, sitatunga and bongo antelopes, forest buffalos, African grey parrots, and forest elephants. Mbeli Bai in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park sees elephant visitors, but not as much as Dzanga Bai in the forest to its north and west. As a rule, gorillas avoid elephants so you might expect to see at Mbeli Bai, if your luck holds, the foraging families of western lowland gorillas which this bai's floating aquatic vegetation attracts.

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