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  • Rhino Orphanage by Rita Shaw
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    Rhino Orphanage by Rita Shaw
    While it is always a breeze and a pleasure booking my African travel through Hartley’s Safaris, my current trip (August 2015) included an afternoon, which was especially incredible and special to me!I was extremely privileged to be able to visit a rhino orphanage, which is not open to the public for fairly obvious reasons in this time of rabid poaching in South Africa.

    A little background information – the largest earth-based animals are herbivores, i.e. elephants and rhinos. Yet it is the elephants and rhinos that are being targeted by poachers for their tusks and horns. Huge numbers of pangolins, lions and other animals are also being killed by poachers.

    This epidemic is growing exponentially, due to the enormous demand emanating from some Asian countries. I am not going to rant and rave about this dire situation here, except to say that I am definitely not looking forward to the day when it is announced that all species of rhinos are extinct!

    I fully endorse all reasonable measures that are being made to stop the poaching. Whether it is money, time, ideas, editing/proofreading, moral support or anything else I can contribute, I will continue to help however I can! The only thing that is important in life IS life! Nothing else matters!!

    On arrival at the orphanage, I was greeted by Gaby, one of the managers, and spent the next couple of hours with her and some of the other employees/volunteers. One of the girls even lives about five minutes from my home in Sydney, Australia.

    Gaby first took me to meet the three youngest orphaned white rhinos. The two boys and one girl share an enclosure during the day, where they are fed or can sleep, basically doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. They also share night quarters, where they can cuddle up to each other for comfort as they sleep, safely away from any poachers. Dedicated night staff keep an eye on them as they sleep.

    I also got to meet two slightly older white rhinos and a black rhino, who share another enclosure – they are free to venture out through the open gate to take a walk in a large open area where they can also meet up with rhinos from other enclosures within the orphanage. They tend to walk back into their own enclosure when they want some food or a pat/scratch from the staff (or me on that day).

    The older rhinos have been weaned but the three babies, about 6 – 8 months old, are still dependent on milk. I watched the girls making up the formula, which includes cooked/liquified brown rice, colostrum and some other “goodies”, mixed with milk. A white board indicates amounts of each item and the bottles are appropriately labeled with the rhinos’ names so there can be no confusion.

    Two of the youngsters are bottle-fed 3-4 times a day, but the newest member of the trio prefers to drink his milk from a tray as he is a bit skittish around people – possibly a reminder of the trauma he acquired from watching the death of his mother at the hands of poachers.

    I was allowed to feed the female baby – this was quite a balancing act, as she sucks really hard on the teat and you have to roll back the edge of the teat to allow air in, while trying not to roll it off the end of the bottle.

    The orphanage is supported by donations from corporations and individuals as well as money from the game farms, which actually own the rhinos. Once old enough and independent, the rhinos are usually returned to those game farms or to nearby game reserves where they can live a normal rhino life.

    A million thanks to Gaby from the orphanage and to Natalie and Jann from Hartley’s for enabling me to have this precious time with my favorite “rhino people”! And I am sure that Hartley’s would be happy to forward any donations to the orphanage on your behalf …
  • Dragon’s Breath
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    Dragon’s Breath
    When first discovered in 1986, Dragon’s Breath Cave was noticed only because of the shimmer of humid air that rises from it and which inspired the name. Located 46 kilometres northwest of Grootfontein in the Otjozondjupa Region near the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, the largest known underground non-sub glacial lake in the world beckons to be explored by the brave of heart.

    Bruce Barker, one such explorer and a good friend of us here at Hartley’s, recently took part in this exceptional and once in a lifetime adventure. A team of twelve divers, lead by well known technical diver Don Shirley, made the lengthy trip from Johannesburg, South Africa to the cave. After an arduous twenty four hour drive, which involved dodging the numerous animals that frequent the roads at night, they arrived to set up camp and get a good rest before attempting any dives.

    These are not straightforward dives – initially one has to enter the cave through a small opening on the surface, carefully shuffling all the necessary 1.5 tonnes of equipment along. This is the easy part as it is still relatively cool but then, 10 metres underground, the heat of Dragon’s Breath hits you as it comes up from the water 50 metres below. Then the rope work starts as each diver has to slither and slide down the rock, with three pitches to overcome and several drops to be made. It is no wonder that rock climbing qualifications and experience are needed just to access the water. The final abseil is spectacular as the crystal clear waters stretch out beneath. This whole climbing process takes over an hour and a half.

    As there is no natural ambient lighting, floodlights are set up to illuminate the cavern. Looking down into the depths, the water is so clear that one can see divers 56 metres below the surface. The setting up of the dive equipment normally takes place on a convenient beach, but due to the water levels having risen 10 metres, this had to be done on floating rafts followed by extensive equipment checks that take an hour to complete.

    Most of the team dive on rebreathers; breathing apparatus that absorbs the carbon dioxide of a user’s exhaled breath to permit the recycling of the substantially unused oxygen content of each breath. Oxygen is added to replenish the amount metabolised by the user. The others were on open-circuit systems whereby exhaled air blows directly out into the water in the form of bubbles. All divers have specially mixed air with varying levels of oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other gasses, and so allowing them to dive deeper and for longer, and minimising the dangerous effects of gas at depth. And the depths were indeed great – the deepest dive was to 131 metres!!

    The divers explored a network of tunnels and caverns, carefully following well laid lines to ensure they could find their way back after seeing “what is around the next corner”; the mystery of which makes up the essence of any true explorer. The baboon bones and space-like worms and shrimps found added to the sense that Steven Spielberg could not have dreamed up a scene like Dragon’s Breath.
  • Saving the Survivors
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    Saving the Survivors
    668 in 2012, 1004 in 2013, and 1215 in 2014: these are the staggering numbers of rhino that have been poached in the last three years, and 2015 is on track for another record year. With corruption and ignorance working hand in hand, this is a war that seemingly has no end in sight. But that does not mean battles are not being won every day by the dedicated men and women fighting tirelessly for these magnificent animals. Saving the Survivors is one such organisation committed to rescuing and medically treating injured rhino and endangered species, and they recently brought us all Hope, the four year old white rhino who survived one of the most brutal poaching attacks.

    Hope was darted by poachers who then proceeded to hack off an area of her face measuring 50 by 28 centimetres to ensure that they got all of her horn before leaving her to die. Although narrowly missing her eyes, the wound did expose her sinus cavities and nasal passage, and it was a miracle that she was found alive days later. The team of veterinarians, headed up by Dr Johan Marais and Dr Gerhard Steenkamp, had to work quickly to clean and dress the injury with a calcium nitrate material that both stimulates granulation tissue and has antibacterial properties. This specialised material was designed to be used for humans and has now had to be specifically imported for rhinos. At the end of a procedure that lasted more than three hours, a fibreglass shield was attached to what little bone was left using screws and wire stitches.

    Blood samples are also taken as certain enzymes will be present should there be infection or muscle damage that may be life threatening. Even just the weight of a rhino lying down for an extended period of time can cause irreversible damage that needs to be monitored. It is expected that Hope will have to undergo more than 20 medical procedures before the wound is fully healed which will cost tens of thousands of dollars. But the knowledge gained is invaluable as these incredible veterinarians work with Hope on her road to recovery, and so light the path for others who suffer a similar atrocity in future.

    Hope is the tenth rhino to have this type of procedure and many will remember the first, Thandiswa, who was poached with her son Themba in 2012. Themba devastatingly passed away shortly after the attack due to an infected leg injury, but Thandi went on to recover well and gave birth to a beautiful calf, Thembi, in January 2015. We yearn for the day that we will be able to rejoice in a similar happy ending for Hope.

    “Through the work that Saving the Survivors does, this rhino, Hope, is giving victims of poaching a voice which cries out to the world for our help. She is becoming a living symbol of this poaching crisis, and an inspirational example of the fight for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds. Her struggle to claim back her life and her dignity must become our fight to change human behaviour and restore value and respect and care for all living things.” – Dr Will Fowlds
  • African Skimmers Breeding
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    African Skimmers Breeding
    The African Skimmers could not have arrived at a better time to uplift our spirits out of the doom and gloom of winter! Watching the Skimmers fiercely defend their nests from predators is sure to get your adrenaline pumping while witnessing tiny chicks wobble as they take their first few steps will warm your heart!

    Every year during the months from July through to November these rare and endangered birds travel a long waterless journey south of the equator to nest along the exposed riverbeds and sandbanks, congregating in large numbers along the Zambezi River in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. This event attracts bird enthusiasts and animal lovers from all over the world as they make sure to secure a front row place to watch one of nature’s spectacular events.

    The prehistoric looking African Skimmer, with its oversized beak and black and white plumage, stands above the rest of our African bird species, not only for its looks but also for the way it hunts. Employing their own unique hunting strategy for which they get their name, the African Skimmers use their specially designed beaks to skim the surface of the water, ready to catch unsuspecting fish who dare to swim close to the surface. The best times to see these graceful hunters in action is at dusk, dawn and during the evening when the fish make for easy prey.

    During the day the African Skimmers take a break from hunting to nurture their young and defend their nests. This includes splashing their wings with water to cool their eggs from the blistering African sun to vigorously mobbing storks looking for a tasty snack and clumsy elephants and buffaloes who accidentally crush their nests while making their way to the river to quench their thirst.

    Due to wetland habitat degradation and human interference as well as the destruction caused by elephants and buffaloes the African Skimmers’ numbers and survival rate is rapidly declining. Listed as near threatened on the ICUN Red List an opportunity for witnessing their breeding season may very well be one of the last few times we’ll have the privilege. It is for this very reason why making a trip to Mudumu National Park in Namibia to watch this miraculous event should be high on your bucket list.
  • The Mola Mola of Nusa Penida
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    The Mola Mola of Nusa Penida
    Ocean sunfish, or molas, look like the invention of a mad scientist. These prehistoric looking fish vie for the title of strangest fish in the sea. Its Latin name, mola mola, means millstone.

    Huge and flat, these silvery-grey fish have tiny mouths and big eyes that vanish into an even bigger body with a truncated tail. Topping out at around 2 tons, this gentle giant is the world’s heaviest bony fish. (This category doesn’t count sharks and rays. The whale shark is 10 times bigger.)

    With their tank-like bodies, molas were clearly not built for life in the fast lane, but they hold their own against faster and flashier fishes and are able to live in almost all of the world’s oceans. They are known to spend time near the ocean surface but tagging shows that molas are also prolific divers and migrate long distances at depth.

    Nusa Penida is the largest of 3 islands that lie the other side of the Bandung Strait from Bali’s east coast, the others being Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. The water here is fairly cold, due to a deep upswelling south of Bali, but often startlingly clear, with gorgeous corals and prolific fish, some turtles and grey reef and silver-tip sharks. From July to mid-November mola mola can be seen here at a number of dive sites around Nusa Lembongan and Penida, often daily.

    Most renowned for their eccentric shape, the mola mola has no caudal fin, yet displays excessively large dorsal and ventral fins, making it far taller than it is long. Although often sighted by divers in shallower water, mola mola can swim to depths of almost 600m. The diet of a mola consists primarily of jellyfish, although they are also partial to the odd salp, comb jellies, zooplankton, squid, crustaceans and small fish.

    Fortunately for them, they possess relatively few predators – sea lions, orcas and sharks being their only concern. The skin of a mola mola is approximately 3 inches thick and its colouration is believed to be for camouflage; dark above fading to a lighter colour below. The fish are well known for the impressive number of parasites found on their skin: some 40 genera of mola parasites have been recorded to date. One of the most interesting facts about the mola mola involves its reproductive habits – females produce more eggs than any other known vertebrate, releasing up to 300 million eggs into the ocean at any one time, to be externally fertilised by the male.

    They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water. Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths. Ocean sunfish can become so infested with skin parasites; they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on the pesky critters. They will even breach the surface up to 10 feet (3 meters) in the air and land with a splash in an attempt to shake the parasites.

    In this water colour and ink, Kelly Lance from Denver, CO, USA captures the unusual mola mola in an extraordinary symbiotic relationship with the albatross. They often line up in droves to entice albatross to pull the parasites from their flesh.

    “God save thee, ocean sunfish

    From the fiends that plague thee thus

    Why look’st thou so? With thy large shoals,

    Thou fed the albatross.”

    - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Because molas spend so much time drifting near the ocean surface, they are vulnerable to fishing boats that use drift gillnets. In California, nearly 30 percent of the catch in a swordfish boat can be molas caught by mistake—rivalling or exceeding the number of swordfish caught.

    In the Mediterranean Sea, the Spanish gillnet fishery catches up to 93 percent molas. Gillnets usually don’t kill molas immediately, but they cut into their skin, scrape off their protective mucus and flood their gills with air.

    Another hazard to molas are discarded plastic bags. When these wind up in the ocean, they float at the surface and look a lot like a jellyfish — a mola’s favorite meal. If the mola doesn’t choke as it sucks the bag in, the plastic can

    clog the fish’s stomach, slowly starving the animal. Helping molas is one more reason to carry your own shopping bags with you to the store—and to make sure any plastic bags you use go into the trash can.

    NUSA PENIDA DIVE ITINERARY

    Choose your own dates during Mola Mola season; JULY/AUGUST/SEPTEMBER’ 15

    SQ 479 JNB SINGAPORE 1435 #0700

    SQ 942 SIN DENPASAR 0935 1205

    * 7 nights Tulamben Resort
    * Patio room
    * Breakfasts
    * Set lunch and dinner on day 2, 3,4,5,6
    * 2 guided shore dives at Liberty wreck
    * 2 guided shore dives at Mimpi or Kubu drop-off
    * 4 guided boat dives at Nusa Penida to see the Mola Mola
    * Spa Aroma therapy 90 minutes on last day
    * Tanks, weights, guide and porter.
    * Return airport Transfers

    SQ 947 DENPASAR SINGAPORE 2005 2235

    SQ 478 SINGAPORE JNB 0210 0700

    Cost: From R25300 + 5944 taxes per diver sharing.

    All prices have been quoted according to current availabilities and rate of exchange and are subject to change accordingly at any time and without prior notice

    Contact:

    Daniela Scotti 011 467 4704 or Email dani@hartleysgroup.com

  • My Kalahari Experience
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    My Kalahari Experience
    As we crossed the ‘Great Nothing’, feeling small and insignificant in contrast to this vast, hauntingly beautiful, big and ancient, now dry sea in the Kalahari, moments of doubt crept in…. we were truly alone, having seen no other vehicles for over a day now, we might even be lost.

    I remembered the words of the lodge staff telling me that driving through the Pans was always a risk. With no marked tracks or visual references the Makgadikgadi also had a deceiving tendency to suck vehicles into the sludge just below its cracked, dry surface, but was there any other way to truly experience this huge, empty, stillness except to become part of it.

    After 3 nights of camping between an endless white, silent, spacious and empty earth and the blanket of a thousand brilliant stars covering it, even being lost had started to feel more like being found, and so with only the bare necessities and a continuous 360 degree view around ourselves we continued onwards in the general direction of our oasis; Jack’s Camp.

    As desert gradually gave way to golden grasses, a mirage of mokolwane palm trees unbelievingly rose before us just on the lip of the Pans. Nestled within, a refreshingly authentic and sophisticated, old world safari style camp with unobstructed views across the expanse of ‘Great Nothing’.

    Jack’s Camp not only offers stylish comfort amid antique chests and rugs, a unique national museum, a library and pool with a view in an impossibly remote location, but facilitates the most unusual exploration and experience of its surrounding Kalahari wilderness.

    Nearby, the breath taking Chapman’s Baobab; the third largest tree in Africa.

    Game drives take you in search of rare and elusive desert animal species.

    During the dry season, quad bike into magnificent sunsets which stretch across the lunar expanse.

    Experience epic horseback safaris through the unspoilt white encrusted salt pans.

    Sleep out amongst giant boulders, under ancient baobabs and a horizon to horizon full of stars displayed.

    The Serengeti of the south; during the wet season the Makgadikgadi is home to Southern Africa’s last surviving migration, and the cat species who follow it.

    One of the most unexpected delights, was the up close and personal meerkat encounter.

    A short drive from the camp we stepped out of the vehicle with our guide and strolled across to a clan of constantly chirping, rummaging wild meerkats who hardly seemed bothered by our presence. After having taken my hat off and settling down quietly in the grass to watch them I suddenly became very attractive as the highest lookout point!

    Perhaps the greatest honour and revelation though was sparked by meeting Cobra, one of the ‘salt Bushmen’ and famous tracker and friend of Jack Bousfield.

    I had heard rumours about his age and stories tell of him crawling into an abandoned aardvark hole and emerging covered in writhing, freshly hatched pythons.

    His well-lined face tells of an ancient link to the Makgadikgadi and in his presence we became witness for just a few hours to an ancient way of life and a respected connection to the essence and wisdom of the earth.

    Accompanied too by a family of San Bushmen in their simple adornments, we walked through the Pans. We listened to their festive clickering chatter fill the cold morning air as they playfully joked amongst themselves and invited us into the mystery of their culture.

    Cobra’s skill in catching snakes is legendary but we were called to another mesmerising practice of his. As we watched aghast he quick as lightening dug up a scorpion and ceremoniously put it in his mouth ! I think I let out a little scream but he wasn’t eating it; as a service to the creature instead he was cleaning it’s 8 eyes with his saliva before releasing it back into its hole unharmed!

    We tasted roots and berries and identified animal prints, dug up water plants for a drink and dug them respectfully back in so they could continue to grow. We watched them make fire and were drawn into their very real enjoyment and animated playing of a game similar to rock, paper, scissors. They share all possessions and come together in the evenings to enjoy the “Holy” fire and hypnotically dance to call to spirits and ancestors beyond.

    In Wayne Visser’s words :

    “We call you Hunter, Bushmen, San

    You sowed the seed of primal Man

    A gentler race we have not known

    See how your legacy has grown…

    You chose the way of archer’s bow

    Of hunter’s grace-the art of flow:

    to give and take and see the whole

    To honour life and feed the soul.”
  • By Invitation: The Amur Falcons
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    By Invitation: The Amur Falcons
    Written by Mike Cadman

    One recent Sunday morning more than 100 small birds of prey hovered head-first into the wind as they hunted insects in the lush summer grasslands of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve some 40 kilometres south of Johannesburg.

    The 30 cm long Amur falcons skilfully used the wind to maintain their positions about 20 metres above the ground, heads down as they searched the grass for prey. Some occasionally slipped into rapid dives as they plunged into the tall grass after prey, which is usually caught and eaten on the wing, while others banked away, darting downwind to begin searching another patch of the veld.

    Away to the west of the birds cyclists and day trippers in cars travelled along the Reserve’s tourist roads, some aware, many not, of the little birds of prey.

    Of those that noticed the birds few realized that they were witnessing birds that had only recently completed one of the most astonishing and longest migrations of any bird of prey. Every year, at the start of the northern winter the birds leave their breeding grounds in eastern Asia, fly across the southern face of the Himalayas, pass over northern India and then fly across three thousand kilometres of Indian Ocean to Somalia before heading south to the grasslands of Southern Africa. Here the birds spend several months feeding on prolific insect populations before starting the return journey in mid to late April.

    The Amur falcons, formerly known in South Africa as the Eastern red-footed kestrel, undertake the longest trans-ocean migration of any bird of prey. The birds, males average about 136 grams and females 148 grams, complete the trans-ocean journey in about three days, an astounding accomplishment.

    Their already arduous migration is made even more difficult by the fact that along some parts of the world they are eaten by people. This year the conservation world was shocked by the revelation by Conservation India that more than 120 000 – 140 000 of the birds had been caught and eaten in Nagaland, northern India. Conservation Indian estimated that “during the peak migration 12 000 – 14 000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale” a day.

    The migrating birds had stopped in Nagaland to rest, as they have many times before, but this time researcher learnt that hunters spread fishing nets 30-40 metres long and 10-12 metres high around the roosting sites in trees alongside a dam to capture the birds. This was the first time such large scale hunting of the falcons had been witnessed by conservationists and Conservation India has launched a programme aimed at preventing similar massacres.

    The birds roost communally and at one roost 20 000 birds have been counted. The high concentration of birds at roosts makes them easy targets.

    The falcons are traditionally hunted in Nagaland with guns or catapults and are also considered a delicacy in some parts of Africa.

    Until recently scientists had been unsure of the exact route the birds followed during their migration but the use of ultra-light satellite transmitters which weigh only five grams has allowed Dr Bernd-Ulrich Meyburg from Germany and his team to accurately track the birds for the first time.

    Dr Meyburg and his team fitted ten birds from a roost in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal with the matchbox sized transmitters and then downloaded information from the satellite data to plot their journeys to and from southern Africa. Not only did the team manage to accurately plot the migration routes but they also recorded remarkable details of the feats achieved by individual birds.

    One bird, falcon 95 773, on its return trip to Asia flew non-stop from Somalia to Burma in only five days. Another bird, falcon 95 778, has successfully completed the journey between Newcastle and her Asian breeding grounds for the last two years, covering in the region of 60 000 kilometres on her travels.
    The falcons arrive in Southern Africa in late November and December. Some Amur falcons spend their southern summer in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique, in late November and December. Their Asian breeding grounds spread from south eastern Siberia, through northern China, Mongolia and North Korea. Insects such as flying termites and dragonflies are usually caught on the wing and other prey, such as grasshoppers are caught on the ground without the bird settling. They occasional eat small birds like swallows.

    Sources:
    Raptor Identification Guide for Southern Africa – Ulrich Oberprieler and Burger Cillie (Rollerbird Press).
    The Kestrel Migration Project – www.kestreling.com
    The World Working Group on Birds of Prey and Owls (WWGBP) www.raptors-international.org
  • Up, Close & Personal
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    Up, Close & Personal
    A Rhino’s View of Africa

    After having a passion for rhinos for more than 30 years, in around 2007, I started thinking about travelling to Africa to see rhinos in the wild. There were a few obstacles – my kids, work, lack of money, and the biggest one = being petrified to go to such a “dangerous” place on my own!!
    Many unsuccessful attempts to find someone to come with me eventually convinced me to bite the bullet and go on my own, just making sure that everything was 100% organised and leaving nothing to chance except my own potential stupidity.
    My objective was, strangely enough, to maximise seeing rhinos, especially black rhinos. My first trip was in August 2008 – almost six weeks, six African countries, and amazing animal experiences, including rhinos! When I sat down in my seat on the plane to come home, I made the decision that I would come back every year, as long as I could possibly manage it financially and physically.
    On my second trip, in July 2009, I found out that there were easier, more efficient ways of travelling to/from Sabi Sands/Kruger, to/from Johannesburg and between lodges in South Africa. Through Rhino Walking Safaris in Kruger, I had discovered Hartley’s Safaris, and have since completed 10 incredible African trips with them, two each year from 2010 to 2014, adding another two African countries to the list.
    Although it is a long way from Australia to South Africa, the Hartley’s personnel and their extensive experience ensure there are absolutely no “gotchas”, and no planning gaps. They make planning, organising and even paying for trips totally effortless, and I would not dream of going to Africa without involving Hartley’s! We are currently in the planning throes for August 2015.
    On most trips, I try a few new lodges and go back to some of my favourites. Returning to my “special” lodges means catching up with old friends, not just the staff, but also the animals that frequent those areas. When I observe particular leopards, cheetahs or prides of lions out on drive, it creates much more of a personal interaction when I have seen them on previous visits. It really feels like visiting old friends!

    Rita Shaw
    Sydney, Australia
  • Incredible New Destination
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    Incredible New Destination
    Hoanib Skeleton Coast, Namibia – Wilderness Safaris

    Rugged, iconic, startlingly life-filled
    Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp is scenically located in a broad valley at the confluence of two tributaries of the Hoanib River in the northern part of the private Palmwag Concession. Its location thus straddles the Palmwag area and the iconic Skeleton Coast National Park, in one of the most remote areas of the Kaokoveld. Exclusivity is taken a step further as camp is only accessible by light aircraft and the camp itself consists of only seven twin-bedded tents and one family unit, each comprising stylish en-suite bedrooms with shaded outdoors decks. Flanked to the east and west by rugged hills, the camp looks out over stunning, starkly beautiful scenery and offers guests all the luxuries and amenities for an unforgettable stay.

    Highlights

    * One of the greatest concentrations of desert-adapted elephant and lion
    * Historic coastline, endless horizons, fascinating people
    * Diverse activities showcase scenic wonders and unique wildlife
  • Experiences
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    Experiences
    What lies beneath the surface

    By: Neil Tinmouth August 2014 Having a family that is spread out over the world means that the opportunities to get together are few and far between. This led us to the creation of our combined bucket list odyssey; we meet up as frequently as possible, and together tick off the entries. What could be higher on a recreational divers list, than the opportunity to plunge into clear warm tropical waters and descend onto wrecks frozen in time? Add to this an abundance of corals and marine life that inhabit these artificial reefs and you have the perfect dive site.

    We visited this dream destination, the spectacular lagoon of Chuuk, formally known as Truk Lagoon due to a mispronunciation. The South Pacific islands of Chuuk with their sheltered lagoon harboured the Japanese Combined Fleet during World War II. In 1944, Operation Hailstone, a U.S aerial assault sent more than 60 vessels and hundreds of aircraft to the floor of the lagoon.

    Owing to the geography of the reefs and the number of ships harboured, they were all moored close to each other at the time of their destruction. These coral encrusted wrecks, the majority of which were of the Japanese imperial merchant fleet now lay silently in clear blue waters, and form the renowned ‘Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon’. The calm waters allowed us an unparalleled opportunity to explore the wide variety of wrecks. Unfortunately even their close proximity did not allow us to visit a fraction of them; this is where our local dive master’s knowledge paid dividends. Following our DM’s lead, we easily swam around super structures and upturned hulls, identifying telegraphs and guns that now stand silent. Decks were littered with the remnants of trucks, tanks and objects retrieved from the holds. Bowls, bottles, telephones mixed with guns and gas masks lay clustered together. The largely intact wrecks allow for penetration.

    Below decks, in the holds were partially assembled aircraft, tanks, boxes of munitions, bulldozers, motorcycles, bicycles, torpedoes, spare parts, and not to mention the huge abundance of other artefacts. With a compulsion to explore, we carefully made our way around the superstructures entering galleys and bathrooms, all the while trying not to stir up the silt. From behind the camera, this unique underwater experience took on another dimension. Ambient light needed to be used strategically to enhance the captured images. Dark engine room penetrations presented their own unique challenges.

    All the while, as I looked tactically at each subject, the measure of focus created an awareness of the anguish that the sailors must have felt as their world was torn apart. Each wreckage be it afreighter or the Betty bomber with its large shoal of glass fish had its own distinctive allure. Seventy years on, with storm damage, corrosion and coral growth taking their toll, the opportunities to experience a memorable moment in this underwater museum are running out. A tick done, just in time! Palau Collecting our gear together we island hopped over to Palau.

    These islands were to offer us an incredibly diverse selection of ‘customary” diving experiences, but the primary reason for our visit was the opportunity to snorkel with the so called, Darwin jellyfish. After a short but gruelling walk we arrived at Jellyfish Lake, a marine lake situated on the island of Eil Malk. Donning fins, mask and snorkel we carefully entered the warm murky green stratified waters filled with golden and moon jellyfish. Around us masses of “sting less” jellyfish slowly propelled themselves through the water, gently bumping into us as they glided past.

    Nature had once again put on a spectacular show for us to experience. After Jellyfish Lake, we were now ready to take on the world class dive sites of Palau. Armed with our reef hooks we took to the water. How can you top a drift dive along sheer walls, clothed in soft and hard corals, inhabited by an abundant variety of marine life and numerous turtles? Well, add inquisitive circling reef sharks slowly twisting and turning an arm’s length, and you have an opportunity for plenty of underwater photographs.

    In one of our channel dives, we knelt glued to the seabed as giant mantas soared over us. Friendly Napoleon Wrasse’s intrigued by the camera housing accompanied us on many of our dives. They offered us up close and personal interaction time as well as some interesting photographs.

    Dropping through the blue hole into the near perfect cave below, gave another dimension to diving. The chandelier caves provided a very different photography opportunity and once again challenges were present, not least the stalactites just above the surface. An unexpected bucket list tick came on our last day when we took a helicopter excursion.

    This ride gave us the opportunity to take in the scale and incredible beauty of the islands. We picked out the different reefs and channels we had dived, which gave us a sense of order and direction. But back to our tick, from the air we saw a family of seven dugongs, swimming below us. The only word I can use is, Awesome! What a way to finish a holiday.
  • Mashatu Main Camp
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    Mashatu Main Camp
    Burning torches at the camp's entrance lure safari-goers into this oasis of luxury and impeccable hospitality.

    14 luxury suites lie along the camp's perimeter and are designed to allow absolute privacy and a communion with the bush and its inhabitants. Watch elephants splashing at the waterhole, listen to the lyrical melody of the woodlands kingfisher on a branch overhead, smell the grassy scent of the bushveld. The air here is so pure and invigorating you won't want to leave. Ever.

    The insect-proofed luxury suites, each boast a full en-suite bathroom. Sliding doors open onto the African bush, two large beds and a day bed for a child is available. A magnificent stunning viewing deck directly off the safari bar is a highlight of this camp, together with an elevated lounge overlooking the waterhole. A swimming pool and camp discovery research Centre complete the camp.

    Children of all ages welcome!
  • Mashatu Tented Camp
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    Mashatu Tented Camp
    Not to be outdone, the Mashatu Tented is a very different refuge. For the ultimate in one- on -one intimate bush experiences, look no further than this! Eight twin tents, each with private en-suite facilities. Each Concrete platform-mounted tent is tucked under the branches of enormous trees, and is accessible via meandering pathways.

    The tents themselves are spacious and comfortable has its own private outdoor en-suite facilities, including W.C. and shower - a room with a real view! Meal times are enjoyed either in the open-air thatched gazebo or in the boma (enclosure) overlooking the floodlit, well-populated waterhole. The camp's plunge pool invites guests to cool off and escape the relentless heat typical of the summer months. The shaded hide also overlooks the waterhole, and here bush enthusiasts can sit quietly and witness animals going about their day, completely unaware that they are being watched.

    The bush is a humble place….

    (Available for children over the age of 12 years).
  • Northern Tuli Predator Project
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    Northern Tuli Predator Project
    The Northern Tuli Predator Project was started in 2007 and focuses mainly on the study of lions and leopards. Additional large carnivore species have also since been selected for further studies, as part of the greater carnivore assemblage in the reserve. These include spotted hyenas and cheetah. The leopard component of the project has been running since 2005.

    Leopards are notoriously difficult to study due to their secretive nature, the habitats they frequent, and their low densities. Although leopards have been studied across a wide range of habitats, there is still a need for further study particularly with respect to management and human conflict. In the Northern Tuli Game Reserve a long-term leopard project has been initiated. Aspects investigated include behavioural ecology, population dynamics, movement patterns, population density estimation, habitat preference, prey selection and human conflict. Thus far 29 leopards have been monitored by means of VHF and GPS radio collars.

    BACKGROUND TO LION STUDY IN THE NORTHERN TULI

    Populations of large carnivores are becoming increasingly threatened throughout Africa, especially when not afforded protection by large conservation areas. Humans frequently limit carnivore numbers living outside protected areas and legal and illegal hunting, road accidents, and snaring are the cause of most fatalities that occur outside of reserve borders. Lions are highly social animals that live in fission-fusion groups, and are thus susceptible to population disturbances from humans. Infanticide also plays an important role in the level of disturbances within a lion population.

    This project aims to investigate the spatial-and temporal movements of lions from the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana. Lions moved across international boundaries and through local farmland regardless of fences and land use type, but spent most of their time inside their home ranges located within protected areas. When lions are moved out of these protected areas the probability of them being killed was high. In at least two instances this included males responding to the placement of baits set to lure lions out.

    Edge effects had a severe impact on the Notugre lion population, with 82% of adult mortality found outside the borders of the reserve. There were various reasons why males left their normal home ranges and went on excursions that took them outside protected areas, one of the reasons being females. Each radio-collared lion had a unique set of characteristics that characterized the size and location of their home ranges, resulting in wide variability in size and shape. Average 90% KDE for males were 69.0 km2 for females it was 41 km2.

    There was much less variability in the 50% KDE of both males and females the presence of human activities, in the form of cattle-posts, agricultural lands and villages also appeared to influence home range selection with lions tending to avoid these areas. With increasing human populations and the destruction of natural habitat, human-wildlife conflict will continue and requires urgent attention in order to mitigate the issue.

    THE AIMS OF THE NORTHERN TULI PREDATOR PROJECT
    * Determine lion numbers and population structures of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve
    * Compare current population status with that of historical records
    * Determine lion movements - especially male lions via GPS-radio collars
    * Identify factors influencing the lion population
  • Jewel of the Kalahari
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    Jewel of the Kalahari
    Described as the “Jewel of the Kalahari”, the Okavango Delta is where the floodplains have created a beautiful labyrinth of waterways, lagoons and islands and travellers are treated to unsurpassed game viewing activity in the humble Mokoro.

    The people of Botswana, who lived in and around the waterways of the Delta before the advent of tourism, used a wooden canoe carved from the stems of trees found in the Delta, namely the mokoro. It was used for hunting, fishing and transportation of goods through the maze like channels and shallow lagoons of the Delta. Today this is still in practice; however the trait is slowly giving away to the march of westernization into the area and most makoros are used in the tourism industry, opening up employment opportunities with many of the hunters and fishermen employed as 'polers' by the safari companies.

    Described as one of the most peaceful ways to experience Africa in its entire splendour, mokoro safaris provide an opportunity to observe the sights and sounds of nature at water level, without running the risk of scaring off animals and birds with the noise of a motor.

    For the modern traveller, the mokoro safari usually entails a guide standing at the back (stern) of the boat using the Ngashe Pole to steer and propel the boat forward, whilst one or two guests sit at the front of the boat relaxing and enjoying the view. The advantage of a mokoro is that it can be ‘poled’ across deep lakes and rivers as well as the scenic papyrus and reed filled channels and waterways, allowing one to traverse shallower waters, getting closer to the wildlife and birds frequenting the edge of the riverbanks.

    The photographic opportunities provided on a makoro safari are immeasurable as one glides past the herds of animals on the banks of the Delta river system. As tourism to Botswana has increased, the mokoro has since become an iconic symbol of the Delta. Be sure to take part in a mokoro experience during your next Botswana Safari!
  • Come Travel with Hartley’s Unashamed Wild Luxury Safari
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    Come Travel with Hartley’s Unashamed Wild Luxury Safari
    Selected for their unique habitats and extraordinary experiences, Wilderness Safaris Camps in Botswana combine perfectly to create a luxurious and thrilling safari, where land meets water. This luxury offer includes a visit to either Jao Camp or Vumbura Plains, both which celebrate the true spirit of the Delta as well as the classic African safari experience.

    Jao Camp is the ultimate in relaxation and its exceptional island setting sees its opulent tents overlooking surrounding waters, while Vumbura Plains is a sumptuous retreat of contemporary design that boasts open and expansive rooms with a broad vista over a magnificent floodplain.

    Your second destination is the ultimate wildlife destination – Mombo Camp. This quintessential luxury safari camp looks out on the almost-continuous presence of wildlife, from large herds of plains game to lurking predators. Celebrated for its longstanding and important elephant conservation, the majestic Abu Camp is an inspiring finale. This extraordinary sanctuary transports you into the serene, sensory world of the African elephant.
  • Pumulani on Lake Malawi
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    Pumulani on Lake Malawi
    David Livingstone famously named Lake Malawi “The Lake Of Stars” and for good reason, during the day the light dances across the deep blue water and once the sun has set the stars twinkle brightly both in the sky but also on the lake as the fishermen light up their hurricane lamps for their night on the lake.

    Situated on the west side of the Nankumba Peninsula on the Southern end of Lake Malawi you find Pumulani subtly nestled in the lush hills amongst the trees and craggy outcrops. The ten villas with their grass roofs to help reflect the heat provide the ultimate in space, design, comfort and privacy. Guests can relax on the white sandy beach or enjoy an elevated view of the lake from the stylish infinity pool.

    For those seeking some activity, on offer is water-skiing, sailing, kayaking, walks in the hills, sunset cruises on a hand built dhow along with snorkelling and diving. Under water activities never fail to amaze as the diversity of fish life is surprising and experts say that this lake is home to more native fish species than any other in the world.

    After dark you may revel in the joys of the night sky with the incredible star gazer, it will revolutionise the way you look at the stars!!
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