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  • Dog Tracking Units to Fight Poaching
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    Dog Tracking Units to Fight Poaching
    Prized for their magnificent ivory tusks, elephant populations across much of Africa and Asia have dropped by 62% over the last decade due to the insatiable lust for Ivory products in the Asian market. Despite the international ban on ivory trading, the price of ivory in China has tripled, making the illegal trade of ivory extremely profitable.

    In an attempt to combat the rise in poaching, Big Life in Tanzania and Kenya have come up with an innovative and highly effective approach to add to their arsenal in the battle against poachers, A Tracking Dog Unit. Using trained tacking dogs and their uncanny sniffing ability, Big Life have had much success in tracking poachers since the introduction of the unit in 2011. After adopting four Alsatians, Max, Jazz, Rocky and Jerry from kennels in the Netherlands the dogs were transported to Canine Specialist Services International (CSSI) In Tanzania. Under the guide of Will Powell they underwent an intense eight months training, learning to pick up and follow the scent of humans from footprints or materials left behind at the scene. But the training did not stop there, it’s an ongoing process, both at the kennels and in the field. It includes tasks designed to keep the dogs focused on a particular scent and to differentiate one track from another.

    Dogs can track a trail from a kill site up to a day past the event, often leading their handlers straight to the poacher’s door. “Our dogs have tracked elephant poachers for up to eight hours at a time or more, through extreme conditions – heat, rain, wetlands, and mountains – and still turned up results” says Damien Bell, director of Big Life Tracker Dog Unit. The dogs and their incredible tracking abilities have created a reputation for themselves in the community. In fact, dog teams have become so popular that Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), the wildlife division, the police and even the military have requested their assistance. Their reputation has also spread amongst poachers with the Masaai being particularly terrified of tracker dogs, regarding their tacking abilities as supernatural.

    In Southern Africa, K-9 unit in the Kruger National Park has also employed dog tracking units using two breeds of dogs, Belgian Malinois and Weimarana in their fight against poaching. Malinois are used exclusively for tracking human suspects, to detect firearms and bullet casings and to restrain suspects when it requires force. Weimarana’s, on the other hand are used mostly for tracking animals, detecting animal remains and snares and to locate wounded animals.

    Poachers are becoming more and more skilful at evading capture. Stopping them is the ultimate objective, but it often comes down to the chase. With the aid of Big Life and K-9 dog tracking units the tracking and arrest of poachers is becoming less difficult. It’s not often man’s best friend can come to the aid of the world’s largest land based mammal but this unlikely relationship may be just what is needed to fight the war against poaching.
  • Sea Turtle Hatchlings
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    Sea Turtle Hatchlings
    Seven species of marine turtles exist in the world’s oceans, therefore turtles are important indicators of ocean health. There are five species found off the Kwa-Zulu Natal Coast, namely, the loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, green and Olive Ridley turtles. Of these five species that occur in South African waters, only the loggerhead and leatherback females nest along the shores. However, in February 2014, a green turtle was found nesting on the beaches of KZN’s Isimangaliso Wetland Park – about 700 km from Europa Island in the Southern Mozambique Channel where they normally nest.

    Both loggerhead and leatherback turtles nest during the summer months at night (October – March). Steep beach makes it easy for loggerheads to swim through the surf over low lying rock ledges. The females emerge from the surf and rest in the wash zone on the beach. Here they assess the beach for any danger by lifting their heads and scanning the beach. Satisfied that there is no danger they then proceed up the beach to well above the high water mark.

    Having found a suitable site, the female commences by excavating a body pit, this enables her to lie with the top of her carapace level with the beach. She then digs an egg cavity with her hind flippers. The egg pit is a flask shaped hole about 50-80 centimetres deep. A normal clutch constitutes 100-120 soft white shelled eggs which are deposited into this hole. When all of the eggs have been laid the female fills the hole with sand and begins to knead and press the surface until the sand is tightly packed. Once she is finished she disguises the nest site by throwing sand with her fore-flippers over the nesting area. Leatherbacks can return up to seven times in one season to lay eggs.

    After incubating for 60 to 70 days, the baby turtles break out of their eggs and immediately head for the relative safety of the sea.

    In 1963, the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife) began monitoring these fascinating creatures’ nesting habits. It had the explicit aim of protecting sea turtles while ashore and at the same time collecting data on morphometrics, site preferences and population status. Even though interactions by the local communities with turtles were relatively few, “bad habits” crept in and turtle numbers dwindled. The first conservation measures were introduced in 1916 but with little effect, such that in the first year of monitoring only six leatherback nests were counted in the index area. Now after five decades of dedicated conservation and nest protection, turtle numbers have increased to about 60 leatherback nests and between 2500 and 3000 loggerhead nests per season in the area north of Bhanga Nek.
  • Misool Eco Resort
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    Misool Eco Resort
    Misool Eco Resort is a remote dive resort and conservation centre located in the Southern region of Raja Ampat, West Papua. This magnificent resort is surrounded by an archipelago of uninhabited islands and located in the heart of one of the richest, bio-diverse dive regions in the world. For those divers who prefer a land based vacation as opposed to livaboard, Misool Eco Resort’s location makes it ideal for diving while at the same time providing guests with blissfully secluded accommodation, making it the ultimate tropical getaway destination for dive enthusiasts and holiday makers alike.

    The rustic water cottages are positioned on stilts above the lapping waters, overlooking the shallow turquoise lagoon. Stairs leading from the balcony allow guests to enjoy the temperate waters right from their doorstep, while hammocks set the scene for maximum relaxation. With the House Reef just a few splashes away guests can enjoy the dazzling variety of marine life without having to leave the resort or travel far. However, for guests who would like a change of scenery, boats from the resort leave daily allowing guests to travel and experience the wealth of diverse dive sites that Raja Ampat has to offer.
  • Gorilla Naming Ceremony
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    Gorilla Naming Ceremony
    The theme for Kwita Izina 2015 is conserving now and for the future …………

    In Rwanda every gorilla birth is a reason for celebration of the successful conservation efforts.

    Naming a newly born baby has been part of Rwandan culture and tradition for centuries. Given the remarkable efforts made by the Government of Rwanda, through the Rwanda Development Board, and in collaboration with various conservation partners and local communities, to actively protect the Mountain Gorillas and their habitat, the old naming century’s tradition was modelled on these species to get the national brand known as “Kwita Izina”.

    Names attributed to the gorillas play a significant role in the on-going programme of monitoring each individual gorilla in their families and habitat. Kwita Izina, a uniquely Rwandan event, was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness of conservation efforts for the endangered mountain gorilla.

    For three decades prior to the first official gorilla naming ceremony, the naming of baby gorillas was carried out by the rangers and researchers that closely monitor these unique animals on a daily basis, with little public awareness.

    Kwita Izina has been attended by thousands of international, regional and local participants over recent years. The Government of Rwanda and conservation partners have donated substantial resources to gorilla conservation and continue to do so. Each year new born gorilla babies are celebrated in an exciting event at the foothills of the Virunga Mountains. The gorilla naming ceremony is the climax of the Kwita Izina week. It will be celebrated in Kinigi where names will be given to 24 baby gorillas. This is an exciting, once in a lifetime event that attracts close to twenty thousand people.

    Tourism that focuses on natural environments is a large and growing part of the industry in Rwanda. While it can contribute in a positive manner to socio-economic development and environmental protection, uncontrolled tourism growth can also cause environmental degradation, destruction of fragile ecosystems, and social and cultural conflict, undermining the basis of tourism. Therefore, considering that natural forests constitute 8.7% of the national territory, conservation continues to play a crucial role in the country’s development.

    Although the Naming Ceremony has passed for this year its is definitely something to consider adding to your bucket list for 2016!
  • Humpback Whales of Mozambique
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    Humpback Whales of Mozambique
    The waters off the 2,500km coastline of Mozambique are bursting with an array of diverse creatures, the most spectacular being the humpback whale. Between January and June, humpback whales feed in the cold, nutrient rich waters of the Antarctic before migrating to the warmer waters near the equator to breed and give birth, between the months of July and December. This 12,000km journey is one of the longest migrations of any animal. On their migratory route they pass between the east coast of Africa and Madagascar, making Mozambique a prime whale-watching location.

    From the shore, it is often possible to see the humpback whales swimming gracefully in the distance, making a boat journey to see them up close, irresistible. When out on the water you will witness the power of these ‘sea giants’ as they burst out of the water (breaching), throwing two-thirds of their body into the air before creating a huge splash as they land on their backs. Although the whales display their incredible power, you will also see their unexpected elegance when they ‘spyhop’ and ‘sail’. ‘Spyhopping’ is when the whale raises its head and part of its body out of the water in a controlled manner to curiously inspect its surroundings. Whales are said to be ‘sailing’ when they hold their flukes in the air for an extended period of time, resembling a ships sails. The subtlety of these great mammals is a wonder of nature and is bound to leave you feeling in awe.

    As you submerge into the underwater world of these giants, you may find yourself mesmerised by the ethereal song of the humpback whale. Lasting up to 30 minutes and travelling vast distances, this song is both powerful and precious and is still an enigma to scientists. Whilst you are suspended in the deep blue waters, a looming shadow may appear and then out of the depths, a humpback whale will reveal itself as it gracefully glides past. This is when their colossal size is put into perspective as you feel insignificant in the presence of these tranquil giants. One may think that a large animal, such as the humpback whale, would be somewhat cumbersome; however, their agility is astonishing as they glide through the water with such precision and ease.

    Whether you are watching from a boat or in the water, humpback whales are one of the most fascinating animals. Amazing sightings of these creatures can be seen in Mozambique during the humpback whale season; between July and December.
  • 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

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