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Meet the Serval – Africa’s big little cat  

The Serval is either considered to be a very small big cat (by African standards) or the size of a very large domestic cat by UK standards.  These feral felines can weigh up to 50 pounds and look much like mini cheetahs. They have large ears and a yellowish to orange-coated fur covered in black spots, each with their own unique markings. This coloration offers the serval get camouflage when they are hiding in the long grass.

They have an excellent sense of smell, hearing and sight, which they use both for finding the prey and for avoiding predators.  They are also fast – reaching speeds of over 50 miles per hour and capable of leaping up to 3.5 metres in a single bound. They use their long legs for stalking and then pouncing on prey, unlike cheetahs that simply outrun their pray. The serval cat will find its prey by crouching with their eyes closed, listening out with their huge ears for a passing rodent to snack on.

Servals can be found in the wetlands and grasslands of southern and central Africa.  They are highly adaptable and thrive in lush planted areas close to water. They’re at their most active at dawn and dusk, hunting in the tall grass for small rodents and reptiles and have even been spotted taking birds from the sky with their claws given the opportunity.

They are solitary animals and only really ‘socialise’ during mating season.  Pregnant females will make a nest in tall grass to give birth. Kittens are born a grey colour with their spots barely visible, but they grow up quickly, and within two weeks their eyes are open and their coat has taken on the beautiful colouring of an adult Serval.  Kittens drink milk during first five months of their life. After that, they will accompany their mother as she teaches them to hunt. The kittens will stay with their mother for about a year before striking out on their own.

Facts about Servals:

  • Their main predators are humans (who hunt them for fur), leopards, hyenas and wild dogs.
  • Young Servals are often preyed on by eagles and snakes.
  • Servals live on average around 10-12 years in the wild. The oldest known serval lived for 23 years!
  • They are not considered to be endangered. Their numbers in the wild are still strong despite having impacts on their habitat in built up areas.
  • You are lucky if you get the chance to see one as they are small and love to hide in the long grass!  I was one on the lucky ones in May 2019 when I spotted one in the central Serengeti.

Can you spot the difference between a black and a white rhino?

It’s not quite as simple as it sounds! In Africa there are two species of rhino; black and white rhinos. Naming them by colour has created some confusion because both species of rhino are in fact grey! Despite them being the same colour they do have many different characteristics helping you to tell them apart if you are lucky enough to see them. The confusion started when early Dutch settlers referred to a rhino as having a “wijde lip” the English mistook the word “wijde” (meaning wide) for “white” and assumed that they were called white rhinos.

So, if they are both grey – how can you tell them apart?

Lips: They have very different lip shapes. The black rhino has a pointed upper lip, while a white rhino has a wide, squared lip. This is due to the animals’ diets.  Black rhinos are browsers that get most of their food from eating trees and bushes plucking leaves and fruit from branches. White rhinos prefer to graze on grasses, strolling along with their heads and lowered to the ground making use of their squared lip a bit like a very large lawnmower!

Size: White rhinos are much larger, longer and more cumbersome.  The black rhino is shorter and more compact. White rhinos also have a flat back with a small hump about three quarters of the way along its body.  A black rhino has a deep arch in its back.

The senses: Both black and white rhinos have very bad eyesight but a great sense of smell to help them to stay aware of their surroundings.  The difference is their ears.  White rhinos ears are tubular in shape. Black rhinos ears are much smaller and rounder in shape.

Behaviour: Black rhinos have a reputation for being more aggressive and inquisitive than the white rhino.

Rhino Facts:

  • They are faster than they look! White rhinos can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h and black rhinos are even faster running up to 55 km/h.
  • During the heat of the day, rhinos can be found sleeping in the shade or wallowing in muddy pools to cool off. The mud also protects their skin from the strong sun (like a natural sunblock) and wards off biting bugs, too.
  • Males are called ‘bulls’ and like to be left alone, unless in search of a female to breed with when in a group it’s known as a ‘crash’.
  • Rhino horns grow as much as three inches a year, and can grow up to five feet long.
  • Southern white rhinos numbers are increasing in protected sanctuaries and are now classified as near threatened. The western black rhino and northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild. The only two remaining northern white rhino known to exist are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.
  • Black rhinos have doubled in numbers from their low point of fewer than 2,500 and the continued efforts of conservationists are helping those numbers to continue to rise.

Species of rhino in Africa:

The Black rhino can be found across southern and eastern Africa but conservation efforts are helping to expand their range and numbers which are currently thought to be between 5,366 and 5,627.   The White (Southern) rhino can also be found in eastern and southern Africa and as with the Black Rhino, conservation efforts are helping to expand their range and numbers which are currently thought to be between 17,212 and 18,915 left in the world.

There’s also the Northern White rhino. In March 2018, the world lost the last known male northern white rhino. Sudan, the 45-year old gentle giant, had to be euthanized after his health declined. Sudan’s final years were spent at his home in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. This tragedy left only two northern white rhinos alive in the world, both of them females. Both still live on Ol Pejeta.  Years of widespread poaching and civil war in their home range devastated northern white rhino populations, and they are now believed to be extinct in the wild.

There are also desert-adapted black rhinos! A desert black rhino looks a bit different to other black rhino.  Their horn is slightly longer and thinner than a regular black rhino, this helping them to forage in barren environments.

  • They are the largest truly free-ranging population of black rhino in the world.
  • They are hardy rhinos who survive in temperature extremes ranging from sub-zero to above 40°C! The arid environment also means very little rainfall. Normally rhino drink every night, yet the desert rhinos only take water every few days.
  • The scenery is scattered with basalt rocks and mountain ranges with little vegetation, but these rhinos are able to digest highly toxic desert plants such as the Euphorbia damarana, a succulent plant which is deadly to humans.

Other species of rhino in the world include: The Javan rhino (one of the rarest large mammals on earth) found in Java (Indonesia) and has a current known population of just 69! The Sumatran rhino (has been on earth longer than any other living mammal) is found in Sumatra (Indonesia) and Sabah (Malaysia) There are only around 80 known to be left.  The Greater one-horned rhino is semi-aquatic and can be found in India and Nepal there are thought to be around 3,550 left in the world.

How can you help to save the Rhino? Find out how you can play your part in ending this barbaric trade and help save the rhino!  savetherhino.org/get-involved/

Discover the secrets of the mighty Victoria Falls

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – Victoria Falls is the world’s largest curtain of falling water.   The 1,700 metre wide cascade of water plummets 110 metres down to the lower Zambezi River.  This awe inspiring sight also forms the spectacular border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Evolution theorists believe that the falls were formed around 100,000 years ago, when the Upper Zambezi River flowed across the plateau, finding and forming cracks in the softer rock, eventually creating a series of gorges.

Victoria Falls’ local name is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which translates to “The Smoke That Thunders” – which is spot on.  This name was given to the falls by the Kololo tribe that lived in the area in the 1800s.

Dr David Livingstone was the first European to see the falls in 1855. The Scottish missionary and explorer had heard many tales of the thundering, smoke like waters on the Zambezi and he finally arrived before them on November 16, 1855.  Livingston stood on a small outcrop on the edge of the waterfall (which was subsequently christened Livingstone Island) and named the Victoria Falls in honour of Queen Victoria.

The magic of the Victoria Falls puts it firmly on the must see list but what other extraordinary secrets does it hold?

The Zimbabwean side of the falls will offer you the best view of the famous curtain of water.  Here you will also find the Victoria Falls Rainforest, which is home to a breathtaking range of unique plants and animal life.  Listen out for the strange calls of the resident birdlife including the child-like cries of the Trumpeter Hornbills echoing through the rainforest.  There’s also the cute Schalow’s Turaco.

This beautiful bird is mainly green but with a blaze of red feathers which show from under its wing when in flight.  It also has a funny little Mohawk making it easily recognisable with its red eyes and beak. You may also spot the small fast flying sunbirds among the many colourful and varied species found in the region.

It has its very own rainbow!  As the sun shines through the mist created by the falls it forms an almost ever present rainbow.  Even at night, the reflection of moonlight on the water creates what is referred to as a ‘Moonbow’ or ‘Lunar Rainbow’.  When the moon is full, this can last from sunset to sunrise.

If you visit between the months of September to December, you can enjoy a dip in the world’s most exciting infinity pool!  During this time water levels drop and as a result, you can swim to the very edge of Victoria Falls in this naturally formed pool, the Devils Pool, and look down into the gorge below. Other activities around the falls are bungee jumping off the bridge, gorge swings and the world famous white water rafting.

 

Victoria Falls facts:

  • While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on sheer volume of water.
  • During the wet season an estimated 5,000,000m³ of water pours over the falls every minute.
  • The water depth at the base of the falls is 70 meters (229 feet).
  • Fish live in the river above and below the falls. The river is home to 39 species of fish below the falls and 89 species above it.
  • The Victoria Falls Bridge was the vision of Cecil John Rhodes but he died before its completion.

 

 

Meet the Patas Monkey – the fastest primate in the world !

Vicky has already beaten you to it! She was fortunate enough to have met these beautiful animals in Murchison Falls and Kidepo National Parks during her recent trip to Uganda.

They really are stunning and very fast!  We hope you enjoy finding out more about them in our blog and if you fancy meeting them yourself – just give us a call……

Patas Monkeys:

These super speedy monkeys spend most of their time on the ground and with their slender bodies and long powerful legs they are able to run at speeds of up to 55 kph.

They’re common in dry areas throughout western and eastern Africa, living in open spaces in groups of up to 60.  They are omnivores, mainly eating fruit, gum, leaves, birds eggs, small reptiles, insects and crops.

The patas monkey uses different calls for different predators to alert the others and then uses its speed to evade pesky predators such as lions and hyenas.

Most of their time is spent foraging. They set out in the early morning to go find food and will continue this till sunset. At night they’ll find a tree to rest in.

After about 3 years the male infants will begin to leave the group and find their own territories or sometimes join an all-male group. Groups may consist of all males or females led by a dominant male.

5 facts about the Patas Monkey:

  1. Their ability to reach speeds of up to 55km/hr (34mi/hr) makes them the world’s fastest primate.
  2. This species frequently vocalizes but it is quite quiet. They can make a chirp, chutter, cough, grunt or squeal.
  3. Males can grow up to nearly 1 metre tall, with females slightly shorter more brightly coloured.
  4. To find a partner a female will crouch in front of a male and exhale her cheek pouches.
  5. Other names for the patas monkey include red monkey, military monkey, hussar monkey, Sergeant major monkey and dancing monkey.

 

The Okavango Delta

One of the world’s unique natural wonders, the Okavango Delta in Botswana is the world’s largest inland delta.  With 15,000 square kilometres of lush wetland, game–rich safari, flourishing eco-system and amazing birdlife – it really is a must-see destination for wildlife lovers seeking an adventure.

Sourced by southern Africa’s third largest river, the Okavango, the Delta contains over 150,000 islands. Many of these islands are just a few metres wide while some of the larger islands can be up to 10 km. The largest is Chief’s Island, at around 70km long and 14km wide.

The annual flood that feeds the area typically comes between March and June, originating from the Angola Mountains, 1.600 km further west, the Okavango River flows into Botswana but never makes it to the ocean, instead the water fills the delta before sinking in to the Kalahari Desert.

The Moremi National Park protects around 40% of the Okavango Delta area. Surrounding the National Park there are a number of conservancies with small, private safari camps to protect the rest of the area and its delicate balance. These low–impact lodges and camps leave only a small footprint ensuring the area is preserved in the most natural and unspoiled way possible for future generations  of both wildlife and visitors to enjoy.

The Okavango Delta is home to a wealth of game from the ‘big five’ to a great many animals you may never have heard of.  It’s also home to over 500 species of bird with numbers boosted by the migratory birds that join the locals around November each year – a must for all bird watchers. Other bird species found in the area include the Pel’s fishing owl, African fish eagle, the lilac-breasted roller and the hamerkop.

November to March is breeding time with lots of the Delta’s animals giving birth to their young.  As a result, there are also lots of predators around at this time, attracted by the venerable new residents of the Delta – giving visitors even more opportunity to witness the magic of Okavango Delta.

5 Facts about the Okavango Delta

  1. In 2014, the Okavango Delta became the 1,000th place to be enlisted as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  2. The Seven Natural Wonders of Africa were announced in 2013 and named the Okavango Delta alongside the River Nile, the Ngorongoro Crater, the great Serengeti migration, the Sahara Desert, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Red Sea coral reef.
  3. Mokoro (dug-out) canoes are still used in the area. These traditional boats were once made from a carved out tree trunk, however, now many are made out of more environmentally-friendly fibreglass but still offer a great way to get around and enjoy a water-based safari.
  4. There are strong numbers of Lechwe (antelopes found in wetlands of south central Africa) with around 60,000 living in the delta.
  5. Five tribes still use the area for fishing, growing crops and hunting.

Special offer: Kids go free to Botswana!

KIDS GO FREE TO BOTSWANA. Discover the beauty of the Okavango Delta with your children, silently floating across the delta in original wooden Mekoros watching the birds and animals come down to drink. You will walk on islands learning about the flora and fauna of this very special AND unique habitat. You can also visit a local village to see how the people of the delta live in this watery wilderness.

Spend 3 nights at Delta Camp inclusive of return air transfers from Maun.  This offer is valid for one or two children (under the age of 16) travelling with parents in 2019 and sharing a room.  Offer subject to availability at time of booking. Excludes international flights.

For more information on our special offers contact us on 0131 315 2464.

Amazing Special Offer – Discover southern Tanzania at LOW SEASON RATES ALL YEAR!

Great savings available across the Selous Safari Company range.  Start your wildlife adventure at Siwandu Camp in the Selous Game Reserve and/or Jongomero Camp in Ruaha National Park before kicking off your shoes to enjoy the Tanzanian coast.

Complete your beach and bush adventure on the powder white sands of the private island of Fanjove, watching the dolphins at play or at the idyllic barefoot hideaway that is the Ras Kutani resort where the deserted shores of the Indian Ocean meets a freshwater lagoon.

For more information on our special offers contact us on 0131 315 2464, [email protected].

 

Pel’s Fishing Owl

The Pel’s Fishing Owl is the second largest owl found in Africa next to the Verreaux’s eagle-owl  (also known as the milky eagle or giant eagle owl).  The Pel’s Fishing Owl is a nocturnal bird that loves to eat fish, crabs mussels and even the occasional frog or baby crocodile- if the fancy takes it.

They live in dense forest locations, choosing to perch high in thick foliage close to big rivers, so they can live and hunt with ease without being disturbed.  The Pel’s Fishing owl is as elusive as it is rare and for many birders it is a spot of a lifetime.

Found in sub-Saharan Africa, it is classified as threatened in South Africa due to the loss of habitat and pollution.  The Okavango Delta in Botswana is considered one of the best places to try and catch a glimpse, where there are believed to be around 100 mating pairs.

The Pel’s fishing owl is ginger-brown in colour with black spots on both their wings and breast area. Unlike most owls, they hunt by sight rather than sound as their prey is underwater.  As a result, they don’t have the usual concave facial disk which other owls use for detecting prey by sound.  Their legs and toes are also adapted to their hunting needs – having no feathers so they don’t retain excess water when grabbing pray out of the water with their claws.

The pel’s fishing owl usually hunts at night. It perches in the tree, looking onto the water and waits for its prey to get close to the surface.  The bird will swoop down and snatch the fish from the water.

Pel’s Fishing Owls are monogamous, choosing one mate for life. They breed once every two years, with the female laying two eggs.  Sadly, it’s rare for both chicks to survive. They build their nests inside a tree cavity, around 3 to 12 metres above the ground.  Chicks are considered a fledgling at about 70 days old but will stay with their parents for around 9 months while they learn the ropes.

Top 5 facts about Pel’s Fishing Owl:

  1. They don’t migrate on a seasonal basis and will only move to new territory if the food supply in their existing habitat becomes depleted.
  2. Male and female birds communicate using hoots. Males have a deep, reverberating call (hoom-hut) which can be heard up to three kilometres away!
  3. The female’s call is higher pitched and usually a single hoot followed by a double hoot-oot.
  4. The pel’s fishing owl is named after Hendrik Severinus Pel, a former Dutch governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) between 1840 and 1850.
  5. They can grow to around 60cm tall with an average wingspan of 150cm. Females are larger and heavier than males.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Located in the Eastern Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania the Ngorongoro Crater was created around 2.5 million years ago when a huge active volcano (that might have once been Africa’s highest peak) collapsed inward following a ferocious volcanic eruption.  The implosion created the world’s largest intact, unfilled caldera. The crater itself is about 610 metres from rim to floor and covers an area of around 260 square kilometres.

The Ngorongoro Crater is now a phenomenal natural amphitheatre.  The caldera floor is predominantly open grassland, enclosing some 260km of plains and lakes, along with an estimated 30,000 animals including the endangered black rhino, lion, cheetah and flamingos. It is an awe-inspiring site offering an excellent opportunity for close up wildlife photography and a truly unforgettable safari experience.

The drive from the nearby town of Arusha to Ngorongoro gives you a real feel for the country and its people. From the floor of the Great Rift Valley, you can drive through colourful market towns, past rolling hills cultivated with coffee and tea plantations, past forests and streams before climbing up into the cooler tropical forest and to the rim of the spectacular 20 kilometre-wide Ngorongoro Crater.

5 facts about the Ngorongoro Crater:

  1. The caldera became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and is one of Africa’s seven natural wonders, including The Nile River, Sahara Desert, Okavango Delta, the Serengeti Migration, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Red Sea Reef.
  2. The Ngorongoro Crater has the densest known lion population in the world.
  3. In the middle of the Ngorongoro Crater there is a salt-water lake by the name of ‘Makat’ or ‘Magadi’ as it is also known, and to the east of the crater is a spring named Ngoitokitok Spring.
  4. It is believed that the volcano that created the Ngorongoro Crater was originally higher than, or as high as Mount Kilimanjaro, which is Africa’s highest mountain.
  5. In the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is Oldupai Gorge (often misnamed Olduvai) which is home to one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites. The remains discovered there by archaeologists Mary and Louis Leakey are said to be the earliest known evidence of the human species. A museum founded by Mary Leakey is situated on the edge of the gorge and displays exhibits, including fossilised footprints and artefacts left by our oldest human ancestors.

First confirmed sighting of an African black panther for 100 years

Researchers have confirmed that there are rare black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya.  This is the first confirmed sighting since 1909.  Black leopards are often referred to as “black panthers”—a term used for any big cat with a black coat. There have been reports of black leopards sighting in Kenya over the years, but no confirmed sightings for over 100 years.

Credit Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography

The discovery was made by photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, alongside a team of wildlife researchers and their guide who  set up cameras near to Laikipia Wilderness Camp to get undeniable proof of the extremely rare and elusive melanistic leopard.  Melanism is caused by a gene that creates a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal.  African black leopards are so rare that researchers have been unable to confirm if the genetic mutation responsible for their dark pigmentation is the same as the melanism found in Southeast Asian leopards.

Photographed with a Camtraptions camera trap. Laikipia Wilderness Camp, Kenya. Credit Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography.

The African Wildlife Federation (AFW) states there are nine leopard subspecies that are native to more than 25 African countries, with the black cats listed as “vulnerable” since 1986.  Hopefully we can now learn more about these elusive leopards and subsequently see their numbers increase.

5 black leopard facts:

  1. Leopards are powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars.
  2. The melanism gives the leopard the appearance of being completely black but its rosettes are still visible.
  3. There are nine leopard subspecies ranging from Africa all the way to eastern Russia
  4. 11% of leopards are thought to be melanistic, however most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.
  5. In Kenya, black leopards seem to prefer semi-arid shrub land.