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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.

Meet the Grey Crowned Crane – The large African bird that loves to dance!

Found in the grassland and wetland areas of the eastern and southern regions of Africa, the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum) is over 1 metre tall with a wingspan of 2 metres!

These beautiful birds have a grey body, white wings with feathers ranging from white to brown to gold and a head topped with stiff golden feathers.

The grey crowned crane loves to dance and relays on its impressive dance moves to attract a mate. Both males and females will dance for each other moving their feet, bowing, jumping and spreading their wings – showing off their plumage to their best advantage.

Once their dance moves have paid off and they have chosen a mate females will lay 2-3 eggs at a time. Grey crowned cranes like to share their parental duties, with both the male and the female helping to build the nest, incubating the egg and caring for their young.  The chicks are ‘precocial’ which means they can run as soon as they hatch!

Grey Crowned Cranes have a long hind toe, making them one of only two species of crane (the other being the black crowned crane) that can perch and build nests in trees if they want – helping them to avoid predators on the ground.

They’re also omnivores, so they can eat both plants and animals. They aren’t picky eaters either and will spend most of their day foraging for food, feeding on anything from insects, lizards, amphibians, fish, grasses and seeds.

The grey crowned crane is listed as endangered on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation in Nature) Red List. They’re protected by law in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya. There are also conservation projects in place to ensure their survival, with Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Botswana.

5 facts about the Grey Crowned Crane:

  1. They can flock in groups of between 30 and 150 birds.
  2. The Grey Crowned Crane is the national bird of Uganda.
  3. They don’t tweet, they honk (very loudly!).
  4. Grey Crowned Cranes are non-migratory but do make seasonal movements.
  5. Females can lay 2-3 eggs at a time, which is the largest clutch of any species of crane.

Meet the Aardwolf – The Earth Wolf

Found in  eastern and southern Africa, the aardwolf (Proteles cristata) means ‘earth wolf’ in Afrikaans but the aardwolf is not actually related to aardvarks or wolves, it is in fact the smallest member of the hyena family!

Like all members of the Hyaenidae family, their front legs are longer than their hind legs, giving them a sloped stature and resemble a small striped hyena. They also have bushy, black tipped tails with a mane that stretches down its back from the head to the tail, which rises up if it feels threatened or scared.

At around 3 feet in length and weighing up to 30 pounds, aardwolves consume between 200,000 to 300,000 termites in one night. With their acute hearing, they are able to detect termites in the ground and then eat them using their broad, sticky tongue. Maggots and other invertebrates with soft bodies are occasionally eaten too – along with small mammals, birds and carrion if food is scarce.

Aardwolves mate for life and pregnancy lasts for around 90-100 days with 2 to 4 cubs born.  The cubs spend first month of their life hidden in a den. The cubs drink their mother’s milk during the first 3 – 4 months, before being weaned on regurgitated termites.  They then join their parents in foraging for food. Aardwolves will leave their family group at the age of one year to begin an independent life.

These reclusive, nocturnal animals have a  preference for semi-arid, open plains, savannas and grasslands where they’ll live in a burrow in the ground. Even though they could easily dig a hole in a ground using their claws, aardwolves prefer the abandoned burrows of other animals such as aardvarks and porcupines.

5 Facts about the Aardwolf:

    1. Aardwolves have strong jaws and canine teeth, but the rest of their teeth have been reduced to flattened pegs, used for eating insects. Aardwolves will primarily use their canine teeth for fighting and defending themselves.

     

    1. Aardwolves will use their manes to appear bigger. If another aardwolf threatens their territory, they will raise their manes as a warning and chase the intruder away and will only fight if it needs to.

     

    1. They communicate largely through smell. Aardwolves have two anal glands that secrete a black, musky fluid that they use to mark their territories and send messages to other aardwolves. They smear these secretions on foliage to establish territories and attract potential mates. They tend to be vocal only when confronting intruders or predators.

     

    1. Aardwolves are nocturnal creatures (active during the night) but once winter comes they generally conserve energy by sleeping at night and feeding during the day.

     

    1. Vicky spent a sleepless night sharing her bedroom (it was actually his bedroom) with an orphaned but quite large aardwolf called Woolfie!! Vicky didn’t realise at the time they only ate insects!!

Something to wet your appetite for your next trip

We are delighted to announce the arrival of our new BPA free reusable water bottles which we give to you when you book a holiday with us.  (BPA = nasty chemicals).

These great, lightweight bottles have a handy wrist/belt loop, latch lid and 500ml capacity with measurement scale so you can easily keep track of your fluid intake in the sun.

We are also encouraging all the lodges and ground operators that we work with to provide filtered drinking water rather than buying  water in single-use plastic bottles.

Our new reusable water bottles will be sent out prior to your trip with your holiday documents.

Have you ever hunted with wild dogs?

I gave it a go at Kwando’s Lagoon Camp in Botswana and what an experience, definitely not for the faint hearted! Kwando have armour plated their vehicles so they can follow the dogs over rough ground and areas thick with bushes.

Wild dogs at Kwando’s Lagoon Camp in Botswana.

The dogs move fast through the bush, so it’s difficult keeping up with them and when they spread out, it’s even more difficult.

Through the expertise of our guide, we find the pack.

Only with the sharp eyes of our tracker and skilled driving of our guide were we able to follow them at all. The first commotion we came across the dogs had found a honey badger….

The wild dogs on the trail of a honey badger.

Now most animals know not to mess with a honey badger! He has very sharp teeth and is vicious, especially when he has a delicious boomslang (snake) in his jaws and a pack of wild dogs around him.

The dogs were just teasing him though and he got into a right old frenzy dropping his snake and disappearing into the undergrowth. The dogs headed off in search of something a bit more tasty, and after a short while there was yelping from the dogs and we followed at high speed trying to hang onto cameras, binoculars, water bottles and ourselves. I was in the very back of the 3-tiered vehicle and it was an interesting ride! We ground to a halt to find one dog holding tightly onto the snout of a very large wart hog – and the other dogs trying to get hold of him but he was giving a hell of a battle trying to get away.

But to no avail as when a wild dog gets a hold he doesn’t let go for anything.

The next half hour was certainly not for any warthog lover, or anyone too squeamish. The noise of the poor squealing pig was heart-wrenching (I can still hear it today).

It was literally being eaten alive but the speed and efficiency of a pack of wild dogs was unbelievable and they had that hog stripped to the bone in an amazingly short time and everyone got their fill.

But it’s a dangerous job hunting animals with big tusks. One of the dogs was losing a lot of blood from a wound to its back leg though our guide was more worried about the puncture wound in its shoulder.

But at least he had a full belly!

When the dogs were done and only the youngsters were squabbling over a piece of tough skin, it was nearly dark and we returned to the lodge at a more sedate pace.

I was secretly hoping pork wasn’t on our dinner menu!

Meet the Dung beetle – the superstrong, family focused, African superhero!

The strongest insect in the world – the Dung beetle plays a key role in the African ecosystem, cleaning up the mess others leave behind by recycling nutrients, improving soil structure and encouraging new growth.

The strongest is the male onthophagus taurus, which can pull 1,141 times its own body weight!  The equivalent of a person pulling six double-decker buses full of people.

They eat the excrement of herbivores, as it contains more plant nutrients, however the waste of omnivores is easier to find due to the smell. Dung beetles have six legs to help them dig, collect and roll dung.  They’re even built like superheros, with a grooved shield and strong front limbs for digging and fighting. They also have their wings folded under hard covers for protection.

This romantic beetle is ready to fight for love. Females dig tunnels under dung pats to attract a mate. If a male enters a tunnel and finds a love rival, they will try and push each other out, with the  Cephalodesmius dung beetle opting to mate for life once it finds a partner.

These intriguing creatures also make great parents. They roll dung primarily to feed their young, depositing their eggs inside, so their larvae can feast and grow. This family focus doesn’t end there.  Both parents share child care duties – working together to build their nests. They then go back to work helping the African eco-system.  What a hero!

5 Facts about the African dung beetle

  1. They are the strongest insects in the world.
  2. Dung beetles can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
  3. Dung beetles have existed for 30 million years.  Fossilised dung balls the size of tennis balls have been found from Prehistoric dung beetles.
  4. Scientists have said they can use the Milky Way to navigate.
  5. There are three types of dung beetle: rollers, tunnellers and dwellers. The dwellers actually live in the dung.

The plight of the pangolin

The poaching of elephants and rhinos for their horns and tusks is widely publicised, however it is the pangolin that is believed to be the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal.

Native to Africa and Asia, the pangolin is hunted at the rate of one every five minutes.  Highly prized in Vietnam and China for both its meat and the believed medicinal benefits of its scales, the pangolin is even used to make jewellery.

There are eight species of pangolin in the world, four Asian and four African – though fossil evidence suggests that they evolved in Europe. They are all now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered.

A global trade ban was introduced in 2016 and the pangolin has a dedicated awareness day in February each year.  In addition, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge in his role as Head of United for Wildlife, has thrown his weight behind the plight of the pangolin in a bid to halt the trade for good.

Let’s hope it is in time to save this beautiful creature.

5 Facts about Pangolin

  1. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, just like our finger nails, and make up 20 per cent of their body weight.
  2. The word ‘pangolin’ comes from the Malay word ‘penggulung’, which means ‘one that rolls up’. When it is threatened a pangolin will curl itself into a tight ball, which is impenetrable to its natural predators. Sadly this doesn’t include human predators.
  3. The mammal can consume up to 20,000 ants a day. That’s about 73 million ants a year!
  4. Pangolins can close their ears and nostrils using strong muscles. This helps protect them from ant attacks.
  5. They have long, sticky tongues, which are often longer than their body. They also don’t have teeth, so can’t chew. Instead, they have keratinous spines in their stomach and swallow stones that help them grind up their food.

Click here to find out more about the race to save the pangolin.

Kenya – Special Offers

Hemmingway’s Collection is offering a number of special offers at their safari lodge and beach hotel in Kenya, throughout the year, (except for Christmas and New Year).

7 nights for the price of 5 ‘bush & beach’ combo: Enjoy the very best that Kenya has to offer and combine your stay at Ol Seki Hemingways Mara, (fully inclusive) with Hemingways Watamu, (half board).  Prices from USD $2,005 per person. Price also includes park fees & domestic flights.

There are also 9 nights for the price of 7 from $2555 and 11 nights for the price of 8 from $2,705. Contact us for more details.