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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!!

The 10 to 4 Mountain Bike Challenge

One of the best-kept secrets on Africa’s adventure tourism calendar is the 10 to 4 Mt Kenya mountain Bike Challenge which raises money for the Mount Kenya Trust. Held annually since 2002, when a small group of enthusiastic mountain bikers cycled from 10,000ft above sea level down to 4,000ft, it is the major fundraiser for the Mount Kenya Trust conservation NGO.

Since the 10 to 4 was established, over $500,000 has been raised to support the MKT in their work. This includes planting more than half a million trees, building and maintaining a 14km elephant corridor through farmland, two elephant underpasses, returning over 450 hectares of bare land to indigenous forest, tree nurseries nurturing hundreds of thousands of seedlings, and helped 50,000 Kenyans with health care and thousands of children understand conservation better.

    

Last year, under the radar, our Farside Africa Director Vicky Stirling took part in what only can be described as the ultimate bike safari. Not only did she take part but she also won her category and was the first female to finish the classic race completing 62km in around 4 hours – quite an achievement! Whilst out there she met some boys from Nanyuki who couldn’t afford to enter the race. It was too late for her to help them last year. So this year, along with a Kenyan friend, we are sponsoring two girls and two boys to compete in the race on the 9th & 10th February. The boys will compete in the Extreme race held over two days whilst the girls will take part in the Classic race held on the second day.

On day 1 they will cover about 90km facing an elevation climb of 2000m at high altitude with fast technical sections & single track. This is then followed by the Roller Coaster Classic on day 2. Starting at nearly 3000 meters, (10,000 feet), on the northern slopes of Mount Kenya, riders will descend some 70km over demanding terrain, through indigenous forest and wide open plains, abundant with wildlife, down to the Ngare Ndare Forest at 1940 meters, (6400 feet).

  

Our ‘NANYUKI Mambas’ team consists of David, Joseph, Joyce and Asmin who live in and around Nanyuki and we wish them the best of luck!

Please GET IN TOUCH if you would like to sponsor Farside Africa’s ‘NANYUKI Mambas’ team. Farside Africa has paid directly for the entry fees and team shirts so any extra funds raised will go directly to the Mount Kenya Trust.

Spotlight on Zimbabwe…..Hwange National Park

There is an air of positivity in Zimbabwe and amongst its supporters since the coup that wasn’t a coup and we are all keeping our fingers crossed for the future of Zimbabwe and its people. With stability returning and investment in tourism growing we are optimistic that holidaymakers will be returning to the beautiful wilderness areas they have always been, such as the Hwange National Park.

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