UK +44 (0) 20 8704 1216
USA +1 866 356 4691








Africa Odyssey Blog

Welcome to the Africa Odyssey Blog

Mulberry Mongoose

Introducing Mulberry Mongoose

Mulberry Mongoose is a Zambian business that creates handcrafted, accessories, which capture elements of the African bush and way of life whilst investing in the conservation of the South Luangwa. Their handcrafted pieces are sold worldwide.

The name Mulberry Mongoose is partly inspired by the banded mongoose, an animal often seen in large family groups ‘talking’ incessantly to one another! The social cohesiveness of these mongooses reflects the level of social care the business is striving towards. Mulberry is a distinctive English fruit as well as a colour, and a reminder to Kate, the company’s designer, of her roots and her love of fashion. Mulberry Mongoose will always aspire to create designer accessories that people love to wear…but each piece will also embody positive, conscientious change.

Mulberry Mongoose

From working with local carpenters who create hand carved wooden beads and seeds, to supplementing local farmers’ income by buying guinea fowl feathers and ordering countless chitenge gift bags from local tailors, Mulberry Mongoose aims to give back through generating local business. They also pride themselves on hiring local artisans, particularly women, and investing in staff training and development; the aim is for the artisans’ skills to grow with the business.

Mulberry Mongoose

The impact of Mulberry Mongoose’s ambitions can already be felt; their much-celebrated Snare Wire Jewellery Collection has so far raised $50,000, in just over three years, to help fund critical anti snare patrols in the South Luangwa Valley. U.S. President Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Sting and Leo DiCaprio have all sported a Mulberry Mongoose snare bracelet.

Snare wire and coils

 

Mulberry Mongoose uses snare wire collected in by the Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) who collaborate closely with the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP). Conservation South Luangwa organizes strategic anti snare patrols to collect the illegal and lethal snare wire set around the South Luangwa National Park and surrounding buffer zones. Poachers lay snares to trap bush meat but the wire is an indiscriminate killer of iconic wildlife including elephant, giraffe, lion, leopard and the endangered wild dog.

Mulberry Mongoose then transforms the wire from something brutal into something beautiful. With the sale of each piece of jewellery money is donated back to funding more patrols; the same instrument set down to destroy wildlife is transformed into a tool to ensure their future.

Mulberry Mongoose has worldwide stockists and sells their jewellery online.

 

 

MM_Master logo_RGB

A guide to the best beaches in the Indian Ocean

We have stayed in probably all of the finest recommended beach lodges from the Seychelles to Madagascar, down the coast and islands of Kenya and Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. It is fair to say that we know what is good and, quite frankly, what is not. A guide to the best beaches in the Indian Ocean

The truth is that pictures can lie. Or at least tell only a very small part of the story. And truthful, unbiased opinion counts for a lot in this new age of information. If you are to ascertain what a location is actually like from the private marketing copy supplied by an individual lodge you should analyse what is not said as much as what is; for example, if a lodge organises daily free picnic outings and snorkelling trips, you could fairly surmise that their beach is tidal and/or awful. It is a mystery beyond understanding why many so-called beach locations have appalling beaches.

Tripadvisor can be useful, but falls short of providing relative, objective information, people tend to have a good time and write a good review wherever they are, especially if they are on honeymoon, and only go back to complain online if something goes calamitously wrong. There is no function on Tripadvisor to tell you about a better beach down the coast/ on a nearby island/ closer to the safari action, because all those reviews are subjective to the (often) one visit.

So this is a guide to unearthing the best beaches in the Indian Ocean, from an expert perspective. These are the questions that we ask, on our mission for sublime beach joy.

What is the tidal movement ?
Tides may fluctuate by up to 500 metres – making swimming impossible for the majority of your day, and often water too shallow for a proper swim even when the tide is in. And as a follow up question we would ask if the hotel has a pool to compensate for those low tide moments.

What is the quality of the beach sand?
Ideally we would be imagining powder white coral sand, but there are beaches with silty yellow sand, or rocks, razor clams, anemones, etc necessitating jelly shoes to navigate a path to the sea. We want to know if beaches have seaweed, and if so is that seasonal, or cleared by the hotel each day. Some of our favourite and most beautiful locations have a number of beaches with different aspects so when one is subject to seaweed, the other is fine.

Waves or snorkelling, swimming or surfing?
The mainland coast tends to have deeper water and big waves, whereas shallower island beaches tend to have better snorkelling. (This is a generalisation, but often true!)

How big is the hotel?
Again a generalisation, but small rustic lodges tend to be airy and natural and the larger lodges tend to be better equipped with mod cons. Think about what matters most to you; would you like black-out blinds, aircon that works, an isolated aspect or a kids’ club? If you are travelling with children you might consider if the area is malarial, are their inter-connecting rooms, how far you are prepared to fly them.

So… where then?
The million dollar question. But the answer is not simple… it is dependent on a wide range of factors, including all the answers to the above questions, budget, time of year and how far you are prepared to travel from your safari. Below is a very oversimplified analysis of the main locations:

The Seychelles
If you have deep pockets, then North Island wins hands down with its glorious, non-tidal beaches, a small, beautifully appointed and well run lodge. BUT it does cost about E2200 per person per night (pppn). Also up there in the private island stakes are Denis and DesRoches, both private islands and far more sensibly priced, but these can be difficult to get to. The Seychelles definitely fulfils all private island dreams, but otherwise the best and most beautiful beaches on the main islands of Mahe and Praslin tend to be part of the big hotels. The Seychelles are also hard to get to and from, especially from mainland Africa.

Tanzania
Still unspoilt, Tanzania is a great safari country with some very lovely Indian Ocean beach options that are easy to tack on and reasonably priced. Zanzibar has a wide range of small and large hotels, some on good breaches, some not, with good boat-based snorkelling and diving. The other main islands of Pemba and Mafia are better dive locations than they are swimming locations. Mnemba, Thanda and Fanjove are superb private islands with amazing beaches and the latter is not prohibitively expensive. Our great favourite is the tiny, rustic chic Ras Kutani, a superb beach lodge on the mainland but no diving or snorkelling.

Northern Mozambique
Hard and expensive to get to nowadays and usually accessed from Tanzania, there are a number of islands near Pemba in the Quirimbas archipelago that are worth travelling for! The jewel in the crown is Vamizi – a small lodge with a wonderful beach (though not cheap). Quilalea is more of a snorkelling or diving location, and we don’t think the mainland beach lodges are worth the expense and effort to get to

Southern Mozambique
Not the easiest or cheapest to get to, most easily accessible from Johannesburg or Kruger National Park. The mainland beaches are fine yellow sand with waves, and with good diving and snorkelling – a particular favourite is White Pearl, south of Maputo. Most of the lodges, though, are in the Bazaruto archipelago on the islands of Benguerra or Bazarutu. Generally these lodges are great, but they are expensive and the beaches not amazing and are very tidal. Seriously good snorkelling, diving and fishing, however.

Mauritius                                                                                                                                                                              

The domain of large hotels, buffet suppers and kids clubs. Some beautiful beaches but some very mediocre beaches too. Time of year is important here, as the East tends to be wetter and windier than the West… and there is no such thing as a small, bijou Mauritian hotel!

Madagascar
The new kid on the block and much more accessible now with the new service from Johannesburg straight to Nosy Be. The infrastructure in Madagascar is still frustrating, but avoiding Antananarivo makes travelling here a lot better. Madagascar has great beaches and simple accommodation, although there are a few high end lodges being finished up as we write. Of particular note is the private island haven of Tsarabanjina, which is hotly anticipated as our next great favourite!

The Maldives
Not really accessible from Africa, the Maldives are a holiday destination in their own right (or combined with Southern India). Regardless of price, the different Maldivian islands tend to have everything that we dream of for our ultimate African island. The Maldives have an abundance of amazing, soft, white powdery sand, off the beach snorkelling, and many very fine lodges here are not outrageously expensive. The down sides are that many island lodges have a lot of rooms crammed onto a small island, and there are a lot of chain hotels (although there are some charming smaller lodges too).

Kwando January 2016 Sightings

Kwara 

The first day of January and we began with a great sighting of the four big lions – the “Zulu Boys” – resting under a candle pod acacia. About five km away from there were another two males, also resting up. On the same day, we also saw three cheetah hunting and killing a baby reedbuck.  common reedbuck. A hyena was watching the events unfold from nearby, and stole the kill from the cheetah.

The same lions and cheetahs were seen over the next few days, as well as a leopardess with her very young cub – last month she had a den site close to the boat station, and this month she moved the den a little further to the west. The mother and the cub are extremely relaxed, and we were able to have wonderful sightings of them, with the cub often playing about near his mum.

The Kwara concession is known for its good sightings of predators, including lions, wild dogs, leopards and cheetahs. However, on the 7th of January, one type of predator ruled the day: cheetahs. There were three separate sightings of cheetahs on the same day: A female with a sub adult male, another female with her two sub-adult cubs, and a solitary male. The two small families were resting up in an area fairly close to each other, whilst the male, in a different area, was feeding on a warthog.

Not so many sightings of wild dogs this month – but our most regular pack has had some individual members disperse, leaving a total of eight in the pack. They were seen a few times, including near Bat Eared Fox den.

A youngish elephant was killed by five lions, along the Machaba East road. Quite an amazing sighting. The lions fed on it for two days, and then moved off, allowing the many vultures that had been waiting fairly patiently in the background, quickly arriving to squabble and hiss over what remained.
Unusually for this time of year, it is quite dry… this means a lot of game is attracted to the remaining water ways and lagoons, and with hardly any long grass, predators are still easy to see. The elephant herds are still around, and there are big groups of water birds feeding at the ‘fish pools’ – the waterholes that are slowly drying out.

Lagoon

Early January, and the lions were on the move: apart from a single female that was seen a few times throughout the week, the other lions had headed west, following the large herd of buffalo that moved in that direction. In their absence, the intruder males came into the Lagoon area, and started to make themselves at home. The male lions were seen several times, and seem to have focussed on killing warthogs at the moment. Towards the end of the month, the lions were on the move again – walking as much as 32km in one night!

The wild dogs still frequent the area, but the pack of 23 has split. This is a normal part of the social system of wild dogs, and allows for more junior dogs to start their own packs, becoming alpha male and female, or joining up with other dogs and diversifying the gene pool. The remaining pack began with 14 (9 adults and 5 puppies) and then reduced again to 11. They could hunt more than enough on their own, with their main prey being warthogs and young impalas.

At the beginning of the month, there were lots of breeding herds of elephants in the area, with young babies. As we finally started to get some rain during this month, the herds began to move off though the woodlands to the mopane scrub. Solitary bulls and bachelor herds remain, but the breeding herds will come back soon. Although the buffalo herds have dispersed from the main drive area, a large group remain in the valley to the west.
General game very good, with giraffes, wildebest, impala, eland, and lots and lots of zebras. Bat eared foxes, jackals, and several types of mongoose were seen as well as caracals, african wildcats and porcupines on night game drive.

And a great sighting one morning of a young honey badger, proudly scurrying along the road with a leopard tortoise in his mouth!

Lebala

Nature is harsh. And sometimes we don’t realise how harsh it is until we witness the events ourselves. As part of their safari, most guests are keen to see a kill. The guides know that for many, when confronted with the reality, seeing a kill will actually be very very traumatic.  Predator kills are rarely quick and clean cut.

Wild dogs, which have a reputation for being ‘cruel’ killers, as they don’t kill their prey by suffocation, but by tearing it to pieces. However, they are very very fast, and the warthog was dead within a minute. Within 7 minutes, there is normally nothing left of the animal. Something to bear in mind when considering the larger predators hunting techniques…

Just a few days before, two males lions had cleverly managed to stalk an adult warthog, using a tree as cover to come up on it unawares. One male grabbed the neck and held it to suffocate it, but a warthog neck is very thick, and it takes a long time to suffocate… the other male could not wait, and begin eating from the back. Soon after, the first male couldn’t hold his hunger any longer, released the neck and began eating as well.  For seven minutes, all that could be heard was the screaming warthog, until it finally succumbed. Its one of the most distressing sounds that you can hear in the animal kingdom, and it chills you to the bone. Sadly, in nature, there’s not often happy endings…

The month continued to produce plenty of lion sightings including a male and female mating at the beginning of the month. Hopefully, more cubs are  on the way! We did happen upon two lion cubs along the BDF turnoff – no mother in sight, but lots of tracks around, so she must have hidden the cubs and gone off to hunt. We also regularly saw the four lionesses in the area, working together in their attempts to hunt.

The lionesses and the wild dogs met up at one point, when we were following the dogs hunting. They had not had any luck flushing game, but suddenly stopped and stared in one direction. Not too far away, were the four lionesses staring back at them. Both parties decided that it was easier to do nothing on this occasion, and they moved off without a confrontation.

General game was great, with big herds of elephants, lechwe, a herd of wildebeest almost permanently stationed in front of the camp, giraffe, lots of zebra, and of course the common impala

Nxai Pan

Elephants still abound, with the lack of consistent rain, they are frequenting the pumped waterholes to drink. One week in January produced the hottest temperatures that we have ever experienced in Botswana – reaching up to 46 degrees in the shade! (It’s exceptionally rare for us to reach 40…) Water pumps were running 24 hours a day to try and ensure that the game had access to sufficient water, as both four legged and two legged mammals took strain.

And sadly this year, due to the drought, the zebra migration has not yet arrived in Nxai Pan. January is usually the peak of the numbers for zebras, but this year, they have failed to arrive. Whether they will arrive in February or March is solely dependent on whether good rains arrive.

The big pride of fourteen lions was found along West Road, hunting giraffe. They were unsuccessful on this occasion. Whilst the ladies were out hunting, two male lions rested up near one of the camp sites (luckily unoccupied at the time), looking pretty hungry. Had the pride managed to bring down a giraffe, no doubt the two males would have made a dash for a share of the meal. A few days later, the whole gang of sixteen was seen together.

We also came across the two sub-adult cheetahs – away from their mum for a change – attempting to hunt close to the South camping grounds. They hadn’t quite honed their skills well enough for a successful hunt however, practice makes perfect.  The next day, the mother cheetah was found on her own near the Wildlife Camp.

Tau Pan

Tau Pan area is looking beautiful and green at the moment, after having some reasonable rains in January – more than other areas. This has attracted lots of general game to the area, to enjoy the good life. However, the taller grass and availability of water is making it harder to see the predators.

After more than six years of the Tau Pan pride of lions being firmly established in the area, they are becoming harder and harder to see as the intruders from the Passarge area attempt to take over the area. As a result, the Tau Pan Pride have changed the times that they visit the camp waterhole, sneaking down at night to drink and not vocalising, in order to not attract any unwanted attendiont from the intruders.

A lioness was seen with five cubs about 8km from Tau Pan camp. They were attempting to hunt, but were not successful whilst we were watching, though there was plenty of game in the area. All the lions’ stomachs looked very empty….

A leopard was seen at the aptly named Leopard Pan in the middle of the month. Two cheetahs were lying down at the pan on the edge. The male cheetah then crossed the pan and headed north, before lying down again under the large trees at the edge.

On an afternoon game drive back to camp one day, an aardwolf was also spotted, coming out for its night-time feed of termites.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

We started out with a nicely lit situation with a croc and an egret. Balancing the exposure for the dark croc and bright white egret takes care.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

A quick drive up north to where I’d left a pride in the morning gave us beautiful lion cubs with golden evening light. They were moving around while the females were out hunting, so we sat quietly with them, moving the vehicle occasionally to give us new angles. As always, the plan was to show the cubs as part of a pride, conveying their social aspect as cooperative cats.

Safaris for photographers in the famous South Luangwa

After a beautiful hour with the cats, we headed back towards camp and found ourselves following another vehicle. I hate that, as you are guaranteed to share your sightings with another group, and you end up with grit between your teeth. I took a side road into an area of riverine forest and quickly rooted out a Pel’s Fishing Owl, one of the more special of our owl species.

Feeling chuffed that my gamble had paid off, we set off again for camp, and almost immediately we found another owl. But this time, it was not a Pel’s, but a Barn Owl! Not necessarily rare by African standards, but not commonly seen in Luangwa, I was very happy to see my first one here! Using the spotlight to achieve focus, my flash illuminated the bird and kept the ‘exposure’ short to avoid wing blur.

The following morning, we set out early and found hyaenas all over the place. We worked hard to ascertain the source of all their interest and eventually narrowed it down to a thick band of scrub where we had little access. Luckily, one of the hyaenas broke free from the rest and appeared carrying the head and neck of aCape buffalo, struggling under the weight. The vultures were hot on his heels and he soon shot off into the bushes once more.

The light was beginning to get bright, so we focused on some of the nearby subjects before heading back to camp.

That afternoon, we found something new, even for me! Passing a warthog, I spotted two porcupine quills sticking out of its rump. We guessed that the pig had reversed down a burrow the previous night (they reverse to keep the tusks pointed towards danger) and found that a porcupine was still using the burrow that day! They looked deeply embedded, but the pig didn’t seem bothered by them1 [Update: we passed a couple of days later and saw the warthog in exactly the same situation.]

Heading to check on a spring in the late evening, we found elephants drinking at the river, side lit by a ray of sunshine. A camera will tend to over expose a scene such as this, so adjustments are required.

We hit the jackpot at the spring, finding a gorgeous little leopard drinking in the early evening. She heard sounds in the distance and led us to a scene where two other leopards were feeding in adjacent trees. 3 leopards and 3 hyaenas were visible in one place, although there were very limited photo opportunities. In cases such as this, we just sit back and watch!

Heading back in the morning to see if we could track any of the spotty cats, we found lots of elephants in the same area, but no cats!!!

We did however, locate a different female in a tree nearby and enjoyed 2 hours with her as she moved in her tree and watched nearby impalas. Impalas did approach her tree to eat the fallen flowers, but never came close enough for an attack!

In the afternoon, we set out with no plan except to photograph some of the antelope. First we played with pukus under trees in the distance – so called long-lens-landscapes – one of my favourite techniques.

We moved on to kudu bulls…..

…..and ended with an impala on a bluff.

After dark, we began to see hyaenas moving in one particular direction. I remember saying “I don’t know where they’re going, but I want to be there when they arrive!”. Lucky we did, because we got there just in time to find a leopard throttling his prey, and to take some shots before the inevitable hyaena take-over of the carcass.

The bloodbath that followed will stay with me for some time. The noise, hot, flowing blood and red faces was almost too much to observe. At one stage, a wind change carried the smell of the kill towards us – fresh blood, stomach contents and adrenaline were all apparent.

Wondering how we could top that, we moved on to small things again, and had a lot of fun with this genet who posed helpfully for a long period.


And returning to camp, we found a familiar lion pride rousing from its slumbers and going through the daily greetings.

We tracked them down the next morning to the river bank and enjoyed them observing elephants crossing the river…….

…….before they settled down to rest in the morning sunshine!

If you like the look of this trip, and would like to see Luangwa for yourself, please get in touch. Even individuals are welcome and might find that it’s more affordable than they think!

Record-breaking turtle nesting seasons on North Island

Record-breaking turtle nesting seasons on North Island 2014 and 2015 have been record-breaking years for nesting turtles on North Island. The turtle monitoring programme recorded a total of 216 emergences by Endangered green turtles in 2014. In 2015, some 205 emergences by Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles were recorded. An ‘emergence’ is recorded when a female turtle comes ashore to make a nesting attempt. The actual number of turtles involved would be much fewer, as each female lays between three and five clutches of eggs in a season, and may also make unsuccessful emergences where no eggs are laid. Therefore, the North Island environmental team estimates that these emergence figures translate to approximately 35 green turtles and 30 hawksbills.

 RSS