October 29, 2013
Most of us have probably seen Fantasia, or at the very least, a clip of the hippos twirling around in tutus and nearly overwhelming their crocodilian escorts.
But the real prima ballerinas in Africa aren’t pirouetting through the rivers and ponds, they’re traipsing daintily across the plains, graceful necks and long, whippet-thin legs extended in a sort of antelope arabesque. They’re gerenuks!
If you haven’t heard of these bush ballerinas, it’s not only because gerenuks (a name that derives from Somali, and means, aptly, “giraffe neck”) are a rare sighting on safari; it’s because of the gerenuk’s notoriously humble nature. Biologists have noted their unfailing willingness to help other gerenuks in need, and in African folklore, the gerenuk is regularly referred to as the “Queen of Humbleness.”
Basically, they’re probably not launching too many personal PR campaigns.
But if you are lucky enough to spot one, you’ll be glad you did; when the gerenuk feeds, it rears up on its spindly hind legs, stretching its already long neck further into the branches to reach the most tender leaves, shoots, and fruits, looking for all the world like a very elongated dancer en pointe.
Feeding requires grace…and some seriously good balance!
As timid as they are delicate, gerenuks run away at high speeds when threatened. Often, though, they instead choose to stand very still behind a tree or bush, then slowly tiptoe away, heads lowered.
…which you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a scene from a new, African-themed version of Swan Lake.
October 24, 2013
There are over 120 different cultural groups living in Tanzania today, but perhaps one of the most unique (or old-fashioned, depending on how you look at it) is the Hadza.
There are right around 1,000 Hadza left in Tanzania (the only place this group lives), and some 300-400 of them live as true hunter-gatherers, sharing meat when they can find (and kill) it, and living off foraged tubers, berries, fruits, and honey when they can’t. As far as oral histories of the Hadzabe and anthropological research on the tribe can determine, their practices have barely changed in thousands of years.
Foraged tubers like the one seen here make up a large part of the Hadza diet
One of the most effective ways the Hadza live with the land is their symbiotic relationship with the honeyguide bird. When they hear its whistle, they’ll whistle back, the bird and the human calling back and forth to one another as the honeyguide flits through the trees. Following these birds can lead to very sweet rewards; they lead people to hives, and, after the honey has been conveniently cleared out, feast on the remaining larva and wax.
Most hunting is done with hand-fashioned bows and arrows. Some of the most commonly hunted animals include dik-diks, warthogs, monkeys, and occasionally larger antelope such as impala and eland. The bowstrings are generally made from animal ligaments, arrow heads are pounded out from nails and attached to wooden shafts, and the arrows are hand-fletched with bird feathers.
The Hadza still hunt game with bows and arrows.
The Hadza are also unique for another feature: their clicking language.
A linguistic isolate, the Hadza language—which involves unique (and, for a westerner, nearly impossible to replicate) glottal stops and click sounds on consonants—doesn’t fit into any larger language families. Fortunately for linguists, the language remains in use, and though the Hadza population is small, most Hadza children learn to speak Hadza fluently.
A Hadzabe shelter. During the dry season, even structures this simple might not be made.
Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, David Rush
Perhaps most surprising to a westerner, the Hadza have little if any concept of personal ownership. While they will make (and keep) hunting implements, leather bags from the skins of animals they’ve killed, and stone pipes, they tend not to accumulate many other possessions. If a Hadza does somehow accumulate more possessions than he or she needs, he or she will distribute them equally among the group, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. This sort of communal lifestyle is fundamental to their belief system.
Various attempts have been made to “settle” the Hadza, both by missionaries and by the Tanzanian government (the most recent government attempt was in 1990).
October 17, 2013
Tanzania’s stunning, unspoiled landscapes and impressive wildlife are truly a national treasure, but it’s a treasure that, too often, Tanzanians don’t get to share in. The majority of Tanzanians are still living on just a few hundred dollars a year, an income that puts the expenses of a safari—costs like park fees, the expense of paying guides and drivers, and travel to a national park—out of reach.
That so many Tanzanians have to miss out on the very things that make the country so exciting for tourists just doesn’t feel right, which is why Thomson Safaris recently partnered with Project MEMA (Make Education in Moshi Accessible) to provide four students with their first ever safari.
Emanueli (11), Beatrice (11), Asha (8) and Gifty (8) get ready to start their safari.
The students—Emanueli, age 11, Beatrice, 11, Asha, 8, and Gifty, 8—spent the day at Arusha National Park, spotting a wide variety of plants and animals.
The students were on the lookout for animals from the very start!
Among the many creatures they spotted were these olive baboons.
Over the course of the day, the group also enjoyed snacks and a picnic lunch, so that they wouldn’t have to stop the wildlife viewing early.
The kids take a break for lunch.
Some of the many animals they spotted were zebras, warthogs, giraffes, buffalo, and baboons.
While Emanueli trains her binoculars on a flamingo flock, Beatrice looks up more information about the birds.
This is the first time Emanueli and Beatrice got to see a wild giraffe!
All in all, it was an exciting trip for the students. Maybe a little too exciting?
All that wildlife viewing fun will wear you out!
October 15, 2013
Thomson Safaris staffer, Katie Ann Havas marched to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade at the International March for Elephants in New York City. She shares her experiences of the very meaningful day below.
On October 4, four of my colleagues from Thomson Safaris and I walked in the greatest demonstration in support of a wild animal to date: the International March for Elephants. Fifteen cities across the globe hosted marches in hopes of bringing attention to the problem of poaching, and to bring about stricter laws in countries where ivory trafficking occurs. We were fortunate to be at the march in New York City while our Tanzanian colleagues were able to participate in the event in Arusha, Tanzania.
As we filed down 42nd Street in our peaceful, cohesive group of hundreds we chanted, “Say No to Ivory” and “Stop Elephant Poaching.” As someone who signs online petitions in support of conservation nearly every single day, and works for a company that offers photographic safaris, I felt very connected to the cause. It was wonderful to see so many people with their anti-ivory messages come out in support of the largest land mammals left.
The NYPD sheltered the two mile march route through midtown, and kept our troop moving. Unencumbered, we passed through Times Square, surrounded by interested onlookers who stopped to read our signs and take pictures as we marched to the United Nations at Hammarskjold Plaza. The plaza was the perfect setting for speeches by actress Kristin Davis, Nat Geo author Bryan Christy, CEO of WildlifeDirect Paula Kahumbu, Deputy of the Kenyan Wildlife Service Dr. Patrick Omondi, and conservation photographer Cyril Christo. There was also a performance by MbiraNYC featuring traditional music of Zimbabwe. All of the people involved in the march were truly inspiring, as we all shared a common interest in spreading the word about the elephant crisis. The speakers in particular did an amazing job of sharing their personal stories and touched the crowd with their genuine love of tembos (that’s Swahili for elephants).
One of my favorite speakers was National Geographic investigative author, Bryan Christy, who spoke poignantly about how National Geographic does their best to show the faces of the criminals who take part in wildlife trafficking and other black market activities that fund terrorist organizations. Bryan wrote “Blood Ivory,” the October 2012 cover story, and he works hard to uncover what is actually happening in places where ivory is in demand. People like him are enlightening nations that want elephant tusks as superfluous trinkets, jewelry, and ash trays. These items are certainly not worth the death of a beautiful elephant and the more people who know it, the better.
(left) CEO of WildlifeDirect, Paula Kahumbu
(right) Actress Kristin Davis
The final speaker was actress Kristin Davis, whose enthusiasm for elephants began in 2008 when she and her Maasai friends found a baby elephant in the wild whose parents had been killed by poachers. Kristin encouraged us all to adopt an elephant in need, just like the one she found—something that can cost as little as $50 per year.
After this event, there is no doubt in my mind that more attention needs to be given to our majestic friends the elephant and the rhino, and that the iWorry campaign is doing a great job spreading the word and educating the uninformed. According to Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, “Current estimates put the figure at 36,000 elephants killed annually, which equates to one elephant dying every 15 minutes.” If this trend continues, elephants will be extinct by the year 2025. I never thought elephants would join the ranks of dinosaurs in my lifetime and I will stand up and fight to make sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t want to tell my nephew, Eli, whose favorite animal happens to be the elephant, that we couldn’t save them. Please join the battle for elephants by lending your voice to the cause (Say NO to Ivory!), urging your representatives to fund anti-poaching initiatives, demanding more protection for elephants in countries where they live, and by wearing red, white, and black in the next International March for Elephants.
See more photos of the marches in New York City and Arusha, Tanzania
on the Thomson Safaris Google + page
October 10, 2013
The entire Thomson Safaris team is saddened to hear about the recent death, on September 29, 2013, of longtime Thomson chef Joyce Manda Maleo.
Joyce first started working for Thomson Safaris back in 2004, after years working in various restaurants and kitchens. Her talent in the kitchen was undeniable, and the countless meals she prepared were always made with love. Joyce always seemed to have a broad, warm smile on her face, whether she was laboring over a hot stove or relaxing with her many friends and colleagues.
She also touched the lives of many Thomson travelers, who remember Joyce for her joy, and for her excellent cooking!
Joyce was always an incredibly hard worker, and it showed. As a single mother, she managed to build a home for herself and her son (now 19), and give him an excellent education. Thanks to Joyce’s dedication and love, he’ll soon be heading to university.
She was also a trailblazer. In a society that is still highly patriarchal, Joyce managed to rise to the position of chef, one that even in the Western world is still often male-dominated. She was the only woman in our camp crews, but that didn’t slow her down; she earned the love and respect of the people she worked with because of her talent, hard work, and constant kindness.
Joyce left this world with dignity and at peace, surrounded by her family and close friends in Moshi. She left behind such a positive mark on the world, and she will be missed very, very much.
October 8, 2013
Around you, the night is black as pitch, except for the pair of massive, glowing eyes peering down from the branches above. You blink, and suddenly they’ve moved to a different, nearer branch. You hold your breath, hoping the creature won’t see you…
No, this isn’t the start of a horror movie, it’s the start of a bush baby—also known as galago—sighting! And if you’ve never seen one, a single glance will probably convince you the only danger from these tiny animals is viral…videos.
The eyes may be big, but bush babies are tiny (and adorable). Many of our safari guests see or hear them during their stay at Gibb’s Farm.
Photo: Joachim S. Müller
About the size of a squirrel, these nocturnal creatures leap through the air from branch to branch, often covering distances of over 10 yards in just seconds. Urine marking on the way means that, especially near their nests, they often leap through the exact same series of branches every time (and you thought humans had a lock on OCD).
Though they’re often lumped in with primates, “proto-primate” would be more accurate; along with lemurs, tarsiers, and lorises, bushbabies are considered “prosimians.” Less intelligent than simian species, and lacking some of the most recognizable morphologies of their distant cousins (for example, large brains), prosimians share their own unique set of features, including good low-light vision, “toilet claws” for grooming, and giving birth to litters.
So why “babies?” Is it because looking at one, your first impulse is to nestle it in your arms and coo?
Well, maybe, but more likely the colloquial name for galagos comes from their cries, which sound distinctly (you guessed it) baby-like. Have a listen:
Sounds like that echoing through the pitch-dark woods on an African night without such a good explanation, though? DEFINITELY the start of a good horror movie!
Audio: World Wildlife Fund