October 3, 2013
In the most immediate sense, most Americans don’t have a Tanzanian heritage. After all, it’s a relatively-small (the population of Tanzania is still under 50 million) country half a world away from the United States; it’s not every day you meet Tanzanians outside their home country.
But in a more fundamental way, all of us have Tanzanian roots, roots that anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered buried deep in the rock and sands of Oldupai Gorge (an earlier misspelling named it “Olduvai” on most maps).
Take a look at the family homestead…
Not long after Louis Leakey started his work in the gorge, in the 1930s, he lost almost all his credibility in the scientific community. A scandalous affair with Mary, and his eventual divorce from his first wife, Frida, had left Louis a persona non grata at Cambridge, his erstwhile intellectual home, and grants for his research evaporated. He and Mary headed to Oldupai together, but without any important discoveries to their (tarnished) names, the couple returned to England in disgrace. Public opinion had turned so strongly against the man that the scientist was even forced to publically recant his belief in the existence of very ancient evolutionary predecessors to man.
The Leakeys were relentless, though, returning to Oldupai many times over the years, and working there essentially full-time starting in 1951.
That indefatigability paid off.
In 1959, with Louis sick in bed, Mary discovered the skull of a hominid she later took to calling “dear boy,” “the nutcracker man,” or “Zinj.”
A replica of the Leakey’s ground-breaking fossil discovery
The news got Louis out of bed pretty darn fast; Zinj wasn’t just a fossil skeleton in a field where the Leakeys had previously found mainly tools and stone implements, he extended the timeline of human history in the region by a couple million years.
Less than two years later, Mary unearthed a Homo habilis fossil in the same region, a more direct ancestor of modern humans, and a resounding proof that earliest man called East Africa home. The couple’s incredibly discoveries in Oldupai gave it the name “The Cradle of Mankind.”
So if you’re visiting Tanzania, drop in on your relatives (even if you don’t share much of a family likeness).
October 2, 2013
After climbing Kili, most of our trekkers realize how integral the porters are to the experience. They carry everything from luggage to dinner tables to tents up the mountain, and they always seem to keep a smile on their faces.
But recent Thomson Safaris trekker Karen Capaldi started connecting with the porters and their dedication even before she arrived in Tanzania. During her research about her upcoming trek, she started to realize just how hard these individuals work, and she wanted to help.
And boy did she ever help.
Partnering with SmartWool, Karen managed to gather 1,200 pairs of socks to donate to the Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project. We got in touch with Karen post-Kili to learn more about what led to this incredibly generous gesture.
First and foremost, what led you to Kilimanjaro?
I’ve wanted to climb Kili since I was in college in Colorado (where I still live). I studied geology and climate change, and professors used Kilimanjaro as an example of climate change in action. Even then, the topic, and the mountain, fascinated me.
Since college, I’ve stayed active, teaching outdoor education, working as a ski instructor, and working for the forest service. I also participate in an annual event, “the epic relay,” in which 12 women run 200 miles in 32 hours. Two of those women, the Scott sisters, asked me in 2012 if I wanted to join them on their Kilimanjaro trek. I immediately said “YES!”
What made you want to help porters? And why socks?
I started researching the climb a year before our trek [in August, 2013], and I was moved by the porters’ situation. When I got there, our connection was organic, immediate, and simple; they were doing everything they could to help us get up the mountain, and I deeply appreciated their hard work.
I didn’t have loads of money to donate traditionally, but the more I researched, the more I realized that I might be able to help in another way. I dug a little deeper, and learned that socks were something the porters absolutely need on the mountain.
Karen Capaldi (left) with Karen Valenti at the Tanzania headquarters of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project
How did you connect with SmartWool?
I know some people who work there, and started up a dialogue with them a little less than a year ago. It took a little while to work out all the details, but by March, I had started picking up socks. By the time I left for Kilimanjaro, I’d collected 1,200 pairs. Before I left, I reached out to Thomson, who suggested bringing the socks along, and offered to transport me (and all the socks) to the KPAP offices the day we descended the mountain.
Have you heard back about your donation?
I have! Karen Valenti [director of KPAP] sent me a photo of the first recipient of the socks, which was heartwarming. I’m so glad to know that my donation is already doing some good.
The first porter to receive a pair of socks from Karen.
October 1, 2013
When you were young, did you ever play with a baby doll? Cuddle a beloved pet a little too hard? Find a bug, or a turtle, or a baby bird, and try to keep it happy and alive inside a magical shoebox world you were CERTAIN was just like what it needed in the wild?
Well, you’re in good company. Wild animals like that feeling of companionship, too, which is why they regularly “adopt” animals of another species. Sometimes the relationship is parental, sometimes it’s more like owning a pet, but it’s always intriguing to see our wild counterparts ignore instinct and act, well, human:
Baboons & Monkeys
Primates are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, so it’s not exactly surprising that they share our basic human need for affection.
In zoos, baboons regularly “adopt” creatures that they come into contact with, like this baboon in a private Lithuanian zoo, who formed a strange, parental bond with a chicken:
For a long time, animal behaviorists assumed this behavior was a product of captivity, occurring because the baboons were lonely or inadequately stimulated. But more recently, the same behavior has been observed in wilder settings. In India, a cat owner came home to find that her kitten had been “adopted” by a local monkey:
…and in Kenya, locals marveled at the strange, seemingly happy relationship between a baboon and a (usually nocturnal) bush baby:
While the love may not always be as warmly received as it is given (baboons have also been known to steal feral puppies which they then turn into pets), it’s clear primates have a lot of love to give.
Owen (the Hippo) & Mzee (the Tortoise)
We’ve all heard of May-December relationships, but few are as extreme as the unlikely friendship that developed between Owen, a baby hippo, and Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise, in the wake of a 2004 tsunami:
The tortoise helped encourage the young hippo to eat, and the pair soon became inseparable. They’re still enchanting visitors to their home in Haller Park Sanctuary today.
Legadema the Leopard and a Baby Baboon
In the wild, predators hunt, and prey is hunted. But what is usually a very clear relationship between opposing types was complicated when one leopard was surprised by a baby baboon, and decided not to eat it, but instead to care for it (a warning to viewers: this video starts with a brief image of Legadema hunting an adult baboon):
Apparently, maternal instinct is stronger even than the need to hunt, something evidenced again by the…
Lioness and the Oryx
Fair warning to our readers: this next story’s a bit of a tear-jerker.
In the wild, single lionesses are very vulnerable, not only because they lack a pride to protect them, but because they’re often hunted by other groups of lions.
But one lioness found an unlikely series of companions: baby antelopes:
Though the lioness’s multiple “adoptions” never lasted long (thanks to other predators in the bush), her impulse to protect the creatures she thought of as her “cubs” was enduring.
Pass the Kleenex.
September 26, 2013
We spend a lot of time making sure travelers have everything they’ll need on a safari or a trek, but what about the things they won’t need? If you’re really looking to get the most out of your experience in Africa, feel free to leave behind the…
Perhaps unsurprisingly, countries like Tanzania just don’t have the kind of internet infrastructure westerners are used to. Where there is internet access, it’s often slow, unreliable, and intermittent.
And then there’s those vast swaths of wilderness where there just isn’t internet access.
Beyond the question of whether or not you’ll be able to get your Facebook to refresh, there’s the issue of keeping your laptop safe, charged up (our charging stations are equipped for smaller devices like cameras), and free from the safari dust blowing around the plains.
We recommend that travelers always carry expensive electronics with them for safety; consider whether you want to be saddled with a (mostly non-functional) computer when your guide finally spots that elusive animal you’ve been waiting to see.
Our Recommendation: Unless you absolutely have to be in contact for work, leave the laptop at home (and welcome the opportunity to let an out-of-office autoreply answer emails for you).
Instead, Bring Your: Kindle. The long battery life means that charging won’t be an issue, and the single-functionality will help you focus on the beauties all around you during your trip, while still having a fun way to spend your down time.
There is cellular service in Tanzania.
Just not EVERYWHERE in Tanzania.
For a western traveler, the charges for using your phone while on safari will be high, your calls may be dropped, and if you thought your internet connection was slow, wait until you see it on a cellphone…
Satellite phones are available for travelers who have to stay in constant contact, but the average safari-goer won’t need to use his or her cell phone during the trip. And don’t worry: if anything were ever to go wrong while you’re out on a drive, your guides, drivers, or camp staff will be able to place a call for you.
Our Recommendation: Due to the high expense and unreliability of service, it’s probably better to turn your phone off during your trip.
Instead, Bring Your: Camera. It’s amazing how much more you’ll take in when you’re looking for a great shot, and not looking to see if anyone has played you in Words With Friends!
There are some things you’ll want to think about seriously before hauling them halfway across the world, but one thing you shouldn’t even consider packing is your hair dryer.
Not because you shouldn’t look your best on safari (although most people will probably be more interested in the wildlife than your wild locks): because it won’t work.
On a Thomson safari (as on most tented camp or camping safaris), electrical outlets in your room just aren’t an option. Solar-power will light your room and the dining tent, but it won’t be enough to run your hair dryer (or charge a laptop or cell phone, in case you were wondering). In our signature Nyumba tented camps, you won’t even see an outlet!
Our Recommendation: Save space and weight in your luggage and don’t haul around an ultimately useless appliance.
Instead, Bring Your: Safari hat and a bandanna. You’ll need the former to keep the sun off your face, neck, and shoulders, anyway (which might undo all your hair drying magic, anyway), and the latter can act as a dust-guard during wildlife drives…or a rustic hair tie! And don’t worry – that slightly unkempt look is integral to safari chic, anyway.
Kiera Knightley shows off some serious bedhead with her safari look.
Photo: Lattelisa (Lisa Hjalt)
September 25, 2013
We’ll admit it, we’re fans of Toto’s anthem “Africa,” too…which is why we wanted to help them get their facts straight:
September 24, 2013
You’ve probably heard that a zebra can’t change its stripes (probably when someone was acting predictably badly), but for the actual zebra, that cliché takes on a whole new meaning.
That’s because a zebra’s stripes are like a fingerprint; each animal’s pattern is unique, and, to other members of the herd, identifiable. New hairdo, better hoof maintenance, doing something different with his tail—none of that would matter to a zebra, who would still be able to recognize an old friend by his or her specific coat pattern.
Even among zebras, the one pictured below would be hard to forget!
And those herds look out for one another, in more ways than one.
Zebra herds are made up of a number of different families. Maybe we should say “different” families; the basic social unit for zebras is the harem…which means exactly the same thing as it does for people.
When a filly reaches mating age, she’ll be abducted by a stallion and added to his harem, where she’ll be relegated to the lowest position on the zebra sister-wife totem pole, at least until the harem grows again.
At first, the other zebra wives might treat the new girl with open hostility, but over time, the group bonds, and will defend one another fiercely. Zebras are very aware of when a herd member goes missing, and they will make efforts to find any lost members, calling out and hunting for them. This protectiveness of the family unit works well; zebras lose significantly fewer herd members to predators than either wildebeest or hartebeest, comparably sized (and therefore comparably predated) species.
The fierce emphasis on family, and the strangeness of the family unit, makes the life of a zebra look something like a wildlife cross between The Sopranos and Big Love.
So if HBO calls, tell them we have a GREAT idea for a new series. Working title: Black and White.