Local Independent Destination Management Company: Botswana • Zimbabwe • Zambia

Safari Destinations

At Safari Destinations

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Thursday 20 July 2017

Keeping it in the Family!

 

Safari Destinations is about family. It is the people that share our daily lives, and who we have grown to love and cherish. With our SD family, we create memories, share good times and help each other through the tough ones.

Lorraine and her daughters

Lorraine and her daughters

Some of those good times are celebrating the birth of the children to staff employed at Safari Destinations. At last count, it was 17 in total with another 2 on the way! Close to 50% of all our staff are parents. This is why lift clubs, meal arrangements, play-dates, “Hello Aunty Sarah” as well as kiddies’ laughter and tears are the order of our day.

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Andrea and her son

We all know that total commitment describes our women here at SD. Many years ago when Lorraine and Andrea were still breastfeeding, critical Globetrack training had to take place. So, it all happened “behind the scenes” while the (male) trainer continued his training. He had strict instructions to “Don’t turnaround!”

TT and daughter

Tlotlo and his daughter

While 80% of our staff are women, we believe that fathers are just as important as mothers. This is why our Dads get paternity leave with the birth of each child.

Seeletso

Seeletso and his son

 

Carina

Carina and her children (photo taken in the first year of SD)

Our latest recruit is beautiful, little Paige, born to Senior Consultant, Mia Ives. Once Mia returns to work, as a first time mother, she will have the support and understanding of the Managing Directors, Carina and Lorraine as well as the many women here at SD who have walked the path of managing family and work.1278FF35

Carina

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Carina

Friday 23 June 2017

Community Winter Clothing Drive

Brrr!! Winter is upon us bringing harsh climatic conditions to less fortunate people who are not able to afford the basic necessities to keep warm. And so, it was once again time for Safari Destinations’ philanthropic community winter clothing drive.  Utilising our strong community network we embarked on a project to gather as much clothing and blankets as possible within the Maun community. The staff of the company were then involved in distributing these items to organisations serving disadvantaged communities.  Those communities identified as being in need (in coordination with Travel for Impact); were AGLOW, WAR, BBL, Basket of Love and Botsetse RDS. These organisations assist orphaned children, disadvantaged elders, disadvantaged teen mothers and their babies. The blankest and clothes were welcomed with open arms and lots of people will now be able to bear the cold a little better.

Clothing Drive 2.2

A big thank you to all those who played a part in the success of this mission; from all those businesses that had clothing boxes to collect the clothing, to those who donated clothing, to Safari Destinations who donated close to 50 blankets, to the company staff who gave their time in collecting, sorting, washing where necessary and then distributing the items. Besides staving off the winter chill, this little bit of kindness put a smile on the faces of many.

Caroline Mokaba

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Caroline Mokaba

Thursday 25 May 2017

How water levels will define your Botswana safari this year

By now you’ll probably be aware that we’ve had plenty of rain this year in Botswana…so ok, you might ask…but…

What does this mean for a safari in 2017?

Let’s start with the Okavango Delta

Delta 12.05.17Okavango Delta in full flood, source: Chase Wells (Pilot with Wilderness Air)

Normally we like to tell people that local rainfall isn’t so relevant for what happens in the Okavango Delta, as compared to what water comes down from the Angolan highlands with the annual flood.

We’d then explain how it takes several months for all that water from Angola’s green season rains (Nov – March) to travel sloooowwwllyy through the Delta’s alluvial fan, where it will eventually ‘burst the banks’ of the delta’s permanent waterways & spill out into the seasonal (see that key word, seasonal) floodplains. Normally, we expect this to start happening in April / May.

Well, this year we had SO MUCH local rainfall that the floodplains filled themselves up with surface water, before the permanent channels had much chance to be fed with water from Angola and do the job all on its own. Since mokoro activities are often conducted in seasonal floodplains, because they’re safer than permanent channels will be when peak flood deepens them (they’re nice open spaces with plenty of hippo-free shallow water) having these floodplains fill ahead of time meant that many camps which stopped offering mokoro activities late last year due to suitable floodplains drying up, have already resumed them.

Will it last?

Well, for that we need to see what happens with the ‘main’ flood from Angola. Reports from pilots flying over the Okavango are that the main ‘push’ from Angola’s floodwater hit the Jao concession in the northern delta around Easter, and has now reached the southern delta, around the Nxabega / Kanana area. How long those high water levels last will depend on a number of factors: whether we get any more flood water, and how hot September & October get in order to speed up the rate of evaporation later in the year. Having all that rain water around already means that the ‘main’ (flood) event becomes a bit less relevant than normal in determining when mokoro & boating activities can start for the year. Generally, the best bet for mokoro & boating activities in the delta is to from May travel until September, however certain camps can offer these activities year-round and if you’re unsure, our dedicated consultants can advise on which these are.

On to the Chobe Riverfront

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Chobe shot: Chobe Floodplains as of (23.04.17) source: Elephants Without Borders

The Chobe River got plenty of water this year & peaked around Easter (levels are now slowly dropping). This means that certain parts of the riverfront, such as Puku Flats, Lechwe Flats and Kabulabula have been cut off from the main game drive network thanks to rising water. Given these areas are generally more celebrated for their birding, this doesn’t affect the ‘big game’ viewing by road, and birders will still see plenty anyway. As the Chobe Riverfront is known for huge herds of elephants, the increased surface water elsewhere in the bush means that breeding herds don’t ‘need’ the permanent water of the Chobe River to quench their thirst. Elephants are quite clever mammals, and they know that the sooner they hang out in big numbers on the river, the sooner they eat all the ‘good stuff’ that they’ll need later in the winter. As a result, it’ll take a little longer into our winter months this year to start seeing the massive congregations of breeding herds along the water which have become an iconic landmark of Chobe. Despite this, Chobe’s predators are still out and about, and the lion population on the Riverfront continues to do well.

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and the Linyanti?

As with the Chobe Riverfront, the Linyanti is also known for its large numbers of elephant, who will also take a little longer to be spotted in huge herds, thanks to the same phenomenon described above. Certain concessions in the Linyanti feature thicker bush than others, so the later rainfall creates denser vegetation, which may result in more challenging game viewing in some areas until later in the season. The waterways in the Linyanti are affected by different processes than the Chobe and the Delta again, so while the Savuti channel has rainwater in it, we’ll need to wait a little longer to know if there’ll be enough of a push from the Selinda Spillway and Kwando/Linyanti rivers into the Zibadianja lagoon to get it flowing again this year. Scientific theories abound that the Savute channel is also affected by tectonic plate movements, and given that Botswana had a pretty sizable earthquake near the CKGR a month or so ago, we’ll wait to see if there’s any knock-on effect for what happens in the Savute Marsh this year.

 

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Water levels in the Zibadianja Lagoon as of (12.05.17) source: Storm Keen

What about the desert areas?

Let’s start with Nxai Pan. The zebras stuck around longer than usual, but as of a few weeks ago, have finally started their slow saunter back to the Chobe Riverfront. All that rain resulted in a hippo (of all things!) making the waterhole at Nxai Pan Camp his home. On the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, there’s enough surface water that Jack’s Camp guests have been taking their sundowners ankle-deep in water and huge numbers of flamingoes have moved into the pans for nesting. Uncharted Africa’s Ralph Bousfield suggests the flamingos may now be semi-permanent residents in the area for the next few years. The affect on activities on the salt pans is yet to be seen, however quad biking and sleep-outs are unlikely to be on offer in the next few months. All that water means the zebras will be slower in moving down to the Boteti River this year and they may be spotted around the salt pans for a while longer yet.

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Flamingoes near Kubu Island: Uncharted Africa via #bushboundgirl

Can’t remember it all?

Don’t worry. That’s what we’re here for. We’ll happily advise you on a case by case basis as to what camp and area best suits your requests for travel, depending on your clients’ interests. While all these un-anticipated natural changes are what makes a safari to Botswana so exciting, we can still recommend the ‘best bets’ based on our personal experience for delivering the experience you’re after.

 

The Central Kalahari full of water and wildflowers during the peak of the rainy season this past January (Photo credit: Clare Doolan)

The Central Kalahari full of water and wildflowers during the peak of the rainy season this past January (Photo credit: Clare Doolan)

 

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Thursday 6 April 2017

We felt the earth move under our feet

Yes, it’s true! Botswana had an earthquake!

But, we actually have them quite often. It’s just that we never really feel them. Although the quake had a 6.5 magnitude, the only real disruption to our lives was the bleeping of a thousand cell phones during dinner time, as everyone asked “is it just me, or….did anyone else feel that?”
And, sorry to say – that’s as exciting as it got.

Botswana Earthquake

Why is that? Well, it turns out that living in the Kalahari Sand Basin works out quite handy in minimising the effect of tectonic plate movements.
Those same sands that fill with the Okavango’s waters & give us a reason to sweep our floors daily, also act as a giant shock absorber. If you were to take a shovel and start digging in the centre of Botswana, you’d be several kilometres down before you hit bedrock. In the middle, what you’ve got is sand & only sand. When tectonic shifts happen deep down below, the vibrations get muffled by all of that sand, so even if they’re ‘big’ earthquakes, they’re too disrupted by the time they reach the surface to have much impact.

Having said that, most waterways in Botswana are influenced by fault lines & tectonic plate movements. The Okavango Panhandle is channeled between two faultlines, then spreads out into the alluvial fan & abruptly stops at the Thamalakane fault line which then diverts the watercourse to the Boteti in years of plenty.

The Thamalakane Fault Line.  Where Okavango Delta meets desert.

The Thamalakane Fault Line. Where Okavango Delta meets desert.

The Kwando River hits a big fault line (the Linyanti) which pushes the water out into the Linyanti Swamps, forces the river to change direction (and names) to become the Linyanti River (and later, joins other waterways to become the Chobe).
Interestingly, no-one really knows how the Savute channel works & what makes it’s flow stop and start, but theories abound that it’s shifting tectonics which are mostly responsible. Water in the channel has just passed Wilderness Safaris’ Savuti Camp in the last week or so, so let’s see if those earth tremors give it the push it needs to fill our Savute Marsh this year!

Otherwise, keep calm & carry on. Safaris continue as normal – Botswana has just been busy moving heaven and earth to impress her travellers!

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

Friday 3 March 2017

Power Bracelets

 

Have you noticed how bracelets are all the rage these days? Polar Electros, Fitbits, Jawbones, Fuelbands…

Our bracelets don’t track how many miles you ran or count the calories in the chocolate cake you just ate (thank goodness), but they are just as powerful.

These bracelets empower the disadvantaged in Botswana.
They are made locally by woman, under a Disadvantaged Woman’s Economic Empowerment Programme that echoes our commitment to woman’s issues and benefits from our support.

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Through our ongoing partnership with Travel for Impact, we support Woman against Rape, a local charity providing safety and counselling for victims of gender based violence. Sadly, they hear time and again that woman feel compelled to remain in abusive situations, due to the lack of economic freedom.

The empowerment programme was implemented to address this issue by providing skills based training in local crafts. The crafts are then sold, enabling survivors to derive an income, gain independence and stop the cycle of abuse.

We purchase a bracelet for every traveller booked through Safari Destinations as a thank you for supporting Travel for Impact. This creates long term sustainable income for the vendors and at the same time allows our travellers to take home a meaningful reminder of their trip.

They may not give a reminder that it’s time for a morning run, but our power bracelets are reminders that by supporting Travel for Impact, you are creating a meaningful impact in the lives of those less fortunate.
Don’t forget to collect your Power Bracelet from BTO at ITB Berlin!

Caroline Mokaba

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Caroline Mokaba

Friday 24 February 2017

Community Bus Video Launch

 

Have you been wondering where all those US 1$’s collected for TFI go? Click on the video to view a recent video that we’re super excited about – chronicling our Flagship Project – A Community Bus!

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From inception, the bus’s key deliverables have been:

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Please view, like, LOVE and SHARE The Years Pass By as far as you can

A heartfelt thank you to all our agents for their ongoing support of this project. #ItTakesAVillage

“a beautiful beginning for our kids” Taboka Rotsi, Co-Ordinator Bana Ba Letsatsi

“no worries anymore about transport, no worries of how we can help the elderly” Lesang, AGLOW International

“it safeguards the children, we know they will be picked up on time and be taken back to the shelter where they will be safe” Chaunoda Moroka – WAR Shelter Counsellor

Caroline Mokaba

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Caroline Mokaba

Wednesday 18 January 2017

The simple pleasures of travelling in Green Season

I was fortunate enough to spend a week on safari during our so called green or secret season. Everything seemed to be bursting with life, from the lush green bush to the intermittent cloud bursts that warned us of their impending approach and of course there were babies – everywhere! I don’t ever recall seeing a giraffe that small or the tiny blue wildebeest that was even smaller than the average Impala. The weather was perfect. It was certainly not a sweltering and unbearable heat and when it did rain (which of course was every day) it was more often over in an hour. Undoubtedly the biggest drawcard is the price tag as green season is the cheapest time to visit Botswana. _DSC8143

My journey started in Chobe but this time it was a completely different experience from my previous visits. I had the pleasure of staying on the Chobe Princess for the night and often this option is overlooked when starting or ending a safari in Botswana, yet it was the most relaxing and certainly the most rewarding game viewing experience. Feet up and reading a book, I would glance periodically at my surroundings only to find crocodile sunning on the bank, or a hippo out of the water. In fact it gave new meaning to the size of these animals, seeing them plunge from the bank into the water. Our guide took us out on a tender boat later in the afternoon and we watched a herd of Elephant come down to the water’s edge – expecting them to quench their thirst and move on. But we witnessed something I had never seen before amongst elephants… whilst I had seen them in water before this time was different as 3 young bulls cavorted and tumbled around, disappearing completely under the water for a moment before resurfacing. The only obvious sign would be the trunk peering out every now and again. I loved every minute of this spectacle.Elephant Playing in Chobe

The highlight of my week away had to be the Xaranna concession in the Okavango Delta. With an expert guide and tracker to take care of our safari needs, we managed to see the Big 5 in 24 hours. Whilst this might be the normal expectation for most, very few concessions have the endangered Rhino. Through various means, White Rhino have been relocated from South Africa and reintroduced here over a period of time. It was certainly a proud moment to come across the magnificent prehistoric looking animals grazing peacefully in the bush nearby. _DSC8658

The rain showers did not keep us from our game drives and with a poncho readily available we embarked on both the morning and afternoon activity. The Delta was teeming with wildlife and though more scattered during the wet season, we were never disappointed. My husband, a professional photographer, commented on photography during this time of year, claiming that with less dust particles in the air, clarity in photographs was certainly better. I can only agree based on the stunning images he captured! _DSC8523

So in a nutshell, it will rain and probably more often than not. But with that comes the reward of new life, little lives finding their way; explosions of colour from the ground to the sky; a photographic playground; warm summer days and lastly a little more money in the bank account. _DSC8334

 

 

 

Claire Robinson

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Claire Robinson

Friday 16 December 2016

500 Community Service Hours – We’ve Done It!

Back in June, we launched our 10FOR50 Campaign celebrating our 10th and Botswana’s 50th anniversaries. In celebration of this, one of our major goals was to donate a total of 500 Hours to Community Service.

When Lorraine initially announced this during a staff meeting there was a silent pause (cue cricket sounds…) as our staff body absorbed the enormity of the challenge. Now, anyone who has ever visited the SD offices knows that there is no such thing as silence here…

Fortunately, volunteering to assist the community is part of the culture at SD and the silence was actually attributable to a collective intake of breath before declaring Challenge Accepted – Game On! Rhino Walk

The months have rolled by and looking back, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved: we’ve organised winter clothing drives, renovated the reception for a Woman’s Shelter, spent hours visiting and assisting the destitute elderly, helped out at charity events, hiked across the Makgadikgadi Pans for Charity and even participated in a Charity fashion Show. Phew!

And then came the final two big events of the year…

First up was organising a fun day at Bana Ba Letsatsi (BBL) – a day centre caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids. One thing you can say with certainly about SD staff is that we love kids. We love them more than delicious warm sticky magwinya’s (a savoury/sweet, deep fried donut-ish traditional food, which-we-know-we-shouldn’t-eat-but-Eish-they-are-delicious) we even love them more than we love planning that super awesome Delta Trip. We simply love kids. Nash face painting

It therefore goes without saying that a fun day for BBL would be well supported by our team.

Through the generosity of our agents, we support BBL under the TFI levy; we sponsor their full time Physco-Social Counsellor, contribute to food and running expenses and also provide free scheduled transport through the SD/TFI Community Bus. All of these are crucial support to BBL but they’re not “fun” for kids.

We decided on a Fun Day, purely because all kids need to have joy. They need to have a day where they can simply be kids and have fun!

We started off with face painting accompanied by a snack of magwinya’s (have we mentioned these before?) followed by a round of games and fun: egg and spoon races, sack races, cup cake decorating, jumping castle and the surprise all-time favourite – tug of war! The kids then attended a graduation ceremony while the SD “Safari Chefs” cracked on with a massive braai (barbeque). Everyone enjoyed a superb lunch and we ended the day by handing out party bags to all. What a super day

Something else you probably already know about SD is that we don’t do things in half measures. Yep, half measures are for sissies, we like to go all out! So as if planning and hosting a fun day for a 100 odd kids and guests was not enough, two weeks later we were back in action – this time assisting with an Annual Christmas Lunch for 400 Elderly members of our community. Aglow Lunch

AGLOW International Maun is another beneficiary from the TFI Bed Night Levy. They are an organisation committed to caring for the destitute elderly in Maun. We sponsor monthly food parcels as well as the volunteers who provide daily visits. Transport is also provided by the TFI/SD Community Bus.

We are long term sponsors of their Annual Christmas lunch for the elderly and this year a contingent of 10 SD volunteers descended into what can only be described as a food cooking marathon. Forget Masterchef, if you want to see a bunch of amateur chefs dropped in the deep end in a foreign kitchen then this is the event to watch! If chopping 2 sacks of cabbages for 4 hours sounds like fun, feel free to join us next year…

All jokes aside, Team SD did a super job, worked well together from prep to cooking and served a delicious feast to a very enthusiastic audience – not a scrap of food was left over.

And that’s how we achieved our community hours. Often chaotic, usually sweaty, sometimes smelling of cabbage but always with a sense of achievement and proud to be able to give back to our awesome community. BBL fun day

Thanks to the incredible support and commitment of our staff in under 6 months we have not only achieved our goal of 500 community hours, but we have exceeded it to achieve 563 community hours!

What’s our target for next year? We’ll have to wait and see.

I’m sure we are planning on going large…

…Do I hear crickets?

 

Carina

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Carina

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Your name, your destiny…

Ina lebe seromo. This is a Setswana proverb that means:  you are your name. Your name is your destiny, it is who you become, and it is you. Batswana just like most if not all Africans, understand that your name defines your fate, it shapes your life. Thus for most Africans, names bear deep meanings. Within SD itself, there are Batswana who have been endowed with special names and these names and their origins are more than meets the eye.

Ndiye 

This is a Kalanga name, meaning “Him/Her” (Keene in Setswana). I am the first male child who is considered the overall caretaker and leader in my parents’ absence. I bear responsibility to ensure that the family is held together. I am “The One” in my family, with them I am the King. Ndiye

Resego 

This means that ‘We are fortunate’ or ‘We are blessed. This is a joyful name, a baby girl, a gift to the family. ‘Re’ in Setswana means us…so the first part of my name signifies unity. Now we know why I am a team player and a people’s person. J “Sego” in Setswana means good fortune or luck. It means I am a blessing in other people’s lives. To me,  every time someone calls my name: “Resego”,  it is a validation and a salutation that “WE ARE BLESSED”! Resego at Epic dancing

Chawada 

Kalanga names are beautiful and Chawada is another Kalanga name that has a spiritual connection. Directly translated, Chawada means “What you Desire”.  My parents are believers and after a long wait, hoping to have a son, I, Chawada was born instead.  Giving thanks and submitting to God’s will, my parents then named me Chawada. In other words, they were submitted to God’s plan for what he desired for them. Chawada Ndzimu too tji bokela – Whatever you like for us Lord, we are grateful! Chawada

Helmie 

Helmie is a Swedish name meaning “Will, desire”. It originates from helmet (protection). It is a rare name to find in Africa, let alone Botswana.  I am named after Boineelo‘s (the writer of this article) elder sister. My aunt who gave me this rare and beautiful name was very close friends with Boineelo’s sister in high school.  It goes to show that we never know the impact that we have in people’s lives and how deep meaningful connections can be. So make sure your life impacts those around you in a positive way and maybe just maybe your legacy might live on in a name, just like it did for me! Helmie

 

Lindiwe 

Lindiwe is a deeply spiritual name, one that signifies, comfort, love and protection. Being the spiritual person that I am, God has shown me comfort in times of need, protection in times of trial and love at all times. I am protected, it is my fate. I live in constant peace, knowing that what and who I am, is greater than the trials I may face.   When at peace, all is well. I can live my life with a joyful peaceful heart. Lindiwe

 

Boineelo

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Boineelo

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Should You Visit Zimbabwe?

It’s incredibly hot, and unreasonably dry in Hwange. As I sit and wipe the September salt from my eyes (in any other month it might be sweat, except the moisture evaporates before it can form), I wonder if a bikini might’ve been more sensible game drive gear, rather than the standard-issue khaki I’ve got on.

Typically, the argument for well-intentioned shades of light green and tan is that it’s practical. It’s sensible for bush walks, the lions won’t charge you (since you can convincingly impersonate a bush) and you can’t blind fellow safari goers with offensively clashing colour combinations. The problem though, is that as soon as your sweaty thighs have been rubbing on a canvas-covered seat for three hours, hey presto, you’re half transparent. Come sundowner time, I’m going to have to stand up and risk my fellow safari-goers thinking I’m incontinent – despite the fact that I’m a good two decades younger than most of them.

Hwange's elephants feel the dry season pressure

Hwange’s elephants feel the dry season pressure

These are the superficial thoughts cruising through my pan-fried mind as we come across a breeding herd of elephants on the Dete Vlei Line. My mind is wandering, until these guys who had seemed pretty chilled at first, start forming a circle around a small calf, and then push two three year olds behind one of the bigger ladies in the herd. The matriarch stares at us, measures our composure and assesses the potential threat we pose. To be fair, they’re just as hot and bothered as I am, probably even more so. It’s been a long, dry winter, which is now heating up tremendously as the summer months approach. The bush is bare, there’s very little food, and the rain required to grow a larder large enough to feed 40,000 elephants is still at least a month off.

“These guys are under stress at the moment’ our guide “Zimbo” explains. Officially, we could put this down to another long and stressful dry season. Unofficially, Zimbabwe’s government have been separating the youngest members of Hwange’s breeding herds from their families and rounding them up into bomas where they’ll be housed before being shipped off to Chinese zoos, ‘the government says it’s restocking Chizarira National Park,” Zimbo says, but we soon find out they’re only capturing the youngest members of Hwange’s herds. This is not standard policy if you plan to re-stock another park with dwindling numbers of elephants. You just don’t leave behind the adults who’d need to school their young in the art of bush survival against a new and unknown terrain.

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If you’ve ever spent more than a few minutes with a wild elephant, you’ll know how intelligent they are and how strongly they cling to their social structures. To an elephant, family is more important than anything else. Not only that, but elephants are intuitive enough to know when they’re under threat. From the second we pulled up, these guys were busy determining whether we meant to take their young or not.

Suddenly, the dilemma of my sweaty chaffing and temporary discomfort pales into the background. I’m left  staring a serious conservation issue in the face – one that polarises people into different camps of opinion about whether or not to travel to Zimbabwe.  This is an issue that requires more than “likes” and “dislikes” on social media, and Zimbabwe’s tourism industry is thoroughly aware of it.  Not only that, but Zimbabwe’s operators are passionate about the fight, and actively seeking out conservation-minded solutions – if only they had more tourism dollars to do it.

One of Hwange's elephant calfs makes short work of a lodge swimming pool's water during the dry season this October.

One of Hwange’s elephant calfs makes short work of a lodge swimming pool’s water during the dry season this October.

THE MUGABE EFFECT
Everybody loves a baddie. Ask around, and you’ll quickly find Mugabe is the kind of guy people love to hate. Bob’s talent for misappropriating public funds may not out-match that of South Africa’s Zuma, nor might his brand of tyranny overshadow Russia’s Putin, but he’s certainly had the benefit of a few more decades to hone his reputation, as well as to develop a hefty anti-following.

Thanks to Bob’s surly disposition, and his refusal to govern Zimbabwe by usual democratic methods, there are many travellers and tour operators who feel a moral duty to discourage travel to Zimbabwe. On the surface, the motivation to do this seems noble – starve the guy of cash and knock him off his high horse. The problem with this approach is that it ignores two very significant factors.

#1: MUGABE DOESN’T NEED YOUR MONEY

He gets enough from the exorbitant taxes imposed on his citizens and the decades of foreign aid he’s already whittled away into bank accounts abroad. Mugabe’s pension fund is well and truly established, despite his lack of intention to ever really retire. A lack of income from tourism will not be the motivating factor that prompts old Bob to secede.

Mugabe might be a menace, but his antics are transparent enough that most Zimbabweans can get the best kind of humour out of a bad situation

Mugabe might be a menace, but his antics are transparent enough that most Zimbabweans can get the best kind of humour out of a bad situation

#2: ZIMBABWE NEEDS YOU

Of all the places I’ve travelled in Africa (and I’ve been to 21 of her countries – which is not all of them, but it’s enough) I’ve never met more committed and passionate conservationists than what I’ve found within Zimbabwe.

Zim’s lot are a tight-knit bunch, who for many years have drawn together under dire circumstances, made a plan with whatever they’ve got to hand and often used nothing more than sheer bloody-mindedness to protect their natural resources against an alarming lack of support from their own government.

One of Hwange's collared lions strolls across Back Pans in the Linkwasha concession

One of Hwange’s collared lions strolls across Back Pans in the Linkwasha concession

Zimbabwe’s tourism operators have taken on the task of grading and maintaining roads, both for anti-poaching patrols, as well as to establish game drive networks. They pump waterholes during the dry months to keep wildlife sustained and to prevent populations of already threatened species diminishing even further. Zimbabwe’s tourism operators use significant chunks of their income to feed, educate and employ people from villages bordered by wildlife areas, in an effort (which has been shown to work) to curb subsistence poaching.

Ask any Zimbabwean operator and you’ll find that the battle is not just hard-won, it’s also funded by tourism dollars alone. Without the much-needed cash injection from tourism, waterholes would run dry – killing wildlife, safari camps would go abandoned – opening up tracts of land to unchecked poaching, and Zimbabwe’s natural resources, as well as it’s people, would face an even more uncertain future.

With the help of tourism dollars, Zimbabwe’s safari operators are able to help fill the void left by a negligent government. If you want to have the greatest possible impact on Zimbabwe, then visit – and empower its people to achieve even more, in spite of the man up top.

Our exceptionally talented guide Albert, spots us a black backed jackal at Somalisa Camp

Our exceptionally talented guide Albert, spots us a black backed jackal at Somalisa Camp

THE GUIDING IS UNBEATABLE

Until a couple of months ago, if you’d asked me how I might react to standing in front of two lionesses on foot, I’d tell you I’d love to do it, but I’d anticipate feeling a little bit shaky about it. Add to this a big male lion that would be SOMEWHERE around, but we wouldn’t be sure QUITE where, until he grumbled from the bush behind me, and I’d be happy to guess that it would be brown trousers time. Somehow though, when faced with the situation in reality – that’s not how it ended up playing out.

Earlier in my safari with Singita Pamushana (in an under-appreciated corner of Zimbabwe called Malilangwe) our guide Mark had introduced us to his tried and true method for fitting in with the wildlife. “I talk to them, ok? You might think it’s weird, but for me, it works. The trick is never to sneak up on a lion. Always let him know you’re there. I’ve been doing this for years and the guys here (he was talking about the wildlife) are used to my strange ways. Just bear with me.”

And so it was, that I found myself in the middle of a casual chat, when I would’ve expected to feel a cold sweat coming on instead. “It’s OK big boy. It’s alright.’ Mark says ‘We’re going. Don’t worry. We didn’t see you there. We’re just going to go now, ok?’ then, as our lion continues rumbling, flicking his tail back and forth as if Mark has just made a pass at his lady friends, he instructs us ‘ok, we’re going to leave him now, he’s a bit grumpy, just follow my lead.” Despite the theatrics, Mark had made such light work of the situation that I didn’t even skip a heartbeat. In some ways it was a little disappointing not to feel the expected rush of adrenaline, but in reality, it was also a pleasure not to have to deal with the extra laundry.

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This is the talent of Zimbabwe’s guides. They spend years and years training under a system so rigorous that it’s gained a kind of notoriety. Ask any experienced guide whether they’d like to sit Zim’s test and it’s almost guaranteed that the idea will give them a kind of buttock-clenching anxiety. Guides in Zim are expected to know all sorts of everything, from biology, astrology and geology, to exceptional hospitality skills. Ever had a guide climb over the top of you, into the back of the vehicle, so he can pour everyone gin & tonics at sunset without having to drive away from an impressive lion sighting? I have, and it only would’ve happened in Zimbabwe (kudos for this trick go to Albert of African Bush Camps).

In Zimbabwe, you’ll learn the personal stories of the wildlife you encounter, including everyone’s names and what their family trees look like. It’s exactly this in-depth level of guiding that drew such attention to the plight of Cecil the lion, famously shot in Hwange a year and a half ago. Cecil’s story drew such ire because he was well-known. People who visited the park knew his story intimately because of the guides who shared it with enthusiasm. Cecil lived a soap-opera life of tenuous coalitions and love affairs, producing a very tangled family tree that the park’s guides keenly traced and continuously re-told, as if taking the proverbial skeletons out of their own closet. By the time Cecil was shot, he’d been made famous only through the enthusiasm of Zimbabwe’s guides. The conservation plight highlighted by Cecil is real, but were it not for the commitment and passion of Zimbabwe’s conservation heroes, it would’ve gone largely untold.

A hot October's siesta by the pool in Hwange National Park

A hot October’s siesta by the pool in Hwange National Park

AND, ZIMBABWE IS OPENING UP

While Zimbabwe has had some pretty quiet years since hyperinflation, the number of visitors to the country (particularly Hwange and Victoria Falls) have picked up tremendously in the past few years. New camps are opening up, providing even more options for different travellers on different budgets, from honeymooners to adventurers to families. Zimbabwe has a wealth of contrasting landscapes to explore, from the dry grasslands of Hwange to the mountain-dominated backdrop of Mana Pools, and the ever-impressive Victoria Falls, which keeps change as its one constant, throughout all the seasons.

A Standard Mana Pools sunset

A Standard Mana Pools sunset

For the intrepid explorer, Zimbabwe offers so much more than a safari – it’s the history in its UNESCO world heritage sites – from the balancing rocks of Matopos to the medieval ruins of Great Zimbabwe. It’s the rugged landscapes ready for hiking in the Eastern Highlands, the baobab-filled villages that’ll fill your view in the rear-view mirror, the gritty city scene of Harare and the first lightning storms of the year rolling out towards your houseboat across the open waters of Lake Kariba.

A hazy sunset over the rocks of Matopos

A hazy sunset over the rocks of Matopos

Best of all, even in high season, you’ll still find you’ll have most of Zimbabwe completely to yourself. Surprisingly, the masses still don’t seem to have realized what Zimbabwe has to offer – and, if nothing else, you’ll take home a better lesson in conservation and a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges our planet faces than what you’d get in any other country having a much easier time of it.

The baobab-filled Gonarezhou National Park

The baobab-filled Gonarezhou National Park

Clare Doolan

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Clare Doolan

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