by Sue Bowern
12 August 2014
How to be a bird watcher
It’s impossible to avoid getting drawn into trying to identify bird species on safari. Some of our African birds are larger than a small antelope, taller than a lion and an ostrich can run at over 60 miles an hour. Much faster than Usain Bolt (23.35 miles per hour fastest average), and almost as fast as a cheetah (70 - 75 miles an hour)!
You’ve probably heard of “twitchers”, you might have tried a bit of bird watching on a safari or in your garden. With over 10 000 bird species in the world, it’s not surprising this is an increasingly popular hobby.
2500 bird species have been recorded in Africa and her associated islands.That’s some list to learn! A lifetime effort for some of our scientists, an enchanting jigsaw puzzle to research how far they fly, what they eat and where they belong.
Got you hooked?
All you’ll need to take up this fascinating subject is:
Binoculars (7x or 8x magnification minimum, with a weight distributing strap to protect your neck)
Field guide (to suit the area you’re in)
Notebook and pencil (to record sightings etc)
Suitably dull clothing (camouflage, and to protect you from the weather)
A few snacks if you get carried away and stay out a long time
A burst of enthusiasm to get you going.
Our Zambezi tip is to start small. Put out a couple of bird feeders at your home and start observing them in your own garden. It’s difficult to identify some species as they can be very similar. Learn to distinguish their calls, marks and habits (do they feed on the ground, what seed do they like, are they on their own or in a flock?). Once you’re a bit more practised at spotting a bird, you’re ready to head out into the field!
Most of the time you’ll hear bird song all around you but you won’t be able to see a thing! Look for movement in the tree and then look through your binoculars. Concentrate on its size, shape, posture, markings, behaviour and then try to identify it in your field guide. Some birds hardly ever fly (ground hornbill), some dive for their food (kingfisher); others live in wetlands, or the woods and so on. The best way to learn more about birds is by watching and learning from experienced birding guides and other experienced bird watchers.
Finally… create your life list. Every time you see a bird, list it down the first time you see it - this is called a lifer! As you become more of a “twicher” (UK) or a “chaser” (USA), you’ll start making other lists. Date, location, call and so on. When you return from a safari, you may be able to boast over 100 lifers! And soon you’ll know much more about birds and birding than most people you’ll meet in your lifetime.
19 September 2013
Isn’t it about time that politicians and punters alike put conservation first to support the many Zimbabwean players who’ve quietly carried their side of the bargain in the last decade? It’s an opportunity to right some wrongs and let a fresh generation of travellers really appreciate Zimbabwe’s fine hospitality in some of the continent’s greatest wilderness areas.
Zimbabwe could just be the hottest safari ticket in town in years to come. Here’s why.
A new stage is set in Zimbabwe
So Zimbabwe’s recent election passed without violence and the old incumbent at 89 was inaugurated for a 7th term after 33 years in office. A new cabinet has been chosen to take the challenge of fixing the economy after more than 13 years of degeneration. Just as Zimbabwe’s 8th Parliament opened the EU announced intentions to remove restrictive measures against the government’s diamond mining firm. The mining sector projects that Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields are set to be the largest diamond producing project in the world this year. A curse or the economy’s saving grace?
Does it all matter? The new government is determined to “prioritise the revival of keys sectors of agriculture, mining, tourism and manufacturing”.
So within the last month the UN World Tourism Organization’s annual general assembly convened in southern Africa’s “safari central” of Victoria Falls and some over-enthusiastic local talk of plans for Africa’s $300m “Disneyland” in the area has been replaced by dealing with real issues in the tourism industry.
- In the last fortnight 69 elephant carcasses have been recovered in Hwange National Park after a mass poisoning by poachers. Ministers Kasukuwere, Mzembi and Moyo reacted with a quick visit. Importantly Saviour Kasukuwere said that he’d “encourage the shoot to kill policy” and a government taskforce is set to probe rampant elephant poaching in Zimbabwe. Strong words indeed but perhaps the new government will now actively support the global conservation fight against this onslaught on Africa’s elephants.
- In the past week Zimbabwean conservation pioneer, Clive Stockil was presented a lifetime Prince William Award for Conservation for his work with Rhinos. Recognised as a long-time champion of wildlife and communities in the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, Gonarezhou National Park and the Save Valley Conservancy this result has been achieved against staggering odds. Stockil said that the award was shared with many including Chief Mahenye and the village elders – the notion that “failure is not an option” created energy for the effort. Perhaps there’s still hope for this uneasy balance to get righted?
- Mana Pools National Park within the lower Zambezi’s UNESCO World Heritage Site and even larger UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve faced its most recent threat (July 2012) which included proposals to explore the potential for mining within Mana Pools. Perhaps restrained during the long run up to last month’s UNWTO assembly the mining proposal has since been silenced. So with delegates gone, conservationists, environmental NGO’s, tourism associations and regional stakeholders watchfully uphold UNESCO’s far-sighted recognition of the Middle Zambezi as a critical and irreplaceable global asset.
So perhaps the stage is set for fresh support from government?
A backdrop to Zimbabwe’s safari industry
Pre-2000, Zimbabwe had a conservation record second to none in southern Africa. The country was home to a healthy crop of Africa’s top professional guides for whom walking safaris, canoeing and real adventures were the product of superior guide training and great enterprise supported by good infrastructure. With diverse habitats, prolific wildlife and varied safari options Zimbabwe commanded some of the best rates in southern Africa’s maturing safari industry.
Then in 2000 the country’s politicians simply dimmed the lights. Aside from a socio-economic disaster about to be delivered to the people of Zimbabwe, international tour operators and the country’s traditional markets simply reacted by withdrawing support. Why not? The safari industry is governed by market forces and punters had other choices. The result - hotel and lodge occupancies shrank, visitor numbers plummeted and the country’s wildlife and conservationists were left stranded.
Meanwhile traditional safari markets in East and Southern Africa boomed. Investment in camps and lodges rose, occupancies climbed with supply and rates increased steadily until the 2008/2009 "credit crunch" shook the entire industry. At that point a high-standard safari in Zimbabwe was around 30% less expensive than an equivalent trip in Zambia, almost half the price of a comparable safari in Botswana or Tanzania.
So for eight years, whilst safari volumes grew elsewhere, Zimbabwe’s industry stagnated. Costs were mostly held in check and prices dropped with not much profit or tax remittance left over. Hard times indeed, especially for wildlife, custodians and conservationists.
Some things never changed in Zimbabwe though. Zim guides and hosts still feature regularly in the top-10 lists held by industry professionals. That willingness to “make a plan” and healthy “can-do” attitudes supported by warm smiles in the quiet years meant that delivering excellent service to fewer clients just enriched visitor’s safari experiences…and so, great hospitality and friendly service remains one of Zimbabwe’s firmest guarantees.
Real change has been building slowly in Zimbabwe
Over the last 5 years whilst the rest of Africa’s safari industry has contended with rebuilding, marketing and sharpening post credit-crunch prices and offerings, some important events might have slipped the attention of pre-2000 visitors who haven’t been back since.
- The economy turned overnight when the US$ replaced the Zimbabwean dollar in April 2009 (Exchange? ZWD308 trillion = USD1). Photos of empty shelves across the country are long gone. Anything you can purchase over the counter in neighbouring South Africa is now freely and competitively available in Zimbabwe. From tyres to fuel to fruit to medicine.
- Travel warnings were lifted and media restrictions were eased in 2009. Visa policies are in the process of been refined by the Ministry and Department of Immigration and regional partners have welcomed recent developments since UNWTO.
- Hoteliers are reporting year on year growth. Ross Kennedy, CEO Africa Albida Tourism reported 20% average room rate growth during 2012 over 2011. This is supported by recent comments from the Minister for Tourism to the effect that during the first half of 2013 arrivals into Zimbabwe increased by 12% with the tourism industry set to grow in the second half.
- The private sector has been hard at marketing internationally and focussing on product development, training and conservation at home. Investments over the last two years have resulted in upgrades and additional lodges in Matopos, Hwange, Kariba and Victoria Falls. By every account operators endorse the view that the growth trend now has its own momentum but that the work isn’t yet complete.
- Whilst the “old milk run” connecting Victoria Falls, Kariba and Hwange might not be up and running yet, Victoria Falls Airport is becoming an increasingly important hub into Southern Africa’s safari hub. It’s refurbishment due complete by April 2015 will more than double passenger capacity and accommodate wide-body aircraft (Boeing B747-400s and Airbus A340s).
- A telling thing has been that in addition to growth from traditional source markets in North America, Australia and the UK over the last few years there’s been fresh growth by visitors from an additional 29 new countries. If conservative travellers wake up too late they might just find beds already occupied by a new generation of adventurers experiencing some of the best Africa has to offer.
It’s time to rediscover Zimbabwe
So despite many traditional safari-goers having chosen other destinations in the last decade, Zimbabwe’s old attractions have become the smart choice. Conservationists have produced results against odds, the authorities appear to be making all the right moves to support the industry and players have kept their side of the bargain.
Visitors who make the effort to get on safari in 2014 will be greeted by some big personalities, warm smiles and simply tremendous service.
This good news comes with a warning, “if you leave it too late you might just find that the hottest safari tickets in town have all been sold out”!
By John Berry, MD - Zambezi Safari & Travel Company. Views expressed are those of the author - you may contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
9 March 2012
Aspiring explorers will need to be quick to secure a place on a new escorted Zambia expedition with one of the country’s leading guides, Rod Tether.
The new guided safari is available on limited departure dates from April to July 2012.
Highlights include seeking out the elusive Sitatunga antelope and Pel's Fishing Owl along with elephant and hippo amongst the rich river floodplains of Kasanka, and tracking down the Shoebill Stork, probably the most sought-after bird in the world, by poling through the Bangweulu Swamps. A sojourn at the historic Impandala House – Stewart Gore-Browne’s eccentric English manor house – on the shores of Lake Shiwa Ng'andu, will include a day trip to Kapishya Hot Springs and boat trip on the lake. The trip ends with a stay at Jake and Gillie's Private House on the edge of the world-famous South Luangwa National Park, with game drives to encounter big game including leopard, lion and buffalo.
As featured in The Independent (UK).
26 January 2012
We've introduced two new escorted tours for 2012, both exclusive to Zambezi. And both offered at a special 'early bird' price.
This is the first time that Zambezi has designed its own bespoke, escorted tours, offering guests the peace of mind of travelling with a reputable company and one-stop-shop for their entire trip.
The best safaris don’t always come with the cheapest price tags, but book before 31st May 2012 and enjoy the best for less.
Zambezi Big Cat Diary safari, 5 nights – From a private bush home in the Lemek hills, far from the tourist trail and within the 70,000 acre Mara North Conservancy area, head out on privately guided adventures with Jackson Looseyia, famous for his appearances on the BBC’s Big Cat Diaries.
Zambezi mobile safari through Southern Africa, 10 nights - The 11-day trip traverses two spectacular areas of Zimbabwe and Botswana, home to some of the most magnificent wildlife and breath-taking scenery in Africa, harking back to the original meaning of the word ‘safari’, or ‘journey’. With a small group of four to eight guests, a private guide and vehicle and access to private concessions, the itinerary offers an exclusive glimpse into the expeditions of old.
23 January 2012
The question was posed by Richard Madden of the Daily Telegraph, who included our new tour to the Congo rainforest and Odzala-Kokoua National Park in his round up of top adventurours trips for 2012.
We're expecting a lot of interest in the set departure trips, launching later this year. Are you up to the challenge?
2 December 2011
Tired of the cold, damp and dark? In need of some winter sun, Africa style? Check out our top trips for some winter sunshine holiday inspiration.
4 November 2011
Shhh, don’t tell everyone, but Zimbabwe is a hot ticket for 2012, offering excellent value for money coupled with enriched safari experiences. We recommend you take a look now before the rest of the pack.
Once the shining star of the safari industry, with a conservation record second to none and some of Africa’s top professional guides, Zimbabwe slipped off the radar post 2000 when the politicians lost the plot.
Whilst the continent’s safari industry continued to grow elsewhere, Zimbabwe’s safari volumes diminished and prices dropped. So whilst other safari markets boomed with investment in camps and lodges, Zimbabwe’s stalled. Most importantly, service levels didn’t. Owners and managers of hotels, lodges and small camps especially in Victoria Falls, Hwange, Matusadona and Mana Pools focussed on delivering excellent service to fewer clients.
In recent years, positive change has started in Zimbabwe. Savvy owners are aware of the competitive advantage they’ve gained by having kept costs trim and are conscious of bigger threats from weak markets over the next few years so prices rises are being mostly contained for the coming season.
Visitors who make the effort to get on safari in 2012 will be greeted by some big personalities, warm smiles and simply tremendous service.
Read our latest Zimbabwe update and check out our latest client feedback to see what the fuss is all about.
12 October 2011
We’ve been keeping a beady eye on developments along the Lower Zambezi Valley for some time now.
In April 2009 Protea Hotels announced plans to build a 144-bed hotel on the Zambian shoreline of the Chiawa GMA on the lower Zambezi River directly opposite Mana Pools National Park. Strong objections were put forward by Zimbabwean, Zambian and international conservation and tourism bodies. A public campaign ensued and Protea Hotels withdrew their planning application in April 2010.
Then it came to light in October 2010 that Zimbabwe's Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) had asked stakeholders to ratify four new 24-bed lodge developments for Mana Pools National Park, World Heritage Site, on its own side of the river.
Here’s an overview of this latest development plan.
Q: What’s being proposed?
A: Two of the original four proposals have since been withdrawn. The two remaining proposals consist of the 24-30-bed “Nyamepi Lodge” on the exclusive Nkupe Site, 3kms downstream of the Parks HQ at Nyamepi, and a potential second lodge on an existing site known as Vine Camp, located between Vundu and Ndungu sites.
Q: Why might there be objections?
A: These developments were announced after preparation of a 10-year Management Plan for Mana Pools, as yet unsigned by Zimbabwe's Minister of Environment.
During the management planning process, stakeholders agreed that further developments along the Zambezi River frontage at Mana Pools would be likely to increase tourism pressure to a level which could damage the very fragile ecosystem of the Mana Pools. The Plan recommended that there should be no further developments in the Zambezi riverside/floodplain zone of the Park and that only small (12-bed) semi-permanent developments should be encouraged at identified sites inland.
Zimbabwe's Middle Zambezi Valley was amongst 13 new international sites given enhanced conservation status as "Biosphere Reserves" by UNESCO in June 2010.
Q: What’s the industry saying?
A: The Zambezi Society is calling for the Plan to be re-visited in the light of the potential impacts these new proposals might have on the environment of Mana Pools and on the tourism experience of visitors to the Park. The organisation suggests that the Management Planning process should be widened to include the entire Mana Pools/Sapi/Chewore complex which constitutes the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Q: What next?
A: An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is underway for the proposed Nyamepi Lodge.
A group of international tour operators have expressed their concerns in a letter to UNESCO in Harare. The letter was copied to the Director General ZPWMA and the Institute of Mining Research (responsible for the EIA's) in which a formal request for an update on developments was made.
Feedback from UNESCO is anticipated some time in October 2011.
Q: Where can I find out more?
Friends of Mana Pools on Facebook
Keep Mana Pools Wild community on Facebook
26 September 2011
Here’s an incredible sequence of shots attributed to Jean-Francois Largot in which a lion cub is rescued by its mother from a deep river gully in Kenya's Masai Mara. See the full sequence at www.ZambeziZone.com
22 September 2011
How's this for a specimen?! Photo received from Glenn Stutchbury/Ross Kennedy of Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. A Black mamba - approx 6.5m long - spotted last week near a cemetery in Triangle - fundi's reckon a mamba this size probably hatched during the 60's and would carry enough venom to kill 400 men !! See the reaction here!