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Tanzania: Tusks and Trunks in Tarangire

elephants jousting

Packed tightly together, forming a gently shuffling circle, they rest, waiting. The African sun burns at its zenith – a piercing white-orange in turquoise sky. A trunk sways and an eyelid bats downwards, as they shift beneath the wide branches of a gnarled acacia tree.

Sheltering from this assault of heat and light, the elephants huddle under the scant protection offered by the tree. Dust clings to their grey-brown skin, as the mixture of shade and sunshine dapples their broad backs.

Almost hidden from sight, a smaller trunk swings a rhythm of its own; legs more tottery than the others scrape the flattened grass that has been trodden into dirt. A pair of wide eyes looks out from a forest of legs. This young elephant surveys the world from beneath an umbrella of leathery protection. A caring trunk extends downwards and strokes its low back – reassuring, yet controlling.

Suddenly, I hear thudding footsteps to my left. There is a low, crashing rasp and a series of powerful exhalations. I turn to look at the source of this rumbling commotion. Two young bulls are locked in an aggressive display of testosterone-fuelled jousting. Their tusks crossed, they sway as they slowly tussle.

Bizarrely – at odds with this macho display – an errant trunk flicks slowly outwards, coming to rest in the mouth of the opponent. For a moment they pause together like this, before backing slowly away. The joust is over. I wonder if this is an underhand tactic – the elephant equivalent of foul play.

However, what amazes me more than the sight of these under-trunk tactics is the sheer number of elephants that surround me. I’m in Tanzania, a country that recently lost 60% of its elephants in just four bloody years. But Tarangire National Park doesn’t seem to have got the memo – some of its herds number up to 300 elephants.

I turn my head to take in every direction; I look further out over the rich, green grasses that are punctuated by tusk-scratched baobabs and patches of brick-red dust. Everywhere I look, there are elephants. Some are unmoving, relaxed. Others continue on a slow amble towards the mud and water of the Tarangire River.

Of course, the reality is not quite as paradisiacal as it seems. Tarangire’s elephants are under threat. They have escaped the rampant slaughter that has affected the larger parks, particularly Selous and Ruaha, but remain hunted animals.

And I know, in part, why this bloodshed has been kept at bay. As my eyes rest on every animal, they cast a protective gaze – a gaze that simply does not exist in the vast, unvisited parks of southern Tanzania. The eyes of tourists are valuable weapons in the fight against poaching – almost as valuable as their wallets.

The need for tourist eyes and money is a brutal truth. No matter how much we romanticise elephants and their majestic, intelligent nature, we keep killing them. Tourism places a value on these, otherwise meaningless, romantic notions. Every pound, dollar or Tanzanian schilling spent in a park like Tarangire gives its wildlife value. And it gives the park rangers funds with which to fight the war – and it is a war – against ivory poachers.

But tourism, economics and bloody realities aside, the romantic inside of me wishes this were not the case. As I cast my gaze back towards the young eyes that hide amongst the forest of thick legs, I smile. The beauty of new life is captivating, as is the intelligent gaze of a creature that we respect so much, but seem to value so little.

One day there may be no elephants left. But for now there are. They roam the grasslands, copses and hillsides of Tarangire as if the apocalypse were not upon them. They clash their precious, cursed tusks and tend their young in blissful ignorance. Seize the chance to see them before the crash of ivory on ivory and raucous trumpeting are mere sounds of the past.

Get in touch to learn more about our Tanzania safaris. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

 

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Guiding Lights: Aziza Mbwana

Giraffes

Aziza Mbwana has just been promoted to Assistant Head Ranger at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. She is the only woman working in Tanzania as a Ranger at the moment. With International Women’s Day around the corner we celebrate her dedication over the years, ensuring guests share in her passion for nature and fellow Rangers learn from her mentoring them.

Aziza started with &Beyond as a Ranger 10 years ago at Lake Manyara. Looking back now, she can only laugh at her first couple of days at the lodge, still trying to compete with the boys.

Growing up in Tanga (a town at the Tanzanian coast, close to the Kenyan border), she had started working as a historical city guide and also guided tours on the Pangani River for guests to see Crocodiles and birds before she entered the field guiding world.  It wasn’t easy in a man’s world. With a lot of male competitors at the first interview with &Beyond in Arusha, remembers Aziza. “You are supposed to stay in the office and not in the bush”, was the first comment she received from fellow interviewees. “We will compete until the end” was Aziza’s response and she was the one to pull through the East African Ranger Training course at Mwewe with only 3 other Rangers qualifying with her.

Ten years later, Aziza is living the &Beyond values every day and has a passion for the Caring for our Land, Wildlife and People. “The values all belong together, she explains excitedly. “Not caring for one is like driving a car with 3 tyres. I am lucky to be able to have a job where I can share my passion with my team and guests”.

Q & A with Aziza

A moment to be proud of?
One day I gave a young lady a lift from Arusha and we got chatting. After she told me she was studying to become a guide I asked her how she had decided on this, especially as a woman. “There are a lot of female guides she said. I know about this Aziza, if she can do it, I can do it” the young girl answered. I asked if she had met this Aziza? She was yet to find out that I was the one she had been referring to. This was a very proud moment for me to find out I had inspired someone to take up a career as a guide.

What is the most important thing in your life?
My daughters Leils & Loema.

What is the biggest challenge?
To balance the two most important things for me in life. The passion for my job and the love for my family. My youngest daughter will be in school soon and I have not figured yet how I will be able to balance everything.

What is your favourite animal?
Definitely Giraffes, they are very prehistoric, the tallest, they don’t attack anyone and I love their eyelashes. They walk like models on a cat walk.

 

Journey with Aziza on a tour of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater – which in the right seasons offers some of the best wildlife viewing in the world with breathtaking vistas to match. Call us now on 01285 880980 or email us inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Ruaha: Stout boots required

For those who think that a safari is a safari is a safari, chances are they have not visited Ruaha. This vast untouched wilderness forms the core of a 150,000 sq km ecosystem, the second largest National Park in Africa and home to incredible wildlife and intrepid explorers.

The Udzungwa Mountain range effectively cuts this tract of wilderness off from casual tourists and marks the change in topography as you fly west to land into this high altitude arid landscape. The pilot and I were the only two on board and we were ahead of schedule having dropped other passengers in the Selous a couple of hours earlier. The giraffe loped off the airstrip as we came into land and we quickly slid back the windows to get a breeze through the cockpit.

The pilots here act as bush telegraph, so with a wad of letters and a brown paper parcel for the camp I climbed out the cockpit and headed for the shade of an acacia. I had the feeling the pilot’s smile and wave goodbye through the window were more a good luck message than being just friendly. The Cessna took off, dipped his wings on a fly past and climbed into the white blue sky. A fly buzzed lazily past and the heat was magnified by the silence.  A minute passed with surreal languidness. From deep in the distance came a gradual rumbling and soft clacking that slowly developed into the familiar noise of a Land Rover. The camp had seen the plane coming in early and sent a guide to meet me. This was to be the only vehicle I saw for the next few days. Our destination was the Mwagusi dry river – an area home to a huge population of lion that specialise in hunting giraffe, a land of massive Baobabs and untamed antelope.

You get the feeling this is how the wildlife would like to interact in the rest of Africa if only there were fewer humans. Ruaha feels remote, borne out of the silence and the lack of tourists. Here is a constantly moving panorama, small birds zip between the low bushes whilst overhead larger birds of prey circle on thermals. The big game is a huge draw here and the predators are voracious, feasting on the plains game which is understandably skittish. Home to a huge variety of antelope, oribi, eland, kudu and sable which you are unlikely to see elsewhere in East Africa, I was delighted to get close to an unsuspecting eland before the wind shifted, the big bull caught our scent and trotted surprisingly daintily into the miombo (woodlands).

Walking safaris here rival the household names of the Luangwa Valley safari circuit but the difference is that you won’t have heard of them. Fly camp, walk between escarpments and watersheds following ancient dry sand rivers and immerse yourself in this living diorama where wild dogs and sable antelope roam. As dusk falls the theatre comes to life, leopards saw and rasp in the gloaming and competing prides of lion vocalise their dissent. I feel very human, almost vulnerable. This is a place for proper safari-ists and proper guides – no armchair box-ticking parody of a safari you might encounter elsewhere.

Top tip:  Watch out for the sollifuges which glow under ultra-violet lights, the lyrate horns of the lesser kudu and brown parcels containing strawberry jam. Oh and you need good boots because otherwise the sand gets in your socks.

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Tanzania Safari – things change and things stay the same

My love affair with Tanzania is an old one now and I have seen it in all weathers, seasons and extremes.

On my most recent trip I was reminded how huge and powerful the Serengetisystem is and that, my time there was just a drop in the ocean to the time it has been there. From the footsteps of the early hominids near Oldupai gorge to the ancient migration routes of the wildebeest and Zebra, time has been influencing the Serengeti. Although I think most people can appreciate its size, I was struck again by the area’s strong seasonality.

In February you can visit the short grass plains at the foot of Ngorongorocrater and be staggered by the sheer number and diversity of animals calving, eating, hunting and nesting. In May those same plains will offer you only the occasional grants gazelle or lonely elephant. No sound at all, no movement except the long grass and the odd ear or tail. Similarly the stunning Musabi plains of the western corridor are teaming with rutting wildebeest in June and July and are otherwise silent with only distant journeys of giraffe hinting at life. Although I have seen up to 68 giraffe on this plain in November. Delve into secret valleys (only the best of guides know them – and we know only the best of guides) and you will find waterbuck, large herds of elephant and perhaps the shy serval.

Seronera in the centre of the park on the other hand is an anomaly as it offers year-round water and the best leopard sleeping trees in the Serengeti. If you are in this area you have to look up! Always! As there you will see either a twitching tail or a descending vulture – both worth taking note of. Similarly the life sustaining Grumeti river which plays host to the migration in July is a small haven for all wildlife throughout the year – shhhhh don’t tell everyone.

I visited the far northern wagukuria area in May this year and had to catch my breath. It is so beautiful with endless views over the Masai Mara, broadleaved woodlands (unlike anywhere in the Serengeti) and high stands of golden Themeda grasslands. Grasslands in wait for the animals who flock to the Mara River in August through to October. Don’t go looking for them on the short grass plains then and I am not sure how many people are aware of the fact that the Mara river bisects the far north western part of the Serengeti enabling you to enjoy scenes of the migration crossing the Mara river from your camp in Tanzania.

So, I have to reiterate that you really do need an expert to help you plan your Serengeti holiday as there are such great differences throughout the year.