Animals captivate children. The opportunity to see wildlife up close on safari is not only an extremely rewarding experience but also an educational one. Global travel and viewing animals in the wild is an interdisciplinary learning experience; children learn about biology, conservation, morality, geography, cultural diversity, and develop important life skills like patience and cultural acceptance. A family safari is also an incredible opportunity for families to bond and reconnect away from computer screens and the hubbub of everyday life.
Despite these benefits, taking children on a long trip across the world may seem like a daunting prospect. But if you pick an appropriate destination and consider children’s needs and pace, a family safari can be a stress-free magical experience that creates lifelong memories.
Although safaris can be great for all ages, we recommend that they are most appropriate for children age six and older as it meets some lodge’s minimum age criteria and this is an age where kids will get the most out of the experience. With two safari-loving children of his own, Beat About the Bush founder and guide Trevor Carnaby, knows exactly how to engage with children on safari. We recommend hiring a private vehicle so your family can decide exactly how long you want to stay at each sighting, how long you are out in the bush for, and to get a more personalised experience.
Planning is the key to success. Not all safari destinations cater for children, making it difficult to figure out where to start. The Beat About the Bush staff have the knowledge and experience to tailor a trip that will fit your family’s needs. We can advise you on everything from health considerations to fun activities for kids in Cape Town. While we take care of the planning, all you need to do is watch the Lion King one more time and pack your bags.
Here are some of our favourite family friendly safari destinations in South Africa:
The Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa is arguably the best-known of Africa’s great wildlife sanctuaries. A unique feature of the park is the inclusion (no physical barrier) along the western border of private conservation land into a mega-park called ‘Greater Kruger’.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Kwandwe Reserve is situated in the malaria free wilderness to the northeast of Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province and is arguably the region’s finest big game viewing area. Families can take part in a range of Eco-nect activities which are aimed at involving both parents and children with nature. Families are even given the opportunity to plant Spekboom, a type of native vegetation, which makes a positive environmental impact on the area.
Madikwe Game Reserve
The malaria free 150 000 acre Madikwe Game Reserve is situated in the North West Province of South Africa. Madikwe offers the Big Five and is considered one of the best places on the continent to see African wild dog – the second most endangered carnivore in Africa.
Tswalu Kalahari Reserve
This is South Africa’s largest private game reserve, covering an area of over 220 000 acres and home to a plethora of rare species and stunning landscapes. Children visiting Tswalu can take part in the Tswalu Junior Ranger programme which is carefully designed to meet the enthusiasm of a broad age range. Activities are varied but include archery (beginning with making your own bow and arrows), spoor identification and casting, as well as tracking on foot.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any queries about taking children on safari or if you would like to chat about planning your family’s safari adventure.
*Warning: this blog post contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
Lions represent an essential part of the African landscape. As an apex predator, they help maintain healthy ecosystems by keeping prey numbers in check and removing diseased or weak individuals from prey populations, thus improving the overall health of these species. Lions are also of vital economic importance. As a member of the Big Five and a must-see on most tourists’ wishlists, lions and other iconic species are fundamental to South Africa’s tourism success. The total contribution of travel and tourism to the gross domestic product (GDP) of South Africa was R 402bn (9.3% of GDP) in 2016. The travel and tourism sector accounted for 1.5 million jobs or 9.8% of total employment in 2016.
In June 2017, South Africa announced the legalised export of 800 skeletons (with or without skulls) from captive bred lions to Asia a year, sparking controversy from conservationists and safari operators who suggest that this decision may threaten lions and jeopardise the tourism industry.
Similar to rhino horn, the demand for lion bones is stimulated by traditional medicinal uses in Asian countries. Unlike many other species in traditional Asian medicine, the use of lion bones is a relatively new trend that only became public knowledge about a decade ago. Powdered tiger bones have been used as ingredients in wine for at least 1000 years. Tiger bone wine and cake is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and cure malaria, arthritis, other bone ailments and rheumatic conditions. No scientific merit has been associated with these claims. Following a steep decline in wild tiger populations, the species received greater protection measures, including a ban on all trade and stricter law enforcement. This provoked the use of bones from other big cats as viable substitutes, including lions, leopards, snow leopards and clouded leopards, with lion bone being the most popular due to their physiological similarities to tigers and the relative ease in accessing bones from South Africa.
South Africa is the largest exporter of lion parts to China, Laos PDR and Viet Nam, with bones originating as by-products of the canned hunting industry. In South Africa, between 6000 and 8000 lions and 280 tigers are kept in captivity. Lions are primarily farmed for canned hunting (animals are bred and raised in captivity to be released into the ‘wild’ a short time before a hunt is planned). Paying hunters often keep the skins and sometimes the skulls as trophies. The bones, previously discarded, have now become a source of commercial income and are legal to trade internationally up to a certain quantity with the correct permits. It is illegal to trade captive tiger bones, however there is concern that these might be passed off as lion bones.
Wild lion numbers have declined by 43% in past two decades to an estimated 20000 lions in Africa today. This decline is largely associated with habitat loss but conservationists and leading tourism operators fear that legalised trade in captive lion bones may stimulate further declines in wild populations and discredit South Africa’s reputation as a photo-safari destination. Limited trade in lion body parts bred in captivity is legal but trade in body parts from wild lions is not permitted. Permitting some trade in animal parts can fuel market demand which may lead to poaching of wild lions and tigers, especially since wild animals are preferred over captive felids in traditional medicine. Examples of illegal poaching for lion bone have already been recorded. In early July 2017 three lions were poisoned with Temic laced baits in Limpopo National Park, Mozambique for the lion bone trade.
For more information about the lion bone trade, we recommend the following reports:
Cape Town is affectionately called the ‘Mother City’ and we love our Mama! In 1580 on seeing the Cape for the first time, Sir Francis Drake wrote in his journal: “This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.” We couldn't agree more.
There is so much to do and see in Cape Town that you could easily stay for an extended period. To give the city and its surrounding area justice, we recommend planning at least three nights here. Beat About the Bush organises superb accommodation and provides tailor made professional tours of Cape Town for our guests.
Here are our top ten things to see and do in and around the Mother City.
1. Take the revolving cable car to the top of Table Mountain.
The five-minute cable car ride carries you to the summit of Table Mountain, 1089 m above Cape Town, gently rotating 360 degrees for spectacular views along the way. At the top there are places to sit and soak in the incredible scenery as well as hiking trails to explore.
2. See the penguins at Boulder’s Beach.
Get up close with an African penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach near Simon’s Town. The penguins can be viewed throughout the year, however January is a great time to visit when the juvenile birds are moulting on the beach.
3. Take a walk or have a picnic in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
Part of a larger nature reserve and melding in with the natural environment, Kirstenbosch has a huge variety of flora to explore both outside and in greenhouses. There are over 7000 species in cultivation at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species.
4. Drive to the tip of the Cape Peninsula at Cape Point.
Cape Point is well worth a visit. This world heritage site and nature reserve within the Table Mountain National Park is at the tip of the Cape Peninsula 60 km southwest of Cape Town. A drive to Cape Point not only offers stunning views but also an abundance of flora and fauna. Cape Point teems with buck, baboons and Cape mountain zebra as well as over 250 species of bird.
5. Visit the Company’s Gardens.
The Company’s Gardens is the oldest garden in South Africa. It has its origins in Jan van Riebeeck’s vegetable garden, which he grew to feed the original colony. This large public park and botanical garden is right in the heart of Cape Town and it has a rose garden, Japanese garden, pond, aviary, and a permanent craft market. There is often local live music being preformed.
6. Sample the exquisite wines of the Cape Winelands.
About 40 kms east of Cape Town, the Cape Winelands are a collection of historic towns, little hamlets and Cape Dutch farmsteads that provide well-regarded South African wines to the world. With stunning scenery and culinary delights, a visit to the Winelands is a must.
7. Soak up the culture of Bo-Kaap.
Bo-Kaap is one of the most photographed areas within Cape Town due to its brightly painted architecture and cobbled streets. The area is one of the oldest residential areas in Cape Town and it has a rich multi-cultural history with roots in Malaysian, African, Indian and Sri Lankan cultures. You can delve further into Bo-Kaap’s vibrant history by taking part in walking tours, mosque visits and museum visits.
8. Get up close to the great white sharks of False Bay.
Cape Town is famous for its great white shark population. Get out on the water on a shark breaching trip. Shark breaching is one of the hunting techniques that great whites use to surprise and kill its prey. The shark propels right out of the water from the incredible force and energy exerted.
9. Go museuming!
Cape Town is filled with fantastic museums. We recommend the District Six Museum to learn about the history of forced removals in District Six and the Gold of Africa Museum to learn about South Africa’s history of gold mining and smithing. In September 2017, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) will open its doors (pictured above). Zeitz MOCAA will house Africa’s largest collection of contemporary African art.
10. Watch the noon day cannon fire.
Since 1806, a shot has been fired from a cannon on Signal Hill at noon as a time indicator. The tradition is still alive today and the shot is loaded by the South African Navy and heard by residents daily. The noon day gun is Cape Town’s oldest lasting tradition and visitors and invited to watch the process of shooting the gun while they gaze out at beautiful views of the city.
Today marks the end of South Africa’s first online rhino horn auction. The three-day auction opened on August 23rd amidst an onslaught of publicity and controversy.
The auction follows the legalisation of domestic trade in rhino horn within South Africa earlier this year. International trade in rhino horn was banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and remains prohibited today. However, domestic trade of rhino horns remained legal in South Africa until 2009 when the South African government imposed a moratorium on domestic trade in response to a rise in rhino poaching. This remained uncontested until private rhino breeders filed a lawsuit to overturn the domestic moratorium and on April 5, 2017, they succeeded by winning a court case against the South African government, thus legalising the domestic trade of rhino horn within South Africa once again.
John Hume, the world’s largest rhino breeder who owns more than 1500 rhinos on his private farm, led the court appeal with safari operator, Johan Kruger. Hume also launched South Africa’s first online rhino horn auction, which is coming to a close today. Hume regularly de-horns his rhinos through a painless procedure. De-horning is done to deter poachers and has resulted in Hume stockpiling approximately five tonnes of rhino horn. This week’s auction aims to sell 264 rhino horns, totalling about 500 kg. Hume will also host a physical rhino horn auction on September 19, 2017. Rhino products can be sold to international buyers but the horns must remain within South Africa. All rhino horns are microchipped, DNA traced and entered into a national database to prevent illegal trafficking. Buyers and sellers of rhino horn are required to apply for government issued permits.
South Africa is home to the world’s largest population of rhinos but is in the midst of a severe poaching crisis. Rhino horn is illegally harvested and trafficked to mostly Asian markets for traditional medicinal use. See our blog post on rhino poaching for more information.
Hume argues that the auction will “raise money to further fund the breeding and protection of rhinos”. Money raised from the auction will contribute towards the spiralling security costs required to protect his rhino population. He believes that by farming rhinos as a ‘renewable resource’ (after dehorning, rhino horn grows back to its original length in two or three years), the market could be flooded (whenever international trade bans are lifted), thus reducing illegal poaching pressures.
Many conservationists are opposed to the domestic sale of rhino horn within South Africa and argue that because there is little use or demand for rhino horn nationally, purchases may ultimately end up being trafficked to international markets. Legalisation of rhino horn trade within South Africa may serve as a cover for black market sales internationally and further fuel rhino poaching by creating a surge in demand that cannot be met. There are concerns that the measures put in place to track the horns and keep them within South Africa may be counterfeited and in partnership with corrupt officials, horn will be illicitly traded internationally. Advertisements for the online auction and the auction’s website were translated into English, Mandarin and Vietnamese, further provoking suspicions. Some conservationists argue that rhinos should not be farmed, as the current population of privately owned individuals cannot meet the high product demand on a regular basis. Instead, efforts should be focussed on protecting rhinos in the wild. The opposition has been so severe that hackers closed down Hume’s auction website for several days prior to the auction’s launch.
As the auction comes to a close later today, the world waits to hear the outcome and its implications for international rhino conservation.
*Warning: this blog post contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
Many of our guests commence their safari with a basic understanding of rhino and elephant poaching. Nevertheless, they are often keen to learn more and to help if possible. This is especially true after having the opportunity to view these majestic animals up close in their natural environment.
What is poaching?
Poaching is the illegal taking of wildlife in violation of local, national or international laws (for more on the difference between poaching and hunting, click here). Animals are poached for numerous reasons with dire ecological consequences. Hunting for bushmeat consumption, ornamental use and medicinal purposes, as well as trapping for the pet trade, is threatening 301 terrestrial mammal species with extinction worldwide. Unsustainable local consumption of bushmeat and international trafficking of body parts such as tusks, horns, bones or scales poses a serious risk to wildlife in developing countries where human populations are frequently escalating and poverty is rife. International wildlife trafficking is fuelled by demand from more developed nations.
Why does rhino and elephant poaching occur?
Rhino horn is used in traditional medicine in China and several other Asian countries. Rhino horn is believed to treat hangovers, impotence, fever and cancer. However, it has been scientifically proven that rhino horn, which is made from keratin, has no medicinal properties. Rhino horn is increasingly used as a status symbol of a person’s wealth and power. Elephants are frequently killed for their ivory tusks which are used for ornaments and jewellery.
Despite bans on the international trade in rhino and elephant parts, these species are being killed at astonishingly high rates. The demand for rhino horn is so high that it worth is more than gold pound per pound. High demand of these limited and difficult to acquire products has resulted in intricate international crime syndicates with access to high-powered technology and weaponry. Those conducting the poaching on the ground (and at the most risk of being caught) are often locals whose involvement may be driven by challenging socioeconomic conditions such as poverty and unemployment.
Rhino and elephant poaching is frequently associated with African countries, however it is a global epidemic. One horned rhinos in Chitwan National Park, Nepal have been recent victims of poaching. A rhino was killed for its horn in a French zoo earlier this year. This was the first such incident in Europe.
What is the current situation for rhinos and elephants?
There are five species of rhinos in the world and at the end of 2015, it was estimated that there are 30 000 rhinos across all extant species. In Africa, the black rhino is estimated at between 5 042 and 5 458 individuals and the Southern white rhino is estimated at between 19 666 and 21 085 individuals.
South Africa has the largest population of rhinos in the world and it is home to 74% of the African rhino population. In 2016, 1 054 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone. This is a rate of nearly three rhinos a day. This is the second year in a row that the number of rhinos poached in South Africa has declined (1 215 in 2014 and 1 175 in 2015), providing some hope of a reversal in trends. In the first six months of 2017, 529 rhinos were poached in South Africa. Although this is 13 less than the same period last year, this rate is still worryingly high.
The majority of South Africa’s rhino poaching incidents happen in Kruger National Park. 243 of the 529 rhinos killed between January and June 2017 occurred in Kruger. Reports in 2017 show that rhino poaching in Kruger is down by 34% compared to 2016 but there is an increase in the number of poaching incidents in other parts of the country, especially the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
There are an estimated 35 000 – 40 000 wild Asian elephants. A large-scale census spanning 18 African countries counted 352 271 African elephants in 2014. The findings from this robust survey indicates a 30 per cent decrease in the African elephant population (equal to 144 000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014 and equates to an annual loss of nearly 30 000 elephants. At this current rate of decline, half of the Africa’s elephants will disappear in nine years. Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Cameroon were identified as some of the worst affected areas in the 2014 census.
A surge in poaching in the past decade is largely responsible for elephant population declines. In Kruger National Park, South Africa, two elephants were poached in 2014, 22 elephants in 2015, 46 elephants in 2016 and 30 elephants in the first six months of 2017 alone.
What can I do to help?
Although these figures are critically high, it is not too late to take action. The Southern white rhino was depleted to only 50 – 100 in the wild in the early 1900s, but now it is the most populous rhino species at approximately 20 000 individuals.
Applied conservation efforts and multifaceted approaches are required to reverse the trends in rhino and elephant poaching. Here are several lists outlining how individuals can support this work and make a difference:
- 15 things you can do to help stop rhino poaching
- Save the Rhinos Get Involved page
- What can I do to help elephants?
- Six ways to help elephant
Welcome to the new Beat About the Bush blog.
While showing our guests spectacular wildlife on safari, we also take the opportunity to make them aware of all the conservation challenges facing wildlife resources in Africa and Asia and the success stories to date. This inevitably leads to a lot of surprise, shock, horror or elation (depending on the details) and a general consensus that these issues are not receiving enough attention with most visitors being totally oblivious. We have had requests for more information and so have decided to create a blog platform on our website to keep people up to date with continuous developments.
There is a comments section for each blog post. We would love to have a dialogue with you and hear what you think of the posts or how we can better provide the kind of information required. We will be posting new stories on the blog regularly. We hope you will visit often.