By far the majority of the inhabitants of traditional safari areas are Christians who celebrate Christmas as the biggest holiday of the year! However, this time of year in Africa (as with the rest of the southern hemisphere) is quite different to the typical and traditional roaring fires, snow-clad landscapes with snowmen, decorated trees and heavy meals of countries in the northern hemisphere that celebrate the holiday. Another big difference is that in Africa it is still primarily a holiday where the commercial aspect has not overshadowed the religious significance.
For rural folk, there are no ‘traditional’ carols or festivities and the decorating of trees and exchanging of gifts is not the norm. In urban environments, commercialisation of the holiday has however taken hold and in the weeks leading up to Christmas you will find widespread use of decorations, lights, trees and carols in shopping precincts with everybody marketing ‘gifts’ for Christmas.
What therefore makes Christmas ’special’ for us at Beat About The Bush? Here is a list of some of our favourites!
1. In common with most other countries, this is the year’s most important family occasion and we enjoy getting together with all our family members – immediate and extended – and friends for get-togethers where we can catch up and have no pressing work issues……taking a break from the constant connectivity and communications of the rest of the year.
2. Being the height of the local summer, this is a best time to spend long lazy days on the beach or at the pool, braaing (BBQ) almost every day and not to forget the obligatory ‘sundowners’ with excellent local gins. We then keep the fires going into the evenings where the odd roasted marshmallow and Amarula goes down a treat!
3. The rains have started (generally) and after a long, dry winter it is wonderful to celebrate the regeneration and rebirth of the land as grasses and leaves sprout, migrant birds return central and north Africa, Europe and Asia. The days are filled with vibrant birdsong and colourful flowers, and babies of every kind are born. The air is filled with energy and all life flourishes as the land is more bountiful.
4. The spectacular rain clouds and storms create a vibrant electricity that is exciting to witness. Wonderful sunsets, the smell of rain in the air and sparkling landscapes after a downpour make for magical memories. Few people from the northern hemisphere can understand how exciting the rain in Africa is. Not only does it bring new life, but it is desperately needed for agriculture and filling dams on a water-parched continent. Those who have experienced a true African thunderstorm will understand. Often only lasting half an hour, 100mm (4 inches) can fall accompanied by deafening thunder and blinding lightning.
5. Food, food everywhere! Christmas food is not the normal affair here in Africa. Turkey, for example, is the exception rather then the rule and given that it is likely to be 100-110F, a hot meal is just not appealing. A poolside braai (chicken, lamb chops and local boerewors sausage), cold cuts or some delicious local fish with salads is more likely while for dessert we have hot fruit cake with custard and ice-cream and trifle (layers of jello, custard, cream and chocolate & nut flakes on a bed of sherry soaked finger cookies). Small pastries with spicy fruit ‘mince’ - called Christmas Mince Pies – are also an institution here!
6. Celebrations at the lodges. The staff at the lodges will always make an effort to make Christmas in Africa memorable for visitors. Decorations are generally subdued but there will be ‘African’ trees with decorations and certainly the atmosphere and Christmas day are different in terms of the menus and ‘occasions / events’ on offer. You will certainly be made to feel like part of the family if on safari at this time.
7. This is the season of giving and it is wonderful to see how people open their hearts (and wallets) in order to support a good cause or those in greater need than themselves. There are many truly deserving charities to donate to over the Christmas season here in Africa. Giving is a big part of what this season is about and an enormous difference can be made in Africa. For example, sending Christmas presents through a reputable charity or donating to an aid organisation that protects rhinos are some of the many options.
8. An atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm. We love this time of year as most people are off work and a laid-back holiday atmosphere prevails where there is no rush, people are polite, jovial, accommodating and cooperative. It is a time of outdoor activity, picnics, games and sports and a lust for all things fun! But perhaps above all the children are so excited with their countdown to Christmas day and the arrival of Santa (Father Christmas here) and the gifts they may get – depending on how good they have been…..if only we had this as a disciplinary tool throughout the year!!
We hope you will have a wonderful Christmas / Holiday period wherever you are and however you celebrate this time of year
In recent news President Donald Trump has denounced, via his twitter page, his own political party for their plans to remove the ban prohibiting imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe.
This highly contentious topic is so multi-faceted it is hard to make sense of, so here we will try to give a simplified view of both sides of the discussion. The ban has been halted to both Zimbabwe and Zambia but we’ll mainly focus on Zimbabwe. To keep matters simple we will not mention lion trophies in this article, we’ve spoken about the illegal trade of this species in a previous blog post.
To start it is important to know an elephant trophy is not a specified item. It can be the head or any other part of the body, for instance the tail or a foot of the animal. Many people in the US are not aware that the import of ivory into the US is lawful providing the correct documentation proving it is a sport-hunted trophy is provided. Sport-hunting of many animal species in Africa – including elephant – is legal. However, onward sale of the trophy once in the US is not allowed.
In 2014 the Obama administration banned the import of elephant trophies from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. This was due to their poor records of elephant data and numbers and regulation of the hunting industry. A survey of the African continent’s elephant numbers published in 2016 showed the declines in population numbers in both countries. Zambia had a decrease in population numbers of 11% in the decade from 2005-2015, with one National Park’s numbers declining from 900 in 2004 to just 48 in 2015. While Zimbabwe had the second highest population number on the continent in the recent census, the decline was 10%. These percentage declines are greater than the replacement number of breeding elephants (about 6%), and so the total population in each country is declining. The African continent’s total elephant population numbers dropped nearly 30% from 2007 to 2014 – with the total now standing at an alarming 352 000. Causes are thought to be mainly poaching for the illegal wildlife trade and in some cases, habitat destruction.
The reason the import ban into the US is so important is because it is the largest importer of trophy hunted animals in the world today. Within that industry from 2005 to 2010 2,963 violations were documented for the import of sport hunted trophies to the country. Just over half were relating to endangered species with only 14 people serving jail time and 546 having to pay fines from $25 to $390,700. With these figures of prosecution there is reasonable chance that a trophy that violates import law will not result in more than a minor fine and so may propagate the illegal wildlife trade.
The country with the biggest illegal ivory trade in the world is China. In recent years this country was the largest importer of trophy hunted ivory from Zimbabwe. Many are sceptical that this is not a part of the illegal wildlife trade for which China is infamous.
Both Zambia and Zimbabwe have proposed to the US Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) that they now have the numbers, the correct means and plans to monitor and maintain their elephant population numbers. This is what led to the Obama-era ban being lifted and the USFWS starting to sell permits for elephant trophy imports from these countries.
President Trump has paused the removal of the ban, and thus stopped trophy permit sales, for both countries and many wonder why his administration had gone so far in the plans with him seemingly unaware of the facts.
Trophy hunters have been unhappy about the ban the Obama administration introduced. Conservation force, wrote an open letter in June 2017 to the Director of the USFWS to request that the importing of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe should become lawful. The letter was written to appeal the import two specific trophies and they argue that the original ban was “based on erroneous information and misinterpretation of fact and has been from the very beginning”. They have said that the lack of data from Zimbabwe at the time of the decision was due to the US not asking for it and say it was provided after the fact with no reaction.
This letter also lays out the basis of the “hunters as conservationists” argument. The hunters provide money to the areas in which they hunt and so to the communities, they provide employment in the industry. A trophy hunt to kill an African elephant can be up to $60,000, in a country where the average monthly earnings is around $350.00. This amount is more than a photographic tourist would pay to visit the area, meaning the number of tourists and the impact on the environment is less.
The money is said to not only serve the local communities but also allows large swathes of the continent to be protected natural areas for the animals, areas that are not part of the national parks.
Not every animal in a herd will be shot, in fact for trophy hunting they will choose an animal at the end of it’s life, partly for the most impressive trophy, but also as this will have the least impact on the ecosystem.
However removing the strongest and biggest animals from the population is contrary to evolution and hunting, with poaching has impacted the gene pools of the populations. The best elephant trophy is the largest with the biggest tusks. This individual will most likely be the most dominant in an area and likely to mate with the most females and pass on superior genetic material. If this male is killed before he has fulfilled his mating potential then there will be less of his genetic information in the gene pool and more of smaller, weaker individuals. This happens repeatedly until there is very little of the ‘large’ genes left and the effects can be seen within the elephant populations now after the big game hunting days of the 1900s.
The other important aspect of killing the mature bulls is the impact on the younger bulls. These trophy bulls will be in their late 40s, 50s and even 60’s. They have decades of experience from which younger bulls learn. The social experience is highly important in the same way it is for young humans to learn to behave, learning manners, when to get upset and when not to. There is also ecological knowledge they pass on, for instance where the water is found in a drought and how to get there. Removing that knowledge affects the next generation; it will be damaging to the whole population and eventually will have a drip down effect for years to come.
Responsible hunting farms will be sure to manage their populations correctly and ensure the surrounding communities benefit from the business, but the problem comes in with corruption. Africa is rife with corruption and when companies from America try to apply the systems and principles that apply in the US it often falls flat of achieving the desired effects. The systems in Zimbabwe, which are in place to ensure the communities receive money from the legal hunts are in fact managed, whether deliberately or not, so poorly that the local people only occasionally benefit from the hunts. With the local people being so poor and gaining nothing from the elephants but trouble with crop damage, there is little wonder that so many turn to poaching to feed their families.
This is a debate that will no doubt continue into 2018 and we will keep you updated on developments and the repercussions thereof.
In November the latest global carbon emissions report for 2017 was released. For the first time in 3 years the global carbon output increased. China is the largest contributor to the increase. The drought in the region is thought to be the cause, due to reduced energy contribution from hydroelectric power. But China is not the only country to have affected the level of these emissions; the USA and the EU both have seen lower than predicted decreases in emissions.
Whilst these figures are mostly related to large-scale industry, we can all do our best to decrease where we can. As such we have been inspired to show you how the safari industry is ensuring that their operations and visitors have the smallest carbon footprint possible, thus mitigating the negative impacts on the environment, wildlife and local people. It is important to state from the outset that there is a big difference between CONSERVATION and PRESERVATION – two terms that are often confused and this creates problems when environmental and wildlife issues are debated.
Preservation is quite simply a ‘hands-off’ approach where there is no input, management or ‘use’ of a resource (be it fossil fuels, water, wildlife or a habitat or environment in general. In other words, for a wildlife area there would be no infrastructure, tourism activities, interventions or management of any kind.
Conservation, on the other hand, is the ‘sustainable utilisation of a natural resource’. Safari tourists staying at safari lodges and wanting park rangers to help sick or injured animals are therefore intrinsically part of a conservation system and cannot then as an example, argue against culling of wildlife.
This provides food for thought and as such, this will be an on-going series as we receive news from different operators about their evolving systems and methods as new technology plays a role in new and upgraded lodges, hotels and camps and revamped legislation for ’greener and carbon-neutral scores’ is brought to bear on the industry.
In this post we will look at two camps in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana, a country renowned for its pioneering sustainability and conservation methods.
Botswana has long been concerned with the protection of its spectacular wilderness areas.
A leader in the field of conservation, their method is simply to have a small high-end tourism industry. Keeping the effects on the pristine landscape to a minimum while generating high income allows for local communities to support themselves via employment with operators. This also helps to prevent poaching as the community members’ livelihoods are now directly linked to the animals’ survival. In 2014 hunting was controversially banned nationwide, demonstrating President Ian Khama’s dedication to protecting endangered species, their habitats and one of the most unspoiled regions in the world.
This high-end tourism is one of the three pillars of the economy, contributing heavily to the country’s prosperity. Beat About The Bush Tourism has always been committed to only sending our guests to operations in the Delta with proven environmental and community-focused track records.
Here are two of our favourites:
Chief’s Camp – Sanctuary Retreats
Chief’s camp is located on Chief’s island, the largest island in the Okavango Delta named for historically the sacred hunting grounds of the Batawana Chiefs. When the floods come every year, the island is at a level above the water, many animals come here to escape the water; it is the Okavango Delta as you see in nature documentaries.
The camp has recently been renovated and adds the sustainability feather to its cap. Luxury has in no way been compromised, there is wi-fi, fan and air-conditioner available in each room along with a private plunge pool for the hot summer days. If you book the new Geoffrey Kent luxury suite you will enjoy a butler, private chef and an outside boma to sit undisturbed under the stars.
The key feature of the newly renovated camp is a solar farm – replacing the noisy, polluting diesel generators (now used as back-up). Built to handle the camp’s electricity requirements, the farm is large enough to support the majority of the camp’s energy needs. The solar batteries charge during the day to ensure there is electricity through the night.
The effect of the solar farm is not simply removing a generator and diesel usage. Now there are no delivery trucks coming through to bring oil and gas for the generators. Decreasing the number of vehicles driving through this wetland wonderland – thereby reducing environmental impact with less tyre ruts that disrupt the flooding patterns and make the area look unsightly for years to come.
Chief’s camp also has a new and very efficient, eco-friendly and self contained sewerage system to ensure that all water is cleaned before being used as ‘grey water’ or released through a wetland. It goes without saying that all detergents and cleaning products are eco-friendly and plastic water bottles have been replaced with refillable bottles from water dispensers.
Sanctuary Chief’s camp YouTube video
Vumbura Plains Camp – Wilderness Safaris
Wilderness Safaris is originally from Botswana and they are leaders in the field of conservation and sustainability. This will not be the last of their camps to make our list!
With 11 of their camps now operating on 100% solar energy they are dedicated to preserving the pristine and beautiful surroundings for generations to see. They operate with a policy they call the 4C’s; Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture.
Vumbura Plains Camp is located in the northern Okavango Delta and is in fact separated into two camps, one more family friendly. Each room is luxurious and is raised off the ground with a plunge pool and your own deck to watch the stars at night or the world (and maybe even some animals) pass by during the day.
The camp is run fully on solar electricity, with batteries for the night and enough power for each room to have a hairdryer. This solar power also provides hot water for the entire camp.
Vumbura’s conversion to solar energy is particularly relevant as it was the second largest energy consumer in the Wilderness group.
The solar farm reduced the need for deliveries of oil and gas and as such the impact to the environment via soil compaction and disturbance to the environment is diminished.
They have an above ground sewage plant that ensures all water used, grey and sewage is cleaned completely before it is released back to the surrounding environment.
Vumbura also offer guests water bottles that are refilled from water dispensers in the camp reducing plastic waste.