World Elephant Day

When you think of Africa, what animal do you think of most? A good bet that it’s an elephant – their distinctive shape with widespread ears is such an iconic symbol. There are Asian elephants as well, which have smaller ears and a large twin bump at the top of their heads.

This is a special early post this week in honour of World Elephant Day.

African elephants are a wonderful sight in the wild. These massive creatures – they can weigh up to 12 tons) can be surprisingly silent when they choose – we have spotted them emerging from the bush unexpectedly without us even having been aware that they were moving about.

When watching them on safari, they are remarkably laid back as long as you don’t impinge on their personal space. A good safari guide knows how close to get without making them feel threatened.

If you do get a little too close, they will usually mock-charge by running towards you with ears flared and trunk raised, perhaps even blaring through their trunk. In certain situations they can get quite pissy, however.

There’s a large resident herd in Chobe National Park in Botswana, and most safari-goers embark on a short cruise on the Chobe River to see them trudge en masse down to the river for a drink and a bathe. There’s also a large and rambunctious resident troop of Chacma baboons. On one occasion we were watching the elephant herd peacefully roaming the river’s edge when the baboons decided to join the party. The baboons were making lots of noise and running all over the place, which really irritated the elephants, who proceeded to stamp up and down the river front, blaring loudly and shaking the trees with their trunks. The baboons were unrepentant, scampering around and creating chaos for several minutes. Eventually they seemed to tire of the game, leaving the elephants in peace once more.

In Kenya in Aberdare National Park, at a wonderful treetop lodge called the Ark, we watched animals at the watering hole while we were having afternoon tea in the lounge on the second level. We were highly entertained watching the water buffalo do end runs behind the back of a feisty teenage male elephant who seemed to feel that the watering hole was his and his alone and tried to evict them, with little effect.

As placid as elephants can be when you’re viewing them from a safari vehicle, any time that baby elephants are present, the adult elephants will be more protective, and male elephants in musth (heat) are essentially hormone-crazed and very dangerous.

If an elephant is in the road you’re travelling on, it owns it for the duration. Don’t ever try to bypass the elephant (as this tourist in Kruger National Park found out the hard way back in 2014).

It is amazing to watch them in the wild, doing what they do naturally, whether congregating for a sunset drink, bathing in a muddy puddle, or wading through the water to tear up great mouthfuls of vegetation for breakfast.

Elephants – in fact, all animals – are a gift, and we are privileged to be able to spend a little time with them in places like Africa. You can find out more about one of the world’s most majestic and enigmatic creatures, and how you can help ensure that other generations can continue to be amazed by them at the World Elephant Day website.

If you’d like to travel to Africa yourself and would like more information about where these images were taken, or about going on safari, please email me at liontailmagic@gmail.com.

Weekly Photo Challenge – a lily admiring its reflection

Night lily at sunset in the Okavango Delta, Botswana - photo by E. Jurus
Night lily at sunset in the Okavango Delta, Botswana – photo by E. Jurus

A quick post this week as my hubby is having hip replacement tomorrow — such is family genetics. Two surgeries over the next few months and then we should be able to resume travelling to see more cultures and take more photos. For this week’s challenge, Reflection, I thought I’d post a photo I took of one of the beautiful night lilies that float around throughout the vast flood plain of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. They bloom near sunset, and you see hundreds of them on a late afternoon boat cruise around the deeper waters of the flood plain that’s formed as rain water from Angola rushes down the length of the Okavango River into neighbouring countries. This particular lily seems, like the Greek legend of Narcissus, to be admiring its own lovely image in the water around it, glowing in the late afternoon light. The lilies are one of the highlights of a visit to the Delta, nodding and swaying as your safari guide silently glides a traditional dugout canoe, called a mokoro, through the shallower waters or bobbing as your small motor boat passes towards evening. If you’re looking for an escape to sunshine and tranquility, head for the Delta!

Winter escapism – Plan a safari!

Herd of giraffes, Savute Reserve, Botswana - photo by E. Jurus
Herd of giraffes, Savute Reserve, Botswana – photo by E. Jurus

Much of Canada and the U.S. are having a punishing winter this year. My favourite form of escapism is to spend time researching and planning a new adventure. For a few hours I can immerse myself in someplace warm and exotic.

Going to Africa is a classic adventure, immortalized by Hollywood in many films, from fantastic to kitschy to wild and woolly. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to a variety of different places, and Africa is still tops in my books. There’s a feeling that you get when you’re gazing across the endless savannahs, or canoeing through thick reeds, when you look into the face of an elephant coated in red dust, when you sit around a campfire at night listening to hippos grunting at each other in the distance, that makes you feel connected to the planet and the eternal cycle of life in a way I’ve not experienced anywhere else. (I invite you to share with me other places where you’ve felt the same.)

Dirt-coated elephant, Samburu Reserve, Kenya - photo by E. Jurus
Dirt-coated elephant, Samburu Reserve, Kenya – photo by E. Jurus

Doing a safari usually ranks pretty high on people’s bucket lists, but I’ve chatted with a lot of people who find it overwhelming just getting started.

I can sympathize – it took me several years to plan and set up our first safari. To help you start creating yours, I’ve posted our first planning guide: Theme Trip – The Safari. You’re going to have to do your own research to create a shortlist of places you’d like to go, but my guide will provide you with:

–          some essential information to start narrowing things down

–          an understanding of what a typical safari day is like

–          recommended things to pack

–          what you need to know about health matters

–          photographic equipment essentials

Research is key. Decide what animals you’d like to see (gorillas, for example, only live in hot humid jungles), what other activities you might
want to do (ballooning, mountain climbing, visiting a tribal village, wine-tasting, white-water rafting…), and what time of year you can travel in. Then decide on your budget – that will be your biggest determining factor.

Samburu villagers performing tribal dance, Kenya - photo by E. Jurus
Samburu villagers performing tribal dance, Kenya – photo by E. Jurus

There’s so much to see and do, I couldn’t put it all into the guide, but there are some good travel guides to different parts of Africa available, and lots of info on the internet. I’d also recommend picking up travel magazines about Africa and researching any of the safari companies that interest you to see if they have the style you’re looking for, as well as the credentials.

Next you’ll want to read the LTM guide, make your final destination choices, and start getting ready.

There’s much more information that I didn’t include at the risk of turning the guide into a novel, but I welcome any questions you may have – just post a comment and I’ll do my best to supply what you need to know. Happy planning!

Bataleur eagle, Okavango Delta, Botswana - photo by E. Jurus
Bataleur eagle, Okavango Delta, Botswana – photo by E. Jurus

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family – Vervet Monkeys

Adult and baby vervet monkey, Botswana - photo by E Jurus
Adult and baby vervet monkey, Botswana – photo by E Jurus

I love photographing primates. Their behavior is so much like ours — affection, maternal love, play, grumpiness, exasperation… I can watch them for hours; they’re the entertainers of the African bush! This is a photo of vervet monkeys in the Moremi Reserve of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Because of the grizzled face on the adult female, she’s likely the grandmother or an older aunt of the youngster; they often take on babysitting duties. Primates have very strong family bonds, so it’s really common to see hugs like this, but it never gets old.paw2014

Cee’s Which Way Challenge – bridge in the Okavango Delta

Log bridge in the Okavango Delta - photo by E Jurus
Log bridge in the Okavango Delta – photo by E Jurus

I’ve come across a fun participatory photo blog called ‘Cee’s Which Way Challenge’, where the challenge is to post a photo with a directional subject – roads, bridges, walkways, paths, etc. Here’s my first contribution.

This is one of my favourite all-time photos. I took it in Botswana in 2007 on my very first safari. It was a mobile camping safari visiting 4 camps in 4 different parts of the country. Our first camp was located in the Okavango Delta, a world-famous wetland that we’d gone specifically to see.

The Delta is formed by the Okavango River draining directly into the hot, dry sands of the Kalahari Desert. These waters, unlike with most Which-Way-Banner1rivers, never reach the ocean, instead spreading across the sands and forming a permanent wetland around islands created by the higher spots. The waters fluctuate seasonally, with the biggest influx of water taking place in spring as the January & February rains in Angola swell the river waters and wash about 1,200 km southeast into Botswana.

Doing a safari in the Delta is an adventure! Some of the islands are fairly large and dry, with deep sandy roads weaving between towering termite mounds, tall date palms and short wide fan palms, and the pungent salty scent of wild sage. Others may be tiny islands just big enough to land on if you’re out on a mokoro ride (a dugout canoe that has long been a traditional form of transportation in the Delta).

There are bridges across the shallower waters between some of the islands, like the one in this photo. It was close to being flooded over, though – the approach to the bridge was already swamped. I took a shot out the back of the safari vehicle as another vehicle approached to give perspective – if Indiana Jones had ever visited southern Africa, this log bridge should have been in the movie!

The cold winter months here in southern Ontario always make me long for exotic, warm places!

A compassionate world in the making

The spectacular Okavango Delta in Botswana, where islands are linked by the paths of creatures who travel back and forth, sharing the ecosystem in harmony - photo by E Jurus
The spectacular Okavango Delta in Botswana, where islands are linked by the paths of creatures who travel back and forth, sharing the ecosystem in harmony – photo by E Jurus

I’ve met many people who are reluctant to travel to Africa, largely because the news media feature just outbreaks of violence and other ongoing issues in some of the countries.

But that’s not all of what Africa is, so I was very pleased to read today in the Charter for Compassion newsletter that Botswana has become the first country as a whole to join the Charter.  

Earlier this month, the chair of Botswana’s National Vision Council signed the Botho Declaration, which outlines the ‘seven Pillars’ of the country’s strategy to continue to create a “competitive, winning and prosperous nation”.

The Pillars of the strategy would serve any country in the world well –

  • An Educated, Informed Nation
  • An Open, Democratic and Accountable Nation
  • A Moral and Tolerant Nation
  • A United and Proud Nation
  • A Safe and Secure Nation
  • A Prosperous, Productive and Innovative Nation
  • A Compassionate, Just and Caring Nation

Details are available on the Vision 2016 website .

Having been to Botswana twice and having met/worked with many of its lovely people, I’m not surprised at all that the country is the first in the world to have dedicated itself to the cause of global compassion, but I think it’s highly ironic that a nation on a continent that many people fear to visit has joined the Charter before countries in North America or Europe.

The Charter for Compassion organization supports the ideal of having all nations follow the Golden Rule, something I support personally and have posted about on this blog. What a great vision to spread this concept around the globe!

You can read much more about the Charter on its website, and you can sign up yourself as an individual, or a group/organization that you belong to if you also believe that we can create a compassionate world. The website also features numerous resources for exploring.

At this time of year, when it’s important for those of us who have much to be compassionate to those who don’t, I hope this website will inspire you to think of ways to bring more compassion to your own life. Be kind to relatives as well as strangers, don’t look away from the homeless, help animals, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well.