Next year, Matson & Ridley Safaris celebrates ten years of being in business. Andy and I set up the company back in September 2014 when we lived in Singapore, took it with us to Amsterdam for a couple of years, and finally set it up in Australia when we returned to home soil in 2017. The company was always about how to use tourism to support conservation and local communities in Africa, creating a sustainable income that wasn't reliant on grants and donations. That hasn't changed. We still work closely with our partners like Natural Selection and Asilia Africa who we know genuinely contribute to conservation on the ground. We got through Covid by diversifying the business and building up our consultancy side, which now works on sustainable development projects in Cape York and Torres Strait in Northern Australia and southern Papua New Guinea. In 2023, it's fantastic to have so much interest from new and old guests in returning to Africa on safaris that make a difference, either by joining one of my small group safaris or by letting us arrange a bespoke journey just for you. We appreciate and value your support!
Above: Isn't it time you joined us on safari? Experiencing a mokoro is one of the highlights of the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Akagera Elephant Project, Rwanda
In 2018, we started the Akagera Elephant Project in Rwanda, looking for ways to provide useful conservation information through citizen science, both with the help our safari guests and the local guide co-operative. In December, thanks to donations from two of our guests in Singapore, I was able to provide training in elephant identification for five local guides and a park staff member. The project has identified about 80 elephants for the database so far, of which about half are complete IDs, but it's a work in progress and it relies on the local people on the ground to keep updating it with high quality photographs of the elephants' ears and tusks. It's not an easy task. First you have to find the elephants! Trust me, in the thick bush and swamps of Akagera that's not simple and even gigantic animals like elephants can be hard to spot. Then they have to be in the right position to photograph with the ears out and facing you head on so you can see the symmetry of the tusks. Rarely do all the elephants in a herd make themselves visible from sightings on the road, and the research is limited to roads as it's a national park so there's no off-road driving allowed. Only a few of the Akagera guides have good cameras with long lenses, which has made getting good photographs a challenge. But the most inspiring thing about the project has been seeing the enthusiasm of the local guides and our guests in learning more about the elephants. We've all been on the journey together and being able to produce six local trainers in elephant identification through the project, who are now sharing that knowledge with other guides, has been a great result.
Above: Participants in the practical elephant ID training in northern Akagera, December 2022. (Left to right: Clementine Mugwaneza, Robert Muvunyi, Samuel Munyaneza, Cesar Benurugo, Tammie Matson, Peninah Kamagaju, Diane Umatoni)
Above: Peninah, Sam and Cesar discuss where to find the elephants during guide training in December 2022
Above: I was honoured when presented with this beautiful hand drawn art work by a local Rwandan artist by the Akagera guides in December 2022
In just a couple of months I'm off to Botswana for a long-awaited safari with my group from Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney, Japan, UK, Dubai and Canada! It's that time of year again when we announce our group safaris for the year ahead, so please read on if you are thinking of an African safari in 2024.
Next year I'll be running a group safari for up to twelve people in Botswana from 14th June. We are taking bookings for this journey now, and it already has several places taken, so please don't wait to book your spot. The journey includes the option of either seven or nine nights on safari in one of Africa's most exclusive, diverse and fascinating wildlife areas. The main seven night journey focuses on the stunning Khwai Private Reserve, including three quite different safari camps in quite varied habitats.
Our first camp, Hyena Pan, is set in the mopane woodlands overlooking a lagoon that the elephants simply love. You barely need to leave your room to experience the wildlife in this camp as the lagoon is the only water around for miles, providing a major attraction for the animals. Then it's off to Little Sable Camp, a truly authentic Okavango experience where we will be able to drive, boat and mokoro our way to see the wildlife. The traditional dug out canoe experience at Little Sable ('mokoro') is a highlight of this area. While in this area we'll spend a night at the iconic Skybeds. This is an experience no other. Spend a night under the stars in one of only three luxurious towers designed to give you the most amazing views of a waterhole frequented by all sorts of animals, from African wild dogs to elephants.
Botswana is famous for its elephants, having the largest population in all of Africa, but Khwai Private Reserve is also known for its African wild dogs, lions, hyenas, leopards, sable antelope and so much more. We will be in Botswana at the time of the great zebra migration, so if you would like to extend your safari by two nights, we are offering a two night stay at Meno a Kwena Camp to be included to experience a dazzling display of zebras, more than you can imagine. Contact me for the itinerary and let's make your dream safari happen!
This safari contributes 1.5% plus US$50/night/guest to the conservation and community projects undertaken by the Natural Selection Foundation, which includes work on community conservation education, African wild dog, giraffe and leopard research and anti-poaching efforts, just to mention a few. Find out more about Natural Selection's projects and see how your safari makes a difference on the ground. They support over 94 initiatives in Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar and South Africa.
Contact us now to book a bespoke safari on dates that suit you or to join one of my small group journeys in 2024. The right kind of safari can provide significant benefits to ensure local people benefit from the conservation of Africa's wildlife, and that's what it's all about. After all, we all want to live in a world with elephants and lions in the future. By going on a conservation-focused safari you'll ensure that your hard-earned dollars are contributing to the kind of future we all want to see for Africa.
Returning to Africa after three years of being away was like having a really good hug with an old friend. I can't tell you how much I missed the rich, earthy aromas, the warm-hearted people and the daily delights of looking for wildlife in an open vehicle. There's really nothing like going on safari in Africa. I am spoilt by having the best groups ever, of course, and this was the case in Rwanda in December. I am always amazed how complete strangers bond on my safaris and I'm sure it's got to do with having the desire to connect to nature in common, even when people come from different countries and have totally contrasting lives back home. There is something about an African safari that brings everyone together on the same level around a campfire. It's no beach holiday; this is a grand adventure, and you will grow from the journey and trust me, you'll never forget it.
A few highlights from Rwanda were seeing two leopards in Akagera National Park in one day, finding all of Clan B (the largest herd of elephants in the park) as we arrived at Magashi Camp and being able to enjoy their company by boat as they bathed and played in the water, sharing our gorilla sighting on one day with several forest elephants (which got our heart beating a bit faster!), seeing the new Ellen DeGeneres campus of the Dian Fossey Fund at Musanze and learning more about the plight of gorillas and efforts to conserve them, and seeing a large male baboon chase a spotted hyena off after the hyena tried to prey on a young baboon! So many highlights - and I forgot to mention the plethora of birds for which Rwanda is famous. The Veroux eagle owl on a fresh francolin kill was another highlight, thanks to the 'eagle eyes' of our guide, Herman van Kusi, and seeing a Ross's turaco for the first time too. I've tried to summarise it all in my photo montage below.
I had the pleasure of four days in the company of five local safari guides and a park staff member prior to the safari in order to run a training course in elephant identification techniques as part of the Akagera Elephant Project. I want to acknowledge the two generous sponsors from Singapore who funded this training, who are also safari guests of ours. More on this and the latest results from the Akagera Elephant Project in my next blog.
My next safari is in Botswana and you can still sign up if you'd like to experience 7 nights in the Okavango Delta and surrounds, the home of Africa's largest elephant population and one of the wildest parts of Africa. My Botswana Highlights safari has only got space for a maximum of 8 people, less than my usual group size of 12, so if you're looking for a really intimate safari in an extraordinary wildlife area, this safari is for you. This part of Botswana is well known for its rare African wild dogs and we can expect some excellent predator sightings as the area is home to leopards, lions and spotted hyenas, just to name a few. The highlight may be your night at The Skybeds, a tower under a star-studded sky overlooking your own private waterhole... or it might be your night at the luxurious Dukes Camp, an upgrade for this group only, located on a tributary of the Okavango Delta, where we are able to explore the World Heritage wetlands by boat and mokoro (dugout canoe). Seriously it doesn't get much better than this! Contact me now if you would like to join me from 17-24 June this year. I have two rooms left on this exclusive safari that gives so much back to conservation and local communities through the Natural Selection Foundation.
Namibia remains one of the best safari destinations for those looking for a self-drive adventure or something more luxurious among the desert dunes, and our guests, the Larkin family from Western Australia, recently discovered this for themselves on a self-drive family safari with their two kids. I've done this type of safari myself with my husband and two kids, then aged four and eight, and the kids still rave about it as one of their best safaris ever. Namibia's sand dunes are un-beatable for unmitigated FUN for kids when they're not learning the tracks of the animals, and for the parents the desert sights, from the might oryxes on the dunes at sunsets to the flamingoes on the coast and the lions and white-dusted elephants in Etosha are unforgettable. This is a country where you can self-drive or do a guided fly or drive safaris, so there are lots of options.
In Sally Larkin's words:
"Our trip was amazing thank you very much. Such variety in scenery, and great animal sightings. Our favourite stays were Safarihoek (Etosha), Okonjima (Etosha), Wolwedans (Namib Rand) and Etendeka (Damaraland). The guides were all very good... not sure if that was because we stayed at brilliant places or because they kept the best of the best for us due to COVID. We found the country very clean, very safe, easy and familiar as regional Australia."
The photos below were taken by Sally Larkin on their family safari in Namibia. The smiles say it all! Thanks for sharing your photos Sally.
If you are thinking about a safari this year or in 2024, please drop us a line and register your interest so we can keep you in the loop. If you get in now, you can have a say in where my group safaris will focus in 2024, and I'd love to hear from you. We are so excited to be back in business and to be sharing Africa with our guests again. Drop us a line and let us make your dream safari a reality!
Our Guests on Safari
After so long without being able to get on a plane overseas, it seems like many of us are taking to the air with a vengeance and making up for lost time. If our recent guests, the Lilley and Kozil family's safaris in Botswana, are anything to go by, it's well worth overcoming your doubts and getting out there. Africa is waiting for you and it's even better for the wait! Read below what our guests visiting Botswana in the last couple of months had to say after they got home. We love feedback like this! For USA-based Andrea, who had been to Africa before, it was her desire to share the experience with her daughter that led to this beautiful mother-daughter safari in Botswana. For the Lilley family, Christopher and Margot wanted to share the magic of Africa with their kids. Botswana never fails to disappoint when it comes to family holidays and the smiles really say it all in these photos.
"Our time in Botswana will live on in our hearts forever. A day hasn't gone by where we haven't talked about some amazing and beautiful memory. In addition to all of the animals and beautiful scenes, we were so touched and enriched by all of the local people we met. The guides and staff were all so lovely. We were blessed to be able to connect with some of them. Despite growing up and living in such different circumstances, we spent time together talking, laughing, hugging and sharing stories. I've traveled enough to not be surprised by this connection, but it will never seize to touch my heart and enrich my life. The guides all loved my daughter and she loved them right back :). Needless to say, bringing my daughter back to Africa was such a powerful and meaningful life experience. Our time in Botswana enriched our lives and we are so grateful."
Andrea Kozil, USA
"We set out for a family adventure - and got exactly what we dreamed of.... all five of us loved every minute of the 10 days......Animals - breathtaking moments pretty much everyday.... ....Leopards stalking its prey on the road in front of us..... ....Lions mating before us, like a live biology lesson for the kids!! .... wild dog pups playing near their mum... .....families of mother and baby elephants drinking from the chobe river..... 3 metres from a sleeping croc on a river bank... too close for me!!!... impala's galore... the winners and losers....... happy hungry hippos sunbathing......Birds - "lordy lordy the "Birds of Botswana".....truly outstanding birdlife.... one day maybe 20 years from now... Margot and I will probably return to Botswana just to bird watch!!! The people - "Chief" our driver was remarkable - his communication skills with adults and our kids were superb... great humour, tremendous patience and an ability to read situations. an encyclopedic knowledge of the animals and an uncanny knack of finding the very best animals early each morning."
Christopher Lilley, Sydney/UK
Singapore Elephant Event - Royal Geographical Society: 8th September
Two years ago I was about to head over to Singapore to speak about my elephant work in Rwanda at the Royal Geographical Society, but then Covid kicked in... It's been a while Singpaore, but I'm delighted to say that I'm coming back to talk about elephants for the Society on the evening of Thursday 8th September from 7-9pm at Catapult, #02-01 Rochester Commons, 1 Rochester Park, 139212 (Auditorium 2). I'll be sharing the latest results on our work to create the first photographic identification database for elephants in Akagera National Park, our work to build local capacity among local guides, park staff and researchers, and plans for the future of the project. There will also be an update on all things elephant news from the last few years, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. If you've ever wondered what Rwanda is like, it's a good chance to learn more about this amazing part of Africa, home of the mountain gorillas. Bring your friends!
Click here to book your ticket to my elephant talk in Singapore on 8th September.
Elephants and Climate Change
CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program recently reported that illegal killings (poaching) of elephants has continued to decline since about 2014 (latest report here) on the back of the global outcry against illegal ivory trade that led to the ivory bans in China and the USA in 2016/17, but a lot of people aren't aware that climate change is an increasing issue for elephants. Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Tourism just announced that climate change is now killing more of Kenya's elephants than poaching. Climate change is making much of Africa drier and hotter, creating greater extremes like droughts, and this is placing more pressure on already limited water supplies shared by elephants and people. We are going to see more human-elephant conflict as a result. An adult African elephant can drink about 200 Litres in a day and eat up to 400kg of food. The drought currently affecting countries like Kenya in the Horn of Africa is severely impacting peoples' lives, causing famine, and as we all know, when people suffer, wildlife ends up suffering too.
If you're still contemplating going on safari in 2023, why not snap up one of the rooms on my safaris in Botswana and Tanzania in May/June? I have one room left at a cracking price for a couple on my Green Season Serengeti Safari (23-30 May) and two rooms on my Botswana Highlights Safari (17-24 June). I'll be setting off for Rwanda in a few months with my group of citizen scientists to get back into the field data collection for Akagera's Elephant Database and to run a field course in elephant identification for Rwandan guides and Akagera National Park staff. I can't wait!
Contact us to talk about your making your dream safari happen & make sure your hard-earned dollars benefit the people and wildlife while you're there.
We are so excited to be arranging African safaris again for our guests, some of whom postponed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and others who are just ready to get back out there and experience the magic of Africa after a couple of years of being unable to travel. The hoops you have to jump through for international travel are largely a thing of the past, with most countries now no longer requiring PCR or Rapid Antigen Tests on arrival and quaratine requirements being dropped.
Above: One of the elephant families we spend time with in Akagera National Park, Rwanda as part of my Elephant Research and Gorilla Trekking Safari
It's the perfect time to be getting back over to Africa, and not only because it's such a life-changing experience for you, but also because Africa really needs us to help rebuild after the impact of the pandemic on tourism, livelihoods and conservation. Without tourism, you get wildlife poaching. Everyone's got to earn a living, and nowhere was the impact of the loss of income felt more keenly than it was in the rural parts of Africa that for so long had depended on the money, jobs and conservation efforts provided by the tourism industry. Your role as an ethical traveller has never been more important as we help the tourism industry rebuild across Africa, and with it, help rebuild the lives of communities and their wildlife conservation efforts. So not only will you be feeling good, but you'll be feeling good about feeling good!
Recently my elephant research project and linked safari in Rwanda was featured in Forbes magazine by travel writer, Lavanya Sunkara. If you don't believe me, have a read about what she has to say about how your safari can make a difference and what makes this one different to the rest.
"Matson & Ridley Safaris offers a one-of-a-kind citizen science safari in Akagera National Park that directly contributes to the conservation of Africa’s wildlife."
Lavanya Sunkara, Forbes Magazine
Read the full article here - Why this elephant safari in Rwanda is a must-do
It's not too late to join my Elephant Research and Gorilla Trekking safari in Rwanda this year from 5-15 December but you'll need to get in fast as space is limited!
If Botswana is calling you, I still have one room left on my Botswana Highlights safari from 17-24 June 2023. My Best of Botswana safari is now sold out. Botswana is one of the most popular safari destinations in Africa for good reason and it should be on your bucket list if you haven't experienced it for yourself.
I also have one room left on my Green Season Serengeti Safari from 23-30 May 2023 and this is at a sensational price given the high quality of the safari camps we are staying at and the wildlife experience you can expect all year round in this part of Tanzania. Contact me for the itinerary.
If the pandemic taught us anything it's that life is short and we must all seize the moment! One thing I know about Africa is that every minute over there is a minute to be savoured. Every sunset is something unforgetable. Every time you hear the lions and hyenas as you drift off to sleep under canvas is a sound that will stay with you forever. Africa is pure magic. If you haven't been on safari, or if you haven't been back for too long, let's make that dream journey happen together.
It is so wonderful to be able to put the pandemic behind us and to see that people are again booking safaris in Africa. Africa is ready and waiting for you, so what are you waiting for?
I have 2 places available for my Rwanda safari from 5-15 December this year (2022). All of our safaris make a difference in conservation and local communities, but this one really goes the extra mile! You will be helping me and the local guides in Akagera National Park to collect vital data on the elephant population and get to know the elephant families in the park. Of course we'll also be on the look out for all the usual suspects on safari, from lions and leopards to giraffes and rhinos, all of which are thriving in Akagera since African Parks joined the Rwandan Development Board in a unique conservation parntership that manages the park. Tourism is essential to help fund park management activities and that's where most of your funds go on this safari, but it also pays for the elephant research on this trip. Then it's off to trek with the mountain gorillas, an experience that many dream of but never get around to doing. Those who've done it with me describe it as up there with the ultimate wildlife experiences in their lives. Going with one of my small groups is the perfect way to do it if you love animals as much as I do and life's too short to have bucket lists you never fill!
Read more here about our Rwandan safaris
I also have 2 places available on my Serengeti Green Season safari in Tanzania from 23-30 May 2023. This safari is a REALLY good price and includes two extraordinary safari camps in central and eastern Serengeti. The focus of this safari is looking for cheetahs and other big cats at the newly refurbished Namiri Plains Camp and spending time among the wildlife and awesome team who run Dunia Camp, Tanzania's only all-female run safari camp. It's a total nature immersion in perhaps Africa's most iconic wildlife park. Both areas are renowned for wildlife in vast open grasslands. Serengeti is great for wildilfe all year round, but going in green season we have the chance to see the occasional big African thunderstorm sunset (nature in all its glory!), lots of baby animals on the plains after the baby boom of the first few months of the year during the rains, and the park with verdant green grass! This one remaining room has only recently become available and it won't last so get in touch if you've always dreamed of going to the Serengeti!
Read more about our East African safaris here
Please get in touch if you're interested in taking these few limited places on my safaris for next year.
We also have some options for you if you're keen to go to Botswana or Namibia with me in 2023, so please get in touch to register your interest now!