One of the reasons I never tire of going on safari in Africa is that you never stop learning. Animals have so much to teach us, even those that many people ignore on game drives due to their abundance. Impalas are a great example. I'll admit, I'm biased, after spending six years of my life studying them in Zimbabwe and Namibia, but they are an animal that gets more interesting the longer you spend with them.
Impalas are the most common antelope in Africa and they didn't get that abundant by being stupid. Ask anyone who's ever tried to stalk up to a herd of impala in the bush undetected just how savvy these rufous, wiley mammals are. Ask any leopard! Apart from the consumate hunters, African wild dogs, which have the highest success rate of the large African predators in terms of kills (and their favourite prey is impalas), most hunts of impala by predators actually fail. That's partly because impalas are so good at working together as a herd. There's always some impalas looking around, being vigilant for predators that might come sneaking up undetected by other impalas, too consumed by eating grass or shrubs to notice. The bigger the herd, the fewer impalas need to be vigilant, so there really are advantages in larger herds, due to the greater numbers of eyes and ears. That's why you often see other species, like warthogs and springboks, hanging out with impalas. Of course, your odds of being the one that gets eaten are also lower in a big herd, unless you're vulnerable in some way, such as very old, very young or injured/sick, in which case, you're more likely to be singled out for dinner.
Impalas on the outside of herds tend to spend more time looking around for predators compared to those in the centre of herds, which is probably due to their higher risk of predation on the periphery. They spend more time being vigilant when on the outside of a herd, so those in the middle can catch up on eating with the head down. Then when a predator does strike, the alarm bark of the impalas ensures they all spring into action with legs kicking, tails flared, and jumping around in all sorts of directions, trying to confuse the predator and reduce the chances of anyone being slain. It may be every impala for him or herself, but they really are very good at working together to reduce individual risk. Predators like lions and leopards are extremely effective at quietly sneaking up to impalas, but often it's other animals like birds or vervet monkeys and baboons that give away a big cat's position. So, it's not only within impala herds that animals collaborate, but often it seems like the other prey animals are helping each other out too, ensuring they all live to see another day!
Over the past couple of months I've enjoyed sharing some learnings from the African wild with audiences in Singapore, courtesy of the wonderful team at the Royal Geographical Society, and in Sydney at the Qantas global sales conference. There's so much we have to learn from animals that can be applied to our own lives, careers and general wellbeing. The workforce can be a jungle, and you'd be amazed at how much relevance nature's laws have in the business world.
UPDATES FROM RWANDA
In a few weeks, I'm returning with a small group of eight travellers from Australia, Singapore and the USA to continue collecting data on the elephants in Akagera National Park, followed by our grand adventure trekking with the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Before the safari I'll be spending some time conducting practical training for six local safari guides and park staff in Akagera to build skills in elephant identification, thanks to the sponsorship of two generous private donors in Singapore. Building local capacity is an essential component of any activity that we undertake in Africa, because ultimately the end goal is to be able to walk away, with local people completely enabled to drive positive change in conservation. Conservation is at the heart of everything we do at Matson & Ridley Safaris, but often the best way to ensure wildlife conservation is to support the local people to do so. That's why ethical safaris make such a difference, because our partners in Africa share these values and are highly invested in empowering local communities to do conservation.
Our guests, Anouk and Alex, Catherine and David, from Singapore, discovered this last month in their extraordinary journey to Rwanda, encompassing time spent with the chimpanzees and colobus monkeys in Nyungwe National Park, followed by trekking with the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, based at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. Thank you Anouk for sharing these amazing photos (below) of your journey!
"We simply loved the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge for all of its warmth and community spirit. It's social purpose resonated with us and came with no compromise to comfort or quality. The staff was incredibly warm and wonderful and the property is simply gorgeous. As it enfolds directly into the National Park in the coming years it will be even more incredible than it already is! All of our National Park guides were terrific but this was due to the hard work and relationships of our principal guide, Henry. Henry is charming, articulate, engaged, resourceful, incredibly well read and smart and he was simply a joy to spend time with each and every day..." - Catherine
(Photos above taken on safari in Rwanda by Anouk)
It's not too late to organise a safari for 2023 but don't leave it til the last minute if you want to get into the best areas and safari camps. If you're thinking of going on safari in 2023 I'd love to hear from you.
I still have space on my amazingly-priced Green Season Serengeti Safari in Tanzania from 23-30 May, so if you've ever dreamed of seeing all the animals on the great open plains in the part of Africa that has more lions than any other, this is the safari for you. We are staying at the stunning Namiri Plains Camp, only recently refurbished, and the all women run Dunia Camp.
I also have some space on my small group safari in Botswana from 17-24 June. This safari will have no more than eight people on it, extremely intimate due to the exclusivity of the camps we are staying at in and around Botswana's Okavango Delta. This is the place to see lots and lots of elephants in a wilderness like no other, and to top it off, the safari includes a night at the incredibly special Skybeds by Natural Selection. Skybeds is no ordinary safari camp, as each 'room' is actually an open-air tower overlooking a waterhole in the Khwai Private Reserve. You can't get any closer to nature than this in a safe and luxurious environment.
As the year comes to an end, I want to wish you all a wonderful festive season. There are plenty of things to keep you up at night in the world at the moment, but one thing is always certain and provides calm in the chaos, and that is the dose of perspective you can find in the natural world. I hope you find your nature fix with your families and loved ones this Christmas.