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How to Take Children on an African Safari

How to Take Children on an African Safari

children on walking safari How to Take Children on an African Safari

Despite all the warnings, a trip to Tanzania with a toddler and an 8-year-old turned out to be a dream vacation for the whole family

A LITTLE AFTER dawn, our safari guide headed to the less-explored eastern part of Serengeti National Park. He slowed the Toyota Land Cruiser at a patch of green that interrupted the straw-colored Tanzanian landscape, so barren that it made our mouths feel dry.

“There’s a hyena under that tree,” he said.

My husband, Nitin, and I stood up in the vehicle and instinctively shushed our groggy children, Naya and Riya, then ages 8 and 1. Looking through binoculars at the tree, we saw only a blur.

“Hey!” the baby shouted. “Hello? Hello?”   “Shhhhhh!” we scolded.

And suddenly, there was the hyena—headed straight for us. Creatures like these see young animals (including humans) as easy prey; once you get over the creepy factor, this can make for a cool wildlife-viewing experience—at least from the relative safety of a getaway car.

Months earlier, when we’d told friends that we planned to take our children to Africa, they mostly admonished us. The water’s not safe. The bugs are vicious. The kids will get bored on long drives. They won’t remember any of it.

Their doubts only emboldened us. We’d lived in India through my eldest daughter’s toddler years and considered ourselves seasoned travelers. The three of us horsebacked across Kashmir, rode elephants into the grasslands of Assam, took a palanquin into the caves of Ajanta. Then, in 2008, we moved back to the U.S. We bought a house. We had a second child. Vacations became three-day weekends in the Catskills or Berkshires, beach rentals up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Our Facebook photos started to look like everyone else’s.

I missed adventure and wanted to expose my children to more. Tanzania felt like a logical destination. Its pleasant dry season runs from June through October, overlapping with the kids’ summer holiday. My college roommate lives in Dar es Salaam, so we had an in-country contact in case of an emergency.

 African safaris are attracting a lot more families these days, including some with very young children, according to tour operators. When planning our trip, which included stops in Istanbul and Zanzibar, I requested safari quarters where little ones would be welcome (many lodges bar children under 12). To our surprise, we were offered high chairs, baby cots and special kid-friendly meals as we made our way around Tanzania.

We started in Tanzania’s most populous city, Dar es Salaam, took a day to acclimate and continued to Kilimanjaro, where we embarked on six days of safari. The Serengeti ecosystem, which straddles Tanzania and Kenya, is known for the largest migration of mammals in the world, but they were on the Kenyan side by the time we arrived. We stuck mostly to the central Serengeti to catch better views of lions; we saw plenty of zebras and wildebeest in the lesser-known Tarangire National Park in northern Tanzania. Ngorongoro Crater, an immense inactive volcano caldera, gave us a chance to see all these animals in one place. Feeling cramped from days of driving, we also took a memorable hike around its rim.

Safaris, it turns out, are a dream vacation with and for kids. There is nothing like the amazement on a child’s face when giraffes and zebras are so close that you can smell them. Teachable moments abound—about nature and evolution, power and the world order. And though safari travel tends to be luxurious and sheltered from reality, having children along facilitates interaction with locals. Everywhere we went, Tanzanians wanted to hold our baby, pinch her cheeks, make her laugh. They gave our older child candy and pats on the head and encouraged her attempts to speak Swahili.

THE LOWDOWN: SAFARI WITH KIDS IN TANZANIA’S SERENGETI

Getting There: Dar es Salaam and Nairobi are the most common entry points for visitors to the Serengeti. From there, you can take shorter flights to Arusha, Kilimanjaro or Seronera to get closer to the parks. Visas can be purchased for cash upon arrival ($100) but if you want to avoid lines, do it in the U.S.

Staying There: Tour operators generally book safari lodging, and Duma Explorer planned our trip (dumaexplorer.com). In Arusha, Arumeru River Lodge is a serviceable first or last stop, with great food and views (from about $270 a night, arumerulodge.com). Its restaurant has high chairs and will accommodate children’s whims. Rhino Lodge near Ngorongoro Crater is bare-bones, but animals wander right onto the property in the morning and evening (from about $270 a night, including meals, ngorongoro.cc). Tarangire Safari Lodge, inside Tarangire National Park, recently added a spa, with a massage table that overlooks the river (from about $400 a night, including meals, tarangiresafarilodge.com). Duma Explorer’s tented Chaka Camp in the Serengeti offers king-size beds, hot showers and private porches (from about $690 a night, including meals, chakacamp.com).

Eating There: In tent lodges, cooks whip up whatever is freshest. You can request special meals for children, such as pasta or rice. Maasai-raised beef is not to be missed. Pack nonperishable snacks for long car rides; tour operators provide bottled water.

Spending There: Tanzania is largely a cash economy, so bring at least $1,000 for tips, souvenirs and incidentals, or plan to stop at ATMs outside the park entrances.

Taking Children Along: Consult your pediatrician about vaccinations and medications. The Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a car seat that turns into a stroller, is a good investment for any globe-trotting family ($330, lillygold.com).

During a hike through a village outside Arusha, the largest city in northern Tanzania, the baby delighted in all the attention. “Mtoto, mtoto,” children chanted, using the Swahili word for baby as they ran after us and colobus monkeys swung over our heads. Our eldest grew silent when the children begged for her sunglasses and stroked her skin as if to determine if it was different from theirs. Later, at dinner, we reminded her that the poverty she had witnessed was much more the norm than the Tanzania we saw on safari.

Guidebooks warned of something else I might have to discuss with the children: Mating, notably among the lions. We didn’t see any mating, but in July, the landscape of short brown grass exposes other primal behaviors. One day in the Serengeti, we came upon a pride of lions, and watched them for nearly an hour. My youngest stared at the lioness, just steps from her car seat. The eldest fiddled with the binoculars.

When the lioness started walking differently, Ebeneezer Emanuel, the same guide who showed us the hyena, warned that we might be about to see a kill. He gestured at the children as if to ask, “Is that OK?” We nodded.

The lioness crept up behind a pack of dancing gazelles and waited. We waited. I prayed my children would stay quiet. And she pounced. A baby gazelle was dragged under a tree to be eaten.

“So the female lions are stronger?” my daughter asked Ebeneezer.

“Yes,” he said. “They are much better hunters.”

“That is so cool.”

Seeing the kill inspired more serious dinnertime conversation. “How can the gazelles dance around so much knowing a lion might eat them at anytime?” my daughter wondered.

“Perhaps that is precisely why they let themselves be so happy,” I said.

Between game drives, we returned to our lodge or tent and let the girls run around and get out their own wild sides. I had packed an iPad loaded with kids’ videos in case they grew restless, but we never needed it; the children were much happier watching natural dramas unfold before them.

Also unnecessary were the dozens of packets of instant macaroni and cheese we’d brought. As my daughters devoured roast chicken and cassava stew, I felt sheepish for brushing off our friends’ skepticism when I’d clearly had a healthy dose of it myself.

Photography tips: How to shoot motion

Motion blur may be a little passé these days but, done well, this easy-to-master technique can transform travel and wildlife images into masterpieces.

When you take a picture, light reflecting from the subject hits the camera’s sensor and is recorded. If the shutter opens and closes very quickly, there’s no time for light from moving portions of your image to “˜smear’ across the pixels of your sensor. However, as shutter speed slows, the “˜smear’ of light increases. Many photographers use this to make fantastic images.

With moving subjects, shooting slow exposures from a tripod can emphasise the movement of your subject relative to its background. The subject in motion is blurred while all around it is pin sharp. Think of those shots you may have seen of ghost-like waterfalls and rivers.

Pan with your subjects

Another simple technique is to pan with or follow your subjects. This means that, relative to your camera, the subject in motion is steady and the background is moving. Consequently, the subject in motion is sharp while the background is completely blurred. Think of wildlife photographers shooting moving animals or herds, or motoring journalists trying to emphasise the speed of a car. Ironically many of the motion shots used in car adverts are shot using very slow exposures while pushing the car by hand.

The amount of blur is dependent on four factors:

    • The angle of motion relative to the camera: subjects moving perpendicular to the lens blur more than subjects moving towards the lens.

 

    • Speed of the subject: the faster the subject, the more it blurs.

 

    • Magnification of the lens: the bigger the focal length of the lens, the more the subject will blur.

 

  • Distance from the lens: the closer a subject is to the lens, the more it blurs.
Do it yourself

Firstly, find a suitable subject; cars passing on a road in the early evening work well. Set your camera to aperture priority and select a high f-stop (a small aperture – try f11 and above) that results in slow shutter speed. See below for the shutter speeds at which certain subjects will begin to blur.

Try both techniques. With your camera on a tripod, shoot scenes of passing cars and watch how they blur and the lights streak. Next take your camera off your tripod and pan evenly with your subject as it passes, snapping shots as you go.

Guideline shutter speeds

Approximate shutter speeds for a short zoom lens – 55 to 90 mm – that will begin to blur on a subject moving at the following speeds approximately 30 metres away.

Walking 1/30th
Running 1/60th
60 km/h 1/125th
120 km/h 1/250th

How to take the perfect holiday photograph

How to take the perfect holiday photograph

tree climbing lions How to take the perfect holiday photograph

Follow a few simple tips to eradicate blurred sunsets and headless family members in your travel snaps

Even the best holiday memories fade – but photographs never do. At least, not these days with digital technology enabling us all to keep those happy snaps forever. But what if you struggle to take pictures you’ll want to treasure? Do you always chop people’s heads off, or end up with out of focus landscapes? Read on and let a professional show you how it’s done.

Invest in your camera
Don’t scrimp on time or cash when choosing the right camera. Do your research whether you are buying a full digital SLR, a compact camera or even just using a smartphone as your main travel camera. There is no going back, so read the reviews and go into a store to ask questions face to face even if you later buy online.

Get all the gear
You’ve got your camera, but make sure to get all the other bits and bobs you might need on the road; that means spare memory cards, lens-cleaning cloths and, most importantly, a spare battery. Ignore this advice at your peril – you’ll remember it ruefully when a lion vaults over your safari truck just after your battery dies.

Stabilise that image
So many gorgeous sunrise and sunset shots, as well as many landscape images, work best with a tripod. You don’t need a huge man-sized tripod rig that takes out passers by as you turn corners. There are plenty of compact tripods these days and you can even buy tiny little tripods for smartphones.

Compose
Compose, compose and then compose some more. Don’t just snap dull shots of the Eiffel Tower. Think about closing in and shooting some of the detail, or adding some people for extra interest – and use whatever light you have. Put simply, the more effort and time you put into composition, the better your pictures will be.

People not ants
When you are shooting photographs that aim to sum up the spirit of a great holiday don’t have the stars of the show standing miles away. Even if the backdrop is dramatic the people are the main focus here and you want to capture their enjoyment, even if they are a little camera shy, so bring them into the foreground.

Tell a story
Home in on details to tell the story of a place. For a market, first shoot a wide shot from a distance to set the scene, then move in slowly, finishing with close-ups of food and dashes of local prices or language to add more colour. You should have everything you need now to make a great montage for your wall back home.

Get techie
If you have invested in an expensive DSLR don’t just rely on the automatic modes. Get creative and experiment with various combinations of ISO settings and different shutter speeds. This will enable you to take more sophisticated photographs, as well as meaning you can call yourself a “proper photographer”.

Best Time to Visit Tanzania

Best Time to Visit Tanzania

1 1 Best Time to Visit Tanzania

The best wildlife viewing months in Tanzania are during the dry season from late June to October. The best chance of seeing the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti is during June and July and the time to see the wildebeest calving is late January to February. The southern and western circuit parks are best visited during the dry-season (June to October), unlike the more popular northern circuit parks that can be visited year-round. Tarangire is the only exception, since its wildlife viewing is considerably better in the dry-season as well.

Quick facts
Best time to go: June to October (All parks), June-July and January-February (Serengeti for the wildebeest migration & calving)
High Season: July to March (northern circuit parks; they get crowded), July to October (southern and western circuit parks; they don’t really get crowded any time of the year)
Low Season: April and May (northern circuit parks still get quite a few visitors unlike the southern and western circuit parks, where many lodges close down)
Best Weather: June to October (Little to no rainfall)
Worst Weather: March and April (Peak of wet season)
June to October – Dry Season
  • June and July are the best months to see the wildebeest migration.
  • Animals are easier to spot since they concentrate around waterholes and rivers and there is less vegetation.
  • There are fewer mosquitoes because there is little to no rain. Skies are clear and most days are sunny.
  • Even though most tourists visit during the dry season, the parks still don’t feel crowded, except for the Seronera area in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater.
  • Mornings and nights get cold. It’s recommended to bring warm clothing for morning game drives in open vehicles during the months of June, July and August.
November to May – Wet Season
  • Late January to February is the time to see the calving in the southern Serengeti. This is an excellent time to see predator action.
  • The scenery is green and beautiful. It’s low season, meaning lower rates and less crowded parks.
  • Although wildlife is easier to spot in the dry season, you’ll still see plenty and most northern circuit parks offer good year-round game viewing.
  • Migratory birds are present and birdwatching is at its best.
  • Except for March, April and May, rains are mostly short afternoon showers and seldom have a negative impact on your trip.
  • March to May is the peak of the wet season.
  • Most big wildlife has migrated out of Tarangire NP and game viewing in Katavi, Selous and Ruaha is clearly better during the dry season.
Best time to go to Tanzania National parks
The Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater offer good wildlife viewing throughout the year. June and July are the best months for seeing the migration and February is the best month for the wildebeest calving. The dry months offer good game viewing throughout Tanzania. Tarangire and the southern and western circuit parks (including Katavi, Selous and Ruaha) are best visited in the dry season, from June to October.
 
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Africa Forest Elephants

Africa Forest Elephants

%name Africa Forest Elephants

Africa Forest Elephants May Take Almost a Century to Recover from Poaching – Report

Africa’s rare forest elephants which play a key role in replenishing the central African rain forests will need almost a century to recover from an onslaught by ivory poachers because of their slow birth rate, a study published on Wednesday said.

The study by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is the first analysis of the demography of an elusive animal that is hard to track because of its remote wooded surrounds.

But the thickly-forested tropical range it inhabits has not deterred poachers, who reduced its population by a staggering 65 percent between 2002 and 2013 to meet red-hot demand for ivory in China and other fast-growing Asian economies.

“In the intervening time we are down significantly from that 100,000 – it could be as low as 70,000 now,” Peter Wrege of Cornell University, one of the study’s authors, told Reuters.

“To come back to the population it was before 2002, based on their natality rates, it could take nearly a century to recover,” Wrege said.

Much more is at stake than the fate one animal’s population: forest elephants are regarded by biologists as a “keystone species” playing a crucial role in the robustness of central Africa’s wooded ecosytems, the study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, said.

Plant species depend on elephants to disperse their seeds in their excrement – big animals travel widely, eat a lot, and produce vast amounts of dung. The gaps that their bulk and diet create in thick vegetation also provide smaller creatures with pathways.

“The structure of the forests would change if they did not have the elephants doing this dispersal,” Wrege said.

The health of the central African rainforests has global consequences as they are the planet’s second largest carbon sequestration zone – which means they soak up carbon, slowing climate change.

“Forest elephants are experiencing the greatest levels of poaching in Africa with potentially as much as 10 to 18 percentof the population killed per year,” the study said.

One of two species of African elephant – the other is the more numerous and larger Savannah elephant – the forest dwellers can hardly sustain this kind of lethal pressure because few other mammals reproduce so slowly.

The study found females begin giving birth when they are around 23, about a decade later than their Savannah counterparts. And female forest elephants only produce a calf every five or six years, compared to the three- to four-year interval of their Savannah kin.

Some of the worst poaching is taking place in forest-elephant range states such as Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo – poor countries that suffer from bad governance and conflict.

The findings come ahead of a major United Nations’ meeting in Johannesburg at the end of September where Zimbabwe and Namibia will push for permission to sell ivory stocks, a move opposed by many other African countries.

Those seeking to open up the ivory trade argue it will raise badly-needed funds for conservation, but others say it would provide cover to poachers and make products that threaten species such as forest elephants socially acceptable.

Overall, the illicit killing of elephants in Africa is believed to have declined from a peak of 30,000 in 2011 but remains far too high, according to a recent report.

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