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Excursions to Girafe Centre for an Adventur

HISTORY OF THE GIRAFFE CENTRE

The Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife (A.F.E.W.) Kenya was founded in 1979 by the late Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of British descent, and his American-born wife, Betty Leslie-Melville. They began the Giraffe Centre after discovering the sad plight of the Rothschild Giraffe. A subspecies of the giraffe found only in the grasslands of East Africa.

The Giraffe Centre has also become world-famous as a Nature Education Centre, educating thousands of Kenyan school children every year.

At the time, the animals had lost their habitat in Western Kenya, with only 130 of them left on the 18,000-acre Soy Ranch that was being sub-divided to resettle squatters. Their first effort to save the subspecies was to bring two young giraffes, Daisy and Marlon, to their home in the Lang’ata suburb, southwest of Nairobi. Here they raised the calves and started a programme of breeding giraffe in captivity. This is where the centre remains to date.

Betty and Jock then registered A.F.E.W. in the United States. Funds were raised to move five other groups of giraffe to different safe areas. Breeding herds of 26 giraffes were translocated from Soy Ranch to the Ruma Game Reserve in present-day Homa Bay County, Lake Nakuru National Park in Nakuru and Nasolot Game Reserve in modern-day West Pokot County. In 1985, seven giraffes were introduced to Yodder Flower Farm near the Mwea Game Reserve in Mbeere District in Eastern Kenya.

In 1983, funds raised by A.F.E.W. USA helped build the Educational Centre on a 60-acre sanctuary. This with the extraordinary vision of creating an educational institution in conjunction with rescuing the giraffe. The Giraffe Centre opened its doors to the general public and students the same year, receiving over 800 excited students.

There are now over 300 Rothschild Giraffe safe and breeding well in various Kenyan national parks. Recent herds have been introduced to Soysambu Ranch by Lake Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley, Kigio Conservancy and the Sergoit Ranch in the Mount Elgon region.

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The Great Wildebeest Migration Adventure

No where in the world is there a movement of animals as immense as the wildebeest migration, over 2,000,000 animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya during July through to October.

The migration has to cross the Mara River in the Maasai Mara where crocodiles will prey on them. This is one of the highlights as the animals try and cross the Mara River alive.

In the Maasai Mara they will be hunted, stalked, and run down by the larger carnivores. The Maasai Mara also has one of the largest densities of lion in the world and is no wonder this is the home of the BBC wildlife channels Big Cat Diary.

For more information about them Visit: www.africasafarisadventure.com

About The Migration

The stage on which this show is set is loosely termed the Serengeti Ecosystem, about 40, 000 square kilometres pretty much defined by the dominant migration routes of the white bearded wildebeest (Connochaetes tuarinus mearnsi) and comprises parts of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in the south; the Serengeti National Park and the adjacent Maswa Game Reserve and other ‘controlled’ areas in the centre, east and west; and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve to the north. The principle players are the wildebeest, whose numbers appear to have settled at just under 1.5 million, with supporting roles from some 350,000 Thomson’s gazelle, 200,000 zebra and 12,000 eland. These are the main migrators and they cross the ranges of over a quarter of a million other resident herbivores and, of course, carnivores. The lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and lesser predators await the annual coming of the migration with eager anticipation.

In reality there is no such single entity as ‘the migration’. The wildebeest are the migration – there is neither start nor finish to their endless search for food and water, as they circle the Serengeti- Mara ecosystem in a relentless sequence of life and death. ‘The only beginning is the moment of birth,’ notes acclaimed East African author and photographer Jonathan Scott, who has spent the better part of the last 30 years chronicling the events of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara. Similarly the only ending is death.

There is little predictability about the migration, and questions as to which is the best month to view it are likely to get different answers from different people. According to Scott, ‘You could spend a lifetime in the Serengeti-Mara waiting for the typical migration. The finer details of the herds’ movements are always different. It is a dynamic process which defies predictions: no two years are ever quite the same.’

Probably the most important element of the environment to its inhabitants is the weather and the cycle of four seasons per year undoubtedly has the defining influence on the migration. The seasons are reasonably defined: the ‘short dry season’ is typically December to February/March; the ‘long rains’ fall over a six week period from March through April and into May; and the ‘long dry season’ is from June to September, with the two-week ‘short rains’ falling any time from October into November. There are however, no guarantees about these dates.

The Birthing

For want of a better place in which to ‘start’ the migration, we’ll begin in January and February, when the wildebeest cows drop their young in a synchronized birthing that sees some 300,000 to 400,000 calves born within two to three weeks of one another, eight and a half months after the rut. The birthing occurs on the short-grass plains that, at the southernmost extent of the wildebeests’ range, spread over the lower northern slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater highlands and are scattered around Olduvai Gorge. Here, at the ‘cradle of mankind’ many notable fossil finds have been discovered, including some that show that wildebeest have grazed the Serengeti almost unchanged for over a million years.

The annual period of birthing provides a feast for predators. Driving across the plains, one can count literally hundreds of hyenas and dozens of lions scattered about. It may seem that the wildebeest are doing the predators a favour by dropping their young all a the same time, but in fact a surfeit of wildebeest veal in a very short period results in the predators’ becoming satiated and unable to consume as much as they would if the calving happened over a longer time span. The predators thus have only a limited impact on the population of newborn calves; any calves born outside the peak are far more likely to perish.

To watch any birth is amazing but watching the wildebeest birthing verges on the incredible www.africasafarisadventure.com. A newborn wildebeest gains co-ordination faster than any other ungulates and is usually on its feet two to three minutes after birth. It can run with the herd at the age of five minutes and is able to outrun a lioness soon thereafter. Notwithstanding this, many do die within their first year, from predation (although research indicates only about one percent die this way), malnutrition, fatigue or disease. Many calves get separated from their mothers when the herds panic (which happens frequently) or cross rivers or lakes in their path. The calves then wander for days looking for mum, bleating and bawling incessantly. On rare occasions they may be lucky to find her, but no wildebeest cow will adopt a strange calf, even if she has lost her own and is lactating at the time. As it weakens, a lost calf becomes an easy victim for any watching predator, from jackal up to hyena and lion.

The Start Of The Circle

Towards the end of the short dry season, around March, the short-grass plains of the southernmost Serengeti begin to dry out and the wildebeest begin (or continue) their journey, heading towards the western woodlands. How do they know which way to go? There are at least two possible answers, according to behaviourist and ecologist Harvey Croze, co-author of The Great Migration. The wildebeest’s journey is dictated primarily by their response to the weather; they follow the rains and the growth of new grass. And, although there is no scientific proof that this is true, it seems that they, and other animals, react to lightening and thunderstorms in the distance. ‘It would be surprising if even the wildebeest could overlook such prominent portents of change,’ writes Croze.

But it is probably instinctive knowledge, etched into their DNA by hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection, that is the major reason why these ‘clowns of the plains’ know in which direction they must travel. Over the millennia, those wildebeest that went the ‘wrong’ way would have died (of thirst and starvation) long before they could reproduce, so the wildebeest that lived to produce the future generations were the ones that went the ‘right’ way.

From the plains around Olduvai the herds head west towards the trio of small lakes, Ndutu, Masek and Lagarja. At this time their biggest need is usually to find water, and these more westerly areas can provide it. Still feeding and fattening on the nutritious short grass the herds scatter widely across the plains, shifting on a whim in response to factors beyond our knowledge. On any given day they’ll be spread out in their tens and hundreds of thousands across the expansive plains west of Ndutu, the next they’ll be gone. By now the first downpours of the long rains will be falling, and the wildebeest will canter across the plains towards the distant thunderstorms, frequently returning a day or two later if the promise did not match the reality.

The Rut

As the rains set in, the herds head north-west past the granite outcrops of the Simba and Moru koppies and into the woodlands of the hilly country west of Seronera towards Lake Victoria. This is the time of the annual rut, with half a million cows mated in less than a month as the herds consolidate in the woodlands and on the plains of the Serengeti’s Western Corridor. The peak of the rut seems heavily influenced by the state of the moon, with the full moon in May/June being a good bet for anyone seeking the most action.

Seemingly vicious fighting between dominant or territorial males takes place during the rut, though there is generally little actual violence or serious injury. And in spite of these energetic duels, the males have little say over their choice of mates, for it is the females who do the actual choosing www.africasafarisadventure.com.

The Crossing

From the western Serengeti the herds head north, following the rains (or their effects) into Kenya and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. On their trek the wildebeests’ path is cut several times by rivers: in the Serengeti by the Mbalangeti and the Grumeti, and in Kenya by the Mara. For most of the year these rivers are relatively placid, but they can become violent torrents in response to rainfall in their catchments areas, and then they present major obstacles to the progress of the wildebeest.

The rivers and indeed the few isolated lakes in the south of the Serengeti, are terrifying to the wildebeest firstly because of the animals’ fear of the water itself and the creatures it may hide, and secondly because water generally means vegetation, and thickets that may conceal predators. Yet the wildebeest have an inherent instinct to trek in a certain direction at any cost – despite their terror. The lakes in the south – Ndutu, Masek and Lagarja – for example, are little more than a few kilometres long, and could easily be walked around. But natural selection steps in once more: the wildebeest that crossed the lakes in previous generations survived to breed, so the waters pose no fear to their progeny; those that did not make it gave no further input to the gene pool.

In his definitive documentary on the migration, The Year of the Wildebeest, filmmaker Alan Root describes how he watched a crossing at Lake Lagarja, where, once the main body of the herd had crossed cows that had become separated from their calves turned back to look for them re-entering the water and swimming back. On reaching the other side, still not reunited with their offspring, they turned back once again. This toing and froing went on for seven days, until eventually the numbers of arriving wildebeest built up again and the stragglers were forced to move on with the main body of the herd. Thousands of wildebeest died in the lake that year. While such tragedies may appear to be a disaster for the wildebeest, the deaths only represent a mere handful of the hundreds of thousands of calves born each year. Without a degree of natural mortality, the wildebeest population could spiral out of control www.africasafarisadventure.com.

Wildebeest arrive at the Mara River in their tens of thousands, and gather waiting to cross. For days their numbers can be building up and anticipation grows but many times, for no apparent reason, they turn and wander away from the water’s edge. Eventually the wildebeest will choose a crossing point, something that can vary from year to year and cannot be predicted with any accuracy. Usually the chosen point will be a fairly placid stretch of water without too much predator-concealing vegetation in the far side, although occasionally they will choose seemingly suicidal places and drown in their hundreds. Perhaps, once again, this is because crossing places are genetically imprinted in the minds of the animals.

Some fords do attract larger numbers of animals than others though, probably because they’re visible from a greater distance and the arriving herds are able to see others of their kind either in the process of crossing the river or grazing on the lush grass on the far side.

The Predators

Once on the grasslands of the Maasai Mara via AFRICA SAFARIS ADVENTURE www.africasafarisadventure.com , the wildebeest spend several months feeding and fattening once more, taking advantage of the scattered distribution of green pastures and isolated rainstorms. A remarkable feature of their wanderings is their ability to repeatedly find areas of good grazing, no matter how far apart. The physiology of the wildebeest is such that it has been designed by evolution to travel large distances very quickly and economically, apparently requiring no more energy to run a certain distance than to trudge along at walking pace. Every facet of its life and behavior is designed to save time – wildebeest even mate on the move, and newborns are, as we have seen, up and running in minutes.

While the wildebeest are drawn into migrating by the needs of their stomachs, the fact that they’re constantly on the move has the added benefit that they outmarch large numbers of predators. The predators are unable to follow the moving herds very far, for many are territorial and can neither abandon their territories nor invade those of others. Moreover, the young of most predators are highly dependent upon their mothers, who can’t move very far from them.

Closing the Circle

By late October, when the first of the short rains are falling on the Serengeti’s short-grass plains, filling seasonal waterholes and bringing new flushes of growth, the wildebeest start heading south again. The herds trek down through the eastern woodlands of the Serengeti, some 90 per cent of the cows heavy with the new season’s young. Tightly grouped as they pass through the wooded country the wildebeest scatter and spread out again once they reach the open plains.

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East Africa’s 10 best Adventure Tourist Destinations

Loosely defined and impossibly large, East Africa is an umbrella term that covers an incredible array of different countries, landscapes, cultures, and ecosystems. This diversity means that there is something for everyone, whether you’re more interested in a hot air balloon safari over the Serengeti, or an expedition to see the ancient rock-cut churches of Ethiopia.

Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve has earned itself a reputation as one of Africa’s most rewarding safari destinations, and for good reason. Regardless of the time of year, wildlife sightings are both plentiful and diverse. It’s possible to see the Big Five in a single day, and during the July-November dry season, the plains are filled with the vast herds of the annual wildebeest migration. In particular, watching the herds crossing the Mara River in their thousands is a spectacle few will ever forget. Cultural visits to traditional Maasai villages are another highlight of this spectacular East African reserve.

Omo River Region, Ethiopia

Part of Africa’s incredible Great Rift Valley, the Omo River Region is perhaps one of the most remote destinations in East Africa. However, those that are willing to make the long and difficult trip to get there will be rewarded with incredible scenery, and the chance to visit villages that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. There are many different tribes in this part of Ethiopia, and each one has its own traditional dress, culture and ceremonies. In order to get the most out of your Omo River experience, it is advisable to join a tour, some of which combine cultural visits with white-water rafting on the region’s famous rapids.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Draped in mist and full of lush vegetation, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park nestles deep within the Virunga Mountains. As Africa’s oldest national park, it is one of the best places in the world to encounter the critically endangered mountain gorilla. A subspecies of the wider-ranging eastern gorilla, there are only around eight hundred of these amazing animals left. To share a moment with them in their natural environment is an intensely moving adventure experience and one that should be at the top of any wildlife lover’s bucket list. The park provides a home for several other rare species, including 29 endemic species of bird.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar is renowned for its fascinating history and its incredible beaches. Located off the coast of Tanzania and surrounded by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar was once a key stop on the spice route. Here, the island’s Arab rulers would trade slaves for spices; and today, Zanzibar’s exotic past is evident in its elaborate architecture. Stone Town is one of the island’s biggest attractions, boasting ornate houses, narrow alleyways, a Sultan’s palace, and many mosques. Zanzibar’s white-sand beaches are postcard-perfect, and its reefs are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Those in search of the ultimate safari experience should consider combining a trip to the Maasai Mara with a visit to Serengeti National Park in neighboring Tanzania. Here, breathtaking open plains are dotted with acacia trees and grazing game. It’s a great place to spot predators like lion and cheetah in action; especially during the January-March rainy season. At this time, wildebeest descend upon the southern Serengeti to give birth, and the newborn calves make easy prey for hungry cats. In April, the herds start their migration to the Maasai Mara, but the game-viewing remains exceptional all year round.

 Watamu, Kenya

Unlike many of Kenya’s other beach towns, Watamu is still considered an enclave of peace and quiet. Located slap bang in the middle of Kenya’s exquisite coastline, Watamu is small, relaxed and full of history. It is best known for its stunning bays and palm-fringed beaches, and for its prolific coral reefs. Deep-sea fishing is a favorite pastime here, and several dive schools offer the chance to take up scuba diving. On land, beachfront restaurants serve fresh seafood, Mida Creek boasts stunning birdlife, and Gedi Ruins offers an insight into the life of the 13th Century Swahili people.

Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area is dominated by the ancient Ngorongoro Crater. Approximately 1,970 feet/ 600 meters deep, the crater is the world’s largest intact caldera, and one of East Africa’s most incredible natural spectacles. Within its rim, countless animals range across the grassy plains of the crater floor, including a significant population of critically endangered black rhino and some of the largest remaining tusker elephants. Black-maned lions are another impressive sight, as are the flocks of flamingo that appear on the crater’s soda lake during the breeding season.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Perhaps one of the continent’s most iconic sights, Mount Kilimanjaro stands in perfect isolation against the foreground of the African savannah. At 19,340 feet/5,895 meters, it is the tallest peak in Africa and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Those with a reasonable level of fitness and a keen sense of adventure should consider making the climb for the ultimate Kilimanjaro experience. Climbing with a guide is compulsory, and allowing a few extra days to ​acclimatize to the altitude is advised. Depending on your route, the climb takes five to nine days. If you’re short on time, consider climbing nearby Mount Meru instead.

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Located in the heart of Ethiopia’s northern highlands, Lalibela is a historic town of great religious importance for the country’s Orthodox Christians. In the 12th Century, it was designed as a ‘New Jerusalem’; an alternative for pilgrims who were prevented from traveling to the Holy Land by conflict. Today, its magnificent rock-hewn churches attract visitors from all over the world. There are 11 of these monolithic churches, each one carved from the rock face. One of them, Biete Medhani Alem, is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, and all of them are a testament to the devotion of their creators.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

The highlight of this Rift Valley park is the eponymous Lake Nakuru, a soda lake famous for its incredible flamingo population. The density of the flamingo flock depends on the time of the year. During the dry season, water levels fall and the lake becomes more alkaline, generating more algae for the birds to feed on. At this time, numbers of lesser and greater flamingo can swell to as many as 2,000,000 birds, creating a rose-hued haze across the lake’s surface. The park itself is home to a host of other animals, including lions, rhino and approximately 450 species of bird.

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  The Maasai Mara National Game Reserve, Kenya

 Kenya’s Maasai Mara is a wonderland of spectacular scenery, colorful native culture and unparalleled wildlife-spotting opportunities. The park connects to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, and together, the two parks create the ultimate safari destination. This is your best bet for spotting the Big Five in a single morning, and for witnessing East Africa’s famous wildebeest migration. In the Maasai Mara, hot-air balloon safaris offer a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience.

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