Lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhinoceros are the most sought after and dangerous of the world’s big game. In previous centuries it was these five species that drew hunters to Africa to experience the blood pounding thrill of hunting and shooting the ‘Big 5’. Thankfully these animals are no longer hunted, but the exhilaration that one experiences when spotting the ‘Big 5’ from a safari vehicle is as thrilling as ever. Our March 2014 conference offered delegates a well paced safari program that included accredited conference sessions led by Professor David Castle.
Arriving into Kilimanjaro Airport on the specially chartered flight, conference participants were split into smaller groups and introduced to their driver guides who would be leading our African adventure over the next 10 nights. The first game drive of the tour was in Arusha National Park with a highlight being the opportunity to hop out of the vehicles and do a 90 minutes bush walk allowing us to get up close to some giraffe, baboons and other wildlife. Our surprise picnic lunch – in a beautiful clearing in the middle of the national park – was interrupted when a troupe of black and white colobus monkeys decided to park themselves nearby. Some amazing photos were taken.
Lake Manyara National Park provided our first sightings of African Elephants. While one of the smaller parks in Tanzania, Manyara combines Rift Valley Lake forrests, dense woodlands, rivers and steep valley walls. It is home to large herds of elephants, hundreds of thousands of flamingos as well as buffalo, hippo, lions and baboons.
One of the highlights of our itinerary was Ngorongoro Crater – quite possibly the most famous of all Africa’s conservation areas. It is the largest intact volcanic caldera in the world and home to a permanent population of more than 300,000 animals including all of the “Big Five”. It was near the crater that we also met and shared in the daily life of the local Masai people. A short distance away we stopped at Olduvai Gorge where one of the most significant paleoanthropological finds in history took place. Our guided tour here was fascinating, learning about the discoveries in this confined area of of Homo habilis (lived 1.9 million years ago), Paranthrpus boisie (lived 1,8 million years ago) and Homo erectus (lived 1.2 million years ago).
The vast grass plains of the Serengeti became our home for the the remainder of the safari as we followed the migratory herds of Wildebeest pass through the area. With many young calves being born at this time of year, the large number of predators that follow the herds were a site to behold. Lions, cheetah and the elusive leopard were all sighted as were the more common hyena and wild hunting dogs.
While many in the group returned to Australia at the conclusion of the safari, a hardy group ventured on-wards to Rwanda for a gorilla trek into the Virungas – the chain of volcanoes stretching through Rwanda and Uganda. An early morning departure saw us at Park Headquarters to receive instructions on the gorilla trek and how we should behave when we made contact with these wonderful animals. Words can’t truly describe the emotions one feels when in the presence of the gorillas… and hearing the stories of how they were hunted in the recent past (and sadly continue to be hunted in some areas) was quite distressing. After our allotted time we retreated back down the mountain with memories galore!
The last part of the itinerary included a short stay in Kigali including an eye-opening visit to the Genocide Museum – a moving and emotional tribute to those who perished in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A final group dinner allowed us to share the wonderful memories of the last 2 weeks and recount our safari experiences.