Meet your hosts at Kwihala Camp

Guides1TrackingGuidesKwihala Camp has a well-deserved reputation for the top level of guides and guiding that guests enjoy while visiting Ruaha National Park. Here we introduce you to the personalities you will encounter when you travel to this magically remote outpost of truly wild Africa.

FestoFesto Ntayaye was born in 1974 to a father who was a game ranger in Rungwa and Selous Game Reserves. Festo accompanied his Dad on numerous patrols and thus developed a fascination for nature and the wildlife they observed. After school, Festo completed a one year course in guiding and started working as a guide in Selous Game Reserve where he conducted drives and walks, sharing his knowledge and experiences with guests. After a few years in Selous he found an opportunity to guide in Ruaha National Park, which is situated next to his childhood haunt of Rungwa. Here he honed his skills as a guide and excelled as an interpreter of all things wild. Today he is still in Ruaha and his passion for the Park is clearly visible. Festo really enjoys bird-watching as well as taking time to calmly sit and observe the events around him as they happen. “This way one is able to really get to understand how things fit together” he says.

LorenzoLorenzo Rossi was born in Italy in 1984. On completing his studies in Economic Engineering in Milan in 2009 he decided to visit Tanzania to enjoy his passion for nature. He visited Arusha and Kwihala Camp in Ruaha and then decided to make tourism and guiding in Tanzania his career. “Wild, spectacular, exclusive. Ruaha is still a mostly unexplored park. It’s the largest national park in Tanzania and only maybe 4% of it is really regularly touched by game drive routes. I have never seen a concentration of lions like here, the number of elephants is outstanding,” he says. He first took a course in South Africa and gained his level 1 in guiding with FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa). He loves football, tennis, fishing and just to be out in the bush. He speaks English, Italian and Kiswahili.

MariusSince 1992 Marius Swart has been passionately sharing the splendours of nature with friends and strangers alike. With a penchant for walking safaris he developed a sense of awareness and pace, which provides for an experience of being an observer rather than a participant in Nature’s flow of events. Considering himself as a generalist, as his interests are as divergent as nature itself, he thrives in discovering new wild places and piecing together the components that underpin their cycles. Preferring small groups of guests and quiet concessions, this has led him to some spectacular and unknown regions where interpretation occurs naturally and spontaneously, as the events and behaviour displayed by the wildlife are observed. Of Ruaha, he has this to say:”Besides the astounding biodiversity, topography, incredible elephant and lion encounters, it is the fact that for most part, it is not overrun!” Marius enjoys photography, adventure motorcycling and flying as hobbies when he isn’t “working”.

PietroPietro Luraschi has this to say of Ruaha: “Around every corner is a surprise, every few kilometres there is a different landscape unravelling in front of your eyes. Riverine forests, open plains, combretum woodlands, huge granite kopjes, all within easy reach. Small dirt roads moving slowly through a great wilderness, huge number of elephant making the bush alive, a hectic cat population that year after year keeps us wondering about the complexity of natural patterns, entire baobab forests with an eerie edge that speaks of ancient beliefs, all this is Ruaha, all this peppered with a constant sense of discovery.”Pietro’s passion for Africa took him to the continent first as a volunteer in the Tarangire Lion Project, a research project on the lion population in the Tarangire National Park in Northern Tanzania. He studied to become a professional guide in South Africa in the Kruger National Park, where he received his qualifications for ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling) and Level 2 qualification from FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa), the most accredited association of safari guides in Africa. He also received a qualification as a Trails Guide, again from FGASA, regarding the conduct of walking safaris in areas with potentially dangerous game. This was obtained at Beho Beho in Tanzania. He has worked as a guide and as camp manager in southern Tanzania in two of the wildest and most untouched areas in the African continent, Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve. During these years he has heightened his knowledge of the bush by working for three different camps, Mdonya Old River Camp, Selous Impala Camp and Lake Manze Camp. He also speaks Kiswahili.

Steve

From an early age Steve Roskelly has been preoccupied with wildlife and nature and his working life has been spent in the field of nature reserves, wild animals and wide-open spaces. Living in, and having travelled extensively in, Southern Africa, he realises that nature is where his heart and passion lies. Private and guiding journeys to the wilderness areas of Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia have re-enforced his keen desire for travel and the exploration of unknown habitats and their natural inhabitants. Guiding experience from open vehicles, on foot and in light aircraft, from low veldt savannas to lowland sand forests and rugged coastlines are among Steve’s repertoire of working activities. In addition to guiding, Steve has also spent time training the next generation of Field Guides based in various reserves across the Limpopo lowveld. Steve’s formal credentials include a degree in Botany & Zoology as well as top guiding and tracking qualifications from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa. Steve’s passion for nature and photography together with his bush-skills, honed over many years as a wildlife guide, have taught him to be humble in the presence of the wildlife that surrounds us. “Ruaha is a special place with a beautiful and inspiring landscape and some of the most incredible savanna wildlife viewing in Africa,” he says.

Sandy Mellett 2Sandy Mellet is a third generation Zimbabwean with a passion for nature and outdoor life. She completed her Junior and Senior school studies in Zimbabwe and then went on to train to become a qualified chef at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine in Durban, South Africa. After working and travelling for several years abroad, Sandy was very happy to return back to Africa. She branched out into Front of House management when she moved to Zanzibar in 2006. In 2012 she found her home with Asilia, managing their Zanzibar property Matemwe Lodge and Retreat for two years. She was very happy to get the opportunity to go back to the bush, which she is so passionate about, to manage Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park.

With their vast combination of knowledge and experience, coupled with skills ranging from photography to the art of vehicle maintenance, plus a dash of great humour, charm and hospitality, our team at Kwihala are what makes many of our guests keep returning to this amazing place again and again!

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Baobabs and other pachyderms

By Martyn Bowen

Martyn Bowen, born and brought up in Tanzania, now visits Africa as regularly as possible – his job in Europe with a sports company encompasses Africa in his area of responsibility, and he always takes the opportunity to combine business with what he sees as his obligation to bring both the magic and the precariousness of Africa to the attention of his own small universe. With the aim of raising awareness in the developing world, it is the least he could do for a continent that has given him so much. Here he shares his recent experiences at Kwihala Camp with us.

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Lorenzinis Ampullae are sensors that sharks use to sense the presence of other animals in their vicinity – supplementing the other senses such as sight, sound and smell. The use of all senses other than the obvious one of sight is a huge advantage when looking for game in the wilds of Africa. When the haystack you are looking for a needle in is the size of Ruaha National Park, then you take all the help you can. Kwihala guides Festo and Pietro and indeed the eponymous Lorenzo possess these additional senses in abundance. It is no myth to relate that the leopard Festo found was sensed rather than seen. While driving in the early morning looking for a totally different species of cat, the alarm call of the baboons immediately set off the ampullae in Festo’s sensors. Baboons don’t bark like that at nothing, and as a professional guide, one is well advised to heed the call of the wild. Firstly locate the baboons (up in the trees clearly keeping something in sight) and then switch on the other senses. When the leopard did eventually come into sight, crossing the road at a trot, the sense of satisfaction was similar to solving a particularly difficult cryptic crossword clue. The cause of the noise was a slightly built young female leopard, clearly on the move, checking scent marks at every bush, possibly scouting for evidence of the territorial male.

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Years of observation tell one that the vultures are not roosting, nor just resting but indeed waiting for the lions invisible from the road, to move on… the speed at which a vulture comes out of the sky will indicate whether he is looking for a roost or a snack. What is the instinct that tells us the buffalo may well be coming down to drink but are not alone – someone is watching them, even if we can’t see them? The behaviour of the buffaloes themselves is the best evidence.

I was lucky enough to revisit this park with my two sons having first visited as a seven year old some time in the seventies. And I have to realise that much like language skills which get rusty if not used, so are the observational skills, but constant use and observing the guides brings the old skills back to life, as well as opening up new ones.   It was just as exciting to analyse a hole in the riverbank and hear the two guides conclude it was a pangolin, not an aardvark, despite no sign of the animal in question. The birds are similar – if you can’t get a  clear view, then maybe the way it is flying will tell you whether it is a Bateleur (balancing like the tightrope walker it is named after, as its tail is too short to add stability) or a Tawny eagle or even if you are lucky, a martial eagle. The latter has a favourite food, a tree hyrax, and their favourite mode of attack is to come straight out of the sun, where they can’t be seen. Fascinating however, is to learn that scientists have discovered a special lens in the Hyrax’s eye to be able to look directly into the sun.

Martial eagle with dassie

And finally a word must be reserved for those great grey pachyderms which populate Ruaha seemingly everywhere – and under threat from those around them – I refer to the Great Baobab, majestically withstanding drought, elephants, and most importantly of all, time. How old a tree can get is a subject of some debate, but the myths of 10 000 year-old trees are probably just that – myths. They probably can live for up to 1500 years, and of all trees, are the only ones which can survive ringbarking by foraging animals – they survive the elephants who splinter off the pithy flesh using their tusks, and seemingly are never in leaf. For an untrained eye, the bare branches reaching up to the sky are dead. So many are the unique properties of this tree that some have contended it cannot be classified as a tree at all. But the memories as a kid of finding their fruit lying on the ground around the massive trunk, up to 30 40 metres in circumference, finding a stone to crack open the hard wooden shell covered in a soft fur, to reveal the white mint-humbug sized seeds inside – a treat for any kid to suck on and wince at the tart but sweet taste, full of ascorbic acid which also encourages the uptake of other nutrients in the bloodstream. And so it acts as a magnet for other species from fruit bats (who pollinate the blossoms which only bloom at night) through baboons all the way to elephants – and in Ruaha you will even find leopards in a baobab…

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And the elephants of Ruaha? Worth a blog all of their own, but suffice it to say – when we talk of using extraordinary senses the elephant is the king – a dry river bed is for them simply a challenge – for they forget the evidence of the eyes and smell which says water has not been seen here for weeks. They sense it running underground, and possess the skill to dig perfectly formed sinkholes, lifting out the sand until they reach the water far below, and sucking it up with their trunks to squirt into their mouths.   They too as a result act as a magnet for the other wildlife of Ruaha – without the elephant many other species would fail to find water, and so once more the extraordinary extra-sensory ability of one species to solve the puzzle benefits other lesser species – that is how the guides of Ruaha are to be judged – if you like Sherlock Holmes, you are just going to love Ruaha and its guides.

elephant drinking sand

Life in Macro: the insects of Ruaha.

By Marius Swart, Clearly Africa guide

Creepy-crawlies, bugs, goggos or critters are all names, which conjure up feelings of fear and panic…a need to frantically swipe and slap at yourself whilst dancing on the spot! A reason to NOT go on safari in the rainy season.

 As a kid I remember being influenced by the fear of other family members, convinced of impending death or grievous bodily harm every time an insect entered our space. It was not until I was a teenager that this irrational fear started waning due to the high survival rate of these encounters. A little bit of logic goes a long way…The abundance and diversity of arthropods in the natural world is beyond comprehension!

Mechanisms of physical adaptations regarding camouflage, defence and feeding is astounding and deserves to be marvelled at.

In Ruaha the rainy season usually commences from early December until early April. However from late November there are already signs of the approaching change, with the sudden increase in numbers of insects. A great majority of species provide a riot of colour and insanely intricate patterns in their design. Some cryptically painted to blend in and hide from potential predation and others boldly visible in very LOUD reds, blacks, whites and yellows! These vividly noticeable colours however serve a rather counterintuitive purpose.

Although strikingly apparent, these colours act as warning signs of the potent toxins present in the insect, which immediately divert attention from them. You only need to bite into an unripe fruit to quickly learn which colour means tasty and which not…

 As for feeding mechanisms there are amongst others, biting or piercing mouthparts.Those that need to crush fruit-pulp or other insects have powerful mandibles which operate like scissors while those sucking sap from plants or the innards of other insects, they have a sharp straw-like proboscis to puncture and suck with.

Once you can control your anxiety about their perceived danger, there is always something amazing to observe with insects.

Turn your fear into marvel by gradually paying attention to the less “scary” species and notice their form and function, patterns and colours.

Ask your guide to point them out and you would be amazed at the wonderful addition insects make to the spectrum of experiences to be had whilst on safari!

Happy “bugging”…

Yours in awareness,

Marius Swart.

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A large Citrus Swallow-tail butterfly visiting a blossoming Fire-ball Lily in October.

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African Monarch butterfly being enticed to investigate the little-seen flowers of a Cyprus Sedge.

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A strikingly coloured Long-horn beetle with bold aposematic black and yellow. These beetles tunnel through tree trunks and help recycle the nutrients.

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A Fly perched on top of a fresh Preying Mantid egg-case possibly dabbing up some excess moisture.

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Hovering at a Pretty Lady Cleome, this African Honey Bee searches for nectar.

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Tiger Beetles are voracious predators of other insects and thus incredibly fast and agile!

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This Damselfly perched on the banks of the Mwagusi River allowed me to leopard-crawl to very close quarters! They are incredible predatory aerobats like their cousins, dragonflies.

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A large Bee Fly sitting on one of the many wildflowers so ubiquitous of the rainy season.

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African Honey Bee collecting from the dangling inflorescence of Signal Grass. Note the drifting pollen particles in the breeze.

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I can’t remember what this is…if you can find it, it was sucking sap from a very toxic Calotropis plant! White milky latex!

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Elegant Grasshopper with its striking aposematic colouration.

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Elegant Grasshopper with its striking aposematic colouration.

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A young Emerald Long-horn Beetle.

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An Acraea butterfly showing orange and black warning colours. They ingest toxins from a larval food-plant which is retained in their bodies post pupation!

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A resting Dragonfly waiting for potential prey to pass within dashing distance.

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Snouted Net-winged Beetles are quite large and visible.

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Although not an insect per se, this Water Spider also astounds with its design and behaviour!

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The hatchling of a Preying Mantid braving the world.

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One of the early instars of a Weevil Beetle. The spiny protrusions are there to aid in self-defence!

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African Monarch butterfly visiting the crisp blossom cluster of a Heliotrope or String-of-stars.

Lions of Ruaha

Sharubu diaries…

By Akil Halai, Field Operations Coordinator, Asilia Tanzania

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Lions (Panthera leo – local name: Simba) are the only felines that form social groups called prides. All other cats are solitary hunters.

Prides are often described as matriarchal because more females belong to a pride, they remain long-term members, and they live longer than male lions. The life of a male lion is socially more precarious than that of a female lion. Males must win their way into a pride of females and once they do, they must fend off challenges from males outside the pride who try to take their place. 

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Kumi (left) and Grumpy, two dominant pride males

Male lions are in their prime between the ages of 5 and 10 years and often do not live long after that period. Male lions rarely remain part of the same pride for more than 3 or 4 years before more dominant challengers drive them off.

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Lionesses from the Ifuguru and Wakali prides

Female lions often give birth at about the same time, which means the cubs within a pride are of a similar age. The females will suckle one another’s young but that doesn’t mean it is an easy life for cubs within a pride. Weaker offspring are often left to fend for themselves and die as a consequence.

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Cubs from the Mwanyembe Pride

Lions often hunt together with other members of their pride. The prey they capture usually weighs between 55 and 330kg. When prey within that weight range is not available, lions are forced to either catch smaller prey weighing as little as 15kg or much larger prey weighing as much 500kg. When forced to feed on small prey, lions make the kill and eat their catch by themselves. When forced to eat larger prey, they must hunt in groups and risk injury during a hunt due to the large size of their prey.

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Females of the Wakali and Msembe prides

Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania holds many prides of lions. The prides I have witnessed have lions in huge numbers, up to 27 lions. I have had the opportunity to spend some time with the different prides during my 3-week stay at Kwihala Camp in the prime central area of the park. We know of 10 different prides co-existing in this beautiful landscape within their own territorial boundaries that they defend from other lions. Lions identify their territory by roaring loudly or by physically scent marking trees or rock outcrops. While female lions will hunt and kill most of the animals for the pride to eat, male lions are around primarily to defend the territory from other lion prides or nomadic male lions.

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The Ifuguru Males on a giraffe kill

Due to the fact that these prides of Ruaha contain lions in large numbers, they usually hunt big game. The Bushbuck pride & the Mwayembe pride are known to hunt giraffes and buffalos. Zebra and other medium sized herbivores are just teatime snack for such big prides!

These pictures were taken while spending considerable time in company of these beautiful cats. Many thanks to Lorenzo Rossi (Guide – Kwihala Camp) for his tireless efforts in collection of this data and his good company while enjoying game drives, and for his photo contributions portrayed in this post.

The prides include The Bushbuck pride (up to 27 lions including cubs); The Old airstrip pride (2 big males, 6 females and 4 cubs); the Kumi pride (10 Lions- Kumi means 10 in Swahili); Msembe pride (up to 12 lions); Wakali Pride (14 lions at grid W7 –Grumpy the dominant male, 4 big females, 4 sub adult males, 3 sub adult females and 2 new cubs); Mbagi pride (1 big male, 4 females); Mwayembe pride (21 lions – 1 big old male whom I call Caesar); Mdonya Juu pride (10, 3 males, 4 females and 3 cubs); Ifuguru pride (16 lions, 2 males from the fabulous four coalition still remain part of this group) and the Ikuka pride (4 females and 6 young males – near Mpululu).

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Wakali pride

Updates from the field: The Ruaha Carnivore Project

By Amy Dickman, Director, Ruaha Carnivore Project.

Amy Dickman shares the latest news from Ruaha National Park with us below, outlining the challenges faced with operating in the remote vastness of the park, as well as highlighting the excellent work being done by the Lion Guardians and Livestock Guard Dogs. She also shares some fantastic big cat photos taken by guides and visitors to Ruaha. 

Snared lioness treated in the Park

Poaching is a major conservation issue across Africa, and unfortunately Ruaha is no exception. Recently, the carcass of a male lion was spotted in the Park, and when the Park officials investigated, they found that he had been snared. A lioness was staying close to the male, and it soon became obvious that she was also entangled in snare wire. The Park officials and veterinary team reacted quickly, and managed to dart the female and remove the snare wire. Although she had some serious injuries, she was treated and recovered well from the anaesthesia, even managing to eat an impala later that evening.

We suspect that snaring – both for local meat consumption and sale to other markets – is a big issue around Ruaha, but it is very hard to learn about, as it is very secretive. This is something that we are planning to research more over the coming year, so that we can understand exactly why people are doing it, the impact that it has on both carnivores and prey species, and then develop the best strategies for trying to reduce it.

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The lioness immediately after the wire was removed by the Ruaha National Park team – the blue patches show where wound spray has been applied.

Challenges for the livestock guarding dog programme

Our livestock guarding dogs are still doing well, and are now approaching a year old. To date, they have been fed high-protein pellets, which was excellent for ensuring they grew well, but the pellets are imported, hard to get hold of and very expensive. In order to make the programme sustainable in the long-term, it is very important to switch the dogs over to a more local diet. We have started trialling different diets, and initially we wanted to use maize porridge (ugali) mixed with fish, milk and occasionally meat. However, we learned that amongst the Maasai, eating fish (or even handling or cooking it) is often considered taboo, so most of the families would not consider using that. Instead, we are introducing a mixture of ugali, peanuts, milk and meat, and will also add nutritional supplements as needed. This diet is nutritious and affordable for the pastoralist families, but not all the dogs have taken to it well – Shujaa in particular is not eating much of it so is losing some weight, and we are monitoring him closely.

It has become apparent that all the dogs have lost some weight in the past couple of months, and we think this is because in the dry season, the livestock are taken out further to find good grazing, and this is quite taxing for the young dogs. We are working with all the families to ensure that the dogs get regular rest periods each day, receive enough food in the field, and have at least one full rest day a week. They are so large that they seem to the villagers like full-grown dogs, but it is important to remember that they are still young and are not yet able to go out all day every day. The programme is going well, but it highlights how carefully it all needs to be monitored in order to adapt it best for the local situation, both in terms of cultural beliefs and herding practices.

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Shujaa and some of his charges enjoying a drink of water

Two lion hunts stopped by Lion Guardians

Predator-proofing bomas (livestock enclosures) and using livestock guarding dogs are both important methods for reducing depredation and therefore retaliatory carnivore killings. However, some carnivore killings have a cultural element, so that young men can prove their bravery, and this is where the Lion Guardians (LG) programme comes in. In partnership with the main Lion Guardians organisation in Kenya, and Panthera, we have employed and trained young warriors as Guardians around Ruaha in order to intervene and prevent lion hunts that they hear of in the community. This programme had further success this month, when two lion hunts were stopped by the Guardians.

In the first instance, two adult and two sub-adult lions approached livestock during the night at a Barabaig boma, and the men from the household went out to try to hunt them. Kiro, one of the Guardians working in that area responded very quickly and went to meet with them. He talked with the warriors for several hours and eventually persuaded them to give up the hunt, and everyone returned home with no lions being killed.

On another occasion, a single female lion killed two sheep in front of a 15 year- old herder girl. She sounded the alarm and a group of Masaai and Barabaig men scared the lioness away from the sheep and then started to track it. Matias, one of the local Guardians, heard about the incident and went to meet with the group. He managed to talk them out of trying to kill the lion, while two other Guardians (Samora and Julius) arrived soon afterwards and helped remove the sheep carcasses to ensure that no poison was set out after they left.

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True conservation heroes: The Guardians who stopped the recent lion hunts Kiro, Samora, Julius and Matias

Although we have had some teething problems adapting the Lion Guardian model to the situation around Ruaha – as local young men here can be very suspicious of any outside intervention – it seems to be working well, and we are now keen to expand our LG zones further across the study area. Promising new Guardians are now being interviewed, with the hope that they will start work in new zones within the next couple of months.

Simply amazing – carnivores in their natural habitat

Over the past month, RCP staff members have captured some fantastic pictures of lions and other species in the Park. It is always lovely to see these animals, as it reminds us what all the hard work is about – doing everything we can to help secure populations of large carnivores, so that future generations can also experience them out in the wild. Sean McEnery, the Ruaha Lion Guardians manager, took some of the Guardians on an educational trip into the Park, where they were lucky enough to spend time watching a lion pride comprised of three adult males, three adult females and a very playful litter of cubs. The cubs were practising their hunting skills on the lioness’ tails, although they seemed less than impressed with the tastiness of the resulting meal!

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The cubs spot their intended prey…… © Sean McEnery

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Both manage to successfully catch their prize……  © Sean McEnery

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But it is less rewarding than expected! © Sean McEnery

Monty Kalyahe, one of our senior research assistants, has also been in the Park working with the lodges and camera-trapping, giving him the opportunity to take some great photos of large carnivores.

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A young female lioness – we can tell that she is young as her nose is still mainly pink, and it will change to black over time, reaching >50% black by around 6 years old. This is a fairly reliable indicator of age in wild lions, but interestingly does not seem as reliable in captive lions

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In contrast, this male is clearly over six years old – his nose is totally black, his teeth are yellowed, his mane is receding and he has several scars from fighting

Meanwhile, the Park drivers are continuing to collect wonderful photos and data on carnivore sightings, so that we can learn more about carnivore distribution, group size and ecology across the landscape. Recently, Lorenzo Rossi from Asilia Africa’s Kwihala Camp shared some of his photos with us, and they really highlight the value of the Ruaha landscape and its large carnivore populations. Thanks to all the drivers and tourists who submit photos and work with us – it is extremely valuable and we really appreciate it.

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This striking image shows that life can be challenging for both predators and prey in the vast Ruaha landscape © Lorenzo Rossi

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This young leopard seemed perfectly happy to let people watch him while he was relaxing in a tree © Lorenzo Rossi 

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This beautiful image shows a brother and sister cheetah approaching the Great Ruaha River for an evening drink © Lorenzo Rossi

Update from the field – Ruaha National Park

By Ryan Green and Lewis Mangaba, Guide Trainer, Asilia Tanzania

Kwihala Camp has recently reopened after the seasonal break, and already the wildlife sightings have been nothing short of spectacular. Here we recap on the sightings and highlights of the last ten days.

With the rainy season now behind us, the landscape takes on the typical dun colours of the African dry winter season. The hooves of buffalo herds kick up dust clouds as they return to the Mwagusi and Great Ruaha Rivers from their highland summer feeding ranges, dry grasses crackle underfoot and the rivers slow to a trickle before disappearing underground into the thick sandy substrate. Summer’s rampant vegetation begins to wither and die back, opening up sightlines across the land again, revealing endless vistas of rolling hills and rugged gorges studded with enormous baobabs marching towards a horizon marked by jagged peaks.

       scenic trees

The large rainy season congregations of elephants begin to disperse into smaller family groups as they roam further afield in search of sustenance, Greater Kudu are seen more frequently as their favoured forest hiding-places begin to thin out, and everywhere we see Grant’s gazelles, warthogs and impalas, towered over by journeys of Maasai giraffes.

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Predator sightings in the last weeks have been good, with lions, leopard and cheetah sighted.

lion prideThe Grumpy Pride scouting for prey.

Mwagusi lionsThe Mwagusi river is filled with deep loose sand, with water bubbling from underneath. Here Grumpy’s pride are seen resting after a successful night’s hunting.

Leopard“A beautiful leopard we encountered one morning, cloud-shadow softening the morning light to glittering gold, penetrating deep into the animal’s soul.” – Lewis Mangaba

Lewis Mangaba, Guide Trainer with Asilia, had an incredible, and rarely-seen sighting one morning, and shares it here in his poetic prose:

“The mountain range rose in the background. Now and then a sudden blast of air scattered grit. We plunged into the early morning chill, driving through a landslide of gigantic baobab trees and boulders. Around eight we were just about to slow down for breakfast when we noticed a giraffe’s curiosity drawn away from us. Within a few feet from where we had brought the vehicle to a halt something pulled out of the grass; then came the sound of many baboons shouting in agitation. With an aggressive explosion of energy the cheetah took off – leaping through the tall grass towards its meal. Embraced in a dance of death the two hit the ground with a thud sending up a puff of dust as if a bullet had struck.”

cheetahThe cheetah feasting on its kill

As the dry season progresses, we can expect more and more action to occur around the riverbeds, particularly when the herds of buffalo begin to run the gauntlet of the thirteen lions prides centred around the confluence of the Great Ruaha and Mwagusi Rivers. This epic battle in the dance of life and death will once again play out, and we at Kwihala will have front-row seats to this thrilling spectacle.

Cameras for conservation – the Ruaha Carnivore Project’s camera trap program.

By Ryan Green, Travel Writer.

The Ruaha Carnivore Project has initiated a study using camera traps to gather crucial data on the movements of predators within Ruaha. These cameras provide an excellent, non-intrusive way of monitoring wildlife, and sometimes they can be used for entirely different reasons.

Amy Dickman, director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project, (RCP) has been co-supervising PhD student Jeremy Cusack, who has set up the initiative with Trevor Jones from the Udzungwa Elephant project with assistance from the RCP team.

The camera-traps have been set out across the Ruaha ecosystem, and the aim of the project is to learn more about the diversity and relative distribution of carnivores and other wildlife in this critically important landscape. There is one permanent camera-trap grid stationed close to Msembe, the Ruaha National Park headquarters, and that has been revealing some wonderful images of carnivores. These include the elusive caracal, as well as some great photos of cheetahs, which are typically very hard to capture on camera-traps due to their wide-ranging nature. In addition, images of lion, leopard, serval, and three termite-eating mammals (aardvark, aardwolf and bat-eared fox) have been captured.

“These images provide invaluable scientific data for us on species’ occurrence and habitat selection, but are also fascinating to see.” Says Amy. The camera traps have been very productive so far – “ We have conducted initial camera-trapping across the landscape, and one of our Tanzanian research assistants will be using these data for his MSc, while we have had over 1500 carnivore sightings reported to us thus far. We will share these data with the Tanzanian authorities and other stakeholders, so we can help them develop the most appropriate conservation and management strategies for these globally important large carnivore populations.”

It is estimated that Ruaha holds approximately 10% of Africa’s lion population, meaning that this, and other studies associated with it, might well hold the key to the survival of the species in an increasingly crowded continent that we share with them.

Thus far, the RCP has gathered some fantastic images of not only the large predators such as lions that are their main branch of study so as to reduce the causes of human/wildlife conflict in the region, but also some of the lesser seen, but equally fascinating creatures that inhabit the park. In addition, the RCP and Lion Guardian Daudi were able to play a vital part in helping a local community track down a young disabled boy who had gone missing in the bush.

Lion Guardians are an innovative program initiated by the global big-cat conservation NGO Pantera in Kenya, and are being trialled in Ruaha by the RCP. This approach centres on training and employing the local lion-hunters as conservationists, therefore giving them a tangible benefit from carnivore presence. Now in its second year, the Lion Guardians program has proved to be extremely beneficial in harmonising human/lion coexistence in the area around Ruaha, and sometimes in unexpected ways:

Lion Guardians help find a disabled boy in the bush

Livestock become lost in the bush relatively often in the study area, and it is part of the role of Lion Guardians to help the community by trying to find them and avoid depredation. In April, the Lion Guardians played an extra-important role when a disabled boy became lost in the bush, and they teamed up with other young men to help find him. The boy was eventually found after spending a night alone in the bush – and interestingly, RCP’s camera traps captured some photos of the search, including photos of the lost boy, the search party, and also a lost cow, which was found and returned by Daudi, one of the longest-standing Ruaha Lion Guardians. These kinds of community actions are very important, as they demonstrate a clear benefit to local people from the presence of the Lion Guardians and the wider RCP project.

 boy
Camera-trap photo of the lost boy 

search
Camera-trap image of one of the search parties looking for the boy 

cow

Image of a lost cow, which was found by Ruaha Lion Guardian Daudi, and was returned safely to its owner before it could be attacked by a carnivore 

caracal

A caracal, which is a rarely seen, medium-sized cat. The presence of smaller predators is an indicator of a healthily functioning ecosystem that contains an abundance of small prey species, from rodents to spurfowl and lagomorphs, which are a principal part of the caracal’s diet.

leopard

A large, mature male leopard captured on camera. Male leopards typically have territories that overlap with that of several females. The presence of this male would then be a good reason to expand the trapping grid in search of females, which could be indentified by their unique spot-patterns. 

cheetah

Two cheetahs, which are rarely captured on the camera-traps, as they have large ranges, as opposed to territories. Prey species such as impala and Grant’s gazelles captured in other images would explain their presence. Typically cheetahs, when seen in a pair like this, would be a mother and sub-adult cub, or a coalition of two males. Judging by the images, they appear healthy and have fed recently.

lion

A lioness walking through the Park at night- although not an entirely useful image to identify an individual, this image, along with the imbedded GPS data in the camera, gives the researchers data on lion prides’ territories.

serval

A serval, another of the elusive smaller cats in the Ruaha ecosystem as they are hard to spot due to their retiring nature and diminutive size. The presence of smaller carnivores such as these are indicators of a healthily functioning ecosystem.

aardwolf

An aardwolf – a small member of the dog family that relies heavily upon termites for its diet. Extremely shy and nocturnal by nature, aardwolves live in burrows and are difficult to monitor and study- the cameras thus provide valuable information pertaining to their presence.

fox

A bat-eared fox – a very pretty member of the dog family, which uses its large ears to locate underground prey.

aardvark

An aardvark – a fascinating animal that is hard to spot in the Ruaha area, as it is largely nocturnal, active usually in the darkest hours of the night.

elephant
An elephant, sniffing the air as it walks along

gazelles

A group of Grant’s gazelle – one of the favoured prey items of the cheetahs captured above!

impala
A curious impala getting a closer look at one of the camera-traps!