Going on a conservation safari, or eco-tour, in Africa may bring you one step closer to saving the earth before it’s too late. And companies, such as Great Plains Conservation, believe that seeing Africa’s primordial wonder and knowing about its corresponding destruction, may be the best way to drive home the reality that our world is in peril but may still be saved.
To that end, Great Plains Conservation along with a few other tour operators that host travel to Africa recently took steps to outline how governments can limit wanton hunting and trade in Africa – a move promoted when the South Africa government recently announced that a quota of 800 skeletons of captive-bred lions would be allowed for export annually. According to Great Plains Conservation and the other signatories, any such legal trade mechanism can open up channels for traders to launder illegally obtained bones from wild animals.
In fact, it is no secret that more than 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, for the fourth straight year. Rhino poaching in South Africa has been growing exponentially – only 36 such poaching incidents in the region were reported in 2006.
Elephants, too, coveted for their ivory tusks, have been disappearing from the African plains at an alarming rate – decreasing by some 111,000 in the past quarter century.
The “Glamping” Solution
Great Plains Safaris takes visitors who want to experience the great nature of Africa before it disappears deep into the wilds of Kenya and Botswana on immersive “glamping” trips that leave barely a footprint.
Several of the camps are tents in the wilderness that, when picked up and moved, would not betray the presence of humans in those spaces at all. That means the groups of between 10 and 20 people (sharing) are for that time as much a natural part of the landscape as the animals and local people that live there. Items that can be recycled, buried or burned without harm are treated appropriately. Energy systems include biogas for cooking fuel, as well as solar power and grey water recycling at the various camps.
In Botswana, Great Plans Conservation runs Duba Expeditions Camp, Duba Plains Camp, Selinda Camp, Selinda Explorers Camp, Selinda Adventure Travel, Zafara Camp and Zafara Dhow Suites. In Kenya, it will be ol Donyo Lodge, Mara Expedition Camp and Mara Plains Camp. Each is extraordinary in its own right and distinctive in its offerings. For instance, Zafara Dhow Suites on the eastern edge of the private 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve in northern Botswana offers a single shelter of two bedrooms that can fit a maximum of four adults (and a child, sharing, if needed).
The experience is fully inclusive of all activities, meals, park fees, beverages and spirits and comes with morning and afternoon game viewing in an open 4×4 vehicle, guided walks and cruising on the Zibadianja Lagoon on “HES Zib” when water levels permit. There is also an open-air exercise space with a spin bike a cool inviting plunge pool, and in-room massages are available.
Find here a certain early 20th century “villa” elegance as each bedroom has its own fireplace and huge copper baths tubs looking onto views of the plains and lagoon. A certain civilized style contrasts with the raw surroundings for a perfect blend of quiet, privacy, isolation and pampering.
The Kindness of Strangers
For all its permanence, the camp brings environmentally friendly methods used in the construction and employs energy from Zarafa’s pioneering “solar farm” of more than 150 205-watt solar panels. Drinking water flows through a UV filtration system, eliminating the need for disposable plastic water bottles.
Similarly, the ol Donyo Lodge, on the private 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch in southeastern Kenya (edging Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks, adjacent to Chyulu Hills National Park) is a permanent construction from natural materials. Rain water is captured and stored and shower water is recycled and filtered before ending up at the water holes in front of the lodge, which attract a variety of wildlife in this semi-arid region.
At Zarafa, energy comes from the sun and is stored in batteries. Solid waste is transported and recycled and biogas converted from kitchen waste supports the heating and cooking.
Great Plains Conversation leases the sites for its camps from the 4,000-strong Maasai community that own the 275,000-acre Mbirikani Group Ranch. A per person conservancy fee goes directly to this community to ensure the preservation of the ranch and the protection of the wild animals that live there.
The lodge was redesigned in 2008 along a hillside that looks onto Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance. The lodge sleeps a maximum of 16 people comfortably in ten guest rooms where no two spaces are alike. In fact, eight of the ten private cottages have their own swimming pool. All guest rooms offer the unusual “star beds” feature where a removable roof lets the stars shine down on guests while they sleep, enhancing the deep connection with earth and place. In-room massages top off a perfect day for a nominal extra.
The wealth of activities available at ol Donyo are generous and rare for a safari. Guests can have their early morning and late afternoon game drives, and they can also go on guided bushwalks, have a bush breakfast or dinners, take a night drive, go hiking, horse riding (for all guests, novice to professional), try mountain biking, animal tracking, and participate in conservation and community out-reach programs.
Conversely, a stay at Mara Expedition Camp will be within a site of five tents that can house a maximum of ten adult guests. All items, from dining, to cocktails to game drives are included in this clearing at the banks of the Ntiakitiak River. Balloon rides, park fees and flights are extra.
In northern Botswana’s 320,000-acre Selina Reserve, the Selinda Camp rests on the banks of the eastern Selinda Spillway, as remote and beautiful as it gets. It’s an ancient waterway that weaves through the far-reaches of the vast Okavango Delta and links with the Linyanti wetlands in the west. There, it is possible to accommodate a maximum of 18 guests sharing in 9 large tented villas. The land here is home to some of the largest herds of elephant and buffalo left in Southern Africa. Also find the endangered African wild dog – lycaon pictus – or “painted wolf”.
Guests can go on early morning and late afternoon/early evening game drives in open jeeps. They will also enjoy guided bush walks, and river safaris when water levels permit. In-room massages can be arranged. Children aged six and over are welcome.
The new Duba Expedition Camp offers adventure and serenity in the Okavango Delta. The area is the site for many wildlife documentaries by National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert and is one of only two camps on the 77,000-acre private concession. The camp offers six expedition-style light and airy canvas tents on slightly raised decking. Each tent has views of the surrounding floodplain plus a small desk and private verandah from which to observe it all and record one’s thoughts. For all its romantic remoteness, modern conveniences are remembered. Tents come with en suites flush toilets, water basins and an indoor shower.
The Luxe Touch
Great Plains Conservation camps, Zarafa, Mara Plains and ol Donyo are members of Relais & Chateaux and National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. And, in step with National Geographic, photography is in focus for guest experiences. High-powered canon 5D and 7D cameras are available at some camps for guests use and guests at all camps can rent special professional camera equipment. Specialist photographer-guides are available (with advance notice) to meet guests and help them work the equipment and improve their photography skills. All reservations are individual, made according to guest wants and time lines. Great Plains Conservation can arrange for all bush flights, park permits and extras, whether requests are for one night or several.
At Great Plans Conservation, seeing is believing; seeing is saving; seeing is making conservation possible, one camp at a times.
Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates– Curator of undiscovered luxury travel locales with insider info and news from our worldwide portfolio of hotels, wellness retreats, and eco-resorts. View our portfolio on our Online Directory.
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