Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Posts tagged Elephants
Ruaha Walking Safari Training (May & September 2017)
 

Incredible views along the Ruaha river.

Contact me to organize a walk in this incredible place.

May & September saw our walking safari training team in action again in Ruaha National Park. We approached our 3rd and 4th sessions for SPANEST with new energy and the confidence of having two sessions already under our belts. With 24 rangers per session we had our work cut out for us, but with the highly qualified team we ploughed forward.

Christoline Motta & Simon Peterson running drills in firearms safety & handling.

Jacques Hoffman coaches a ranger.

Each course began with a first aid component.

Wilderness Medical Associates provided the accredited Wilderness Advanced First Aid course with a focus on anticipating, preventing, and ultimately dealing with medical issues that could arise not only in the walking safari environment, but also in the general duties of a national park ranger. 

Mike Webster gets the practice going in patient assessments.

The next component was the safe and competent use of the large calibre rifles that are recommended for walking safaris. Unfortunately many walking safaris in Africa are set up for disaster should the unlikely occur and a life threatening encounter with a potentially dangerous animal happen. Worth mentioning and on a very positive note, Ruaha National Park now provides rangers who are walking with suitable rifles and equipment.

Simon Peterson & Christoline Motta assessing a ranger in proficiency.

The final component of the training was an intense immersion in walking wildlife. We spent hours on the ground practicing walking in proximity to potentially dangerous wildlife, avoiding detection, extracting from situations, and ultimately decision making in order to prevent compromising situations that could result in stressing wildlife and stressing clients. 

Following an elephant bull and learning about how to use wind direction, cover, and predicting the animals movements to view without disturbing.

Some things have to be taught in the classroom. Here Simon Peterson revises shot placement.

Elephant watching on foot is exhilarating. In the heat of the day, the elephants come to the Mwagusi to drink the cool water filtered by the sand. The river bank provides a great safe vantage point to watch unobtrusively.

Pietro Luraschi leads post walk analysis in improving the guest experience and maintaining safety.

Magesa, a ranger from Sadaani National Park discusses the interesting lives of Grey-capped Social Weavers. A walking safari is more about the little things.

Rangers enjoy a beautiful scene with a small herd of elephants drinking in the river bed. Watching behavior is important in learning about predicting what might happen and making decisions to avoid any confrontation.

 
A June Safari
 

An elephant bull, Tarangire National Park

Zebra, Tarangire National Park

June in Tanzania is like autumn in the northern hemisphere: a transitional month. The last of the rains finish in mid-May, moisture begins to evaporate out of the soil, and the grass begins to turn gold. Baobab trees drop their leaves and seasonal water holes begin to dry up. Reluctantly, wildlife begins to return to dry season habitats. Lion prides that fragmented during the rains re-unite and return to favorite ambush positions where other wildlife will begin to regularly pass on their way to drink water. As the foliage dries up and falls, leopards can no longer lie concealed on branches. There is still plenty of forage for browsers and grazers so the atmosphere does not convey the harsh struggle that the animals will have in a few months. Early fires lit by park rangers and pastoralists to encourage a nutritious flush of fresh grass begin to fill the sky with smoke bringing out red sunsets, yet the dry season winds have not filled the sky with enough dust to block views.

Elephants in Silale Swamp, Tarangire National Park

A deck at Little Oliver's Camp, Tarangire National Park

Serengeti, with its large area and near intactness as an ecosystem, follows different patterns. Rains induced by Lake Victoria fall on its northern parts, including the Maasai Mara, and as the smaller streams of water in central and southern Serengeti dry and soda concentrations increase, the migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra head north. The wildebeest often pause in the western corridor until water in the Grumeti River also becomes scarcer. The minor changes in daylight hours, insignificant and unnoticeable to most people, combined with the effects of a moon phase induce hormonal changes in female wildebeest. The resulting synchronized estrus, also known as coming into heat, drives the males into a frenzy of amusing territorial activity as they attempt to stake out territories and herd small groups of females who continue on their migration.

Watching migration, Serengeti National Park

An approaching storm allowed us within 30m of this black rhino, Serengeti National Park.

 These trends have made their way onto maps, into guidebooks, and onto documentaries describing and simplifying “The Great Migration”. As a result, it is often a surprise when weather patterns don’t follow the standard predictions and the migrating herds don’t arrive where they usually do, show up early, or take an “abnormal” route. We were fortunate on our early June itinerary to catch up with the migration, yet our stop in the western corridor, empty of wildebeest, gave us the opportunity to witness some other spectacular wildlife. The herd of 50 giraffe, some resting, some standing, was a definite highlight for me, and it was impressive to discover an ostrich nest with 27 eggs, and then later an egg abandoned on the plain.

It is very difficult to photograph 50 giraffe, Serengeti National Park

Serengeti lions

An abandoned ostrich egg, Serengeti National Park.

On this particular itinerary, following the beautiful wildlife viewing in Tarangire and Serengeti, we ended at a camp called Shu’mata, set atop a hill with views of Kilimanjaro. With just one night, it was our opportunity to take a night-game drive, sight some Gerenuk, an unusual and arid-land specialist, as well as visit a Maasai home and glimpse their livelihood and culture.

A very comfortable lounge, Shu'mata Camp

Spear throwing demonstration, Shu'mata Camp

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Gorillas, chimps, elephants and zebra
 

This four-chapter safari was in itself a sequel to a safari that debuted in February 2013. Following a very successful safari through the Serengeti with sightings and experiences ranging from wildebeest calving, herds of elephants walking through the fields of golden grass, prides of lions, cheetah coalitions and an intimate viewing of two leopards as they walked along a gully, I was asked to think about planning another safari.

Serengeti, February 2013

Marc and Barry have travelled extensively and particularly enjoy portrait photography, so we decided on an itinerary that would include the opportunity to photograph mountain gorillas in Rwanda, chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park, elephants in Ruaha, and general wildlife in Ngorongoro Crater. When you are interested in photography, it is important to give it time. Most photos, especially of wildlife, are shot with an exposure that is smaller than one 60

th

of a second. It is an incredibly short period of time that is influenced by so many variables. It is essential to be patient and in doing so you increase your chance of experiencing and capturing that special fraction of a second.

Follow the links and enjoy some of those moments they captured.

Chapter 1: Gorillas in Rwanda

Chapter 2: Ngorongoro Crater

Chapter 3: Chimpanzees in Mahale Mts.

Chapter 4: Ruaha National Park

other galleries:

People in Rwanda

People in Tanzania

With both of them carrying very nice cameras, I decided to leave my big camera in my bag and opted to use my iPhone. I’ve noticed that phone photography is becoming popular and there are even courses at university level that you can take. The quick editing that some of the apps offer is also quite fun and easy to use.

The images and a video below were all taken with my iPhone and edited on Instagram- each tells a different story.

This little guy took interest in me and after posing for the photo above began a little performance.

They invite you to play.

Much of the wildlife in Ngorongoro crater is so habituated to vehicles that they hardly move from the road.

Greystoke Camp in Mahale.

Fishing for ants with tools.

You may have seen this pelican on youtube. The new camp pet provides quite the entertainment when you're not trekking the chimps.

Tuskless matriarchs are common in Ruaha.

The wet season in Ruaha can make game viewing a bit difficult but the landscapes are stunning.

 
Training in Ruaha
 

Squeezing a little ash out of an eye-dropper to get the subtle direction of the wind, a national park ranger chose his route. Approximately a hundred yards away a group of 4 elephant bulls were drinking water from a sand river having dug holes for sand-filtered water. Behind him 5 other rangers walked in single file together with a trainer.

Choosing his path carefully and using the river bank as cover, the ranger led his group toward the elephants. He eyed a spot approximately 25 yards from the elephants, downwind from them and with a good view, and he motioned with his hands to hunker down and follow his lead. After rechecking the wind, he relaxed and the group stood and watched, some of them kneeling as the elephants drank their fill. As they finished and silently began to move away, the ranger also rose and led his group away.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, another ranger was deciding where the safest place was to enjoy views of another small group of bulls that were moving toward another section of river. Finding a termite mound next to a big baobab tree with a good view, he stopped his group to watch the elephants walking by.

Simon Peterson and rangers discussing the approach.

These are two examples of over a hundred and twenty elephant approaches led by a group of 20 rangers in Tanzania’s remote Ruaha National Park as part of a training program I coordinated. During a Wilderness Advanced First Aid course led by Hewett Brown (A Wilderness Medical Associates instructor with Savanna Medics), the rangers learned Tanzania appropriate first aid skills not only to deal with emergencies and respond accordingly, but to recognize risky situations and prevent potential problems.

Getting ready for practice.

Simulated injuries.

Armed with their new found first aid skills, the rangers next participated in a firearms course. Familiar with automatic anti-personnel weapons used in anti-poaching patrols, the safe use of heavy caliber rifles used in walking safaris needed separate training as well as practice simulating charging animals. Under the guidance of Mark Radloff, a seasoned instructor, the rangers were put through drills to build muscle memory and improve their shooting.

Recovered bullets from the respective ammo.

Dry fire- practicing trigger control and sight picture.

Some ballistics theory.

With the knowledge that the rangers could deal with the medical aspects of an accident, and the knowledge that they could handle heavy caliber rifles safely and shoot accurately, we set off to try to ensure that they’d never have to actually use the first aid skills or ever have to shoot an animal. We covered all aspects of walking from necessary equipment, client briefings, walking formations, accidental encounters, and potentially dangerous animal behavior. We also practiced leading walks, being back-up ranger, and recognizing opportunities to provide unforgettable experiences all the while remaining safe.