“When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future” – Dian Fossey
Watching Lake Nakuru’s shores turn an electric shade of pink as the flamingos glide along the water, listening to the laugh of a lone hyena in the night at South Luangwa National Park, and seeing a pride of lions trek across the wet savannah grasslands just after a shower of rain. These are just some of my most memorable safari moments, writes Lydia Ngoma.
A trip to Africa is like visiting nowhere else on earth. Huge skies opening above you. Stars like you wouldn’t believe. The raw beauty of its wide-open spaces and amazing natural treasures. Made up of astounding landscapes and diverse cultures, Africa invites you to take a hot-air balloon ride as the golden sun rises over the Masai Mara National Reserve; to cruise on the Kazinga Channel, so close to grazing zebras you can count their stripes; to visit a traditional Masai village and learn about these colourful semi-nomadic tribespeople.
And then there’s the wildlife. “Seeing animals in the wild is an experience unlike any other,” says Chris Duncan, a former guide and Africa expert who works for G Adventures – an adventure travel company offering some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring expeditions and safaris. “I still get excited for every animal seen on a drive, whether it is an impala, giraffe, elephant or lion. The most memorable encounters tend to be those on walking safaris or out of the vehicles – having elephants invade our camp in Botswana or seeing a black rhino on foot only 10m away on a walking safari in Zimbabwe. Those are the moments that make you say ‘wow’, when you realise the size and strength of the animals around you.”
But growing up in East Africa – and being one of the lucky ones who can call this great continent home – I know better than most that things are changing. Flamingos along Lake Nakuru are fewer each year I visit; I remember the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach when, in 2009, I was told that the lone white rhino I was looking at in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park was the last one surviving in Zambia; and it has become harder to spot a herd of elephants, despite the strides made by the Kenya Wildlife Service – among others – to increase their numbers.
“In most cases, it’s poaching and other conflict with humans that has put these species in the trouble they are in,” says Chris. In the past tourism may have been perceived to be part of the problem, but G Adventures is different. “It’s an incredible group of like-minded people from around the world, trying to make the world a better place through tourism.” They believe in harnessing the power of tourism to raise awareness of these crucial issues, support some of the most marginalised people in this world and help fund conservation projects.
Trips with G Adventures include a range of experiences in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda – as well as the rest of the world – such as wildlife safari drives or treks in the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, Queen Elizabeth and Volcanoes national parks. “Getting people to visit these critically endangered habitats and showing them the impact that humans are having on wildlife is the first step in spreading the word,” explains Chris. “We hope these visitors can take the message home with them and teach others how important it is to win the battle against poaching, and put a stop to the destruction of natural wildlife areas.”
G Adventures also engages with local communities to help them use tourism as an alternative income and lifestyle pathway, highlighting the long-term benefits. “Our role is to continue showing that there is more money to be made through tourism, while keeping these animals alive, as opposed to poaching.” As well as the wildlife experiences, guests can visit some of the community projects the company supports, including the Nyamirambo Women’s Center in Rwanda and the Ubuntu Café in Kenya. “Our not-for-profit organisation Planeterra creates social enterprises that empower marginalised women, underserved youth, and indigenous and rural communities.”
On the trail
But, of course, the team at G Adventures aren’t the first to take note. Conservationist Dian Fossey, immortalised by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist, famously founded the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park 50 years ago, and, thanks to the work it continues to do, the mountain gorillas of this region are the only species of great ape to have increased in number in recent decades. Today you can visit the centre for a behind-the-scenes look at what is being done to conserve the irreplaceable wildlife threatened by deforestation, human encroachment and poaching, and to track golden monkeys and gorillas on foot in the park.
It’s this focus on introducing travellers – including himself – to new experiences that Chris finds thrilling: “Despite all the travel I have done in Africa, this year will be my first visit to Uganda, and I am very much looking forward to doing our gorilla trek in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to see these majestic creatures in the wild.”