An insight into life as a walking safari guide…

We had a lovely interview with Tony Zephania, one of the walking guides at Namiri Plains.  Tony has had an inspiring career, starting off as a waiter for a safari camp before his enthusiasm for all things wildlife shone through and he was entered into the Asilia training programme to become a fully fledged safari guide.  He is now one of Asilia Africa’s head guides and, as Tony puts it himself, “a childhood dream has come to life”.  Read on to hear more about his love of the smaller wildlife, and some of his experiences on safari.

Tony Zephania

Can you tell us more about Asilia’s Trainee Guide Programme?  
So the duration of the initial walking training was 30 days – this was safe rifle handling, elephant rifle shooting and safe walking how to approach and avoid dangerous animals. Then I did a year as a backup guide with a very experienced walker – totalling to 100 hours of walking – then I was coached and assessed as a lead walking guide for 20 hrs. Fortunately I had learned well as a backup guide and I passed.

What’s the best part of your job?
Birdwatching and exploring the small life on a walking safari.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
When guests come in with high expectations of big game and on walking safaris that is not what we are looking for – we appreciate the smaller life in the bush – who are just as exciting.  I also struggle with guests who do not speak English so I take more time with them to ensure they understand.

Lilac Breasted Roller

What do you do in your spare time when you’re not with guests?
I like spending my time watching or listening to wildlife programmes. I also like to sit with my guides and discuss work challenges and how to overcome them.

Which National Park is your favourite to visit?
Even though I’m now based in Eastern Serengeti I have to be honest and say it is Ruaha National Park because the wildlife and landscape is so diverse.

What animals do you enjoy seeing on safari?
Birds mainly, but for large mammals, I enjoy watching elephants.

Namiri Plains, Serengeti

How many miles do you end up walking every day?
Depends what we come across and what we see and what the guests want out of their walk- but on average 3 miles a day.

What’s the best experience you’ve had on safari?

When I saw for the first time an elephant giving birth in Ruaha and it was almost dark but I could see everything. So very special and a moment I will never forget.

Have you had any amusing experiences with either animals or guests?
Yes! One of my guests jumped out of the car when we were viewing a leopard and the leopard climbed out of the tree. He did this to impress his fellow photographic friends who had been waiting for hours for the leopard to move. He thought it was very funny but it was so dangerous.

Leopard climbing down a tree

Huge thanks to Tony from Namiri Plains Safari Camp for answering all our questions.  Namiri Plains is currently undergoing a complete refurb, and we’re super excited to see how the renovated camp looks once it reopens in Autumn 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Carmines are Coming!

As the heat builds in the South Luangwa, September offers one of the valley’s more colourful sights- the arrival of the Carmine Beeaters.  During this dry hot season the water levels in the rivers are low, exposing the banks for the bee eaters to excavate a tunnel to build their nests. The annual movements of the Luangwa River channel means that each year the nest chambers are dug anew, and there’s a stiff competition for the bee eaters to stake their claim to the steepest part of the riverbank.

The sheerer the drop, the greater the protection from predators like the water monitor lizard, a fearsome climber and notorious egg thief. While eggs are lost each year to the monitors, their large bodies often can’t access the further reaches of the nest chambers- some of which can be up to three metres deep, and the carmines nest in such numbers that just a small proportion of eggs are stolen. Colonies can often contain hundreds, if not thousands of birds, providing safety in numbers from other predators, including fish eagles, who’ll cheerfully pick off a bee eater or two if the opportunity presents itself.

Carmine Bee Eaters South Luangwa

The Carmine Bee Eater Hide at Tafika

Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley is certainly one of the best places to see this phenomenon, and most of these photos were taken in and around the hide at Tafika, however, if you are keen to see the carmines en masse another fabulous spot to visit is King’s Pool in Botswana’s Linyanti Reserve. Here the carmines nest in the ground, rising in huge clouds every time a predator approaches or a squabble erupts- it’s an extraordinary sight, and one that our own photos just don’t do justice to, so many thanks to the pros for showing us how it should be done!

Carmine Bee Eaters at King's Pool

Ground nesting carmine bee eater colony near King’s Pool

Our dirty secret: we think twitching is really rather cool

It took a journey of nearly 2,000 miles before the secret came out. We’d travelled through the Pyrenees, the Atlas Mountains and crossed the Sahara. We’d been impossibly drunk in Marrakech, and crossed a minefield into Mauritania, but we still hadn’t talked about it.  Then, as we were ducking down a back road to the Senegalese border, one of the girls in our vehicle muttered “Actually, I quite like birds…”

Birdwatching safaris in Zambia

Bee Eaters in Zambia (with thanks to our ever-talented friend Katie for the pic)

Somehow being a birdwatcher (or, that rather dodgy-sounding alternative, “twitcher”) still carries a certain stigma. Say you like birds and people assume that while you might be able to wax lyrical about wattled cranes, you probably aren’t all that much fun at parties, and they strongly suspect that you might find it a bit tricky looking members of the opposite sex in the eye. But birds are utterly marvellous.  As we drove through no-man’s land that day, each of the four passengers in our vehicle slowly admitted that twitching was pretty damn cool.

Malachite Kingfisher on a boat safari from Selous Impala Camp

Malachite Kingfisher spotted near Impala Camp in the Selous

The first thing you learn when you go on safari in Africa is that everyday birds aren’t limited to the typical LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs) that frequent British back gardens.  Take a boat safari in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve for instance, and you’ll see the bright blue flash of malachite kingfishers diving in and out of the water, and hear the endless call of fish eagles overhead. I was instantly seduced.

Later, in Kenya’s Meru National Park I watched, traumatised, as a Bateleur Eagle swooped down and took a baby dik-dik (a tiny, impossibly sweet antelope). Later, in Kafue in Zambia and South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetlands, I met the African Jacana. Better known as the “Jesus Bird”, the blue-headed Jacana seems to actually walk on water. It skiddle-skaddles across the surface at a remarkable, if comedic, speed- who could fail to be impressed? However, my all-time favourite bird is the black egret, which cunningly tricks fish into thinking its night time and floating close to the surface. Perfect timing for a black egret evening snack, though this spoonbill doesn’t seem too impressed…

So- if you do just one thing on your African safari- take your binos, you might just be surprised…