Micato Musings


Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

Helpful Tips for Overcoming Jetlag

  • February 5th 2015

By Leslie Woit

Apparently, you know you’re getting old when you consider the quality of your sleep a valid topic of conversation. Thankfully that doesn’t apply to international travellers like us.

Trans-meridian travel is tiring and jet lag can affect anyone. We ask Dr Rozina Ali, microvascular plastic surgeon and presenter of the BBC science program “Horizon, The Truth about Looking Young” for a hard science approach to battling jetlag.

What is jet lag?

international-time-zone-clocks

Crossing time zones can make you feel ‘zoned out’.

It’s a temporary sleep disorder caused when your circadian rhythms — the body’s internal clock – are out of whack. Your eyes may see Zanzibar, but your body says “zzzz”.

What can we do on the journey to encourage sleep?

The first thing to do on a night flight is to put yourself in a place where sleep is a possibility. Wear comfortable clothes, pack your bed socks, try to relax yourself, avoid adrenalines, caffeine and drink plenty of water: Dehydration can make jet lag symptoms worse. Get yourself in dark, quiet conditions by wearing an eye mask and blocking up your ears. We have a hormone in us that responds to darkness: the melatonin in you is saying ‘It’s dark, go to sleep now’. After, in order to wake up and stay awake longer, we can use sunlight as a powerful tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

How does light therapy work?

Your body clock is influenced by exposure to sunlight. When you travel across time zones, your body has to adjust to a new daylight schedule. A good walk in the sunshine can ease that transition.

How about coffee and a cold shower?

We often don’t have the luxury on a holiday of adjusting gradually, an hour per day. So you have to give yourself a new sleep cycle straight away, or risk missing out on precious moments of our hard-earned vacation. That means staying up as long as you can the day of arrival. A little caffeine and some stimulants can keep you awake longer.

Is there a more natural approach than sleeping pills?

Melatonin is a hormone that controls the day-night cycle. As a supplement, it can be a sleep aid taken in the evening together with light therapy in the morning — a standard treatment for sleep disorders. When used several hours before sleep, small amounts of melatonin shift the circadian rhythm, helping you get to sleep quicker. It is a hormone and not available in some countries and there have only been a few long-term clinical trials. Melatonin is used, but it doesn’t mean it works. As a placebo, if you expect it to work, it may work for you.

What if I can’t access melatonin?

You may choose to supplement your body’s melatonin by taking 5HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid. It is required in the biosynthesis of two really important neurotransmitters: serotonin and melatonin. So in fact it’s even better than just taking melatonin because it may make you happy too!

What makes you happy?

The weathered sandstone of Petra, the Sydney Opera House, the boutiques of Paris… sundowners during an African sunset, the low golden light in Zanzibar, the friendly bustling markets of Dar e Salaam, the red sands of Mali and being utterly lost… and found in Timbuktu. These are moments worth staying awake for!

Sunset-in-Africa.

Sunsets in Africa are worth staying up for!

 

How do you overcome jet lag? Please share your travel tips in the comments space below.

 

What to Wear Out There: Safari Packing Tips from the Expert

  • January 16th 2015

by Leslie Woit

A member of the Micato founding family, Joy Phelan-Pinto wears many hats: chief creative officer, style czar, and packing expert, having been to more than 123 countries throughout her career. We recently sat down with Joy to pick her brain about the Three Cs of Safari Style – comfortable, casual, colour sensitive — and other tips for packing like an expert for an African safari.

I’m ready to pack. Where do I begin?

The hardest part is not to over pack. The tendency to over pack stems from thinking you’re going to be changing your clothes more than you are. Often on safari you’re too busy, you’re getting back late from the afternoon drive, or you don’t want — or need! — to change for dinner.

You’ve been known to encourage a policy of “light luggage, light heart, lots of bangles”…

Absolutely! Of course it depends on the camps—for some of the elegant, owner-hosted camps, I’ll usually pack a dress—but dressing for dinner is generally unnecessary. Safari is much more relaxed than many think. My method of “dressing” for dinner is to pile on a few extra bangles and maybe a Maasai beaded necklace.

How’s the weather?

Kenya and Tanzania are the lands of eternal spring but there is more variation in Southern Africa. But since the weather varies little throughout the year, and it’s rarely all that hot, I take one pair of shorts, maybe two, since I know that for the 6am game runs it’s cooler and I’m not putting shorts on. Convertibles can be a great alternative, too. I also pack one or two casual skirts and one dress. The rest are blue jeans and khakis.

About the khaki, will I feel foolish in all beige?

Does it have to be Marlin Perkins in head-to-toe khaki? No! But will you feel like a local in khaki? Yes. All the old safari hands in Africa wear khaki. The walking safari guides will definitely encourage you not to wear bright colours and studies have shown the animals notice bright colours. It is absolutely true that in East Africa lions will shy away when they see red, instinctively fearing you’re a Maasai warrior with a spear.

 

Joy Phelan-Pinto, Micato Safaris

Safari Style. Joy Phelan-Pinto and Dennis Pinto on Safari in Africa.

What do you take in the game drive vehicle?

Juggling a purse and a camera on my lap in a vehicle can be awkward so I always carry a collapsible bag or backpack to hold all of my stuff in one place on the vehicle floor. And I have neck cord for my sunglasses.

What items have you packed that you could have done without?

Too many shoes! The type of shoe is more important the quantity. When you’re sitting in a vehicle for stretches of time, you want something comfortable. If you’re like me, you may be jumping up on the seats to get a better a view of the ellies just off the road in which case you’ll want shoes you can easily slip on and off. For me, clogs are indispensable. And you don’t necessarily need great walking shoes every day, although hard-soled shoes are important. I learned this dancing around a camp fire with a Samburu chief when a one-inch thorn from an acacia tree went right through my sneaker sole into my foot…

Fold or roll?

Not only am I a roll-it person, I’m a stuff sack person. Any small bag would do but I strongly advise against using plastic Ziploc bags since they take 700 years to disintegrate. Stuff sacs are readily available, even on Amazon, and can be used forever. I put everything into colour-coded sacks— socks are blue, underwear is red, etc., making it it simple to find what you’re looking for in a small space. I learned this from travelling with children: three days into a trip they’ve turned the suitcase into a hurricane and I end up forever repacking the whole bag to get it all to fit back in.

What about electronics?

We’ve got that down to science. All the cords and chargers go into one stuff sack – the yellow one, for the power of the sun. The other indispensable item we travel with is a power strip. Outlets are never in a convenient spot in a hotel room and this way you won’t forget a cord hidden somewhere the room, and you only need one adapter plug for the wall.

Ive heard contrasting views on taking donations for school children?

We discourage handing out gifts directly to children, but giving school supplies such as pens and pencils to a school, church or tribal elder to distribute is a lovely gesture. Having a Polaroid camera to share photos with the kids is fun as well.

We’ve found the gift the children most appreciate is the company of our travellers, which is why we build a visit to the Micato-AmericaShare Harambee Community Centre into virtually all of our safaris. The interaction is an amazing experience for the children and our guests.

Whats the last step to your packing?

Once you’ve packed, remove one thing from each pile — then you’ll have space to shop. I do my best shopping in Nairobi: from jewellery to art, there are interesting colours and creations from unique artisans to tribespeople who all go there to sell where they can be closer to the distribution centres. You don’t regret what you did buy, you regret what you didn’t buy!

If you’re still struggling with how to pack or what to pack, call our Safari Experts at 1-800-642-2861.  If you need to flush out your wardrobe and are looking for tried and tested safari clothing and accessories, have a look at the Micato Safaris online safari shop.  

Lala Safari! (Safe travels, in Swahili)

 

 

Finding the Big Five: Africa’s Most Sought-After Animals

  • May 9th 2014

Stalking one creature for hours, days, even weeks, was not uncommon in the hunting safaris of yesteryear. Hemingway spends the entirety of The Green Hills of Africa searching for kudu, a breed of antelope with horns so curly that they look like something out of Dr. Seuss. Beryl Markham chronicled the unpleasant conditions that surrounded elephant hunting in West with the Night, from being cornered by a frightened bull to losing her compatriots deep in the bush. Today, with the changing of the times signaling a growing awareness of the merits of conservation, safaris are no longer synonymous with hunting. And of course, the only shooting that has ever happened on a safari with Micato is with a camera. But a safari still requires cunning, a predatory instinct for where to find the creatures you hope to see, and The Big Five—the lion, leopard, cape buffalo, elephant, and black rhino—remain the most sought-after animals: the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Elusive, fast and dangerous, each animal has, in its own right, earned its place on the list of the most coveted safari sightings.

1. The Lion: Royal for a Reason (more…)

Our Community Commitment

  • April 23rd 2014
Young Micato Traveller Olivia and South Africa "Hero" Rosie

Young Micato Traveller Olivia and South Africa “Hero” Rosie

From Micato’s first days in business nearly 50 years ago, we habitually spent time in Kenya’s schools and orphanages. These early visits were prelude to our founding AmericaShare in 1986 and creating the Lend a Helping Hand safari option, where travellers learn how our Harambee Centre is changing lives in the Mukuru slum. In South Africa, Micato guests visit the Khayelitsha Township outside Cape Town and meet Rosie, who wakes up at 3:30 a.m. daily to cook meals in her small kitchen for the neediest in her community.

For evidence that community visits impact our travellers, there’s no better example than 9-year old Olivia Berger, the youngest Micato guest ever to visit the Harambee Centre and Rosie’s Kitchen on two separate visits to Africa.

(more…)

Our Favourite Sundowners: A Slide Show

  • July 26th 2012

The Swahili word for sunset is magharibi. In Afrikaans, the sun dips behind the hills and the plains turn fiery red and gold at sonsondergang. And in Zulu, the magical time when we have our end of day drinks is known as ukumuka kwelanga.

At Micato , the word for an unbelievable sunset enjoyed with a cocktail in hand is sundowner. No matter what language you use to describe the moment, affection for the experience appears to be universal. It’s usually our guests’ favourite time of day. Ours, too.

Gotcha!

Not so fast, junior.

Well played!

There is an undeniable power and romance in a sunset, wherever you are—it’s a daily piece of artwork, given to us free of charge. In Africa’s untamed wilderness, the impact of a melting, coppery sunset is a hundredfold. Sit on a hilltop above the world, look out at the animals interacting as they have for hundreds of years, feel the warmth of a crackling fire and a glass of whiskey or wine: you’re living a quintessential sundowner.

Loving sundowners as we do, we of course have our favourite spots to indulge in them. Our past travellers will recognize some of the sundowner locations featured in the slideshow above, and maybe relive a moment from their own safari. Our future travellers will see places they simply must visit. Whether arousing passions or relaxing minds, an African sundowner is an experience of a lifetime.

The Elusive Leopard Tells All

  • June 28th 2012

Elusive. That’s me. Solitary, secretive, nocturnal… notorious for my stealth: the life of a leopard is much like that of a reluctant member of the royal family. So why am I writing a blog post for Micato Safaris? Well, it’s primarily because I just want to be left alone, and the rest of the Big FiveElephant, Lion, Cape Buffalo and Rhino—would not stop bugging me until I wrote about myself and completed the collection. So to get a little peace and quiet, I agreed to spill my secrets.

They Also Call Me:

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Chui. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Nkwe. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Ingwe; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Jagluiperd. (Which is sort of a funny mix between jaguar and leopard, isn’t it? We’re actually closely related.) My family members make all sorts of noises when they want my attention, from roars to grunts, but we’re famous for our purrs, which sound like someone sawing.

Best Places to Find Me:

This may impress you: my family has the largest distribution of any wild cat—East, Southern and Central Africa are the places where I thrive most, even in weird habitats where other large cats have long since disappeared. You can find me in such disparate places as Mount Kenya and Kruger National Park, and everywhere in between: I love the savannah and the rainforest equally. However, we haven’t heard from any of the North African family members in a long time, and I’m sad to say that they’re probably extinct.

I even have family members in Asia, though that portion of my family is small and scattered. You can find us in India, Southeast Asia, and China. I even have cousins in Russia who live in temperate forests, which get as cold as -13◦F. They don’t mind a bit—they have the most privacy of all of us. My theory as to why leopards are everywhere? Because we need so much space. Male leopards generally have a home range between 12 and 30 square miles, and there is rarely ever any overlap. I’m a lady, thus I don’t have qualms about making my home territory on a piece of land that overlaps a male’s home—as long as he doesn’t crowd me.

How to Find Me

Despite my family’s favourable numbers we are, as I said, reclusive. And if you want to follow suit, here’s a tip: learn to climb. This ability is something I’m known for. I rest in trees, lick myself clean in trees, drag my food up into trees to eat, jump up to 10 feet to get up onto a tall branch of a tree, and can even climb down trees headfirst. The black rosettes on my fur look a lot like the shadows of leaves, and my gift is to blend right in.

If you really want to see me (and I know for some of you it’s an obsession), stay at a lodge or camp that has a leopard blind. These fine people have learned that I like to do my eating in trees, where I can get away from those pesky other animals, so they hang meat right where I can smell it. You see, there is a limit to my solitude—I suppose I’ll let you see me in exchange for a side of beef.

Most Embarrassing Facts:

Quite honestly, nothing. I’m an all-star athlete—great at hunting, climbing, swimming, and running—and there’s no denying that I’m gorgeous. My lovely silhouette has been used as an emblem for sports teams and coats of arms in Africa, and I’ve been depicted in the art of places where I used to live but haven’t visited in ages, such as Greece, Rome and even England. Some call me proud—the Cape Buffalo even calls me a snob—but really I’m not. I’m just realistic about my talents and looks. And modest.

Favourite Food:

I love the hunt. LOVE it. Thus I’ll eat anything from tiny dung beetles to 2,000 pound eland—whatever allows me to exercise one of my favourite skills: stalking my prey with complete silence, then pouncing at the very last minute. Day-to-day I eat mostly antelopes and monkeys, but I’ve been known to catch rodents, reptiles, birds, fish and even smaller predators, like jackals. I even had an uncle who caught and ate a crocodile. Seriously. Don’t mess with leopards.

Everything Else:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivorous (these brilliant teeth aren’t just flair, you know)

Average life span in the wild: Twenty years

Size: Between four and six feet long, plus the tail, which can be up to four feet long!

Weight: For myself and the rest of the ladies, we’re small: between 50 and 130 pounds. Males are bigger—they can get up to 200 pounds. All told, though, we’re the smallest of the big cats in our genus (Panthera), the other three being tigers, lions and jaguars.

Protection status: We’re classified as “near threatened” which makes me nervous…

Group name: A leap! Because we’re so darn good at jumping up trees, at our prey, and away from poachers.

Secrets of the Rhinoceros

  • May 30th 2012

Sure, I heard that my fellow “five” were blogging for Micato. The lion, the elephant, and the Cape buffalo all had plenty to say—but like many rhinos, I seldom speak unless spoken to. However, the Cape buffalo pressured me (he is SUCH a bully), but by then I had already made up my mind to deliver Micato’s first ever blog post from a Rhino.

What They Also Call Me

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Kifaru. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Nkombe; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Renoster. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Tshukudu. I don’t usually answer to any of these names though—like I said, I usually keep to myself.

Best Places to Find Me

It depends on who you’re looking for. Personally, I’m a Black Rhino, and my family and I can be found in Tanzania, parts of Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and parts of South Africa. Although this sounds like an awful big range, there are still very few of us—about four thousand in the wild. You certainly have to look hard to find us, although if you visit a rhino conservancy you have a much higher chance, as those rangers monitor my whereabouts. I don’t like having so much to-do about things—it’s a little embarrassing—but I guess it’s what we have to do to stay alive these days.

My cousin, the White Rhino, has a bigger immediate family—about 17,000—which makes them the most numerous of all the rhinos in the world! They’re mostly in South Africa, though they can also be found in Namibia and Botswana. There is a subspecies of White Rhino called the Northern White Rhino, which is nearly extinct. Some humans have just reintroduced this rhino to the wild, in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. It seems like they’re doing ok so far—as long as they can keep poachers out.

What You’ll See Me Doing

Eating leaves or wallowing in mud, alone. As a male, I particularly like to keep to myself. The women and babies will sometimes gather together in groups, but only for short periods of time, until the babies are big enough to not get chomped by a croc. Adult rhinos have no natural predators and we don’t do any hunting, so there isn’t much need to gather in big groups. In fact, it’s probably best if we don’t. I’m…well…ok, I’m aggressive. I mean Incredible Hulk-style aggressive, to the degree that sometimes I attack trees or termite mounds for no reason at all. It’s no surprise then that Rhinos have the highest rate of mortal combat for any animal—50% of males and 30% of females die from fighting with each other. “Dysfunctional family” is an understatement for us.

Most Embarrassing Facts

Oh man. Can I tell you a secret? The reason I’m such a loner—and probably why I’m so aggressive too—is that EVERYTHING feels like an embarrassing fact.

First off, I’m an odd-toed ungulate. That means I have a hoof with an odd number of toes on it, like a horse. Secondly, I have a weight problem: I’m the second-largest mammal on the planet. The first-largest animal is the elephant, but she doesn’t need to be embarrassed because she’s nice and smart, which makes up for it. Me, on the other hand, I’ve got a really small brain. Seriously small. And bad eyesight. Also, no front teeth.

Gosh, I don’t even know if I can finish this blog post, I’m so embarrassed now. Oh, I’m almost done? Well, ok then, I guess I can go on.

Favourite Food

Leaves, branches, fruit—all that good stuff. This is why I have a pointy, prehensile lip, the better for stripping branches. The White Rhino, on the other hand, eats grass, and that’s why she has a long, flat lip—the better for clipping. That’s also why she’s called the White Rhino—it’s because English-speaking humans misunderstood her original Dutch name, which was Widj (Widj means wide, as in wide-lipped), and started calling her White Rhino. Which is silly, as anyone can see that her skin is grey just like mine.

Everything Else

Type: Mammal

Diet: Herbivorous

Average life span in the wild: 35-50 years—that’s assuming that I don’t get poached or killed in a fight with one of my brothers.

Size: I’m about five feet tall, and between 11 and 15 feet long. The White Rhino is the same length, but generally taller (around six feet). Like I said, we’re big.

Weight: 1,900 to 4,000 lbs, on average. The White Rhino, if you can believe it, gets even bigger—up to 10,000 pounds! That’s a lot to carry around

Protection status: It’s critical. The categorization differs for the different subspecies, but basically all rhinos need help. The problem is our horns. Certain people insist that they make good medicine—in many parts of Asia they grind rhino horns up and use the powder to reduce fevers and stop convulsions. But honestly, my horn is made of the same stuff as your fingernails and hair (keratin), and you don’t see anybody grinding up fingernail clipping for medicine, do you? NOT a good reason to hunt us, in my opinion.

Group name: A crash, which adequately describes what happens when we hang out—fighting, fighting and more fighting. And you wonder why I’m a loner?

A Few Minutes with a Cape Buffalo

  • May 24th 2012


People get all excited about the lion, Mr. King of the Jungle, and are SO impressed by the elephant, the world’s largest land mammal. But what about me? The Cape Buffalo? Hello? I’m one of the Big Five, too! So I asked Micato Safaris if I could do a guest blog post, and they generously obliged.

What They Also Call Me

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Nyati. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Inyathi; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Buffels. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Nare—they also have a separate name for my little son, the buffalo calf, who they call Natshana.

Now, when it comes to my family members, well…the herd is so close that we rarely need to speak, we usually just KNOW what the other buffalo is thinking. But when something specific needs to be expressed, I’ll usually hear about it via a bellow, grunt, honk or croak. People say it’s similar to how human males communicate at the gym.

Best Places to Find Me

We are everywhere in East and Southern Africa: Chyulu Hills, Serengeti, Samburu, Etosha, Okavango Delta… wherever there is grass to eat and wide-open plains to exercise in, seriously I’m not picky. My only caveat is that I need to stay close to water—have to hydrate every day!

What You’ll See Me Doing

Hanging out on the savannah with a bunch of big guys, because (ahem) in my family I’m in the sub-herd of high-ranking males, which means (a) I’m important (but you probably already knew that), and (b) I get first pick of the ladies in the herd. The ladies are, of course, the core of the herd, with their kids—I’m an old-fashioned, chivalrous kind of guy.

You can tell I’m important by the thickness of my horns, and I use those bad boys to fight off any other males who try to challenge me. You can catch me sparring with my horns a lot—either for play or in an actual battle for dominance (which I obviously always win.)

When not fighting or eating, I’m on the alert for any distress in my family. We’re tough, as you can tell, and not easy to hunt—taking down one adult buffalo requires the hunting prowess of multiple lions working together. However, our calves are more vulnerable, so we cluster around them whenever possible, and come to their defense as soon as we hear the call (as illustrated in the famous Battle of Kruger.) This is part of why we’re known for our altruism—it’s rare that any male in the wild would protect a calf that wasn’t his own.

Most Famous Admirer

Ernest Hemingway. As one of the Big Five—the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt—I posed a rare challenge to that great writer, who travelled to Africa in the bad old days when big game hunting wasn’t controlled, and my family constantly had to fight off hunters. Thank goodness things are more controlled now, although I still work out regularly, flexing my muscles and jogging the plains, just in case I have to charge someone to protect my family.

Like all big game hunters, Ernest loved and feared me in equal measure, and even wrote a whole story starring me, called “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” I’m not sure how many copies it sold, but I hope not a lot—I mean, guys, I DIE at the end. Worst. Ending. Ever.

Most Embarrassing Facts

None.

Ok, ok, I’ll give you just one. My temper. When I feel threatened I am quick to go on the offensive: lions, leopards, crocodiles—I’ve attacked them all. Amongst African humans, I’m known as “Black Death” or “Widowmaker,” and they’re not joking. It’s an embarrassing personal trait, but also a useful one—it’s why I’m the only member of the exclusive Big Five club that isn’t classified as endangered or vulnerable.

Favourite Food

Mmmm, grass! That’s all I eat, and all I ever will. Tall, coarse grass is my favourite treat, which makes me a popular guy on the savannah, since my family and I act as lawnmowers, clipping down great swathes of dense grass and exposing the gentler green ground-cover below for the grazers with more delicate palates (ahem, antelopes—wimps!)

Everything Else

Type: Mammal

Diet: I’m a vegetarian, but that doesn’t make me nice, ok? I can wrassle with the best of them.

Average life span in the wild: About 18 to 20 years old

Size: My family members are all within the range of 5 to 11 feet long, and 3 to 5 feet tall—but don’t let my short legs fool you, I’m still fast… and pretty darn huge.

Weight: 1,100–2,000 pounds (gentlemen, like me, are larger than the ladies). For someone who’s about four feet tall, this is inarguably a lot. And that’s all muscle!

Protection status: According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, I am in the “Least Concern” category, which means that they were worried enough to check on me, but when they saw that my family and I were doing pretty well they decided they didn’t have to fret about us anymore. At least, for now—as long as there’s plenty of grass to eat, and those darn hunters stay off my back.

Group name: “Herd” is most common, although people also refer to us as “a gang” or “an obstinacy.” The last also means “a state of stubbornness,” which seems most appropriate. I dare you to argue with me about it!

Confessions of a Mama Elephant

  • May 17th 2012

Good morning everyone! Yes, I am a mama elephant. I asked the Micato Safaris writers to transcribe a blog post for me, as my flat feet are terrible for typing. After all, why should those vain lions get all the press?

They Also Call Me:

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Tembo, or Ndovu (they like me so much, they named me twice!) In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Indlovu; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Oliphant. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Tlou. But when anyone in the family needs me, they usually just amble over and cuddle—I am a mom, after all.

Best Places to Find Me:

I ought to be clear about who I am, exactly. You see, there are smaller Asian elephants in India and Sri Lanka—I’m not one of them. There are also African forest elephants, who crash around the forests and jungles of West Africa—I’m also not one of them. I’m an African bush elephant, so my kids and I spend our days in the glorious parks of Southern and East Africa: Amboseli, Kruger, Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Samburu, Okavango Delta… if it’s savannah or bushveldt, I’m there.

What You’ll See Me Doing:

Usually you can find me eating, but I also love to bathe and swim, and if you want to hang out with me your best bet is to spend some time near the rivers and lakes of Southern and East Africa. Just be aware if you’re sitting in “the splash zone”: each of my kids can suck up to fourteen litres of water into their trunks at once, and they love to play…

How My Family Is Like Yours:

I’m always with my family, too, so if you visit me you’re sure to meet everyone. As a mama elephant, I spend my days with all the other ladies and their babies. They boys get a little feisty and controlling around age fourteen, so that’s when we kick them out on their own. Male elephants are loners—your typical cranky bachelors, always fighting with each other—though sometimes they’ll get together with other males and cruise for ladies up and down the savannah. But the women are very close; in fact some female elephants have died from loneliness in captivity. This is why human organizations like David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust are so important—orphaned baby elephants need special help, because they’re so used to having a big family around them.

I’m the matriarch of my family, which means I’m the oldest and biggest, and everyone follows me. If mama isn’t happy, nobody’s happy, and that’s the truth!

Most Embarrassing Facts:

Oh my goodness gracious, really? Well, ok, I suppose I can spill a few beans. Let’s see…

I’m the largest land animal in the world, which already is kind of embarrassing (though also impressive, you have to admit.) I somehow have to keep this giant body working and moving on an all-vegetarian diet, plus feed all my wee babies (ok, my 200-pound babies—they’re still wee to me). So for about sixteen hours a day, you can find me eating. In fact, I only sleep for about two hours a day… all the rest of my time is taken up by eating, bathing, and taking care of the kids.

Also, well, there’s another draw-back to being so gosh-darn big: I can’t run or jump. I pretty much just have two gaits: either I walk, or I walk fast. To be fair, when I get mad (and when you mess with my kids, I get furious!) this fast walk is certainly speedier than your run. In fact, humans have clocked me at 25 mph when I’m charging, which is not too shabby for a 6-ton mama, wouldn’t you agree?

And one more thing: thick skin. This actually doesn’t embarrass me—I’m proud of my one-inch thick flesh. Nothing really bothers me—not bugs or acacia thorns or sitting on a pokey log—because I’m so difficult to hurt. Hence, I’m a pretty mellow gal, unlike my excitable neighbors, the antelope. This is why some people call elephants pachyderms, which means “thick-skinned.”

Favourite Food:

Elephant grass. You have to love a food that’s named after you, don’t you think? And anyway, if I don’t like it, who will? Elephant grass is tough to eat and to digest, and with my crazy digestion system I’m one of the only animals on the savannah that can handle it. I know, I know, it’s very predictable—mom eats all the left-overs. I’m fine with that!

Just to keep this big ol’ body going, I have to eat 300-600 pounds of food a day, which means I can’t be all that picky anyway. I’ll eat acacia leaves, herbs, tall grass, fruit, shrubs… whatever I can get!

Everything Else:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Vegetarian (if I was a biologist, I’d say “herbivore”… but I’m an elephant, so I say whatever I want)

Average life span in the wild: 50-70 years (we’re the oldest animals on the savannah!)

Size: About 12 feet tall. It’s too bad we don’t have thumbs; we would have been great at basketball.

Weight: Don’t ask. I’ve broken every scale I’ve ever stood on! But people say that we range from 12,000-14,000 lbs (which is 6-7 tons). To put that into perspective, I weigh about the same as a hundred grown men, all piled up.

Protection status: Vulnerable. Our beauty is our curse, as my family members have been hunted for our gorgeous tusks for decades. Ivory, schmivory—doesn’t it look better on me?

Group name: “Herd” is most common, but I prefer the lesser-used “Parade”—because every day is a celebration when you’re in an elephant family.

A Taste of Namibia

  • May 10th 2012

Africa is home to the largest land animal in the world (the elephant), the longest river in the word (the Nile), the oldest human fossils (Ardi, a 4.4 million year old skeleton found in Ethiopia), and several wonders of the world (including the Rift Valley and Victoria Falls). It’s an amazing continent, and one we’re very fortunate to know like the backs of our hands.

Nevertheless, Namibia still manages to surprise and enchant us with its breath-taking natural wonders. From the shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast to the pink and orange towering dunes of Sossusvlei, this land is more like a dream than anything else. Care for a taste of a Namibian safari? Here are just a few of our favourite facts about Namibia… careful, they’re sure to whet your appetite for the real thing!

  • The Namib Desert is between 80 million and 55 million years, depending on which geologist you talk to. Either way, the Namib is the oldest desert in the world.
  • The “Moon Landscape” is an inhospitable area of the Namib that is formed by granite which pushed up from the Earth’s crust some 500 million years ago.
  • Namaqualand is arid and dry for the majority of the year, but in spring a sudden transformation occurs: hundreds of thousands of orange and white flowers bloom, transforming the dry, empty land into something more often seen through a kaleidoscope.

  • The Fog Beetles, endemic to the Namib, have backs covered in hydrophilic bumps and hydrophobic troughs. These cause humidity from the morning fogs to condensate into droplets, which roll down the beetle’s back to its mouth.
  • The Skeleton Coast can experience more than 180 days of thick fog a year, hence the name—more than a thousand shipwrecks litter this coast.

  • Ships wrecked on the Skeleton Coast can be found as much as 50 metres inland, as the desert slowly moves westwards into the sea.
  • The dry inland of Namibia is home to baboons, giraffes, lions, black rhinoceros and springbok, all of whom get most of their water from wells dug by the baboons or elephants.

  • In April 2008, a 500-year-old shipwreck containing Iberian coins, bronze cannons, copper, and ivory was found in the Sperrgebiet (a region on the Diamond Coast).
  • Southern Namib comprises a vast dune sea with some of the tallest and most spectacular dunes in the world, ranging in color from rose pink to deep red to vivid orange. In the Sossusvlei area, several dunes exceed 300 meters (984 ft) in height.

  • Namibia’s Succulent Karoo, a portion of the Kalahari Deset, is home to fully one third of the world’s succulent plants—nearly half of them are only found in the Succulent Karoo.
  • The bizarre Welwitschia plant—with its strap-shaped leaves that may grow several meters long—is considered a living fossil, and is found only in the Namib Desert.