Archive for Mapungubwe

Land of Giants photo safari picked as one of Wanderlust Magazine’s top trips for 2012

Posted in African Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Wanderlust, the world’s leading travel magazine, has selected my Land of Giants photo safari as one of their top trips for 2012. A feature in the December 2011 issue details their 50 best new trips for 2012, which includes this exclusive photographic tour to Africa’s Limpopo Valley led by myself and carnivore expert Peter Neville.

Peter and I are offering just six guests per trip the opportunity to join us on this safari combining specialist photographic guiding with expert carnivore insight. Being home to Africa’s true giants – big cats, great herds of elephant, huge baobab trees, large birds of prey, the striking kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), the ostrich (the world’s largest bird), the massive eland (the world’s largest antelope) and the giraffe, world’s tallest mammal – the Limpopo Valley is rightly known as the Land of Giants.

There are two dates for this photo safari to the Limpopo Valley in June and July in 2012. Check out my website for the full itinerary, trip information and how to make a booking. I hope to welcome you to Africa’s Land of Giants in 2012…

Find out more on my website conservationphotojournalism.com

New photo safari dates announced for 2012

Posted in African Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

I have teamed up with carnivore expert Peter Neville to offer just six people the chance to explore the ‘Land of Giants‘ – the wonderful Limpopo Valley between South Africa and Botswana.

There are two options for this photo safari in 2012. The first trip runs from the 19th to the 25th of June. The second trip runs from the 30th of June to the 6th of July. A full itinerary and booking information can be found on my website.

Join us as we travel through the valley photographing Africa’s giant wild inhabitants – big cats, great herds of elephant, huge baobab trees, birds of prey, kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), ostrich (the world’s largest bird), eland (the world’s largest antelope), giraffe (the world’s tallest mammal) – and the famous river and stunning landscapes that support them.

Read more on my website www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Run, Fatboy…Run!

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Photography, Poaching, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

The Limpopo Valley along South Africa’s northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe is home to a small number of lions. Yet, there is enough prey and natural habitat to sustain more. So why do they fare so badly here? The truth is that this small population sums up a continent-wide problem – Africa has lost almost 90% of its lions in the last 20 years. Hunters are permitted to shoot them for sport, game reserve managers can euthanise those that are supposedly surplus to requirement and management plans for the species are largely insufficient and geographically patchy.

‘Fat Boy’ is the pride male of a small group of lions living within the eastern section of South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park, which lies within the Limpopo Valley. When Fat Boy disappeared over the border into neighbouring Zimbabwe and word spread that a licence had been applied for by a local hunter to shoot the lion, it was feared that the Limpopo Valley had lost another pride male. The problem with losing a dominant pride male is that while there may be other males ready to move in to the territory and take over, the new arrivals are likely to kill any young cubs to assert the dominance of their own genes. What’s more, sub-adult male lions are also pushed out of the pride’s territory to fend for themselves, often pushing them to the edges of protected areas into the human conflict zone and forcing them into a life on the run.

Thankfully, Fat Boy returned from his foray into new territory unscathed. However, a farmer in the Limpopo Valley was recently fined R55,000 after being found guilty of baiting and illegally shooting a male lion on his land (unfortunately for the farmer the lion was wearing a GPS collar). And while that R55,000 has been invested straight into the Tuli Predator Project who have worked hard to protect these lions for years and who took an active role in the prosecution, the outcome should be seen as less than ideal. A financial settlement with no sentencing surely sets a precedent that the life of a breeding adult of a vulnerable and declining species can be simply paid-off?

This settlement may not be ideal but it is not surprising. Fuelled by the ‘Big Five’ marketing concept and the opportunity to make money from international safari-goers keen to see these big cats, many landowners across Africa have bought and sold lions purely with their own economic interests in mind. But, in an ironic twist, has the inception of the ‘Big Five’ and the marketing machine popularising Africa’s wildlife lead to a micromanaged and financially selfish approach from landowners that has damaged the lion population forever?

With lion numbers falling, Africa brimming with development and protected habitats being cut-off by human infrastructure, lion specialists Susan Miller and Dr Paul Funston are aiming to establish a better understanding of the impacts of micromanagement (such as inbreeding) on lion populations on small reserves in South Africa. But will landowners and reserve managers be prepared to enter into a metapopulation model, for example, or will ownership of ‘their’ lions get in the way of mapping a recovery for the species? And can the lion even make a recovery like that other great icon of African wildlife, the Elephant or, as a predator, will it continue to come second to human needs in a booming continent?

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Why mining at Mapungubwe must be stopped…

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

This is the first time on my blog that I have used another person’s photography but those of you who have visited this site before will know how strongly I feel about plans to mine coal near to the wonderfully unique Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. This female leopard was found on the main road outside Mapungubwe National Park by carnivore researcher Wendy Collinson. Wendy is currently monitoring wildlife casualties on the road network surrounding Mapungubwe National Park and the De Beers Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve. The road network cuts through the proposed Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area and serves border posts with both Botswana and Zimbabwe, and so an increase in disturbance by non tourism or conservation related traffic to and from the proposed Vele colliery would be hugely detrimental to the region’s sensitive wildlife.

Wendy has yet to confirm whether the leopard hit on the R572 road is a beautiful female known to researchers as Leila. Leila was fitted with a GPS collar so that her movements could be monitored in an area where predator conflicts with farmers are common but the carcass found had no tracking collar.

South Africa’s self-governing environmental guardians the Green Scorpions swooped on the colliery site recently, gathering evidence that mining company Coal of Africa Ltd had acted outside of the legal permissions granted earlier this year. It’s hoped that current investigations by the environmental department will provide a lifeline for this awe inspiring and culturally significant landscape.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Making money, not sense

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

I mentioned in a previous thread that South Africa’s Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape is under threat from a coal mining application. This week, the fight intensified to stop construction of an opencast and underground mine just six kilometres from the boundary of the Mapungubwe National Park with a host of non-governmental organisations appealing against developments in the process, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Birdlife, the Peace Parks Foundation, the Association of South African Professional Archaeologists, the Mapungubwe Action Group and the Wilderness Foundation South Africa.

Australian-based Coal of Africa Limited (CoAL) was recently granted the go-ahead to commence with the construction of the coal mine yet serious questions are being asked about the integrity and validity of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) submitted by CoAL. The appeal details many specific concerns with the EMP, particularly how it misrepresents the consequences of mining in the area. Take a look for yourself, even to an untrained eye it is clear to see which side of the EMP’s bread is buttered.

I hope that I am wrong but I can’t help but feel this is all too little too late however. The load shedding which has afflicted South Africa in recent years has been due to a serious shortage in the country’s electricity supply. Desperate to avoid a repeat of such a ridiculous, embarrassing and shambolic situation in the future, the government was never likely to turn down a coal mining application with stocks running so low. The crippling transport strike which has damaged South Africa’s industries recently has also affected coal exports, mainly to India and China. With the government struggling to hit its coal export targets and pay for the country’s pre-world cup face-lift, the promise of a shiny new coal mine was never likely to be ignored.

The moral of the story? Never forget where you’ve come from. Mapungubwe is rightly celebrated as a great Southern African civilisation, the very place where kingdomship started in Southern Africa and a state that had vast trading links to East Africa and the Arab world. How ironic that it is the country’s modern day trade links that threaten to destroy and devalue that legacy.

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Land of giants

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

The recent storms in South Africa’s northern Limpopo Province may have been big but they measure up against the region’s landscapes and wildlife. From its trees to its birds, mammals and the river itself, the valley of the great Limpopo River is a land of giants!

The vast landscapes of this place near where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet are dominated by baobabs. These colossal trees support a whole community of wildlife – elephants eat the bark, bats feed on the nectar of the flowers (and in turn pollinate them) and barn owls roost and nest in holes in their large boughs. Many particularly large trees still bear the pegs that allowed humans to climb up and collect rain water collected in troughs in the boughs. In such a hot climate in a place where ground water will have been shared with wild animals, this would have been a vital source of fresh water…if you can reach it.

During the dry winter months, large herds of elephants move into the valley from dryer areas over the river in Botswana. The riverine forest comes alive with a mass of grey bodies shepherding their youngsters and hoovering-up vegetation and the remaining water.

Herds of eland, Africa’s largest antelope, also roam the plains of the valley. Like in much of their range, black rhino’s are here but they are hard to see. The larger and more common white rhino has become synonymous with the Limpopo valley since the discovery in 1932 of a little golden rhino at the World Heritage Site at Mapungubwe.

Even the birds here are big enough to make small children and dog owners feel wary. Black eagles rule by day, surveying the land for their quarry from a perch high up on a sandstone cliff or by soaring the thermals on huge wings. The floodplains are home to marauding secretarybirds, storks, ground hornbills and kori bustards, the heaviest flying bird in the world, while the night is owned by owls. The elusive and sought-after Pel’s fishing owl uses the large trees lining the river to roost in by day and hunt from by night. Also in the riverine bush, hunting silently on a two-metre wingspan in almost complete darkness, the giant (or Verreaux’s) eagle owl hawks for birds and small mammals.

But as rich in wildlife and archaeology as this valley is, it is a landscape under threat. If proposed coal mining in the area is allowed to go ahead, pollution is not only likely to threaten the local ecosystem but important sites further down the Limpopo River system in the Kruger National Park and Mozambique as well.

Plans for the mine at Vele, just six kilometres east of the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, also threaten to derail proposals for a major transfrontier conservation area between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, a scheme committed to by the government. The Endangered Wildlife Trust and BirdLife South Africa are just two of the many organisations fighting the mining application. And while no-one can be certain what either the short-term or lasting affects of the mine will be on this overlooked and sacred corner of South Africa, with so much to experience in this land of giants, my advice is to go there and to go there now!

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Transcending boundaries – wild dogs in a modern landscape

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

In a region bustling with development and about to welcome one of the world’s largest sporting events in the FIFA World Cup, in a continent that has just counted it’s one billionth person, it is hard to see space for the expansion of safe habitat for a pack animal like the African wild dog. But new protection and landscape-scale conservation efforts may offer hope.

Wild dog packs utilise such huge areas that there are few reserves in Southern Africa big enough to home sustainable, stand-alone populations. When one or more dogs disperse to form a new pack, their reliance on safe and suitable habitat becomes even greater. Thankfully, the UN Environment Programme has made the move to upgrade the status of the species to migratory. This not only promises greater protection but also calls for further regional cooperation towards securing agreements over transfrontier conservation areas like the Greater Mapungubwe area.

The heart of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) lies at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers – the meeting point of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. If this vision of a cross-border haven can be realised then it may secure the future of the few wild dog packs living in the region. Lions, the wild dog’s greatest natural enemy, are low in numbers here but this does not mean the dogs can live without threat or fear.

Rural communities live off the land here through necessity as well as tradition. The snares left by poachers and the diseases carried by domestic dogs used by hunters are a real threat to wild dogs, as well as the ever- busier roads transecting the habitat and a local farming and hunting community that is largely unwelcoming to carnivores.

Despite such threats, the area has already received the vote of confidence as a safe habitat for wild dogs with the translocation of a pack from South Africa’s Marekele National Park to Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve in 2007. Since then, the pack has thrived in its Limpopo forest home with 25 pups in the last two years.

In KwaZulu-Natal in eastern South Africa, wild dog numbers are on the increase too despite a declining international population. The region’s jewel-in-the-crown, the Hluhluwe-imfolozi Park, can boast arguably the country’s most stable population and with new packs now established on geographically isolated reserves elsewhere in the province, the new challenge facing conservationists is how to maintain the genetic balance of the population.

Rather than imitating natural movements by physically darting and translocating wild dogs between these reserves, Endangered Wildlife Trust officers are working with local rural communities to establish safe routes of dispersal to link isolated populations.

They may be subtly different yet both the proposed Greater Mapungubwe TFCA and the KwaZulu-Natal approaches to African wild dog conservation offer solutions for the future of a migratory species in a changing landscape. In both cases, those responsible for the safeguarding and development of the species will have to deal with the challenges dished out by a constricting human world. Although by engaging with local communities, landowners and farmers, it can be hoped that both processes will allow for a wider understanding and appreciation of the wild dog. Though in some areas, simple tolerance would be a victory.