2012 has been a great and incredibly varied filming year and I was fortunate enough to have filmed my way across most of Southern Africa from Namibia all the way north to Tanzania in East-Africa. There are however, a few special places which emerge above the others. Northern Tanzania’s Masailand is certainly one of these. I met up with Texans George Robinson and his daughter Blair who booked a three-week hunt with Tanzania Game Tracker Safaris. George and Blair began their 21-day safari in the northern reaches of TGT’s Lake Natron concession. Not far from the Ngorogoro Crater, this is an area which I have read much about and longed to visit. Many of you familiar with – Out of Africa – will remember the Karen’s heroic journey south to Lake Natron territory (the border of German-East –Africa in those days) in order to re-supply Lord Delamere’s troops . Life as a Safari going cameraman affords one a great opportunity to see and experience places off the beaten track…places which very few people get to see period.
TGT’s Lake Natron Game Controlled area to the south of the actual lake offers more than just your average African safari experience. This part of northern Tanzania is an intricately weaved mosaic of unique East- African culture and wildlife. Masailand in general remains one of a very few success stories where wildlife and people appear to coexist in relative harmony. The success of this region –when compared to other parts of Africa – lies with the Masai culture and their fixation with livestock. A Masai’s priority and most prized possessions in life are domestic livestock and fortunately game represents no value to them. For the first time ever, I observed game grazing peacefully in and amongst the local people. Grant’s gazelle, Zebra and Wildebeest were often seen in close proximity to Masai herdsman and their cattle and continued to graze unperturbed. On one particular occasion – much to our surprise – a lesser kudu gave us the slip when it ran straight into a large herd of goats tended by two herd boys. We worked out that the Kudu must have passed the herdsmen by no more than several yards. On that note, we hunted several unique and interesting East-African game species including Dik-dik, Bearded wildebeest, Grant’s & Thomson’s gazelle, Geranuk and Lesser kudu. There are also East-African Greater Kudu, Fringe-eared Oryx, Robert’s Gazelle and East African Impala in this region.
The highlight for me – apart from the new and interesting East-African antelope species – was the incredible diversity of landscapes. From my experience, I have found hunting concessions in Tanzania impressively vast and hugely varied. I cannot think of many other safari destinations in Africa which offer such a rare combination of wildlife, people and breath taking scenery. Whilst out hunting it was not uncommon for us to request the driver to stop so that we could take a moment to appreciate the landscape unfolding around us…not withstanding an opportunity to capture some incredible footage. On any given day you might find yourself hunting Geranuk amongst rolling hills of semi-arid bushveld, stopping every now and again to absorb the incredible breath-taking views across vast plains surrounded by densely forested mountains slopes with crests shrouded in blankets of mist; the following day might be out on the sun-baked sodium flats of Lake Natron hunting white bearded Gnu and Thomson’s Gazelle. As the day warms up the flats surrounding Lake Natron get really hot and you get to experience what it must be like crossing a vast desert. The horizon becomes an ever changing mosaic of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle which shimmer in and out of focus as the heat mirage messes with your mind…notwithstanding the pink kaleidoscope of several thousand flamingos strutting about in the distance.
There is no question about it, as a hunter and a photographer with a passion for exploring new natural and cultural landscapes Tanzania Game Tracker Safaris is going to be a tough one to beat.
Following my incredible three-week experience with the TGT and the Robinson duo, my next two weeks were spent filming in the Miombo woodlands of Southern Tanzania’s world famous Selous Game Reserve. Interestingly, Selous Game Reserve – named after the famous hunter and explorer Sir Frederick Courtney Selous – boasts the title of Africa’s largest game reserve at a staggering 5,120,000 hectares or 44,800 km². To put it into perspective this equates to an area larger than Switzerland, three times that of South Africa’s Kruger National Park or more than 5 ½ times that of the size of the USA’s Yellowstone National Park!!!
After a sumptuous lunch at the luxuriously appointed (ex-residence of Robin Hurt) Kerr & Downey Safaris (sister company and photographic component to TGT) headquarters in Arusha, I began what turned out to be a rather ‘interesting’ journey to Der-es-Salaam. This should have been a relatively straight forward journey consisting of a short flight and an even shorter taxi ride. All in all it should have taken me a maximum of 2 hours…or so I thought. When travelling Africa one must understand that things may or may not happen as you expect them to. There are most certainly a few tips – which travel guides do not offer – that may ‘facilitate’ one’s journey when traveling by air. Here are a few tips which will stand you in good stead when things don’t turn out as you hoped they would! In the case of lost / misplaced luggage:
Rule 1: Stay calm
Rule 3: Speak slowly
Rule 4: Do not shout (particularly if you are of European extraction)
Rule 5: And finally, Do not be patronizing or condescending (the official will simply ignore you and make your life a real misery)
Anyway, I’m deviating from the task at hand here but I will tell you that after what should have been a short flight arriving in DAR at 16:20…I finally made it in a smidgen less than 8 hours! Yes, that just less than the average time it takes to fly from Johannesburg in South Africa to London’s Heathrow Airport. And so after lots of smiling, deep (very deep) breathing and lots of savvy Swahili sweet-talk (I think I should have been a diplomat) I managed to get myself and 43 Swedish, French and Norwegian tourists onto a bus (via shops to buy rope to tie down the bags which were rolling around on the roof rack) from Arusha to Kilimanjaro airport where – after 4 hours of further negotiation – we managed to find an aircraft to take us to DAR (via Zanzibar). As they say TIA (this is Africa) take it or leave it. Anyhow, a touch before midnight – and by the looks on the receptionist face – slightly dishevelled but far from broken, I made it to DAR’s Kilimanjaro hotel where I met fellow cameraman Gareth Dimmick.
The following morning we were met by Tanganyika Wildlife Safaris representatives and our clients from Moscow – the Kravtsov party. The Kravtsov party have hunted with TAWISA in this region of the Selous for the past four seasons. TAWISA’s Mkuyu camp is situated in the Selous deep south and from the air it soon became evident why the Kravtsov party keep coming back here. Minutes before landing at the Mkuyu bush strip, Fréderic and Christov (our Ph’s) eagerly pointed out vast herds of Buffalo, numerous elephant and countless hippopotamus. This is big game country at its best and one soon realises why this area was a favourite of Frederic Courtney Selous.
Mkuyu is your classic rustic East African tented camp and although it may not have all the’ bells and whistles’ of some of the other camps, it offers everything that a hunter could ever want…a rare combination of that ‘old world feel’, superb Ph’s, impeccable staff and –for me – the crème de la crème of it all was the food served whilst out hunting. When it comes to food, having a French PH certainly helps and Fréderic Herbain was certainly no exception. Food – as with most good Frenchman, is an important part of Frederic’s daily routine. Fred strongly believes that in order to hunt well and most importantly to enjoy your time on Safari, one must eat well. It is quite obvious that Fréd went to great lengths and painstaking measures to ensure all of his hunting team are well versed in the preparation of great food al la Francaise!
Hunting the Miombo forests of the southern Selous is an experience in its own right and something that everyone passionate about big game hunting should experience at least once in their hunting career. Hunting in the Selous is certainly not for the feint hearted and although you might spend the first several days looking for the right tracks, the Modus Operandi is on foot. This is a place where your fitness will determine the ultimate success of your Safari. It is not uncommon to walk for 10 km after a set of tracks only to find it is not quite what you are looking for. One has to bear in mind that walking 10 km and tracking 10 km are two different things entirely. So if it is a big Buffalo or perhaps a big tusker that you’re after then do some preparation and get fit! Talking of big tuckers, this particular region of the Selous is home to some of the Africa’s longest and heaviest tusker’s period and represents a very good opportunity for someone looking for a serious pachyderm. If it is big game that you’re after then look no further than TAWISA’s Selous Safari!