By Steve Dale
Imagine there you are, with camera in hand focused on a mountain gorilla…and you need to put the camera down because you can’t keep focused because the gorilla is walking right toward you. instructions are to maintain a seven meter distance, but the gorillas weren’t told.
No cages, no bars between you….the animals could seriously injure or kill people. They never do. You are accepted, even welcomed into their homes. Truth is they are incredibly gentle.
Spiritual and life changing…..awe inspiring experience. There is more to come, including photos and stories, like how one young male gorilla was smitten by my wife Robin. I was jealous.
More game rides in Akagera National Park. Here is a partial list of animals we spotted:
Birds: Anhinga, Pied-kingfisher, Papyrus Yellow warbler, African fish eagle, Red-eared cordon bleu, and Marabou stork. And most of all, the species that birders travel half-way around the to see, the diminutive and ever so elusive swamp flycatcher.
Antelope: Roan antelope (third or fourth largest antelope species), Topi (who Ged Caddick says “legs look like someone used shoe polish on”), Defassa’s waterbuck, rare oribi and not as rare impala.
Others included Nile crocodile, Olive baboon, Vervet monkey, Masai giraffe, Nile moitor lizard and the hippo.
We saw some on a boat ride on Lake Ihema
Next onto the Virunga mountains and the mountain gorilla.
By Steve Dale
Today I walked the walk with a maribou stork, saw a Masai giraffe up close and posed for a photo near a herd of Cape buffalo (from a distance). We drove today from Kigali to the gem of an African national park, called Akagera. The great thing about this park – well two great things….First, you don’t see many other vehicles, except those in your group. We didn’t see a single other vehicle. Second are the number of birds found here, 524 species! There are 600 species in Rwanda. We saw – among many others the colorful roller and woodland kingfisher, and very large African fish eagle and pretty oxpeckers making a meal off hoofstock.
For me one huge highlight was seeing an immature Nile monitor lizard; they get much larger than the 3-foot or so long dude we spotted.
There are currently so few lion in this park, in places you can get out of the vehicle, but not exactly near the hippo (where there also might be crocodile).
Antelope species we saw included the rare (and very large) roan antelope and impala.
The ride to get to the park and then inside the park does take a while (as my butt can attest), around 11 hours. Along the way, our driver told us a lot about Rwanda and the country’s roller coaster history. I will say it’s amazing how fast they’ve gotten their act together after genocide. They are indeed in many ways like an IT capital for East Africa.
By Steve Dale
Joan Embery is today the Goodwill Ambassador at the Zoological Society of San Diego. She’s appeared on dozens of TV shows – most notably on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson many times. “The idea was to and continues to be – bringing a bit of the wild world to people in our world,” she says.
No surprise Embery has herself traveled around the world (and continues to). “In all my experiences, to all the places I’ve been, it might just be that seeing the mountain gorillas is at the top of the list,” she says. “For sure, it’s right up there.”
When Embery made the trek up to see the gorillas for herself several years ago, she says, “I recall slogging through mud, and one woman was struggling….but we all made it up the mountain trails – and I was instantly awestruck. I can’t put the experience into words. It’s not the same as watching TV, that’s for sure. If only more people could experience it, definitely people would be more motivated to save these wonderful places.”
She says that by going on an eco-tourism trip you’re obviously supporting gorillas, pandas, condors, tigers or whatever the flagship species is – but you are also supporting everything else that lives in the environment with them, from small mammals to lizards to the insects to the plants (we are still discovering plants for pharmaceuticals to help people).
Embery was personally involved in the California Condor program. She says that at one point there were only 23 left. They all lived in captivity, each and every one. Now, there are many times that number living in captivity and in the wild.
She worries about species like the mountain gorillas because because of where they live – the governments there are potentially unstable and might change their minds about protecting them (including protection from poachers). And then there’s the increasing need of people who live in a booming population to find farm land, even if it is substandard. If something happens, as a result of disease, for example in one population on one mountain – that might be the end for that population. “It’s like island species,” she says, “They have nowhere to go.”
As I head to Africa, here are some ‘interesting comments’ as I told friends and colleagues where I am headed — to see the mountain gorillas, no cages, no bars between us….getting up close and personal on the mountains of Rwanda.And the reactions, in some cases, as I said, ‘interesting.’
I will blog about the real experiences once I arrive. Here’s what folks had to say:
“I know a veterinarian friend who died climbing up to see the gorillas. He had a heart attack. I hope you live.”
“Really, you are going to Rwanda to see the Fossey groups which she habituated? I lived across the hall from Dian many years ago. Dian would have loved that her gorillas are still there, and that poaching may not be as much of an issue at least where tourists are.”
“Gorillas in Africa? Go to the zoo – take the bus, less expensive than flying halfway across the world.”
“Ok – when you see a gorilla – what will you say? Knowing you, you whip out a microphone and conduct an interview.”
“It’s a good thing you’re going because I know wildlife is disappearing – see it while you can.”
“Very cool to support the Mountain Gorilla Project.”
“You’re always writing about flea protection – Do gorillas have fleas?”
“Are you going to help stray cats in Africa?”
“I wonder which species are doing well or not, I’ve heard the African Wild Dog are actually getting rabies – not only a potential human health issue, but obviously detrimental to the species.”
By Steve Dale
Why we’re headed to see the mountain gorillas.
Leaving our pets, pet sitter and neighbors behind…
“No one who looks into a gorilla’s eyes can remain unchanged,” George Schaller
I grew up watching Marlin Perkins “Mutual of Omaha’s” Wild Kingdom.” Pre cable, and pre Animal Planet and before National Geographic specials, there weren’t many choices.
Remember the banter?
“I am here – in the air conditioned studio – and will tell everyone why Mutual of Omaha Insurance is so important. Meanwhile, let’s catch up with Jim, in the Nile River surrounded by man eating crocodiles.”
I never missed a National Geographic special, particularly those that featured the great ape gals, primatoloists Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Though naturalist George Schaller was, in truth, the first to start dispelling long-held King Kong myths about gorillas, it was really Fossey who received the acclaim. And deservedly so.
My dad and I watched this stuff for hours, soaking it in.
I still recall watching on TV, Goodall’s discovery of chimpanzees using tools, like sticks, to “fish” termites by watching a chimp named David Greybird.
Naming the chimps not only served for her and other researchers as a source of identification, also it brilliantly emotionally connected viewers to the chimps.
The same for gorillas – there was Fossey’s favorite Digit, who I felt I came to know. Clearly Digit had a unique personality. Anthropomorphizing? A bit. But then without that connecting to a gorilla halfway around the world – the outcome wouldn’t have affected me and millions of others when we learned about Digit’s ruthless murder by poachers.
I cried. Millions cried. I cried for the brave, strong willed, towering woman with steely determination – as much we cried about the tragic death of someone who felt like a friend, even if that was a friend we never met, and if that friend was a gorilla. .
Many years later – while working as a volunteer at the Lincoln Park Zoo, several fellow volunteers told me about a trip they were planning to Borneo to actually participate in research for that forgotten great ape, the orangutan. We’d actually work for Birute Galdikas, the researcher plucked years before to learn about the red ape by Louis Leakey, who also handpicked Goodall and Fossey.
I jumped at the chance.
So many memories: Babysitting for orphaned orangutans and encouraging them to climb. I watching as one wild orang, without knocking first, swung right though an open window and swiped a package of crackers off a counter in our cabin. Best of all rising pre-dawn, walking through the forest with flashlights to greet an orangutan bedded up in a tree, then taking copious notes on everything that animal eats, mapping travel until it’s bedtime.
The experience changed my life. And I wasn’t the only one. Another Lincoln Park Zoo volunteer Jane Lohmar then on the fast-track to become a hot shot bank executive. Today, she is Dr. Jane Lohmar, a Chicago veterinarian
I transitioned to writing and broadcasting full time about companion animals…and have never lost of interest in primatology.
I did meet Dian Fossey once – I was a young radio producer and she was a guest to promote her book. All I recall is that she was statuesque, and pretty much all business. At the end, she complimented the radio hosts for their “better than usual questions.” Guess who prepped Bob and Betty Sanders (Chicago radio personalities) with the questions?
I’ve meet Jane Goodall several times, and wow. All I can say is that I’ve never met anyone like her. Choosing only one word to describe her, it’s ‘angelic.’ A woman of quiet intellect and most of all, peace.
For several weeks, of course, I saw Birute Galdikas daily, though not since. Of course, I’d love to see her again. Sometimes we’d talk at length. She was passionate (of course), determined (of course), and possessed a great sense of humor. Her back story is as soap opera-like as the other great ape gals.
So, fast forward the clock to six months ago…I had earned lots of mileage? My wife Robin and I talked about traveling everywhere from Eastern Europe to the Greek Isles – We’ve never been to either place. Then, my wife suggested – why not Africa? I was there will my dad about 25 years ago. Robin never had been.
Simultaneously, Dr. Patricia Olson, once at Morris Animal Foundation overseeing the Gorilla Project (Gorilla Doctors) – and now with the American Humane Association (where I am on the Board of Directors) asked me, “Have you seen the mountain gorillas yet.”
I thought – now, you’re talking….And now we’re going – to Rwanda.
On this blog I will report on what we see in Rwanda….what it’s like to meet gorillas without glass or bars between us….Everything from the conditions clunking up the mountain to what the gorillas smell like.
I’ll report on the people of Rwanda and the significant changes in Kigali, also about concerns some have had about traveling to Kenya, where we will also go. Being a pet writer, I might blog about stray dogs and cats….and report on wildlife. I’ve heard Cheetahs are actually suffering from feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), as our domestic cats can, and that rabies is an issue for African wild dogs. And some giraffe species are disappearing.
Some of you might one day want to go on the same trip, others might make the trip vicariously through us. Either way – I’ll post throughout the trip.
On our China tour, we see the most amazing creatures: the Giant Red and White Flying Squirrel (Petaurista alborufus), about which little is known.
This species is found in China in the provinces of Shaanxi, Hunan, Guangxi, Sichuan, Gansu, Hubei, Guizhou, and Yunnan, and in Taiwan. It is likely that this species’ southern distribution extends into Myanmar; however, there are no known specimens collected from within that country. It occupies elevations ranging from 800-3,500 m above sea level, most often from 2,000-3,000m (IUCN Red data List).
They live in hollows in large mature trees, and seem to inhabit valleys with multiple large/mature trees, giving them a number of hollows to choose from. This species has low fecundity, with litter sizes of 1-2. They feed on acorns, other nuts, fruits and leafy vegetation, as well as insects, larvae and perhaps bird eggs (Lee et al. 1993a; Smith and Xie 2008).
There were three characteristics most noticeable to me and everyone who witnessed the remarkable creature:
1. Its striking BLUE eyes – really, really sky blue eyes that do not show up so well in photos.
2. Its size: much bigger than anyone expects, perhaps size of a raccoon….BIG!
3. The incredibly large distance covered in each glide.
They climb whatever tree they are on to the uppermost branches and then glide from there hundreds of yards to next tree where they have a hollow.
One of the participants on our trip, Nancy Miller, considered the Squirrels one of the absolute highlights of the trip and one of the most remarkable wildlife experiences of her lifetime…and she has been to see the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, seen Polar bears in Churchill, visited Antarctica – and she thought this experience one of the most amazing!!
Consider joining one of our next trips to China, in May of 2012.
(Source: Smith, A. and Xie, Y. 2008. The Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.)
by Frances Figart
Nominated for Best Tour Operator in the 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Award, Terra Incognita Ecotours is based in Tampa, Florida, and operates tours to Belize, Borneo, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Galapagos, India, Madagascar, New Zealand, Peru, Rwanda and Tanzania. Gerard “Ged” Caddick founded Terra Incognita Ecotours in 2004 after more than fifteen years of working in expedition travel. Ged worked for Lindblad Expeditions as an expedition leader from 1992 to 2004, and for International Expeditions while living in Belize in the 1980s. He has led trips for the World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic Society and the American Museum of Natural History as well as many College Alumni groups, the National Audubon Society and the Smithsonian Institution. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography from the University of Liverpool, and a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. As one can imagine, I had a hard time getting Ged to sit still for this interview as he’s usually on at least three continents each month. We spent a little time together recently when he had just returned from at trip to India setting the foundation for yet another ecotour.
Frances: Where were you in India and what did you see?
Ged: We were in Banhavgarh and Corbett National Parks and had some incredible wildlife experiences. We saw tigers and Asian Elephants on multiple outings, but also the monkeys called Common Langurs, Plum-headed Parakeets, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, lots of Spotted Deer, Brown Fish Owls, eagles and much more. It was very, very cold in the mornings and hot in the afternoons. We will be offering India in early 2012, probably in February.
Frances: In a nutshell, what is the philosophy behind Terra Incognita Ecotours?
Ged: We are committed to making a difference to our guests and to the places we visit. Our commitment is to provide travelers with opportunities to participate in ecotours that explore the world with a sense of discovery and wonder, and to preserve our environment for future generations. We draw on our legacy of adventure, experience and knowledge to do this. And as we do so, we strive to create ecotours that are as enriching and memorable as they are comfortable and fun.
Frances: How did you decide upon the name Terra Incognita?
Ged: Terra Incognita was chosen as this was the term you saw on the edge of the maps drawn by early explorers to show that the edges of the map were undiscovered, uncharted or unknown land. I love the romance and idea of exploration this invokes.
Frances: How did the experiences and dreams of your formative years foster your leadership skills and shape your interest in travel and animal conservation?
Ged: I grew up on a small farm on the outskirts of Liverpool, the oldest of ten children! We had dogs chickens, geese, pigs and various other animals as pets, as well as horses for riding when I was a young teenager. Always being around animals and loving them, I dreamed of being a game park warden in East Africa, Kenya or Tanzania. I even applied for such jobs there as I finished University. I traveled a lot within the UK, to the Lake District every summer with my family and as a teenager all over England, Scotland and Wales, plus a couple of trips to France.
Frances: What was the event that first interested you in environmental conservation?
Ged: During my university days in Liverpool I spent vacations working as a volunteer for the “British Trust for Conservation Volunteers,” doing trail maintenance, cleaning old footpaths, canals and other such tasks.
Frances: Did you have a mentor who directly inspired you in terms of your ultimate career choice in working to protect animals?
Ged: My first job was a zoo-keeper at the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, a zoo dedicated to captive breeding and conservation of endangered species. My mentor there was Gerald Durrell, the founder of the zoo.
Frances: How did you first get the inkling you wanted to work in travel or tourism?
Ged: In the mid 1980s, when living in Belize and working at the Belize Zoo, I started doing guiding for International Expeditions as they started tours to Belize. They needed local people who knew the wildlife and culture of Belize. It was then I realized how much I enjoyed sharing my love of conservation and wildlife by showing people natural spaces and species in-the-wild.
Frances: What were the challenges of living in Belize long-term and what did you love about it?
Ged: The biggest challenge to living and working in Belize was the isolation and the fact that simple tasks presented many more logistical challenges; communication, building, even getting supplies takes much more effort there. What I loved was that you could make a difference, that my work at the zoo was helping to change people’s perceptions of wildlife and nature in the country of Belize. You become a big fish in a small pond when working in a small country like Belize; when I was there, the population of the entire country was less than 200,000 people.
Frances: What were the things you most admired about Lindblad Expeditions? What elements of the job did you find challenging? Were there aspects of the travel experience you wanted to emulate when you started your own travel company?
Ged: My time at Lindblad was very enjoyable, and particularly important was the commitment to excellence. Dealing with “difficult” people was always the main challenge! I knew when I started my company it was going to be important that we made a positive impact on the places we visited, that we made a difference, that our presence was a force for good, for improved conservation efforts.
Frances: What are the greatest challenges and the greatest rewards of being a tour operator for you?
Ged: Attracting customers through marketing has been my biggest challenge – and I am still learning. The most rewarding facet of the work is helping the conservation organizations and other partners we work with in each destination.
Frances: Empowering local people is a huge component of ecotourism and sustainable travel. Give an example of seeing local people become empowered as a direct result of your tours.
Ged: On our Rwanda trip last September, many of the group were so moved by their experience they asked what they can do to help the kids we met around the Virunga Lodge where we stayed. Most of these children attend primary or elementary school as that is required by the government. But high school is elective and costs money, so many bright children do not continue their education as they simply cannot afford to. I have been sponsoring three children through high school, covering their fees and uniform costs etc. Well, many in the group wanted to do the same; they asked about each sponsoring a specific child. So on the next trip in December, I personally took over some funds gathered by these clients to sponsor about eight kids through a year of high school. And we’ll continue to do this sort of thing on a yearly basis.
Frances: Can you describe an “aha!” or “wow!” moment where your clients really “got it” in terms of ecotourism?
Ged: Every single time we take people to see the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, people experience an “Aha!” moment, they realize their presence is helping to save the Gorillas. Every single trip, someone is reduced to tears by the moment. I have had similar experiences when we see Pandas in the wild in China.
Frances: And I understand you had your own “aha” moment when you got to meet someone very special last summer while on a tour to Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Can you tell us about that as a closing anecdote?
Ged: We were so fortunate last July to be in Gombe simultaneous to Jane Goodall being in Gombe, simultaneous to the 50th Anniversary of Jane’s pioneering work in Gombe and simultaneous to the visit of Lara Logan and the 60 Minutes film crew as they interviewed Jane and filmed the Chimps. Indeed several times we found ourselves being filmed by the 60 Minutes crew on the trails as we met Jane, and again as we arrived outside Jane’s house on the shores of Lake Tanganyika when we actually joined Jane for sunset cocktails! So we sat glued to the TV one Sunday night in the fall for the airing of 60 Minutes to see if we made the episode! We did not make the final cut, as not surprisingly the focus was on Jane, her research and the Chimps, not on our small tour party that overlapped so fortuitously with this filming! But we are in a behind-the-scenes clip that you can see here. The Jane Goodall segment begins at about the 8:15 mark.
To learn more about Ged Caddick and Terra Incognita Ecotours, please visit us on Facebook.
One of the most amazing wildlife tours we do at Terra Incognita Ecotours is the Pantanal tour in Brazil. The size is limited to 12 and we still have space available for both our 2011 departure dates: July 25-Aug. 2 and Aug. 2-10. Among the amazing species we see are the nearly extinct Giant Anteaters.
The name “Pantanal” comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland, bog, swamp or marsh. The Pantanal is a tropical wetland and the world’s largest wetland of any kind. It lies mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul but extends into portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping support a dense array of animal species.
The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, is the largest species of anteater and the only species in the genus Myrmecophaga. It is found in Central and South America from Honduras to northern Argentina. Its fossil remains have been found as far north as northwestern Sonora, Mexico. It is a solitary animal, found in many habitats, including grasslands, deciduous forests and rainforests. It feeds mainly on ants and termites, sometimes up to 30,000 insects in a single day.
The giant anteater is one of few taxa of mammals without any teeth even in a mature state. An anteater instead crushes insects it consumes using hard growths found on the inside of its mouth, and its flabby stomach. It grows to a size of up to 7 feet (2.1 m) in length, with a 4-foot-long (1.2 m) head and torso, and a 3-foot-long (0.91 m) tail. Generally it weighs from 65 to 140 pounds (29 to 64 kg). These anteaters are have a very keen sense of smell, used to locate ants, but are thought to have poor sight and hearing.
Habitat destruction is the primary threat to giant anteaters. They are listed as Appendix II by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Appendix II is defined as a species not necessarily threatened to extinction but one that should be controlled in trade to avoid overuse. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). ‘Vulnerable’ is defined as an estimated population reduction of 20% in the next 10 years. It is estimated that there are only as few as 5,000 left in the wild, and only 90 live in zoos across the United States.