Stick to the Code
For many an eco-adventurer, swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is the hot bucket list item of the moment. Here’s why…
1) Sometimes it’s good to feel small. Weighing in at 12 tons and reaching up to 60 feet in length or more, the whale shark is the largest fish in the sea. No need to worry, however: you’re definitely not on the menu. Despite their enormous mouths and thousands of teeth, whale sharks eat only microorganisms.
2) It’s wet and warm – whale sharks prefer temperate, tropical waters. They are pelagic, living in the open sea but not in the greatest depths of the ocean. You can choose to swim with these epic water beasts in the welcoming waters off Mexico, Honduras, Philippines and Madagascar.
3) You can keep up – with an average swim speed of 3MPH and already accustomed swimming alongside humans, these gentle giants are very docile creatures. Whale sharks are filter feeders and swim close to the surface, scooping up plankton and any other tiny sea-dwellers they can get into their colossal mouths.
4) Shock and awe – like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two whale sharks are alike. In fact, each has its own distinctive pattern of pale-yellow spots and stripes.
All that said, it’s critical to swim in our lane. Enter Stella Diamant, a keen adventurer, wildlife photographer and biologist by training who has become a whale-shark champion. Belgian native Stella founded the Madagascar Whale Shark Project (MWSP) in 2018, setting up an educational program for local children, recruiting Malagasy staff and implementing a code of conduct in Nosy Be. To date, Stella and the MWSP team have identified more than 300 different whale sharks while guiding eco-adventurers from around the world through a whale shark swimming experience that is safe for human and shark alike.
What threatens the biggest shark in the world? Sadly, plastic pollution, boat collisions, bycatch, targeted illegal fisheries and climate change. Sightings of the majestic animal have been declining since 2005 off Mozambique, where a study was being done. No data is available about the population decline or increase in Madagascar, yet Stella and the dedicated team at MWSO are working to change all that in the future.
In response, the country’s conservation efforts and responsible tourism practices are steadily improving. It is critical to choose a responsible operator who promotes a safe and respectful swimming with whale shark experience. Thankfully, the Madagascar Whale Shark Project has made it easier to choose wisely and swim smart.
Designed to ensure better cohabitation between humans and whale sharks, the CODE OF CONDUCT advise boats and swimmers how to help protect whale sharks and their sustainable future. Diamant explains, “Adopting a code of conduct for swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is about minimizing significant risks for sharks and humans while maximizing the guest experience. Our respectful approach to engaging with whale sharks promotes a relaxed atmosphere between operators and provides clients with a life-changing experience.”
This American Revel Traveler has made a $25 donation to the MWSP and encourages your support to help gather more data, educate and inspire others to launch their own conservation efforts. We’ve got something for all speeds –
Name and adopt a whale shark with a one-time contribution to the Madagascar Whale Shark Project. This includes naming rights, for life. You’ll receive monthly updates each season about your shark, as well as regular newsletter and a certificate by mail. For options please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUST DO IT
Whale shark season is Nosy Be runs from September to December; the best time to see them is in October and November (along with humpback whales). Join Stella and her team for a day in the water to swim with whale sharks. For private trips with Stella and her team, please email at email@example.com.
EVERY RANGER COUNTS
As the life support of conservation efforts across the world, wildlife rangers keep some of the planet’s most vulnerable and endangered species alive through tireless dedication and hard work against often-terrifying odds.
The illegal wildlife trade has become the world’s fourth-most profitable criminal trafficking enterprise, generating revenues of up to $17bn a year. The demand for wildlife products for luxury or ornamental trinkets, or for bogus medical “cures,” is the primary threat to the survival of some of the world’s most iconic species, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, pangolins and many more.
The role of a wildlife ranger is vital if we are to win this war.
“Rangers are the eyes, ears and heart of the bush and are often the only hope that stands between species survival and the sixth mass extinction. Without rangers, there is no hope for critically endangered species or in the ongoing and brutal fight against wildlife crime,” shares Georgina.
Meet Mr. Mulimo, a key leader who works in a special anti-poaching unit in Africa, and Georgina Lamb, Head of Programs and Policy at David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF), a wildlife conservation charity who funds special anti-poaching units and is fighting wildlife crime on multiple fronts – and continents.
Acknowledging the scale, professionalism and growth of organized crime and the devastating impacts it wreaks on the environment, DSWF has long adopted a team approach, encouraging and funding greater collaborative efforts between multifaceted law enforcement agencies. Operating across Africa and Asia, the organization has invested in conservation projects from the mountains of Mongolia, to the forests of Russia and Thailand and across the wild plains of Africa.
“Rangers are brave men and women who put their lives at risk every day, operating at the front line of wildlife conflict, stopping the brutal and devastating impacts of environmental crime,” shares Georgina.
Rangers defend wildlife and the communities that live and surround protected areas and habitats by deploying a range of highly varied skills and activities, from anti-poaching patrols and undercover sting operations, to locating and removing snares, the silent killer of the bush. In addition to collecting vital research material and monitoring wildlife populations, they respond to human-wildlife conflicts to mitigate often-dangerous situations for both human and animal.
The fight is hard and often unfair. Operating in some the world’s most hostile landscapes, wildlife rangers are often under-supported by deprived wildlife departments and have little in the way of counter strategies. These become tough disadvantages as they come face-to-face with the extremely well-funded and organized criminal syndicates that fuel wildlife crime. Too often in the news we hear of one-sided sophisticated gun fights and helicopter raids in which poachers and trafficking gangs take on brave wildlife rangers with limited resources who sometimes have only ever fired six bullets in training.
“On the black market, rhino horn is often worth more than cocaine and gold. That means for every 200 elephants brutally slaughtered, one ranger will lose his or her life in the fight to protect them,” explains Georgina.
Despite the dangers, brave men and women continue to sign up to protect what they love and respect. Rangers don’t want to see wild animals captured and put into cages in zoos in wholly unsuitable climates as the only means of their future survival; instead they fight for the belief that one day we will be able to live in harmony with wildlife and not see it as a commodity to be sold and traded to the highest bidder.
DSWF needs help to ensure that the species we all love and the humans protecting them are better supported. Ground-based conservation projects require significant effort, funds and co-ordination to have a positive impact employing many people with diverse jobs and skillsets.
“Ever since my childhood, I have always worked with natural resources. The way I look at things, if the animals are not protected, they’ll be finished. The way it is now, one scout on the ground combating poaching covers about 120km2. The area is just too vast for one person. We need to employ more scouts, reduce the area coverage per scout and then we stand a chance. These animals are vital. They should be given a chance to live,” states Neddy Mulimo.
To donate or learn more about the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and its Wildlife Rangers appeal, please visit https://davidshepherd.org/every-ranger-counts
GIVE AND TAKE
There is hope emerging from conservation efforts in Namibia, and the story of the Zannier Reserve is one of the most inspiring. The reserve was initially intended for development into an urban area, but thanks to the joint intervention of international athlete-turned physician Rudie van Vuuren and his wife Marlice and the Zannier family, the land has been converted into a pristine conservation area. Set on a 7,500-hectare, family-owned swath of land, the Zannier Reserve is blessed with a great biodiversity of habitat and wildlife.
Meet “the Cheetah Whisperer,” Marlice van Vuuren, a native Namibian woman who was raised with an abundance of love for Namibian bush. She has dedicated her life to the conservation of the magnificent animals and people who make Namibia the unique country that it is. Marlice grew up surrounded by the orphaned and injured animals on her parents’ farm where, for more than 30 years, all creatures in need of desperate care have found a haven and the loving touch they so desperately need.
In 2000 Marlice married her perfect match, Dr. Rudie van Vuuren, a man sharing her love for Namibia, its oft-threatened animal species and unique people. Together they founded N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary, Namibia’s only charity lodge, a place where the conservation of animals and culture are interlinked. And true to its name, N/a’an ku sê means “God will Protect us” in that beautiful San language.
Located inside the Zannier Reserve, the N/a’an ku sê Wildlife Sanctuary provides a safe haven and second chance for countless injured, orphaned and conflict animals. More than just a “run-of-the mill” game reserve, it is a vibrant, dynamic sanctuary that plays an active conservation role in Namibia. An impressive 120 carnivores have been rescued and released in the wild by Naankuse in 10 years!
In accordance with Namibian law as stipulated by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), using captive large carnivores for breeding is strictly forbidden, as is the touching them. At N/a’an ku sê, human contact is limited with large carnivores earmarked for potential release, as habituation of any kind can lower their survival chances in the wild. The Sanctuary’s motto to keep the wild in the wild where possible, and to return the wild to the wild if circumstances allow. Whenever possible, animals are released into suitable habitats – from the smallest meerkat to the largest leopard. Only animals too ill, abused or habituated remain at the sanctuary.
With its outstanding reputation, it’s no wonder visitors from all corners of the globe come to N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary in search of enrichment through its impressive volunteering opportunities, which can last anywhere from two weeks to three months at five different sites around the country. Wildlife Conservation Volunteers provide an important resource in caring for and feeding the animals on a daily basis, as well as, helping to maintain and develop the sanctuary. Volunteers feed the animals, take them on walks, prepare the animals food and help with any other projects that may arise at the sanctuary. Although the focus is hands-on animal welfare, there are also educational and recreational activities for volunteers, and all fees help sustain the Foundation’s ongoing work. After all, all work and no play is a big “no no” at N/a’an ku sê.
Looking for the perfect place to treat yourself after “doing good” at N/a’an ku sê? Just a short distance away, Namibia’s newest luxury adventure lodge, Omaanda by Zannier Hotels, offers discerning guests not only front-row access to Namibia’s most emblematic wildlife, but also serious rest and relaxation. The experience comes complete with 10 well-appointed round thatched huts along with a cozy bar, spa, boutique and heated infinity pool overlooking the majestic savannah. Guests can take advantage of twice-daily excursions and safaris to top-off their thirst for adventure, including VIP access to N/a’an ku sê and the Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary.
Photos and Sources: The Omaanda Lodge by Zannier Hotels; N/a’an ku sê Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary; The African Wildlife Foundation
At the most basic level, a guide is a person who advises or shows the way to others. In practice, however, being a guide is more than a profession; it is an art that requires creativity, enthusiasm, love for all living things and a lot of patience. To the best of the best out there (you know who you are), the American Revel Traveler says thank you!
Meet GodBless Mamuya.
“Isn’t that enormous heard of elephants a little close?” I asked my guide. In his kind and reassuring way, GodBless whispered back, “We respect the animals and so they will respect you.”
As with any profession, safari guides bring their individual strengths, personality and style to the job. Of course, it begins with enhanced knowledge of wildlife, habitat and everything that falls under that, including conservation, behavior and so much more. And guiding includes the need for exceptional people skills in order to understand the dynamics of dealing with different guests and managing their individual needs and expectations. An exceptional guide doesn’t just find wildlife; he/she makes the moments leading up to the encounter effortless, interesting and enjoyable.
GodBless fits the bill as a world-class specialist who knows his trade, understands the landscape, enjoys people and is proficient at every aspect of his job. Having attended tourism college in Arusha, his native city, GodBless first began his extensive training in tourism and hospitality with Africa’s premier luxury outfit, the Elewana Collection, nearly five years ago.
The origin of the name Elewana is the Swahili word meaning “harmony”, a concept that perfectly embodies GodBless, and I will always remember his kindness and wisdom as he guided me and my fellow travelers through Tarangire National Park during a recent stay at the Elewana Collection’s Tarangire Treetops luxury property. During one of our many effortless conversations, he passionately described how Elewana’s Life & Land Foundation is the company’s commitment to responsible tourism, ensuring future generations can enjoy the wonders of Africa and safari adventure.
With the support from The Life & Land Foundation, Honey Guide Foundation manages the Program which focuses on reducing human-elephant conflict through methods of crop protection for local landowners in the Randilen Wildlife Management Area of Tanzania. Elephants frequently leave Randilen and Tarangire National Park to raid crops grown in the villages north of Randilen. This risks not only the livelihoods of local farmers, but also the lives of the elephants themselves, as people often target them with spears to protect their crops. This often creates a negative attitude towards wildlife and conservation among the villagers hence the necessity for a Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation Program.
As part of the Program, Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) Toolkits are provided for farmers to deter elephants from raiding. GodBless’ knowledge and care for his surroundings and the wildlife in Tarangire actually inspired me to make a donation, in the form of a badly needed Elephant Horn, one of five key interventions in the HEC Toolkit used to redirect elephants, thus protecting crops and reducing conflict. The horn humanely encourages the majestic animals to turn a different direction, removing them from harm’s way.
I learned so much from GodBless, but I know I only scratched the surface of this man who is so committed to his profession, his surroundings and the future of our planet.
The American Revel: Your name is very special. Where did it come from?
GodBless: My full name is GodBless Mamuya. It is a name that came from my grandfather. Before he died, he told me that he chose his name for me because it means, “the one who will come help people.”
TAR: Why did you become a Driving Guide?
GodBless: The bush is my office! I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my working day than at Treetops and in Tarangire National Park. I enjoy sharing my knowledge of nature and animals with visitors from all over the world. And I get to show them my beautiful country. I am very passionate about the wildlife and conserving the environment that we live and work in. Helping in any way to make sure humans and animals can coexist successfully is very important to me.
TAR: What do you love about Tarangire National Park?
GodBless: The management of the Tarangire National Park is amazing. I am inspired by the dedication of everyone involved in the protection of our wildlife and the enjoyment of our guests. The park is famous for its huge number of elephants, baobab trees and tree-climbing lions. Making a donation to the Land & Life Foundation for equipment and people to support the coexistence of the communities and the wildlife is always welcome.
TAR: When I visit your native Arusha, what should I do?
GodBless: When you visit Arusha, you might go to a small restaurant called Fifi. It has the best hot chocolate.
TAR: What would you like people to know who haven’t been to Tanzania before?
GodBless: Tanzania is a peaceful country with a diverse ecosystem, rich cultures, wildlife, beautiful scenery and warm, welcoming citizens. Warm during the day and cool at night, Tarangire Treetops is the most marvelous place to enjoy and get a good night’s rest on the planet – at least so our guests tell me!
TAR: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
GodBless: I have always wanted to visit New York. After that, I’d see Dubai so I could see the Skyscrapers in person.
Produced by Corry Cook
Sources and Photos: Many thanks to: the Elewana Collection; The Life & Land Foundation.