Pick up any safari brochure and you could be forgiven for thinking the main criterion for choosing a particular holiday destination revolves around accommodation, with most of the space taken up by illustrations of camps and lodges, and much less given over to the wildlife that is the main reason for going in the first place.
Now, that is about to change when Expert Africa launch their ground-breaking new website today. “It’s based on two years’ worth of “citizen science” assiduously compiled from reports on wildlife sightings received by our travellers,” says Chris McIntyre, who set up the company in 1994. “That is the key to it all and I think it will be a game-changer for anyone planning a safari – especially for those who are desperate to see a particular animal.”
For the first time, would-be travellers can weigh up their best chances of completing their wish-list of species with solid data that answers such questions as:
What is the best area for me to see a leopard? Or which camp has the best wild dog sightings?
“As far as we know,” says McIntyre, “no other site is using a similar citizen-science approach to questions like these, let alone display the answers publicly.”
From my own observations gathered over a lifetime on safari in Africa I checked out what the website had to say about leopards. Being shy and essentially nocturnal they are not always easy to find; but choosing the right destination will hugely improve your chances. My first choice for the best leopard sightings was Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park – especially if you were to stay at a camp such as Kaingo (even its name means leopard in the local language). Sure enough, Kaingo come out top of the list with a 100 per cent record and multiple sightings.
Other must-see species – notably lion and elephant – are much easier to pin down; but even here it is possible to improve your chances by choosing areas where multiple sightings are guaranteed. In Kenya, for instance, if you go to Naboisho or one of the other private wildlife concessions bordering the Masai Mara National Reserve, you are likely to encounter lions on every game drive.
But the website is not just confined to the “Big Five” (Elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard), and some of its most fascinating detail relates to Africa’s more elusive species, such as the aardvark. Memorably described by wildlife film-maker Alan Root as “the first word in the dictionary and the last word in anteater design”, these nocturnal burrowers spend their lives digging up termites and represent a mega-tick for serious safari-goers. They are so rare that the likelihood of an Expert Africa client seeing one are rated at no better than 4 per cent. Unless you stay at Old Mondoro Camp in Zambia, where your chances shoot up to 40 per cent.
More intriguing still is the fact that all those extra eyes on the ground as represented by Expert Africa’s clients over the past two years have helped conservation scientists to redraw the map representing the distribution of hyenas and their territories. Their observations referred to all three species – the spotted, striped and brown hyena. In northern Botswana, for instance, it was shown that brown hyenas had extended their range along the Kwando River where they had never been recorded before.
“Matching our clients’ expectations is what it’s all about,” says Chris McIntyre.
With wildlife you can seldom offer a complete guarantee, but this new website of ours will hugely increase everyone’s chances of going home with the photos and the memories they wanted.”