Rhinos Now Extinct In Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park

Rhinos are now extinct in Limpopo National ParkAn official from the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique made a sobering announcement this week when it was revealed that rhinos are now extinct inside the park. António Abacar, the park’s director, indicated that no rhinos have been spotted in Limpopo since January, which leads him to believe that poachers have killed the few animals that had remained. With rhinos now gone, he believes those same poachers have now turned their attention on the park’s elephant population, which is endangered as well.

Rhinos are hunted throughout Africa for their horns, which are then sold on the black market in certain Asian countries. The horns are highly valued for their use in traditional medicines throughout Asia, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that indicates they hold any kind of medicinal properties whatsoever. The mistaken belief that a rhino horn is capable of curing any number ailments has pushed the species to the brink of extinction across the entire continent.

The Limpopo National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which includes Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. This large sanctuary was created in 2001, with the three countries agreeing to remove numerous fences between their lands so that the animals could continue to migrate freely across the region. At the time, more than 1000 elephants and 300 rhinos were relocated into Limpopo National Park to help bolster their populations there. At the start of this year, only about 15 of those rhinos were believed to still be living inside the park. Now it seems that those are gone as well.The poaching throughout the region has gotten so bad that South Africa has threatened to restore its fences along the border with Mozambique. According to the article linked to above, over the past five years South African law enforcement has killed 279 Mozambicans who were caught in the act of poaching, while arresting another 300. That would seem to indicate that much of South Africa’s poaching problems isn’t homegrown but instead comes from its neighbor.

It is incredibly sad to me to think that we on the edge of wiping out an entire species because some people erroneously believe that its horn can be used in medicines. The rhino is being pushed to the brink and it may soon be gone altogether.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

5 Countries That Are Great Alternatives To Their Crowded Neighbors

It’s the great hypocrisy in the mind of every traveler that they want to tour a place free from other tourists. Grumbling that a place is overcrowded isn’t without grounds, though. Who hasn’t wanted to pull a Dr. Manhattan on the tour groups that take group photos with every single person’s camera? And boy, what we wouldn’t give to disappear the backpackers pretending to make out with statues of the Buddha.

We can overlook these indignities as necessary evils most of the time. In reality, tourists are going to be present at the big attractions everywhere, and the penalty of avoiding tourists would basically be staying at home permanently.

That being said, for those who just can’t take it anymore, we’ve compiled a list of some less infested options. These five countries offer up similar attractions to their neighbors, but see far fewer visitors to the nooks and crannies, which will make any tourist-weary tourist breathe a little easier.

Montenegro (Crowded Neighbor: Croatia)

Croatia’s attractive coastline is a magnet for tourists. The attendant income from droves of foreigners was one of the reasons Serbs attempted to include it in their “Greater Serbia.” The subsequent Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, and the current crowds milling about Dubrovnik are the spoils of victory. Little Montenegro, which declared independence from Serbia only in 2006, shares the same coastline and a lot of history with its more famous neighbor. The country currently sees far fewer tourists (1.2 million vs. 9.9 million) visiting its excellent beaches, like the superb spits of sand at Sveti Stefan and Petrovac. Nor do many tourists hike and cycle around Montenegro’s untouched forests at Biogradska Gora and Skadar Lake National Parks. Montenegro’s comparative anonymity provides an experience that can’t be matched in Croatia.

Cambodia (Crowded Neighbor: Thailand)

Cambodia’s main attraction, Angkor Wat, certainly doesn’t dwell in obscurity. This single attraction saw over a million visitors last year, which accounts for more than a third of all visitors to the country. Some of Thailand‘s other neighbors, like Laos and Myanmar, can barely achieve those numbers on a national level. However, when it comes to pretenders to Thailand’s tourism throne, Cambodia is the only one in the region that can offer attractions that go tit for tat with Thailand’s best. Beaches? The empty white sands of Koh Rong and Ream National Park beckon, as does the party-centric seaside town of Sihanoukville. Ruins? Cambodia rolls deep; Angkor Wat is backed up by Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer Empire now overgrown in the jungle, and Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkorian temple complex. Interesting capital? Phnom Penh, the “Pearl of Asia,” boasts French colonial architecture and a park-strewn riverfront. Food? A taste of amok trey or lok lak will make you forget all about pad thai.

Estonia (Crowded Neighbor: Sweden)

Sweden is a huge Scandinavian tourism juggernaut. Estonia? Just a scrappy little Baltic state. What’s the appeal then? A lot, actually. Estonia, like Sweden, is a nature-lover’s paradise. Soomaa National Park, the “land of bogs,” is one of the best canoeing destinations in Europe and is home to wolves, bears, elk and other wildlife. Estonia’s crumpled Baltic coastline contains a mind-boggling number of shallow soft-sand beaches, especially in the summer capital of Pärnu. Estonia’s past is also worth a look. While its Soviet experience is visible in some of the less adventurous architecture, the medieval castles are well preserved and atmospheric. Tallinn, the capital, is flooded with tourists, but island life on Saaremaa is quiet and isolated. Saaremaa boasts a 13th-century castle fortress and other curios like the 100-year-old Angla windmills and a Gothic church bearing symbols of the occult.

Mozambique (Crowded Neighbor: South Africa)

South Africa is head and shoulders above its Sub-Saharan neighbors when it comes to tourist numbers. Its famous game reserves, coastline and unique heritage attract almost 10 million visitors a year. Mozambique can’t match the tourist infrastructure that its neighbor to the south has meticulously erected, but it can offer other competitive attractions. Before its large mammal population was decimated by the civil war, Gorongosa Park was considered to be Africa’s Eden. Efforts to revive the park are underway, and all of Africa’s Big 5, save the rhino, can be seen here. Maputo, the capital, is small and friendly and features Portuguese colonial architecture and an extremely laid-back vibe. Mozambique’s true attraction, though, is its coast, where surfers (of the kite and wind variety) enjoy the unspoiled beaches at Vilanculos and divers explore pristine coral without the crowds at Pemba and Tofo Beach.

Iran (Crowded Neighbor: Turkey)

Turkey sees some 27 million tourists a year and Iran, well … not nearly as many. Official mouthpieces assert some 3 million tourists visited Iran in 2011, though less than 1 percent of those were traveling for nonreligious reasons. Those few tourists had historical sites like Persepolis and Imam Square all to themselves. They experienced Iran’s outstanding natural attractions – lush forests and beaches on the Caspian Sea in the north and deadly deserts and sunny Persian Gulf coastlines in the south – without the crowds that bog down these landscapes in Turkey. Those travelers were also some of the only foreign tourists in Tehran, enjoying its multitude of parks and museums, and were alone again in Yazd, a city of compacted sand reminiscent of Tatooine. Then they joined Iranians on the empty slopes of Dizin, one of the best value-for-money ski resorts in the world, and one of the few spots where Iranians are able to pull back the veil and let loose.

[Photo Credits: Kumukulanui, ecl1ght, (flicts), VilleHoo, F H Mira, Adam Hodge]

South African Airways introduces virtual itineraries

Elephants on the Serengeti South African Airways Vacations has introduced a new feature on its website that gives visitors the ability to explore options for travel in Africa like never before. The company has launched a series of “virtual itineraries” that use a combination of maps, photos and points of interest data to help travelers choose the right trip for themselves and to prepare them for their experience when they reach their destinations.

The site offers tours to a variety of locations including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and more. To explore those options simply visit the SAAV website and search for itineraries based on the location you would most like to visit or the type of travel experience that you’re looking for. The search results will provide the name of the available tours, a brief description and the price. There will be a button that will allow you to view the virtual itinerary for any given tour as well.

Opening one of those virtual itineraries presents you with an overview of the tour that includes each of the destinations that you’ll be visiting, the number of nights you’ll be staying there and the type of accommodations you can expect. Selecting the “day-by-day” view zooms the map in close to show more details about the area you’ll be visiting on any given day and offers some suggestions of things to see and do in the region. It will also show you where your hotel for that night is located and even offers images and detailed information about those accommodations. The virtual itineraries also provide notes about the daily activities, giving travelers plenty of information about what’s on the agenda for that day of the tour.

All of these tools help to take the guesswork out of a visit to southern or eastern Africa. Those two regions are popular dream destinations for may travelers, but planning and preparing for such a trip can be an intimidating experience for many. With the SAAV virtual itineraries you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting when spending your hard-earned dollars, which can be very reassuring for travelers who aren’t particularly fond of surprises.

African game reserves flooded, travelers stranded

game reservesKruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and a UNESCO Biosphere location. This week, the park was closed as massive flooding of the once-in-one-hundred-years magnitude stranding American and Canadian tourists who had to be airlifted out yesterday.

After a swollen river burst its banks and washed-out a bridge. “There wasn’t any other way to get out of the park,” Canadian Linda Freeman, airlifted out of the area told Reuters.

Flooding in southeast Africa this week has killed at least five people, forced thousands to evacuate homes and led to an airlift of about 20 foreign tourists in the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, weather officials said.

All organized game drives have been suspended as more than 1,500 people have been forced to flee their homes with local weather stations reporting a 267mm rainfall (10.5 inches) in one 24 hour period earlier this week, over five times the classification for heavy rain.




Gadling’s Kraig Becker was on safari in Kruger National Park not long ago and tells us:

“In all, I spent six days in Kruger, and was given the chance to explore it both on foot and by vehicle. In those days, I found that it lived up to its billing as one of the top safari destinations in all of Africa. Not only is the wildlife all that you would expect, and more, but the landscapes are breathtaking as well. In my travels within the park boundaries, I saw beautiful rivers, emerald forests, and stunning canyons. The gorgeous scenery was an element I wasn’t expecting, and it helped to further separate Kruger from the Serengeti.” Read more here.

Flickr photo by Sito Wijngaarden

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.