Alaskan woman kicked by moose while trying to pet it

An Alaskan woman was given a harsh lesson last week when she was kicked by a moose after attempting to pet it. The moose was spotted in downtown Anchorage, where it was busy feeding on trees, when it reportedly wandered past the unidentified woman, who decided that it might be a good idea to reach out and pet the animal. The moose thought otherwise.

According to witnesses, the creature didn’t take too kindly to be touched, and kicked the woman, described as being in her 20’s, several times, including in the shoulder and chest. Although police and medics were called to the scene, the woman’s injuries were not serious enough to send her to the hospital. The moose appeared to be uninjured as well.

The unidentified young woman should count herself lucky. A moose can easily weigh in excess of 1000 pounds and can do a lot of damage to a person without actually trying. When agitated, they have been known to not only attack anyone standing too close, but also stomp them while they are on the ground. Fortunately in this case, the animal merely reacted to defend itself and moved on.

This story serves as an excellent reminder that when our travels take us into close proximity with wild animals, that we should remember that they are just that – wild! They have no qualms about protecting themselves, or their young, and they can be capable of doing a lot of damage to us puny humans. So the next time you pass a bit too close to a large animal in the wild, be sure to give it a wide berth. And what ever you do, don’t try to pet a moose, even if it is walking through town.

[Photo credit: John J. Mosesso via WikiMedia Commons]

20 questions to ask when booking your African safari

A luxury safari is big investment. With rates at some lodges going for $800 to $1200 per night (and even mid-range prices in the $400-$500 range per couple, per night), it’s an experience that needs to be perfect. Here are questions you need to ask when booking your dream safari lodge.

How much land will you cover and what animals will you most likely see?

Different concentrations of animals live in different countries, so depending on what you want to see the most, you may be interested in one location over the other. Similarly, every lodge is different, and if you stay on a private reserve, your experience can vary widely from property to property. Be sure to ask how big the lodge’s property is and what animals live there. Many lodge websites also have a ranger’s blog. Read the past few months’ entries and you can get a good feel for what animals you might see on your trip. For instance, the lodge I recently stayed in South Africa at only had two leopards. We were lucky enough to see one, but many of the other groups staying there did not.

What is the daily schedule and how many game drives will you go on each day? What time is check-in and check-out?

At most luxury lodges, game drives happen very early in the morning (around 6am) and in early evening (around 4:30pm) and last for three hours each. Breakfast will be served after the morning drive; dinner is after the evening one (so bring snacks if your eating schedule requires it). Some lodges include a mid-day drive as well. Find out the schedule and try to plan your arrival and departure times so that you can do game drives on the day you get there and the day you leave. This will also help you figure out how much down-time you’ll have to fill between drives.

What is included in the rate – meals, drinks, game drives? How much tip is normal?
Some lodges are truly all-inclusive, but they tend to be more expensive. At most, food and game drives are covered, but drinks – including bottled water, soft drinks, beer and wine served with meals and while on safari – are not. This can add a significant cost to your budget if you like to drink with dinner. You can bring your own wine to most places, but they will charge a “corkage fee” that can cost the same as a bottle from their cellar. Tipping your guide is common practice and should be figured into your budget as well.

What other optional activities are available at the lodge?

Between the post-morning-drive breakfast and the afternoon drive, you’ll generally only have one activity planned: lunch. Other than that (and probably a much-needed nap), you may have as much as 6 hours to fill. To occupy that time, many lodges offer additional activities like spa treatments or extra safaris. These come at an extra price, so budget accordingly or bring a few books to read. Check to see if your lodge has a pool where you can relax (most do), or a tv to watch (many don’t).

How many guests does the lodge/camp accommodate? How many other guests will go on safari with you? Are children allowed on the safari?
The number of guests at each lodge or camp can vary widely from less than a dozen to over a hundred. If having a more intimate experience is important to you, be sure to ask how many other guests will be on the property with you, and how many will share a safari vehicle with you. Whether you are traveling with children or not, check the lodge’s policy to see if any little ones might be running around your camp.

What vaccines will I need? What do I need to pack? Do I need travel insurance?
Most lodges will give you a packet of info that will let you know if you need malaria meds (some safari lodges are located in malaria-free zones) and any other vaccines you will need (aways check with your doctor as well). They’ll also give you guidelines on what to pack. The general rule is to bring lightweight, light-colored clothing. It gets cold in the evenings and early mornings, so a light sweater is recommended, as are a raincoat, hat, sunscreen, and bug spray. Check with your lodge on the necessity of hiking boots. On many safaris, you’ll spend nearly all your time seated in the vehicle so special footwear is not required. Be sure to inquire about travel insurance too – some tour companies insist you have it.

When is the best time to go?
Your safari experience will be different depending on the season. In summer in South Africa, for example, the land is much more lush and green from November to February. You may have a harder time finding animals (they won’t be congregating by the water holes), but you may see some newly-born baby animals. Winter’s dry season makes for better viewing, but is much more expensive, with more visitors.

How far is the lodge from the airport and is transportation provided?
Getting from the airport to your lodge can be another budget buster. While many lodges provide free transportation from the nearest airport to the camp, some do not. You’ll either need to rent a car, hire a private driver, or pay for a charter flight to the reserve’s private airstrip. If you are on a tighter budget or have limited time, it’s best to pick a place closer to the airport or that offers free transport.

What are the accommodations like?
Some safari lodges resemble luxury hotels, complete with all the modern amenities. Others are much smaller affairs, offering basic accommodations. Whichever route you choose to go, the main things to consider are: Does the room have a fridge or mini-bar for snacks (remember, most lodges serve three meals at set times)? Is there air-conditioning or a fan (many only have fans)? Are the bathrooms private or shared? If the doors don’t lock (at tented camps, most don’t), is there a safe for valuables? Is there access to the internet?

What meals will be served and can you accommodate dietary restrictions?
The only part of my safari experience that disappointed me was food. While I had visions of exotic game meals each night, instead, all but one night we were served an eclectic mix of more cosmopolitan entrees that ranged from lamb curry to beef lasagna. I wish I had specifically asked for sample menus so that I knew that I wouldn’t be trying too many exotic meats on safari (and could have tried them elsewhere in South Africa).

How is the resort eco-friendly and what does it do in terms of conservation?
Most of the high-end resorts I’ve looked at are proud of their conservation efforts (the one I stayed at had an onsite Endangered Species Center) and of their efforts to cut down on energy use and protect the environment. If the resort you are looking at doesn’t specifically mention their programs, be sure to ask. The point of a safari is to come see these beautiful animals in the wild. It would be a shame to play in a part destroy them or their habitat while you do it.

Plane hits pig on runway and passengers panic

It wasn’t a wolf’s huffing and puffing that led to the demise of a pig on the runway at the Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe last Tuesday. Nope, it was a MA60 60-seater attempting to take off. The wild bush pig may or may not have seen the Air Zimbabwe plane coming. But, come it did.

Poor pig. Poor plane. Poor passengers–and poor flight attendant who had to yell, “‘Evacuate!'” after the damaged plane ended up off the runway with dust and smoke filling the cabin.

That’s not the worst of it.

When the panicked passengers and crew tried to escape using the plane’s emergency exit doors, they couldn’t go out one of them. It was jammed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, once they managed to wrestle the plane’s main door open with a mighty effort, two passengers were hurt when they fell into a ditch as they scrambled away from the plane. Because this mishap happened at night, the ditch wasn’t easily visible in the dark.

There’s more. The emergency rescue team didn’t show up for five minutes after the crash because the secret police beat them to the plane. Instead of offering assistance, the police’s main concern was arresting two passengers who were taking pictures.

That’s not all. It took an hour for the 37 passengers to be given water and five hours for them to be allowed to leave the airport. Friends and relatives, who came to the airport after finding out about the accident via cell phone calls from people on the plane, were not told any details about what had happened or given access to the passengers.

Along with reading like a bizarre slapstick story, this pig-on-the-runway-makes-mayhem tale is a good reminder that no matter how bad a flight might seem, it could be worse. [The Times]

Plan a luxury safari in the US with American Safari Cruises

When most people think of a “safari” they think of hiking through the bush of South Africa or trekking through the jungles of Costa Rica in search of exotic animals native to the region.

But here in the US we have plenty of our own wild animals to see and going “on safari” here doesn’t have to mean doing one of those drive-though “wild animal” parks where non-native animals like zebras and giraffes flock to your car for the food they know you’re going to throw at them through your open window.

For a more upscale safari trip in the United States, check out American Safari Cruises, which offers small-group ultra-luxury all-inclusive sailings around North America. There’s aren’t your typical mega-cruises. The vessels are yatchs and are limited to 12, 22 or 36 guests. All meals, airport transfers, alcoholic drinks and shores excursions are included in the price. And according to the company’s website, they institute green and sustainable practices, and give back to the communities they visit on each safari.

Some of the safaris offered include spotting whales, black bears, grizzly bears, bald eagles, mountain goats and wolves in Alaska, birdwatching and snorkeling with sea turtles and exotic fish in Hawaii, and looking for whales, sea lions, seals, black bears and deer in the Pacific Northwest.

Cruises range from 7 to 14 nights and rates start at about $5000 per person.

Going to Yosemite? Don’t take the minivan!

One of the great draws of visiting a National Park like Yosemite in California is that you can get very close to nature and see animals in their own habitat. But there is a limit to just how close you want to get to certain animals, especially black bears, which can be dangerous to both humans and cars as they look for food.

There are several ways to reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with a black bear, and as it turns out, not driving a mini van may be one of them.

A study done by the Journal Mammology over a 7 year period in Yosemite has shown that black bears in the region seem to prefer minivans as their vehicle of choice when looking for a snack. But, the study reveals, it’s not actually the car style and size the bears are attracted to (and no, they don’t care about the car’s crash safety ratings either), it’s more about fuel efficiency. And by “fuel efficiency”, they mean which cars provide the most food for the bears.

It seems that minivan drivers are more likely to be traveling with a family and toting around small children – children who inevitably leave open snack containers in the car or who leave a trail of chips and cookies behind them.

The researchers also hypothesized that minivans that often carry small children may have stronger food odors even when there is no food inside, because kids are likely to spill, and that minivans may be more likely to contain a cooler of food, because they are larger and can accommodate one more easily. The researchers also wondered if minivans were just easier for the bears to break into.

Out of 908 cars broken into in the 7 year period, 22% were minivans, 22.5% were SUVs, 17% were small cars and 13.7% were sedans.