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Wild at Heart - Safaris

If you want to enjoy an incredible wildlife adventure while also helping the animals or giving something back to the community that hosts you, try one of these safaris with a conscience, says Antonia Windsor.

Royal Tiger Safari India

Not many experiences can match the thrill of spotting a Bengal tiger, but with fewer than 4,000 of these animals left in the wild, seeing one of these magnificent beasts in its natural habitat is a rare joy. Up your chances by heading to the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, which is tiger heartland and home to a substantial chunk of India’s 38 tiger reserves. Four lodges owned and operated by Taj Hotels and &Beyond – a luxury responsible- tourism company specialising in community building and wildlife preservation – form a circuit where you can get close to the endangered beasts while helping support their preservation. India’s jungle landscapes are rich with unique flora and fauna and are scattered with ruins of ancient forts; look for tiger, sloth bear, leopard, wolf and wild dog on twice-daily game drives through the Pench, Kanha, Panna or Bandhavgarh National parks. Nestled in the lush tropical forests of Bandhavgarh National Park, which has the highest density of tigers on the subcontinent, is one of &Beyond’s four lodges, Mahua Kothi, a recent addition to the Relais & Châteaux family. Here, 12 huts sit in 40 acres of grounds, all finished in an elegant yet understated style; private  courtyards and natural fabrics accompany traditional mud floors and open rafters with roughly hewn beams. But this is luxury with a conscience – all four eco-friendly lodges that you stay at are involved in educating local children about conservation, supporting community infrastructure growth and tiger preservation plans.

After a day with the animals, or visiting the local villages and schools, help prepare thali in the lodge’s kitchens before tucking into a fine feast on the candlelit terrace, serenaded by the sounds of the jungle.

Indian Tbwl 01

Travel Details

The 15-night ‘A Royal Tiger Safari’ costs from £4,522 per person. http://andbeyond.com

Elephant Migration Botswana

Home to 9,000 elephants that converge on this area of Botswana at the end of the dry season each year, Selinda Reserve is the heart of Africa’s last great elephant range. Up until a few years ago, 80 per cent of this land was used for trophy hunting – it’s now a hunt-free zone and the operators of the reserve eventually hope to create a vast elephant sanctuary that extends to Namibia and Angola, giving the animals back their ancient migration routes.

Stay in the luxury tented camp, Zafara, which runs entirely on solar power, with decks built from reclaimed railway sleepers and furniture made from flotsam gathered after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Zafara’s game vehicles run on 85 per cent recycled cooking oil from the kitchens. The camp is located on the eastern side of the tranquil Zibalianja Lagoon, so you are ideally placed to explore the vast, beautiful, palm-studded plains that are also home to lion, hippo, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, cheetah and wild dogs. You can show your support for the human side of Botswana and head out to Xigera Camp, a 10-room settlement built on raised platforms in the heart of the Okavango Delta; a portion of the cost of your stay here goes towards supporting a local orphanage. Push out to the furthest reaches of the Delta to the intimate Duba Plains Camp, which has only six rooms set among seasonally flooded plains. Relax to the sound of birdsong and the wind rustling through the fig and ebony trees.

Botswana  Tb Elephant Bulls Crossing Through  Linyanti Swamps1

Travel Details

A suggested eight-night itinerary including observing the elephant migration in Botswana costs from £5,920 per person (excluding international flights) and features two nights at Duba Plains, three nights at Xigera Camp and three nights at Zarafa on a fully inclusive basis with all meals, most drinks and game drives. Includes flights from Maun to the lodges. http://scottdunn.com

A Deserving Desert South Africa

High up in the harsh beauty of the Kalahari desert plains, towards the border with Botswana, are a couple of luxury safari lodges that stand alone in a vast landscape of more than 100,000 hectares. This is Tswalu, South Africa’s largest private game reserve, where the lodges are part of a large-scale conservation project to ‘restore the Kalahari to itself’, bankrolled by the Oppenheimer family.

When they took over the site in 1999, it was a desolate landscape stripped of its natural beauty by intensive farming and the relentless hunting of its wildlife. Now, among the species that make unique game viewing are aardvark, aardwolf, Cape fox and meerkats. This isn’t Kruger, and you won’t tick off the big five in one outing (although there are four – only elephants are absent). What you will have, however, is an unforgettable experience in a unique, almost deserted, landscape.

Tswalu  Motse  Close

Travel Details

From £580 per person per night, excluding flights and transfers. http://tswalu.com

Low-Impact Luxury Malawi

Take a trip around Malawi without costing the earth; Wilderness Safaris is a big believer in carbon neutrality, and makes every effort to ensure its impact on the environment is low. Travel along the dramatic western spine of the Great Rift Valley and spend the night perched 2,000 metres up on Zomba Mountain in an eco-friendly lodge. You’ll meet with locals in the market, then spend an afternoon birdwatching in pine forests or visiting an old colonial tea estate.

The floodplains of Liwonde National Park provide excellent game viewing; Wilderness Safaris supports the park as one of its many charity projects (which also include working with children), as this area is a crucial repopulation ground for threatened species. Visit the first national park dedicated to preserving freshwater fish – you can snorkel here in magnificent Lake Malawi with some of the 2,000 colourful varieties.

Tswalu  Motse In Natural Materials

Travel Details

The 11-day ‘Great Malawi Journey’ can be booked on a tailor-made basis, price on enquiry. http://wilderness-safaris.com

Volunteer in Kenya Kenya

The contrast between the poverty and hardship experienced by local communities throughout Africa and the luxury of game drives and sundowners in the bush for tourists has seldom felt so incongruous; buck the trend and lend a hand in a Kenyan village and you’ll not only learn about local culture but also make a difference in people’s lives.

Spend five days volunteering in a local orphanage and assisting doctors in a medical clinic on the outskirts of Nairobi; you’ll also have time to explore the city’s colonial architecture. You can then set out to spot the big five in the Samburu Game Reserve, home to species unique to this part of Africa, such as the reticulated giraffe, Grévy’s zebra, beisa oryx and Somali ostrich. You’ll also observe the countless flamingos on Lake Nakuru and visit the Masai Mara game reserve, famed for its lion and wildebeest populations.

Stay in a Zambian Village Zambia

South Luangwa National Park is regarded as one of the world’s greatest wildlife sancturies, due to the high concentration of game drawn to the Luangwa river. Here you’ll find at least 60 different animal species and 400 types of bird. At Kawaza Village, beside the wildlife-dense park, you can experience life in a real Zambian village – not simply one created for tourists. This enterprise has secured the livelihood of a 50-family settlement by building four huts for up to eight guests in total to immerse themselves in Kunda culture. There is nothing contrived about this experience; you fetch water, prepare dinner, teach English at the local school and learn about traditional medicine. In the evening, you can join in with village entertainment and dancing.

Tswalu Cheetah Landscape

Travel Details

A seven-night safari with Expert Africa includes two nights at Kawaza Village, with the remaining accommodation in stylish camps,
and costs from £2,484 per person. http://expertafrica.com

Greet the Gorillas in Uganda Uganda

All would-be Dian Fosseys can do their part in saving the endangered mountain gorilla by joining a safari that donates US$100 to a preservation charity for every person that stays at its lodges. Tucked into the dense foliage surrounding a seemingly secret gorge at the edge of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kyambura Gorge is the newest of three eco-lodges owned by Volcano Safaris in Rwanda and Uganda.

Here, in the centre of an area that straddles Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo, you’ll spot some of the most diverse and important birds, primates and wildlife biodiversity in Africa. Working closely with the loca community to rejuvenate land and protect gorillas – Volcano Safaris have purchased a nearby illegal brickworks to turn it back into wetlands – it relies on visitors to fund its efforts. Scale the densely forested hills to the groups of gorillas; spend time observing and tracking them, and learning from your guides about efforts to protect them – there are only about 750 left in the world.

Besides gorilla tracking, you’ll have the chance to go on game drives in Queen Elizabeth Park, cruise on the Kazinga Channel, and stand on the equator. There’s also primate spotting on a smaller-scale (but just as spectacular) – follow the fast-moving chimpanzees in the Kyambura Gorge and look out for the golden monkeys in Mgahinga.

Volcano Safaris  Gorilla  Ubumwe  Ca07Ad

Travel Details

The 12-day ‘Classic Uganda & Rwanda’ safari starts from £4,950 per person. http://volcanoessafaris.com

Track Black Rhino in a Community-Run Rreserve Namibia

Home to the largest free-roaming population of black rhinoceros in the world, the ancient wilderness of north-west Namibia provides an epic setting for serious safari- goers. The semi-nomadic Himba and Herero people have lived and tracked animals on this land for centuries; they will be your hosts and guides as you explore the wildlife-rich Kunene Region.

After time spent in bustling Opuwo, the capital of northern Kunene, trek across the richly diverse landscape, exploring dried riverbeds and imposing passes along the Steilrand mountain range. Here you can see lions, elephant, giraffe, gemsbok and kudu, as well as local herdsmen with their cattle.

Fifteen years ago, Kunene Conservancy Safaris was established by the Himba and Herero communities to protect their natural heritage and stamp out poaching; their work has led to the number of lions in the region increasing from 30 to 120, and last year, they released a further 15 black rhinos back into the wild. You will also get to know the people of north west Namibia: go on plant- spotting walks with a local Himba woman or join an expedition to harvest myrrh, one of the region’s most important crops. You’ll return to an authentic and delicious bush meal, and chat to your hosts and fellow guests around the campfire. Drift to sleep at the brand-new luxury Etambura Camp, built high on a remote hill top, and in the morning you’ll rise to breathtaking, 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

Tswalu  Black  Rhino

Travel Details

Seven-day tour from £2,120 per person, including all meals and accommodation, excluding flights. http://kcs-namibia.com.na

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