CAPE BLANC, A QUEST FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL

Mauritania is a unique although seldom visited country, with some stunning landscapes and interesting ancient towns that used to take part of the desert caravan route a long time ago.Their infrastructure is limited.There are not many hotels and just a few roads.Although the country was an unsafe destination a few years ago due to Al-Qaedda activity in its desert area, it’s currently a quite safe destination, with many checkpoints along its main roads.

Mauritania is mostly covered by vast desert and semidesert areas.The desert has been continuously expanding since the mid 60’s.The country is mainly a flat area interrupted by deep canyons, plateaus and isolated peaks.The Adrar Plateau is the highest plateau, with an altitude of 500 meters, see picture below.

Mauritania is a great destination for birdwatchers, with more than 570 species of birds.Banc D’Arguin is an area of  great importance for wintering and breeding seabirds and shorebirds.Other important birding areas are Diaouling  Nature Reserve and Diawling National Park in the southern part of the country. The endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of its landmark mammals, with a population of 500 individuals located on the shores of Cape Blanc, also called Ras Nouadhibou.

To get to Mauritania it was an odyssey.Firstly i crossed Western Sahara from Tarfaya to Dakhla.We stopped for a while in El-Aaiun.This town was fully controlled by the army due to the Sahara conflict.Fortunately the bus stopped for a short time. While going by bus all i could see was desert and barely any single person.I understood why this area is known by being one of the lowest populated area in the world.After 12 hours by bus i arrived in Dakhla,where i slept for one night.

Next day i arranged a shared taxi with some other people to go to the border.After a 6 hours trip we arrived in the Moroccan checkpoint.They stamped my visa and we passed through a land mined area that doesn’t belong to anybody.The mines where the remains of the previous war between Mauritania and Morocco for the control of Western Sahara when the Spanish abandoned it.Fortunately there was a “road” to follow, although i heard that a tourist died a few years ago due to the wind changed the direction of the sandy “road” and his car blowed up.I have to say that it was pretty scary.The longest trip of my life in only a distance of 3 km.When i saw the Mauritanian post on the horizon i started to breath calmly.

Once in Mauritania border, i had to pay 120 euros for a visa.There were no tourists and things went very smoothly.Finally my taxi dropped me in Nouadibhou town.I felt like i was in the middle of nowhere.I got into a taxi and told him to bring me to a hotel.He barely understood me, but then a woman got into the car and helped me to find the place.I have to say that Mauritanians were very helpful and one of the most accommodating people i have ever seen in all my trips.

Once in the hotel, i talked to a guy to contact a taxi using my basic French.The taxi driver came and i could arrange my trip to Cape Blanc for about 40 euros.

Next morning he came to pick me up.After 40 minutes driving we entered into a rough road that crossed a dunes area.The road was very sandy and the car was sliding all time.The driver put a kind of weird arab music that seemed like a mixture of psychedelia, techno and traditional music.I have to say that i got a bit sick !! :-p

Finally we arrived to Cape Blanc one hour and a half later.This peninsular area was surrounded by steep cliffs.There was a lighthouse and a small house with a guard.The guard told me that there was only one individual of monk seal on the nearby and that the rest of the colony lived in a restricted farther area controlled by the army.Even though i felt a bit upset hearing that i persisted in my research.

I explored the surroundings looking for the monk seal.I waited patiently in front of the fences that are near the cliff.The guy told me that the seal had been near here the day before in the afternoon.He showed me the tracks of the seal.Notice them on the picture below.

Afterwards i went around but no sign of the solitaire creature.I spent almost 2 hours but my search was proven fruitless.I came back to Nouadibbou quite upset.When we arrived at the city i told the driver to come again in the afternoon and we negotiated the price.

About 2 o’clock we started our second trip.We arrived about 4:00 pm there.I excitedly scrutinised every single hole of the cliffs and the small beaches that lay on the bottom of the cliffs.

Finally,after 30 minutes i saw the seal.It was sleeping on a small sandy beach.From time to time it moved her fins or it slightly changed the position of its head.I was a bit far and my camera was a bit short of reach but i managed to take some decent shots.

I took many pictures as i could till it started to get dark.About 5 pm i came back.I felt fully satisfied and the surreal music even sounded like Mozart to me !!!

I was very happy to capture some pictures of one of the most endangered seals in the world !!!

Tomorrow i am going to China to see if possible pandas in the wild and some of its interesting birdlife !!

As soon as i come back i will continue posting reports about Senegal, Gambia, India, Singapore and China !!

On the meantime if you have any suggestion or question don’t hesitate to contact me.I can answer it while traveling.

See you soon my friends !!

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IFRAN NP, RAMBLING WITH BARBARY MACAQUES

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Morocco is an interesting country to visit due to its rich culture and history, with superb ancient cities and little beautiful towns.Food is very delicious, accommodation is pretty good and prices are cheap.Travel is also easy, with good roads and public transportation: bus, train or shared taxis.The latter is the fastest and inexpensive way to go.

Even though Morocco is not a famous wildlife destination, it hosts some remarkable animals.One of its most iconic mammals is the Barbary Macaque, the only macaque that lives outside Asia.It is found in the forests of the Rift,the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas.Other mammals that can be seen, although not in large numbers, are gazelles, wild boar, mufflon, Fennec Fox, Sand Cat, Least Weasel, Egyptian Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Cape Hares, European Rabbit, Crested Porcupine and the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.

The country is home of over 450 species of birds, which many of them are winter visitors.Northern Bald Ibis is the only endemic bird in Morocco.Some of its main highlights also include Moussier’s Redstart, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Tristram Warbler, White-headed Duck, Balearic Shearwater, Sociable Lapwing, Saker Falcon, Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Ruppell’s and White-backed Vulture.

There are 11 national parks in Morocco, being the most remarkable Souss-Massa, Ifrane, Toubkal, Tazekka and Tallasemtane.Ifran NP is one of the best national parks to see Barbary Macaques and Souss-Massa is the only place where you can find Northern Bald Ibis.

I planned to go to Ifran to see Barbary Macaques. I went from Fez to Azhrou by bus.Azhrou is a nice and peaceful town located 89 km south of Fez.From there i arranged a taxi to bring me to see the macaques.The trip costed me about 30 euros.

We went in the afternoon and it took me about one hour to reach the Cedre Gourard Forest, area located between Azrou and Ifrane.I arrived there early afternoon.It was weekend and the place was a bit crowded with locals.The forest was an impressive and unique forest of cedars beautifully covered by patches of snow.

We walked for a while through the forest, near the left side of the road.After 15 minutes walking we saw the first group of them.While i was approaching, the macaques were a bit scared and run away.I had to keep a distance and sit on the floor to gain their trust.

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The macaques were active feeding on the ground.This animal mainly feeds on fruits, plants, seeds and insects.You can see them digging to look for seeds on the picture below.

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This type of macaque live in large groups, called troops, led by a dominant female.Females usually mate with different males and males, unlike other macaques, show a great care for their young.Males can be very protective with their infants and they use them to establish relations with other males.

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This species is endangered due principally to habitat loss.Intensive logging, overgrazing, firewood collecting, land clearance and charcoal burning are some of the main factors.Illegal live trade, pollution and inappropriate feeding by humans also pose a serious threat for the survival of the species.

I spend about half an hour with them.Afterwards i didn’t want to disturb them anymore and i left them.

I was glad to see these playful creatures and see one example of matriarchy in the wild !!

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Next stop, Oued Massa, looking for the endangered Northern Bald Ibis and other birds !!!

See you soon my friends !!

NGORONGORO,CALVING TIME

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Although the best months to spot wildlife are from July to September, February offers an excellent opportunity to see newborns of zebras and wildebeests.

Common Zebras are animals that usually live in family groups of one adult male (stallion), several females (mares), and their offspring.Several families of zebras join forming large herds.

Zebras performs periodically dust baths to clean their fur and remove parasites.They do it by rolling their bodies onto the dust.I had the privilege to presence this activity and take the picture that you can see below.

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Zebra males mature at the age of 4. At that age they compete with other males by kicking, pushing and biting at each other’s neck, head or legs.The victorious male forms an harem and mates with all its mares.The stallion has to defend his group from other males. When challenged, the stallion rubs his shoulder or nose with the other one as a warning sign.If the newcomer doesn’t follow the warning, a fight can start between them.

The gestation period of a mare lasts about one year.Once she give birth, the mare is ready again for breeding.Mares may deliver one baby, called foal, every year.The foal can stand and run within one day and start to eat grass within a week.Even though they continue to suckle for up to a year.Unfortunately the infant mortality rate is high, mainly due to predators like lions and hyenas.

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Wildebeests are animals that live also in large herds, mixed sometimes with zebras, to defend themselves from predators.

Males reach their maturity at about 4 years of age.When mating season comes, the herd splits into smaller groups. Males perform all type of antics to impress females.They paw the ground, rub their heads on it, gallop and buck around their territories. They can be very aggressive towards other males.They urinate and defecate to mark their territory and warn other bulls.Their mating season, which last 3 weeks, is usually timed so that most of calves are born close to the beginning of the rainy season when new grass is abundant.This occurs during the months of February and March.

The gestation period is about 8 months and a half.Most of the calves are born within a 3 weeks period.Once they give birth, the calves are able to stand and run within a day and graze also within a week.Afterwards they remain very close to their mothers due to they are an easy target for predators and they continue suckling for one year.Nonetheless their infant mortality rate is also high.

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In the picture above you can appreciate the paler coloration of calves.This is an adaptation to blend better with the environment to avoid predation.

Along the day i could see hyenas and lions actively looking for young calves.I could even witness a successful hunting of a young wildebeest by a Spotted Hyena.You can see it in the picture that i posted in my previous post.I felt very pity for the calf yet i thought that this is the way nature works, to hunt and not to be hunted.

If you check carefully the picture on top of the post you can see many calves of wildebeest.You can count them and post the number in a reply !

Even though i had already seen some of the animals in other national parks i enjoyed a lot in here.The high concentration of mammals and birds in such a small area was impressive and the astonsishing landscape  was something that i didn’t see anywhere else.I have to admit that this was my favourite national park hands down !!

Afterwards the driver dropped me in Karatu,where I slept one night.Next morning i arranged a trip with a motorcycle driver to Lake Eyasi,where i visited many interesting tribes that inhabit the shores of the lake.One of the most interesting ones was the Hadzabe, an ancient tribe that has kept their traditional nomadic style for thousands of years.See picture below.

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After Tanzania i went back to Kenya, where i visited Samburu NP and Mount Kenya, reports that you can see in my previous posts.

My next post i will talk about my following trip to Morocco, where i explored Ifran NP in search of Barbarian Monkeys !!

See you soon my friends !!!

 

 

NGORONGORO,AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

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Ngorogoro CA is a unique protected area situated between the Rift Valley and Serengeti NP. It contains an old volcano with the largest inactive and intact caldera in the world.Its huge crater and surroundings have become a natural enclosure for a wide variety of animals.It’s one of the best places in the world where to see Black Rhinos.

This area harbours one of the highest densities of predators in the world. Lions, hyenas, cheetahs and jackals are frequently seen and caracals, leopards and bat-eared foxes can be seen with some luck. Black Rhinos, wildebeests, buffaloes, elephants, zebras, warthogs, gazelles, elands, and hippopotamus are some of the herbivores that can also be found here.

Its birdlife is prolific as well, with more than 500 recorded species of birds.White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher,Livingstone Turaco, Hartaub’s Turaco, Kenya Rufous Sparrow,Rufous Chatterer, Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl, Black-winged Lapwing, Lesser Flamingo,African spoonbill, Red-and-yellow barbet, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Eastern double-collared Sunbird, Jackson’s Widowbird,Rufous-tailed weaver, Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Secretary Bird and Grey-crowned Crane are some of its highlights.November to April is the best time for birdwatching, when many migratory species are present and many resident birds are in breeding plumage.

There are also some Massai villages  around the rim, see picture below.

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We arrived in our campsite late evening.The campsite was nicely located on the rim of the volcano.The tents were a bit small although comfortable enough for one night.

Next morning we packed our things and headed towards the crater area after dawn.The day was a bit cloudy although the visibility was good enough.While we were descending towards the caldera,i got very impressed by the stunning landscape.

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The first mammal we spotted was a Caracal, a bit far from the distance.This animal is a bit difficult to spot and i was very happy to see it.He lay on the ground while he was scrutinising its surroundings. Notice its distinctive black ears.

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Caracals are wild cats usually found in dry areas of Africa,Middle East and India.They are mainly solitaire,territorial and nocturnal animals.They hunt medium-sized mammals like mongooses,monkeys, rodents,hyrax and occasionally larger preys like impalas,kudus or domestic livestock.Caracals are well known by its jumping skills, reaching heights of up to 3 meters to catch  birds.

A female warthog with her calves was our next sight.The protective mother was a bit nervous of our presence and started to run towards our car.Fortunately she stopped running just a few meters from us.

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African Buffaloes were quite abundant in here.These animals live in herds and are also very protective with their calves.When chased by predators they stick close to each other.They are very aggressive animals, being even able to kill lions and humans, producing  over 200 fatalities every year.

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Golden Jackals were very active in the first hours of the day.I saw them quite often digging to hunt rodents or other little animals.

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Ngorongoro was the area in all East Africa where i saw the highest concentration of lions.Early morning i spotted a pride of lions chasing a herd of wildebeests.The pride was made up of a young male, with an undeveloped main, and several females that were following him.It was an unforgettable moment that i always remember with awe.See the females of the pride on the picture below.

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The weather was getting worse and the visibility was very poor.We finally reached lake Mangadi, that is situated in the centre of the caldera.We saw an important concentration of Lesser Flamingoes and some Greater Flamingoes near its shore.

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Near there, we found a solitaire Black Rhino quite far.Black Rhino is a critically endangered species with a population of only 5000 individuals scattered in Eastern and Southern Africa.Black Rhinos are a bit smaller than White Rhinos. They have a pointed upper lip adapted to pick fruits and leaves from branches, while White Rhinos have a flat and wide lip adapted to graze on grasses.I took a picture of it that i had to heavily cropped.img_0492-2

Common Eland was another interesting animals seen quite far in this area.This animal is one of the largest herbivores in the world.It lives in large herds on the vast plains and savannahs of East and Southern Africa.They feed mainly on grasses and leaves and their main predators are lions,hyenas,wild dogs and cheetahs.

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We spotted a solitary Black Kite standing on the grass.A few meters farther we saw a male of Kori Bustard while he was displaying.Notice its inflated feathered neck and its vertical tail when he displayed.

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Abdim’s Stork were quite abundant in here.They were usually seen in groups of a few individuals.Notice the blue patch beside its beak and the red spot in front of its eye.

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The next bird we saw was Glossy Ibis, usually found in groups of 4 to 5 individuals.
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Around mid morning we saw a Spotted Hyena hunting a calf of wildebeest.

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A Common Ostrich was seen feeding on the grass.You can see the ostrich accompanied by two Blacksmith Lapwings on the picture below.

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We also spotted large herds of wildebeests and zebras and some bull elephants grazing on the grass.

Late morning we stopped in a resting area where i got entertained photographing birds.See a Rufous-tailed Weaver on the first picture,a Superb Starling on the second picture and a Speke’s Weaver on the third picture below.

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February is the best month in Ngorongoro to observe calves of zebras and wildebeests.

In my next post i will talk about the calving time in Ngorongoro, with some pics of calves !! Don’t miss it !!!

See you soon my friends !!