ELSAS KOPJE BAGS MORE HONOURS
(Picture courtesy of Cheli & Peacock)
Exceptional in a collection of outstanding properties comes to mind when talking about Elsas Kopje in Meru National Park and it is no mistake that this extraordinary property has in the past attracted accolades from travel writers, travel magazines and won prize after prize in a highly competitive market.
Built first by Cheli & Peacocks owners Liz and Stefano in 1999 the small but oh la la safari boutique resort was named after the lioness Elsa of Born Free fame of Joy Adamson, and immediately established itself as a leading unit in the C&P circuit, sought after by the rich and famous but also often quite normal travelers with a taste for a true safari of a lifetime.
Andrew Harper, of Andrew Harpers Hideaway Report seems to have thought so too after staying at the Gem of Meru as it has been described to this author by those privileged to have stayed there, when he included Elsas Kopje in his list of best of 19 properties he visited last year and crowned Elsas Kopje as a Grand Award Winner. Travelling as a paying customer, not letting on at the time of his stay who he is and what he does, the monthly magazine continues to appear without advertising sweeteners, giving their global readership the confidence of an unbiased and fair assessment they can trust in, and find the facts as presented when travelling there themselves.
Just released a few days ago did the news break for the Cheli & Peacock family and they were swift to share the good news with me to make sure that the world is told, what truly amazing places Cheli & Peacock have to offer in Kenya, especially at the much underrated and yet absolutely spectacular wilderness of the Meru Conservation Area. Visit the following websites for more information on the safari resort via www.elsaskopje.com or else log on to www.AndrewHarper.com/grand-awards-2012
Magical Kenya, where else!
KENYAS AVIATION SECTOR IN A STATE OF FLUX
Nothing ever seems certain in the East African aviation industry, but the simple truth that what goes up eventually has to come down again. Key industry players, those in jet aviation like giant Kenya Airways, private carrier Jetlink owned by aviation veterans Capts. Aluvale and Patel, Fly 540 / East African Safari Air and ALS, a predominantly aircraft leasing company but with shares in SafariLink are the key stakeholders in a hardly fought over market for domination on the domestic routes. While for instance SafariLink flies predominantly on the safari routes across the country, there competing with such others as Air Kenya from Wilson Airport, Fly 540 operates both turboprops to the parks but also into secondary fields across Kenya, besides operating jets from Nairobis main international airport JKIA.
The announcement by Kenya Airways late last year, to form Jambo Jet, a supposedly new fully owned low cost carrier, to then unleash on the competition presently flying from Nairobi to Malindi, Mombasa and Kisumu, but probably also on regional routes, spurred some major activity amongst other players with notably Lonrho being rumoured that they had signed up with the founder of Easy Jet Stelios Ioannou. A report to that effect, published here a few weeks ago, at the time raised a number of questions as to its accuracy but it appears now that indeed that information was correct as Lonrho seems set to roll out an ambitious LCC strategy, first in East Africa and then in other destinations where Fly 540 has started to establish itself like Angola.
Speculation is now rife that a split of Fly 540 and the previously taken over East African Safari Air could be in the making, with the present management of Fly 540 moving on and out and doing their own bit while the jet operation has already seen new, Stelios approved management move in to turn ambition into reality. Losses incurred by Fly 540s management in Nairobi over the past years are said to be substantial and Lonrho got reportedly fed up over light red ink on the bottom line turning into dark red ink without remedy in sight by the current, or probably already former management. Ongoing legal cases, like the widely critizised and inexplicable departure of Uganda Country Manageress Jackie Arkle also left clouds hanging over the airline which now seems set to be bailed out by both funds and a competent at least 5 man strong team from the UK.
Regular sources at Fly 540 were reserved in commenting over the flurry of rumours presently flying around in Nairobi, in itself an indication that there could indeed be a major shift in the pipeline, but it is noteworthy that East African Safari Air has already filed an application with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to fly precisely those routes within Kenya which are presently operated by Fly 540s ATR fleet and other turboprop aircraft. It also appears from other sources that key staff may already have been shifted from Fly 540 to EASA, arguably in preparation for what the 540 top management must have seen coming with the writing on the wall to see for those with the eye.
Coincidence not in the opinion of this correspondent who has been monitoring aviation activities for years across the entire region and can smell a rat when the rodent may still be deep undercover. Watch this space as the battle for the East African skies is going into another phase, and by the look of it this will not be pretty at all as new constellations begin to emerge.
PRESIDENT GETS INVOLVED TO SAVE WILDLIFE
The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, in short TAWIRI, has handed over a shocking report to President Kikwete earlier this week, showing a massive decline in elephant populations in the Selous Game Reserve and the Mikumi National Park, with estimates going as high as 30.000 elephant having been wiped out by poaching over the past years. The report, named the Tanzania Elephant Management Plan, painted a grim picture of game numbers following regular counts since independence, clearly causing enough concern at the Presidents Office to have the head of state give an immediate directive to TAWIRI to take the necessary action to ensure the survival of the Palahala or Roosevelts Sable Antelope, which has been decimated for its horns and skins. At the same time President Kikwete also demanded explanations what had led to the drastic decline of elephant populations and what measures were being taken or prepared to reverse the trend.
Conservationists will welcome this ray of hope from the highest office in Tanzania and two regular sources had this to say overnight: If the President is serious about it there is a lot which can be done. Last year they formed a task force which includes army units to combat poaching. If we are united in this we can win that fight while the other one said: If this directive is true it is good news. But let us not forget about the pending issues we have, the routing of the railway, the ongoing plans for the road across the Serengeti and a whole long list of other issues, Uranium mining, damming the river in Stieglers Gorge, the Coelacanth marine park issues, Lake Natron and so on. I think the president has to do more to convince us that his sudden conservation affinity is real and there to stay.
That all said though, the presidential directive is still a commendable and much appreciated effort, not to be underestimated, but to be followed through with conservation bodies and individuals helping TAWIRI to keep the spotlight on the problem of poaching and the need to facilitate anti poaching and conservation measures full heartedly. Watch this space.
MOUNTAIN GORILLA FAMILY GETS BABIES OVER CHRISTMAS
Information was just received that the Kabirizi and Mapuwa families, habituated groups of mountain gorillas in the Congo DRs Virunga National Park, has had one birth each over the Christmas period or in late December. The Mapuwa group now counts 17 members while the Kabirizi group has grown to 33 members, the largest of the habituated groups of mountain gorillas on the Congolese side of the volcanoes.
The Greater Virunga Transboundary Cooperation, which brings together the three wildlife management bodies, RDB Tourism and Conservation in Rwanda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and their Congolese counterparts ICCN, has over the past years effectively dealt with local and cross border poaching and instituted a range of measures aimed to not only protect the prized animals but create a conducive environment for them to breed. The last tri-partite meeting was in fact held in Kampala / Uganda in October last year and by coincidence was the meeting report and resolutions published a few days ago, as the news of the new births in Congo also arrived. The report is available on request through this correspondent for interested parties, but in the meantime it is a warm welcome to the youngest members of the mountain gorilla community in the border triangle between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.