Archive for November, 2014

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Bringing back memories – Hunters Lodge re-opens with a new sparkle


(Posted 30th November 2014)

Many of Kenya’s if not East Africa’s old hands will remember those days, when driving from Nairobi to Mombasa, or vice versa, was an adventure of sorts. Cars, not nearly as reliable back then as they are today, had oil checked and topped up before setting out from Nairobi, the cooling fluid in the radiator was filled to the brim and the car fueled, and considering the cost of petrol it was always ‘full tank tafadhali’.

Along the road several key landmarks allowed to assess how far one had travelled, starting from the ‘Small World Country Club’ not too far from the branchoff where a road turned off the main highway towards Machakos – on weekends a rather notorious hangout with the rondavels regularly booked up, and not exactly by married couples.

The Sikh Temple in Makindu, built nearly 90 years ago in 1926, is another such landmark and many travelers, locals and foreign visitors alike, stop to take pictures as was the little trading post of Sultan Hamud. Enroute to the half way point is Kibwezi, where a Kamba woodcarver cooperative in those days offered authentic carvings of ebony wood and which to this day is a magnet for tourists to buy the often no longer that authentic ebony wood imitations, smartened up with black shoe polish.

Halfway point of the nearly 500 kilometre long highway between Kenya’s two main cities, is Mtito Andei, in those days known for the hospitality of the Tsavo Inn and for being the access point to the main gate into Tsavo West and the Tsavo Safari Camp in Tsavo East, set up under the shade of huge trees along the river bank with the Yatta Plateau forming the backdrop and a splendid place for sundowners, especially when majestic Kilimanjaro was out in full few.

Further along the road came ‘Maneaters’ if memory serves me right before hitting the town of Voi, home to one of the Commonwealth War Grave Memorials and access point to the Voi Safari Lodge in Tsavo East but also the location where one would turn off towards the Taveta border with Tanzania, in the process passing the Taita Hills Safari Lodge and their 28,000 acre private sanctuary, before other landmarks on that side of the country like lakes Jipe and Chala, or the famous Grogan’s Castle came within reach.

From Voi on to Mombasa then came only one further landmark point, Mackinnon Road railway station – the railroad for many stretches is running almost parallel to the highway – before reaching Miritini, Changamwe and eventually hot and humid Mombasa itself.

At the main waypoints one religiously stopped in those days, to top up fuel, again ‘fill her up’, check oil, cooling liquid and have a quick soda or fresh juice, before venturing out on the road again.

Topping up fuel was the optional part but checking cooling liquids and oil was quintessential in those days to avoid overheating, the radiator blowing and clouds of steam emerging from underneath the bonnet.

Those who shared these good ol’ days with me, will have noticed that one waypoint however was omitted, and indeed that is true. I am talking about Hunters Lodge at Kiboko, some 100 miles out of Nairobi or a third of the way enroute to Mombasa and in the other direction two thirds of the way when heading to the capital.

Hunters Lodge, built way back in 1958, in those days of the mid 70’s, while clearly through its heydays already, was a popular stop in particular for those coming from the coast and opting not to have an early lunch at the Tsavo Inn and rather have a late snack at Hunters Lodge. Ponds, fed by the Kiboko springs, in the sprawling compound were then and still are today home to dozens of bird species and for those who ran precariously late, perhaps after a fan belt broke or the radiator needed to cool down before refilling it from a jerrycan brought along for that purpose, there were cottages too where one could spend the night before heading into Nairobi at the crack of dawn the next day.

Hunters Lodge sadly fell into a state of disrepair for a long time, and as cars became more reliable and the highway was, several times in fact, repaved, those stopovers of the old days were suddenly no longer as relevant and necessary as they once were.

News that MADA Hotels had taken over Hunters Lodge and undertaken a major refurbishment of the main building which comprises 12 rooms, the restaurants, bar and public areas, was most welcome therefore, prompting me to go down memory lane and write about this place, which I am sure for many of my readers in my age group will also bring fond memories of days long since gone. From information received it appears that in fact more rooms have been added, showing the intention of the owners to provide a venue within easy reach to the capital where small conferences and workshops can be held just off the main highway and set in 25 acres of wilderness close to the Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West national parks.

MADA Hotels also operates two smaller hotels in Nairobi, the Fig Tree Camp in the Masai Mara, two beach resorts near Kilifi and a camp in Amboseli. Notably does the hotel group also own and operate the Jinja Nile Resort in Uganda and a safari camp in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, presently the only two of their properties outside Kenya.

Hunters Lodge was only recently re-opened after a lengthy refurbishment and modernization programme, and opportunity permitting is perhaps a drive from Nairobi to Mombasa worth the consideration, to revisit the landmarks and little hotels along the route and provide some further insight of what things are like today compared to the ‘old days’ I was privileged to experience in Kenya.

Anti poaching helicopter crashes on return to Dar es Salaam


(Posted 30th November 2014)

(Pictures via

A Robinson R44 Raven II went down around 10 a.m. local time yesterday morning while on final approach into Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport, killing all four on board the ill-fated flight. Information from Dar indicates that the occupants were pilots of the police airwing while the pilot in command was attached to either the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism or to TANAPA’s airwing.

Registered as 5H-TWA was the helicopter a gift from Warren Buffet to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. Buffet had donated the heli to fly patrols over the Selous Game Reserve as part of antipoaching efforts, providing additional aerial surveillance capabilities.

Reportedly on a test flight did the helicopter according to sources spoken to at JNIA come in following a larger jet aircraft, leading to instant speculation over the cause of the fatal accident, if perhaps the wake turbulence could have been a factor in the crash.

The Tanzanian authorities have already launched an air accident investigation and it is expected that preliminary findings will be available within weeks, though the final report may take longer to conclude.

The conservation fraternity, besides mourning those on board, have also expressed their shock that anti-poaching efforts have taken a serious hit as a result of the loss of this helicopter, eroding airborne surveillance abilities.

No official comment were available at the time of upload, not from the Tanzanian government nor from the office of Warren Buffet.

Condolences are expressed to the families and friends of those who perished in the crash.

No 280 Wildlife Trade News 29th November 2014

The daily dose of bad news
about poaching, wildlife and
environmental crimes …

in the spotlight today ……………………

Zimbabwe’s baby elephants getting sold to China zoos: activists SHAME ON THE GOVERNMENTS OF ZIMBAWE – AND CHINA Will you ever see this news report on the CITES web site, Facebook page or Twitter? Or, will China be excused such embarrassment? What do you think?

No 280 Wildlife Trade News 29th November 2014

Ivory Coast seizes two Chinese trawlers in fishing dispute
Read more:

Hong Kong says it won’t be joining Elephant Protection Initiative

Online wildlife trade exposed in Bahrain

Exotic parrots are available online in Bahrain

Whaling opponents ‘imperialists’, says Japan

Endangered Wildlife. PAKISTANI extract: Pakistani officials and the Arabs have a very healthy working relationship; the officials harvest friendly contacts, enjoy the brush of the royal life and pocket a sizeable amount of cash for their troubles, and in return the Arabs are discreetly allowed to indulge in decadent pleasures to their heart’s desire. The tale of the Saudi prince who shot 2,100 endangered Houbara Bustards in a three week safari …’

Yes, the anti-seal campaign is about money,-the-anti-seal-campaign-is-about-money/1

INTERPOL environmental working group meetings enhance collaboration

Colombia hosts international workshop for ensuring sustainable trade in sharks listed in CITES

Clearcutting Cambodia’s ecological heartland Firms linked to the country’s leaders are reaping a fortune by leveling a key forest.

North Korea’s military orders surge in squid poaching

Factories or forests? INDIA

New TRAFFIC & WWF report examines international walrus trade

Nepal’s killing fields: FIVE THOUSAND buffalo lie slaughtered at the beginning of Hindu ceremony which sees up to 300,000 animals killed to bring worshippers good luck

French Wildlife Photography Festival Backs Pangolin Conservation

Some Lesser-Known Animals Like Pangolin And Star Tortoise Targeted By Indian Poachers

Environmentalists call for intensified awareness. GHANA

277 Illegal Logs Confiscated At Kubah National Park SARAWAK/MALAYSIA

6 lorries stopped for dangerous loading, overloading (LOGGING) SARAWAK / MALAYSIA

New database key to fighting deforestation. INDONESIA

Google Helps Map Illegal Fishing

Saving the Lear’s Macaw

Another good year so far for the Seychelles but will it bring a new arrival record?


(Posted 29th November 2014)

The year 2014 proved to be unexpectedly more challenging for tourism in the Seychelles than anticipated, as the archipelago’s tourism marketers had optimistically projected a 3 percent growth over their record breaking year of 2013, when new arrival records were set.

For much of 2014 did arrival figure lag behind those of the previous year, and only a strong performance in December will make it possible to match last year’s record, with even money at present if it is slightly over or under that yardstick.

Insider information from several sides though also confirms that revenues per passenger were down compared to previous years, posing yet another challenge for the marketing team, which only yesterday provided some key data from the 2014 arrival statistics.

It is apparent from those stats that Britain, for long in the top five, is no longer even in the top six, having been pushed down the ranks by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and China, the latter showing one of the fastest growth rates of any country of origins for the Seychelles, this year up by nearly 80 percent, similar to the trend seen over the past few years.

It also shows that the sentiments often expressed here on behalf of stakeholders, that the French market needed the return of nonstop flights to Mahe, were justified as Germany outpaced France and took the lead as the country with the most visitors to the archipelago. Condor, flying nonstop from Frankfurt to Mahe under a scheduled flight operation, for some time considered the early launch of a second flight, but eventually showed some caution as they postponed their final decision which in reality means another frequency would realistically only come on line for the winter season 2015/16.

Visitor arrivals as of week 47 of 2014

Country of tourists origin No. of visitors

Germany 33,124

France 29,759

Italy 18,224

Russia 12,823

China 12,585

United Arab Emirates 11,898

Resource allocation will next year reflect this new constellation to recapture lost numbers in particular in France but also other European markets which had gone ‘soft’ during the past 11 months, a wise choice considering that Europe still accounts for nearly two thirds of all visitors to the Seychelles, which makes the current 4 percent Europe wide loss all the more important to reverse.

Regular sources from the islands also raised two added issues which are worth exploring some more.

Although Air Seychelles is upping flights to and from Abu Dhabi and is launching flights to Dar es Salaam, Antananarivo and Mumbai, is the lack of nonstop flights to France seen as a setback for the tourism private sector and the country’s tourism marketers. This decision, some say taken in Abu Dhabi rather than in Victoria, has led to growing support for a new airline venture, Seychelles Airlines, which however has not received regulatory approvals as yet, leading to suggestions that vested interests if not outright foul play is keeping the new airline, which notably said they would fly nonstop to Paris, out of the skies.

A second major shift in policy may also be on the cards as one of China’s largest touring companies, CAISSA Touristic, has proposed to fly charters from China to Mahe, giving their passengers those coveted nonstop services, were it not for decades of deliberate choices and decisions to keep charters out of the Seychelles and rely on scheduled flights, in part of course aimed to keep the quality of visitors in the upper market bracket and avoid the downsides charter operations have brought to other long haul destinations.

It is all good to hear that the Chinese are prepared to start a charter to Mahe but official policy so far has been and it so remains, until a change is officially announced, that airlines coming to the Seychelles must operate scheduled flights, not charters. We are watching how this dilemma is solved, because obviously we need more visitors to fill our beds, in the new resorts and of course right across the locally owned B&B’s, guest houses and holiday apartments. It is those where our own people have heavily invested in and which consumed their nest eggs and is to provide them with long term sustainable income. Some of my colleagues and I are very cautious because to change that policy also means that Air Seychelles will have to drop any objections and you are aware of the linkage between government and the national airline right up to chairman level. The tourism lobby will want to see a change in that policy and the airline and its backers and supporters in government will very likely object and try to halt it like they halted the new airline. If there is a change in policy, arrival numbers from China can very quickly double and more but if not, it might be a do or die for tourism. We are at crossroads now and whichever direction Seychelles take will shape the next decade and more. If charters were to be allowed we will certainly be able to fill more beds in locally owned establishments. We also need more hotels in the 3 and 4 star category, priced similarly to those in say Zanzibar or Kenya or Mauritius. If charters are not allowed, we may have to see the market stagnate for a while because Europe is still in economic difficulties, the Russian market is affected by sanctions and the Chinese prefer nonstop flights over changing planes in other locations. As you said, those are hard choices to be made and I don’t envy those who have to make them and fight to get them implemented’ said one regular contributor in an extended exchange of emails and social media messages.

The just ended annual marketing conference of the Seychelles Tourism Board, during which some of these challenges were no doubt discussed, some in open forum and some of the more touchy subjects rather more in private, was also presented with the new sales collaterals, a new destinations video, a new proactive website and new printed brochures, the latter however apparently playing a lesser role today compared to past practices.

Seychelles no doubt remains one of the most talked about long haul island destinations in the world, punching well above her weight and indeed has much to offer, beyond sand, sun and fun.

Festivals have taken root across the year, from the globally renowned Seychelles Carnival to the Festival of the Sea, in 2015 celebrating its 25th anniversary and to be renamed as the Festival of the Ocean, the China – Seychelles Festival, the India – Seychelles Festival, the Eco Marathon, the annual Festival Kreol, next year celebrating its 30th edition already. Events besides natural attractions, more than half of the Seychelles is by law dedicated to conservation, have put and kept the archipelago on the global map and high profile honeymooners like the Duke an Duchess of Cambridge and the Clooneys, among many other glitterati, have made sure that the island is talked about across the social media and given high profile exposure in the world’s glossiest and fanciest travel magazines and TV Travel programmes.

Opportunities in plenty but then, so are the challenges which need to be resolved, and, given the vocal opposition about a proposed new resort owned by the Emirates’ Group at Cap Terney earlier in the week, so does the question of when is enough enough. What maximum visitor numbers can the Seychelles sustainably receive, considering the added needs for fresh water and electricity but also for trained human resources and how far can the envelope be pushed without colliding with the principles of both the ‘Green’ and the ‘Blue’ economic blueprints.

On the upside stands the increased dialogue between government, stakeholders and ordinary citizens, all of them aware that tourism is and will remain the backbone of the local economy and compromises must be found to keep the archipelago out of an economic downturn which might bring greater challenges than the ones outlined above.

For more information about Destination Seychelles click on

A regular source has since pointed out that one off ‘ad hoc’ charters are in fact permitted and have been licensed by the SCAA and that from countries without scheduled air links charters are in fact ‘encouraged’, though none have been operating. 

Kenya’s tourism recovery now stands on knife’s edge


(Posted 29th November 2014)

The meeting earlier in the week between the tourism recovery task force and members of the tourism fraternity in Mombasa once again showed the widening rift between the official government position and the reality on the ground, described by some to be ‘as bad as it was never ever before’. Some senior stakeholders in fact suggested that having failed to launch sufficient countermeasures, and in view of ongoing security concerns, recovery may be much further away than the Kenyan government has led the public to believe.

Information that Tanzania’s parliament has again thrown out proposals to levy Value Added Tax on tourism services, in line with what Uganda and Rwanda have been doing too, has further inflamed the situation with several regular contributors suggesting that the powers that be in the Kenyan government, in charge of tourism, are completely removed from reality and have failed to impress upon cabinet that the continued charge of 16 percent VAT on a range of tourism services, is in fact one factor which has all but killed coast tourism by making the services more expensive at a time when demand was withering away.

While it was openly suggested, something many times said here in the past 18 months since the current government has come into power, that the sector requires its own ministry of tourism together with wildlife and perhaps other related portfolios like environment and natural resources, it was only whispered behind closed doors that the current cabinet secretary was not on the shortlist of the tourism industry’s who is who for such a position. This shows the level of outright disenchantment by the tourism fraternity, many of whom hold the ministry directly responsible for the worsening state of the industry. Former tourism minister Najib Balala was the undisputed lead candidate for in particular the coast tourism stakeholders according to every single communication received, showing the level of confidence the sector has in his ability to more effectively lead the recovery marketing efforts and stand up for his portfolio in cabinet meetings and when the national tax cake is being divided vis a vis resource allocation for tourism marketing and other crucial areas.

Other points highlighted by stakeholder feedback, several of whom called this platform the only place where the truth has been consistently told and all the right boxes been ticked, were the reduction or temporary waiver of Visa fees for tourists, further incentives for airlines, in particular scheduled airlines to fly into Mombasa, the restructuring of the Kenya Tourism Board into a tourism authority where under one roof all the presently fragmented functions and separate parastatals will be unified to save cost and to make the organization stronger. One source added: ‘What we also need is cheaper flights from the region to Mombasa and it is high time Fastjet gets their licenses to start operations in Kenya and bring fares down even more. We are facing very hard times and keeping airlines out of Kenya to protect those who have objected is counterproductive for tourism’.

Resort operators added access to affordable finance to the list of demands, to allow them to refurbish their often aged properties and install solar technology to save on utility costs, besides bringing Kenya’s beach resorts in line with the international competition, something a few like the Leopard Beach, the Whitesands and the Serena Beach have done in recent years but where most in fact lag behind now.

Unless this government now acts we will see banks to start foreclosure proceedings against many hotels and resorts which have failed to pay their instalments in time. For hotel manages it is a monthly struggle now to figure out what to pay first. Taxes before KRA locks up the front gate, utilities before the water and electricity company cut services and ground operations, the banks where overdrafts are at record highs and loan repayments have been missed by many or the staff before they go on strike or just walk away? We are fed up with the attitude of government, from cabinet secretary to the very top, because they were all told that there will be consequences and now that it is happening they still are clueless. When that task force hands in their report, and we only hope that they will mince no words and drop the diplomatic language and call a spade a space, we want to see instant implementation of all those suggestions. If not, God knows what will happen to this industry’.

Another coast based source cited the Lamu Festival as an example, where it took the government until literally the very last moment to confirm the lifting of a night time curfew, keeping the organizers, sponsors and most important the potential visitors to the festival in suspense if the Lamu Cultural Festival could go ahead until just a few days prior to the event, which started today. ‘It shows the full insensitivity of our government. They just have no clue at all and our security forces have become part of the problem and are right now not part of the solution. Where is the tourism police? Where are regular forces visible on day and night time patrols. Why blame those who complain about all the lapses over the past 15 months instead of blaming those who have failed in their jobs? I hate to say it, after all I voted for him, but if our President jetsets around for Formula 1 races while Kenyans are dying, prances around doing selfies and then has the audacity to shift the blame to us, saying we the people have failed, there is something fundamentally wrong with our system and the understanding of issues our leaders have’.

These sentiments coincided with news from Tanzania that for the 2015 financial year the VAT has again been shelved, a shot in the arm for Tanzanian operators who are more competitive in their safari quotations and other pricing hoping for more visitors, in part syphoned away from Kenya which has remained more expensive during the longest tourism downturn period in the history of the country.

No doubt will there be howls of outrage again from the usual suspects but truth told, these are the very sentiments of the tourism stakeholders who have lost confidence and faith in the system and are looking for alternative means to have their opinion voiced without being identified and subjected to repercussions if not outright sanctions.

Meanwhile though, Kenya is open for business and for more details about the destination and the wide range of services and attractions click on and

Equal opportunities – not an empty phrase at Serena Hotels


(Posted 29th November 2014)

Serena Hotels is one of East Africa’s most sought after employers with many of their staff having joined fresh out of college or from school and staying, some in fact right up to retirement age, a resounding endorsement for the company providing opportunities to advance from the file through the ranks.

Several fine examples there are to cite, like Rosemary Mugambi who advanced her career in the sales and marketing department to the position of Director of Sales & Marketing, or June Kyula, who is now Deputy General Manager at the Kampala Serena Hotel, just one step away from, sooner or later, becoming herself the teamleader at one of Serena’ major city hotels.

But the story today is about two ladies who work in the field, as qualified driver guides conversant with the big game as well as the birds, insects and the vegetation too.

Vivian Nyamalo works out of Sweetwaters Serena Safari Camp, which is located on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, often written about here, where all the big five can be seen during just one game drive, with a bit of luck that is, and home to over 130 rhinos, Eastern Black, Southern White and the rarest of them all, the Northern White’s last population in the wild. She knows the conservancy like the back of her hand and had impressed guests time and again with her profound knowledge and bushcraft.

Nathifo Abdi works out of the Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge and eTN was able to get some direct feedback from her about her choice of career and her experience working inside one of Kenya’s best known national parks.

How long have you been doing this: I began my career in 2007 as an assistant naturalist at the then Samburu Serena Safari Lodge, and in 2010 I began working as driver guide at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge

Why this and not any other career choice: I am passionate about nature, and hence my decision to do this just for the love of it and for general conservation

If you weren’t a tour guide, what would you rather be doing with your life: I would like to do community work especially in marginalized community areas, to empower women in arid and semiarid areas and help in addressing their day to day challenges

What has your experience been so far: This field is male dominated and it can simply be tough. Expectations are high for women who must do twice as much to prove equal ability with the male counterparts. That notwithstanding, I have learnt that one can make it in any field of choice if you like what you do, have reasonable determination, dedication and resilience. As a lady driver guide I have gained so much and realized that with reasonable ambition in a career ladies can do even much better than expected by men.

Do you have any favorite animal: My favorite animal is the Leopard. This animal’s power, behavior and strength have been a huge source of inspiration to me- challenging me to be courageous in my approach to issues and more so, my day to day activities as a lady driver guide. (Remember this field is male dominated).

What has been your best game drive experience(s): I have many memorable experiences (I may need to write a whole book about them). But one of the highlights would be one Christmas eve. There had been a heavy downpour earlier in the day. So when I took guests on a game drive our vehicle got stuck in the mud, and before we knew it we were surrounded by a pride of Lions. There was no help nearby, and I must admit it was a bit scary for me. On the contrary though, the guests were so elated just coming so close to the king of the jungle. One of those times that I thank God for technology because I was able to call for help. But- not after sweating out of nervousness… When I look back however, I get thrilled knowing as a woman, I handled the situation just as fine, and that everyone was safe under my watch. I feel proud of that moment.

Best time to go on a game drive: Game drives in the Amboseli National Park are best from 4.00pm onwards. This is because around this time, animals were moving to and from the watering points towards cool and safe places where they can graze peacefully. You are almost guaranteed to see quite a number.

What can guests expect when they go on a game drive at the Amboseli National Park: Expectations are usually very high whenever people visit national parks and game reserves in Kenya- because these are naturally known to be abundant with game. Specifically for Amboseli National Park one is guaranteed to come closest possible to the elephant, spot a buffalo, bird watch and on a good day, the cats will say hello…yes – you can see the cats here.

What must one bring to a game drive: As a guide one must bring sense of humor and seek to establish a strong bond with the guest since this creates a relaxed mood and a conducive atmosphere for guests to pay attention to the information coming from the guide. Again as a guide one needs to understand the client interest and build their confidence from the very first impression. First impressions last forever. Guests on the other hand- well, just be there- relax and enjoy the moment, and please bring a camera to capture all the memories.

Best clothes to wear: This differs from one place to another, and may in some cases be determined by time of day or night. For instance warm clothes are advisable during early morning game drives and light clothes during afternoon drives. If you should like, take on your favorite sunglasses (not as an accessory to the clothing)- and this is highly recommended because Amboseli is a really dusty place.

Quick tips for guests: Ensure your camera battery is fully changed and always have your camera during game drives.

works out of atoin sant with the big game as well as the birds, insectsied toura Serena Hotel, just one step away from, sooner

As the title already suggested, women working at Serena are much more than just women at work, they are the ladies who are building a career in the hospitality and tourism industry where they have proven their value to their employer and their ability to not just hold their own but in many instances outperform their male colleagues. Well done indeed comes to mind and congrats to all of them who defied the odds and fulfill their dreams, aspirations and potential.

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