Ugly 5 safari: Tracking Africas least glamorous animals in Botswana

CNN’s Laura Ma gives her list of Africa’s Ugly Five.

Marabou stork

“That’s the ugliest bird I’ve ever seen.”

The statement doesn’t so much roll off my tongue as it stumbles out of my mouth as I look at the scrappy tufts of feather on the leathery head of a marabou stork.

Others on the boat mutter similar sentiments.

“It’s one of the Ugly Five,” says Amos, our captain and guide on an afternoon safari cruise at Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango River Delta.

His enthusiasm feels exaggerated for such a hideous bird.

Elephants can be seen while flying into the delta, freeing up safari time searching for less celebrated wildlife.
Safaris tend to focus on the so-called Big Five — lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos, elephants — but the Ugly Five makes for a fun alternative for anyone who’s already checked off the safari stars.

The list runs like a cast call for the “Lion King’s” least majestic animals: marabou stork, hyena, vulture, wildebeest and warthog.

The marabou stork doesn’t just rely on its looks — it’s also got a scent thing going down.

“They can grow up to five feet long,” says Amos as we get close enough to see the scabby-looking beak of one these large birds.

“And be glad it’s not close enough that you can smell him.”

Everyone, except our guide, cringes as the bird spreads its malodorous 12-foot wings and takes off from a tree, giving us a full view of its underbelly and wrinkly throat sack.

The Okavango Delta is one of two breeding grounds for the marabou stork.

During mating season, the birds are known to eat live prey, including adult flamingos.

The stork also goes by the name of the “undertaker bird” in recognition of the grim but important role it plays in the Delta — reducing diseases and cleaning up the ecosystem by devouring rotten carcasses.

Hyena

One the next morning’s bush walk, we get lucky in spotting a hyena.

We’re certainly luckier than the smelly dead animal it’s devouring.

“Your nose is the strongest tracker of game,” says Amos.

Apparently, your ears are the second, but we’re alerted to the hyena’s presence not by its notorious cackling laugh but by the sound of the bones it’s crunching.

We peer over the brush to see a spotted hyena with its snout in the stomach of an impala.

Before anyone can ask, our guide says: “It probably didn’t steal this meal from lions. Hyenas are very successful hunters.”

The hyena registers low on the cuteness meter. This one couldn’t get any more ugly unless it was covered in blood.

Which it is.

My friend Anja, disagrees, claiming that hyenas are so unattractive they’re actually endearing.

“They’re only ugly because they’re villains in movies,” she says.

It’s debatable how cute this hyena cub is.
Showing me a photo of a hyena cub her sister took in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, she adds, “The babies are so cute!”

That’s debatable, but they certainly get uglier with age.

As we’re watching, our hyena pulls its bloody face out of the carcass, revealing its elongated neck, hunched gait and dirty, scrappy fur.

Vulture

With one of the strongest jaws in the animal world, hyenas don’t leave much for scavengers.

Even so, where there are carcasses, there are usually vultures.

While the marabou is the only species of stork on the list, the entire vulture family can claim membership to the ugly club.

Circling overhead in a flying “kettle” (unusual collective noun alert!), the vultures we see aren’t too bad to look at.

Their wings silhouette magnificently against the blue sky.

The illusion is broken when a few fly down to compete with the hyena for impala meat, revealing that though they have the wings of an eagle, they have the face of Freddy Kruger.

It’s no surprise the bird’s hooked beak and hunched stature have inspired a marvel comic villain.

“Their ugliness is efficient,” says Amos. (He says that about all the Ugly Five.)

The curved beak is effective in ripping meat, according to our guide. The vulture’s ugliest feature, the featherless head and neck, is easy to keep clean after eating carrion.

Logistically, it makes sense.

Esthetically, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Warthog

The warthog is another case of practicality over prettiness.

These wild pigs are plagued with useful but unappealing warts on both sides of their faces, landing them firmly in the ugly crowd.

The protuberances protect the faces of male warthogs when they fight, even if they do look like surgery gone wrong.

Warthogs are plentiful in the Okavango Delta. Anywhere out of scent-range from carnivores, we see warthog families digging for roots with their front knuckles.

Together with warts, shaggy mohawks down their backs and uneven body hair, the warthog is the least appealing pig in the delta (although their roasted ribs are delicious.)

They’re shaped like torpedoes with pig noses.

Their bodies seem disproportionately stocky in comparison to their skinny legs and short necks.

As we’re watching a mother and two babies, someone in our group steps on a twig and spooks them.

We’re treated to the beautiful sight of warthog butts with tails straight up in the air.

Wildebeest

During an afternoon heading out from the Delta’s Moremi Crossing resort in a mokoro dug-out canoe, we cross paths with the last of the Ugly Five: wildebeest.

As we slosh from one end of the small herd to another, a dozen weary black faces with straggly manes stare us down, perhaps concerned we might try to eat them.

Attractiveness is no problem for wildebeests. They’re practically blind.
Because they’re one of the most populous safari animals — and not much to look at — many people don’t bother to photograph them, says Amos.

As the unpretty cousin of the more elegant eland and gazelle, the wildebeest is a peculiar genetic mishmash.

It has the head of a buffalo, body of an antelope and tail of a shaggy horse.

Its elongated face is connected to a dirty-looking neck fringe and features a mouth shaped, and used, like a lawnmower.

Murky gray bodies decorated with black and white markings add to the unkempt appearance.

“Its ugliness is no problem for mating, they’re practically blind,” Amos laughs.

Read more… Ugly 5 safari: Tracking Africas least glamorous animals in Botswana 

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Hedge-Fund Manager Makes Millions Moonlighting as Wildlife Photographer

A black-and-white photograph of a charging rhinoceros dominates one wall of David Yarrow’s $230 million hedge-fund firm, Clareville Capital Partners LLP, in London. Unlike the art that hangs in the offices of most highflying hedge funds, however, the image is not the creation of an outside artist but rather of the money manager himself. Yarrow, 48, took the impossibly up-close picture in Kenya last year, and in early September sold a print of the image to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — aka Prince William and Kate Middleton — who have since had it installed in their Georgian mansion in Norfolk.

Few hedge-fund managers can successfully oversee millions while pursuing a lucrative side career. Yet Yarrow has done just that by reinventing himself as a wildlife photographer, with exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery and Christie’s in London and a show at New York’s Rotella Gallery in October. Since last autumn, Yarrow has sold more than $1.7 million worth of prints, donating 10 percent of the proceeds to Tusk, a charity that works to halt the trade in ivory and rhino horn in Africa.

See more… Hedge-Fund Manager Makes Millions Moonlighting as Wildlife Photographer  – Bloomberg.

Top five safari parks for seeing lions in the wild

As The Lion King celebrates its 15-year anniversary in London this week, The Telegraph has put forward its list of the Top Five places for spotting lions in the wild. Can you suggest any others?

The Top Five places to spot lions in the wild:

1. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

2. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

3. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

4. Okavango Delta, Botswana

5. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Read more… Top five safari parks for seeing lions in the wild – Telegraph.

Luxury African safaris: the 10 best

Brian Jackman has chosen his selection of the 10 best safari holidays in Africa.  Do you agree, or can you suggest better?

  1. Best for ultimate luxury: Segera Retreats, Kenya
  2. Best for beach and bush: Zambia and Malawi
  3. Best for a family safari: The Ant’s Nest, South Africa
  4. Best for seeing big cats: Masai Mara, Kenya
  5. Best for scenic setting: Singita Grumeti, Tanzania
  6. Best for exclusivity: Serengeti mobile safari, Tanzania
  7. Best for adventure: Namibian heli-safari
  8. Best for a romantic setting: Jack’s Camp and Mombo
  9. Best for a Big Five safari: Royal Malewane, South Africa
  10. Best for a unique experience: Elephant back safari, Botswana

Luxury African safaris: the 10 best – Telegraph.

Endless deserts, rugged mountains and wildlife eking out a living: Namibias savage beauty captured in stunning photographs

 With its stunning scenery, vast sand dunes, rugged mountains and sweeping coastline, the beauty of Namibia is captured in these stunning photographs.  Crowned number one in the top 50 emerging travel destinations this year, the country – widely regarded as one of the safest places in Africa – is also one of the most diverse and tranquil.

 As one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with only 2.1 million people living in its landscapes, Namibia is dominated by vast sand dunes, rugged mountains and a sweeping coastline.  Photographer Paul Goldstein captured these incredible shots, from rocky mountains to the famous Sesriem Canyon and the two highest sand dunes in the world, Dune 45 and Big Daddy.

Read more: Endless deserts, rugged mountains and wildlife eking out a living: Namibias savage beauty captured in stunning photographs | Mail Online.

Cheetah stuns safari tour by jumping on truck and using it as vantage point to hunt prey

The predator and her cub approached the vehicle from behind and caught the visitors to the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya by surprise.

The pair landed on the back of the truck before climbing to the top of it. The adult cheetah surveyed its territory while the cub chewed on a railing.

As the animals were distracted photographer David Newton, from Amersham in Buckinghamshire, was able to take pictures of the cheetahs.

Cheetah stuns safari tour by jumping on truck and using it as vantage point to hunt prey | Nature | News | Daily Express.