Here is a collection of the latest news and developments about the company and the wildlife holidays we arrange.
NEW! HIGH ARCTIC WILDLIFE ADVENTURE
We are excited to now offer a super-special land-based adventure to immerse in the stunning high Arctic wilderness of Nunavut, Arctic Canada, giving you the most intimate and ‘real’ Arctic experience possible. Inuit guides, whose people have lived in this harsh, yet stunningly beautiful region for thousands of years will use their age-old tracking and navigation skills and stories to enrich your experience. We aim to see polar bears, narwhal (including snorkelling with this strange whale), seals, various birds and much more, whilst camping in comfort and style at the floe edge under the midnight sun. As wildlife specialists we feel it is high time we feature the high Arctic in our portfolio – and we’ll delay no longer as, sadly, this is very much a ‘see it before it’s gone’ situation.
Please click for full details or see our Escorted Small Groups and Set Departures section of our website
CELEBRATING REEF AND RAINFOREST’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY
in 2008 we celebrated Reef and Rainforest’s twentieth anniversary. The company has grown organically from a one-man band working out of a second floor flat in west London to our current seven staff occupying modern offices by the River Dart in Totnes, part of Devon’s lovely South Hams.
Since 1989 we have witnessed a great many changes within the industry, including the broadening of ATOL licence requirements, the increase in popularity of natural history travel, and the advent of the internet. During that time, we pioneered sustainable wildlife travel to top destinations such as Belize (our first), Costa Rica, Galapagos, Venezuela, Madagascar, Panama and Brazil, keeping our core values throughout: we favour low impact, stimulating programmes which assist host communities and help preserve wildlife and wilderness by offering a viable alternative to clear felling, hunting and agro-business monocultures.
Our professional team of graduates retains the original Reef and Rainforest ethos of detailed knowledge of our destinations and prompt personalised service, painstakingly designing your next tailor-made tour or carefully advising you on which group departure is best to join. Our plethora of positive testimonials is testament to that (you are more than welcome to visit our offices and read our testimonial files).
Call to discover why we continue to be so successful in organising superb natural history holidays for thousands of satisfied clients over two decades. Meet the team...
OUR NEW RECESSION-BUSTING “BARE NECESSITIES” TOURS
Usually Reef and Rainforest’s tours come with most things included: international flights, nearly all meals, plenty of activities and excursions, and many days’ guide services. However, we realise that some of our clients like to book their own international flights and don’t necessarily wish to do all the included tours and excursions or eat three meals a day.
So we have come up with some new itineraries which will appeal to clients who want just the minimum included so they can seek out better flight deals or use Air Miles; to choose whether to miss lunch or just have a snack at dinner time; and what tours and activities to do when. Where we have included full board, it’s normally because that is part of a lodge or resort package, and where we have included activities and excursions, those are what we consider unmissable or are in any case included in the lodge or resort package.
Thus you have more control over what you do or eat (and therefore costs) while still receiving the necessary arrangements: arrival and departure assistance, in-country help, transfers, domestic flights and accommodation. These keenly priced tours are only detailed in our website, so please click on the following links to find out more:
NORTHERN TANZANIA AND THE WILDEBEEST MIGRATION
COSTA RICA - BY SELF DRIVE 4X4
ECUADOR AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
GUYANA AND TOBAGO
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
NEW SELECTION OF WILDLIFE CRUISES
Reef and Rainforest is proud to present an unparalleled new range of first-rate wildlife cruises on carefully selected small ships and expedition vessels to some of the world’s best natural history destinations. The emphasis is on wildlife, both above and below water, but culture too is a strong draw, especially for countries like Papua New Guinea. None of our ships has more than 150 passengers, and many a good deal fewer, so that pristine natural locations won't be swamped. On most of our cruises, biologists, conservationists and other specialists act as your guides, better to reveal the hidden mysteries of the natural world. Zodiacs or similar are normally used to access smaller landing spots from the mother ship, anchored offshore. Whatever your tastes and interests, we are sure to have a cruise to suit. Please click for full details.
Building on the success of our Kingdom of the Jaguar tailor-made tour and Quest for the Jaguar group which have revealed over 100 jaguars to Reef and Rainforest clients over the last two years, we are now giving clients the option of removing the rainforest section of these trip to focus entirely on the Pantanal region of Brazil. Clients can opt for a shortened tour or, more commonly, add the Southern Pantanal lodge of Barranco Alto to see species that are hard to see in the north such as giant anteaters, peccaries, rheas and toco toucans. Speak to one of our specialist consultants to design the perfect tailor-made tour itinerary or see our new Pantanal Jaguar Safari (pdf) group tour.
BUY YOUR NATURAL HISTORY BOOKS WITH US
Now, through our website, you can buy the most appropriate books to accompany your trip at the normal price. Reef and Rainforest have joined forces with fellow Totnes company the Natural History Book Service (NHBS) to offer a recommended selection of their best sellers relating to each of our fabulous destinations. Bird, mammal, botany and travel guidebooks will certainly enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of that special destination. See the Reading Suggestions at the end of each country introduction. Happy Reading!
EXTRAORDINARY TRAVEL INSURANCE NOW AVAILABLE
We at Reef and Rainforest believe that your safety and enjoyment when travelling overseas with us is very important: so much so that we make it a strict condition of your booking that you take out adequate travel insurance to protect you in the case of certain emergencies including losses, delays, crimes, repatriation and medical expenses.
We recommend buying travel insurance with long-established, specialist Insurance Brokers Campbell Irvine, underwritten by the UK’s largest travel insurer, AXA Insurance (UK) plc. The cover includes a 24-Hour worldwide emergency Medical Service who are experts in providing friendly and professional emergency help.
Other factors make this company well worth considering. Firstly, you don’t have to be a resident of the UK – any nationality can be insured. Secondly, Campbell Irvine can cover you (subject to approval) for visits to areas currently under a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Travel Advisory (which has the effect of invalidating normal policies). More details.
LAPA RIOS LODGE FINDS TAPIRS
The Tapir, Central America´s largest terrestrial mammal, is not the kind of mammal you would think could easily escape attention. However, this elusive creature has been avoiding guests and guides at Costa Rica’s Lapa Rios Lodge for a long time. In the lodge’s 1000-acre private reserve in the Osa Peninsula, footprint are now seen on a daily basis.
Recently the maintenance crew had to check the natural spring which supplies the lodge with clean and healthy water. The next morning there were fresh footprints, so fresh they looked like the animal must be just a little ahead in the creek. They all walked slowly and quietly, trying to catch site of this 600 pound elusive animal. They saw a big depression in the mud where it had lain and suddenly they heard a loud noise and felt the earth begin to vibrate. It was a tapir. As it ran up the stream amongst the dense vegetation, it disappeared once again.
The luxury lodge is visited as part of our Costa Rica Nature De Luxe
itinerary and can be added to any of our tailor-made Costa Rica tours
The Last Survivors – Gir’s Asiatic Lions
When one imagines lions, it tends to conjour images of the vast African plains. As such, it may be a surprise to learn that until around 10,000 years ago, the lion was the world’s most widespread large land mammal beside humans, ranging not only through most of Africa but also from Yukon to Peru in the Americas, and Greece to India in Eurasia (lions even roamed Britain c 13000 years ago).
Since then the expanding human population, advent of gunpowder and ‘sport’ hunting thoughout the British Empire led to a comprehensive extermination of lions apart from those in Africa and a small area in Gujarat, India now known as Gir Forest National Park where a current total of 359 Asiatic Lions cling to existance.
Although the number of Asiatic Lions has recovered from around 100 at the turn of 1900s, they are still critically endangered. Having largely resisted offers of resettlement, Maldhari people still inhabit the Gir protected area, and although they are vegetarian pastoralists, the habitat destruction caused by cattle grazing and firewood collection has the effect of reducing the lion’s prey numbers (animals such as sambar deer, chital, nilgai, chinkara and wild boar). This environmental pressure is exacerbated further by the attraction of more than 80,000 pilgrims annually to four temples within the protected area. The reduced availablity of natural food encourages lions to hunt domestic animals, and attacks on humans are also known in times of particular hardship such as during drought. This has led to lions being poisoned by people in an attempt to protect their livestock and themselves.
Their restricted range means the Asiatic Lions are particularly vulnerable to disease, natural- and man-made disasters – a major event could eliminate the whole subspecies. The protected area, currently standing at 1,412 km² (558 square miles), has little chance of being extended due to the human habitation around the periphery. The increasingly dense lion population and heavy competition for territory means some males are unable to secure a territory and breed. Young male lions, seeking new territory often stray out of the protected area where there is less competition – leading to unwelcome human-lion interaction.
Attempts are being made to find a suitable area to translocate some Asiatic Lions from Gir to another area to form a second population. This is seen as the key long term goal to aid population stability, allowing the otherwise non-breeding males to contribute to the genetic diversity of the subspecies making them less vulnerable to catastrophic events.
Other threats include 15,000 to 20,000 open wells used by farmers for irrigation which act as traps in which lions drown. Projects are underway to erect walls around the wells to help prevent this. Poaching by local and foreign trophy hunters also continues on a smaller scale than in the past.
Efforts to conserve the lion population by the Gujarat Forestry Department include:
- Pursuading the Maldharis to relocate outside the protected area to curtail the habitat destruction and reduce negative lion-human interaction. This must be gradual and delicately balanced as their livestock represents a significant part of the lions’ diet, allowing time for the degraded habitat to recover sufficiently to support the lion’s natural prey.
- The employment of around 300 rangers and guards to protect Gir Forest
- Habitat reclaimation through the reintroduction of local plants
- Compensating Maldharis for livestock losses due to lion predation.
A crucial factor is that the existence of a healthy population of lions must be of value to local people. The lions must be seen to benefit the community economically, as well as being a source of local and national pride (pardon the pun). Sensitive tourism initiatives are being developed involving- and giving financial benefits directly to Maldhari people without impacting too greatly on their culture or causing too much environmental disturbance.
Guided jeep safaris are now available in a part of the protected area known as the Interpretation Zone, giving visitors an excellent chance to view the lions as well as the myriad other species present in the area such as leopard, hyena, jackal, wild boar, sambar deer, chital, nilgai, chinkara, chousingha (the world’s only four-horned antelope), langur monkey, marsh crocodile and around 300 species of bird.
The best currently available accommodation is in air conditioned safari-tents at the Lion Safari Camp near Sasan, with good views over a river frequented by various birdlife.
Tourism is in its infancy in Gir and the vehicles and guiding not yet at the highest standard, but the feelings evoked by the emotive rumbling roar of the fearsome yet so vulnerable Asiatic Lion is well worth it, as is knowing one is contributing to the longevity of the last few survivors of this subspecies through ones financial contribution and very presence, allowing local people to realise the internationally-recognised worth of the lions and their own valuable role in keeping them alive.
Gir is accessed by a 4-hour drive from Rajkot airport. Best time to visit October-February. Consultant Helen Cox visited Gir in December 2008 should you wish to discuss the incorporation of this reserve into a tailor-made tour to India it also forms part of our India's Rhinos, Lions and Coral Islands itinerary.
SRI LANKA BIRDING AND WILDLIFE NEWS
ELEPHANTS ON THE MOVE - Several reports have come in recently of over a hundred elephants gathering at the shores of the lake in Minneriya National Park. Because the rains of the last North-east Monsoon failed, it appears that The Gathering of Elephants is underway much earlier this year.
CETACEANS GALORE - Sri Lanka has now completed its first fully fledged whale watching season. The data confirms that the south of Sri Lanka is the most reliable place in the world in which to see blue whales, Earth’s largest living thing, during the season. In 108 sailings between 08 October 2008 and 13 April 2009, blue whales were encountered 71 per cent of the time. The strike rate was higher during the December to April period, especially January to April. During March and April sightings were almost daily.
Total cetacean species recorded during the season included - Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Spinner Dolphin (Stenella longirostris), Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni), Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus), Killer Whale (Orcinus orca), False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens), Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhyncus), Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), Fraser’s Dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuata), Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) and Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba).
With the military defeat of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), whale watching opportunities will arise on the East coast, especially in the area around Trincomalee which was once famous for blue whales.
YALA NATIONAL PARK – Many sighting of leopard, sloth bear and jungle cat have been reported at Yala National Park recently (Yala is the best place in South Asia for leopard). Bird species seen lately at Bundala National Park, a wetlands near Yala, include painted and open-billed storks, spoonbills, water hens, kingfishers, herons and egrets, ducks, plovers, lapwings, pheasant tailed jacanas, curlew, white winged terns, pratincole, grey headed fish eagle, yellow and black bitterns.
STOP PRESS: Yala, the best location in Sri Lanka for wildlife viewing, has been the subject of a Foreign Office travel advisory for over a year, but has now been taken off their list and so, according to the FCO, is safe again to visit. Please call Alan Godwin on 01803 866965 to arrange your bespoke Sri Lanka tour.