A safari makers dream: the discovery of a new species of mammal

This must every safari-makers dream: to discover a new species of mammal, as has been discovered in the mountains of Tanzania. BBC news reported yesterday:

The bizarre-looking creature, dubbed Rhynochocyon udzungwensis, is a type of giant elephant shrew, or sengi.

The cat-sized animal, which is reported in the Journal of Zoology, looks like a cross between a miniature antelope and a small anteater.

It has a grey face, a long, flexible snout, a bulky, amber body, a jet-black rump and it stands on spindly legs.

“This is one of the most exciting discoveries of my career,” said Galen Rathbun, from the California Academy of Sciences, who helped to confirm the animal was new to science along with an international team of colleagues.

Galen Rathbun with the new elephant shrew species (David Ribble)
They are so bizarre-looking and a lot of their behavioural ecology is so unique and interesting, you kind of get wrapped up with them
Galen Rathbun

Despite its name, the creature, along with the 15 other known species of elephant shrew, is not actually related to shrews.

Dr Rathbun told the BBC News website: “Elephant shrews are only found in Africa. They were originally described as shrews because they superficially resembled shrews in Europe and in America.”

In fact, the creature is more closely related to a group of African mammals, which includes elephants, sea cows, aardvarks and hyraxes, having shared a common ancestor with them about 100 million years ago.

“This is why they are also known as sengis,” explained Dr Rathbun.

The new species was first caught on film in 2005 in Ndundulu Forest in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains by a camera trap set by Francesco Rovero, from the Trento Museum of Natural Sciences in Italy.

Dr Rathbun said: “I got these images, and said to myself: ‘Boy, these look strange’. But you can’t describe something new based just on photographs, so in March 2006, we went back in and collected some specimens.”

Flashy creatures

He told the BBC that it quickly became apparent that the creatures were new to science.

He said: “Elephant shrews are almost all distinguished by distinctive colour patterns, and this is especially true of the forest-dwelling giant sengis.

New species of elephant shrew (Francesco Rovero)  

The animal uses its long snout for scooping up insects

“They are all quite flashy – one species has a bright golden rump, another checkers along the rump – so when you have a colour pattern that just isn’t similar to what is out there, you know it is fairly obvious that you have got something new.

“And this one, with its grey face and black rump, was pretty different.”

As well as its distinctive colouring, the new species is also larger than other species of giant elephant shrew, weighing 700g (25oz) and measuring about 30cm (12in) in length.

It uses its long, flexible nose and tongue to flick up insects, such as termites, and it is most active in daylight.

Dr Rathbun added: “They are behaviourally fairly simple – they are not like a dog or cat you can interact with – but they are so bizarre-looking and a lot of their behavioural ecology is so unique and interesting, you kind of get wrapped up with them.”

The scientists say there is still much to learn about the Rhynochocyon udzungwensis, but they hope further research will help to answer questions about how many of the animals exist, their range and how closely the animals live together.

Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains are biodiverse-rich. In addition to this new species, a number of other new animals have been found there, including the Udzungwa partridge, the Phillips’ Congo shrew, and a new genus of monkey known as Kipunji as well as several reptiles and amphibians.

Dr Rathbun said it was vital the area and its inhabitants in this biodiversity “hotspot” were protected.

Source: BBC News

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The Adventure Travel Ratings: The World’s First Authoritative Rating of Adventure Tour Operators

“When planning the adventure trip of a lifetime, the most important decision isn’t where to go, but who to go with. To help you pick the right outfitter, we have conducted the world’s first authoritative rating of adventure travel tour operators. Each of the 158 companies presented here qualifies as “best,” it’s up to you to select which one is best for you”.

The rating published by National Geographic Adventure Magazine includes 2 companies in the top 3 who are operating mainly in Tanzania: Mark Thornton Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent. Those and many of the other 65 companies including Wildland Adventures, CC Africa and Deeper Africa use Onsea House in Arusha as a start and/or end for their safaris.

Next to the full list of 158 rated Adventure Travel outfitters, you can find a listing of the 100 greatest adventure books in the National Geographic special and website.

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“Tanzania: Safari individüell geplannt – Zu empfelen als Ausgangspunkt für Safaris in Arusha”

“Als Ausgangspunkt für Safaris in Arusha is das von Belgiern geführte Onsea House zu empfelen, es verfügt über fünf Zimmer und Pool in ruhiger Lage”.

This quote is thé highlight of the Leserforum of the February/March/April 2008 “Fernreise spezial” of German bestelling travel magazine Reise & Preise “Anspruchsvol Reisen – Perfect Planen”. Next to positive reviews on the internet, guests also send an increasing number positive reviews to tradtitional media.

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Kenya crisis bashes Tanzania`s tourism, according to the Guardian

Although reservations at Onsea House in Arusha seem to increase because of the crisis in Kenya, the Guardian reports today that Tanzania`s tourism industry has sustained serious injuries following the post-election stand-off in Kenya and the violence accompanying it:

The industry has been hit by trip and hotel accommodations cancellations of alarming proportions, with Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO) chairman Mustafa Akuunay putting the number of planned daily visits scrapped to between 25 and 30 per cent. Explained a distraught Akuunay when interviewed by The Guardian here yesterday: “Tanzania has been forgoing a minimum of $84,000 (equivalent to 94.08m/-) in foreign exchange earnings every passing day in lost business on parks, transportation and accommodation services since hell broke loose in Kenya two weeks ago.“

According to the TATO chairman of tour and hotel operators, the number of visitors coming to Tanzania has fallen considerably because most would normally cross over from Kenya.

The most hit of the key hotel operators in Tanzania`s northern tourism circuit are Serena Group of Hotels and Sopa Lodges, which can accommodate a combined 1,120 tourists at a go. They report losing 170 guests daily on average.

Serena Group general manager Salim Jan Mohamed, who put booking cancellations from his hotels and lodges alone at 75 everyday, said in a telephone interview: “The situation is alarming.

With a capacity of accommodating 500 tourists at a go, now the booking cancellations are robbing us of 15 to 20 per cent of that number everyday.“

Sopa Lodges group reservation manager Louis Okech had a similar story, noting: “We have been getting anything between 10 and 15 per cent cancellations out of our full installed capacity of 620 tourists everyday.“ He added that they have been suffering a loss of 93 tourists on average on each passing day.

Bushbuck Safaris Ltd managing director Mustafa Panju added to the sad tales, saying the number of tourists from abroad had dropped appreciably, “as enquiries now lie at five per cent at the highest as opposed to between 30 and 40 per cent before the problems up north (in Kenya)“.

A visibly shaken Matongo Adventure Tours managing director Nashon Nkhambi said the Kenyan crisis had cost his company three large groups of tourists.

His Sunny Safaris Limited counterpart Firoz Suleiman, meanwhile, estimated that six to eight groups of minimum 16 tourists had cancelled their trips to Tanzania soon after learning of the violence in Kenya.

An estimated 40 per cent of the 700,000-odd tourists usually visiting Tanzania annually pass through Kenya, thereafter crossing over for tours of attractions such as Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.

The figure stood at the much higher 66 per cent in the 1990s but has gradually fallen over the years thanks to the introduction of direct flights from Europe, the Americas and other regions to Tanzania, especially via the revamped Julius Nyerere (Dar es Salaam) and Kilimanjaro international airports.

Tourism is one of the key drivers of Tanzania`s economy, second only to agriculture, and had a 17.2 per cent contribution to the country`s gross national product last year.


Fears for oldest human footprints

The world famous magazine Nature reported yesterday on the oldest human footprints ever found: the Laetoli footprints are one of the many highlights that can be visited by safari makers to Tanzania, interested in archeology or anthropology. Just a day journey away from Onsea House in Arusha or a sidetrack from the road from Ngorongoro to Serengeti.

For the first time since the early ’80s, Nature reports on this subject: 

Threats to the world’s oldest hominid footprints in Tanzania are again stirring debate over how to best protect the 3.7-million-year-old tracks.
Discovered by Mary Leakey’s team in 1978, the 23-metre-long track of footprints at an isolated site called Laetoli were in 1995 covered with an elaborate protective layer after they began to deteriorate with exposure. Now weathering has begun to undermine those protections, raising concerns that the prints preserved in a volcanic ash bed could be harmed by erosion, livestock or humans.

It has prompted Tanzanian anthropologist, Charles Musiba, now at the University of Colorado in Denver, to call for the creation of a new museum to reveal and display the historic prints. But other anthropologists question this idea — as they did when the tracks were covered — because Laetoli is several hours’ drive into Ngorongoro National Park, making guarding and maintaining any facility extremely difficult. Musiba presented his proposal for the museum last month at the International Symposium on the Conservation and Application of Hominid Footprints, in South Korea. He says that Tanzania now has the scientific capacity and the funds to construct and monitor a museum.

“I feel compelled to bring this issue out,” says Musiba. “The current conditions show the protections are temporary. A fully fledged museum could be part of a walking safari trail for tourists.”

But this concept worries other researchers such as anthropologists Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, and Terry Harrison at New York University. They are among a group that favours cutting the entire track out of the hillside, then installing it in a museum in a Tanzanian city, either Dar es Salaam or Arusha. “If they are uncovered, they will be a magnet for trouble,” says White. “Then the prints will be worn away.”

Donatius Kamamba, who is head of the National Museum in Dar es Salaam and also director of the Tanzanian Department of Antiquities — the agency responsible for the Laetoli footprint site — expressed surprise over the erosion report and the museum proposal. He says that his agency will investigate the site, but he questions the feasibility of moving an ash bed that could potentially crumble apart.

The protective layer now in place was constructed by specialists from the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles. A layer of dirt had been placed over the footprints by researchers such as Leakey and White. But acacia seeds weren’t sifted out of the soil, so trees started growing, threatening to tear apart the layer of hardened volcanic ash. Getty conservationists Neville Agnew and Martha Demas removed the old layer and growth, covered the prints with a special fabric mat designed to limit water intrusion, then covered this with cleaned soil and rocks. This worked well until the past couple of years, when increased rains filled the surrounding run-off ditches with silt, leading to erosion exposing the mat’s edges. All agree that the mat needs to be covered swiftly, in case, for example, local tribespeople attempt to remove it for other uses. But a long-term solution is still up for debate.

The National Museum is currently undergoing an expansion. Harrison thinks Tanzania would be wise to consider putting the footprints there. But archaeologist Audax Mabulla, of the University of Dar es Salaam, favours Musiba’s suggestion. “We should open a small section of the footprints in an environmentally friendly building,” says Mabulla. “Then people can have access and appreciate them.”

Whatever happens, concerns are mounting about immediate improvements because the rainy season is already under way.

This article was published online 9 January 2008 | Nature 451, 118 (2008)

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Vroegboekacties en “Break Away Special Offer” naar Kenya, Oeganda, Tanzania en Zanzibar

Touroperator Joker en Connections en luchtvaartmaatschappij KLM zijn er ook opnieuw in januari dit jaar met hun vroegboekacties en Break Away Special offers waaronder ook Kenya, Oeganda, Tanzania en Zanzibar bij de bestemmingen, terwijl Ethiopian Airlines doorgaat met zijn speciale prijzen vanuit Europa naar Tanzania.

Vlieg tegen uitzonderlijke promotietarieven tot december 2008 via Joker. Boeken kan nog tot 28 januari. Bestemmingen zijn Entebbe (voor zij die ook Gorilla’s willen gaan zien vóór hun safari in Tanzania) vanaf 597 Euro, Nairobi (3 uur rijden naar Arusha waar je safari kan starten) vanaf 576 Euro of Zanzibar (strandvakantie voor en/of na je safari) vanaf 577 Euro. Die laatste optie lijkt ons erg interessant! Meer info en boeken kan via de Joker website.

Ook Connections heeft een Book&Pay actie met 500 bestemming aan zogenaamde stuntprijzen. Ze duiken 2 Euro onder de prijs van Joker met Zanzibar aan 575 Euro, welliswaar “Vanafprijzen” per persoon onder voorbehoud van beschikbaarheid en vertrekdata maar al wel inclusief luchthaventaksen voor een Heen én Terugvlucht. De promotie prijs voor vlucht naar Dar Es Salaam lijkt ons daarom wat aan de hoge kant met 642 Euro.

KLM probeert als luchtvaartmaatschappij zelf ook zijn tickets te slijten, sinds vandaag met Break Away prijzen naar oa Afrika. Zowel Nairoibi, Entebbe als Dar Es Salaam zitten boven 800 Euro dus enkel interessant voor zij die absoluut met KLM willen vliegen. Deze tarieven zijn slechts geldig van 8 tot 14 januari voor reizen tot 30 april 2008 (laatste vertrek). Snel beslissen voor deze Last Minute aanbieding is dus de boodschap.

Met Ethiopian Airlines kan je ook rechtstreeks boeken, in principe zelfs vanaf 355 Euro vanuit London, maar ook hier verschillen de prijzen sterk afhankelijk van datum en beschikbaarheid. Met deze actie is het ook mogelijk om een goedkoop ticket op Kilimanjaro International Airport (nabij Arusha) te boeken (Joker, Connections en KLM hebben Kilimanjaro niet in hun aanbieding zitten). De Ethiopian actie loopt sinds 28 oktober 2007 en intussen hebben we al heel wat gasten mogen begroeten bij Onsea House in Arusha die hiervan gebruik gemaakt hebben.

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Kindvriendelijke safari en kennismaking met het échte Afrika

Ik zou nooit een georganiseerde vakantie willen doen met alleen maar beesten en Nationale parken” hoor je wel eens. Maar wat doe je dan met de kinderen? Lees het beknopte reisverslag van een gezin met 2 kinderen van 6 en 8 die voor het eerst naar Afrika kwamen en, met Onsea House in Arusha als thuisbasis, kennis maakten met het échte Afrika. Je hoeft niet meteen de Kilimanjaro op of met Thomas Cook een week op het strand te spenderen in Zanzibar om er een onvergetelijke reis van te maken!

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Doctors seek low-cost IVF for Africa’s infertile, supported by Onsea House

Onsea House is supporting a special African development project which took off in Arusha.

During an Expert Meeting last weekend in Arusha with logistics, accommodation and dinners organized by Onsea House, Doctors discussed the plans to develop a low-cost version of “test-tube” baby technology, which helps tens of thousands of infertile couples each year in rich countries but is far too costly for the developing world, as reported on December 14 by Reuters (London):

More than 80 million couples suffer from infertility worldwide and the vast majority live in poor countries, where the issue is a crisis for millions.

The problem is particularly acute in Africa, where infections are a common cause of tubal blockages in women, leading to high rates of infertility and social isolation.

“The stigma of infertility in Africa is great — much more so than in the Western world,” Ian Cooke, emeritus professor at the University of Sheffield, told Reuters.

“It is often extreme because a woman may be divorced and then rejected by the community with no livelihood, and there are well-documented cases of suicide as a consequence.”

Africa as a region has the world’s highest fertility rate, which is often viewed as a problem, yet it also has the highest infertility rate, Cooke said.

Fertility experts have met in Arusha, Tanzania, this weekend under the auspices of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology to discuss the challenges at the first conference on infertility in developing countries.

Together with Cooke, Onsea House hopes the meeting will kick-start a pilot project in Africa. The goal is to bring the cost of a cycle of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) down to just $100, by using far fewer drugs and cutting back on costly hospital equipment.

It is a huge drop from costs of around 3,000 pounds ($6,130) in Britain and $10,000 or more in the United States, but the example of HIV/AIDS treatment — where drug prices in Africa have plummeted in recent years — suggests it may be feasible.

“We need to find low-cost solutions for the low-resource economies of the world,” Cooke said.

He and others in the low-cost IVF task group hope pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment suppliers will be persuaded to offer big discounts for developing countries.

Even so, getting costs down to realistic levels will require a radical rethinking of treatment strategies, with the emphasis on much milder ovarian stimulation using fewer costly hormone injections.

Any future treatment programme will also need to go hand in hand with better prevention, experts believe.

Most cases of infertility in Africa are due to infectious disease like chlamydia, gonorrhoea or tuberculosis.

Also Willem Ombelet, Belgian professor Obstetrics & Gynaecology and organizer of the Expert Meeting, said this earlier in Nature, the renowned international weekly journal for science.

Next to the private support of the Onsea House owners, future Onsea House guests will be contributing to this interesting development project in the form of a donation to The Walking Egg, a new NGO which will be founded by Willem Ombelet and artist Koen Van Mechelen for this purpose.