Wild Nights Out - Tracking down Engimatic Wildlife in South Africa - interview with Dr Keith Barnes
Dr Keith Barnes presents at Destinations in London, Feb 2020 on Enigmatic Wildlife Tours
Enigmatic Wildlife Tours - the experience of a lifetime for wildlife travel gourmets
In February 2020 at Destinations Travel expo in London, our friend Dr Keith Barnes gave an incredibly engaging presentation about a new line of small group tours - Enigmatic Wildlife Tours - which we're very proud to be collaborating with him on.
The trips are also called Wild Nights Out, due to a fair component of the sought-after critters which they focus on being nocturnal in nature. As such, these extraordinary tours are suited for wildlife travel gourmets (rather than gourmands) who for the most part, will already have been on Africa safaris before and now want something quite different and immersive.
We did a quick Q&A with Dr Barnes to tell us more about these refreshingly innovative wildlife tours, with emphasis here on the Enigmatic Wildlife Tour to South Africa, scheduled to operate in September 2023.
Augrabies flat lizard, one of numerous 'herps' (reptiles and frogs) to be seen on the tour
Q: What to you, would make this tour the experience of a lifetime for wildlife enthusiasts?
Keith: 'This itinerary is unique because there are only a handful of experts on Earth who can run it properly. We have those people on-board. Being able to look for example, for one of South Africa’s most range-restricted lizards, the Augrabies Flat Lizard in the afternoon, and then seek out one of it’s rarest birds, the Red Lark a few mornings later, requires intimate knowledge, skill and personal experience. Our team has all of this and more. Of course, our evenings will still be filled with rare megafauna like Aardwolf or Aardvark, but it will be the smaller and rare creatures where we will make the difference. I think the smorgasbord of scarce and interesting wildlife that will be seen on this itinerary will be phenomenal. There are hundreds of Safari operators out there, but only one team running Enigmatic Wildlife trips'.
High on the list of mammal targets is the Aardvark
Q: What are some of the most exciting and unusual critters you’ve seen during recent travels along the route followed in this itinerary?
Keith: 'There is a species of Sengi (Elephant-Shrew) at Marrick that is still of dubious identity. Some have suggested it may be a new species, although the common sentiment is that it is Karoo Rock Sengi. Either way, this kind of thing is always exciting, and we are visiting parts of the country where we may even find range extensions or new populations of some reptiles or frogs. Of course, mammals are always a thrill, and Aardwolf, Aardvark or Black-footed Cat never disappoint as highlights. And then on my last trip, there had been rains and we were able to encounter mega-flocks of rain-tracking granivorous nomadic birds including clouds of hundreds of Black-eared Sparrowlark, Damara Canary and Larklike Bunting. Seeing animals responding to rain like that was phenomenal - a wilderness experience never to be forgotten and not just a sighting to tick off a list!'
Black-footed cat at Marrick (Keith Barnes)
Q: Aside from the more unusual wildlife, flora and of course natural landscapes that participants can expect to enjoy appreciating, which larger mammals are fairly prominent in protected areas covered in this trip?
Keith: 'The beauty of this trip is that it visits seldom-seen places, and as such we only visit a couple of National Parks; Mokala and Augrabies. The former is famous for its rare antelopes, and we hope to see the staggering beautiful Sable, Roan and Tsessebe here. Other large ungulates include Springbok, Gemsbok and the endemic White-tailed Wildebeest. Both parks have rhinos, but their plight is well documented and we’d be lucky to encounter those at these parks. Cape Buffalo and Giraffes are around. If you choose to do the Tswalu extension, then, of course Kalahari ‘Black-maned’ Lions, Cheetahs and of course the ultimate enigma - the Ground Pangolin - are all tantalizing possibilities.'
Aardwolf, another sought-after nocturnal mammal target for the tour (courtesy Tropical Birding)
Tell us a little about the logistics - perhaps elaborate a bit about the range of accommodations selected for the trip?
Keith: 'The accommodation varies, but always has a local flavor. We will mostly stay in farm houses and small B&Bs filled with character and charm. Some may be a little quirky, and not have all the facilities one might expect of a city establishment, but rural South Africans are known for their generous hospitality, and will more than make up for it with their service. We are mostly in a part of the world without chain hotels, although Cape Town will of course offer a typical big city hotel'.
Tswalu has a healthy population of Black rhino - this individual is one of them.
Q: There’s an optional pre-tour extension to Tswalu – what, in your opinion, makes this a great thing to do?
Keith: 'Tswalu not only offers the very real possibility of seeing Ground Pangolin, but it also is one of the most exclusive Safari experiences to be had anywhere. There are only ever a handful of people at the reserve, and you seldom see another vehicle. In addition, Tswalu has some of the most intact Kalahari ecosystems on the planet, and its rhino populations remain unharassed. Its wonderful to see rhinos with their horns, and know they are not being assaulted by the scurge of poaching. It also feels good supporting Tswalu, knowing that you are helping them fulfill a meaningful conservation mission that government bodies are unable to meet right now.
Namaqua rain frog, one of the more difficult critters to locate but we'll be giving it a good go!
Q: Will you run the trip on other dates if the September 2023 dates don’t fit with someone’s schedule but they would really love to go on a trip like this?
Keith: 'This trip can be run at any time between August and November, but like most things in life it is a swings-and-roundabouts situation. Earlier in that window we are most likely to see Namaqualand in bloom, and see rain-frogs and other water-dependent species. A little later in the year the chances of those decline, but we ought to have a better time with heat-seeking reptiles, and other animals that prefer it a little hotter and drier'
Reserving a space on the Enigmatic Wildlife Tour to South Africa:
To reserve spaces on this wonderful tour, or to register your interest, please contact our office. Group size will be a maximum of ten participants for the main tour.