East African expert Daniel Njaga shares his vast knowledge with Norm Goldman, Editor of SketchandTravel
Daniel conducts holiday and travel programs throughout East Africa and he is a trained wildlife biologist with a master’s degree in ecology. Daniel has a vast experience in wildlife, conservation, and tourism in East Africa.
Good day, Daniel, and thanks for participating in our interview.
Daniel, please tell us how and why you became interested in the travel and tourism business in Africa?
The key motivation behind this was the need to add value and knowledge to traveling and tourism, having realized that tourism is a crucial ingredient of modern civilization and socio-economic discourse. You realize that tourism in Africa is mainly the mainstay of the wealthy who are not necessarily well endowed intellectually and therefore incapable of giving it the stimulus and dynamism needed to drive tourism into the 21st Century.
From my experience in the field of wildlife research and national park management, I realized there was a yawning demand for informed tourism services where visitors not only see the wildlife, landscape, etc but also appreciate these and their overall interaction with people and their aspirations. It is the need to fill this vacuum that I derived my motivation and interest and it is very intellectually stimulating to see visitors enjoying informed tour packaging and better knowledge about wildlife, ecosystems, and socioeconomic life of the people in Africa.
I understand you specialize in the study tours concept of academic tourism. Could you give our readers some idea as to the kind of tours you organize in East Africa? Where do these tours take place? How many days do these tours cover?
The academic tours target the Western institutions and scholars who have special needs in Africa like taking brief courses in tropical ecology or just academic expeditions. We usually study the specific needs of these student groups including their academic biases so that we ably draw up study programs. For instance, if they are interested in studies on the conflict between human development and conservation or just human-wildlife conflicts, we choose their itineraries in areas where such problems are recorded with more severity than others. We choose the best accommodation facilities and other allied areas of attractions and book lecturers in their specific areas of specialization depending on the needs of the study tour group.
Ideally, we receive such groups and offer them transport to different study center areas and have them make practical reviews of the real situation and receive lectures from us and invited lectures. So the tours cover select national parks like Lake Nakuru National Park and Meru National Park both with totally different conservation challenges and histories. The accommodation is arranged in hostels and they last an average of 1 week in a given area. Most study tours average 1 month in the whole country or East African region. The most popular theme we have include human-wildlife conflict politics and conservation poverty and conservation pollution of national parks from human activity etc.
Last but not least, we keep a database of activities taking place regarding wildlife ad conservation activities. We organize clients on study tours to participate in such activities as counting of birds, census of mammals, etc which are routinely carried out in select parks. We also have very popular activities like translocation of animals like rhinos and elephants and organize to have people participate by way of going there where the action is as it were and witnessing first hand how it is done and appreciating all.
Could you describe a typical day on one of these tours and what can one expect by way of lodging and meals?
Most student groups ideally seek out budget accommodation. We usually seek group accommodation in safe and ideally located hostels or camping sites often inside the national parks. Meals are also prepared by people grounded in such services and picnics are well arranged depending on a day’s program.
We are always keen to have visitors experience African cuisine and drinks and our mealtimes are always very exciting and fabulous!!
Where do these tours originate and how does one reach this area from North America or Europe?
Ideally, we prefer adequate interaction with potential participants, mostly their lecturers who organize it for them. Nairobi is the economic hub of East and Central Africa and most airlines land here. From here there can be transfers to the countryside depending on the theme of each visitor and the agreed itinerary.
Nairobi is quite accessible from any part of the US or the UK we also book air tickets for customers from any part of the world.
How popular are these tours and what is the average age group of the participants?
Study tours are the norm so to speak. They are becoming even more popular with Western institutions that have come to appreciate the need for practical exposure for undergraduate and graduate students in tropical ecology especially. Also, the fact that Africa offers very unique ecosystems and other natural resources that are very useful for learning.
Majority of the people we handle are university students. We have also had local high-cost secondary schools but we have not handled secondary schools outside Africa. From this year we shall be having Youth Camps in Lake Nakuru National Park and Mt Elgon which will last for two weeks and will be open to secondary school youth from any part of the world. It will be a very exciting opportunity for youth to interact with youth from different cultures and backgrounds in an atmosphere full of ambiance, ecological peace, environmental education, social serenity, etc.
What is the average cost of these tours and when is the best time to participate in one of these tours?
Costs vary according to group size, specific needs, and places being visited (eg national parks charge fees, while areas outside may not also camping, maybe cheaper than lodging, etc). But on average we can a guiding cost is 300 dollars per participant. The actual cost would be lower or higher depending on the aforementioned factors.
Africa being a weather independent region, any time would be good. But again it also depends on what is the interest driving what group. For instance, the migration of wildebeests from Tanzania to Maasai Mara in Kenya takes place between July and October/November. Hence if this would be one of the needs of the group, it would be restricted to that time.
Also, we count birds in Rift Valley Lakes in the months of January and July. Anyone or group interested in such activities would have to book such periods. For mountain climbing in Mt Kenya, June/July are usually very cold and we tend to discourage those periods, etc
Would you recommend these tours as a romantic destination and which would you choose as being the most unique and romantic in Nairobi and elsewhere?
Well, we have special packages for the romantically inclined. This is because large groups hardly conduce romance! We have special packages to exclusive lodges and tented camps around the Rift Valley, within Game parks, and around the Coast. You realize we have some of the most romantic beaches and wilderness areas in the part of the world.
Norm: How safe are these tours?
The first thing we consider in all our operations is safety. This is something we never compromise even if it means denying our customers the chance to do what they would prefer or visit where they would prefer if we are not convinced of 100% safety. In the last 4 years, we have been in operation, we have never had an incident that could be directly linked to poor planning or insecurity in our country or national parks. The worst incident we recorded last year was a baboon grabbing a camera from one of our clients, mistaking it for a piece of food. But the person was not injured at all.
Once again, safety is our number concern, and it’s not something we can ever compromise.
Could you tell our readers something about the climbing tours you organize and how experienced must one be before attempting these tours?
Climbing expeditions are extremely exciting. These can range from habitual climbing for fun sake in small hills like Menengai Crater in Nakuru or in Amboseli National Park. For such, no experience is needed. Just some enthusiasm and energy.
We however have others that take several hours like Mt Longonot and Mt Elgon. You once again don’t need experience but just some normal fitness and enough energy. In one of the pictures, you can see a family group that climbed Mt Elgon with us in December 2005 at a platform called Endebbess Bluff. It took us 3 hours to reach there and even a young girl of 8 yrs managed to reach the top.
The most challenging of all is Mt Kenya because it’s cold (snow on top) and very high. Climbing here needs a few weeks of exercise and the ability to withstand high altitudes. We have very experienced climbers who assist nonprofessional climbers. We also arrange for mock climbing of Mt Kenya to some few kilometers which can take just one day.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Yes, wildlife viewing is a popular activity in our portfolio. We have very well-trained guides and we offer deeper insight into wildlife ecology than can be found among the conventional operators. In east Africa, we have some of the most unique national parks and wildlife and it’s a great pleasure taking our clients to any of these wildlife safaris.
Thanks once again.
It was much honored to participate in this interview, thanks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Norm Goldman