My Visit to Namibia by Clyde Peeling

A comfortable bed in Johannesburg was a welcome sight after a 14-hour flight from JFK. But my group was eager to board yet another flight early the next morning for an additional five hour flight to Windhoek—the capital of Namibia and the starting place for our safari. Namibia is a part of Africa I’d always wanted to visit. In the early 1960s, my late friend Arthur Jones had captured 80 Nile crocodiles—none under 11 feet—in the Caprivi strip near the Zambian border, and I wanted to see whether there were still crocs there in large numbers. There are, but more on that later.

From the airport into Windhoek, we began seeing troops of chacma baboons, greater kudu, red hartebeest, and springbok. A good sign. We settled into the Galton Guest House where we met our guides for a briefing of what was to come.

My Visit to Namibia by Clyde PeelingThe next morning we loaded luggage into a trailer towed by one of the two Land Cruisers that would transport us about this large country for the next ten days. We headed southwest, our destination the Namib Desert and the Desert Homestead where we spent the next two nights. An African Hawk-eagle observed us from a tree and a Southern pale chanting goshawk soared on the horizon. The bird life in Namibia is exceptional.

Namibia, I should explain, sits directly above South Africa and is bordered on the west by the South Atlantic; on the east by the landlocked nation of Botswana and the eastern tip of Zimbabwe; and to the north by Angola and Zambia. The diversity of landscape is breathtaking. Some of the highest sand dunes in the world (over 1,000 feet) are in the Namib Desert created by winds off the Atlantic coast. A concentration of iron in the sand increasingly oxidizes in the older, more inland dunes giving them a beautiful pink hue.

Our host at the Desert Homestead cautioned us about the dangers of the desert. Two people had nearly lost their lives the year before having gotten lost without water—and only a short distance from camp! Only by luck had they been discovered by a rescue team. Water is precious in the desert. Thankfully, our group stayed well hydrated and experienced no problems.

We left the Desert Homestead and continued west arriving at the coastal town of Walvis Bay for lunch before following the coast north to Swakopmund. Early the next morning we explored sand dunes outside town where our guides uncovered a well camouflaged Peringuey’s viper and a horned adder—both members of the venomous genus Bitis. We located a shovel-snouted lizard, a Namaqua chameleon, and a web-footed gecko—lizard species adapted to the harsh life in and around desert dunes.

Namib desert

Damaraland was next. Our lodge there was almost invisible from a distance. It had been cleverly nestled amongst the giant house-sized boulders of a kopje. The entire region consists of rugged mountains, dunes, and gravel plains. Animals are surprisingly abundant. On a morning game drive, we found ourselves surrounded by desert elephants.

A large bull began making threatening gestures (ears out, trunk up), and the guides became noticeably concerned. An elephant can easily crush or overturn a vehicle and we decided to make a fast retreat to avoid an attack. The timing could not have been worse. One of the Land Cruisers would not start. Dead battery. Nervously the guides kept an eye on the bull, tied a tow rope, and we escaped a potentially bad situation.

Passing through and over some of the worst terrain imaginable (a road it was not) we arrived at a Himba village.

My Visit to Namibia by Clyde Peeling | Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

The Himba people live as they have for hundreds of years. Their small bomas are circular in shape with cone-shaped reed roofs and walls plastered with mud and cow dung. A remarkably cool solution to the intense desert heat.

These are nomadic people, and it was entirely possible there would be no one home after our long tortuous ride, but we were in luck: women, children, and a few young men welcomed us to their village and into their homes.

My Visit to Namibia by Clyde Peeling | Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

Himba wealth is measured by cattle, the wealthiest members of the tribe having numerous large herds scattered about the region. Himba women never bathe, even when water is available. Instead, they smear their bodies with animal fat mixed with pulverized red rock. It must be a worthy alternative as we detected no objectionable odor.

We spent the next two nights at Andersson’s Camp just outside Etosha National Park. A water hole off the dining area attracts a variety of wildlife—the most exciting were two young rhinoceroses. After exploring Etosha, we returned to Windhoek to join up with four more friends who would be with us for the remainder of the safari.

From Windhoek we flew to the Caprivi—a strip of land that forms a panhandle in northern Namibia. This is normally a wet area teeming with crocodiles and other wild animals, but the Caprivi had not had significant rain in two years. Our camp, Nkasa Lupala, had been built along a now dry river. In spite of the drought, we saw lots of wildlife. Within the first few minutes after arriving, one of our group discovered a venomous night adder swallowing a toad directly behind one of the parked Land Cruisers.

My Visit to Namibia by Clyde Peeling | Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

Nkasa Lupala is owned by an Italian family who have made every effort to leave no carbon footprint. The camp consists of tents erected on elevated platforms, and it is completely solar powered. Simone and his brother joined us for evening meals and answered our many questions. One of which was about elephant poaching. Is it a problem?

Indeed it is. But unlike some African nations, Simone told us Namibia does not have a shoot-to-kill policy. When frustrated Namibian rangers encounter elephant poachers, they chase the poachers across the border into Botswana and notify the rangers there. Why? Botswana rangers shoot to kill. This may seem like harsh treatment, but consider this: poachers are currently killing an estimated 96 elephants a day in Africa. If elephants are to avoid extinction, harsh solutions may be the only hope. Learn more about the 96 Elephants conservation movement.

After two nights at Nkasa Lupala, it was only a few hours to Chobe National Park in Botswana. There’s no way to describe Chobe Game Lodge except to say…it’s posh. Luxury accommodations are $910 a night during the high season and $500 during low season. The five-star lodge is located along the Kwando-Linyanti river system, and we explored the river by boat where we saw Nile crocodiles and watched a family of elephants bathing along the shore. We used electric powered Land Rovers for game drives, and Chobe has plenty of game—lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, hartebeest, impala, kudu, warthog, and springbok to name a few.

From Chobe we crossed the border into Zimbabwe. After settling into our hotel, some of our group took a helicopter tour of Victoria Falls, while others walked above the falls in the mist the following morning. Here the mile-wide Zambezi River drops 354 feet. It is the world’s largest sheet of falling water, roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls.

My Visit to Namibia by Clyde Peeling | Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

Truly an impressive sight and a perfect climax to a wonderful safari!

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More photos from Clyde’s Safari

Click to enlarge images

Interested in Adventure Travel?

Learn about Clyde’s next safari to Costa Rica in February 2017!

World Snake Day: Celebrate and Educate

Here at Reptiland, our mission has always been to educate visitors on the less-loved members of the animal kingdom, namely snakes. We use the term “less-loved” because that’s a nice way of referring to most people’s perception of snakes. Throughout the years, we’ve often heard unfavorable comments made by guests or stories of people avoiding the zoo altogether simply because they dislike and/or fear snakes. The truth is, snakes are amazing creatures that are very much misunderstood. Put aside the myths and misconceptions and get the real story on snakes with this article.

We’ve tried our best over the past 50 years to dispel common myths and misconceptions about these beautiful animals, and we will continue to do so for years to come. That said, we’re proudly celebrating World Snake Day by sharing some of our favorite photos and facts about snakes!

A Few of our Fave Photos…

Did You Know?

  • There are more than 3,000 different species of snakes.
  • Snakes have no eyelids or external ears, and they smell with their tongues!
  • Snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Snakes eat their prey whole and are able to consume prey three times larger than the diameter of their head because their lower jaw can separate from the upper jaw.
  • Some sea snakes can breathe partially through their skin allowing for longer dives underwater.
  • Corn snakes can angle their scales so that they dig into bark, allowing them to climb trees.
  • The paradise tree-snake of Southeast Asia can fly. It swings its body through the air, then flattens into a C-shape to catch the airflow. If it flips its body back and forth, it can change directions as it falls.

Happy World Snake Day!

Want to see more slithery serpents and learn all about them? Come see us! Click here for hours, rates, and show times.

 

Happy Learn About Butterflies Day!

Learn about butterfliesMarch 14th is Learn About Butterflies Day–help us celebrate!

It may seem a bit premature to talk about insects that won’t reappear for another month or two, but our butterfly greenhouse opens in just over a month, so now’s the perfect time to brush up on your butterfly knowledge.

Also, it’s a good excuse to do these fun activities with your kids!

Why You Should Learn About Butterflies

1. They’re fascinating creatures.learn about butterflies

Butterflies are beautiful creatures that come in countless shapes, sizes, and colors. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and they’ve been around for at least 50 million years! They can’t hear (they sense vibrations like snakes), they taste through their feet, and some migrate up to 2,000 miles! Impressive, huh?

2. They help the environment.

Butterflies, like bees and other insects, are great pollinators; they help plants, trees, and shrubs to reproduce. Butterflies play an integral part in the food chain and their individual ecosystems. They also help scientific researchers by serving as indicators for how things affect our environment.

3. The more we know, the more we can help.

Due to factors such as climate change and habitat destruction, over 20 species in the U.S. are endangered or threatened. Though not yet considered a threatened species, Monarch populations have also been declining. The good news is, there are lots of things we can do to help–we just need to know a few things first!

How You Can Learn About Butterflies

1. Good ol’ fashioned BOOKS

We’ve got great resources on butterflies (for all ages) in the Natural Selections Gift Shop!

Learn About Butterflies

2.  Online Resources (Just be careful–not every source is a good one!)

A few good sources:

North American Butterfly Association

Monarchs: Near Threatened

Sponsor a garden at the National Butterfly Center
OR Create your own butterfly garden!

3. Visit Us

Come see these beauties up close from April 25 to November 1, 2015. Learn about different species, their life cycle, and other fun facts. We now offer the chance to feed the butterflies, too! Check out our Butterflies page for more information.

 Learn About Butterflies
Happy Learn About Butterflies Day–hope to see you soon!

Meet the Team: 2014 Dino Starting Lineup

With March Madness in full swing and the return of Dinosaurs Come to Life in less than a month, we wanted to give you a glimpse at our impressive lineup of dinos for 2014!

Dilophosaurus

dino starting lineupAs the only returning dino, Dilophosaurus is a seasoned vet and fan favorite.  “The spitter” boasts a double-crested head and impressive trajectory of his “poison,” perfect for cooling kids off on a hot summer day. Just don’t mention the movie Jurassic Park—he’s still upset about their inaccurate depiction of him being the size of a dog with girly frills…

Suchomimus

dino starting lineupSuchomimus has a long, narrow snout reminiscent of crocodilians and former DCTL player Baryonyx. Although he’s not the largest in the group, with sharp claws, ferocious teeth, and a prime position within the murky waters of Reptiland, his strategy is intimidation. Thankfully, he’s all “roar” and no bite. He also prefers fish over other meat, so no worries.

Dimetrodon

Dimetrodon is known as the most famous “non-dinosaur” dinosaur, and can be easily identified by the large sail on his back. As the subject of the Paint the Dino Coloring Contest, we’re anxious to see his custom paint job! Classified as a pelycosaur (mammal-like reptile), this guy walked the earth nearly 50 million years before dinosaurs. Don’t let his old age fool you, though…he destroys prey with not one, but TWO types of deadly teeth, hence his name meaning “two-form teeth.”

Triceratops

triceratopsThis three-horned, plant-munching dino is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs of all time and will make a great addition to the DCTL crew! Hailing from the good old US of A, Triceratops has gone up against some heavy hitters. Despite being preyed on by the great Tyrannosaurus rex, we’re confident he’s got what it takes to make 2014 our best exhibit season yet!

Giganotosaurus

giganotosaurusAnd lastly, weighing in at over 17,000 pounds with a length of 46 feet, Giganotosaurus is just that: GIGANTIC! Though no longer considered the largest land predator (thanks a lot Spinosaurus), he does beat out the 3 year, retired DCTL star and former “King of the Dinosaurs,” Tyrannosaurus rex as far as size. Still the largest creature at Reptiland by far, we’re trying to keep Giga‘s ego in check so his head doesn’t get too big (it’s big enough as it is).

 

Oh, and don’t forget about our static dinosaurs and their year-round presence on the Prehistoric Path. Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Coelophysis, Parasaurolophus, and our juvenile T. rex do a great job for us in the off-season!

Check out Dinosaurs Come to Life and witness these dinos in action when their season starts on April 19, 2014!


zulugrass beaded jewelry

Natural Selections Gift Shop Spotlight: Zulugrass

We strive to fill the Natural Selections Gift Shop with fun, educational items for children, while at the same time providing high-quality, unique gifts for adults. One of the product lines we’re proud to carry is Zulugrass.  A member of the Fair Trade Federation, Zulugrass offers beautiful handmade beaded jewelry, and purchasing it supports the very women that make it!  Read how it all started, then come to the Natural Selections Gift Shop to check Zulugrass out for yourself!

Zulugrass

Leading a traditionally pastoral lifestyle, the Maasai people of the Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania herd cattle and live off the land. Despite modernization and change happening around them, the Maasai continue to keep their culture and traditions alive, adorning themselves with colorful clothing and ornaments.

After a terrible drought devastated the area and killed their cattle, essentially destroying their livelihood, the Maasai men were forced to drive the few remaining cattle miles away in search of better grazing, while the women were left (ill-equipped) to feed, clothe, and support their families.

zulugrass

photo courtesy of leakeycollection.com

Philip and Katy Leakey live among the Maasai, and decided they had to do something to help their neighbors get through the hard times that lie ahead. By utilizing the natural resources around them and the skilled beadwork of the Maasai women, the Leakeys came up with an idea…and Zulugrass was born!

zulugrass beaded jewelryZulugrass jewelry is made from tall, native grass that is dried, cut into beads, dyed in over 200 colors, and strung onto durable elastic. The Leakeys added the touch of Czech glass beads for a more contemporary look with a bit of sparkle. The strands can be worn as necklaces, bracelets, anklets, chokers, and even belts!

zulugrassWomen began harvesting blades of grass one at a time for the unique handmade jewelry. Word spread of the opportunity that Zulugrass presented, allowing women the flexibility to bring their babies and toddlers to work and earn money for each piece of jewelry they made. Soon, women were walking as far as 2 hours each way to take advantage of this!

Zulugrass continues to grow, and now over 1,400 Maasai women are making Zulugrass, using their skills to support their families while maintaining the integrity of their traditional lifestyle.

Zulugrass is a fair trade product that supports the local economy of the Maasai people in Kenya.  For more information on Zulugrass jewelry and other fair trade products they make, visit www.leakeycollection.com.

The Wonders of a Zoo…After Dark

Flashlight Safari at Reptiland

Have you ever wondered what happens in a zoo after dark? You might imagine something similar to “Night at the Museum” where all the animals magically come out of their cages and begin their nightly frolics. Believe it or not, this isn’t the case. Many animals, however, are more active after the lights go out than they are during the daytime. Don’t quite believe it? A visit to Reptiland’s annual Flashlight Safari will ease your doubts.

Like a giant factory, nature works around the clock. When the animals of the day shift retire for evening, their nocturnal counterparts fill in the same niches at night. For example- think about birds and bats. Whereas you see birds during the day, bats take their place at night. In actuality there are more nocturnal animals, both in sheer numbers and in number of species, than diurnal (active during the day) animals.

Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland offers an annual event that allows visitors to see these nocturnal animals up close, viewing the habits that we typically miss. You’ll be amazed by the efficiency of most nocturnal animals. Snakes, for example are among the most efficient nocturnal predators, even thouflashlight safarigh they have poor eyesight. Their excellent sense of smell aids in detecting and tracking prey. Snakes smell with their tongue and some even have heat-sensing organs on either side of the face to detect the distance and location of the prey. Flashlight Safari offers the opportunity to venture through Reptiland’s Exhibit Gallery with nothing but a flashlight to guide you, seeing these incredible creatures at work. You will see mambas, cobras, pythons and rattlesnakes, along with aquatic turtles, poisonous dart frogs, tree monitors and crocodilians. But that’s not all–there will also be opportunities to touch certain animals. . . an American alligator, for one. Also in the lineup for up-close viewing will be Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a tarantula, emperor scorpion, and boa constrictor.

After all this, be sure to step outside and explore Dinosaurs Come to Life, our animatronic dinosaur exhibit featuring a dozen species of life-size extinct reptiles. Torches and spotlights will help guide you through this journey where you’ll see a Baryonyx waiting in the swamp, the venom-spitting Dilophosaurus, gentle Brachiousaurus, a nervous Euoplocephalus and of course the two story tall Tyrannosaurus rex!

The adventure awaits the next two weekends at Reptiland on Friday and Saturday, October 19th & 26th  and 20th & 27th  from 6-9pm. Live nocturnal animal shows  featuring a great horned owl, Norway rat, emperor scorpion, giant Indian fruit bat, rattlesnake and more will be presented at 6, 7, and 8pm each night. Groups of 15 or more people that call in advance will qualify for special discounted rates. So, leave the ghosts and goblins for another time, and this year go on a Flashlight Safari at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland for an unforgettable experience!

Dinosaur Fun Facts: Baryonyx

Baryonyx was a 30 foot long, 3,700 pound dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous period, approximately 130-125 million years ago. It was one of the few known piscivorous (fish eating) species and was equipped with special adaptations; long, narrow jaws filled with 128 finely serrated teeth and hook-like claws to hunt its prey.  Baryonyx hunted much like a modern day grizzly bear, sitting on the banks of rivers or wading in shallow waters, waiting for fish to swim past.  It may have even used its hooked thumbs to spear fish from the water. Its habitat consisted of subtropical river deltas and beaches. Although likely solitary animals, Baryonyx may have hunted in packs.
Dinosaur Fun Facts: BaryonyxYou can find an animatronic Baryonyx lurking in the waterways of Reptiland until the end of October. Baryonyx is one of the first dinosaurs you’ll encounter in our Dinosaurs Come to Life exhibit, followed by more than 10 other dinosaurs from the Cretaceous and Jurassic eras. The zoo is open daily from 10-5 on weekdays and 10-6 on weekends (note: hours vary based on season). Dinosaurs Come to Life will also be highlighted again this year during our annual Halloween event, Flashlight Safari, which takes place the last two weekends in October, and is your only chance to see the zoo after dark.

Komodo Dragons at Reptiland

Komodo dragons are found on only a handful of Indonesian islands and are rarely exported to other countries. North American zoos cooperatively manage a captive population of dragons as an SSP (Species Survival Plan), but in recent years, the US population suffered the loss of many adult females and the breeding program stalled. In 2010, the Los Angeles Zoo successfully hatched a large clutch of eggs, breathing new life into the dragon population. Reptiland received two of those offspring and joined the Komodo Dragon SSP.

Komodo dragons at Reptiland
The Peeling Productions team installing a perimeter fence around what will become the home for our Komodo dragons.

We committed to building a facility to house and breed these giant lizards in Central PA, and work on a new 3,000 square foot building has begun. Komodo dragons are unlike other lizards—they are active and need lots of space. Our new facility will include a 1,300 sq ft indoor exhibit, a large indoor holding area with shift facility, and a lush outdoor exhibit for warm weather viewing. Because dragons like it hot—95 degrees everyday, year-round—the building will need to be very well insulated. With that in mind, we have incorporated a living roof into our design, a first at Reptiland.

*6/14/13 Update: The Komodo dragon exhibit, Island Giants, is now open to the public!

Geckos: Disposable Parts

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be unable to outrun an enemy and be too small to fight? The answer for most geckos is to give up their tail. Built-in weak spots in the bones of the tail make it easy to break. Most require a tug, but some geckos can pop off their own tail by pushing it against an object.  The broken tail wriggles to distract the predator, and muscles around the break quickly seal torn blood vessels in the gecko’s body. Most geckos eventually grow a new tail supported by cartilage instead of bone.  Re-generated tails are also shorter and lack the color and texture of the original.

geckotailA common frog-eyed gecko (Teratoscincus scincus) who has “dropped” its tail.

Another interesting adaption of geckos has is known as “Shock Shedding”. Grab the wrong gecko and you’ll find yourself holding nothing but skin! Gecko skin has two layers of dermis, creating built-in “tear zones.”  The outer skin easily peels off as the gecko squirms free and the inner layer remains as a barrier against infection.

Reptiland currently exhibits four species of geckos, including the giant leaf-tailed gecko, lined leaf-tailed gecko, tokay gecko, and giant day gecko. Additionally, you can create your own gecko when you pay a visit to our Build-A-Gecko interactive station!