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.

 

Visitors “Dug” Dino Days

Last weekend we hosted Dino Days, an event dedicated to all things prehistoric. It turned out to be a fantastic weekend, despite the uncooperative weather.

Our special guest for this 2-day event was Chris DeLorey, also known as Dr. Dino, Director of Education at the Brevard Zoo. As a paleontologist and dinosaur expert, he’s gone on many digs and has traveled all over the world. He brought fossils and artifacts from his personal collection to share with guests, gave special presentations in our Program Center, and answered all kinds of dino-related questions!

  • Dr. Dino giving his exciting “Dino Hunt” presentation

  • We didn’t let rain put a “damp”er on the weekend–but umbrellas were a must!

  • Dr. Dino sharing his artifacts (and knowledge) with guests

  • Taking a break from the weather

  • Sabian enjoyed making his very own fossil rubbing book

  • …and so did his little sister!

  • The Prehistoric Prize Package that children could enter to win

Kids could create their very own fossil rubbing book, and enter to win our Prehistoric Prize Package filled with dino-themed goodies! They also got to take home real dinosaur bone fragments courtesy of Dr. Dino.

It was a fun, educational weekend, and based on all the positive feedback we received, we’re anxious to outdo ourselves next year with another DINO-mite event!

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!


Venom Starts this Weekend!

Update 12/5/13:  This limited event has been extended through January 2014!

Just in time for Halloween, when ghoulish characters and terrifying monsters are lurking about, we’ve got our own creepy creatures here at the zoo…

Monsters and Dragons and Giants, OH MY!

Gila monsters, Komodo dragons, and a giant cane toad to be more specific, and you can see all of them starting this Saturday at 1:30 pm! Check out Venom: Nature’s Chemical Weapon.* This fascinating live event showcases venomous species in a safe, entertaining format. Featured animals include a variety of reptiles as well as a scorpion and the poisonous cane toad (neither of which are on display here at the zoo!).

Although this show introduces viewers to many widely feared species, it’s also meant to educate people on the benefits of venom, particularly in the medical field. For instance, many know the deadly effects of venom, but did you know that it is also used in several medications as a pain reliever and helps treat various heart conditions?

Venom dispels common myths, highlights the potential animal toxins offer for human medicine, and presents tips for safely enjoying nature in areas where venomous reptiles live. Visit us this weekend at 1:30 (or any weekend through December) to experience Venom LIVE!

BONUS: Get here early and witness a Komodo dragon feeding in our new Island Giants building!

*Featured as our 1:30 pm show only on weekends in November and December; all other show times feature our standard Reptile show.

The 5 Best (or Worst) Zoo Escapes

Last Tuesday, news of the missing red panda named Rusty rocked Washington (and the rest of the country) when the raccoon-resembling mammal escaped from the National Zoo in D.C.  Twitter was ablaze with tweets from stuffy politicians to humble animal-lovers, all bearing the same “#redpanda” reference.  After hours of news coverage, social media frenzy, and the National Zoo’s frantic search, Rusty was eventually located and returned to his rightful home.

In honor of Rusty’s recent retreat, we put together a list of the 5 best (or worst) zoo escapes.  Our personal favorite is the last one, but we’ll let you be the judge.

San Diego Zoo

5.  Escape Artist Extraordinaire–  Ken Allen, nicknamed “Hairy Houdini,” was a seasoned pro at the art of escaping; starting in the 1980s, Ken successfully escaped numerous times from his enclosure.  His deft escapes were so clever (and frequent) that his orangutan friends eventually learned his tricks of the trade and began freeing themselves as well!  Because of this, Ken quickly gained notoriety and celebrity status in San Diego, complete with t-shirts, his own fan club, and bumper stickers that read, “Free Ken Allen.”

gothamist.com

gothamist.com

4.  The Long Island Takeover of 1935– Frank Buck, an exotic animal collector, had his own animal park on Long Island where 170 Rhesus monkeys escaped from in 1935.  A plank of wood was left over a moat surrounding their area, inciting their breakout; naturally, chaos ensued!  The local law enforcement received countless complaints of “monkey business” throughout the island with these creatures climbing on houses and causes minor (and harmless) disturbances.  As a token of his appreciation for anyone willing to help recapture the escapees, Buck offered a reward for the missing monkeys– a season pass to his zoo!  Read more here.

Mike Burton/The Advertiser

3. Australian Love Triangle– In 2008, Satara, a 2 ton, 18 year old rhino stormed out of his enclosure in a jealous rage when his mate Yhura “left him” for a younger male.*  Satara fathered Yhura’s first baby in 2005, but apparently wasn’t up for fathering a second, hence the pairing of Yhura with another (younger) male.  The heartbroken Satara eventually made his way back to his pen after his anger (and jealousy) had subsided later that afternoon, and thankfully, minimal damage was done to other enclosures within the zoo.  *According to reports by zoo keepers at the Monarto Zoo in Australia.  Read more details of the sordid affair here.

courtesy of Japan's Coast Guard

Japanese Coast Guard

2.  Sayonara, Suckers– Just last year, a one-year-old Humboldt penguin escaped from his harborside residence at the Tokyo Sea Life Park in Japan.  Keepers at the park went on daily searches, but were unsuccessful in tracking him down.  After three months, and several reported sightings of the flightless fugitive swimming happily in the Tokyo Bay, a keeper at the aquarium finally spotted him walking along the bay.  The brave little penguin was ultimately recaptured by the keeper, and despite fears of radiation contamination in the water, the penguin appeared to be happy and healthy upon his return to the park. Click here to read more about this penguin’s 3 month Tokyo Bay vacay!

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

1.  The Reptilian Recluse– Last but not least, the infamous (and nameless) naughty little Egyptian cobra that escaped from an off-exhibit holding cage at the Bronx Zoo’s World of Reptiles.  Unclear of exactly how the sneaky snake got out, the World of Reptiles was closed while zoo staff searched for the venomous reptile.  According to Jim Breheny, Director, snakes are “shy, secretive creatures” and this one “would feel vulnerable and seek out a place to hide and feel safe” upon leaving her enclosure.  Fortunately, Mr. Breheny was absolutely correct; the 20 inch snake was discovered a week later in a nonpublic area of the Reptile House coiled up under a series of pipes and other equipment.  These days, you can catch her updating her twitter account on a regular basis @BronxZoosCobra (she’s got nearly 200,000 followers, too).  Find out more about how she was lost and found.

 

Visiting the Galapagos Islands

P1010446

Our plane touched down an hour late on Baltra – one of 14 major islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago. The Baltra landing strip was built by the United States during World War II, and now serves as the primary means for visitors to arrive on and depart from the islands. We paid our entrance fee into Galapagos National Park, and soon we were on our way to meet our boat, the Monserrat. Our crew greeted us with smiles, Pisco Sours, and took our luggage to our cabins. While we ate a late lunch, the boat began our week long cruise.

The Galapagos Islands are owned by Ecuador and straddle the equator 600 miles west of the mainland of South America. Each island is an exposed volcanic mountaintop –older ones being relatively flatter due to wind and water erosion. Newer islands are mountainous, with some volcanoes still erupting periodically. When Charles Darwin spent a month here in 1835, he wrote that from the water the land looked most uninviting, but the ever-curious Darwin explored four of the islands during the voyage of the HMS Beagle. He discovered that each island was home to many unique plants and animals. Not only were most different from those found on the mainland, but many were even different from one island to the next. In some cases, they are in view of one another. This seemed strange indeed, and although Darwin did not come up with his theory of natural selection during the voyage, as is widely believed, it is obvious from his notes that he suspected the islands might provide answers as to how new species are created. How was it, he wondered, that populations of mocking birds, finches, and giant tortoises could differ so much from island to island? They were obviously related, but different enough on some islands to be considered a separate race or species. Two years after his five year voyage his ideas began to coalesce, which led to his revolutionary book, On the Origin of Species in 1859.

And now, our group of nineteen people from Pennsylvania and Delaware found itself retracing some of Darwin’s footsteps. We visited two islands each day and saw wild roaming 500-pound tortoises, land iguanas, marine iguanas, lava lizards, sea lions, tropic birds, hawks, boobies, and a myriad of other species. Snorkelers swam with white-tipped sharks, green sea turtles, and untold numbers of beautiful tropical fish.

Galapagos Islands

The islands are hot and usually covered with volcanic cinders or rocks. On many islands we went ashore on, there were magnificent beaches with sands that ranged in color from black to green to white. Plant life is fragile; rules about where visitors may walk were strictly enforced, but there was never a need to leave the path to see animals. They’re everywhere, often lying or nesting immediately on the path at your feet.

Due to the heat, hikes were taken at a slow pace. Our knowledgeable guides interpreted the natural history and answered questions. After we completed our walk, we loaded back into our dingy (called a panga), which motored us back to the Monserrat for lunch/dinner.

The food aboard the Monserrat was well presented and delicious. There was fish, poultry, beef, and fresh fruit dishes that concluded with wonderful desserts. The crew catered to our every need. Evenings were spent over wine, beer, mixed drinks, word games, and good conversation. The only near disaster occurred when our group discovered we had wiped out the boat’s supply of cabernet halfway through the cruise! The solution was near at hand: a National Geographic boat anchored next to the Monseratt had an extra supply, so our group abandoned any immediate thoughts of mutiny.

We returned to the wonderful Mercure hotel in Quito where we had started our adventure ten days earlier. From there, it was back to Dulles Airport, and then home.

I have led groups of visitors to the archipelago eight times over the past 20+ years, but  I have never tired of this magical place. In fact, I have another trip planned for late February 2014. Hope you join me.

-Clyde Peeling

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.