Thursday, 4 July 2013

Burkina Faso pt 1: Nazinga

Safaris in West Africa are different to those in East or southern Africa. There are no big cats in the reserves (none that you see, at least); the camps tend to be basic concrete rooms rather than luxury tents; and there is a wonderful disregard for health and safety.

A ground hornbill
Finding elephants on a safari in Kenya a few years ago, our driver kept his vehicle in reverse, ready to make a swift retreat if necessary. But when we discovered a small herd in Burkina Faso’s Nazinga Game Ranch, our driver simply parked up and got out; I half-expected him to pull out a picnic rug.

They had taken a bit of finding. Nazinga is rarely visited, so there is no network of guides radioing each other with sightings; it’s just a question of luck whether you see them or not. After two hours’ rattling around dirt roads in a decrepit 4x4 (doors held on by string, cardboard for the rear window), we had seen hammerkops and bizarre-looking ground hornbills, but no sign of the elephants.

Our transport
I was thinking we were going to be unlucky; the elephants tend to head into the bush during the rainy season. But then our guide spotted them. He led Hannah and I slowly through the trees to get a better view as they trudged slowly towards a nearby water hole. One of the larger females eyed us warily as we approached, and a couple of them turned ominously towards us.

Our guide led us quickly onto the road; were we sensibly returning to the relative safety of the vehicle? Not a bit of it: we crouched down on the open road and watched, from no more than 10 metres away, as the giants thundered across before us, more than 20 animals in total. It was a brief encounter, but one well worth the effort of travelling to this remote corner of Burkina Faso.

Why did the elephant cross the road?


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