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Off-Beat Africa: A Quartet of Quirky Safaris

Most African safaris involve your basic game viewing, a day or night drive into the bush – but that punches up to an altogether different level when you’re with an outstanding guide, one who can direct your gaze to the little as well as to the large wonders of the bush, the termite as well as the lion. But, there are specialist safaris, too, devoted to one particular creature, the fruit bat, for instance, or to an escapade such as canoeing on a river brimming with crocodiles. Here are four of the less routine African safaris – all designed to enhance your experience of the bush.

1. Bat Migration

While the Bat Migration Safari is one of the more exotic safaris, you don’t have to have bats in your belfry to enjoy this extraordinary spectacle, arguably the largest mammal migration in the world. In November, up to ten million gigantic, straw-colored fruit bats fly in from the Congo Basin to Kasanka National Park to feast on the fruits of milk wood and mahogany trees.

Tree trunks become thickened with an icing of bats and, at sunset, when the bats fly out to forage, the sky becomes pitch as legions of the furry creatures soar overhead. Viewing of the phenomenon is from a 60-foot hide, in a treetop, beside the woodland where the bats roost. To immerse yourself in this eerie phenomenon, book Robin Pope Safaris’ Bat Safari.

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2. Wild River Safari

In the Lower Zambezi, the magical area named after the stately river which feeds Victoria Falls, are two renowned bush camps — Chiawa and Old Mondoro. An off-beat safari is to canoe from one camp to the other. Grant it, the river is chockablock with crocs and hippos, so there is a frisson of danger as your guide adroitly paddles to avoid the saw-toothed and the barrel-shaped creatures that occupy the water. But that tingling sensation is joined by one of delight as you spot game along the shore – elephant, wild dog, buffalo, among others – as well as a huge variety of birdlife. The canoe heads downstream, eastwards on the powerful current. Your lead guide is a pro though, with plenty of experience on the Zambezi, and there is also one experienced “back paddler” who has grown up on the river. For a remarkable river journey, book Chiawa camp.

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3. Shoebill Safari

Ornithologists rank the shoebill as one of the five most desirable birds in Africa. It can stand as high as five feet tall. Its bill is as big as a boot, and its wingspan can reach eight feet. Some scientists claim it is the “missing link” between storks and pelicans. Stork or pelican, this blue-gray “statue-like” bird resembles a creature from Alice in Wonderland (or possibly from The Black Lagoon).

But it’s not just their strange, alien looks; it’s their voices, too. Shoebills are known to moo like a cow; whine like a persistent kid at a candy store, and clatter their bills during nesting season. Loners, Shoebills typically forage in muddy waters and spread out from each other (sometimes as far as 66 feet), the way people unconsciously step apart in an elevator. To see these wonderful creatures and many other exotic birds and wildlife species in Zambia’s remote Bangweulu Wetlands, book the Shoebill Safari with Robin Pope Safaris.

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4. Photo Safari

Part of the joy of safari-going is to capture wildlife on film or videotape or digitally. Sabi Sabi Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands area of South Africa’s Kruger National Park has deepened the Photo Safari experience with guides who are professional photographers, and who patiently share their knowledge of lighting, lenses, filters, shutter speeds, and action shots, offering as much advice as needed.

What’s more, the game reserve has a new vehicle with cut-out side panels for maneuvering closer to the animals, swivel chairs to get the best position, and fixed camera stands to get that perfectly-focused image. Sabi Sabi Photographic Safaris must be pre-booked, but you’ll go home with a CD or flash drive of your images

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