If a safari is top of your travel wishlist, this year could be the ideal time to turn dreams into reality.
Could this be the best year yet for wildlife holidays? If the conservation success stories of 2018 continue, it could be. Nepal nearly doubled its wild tiger population between 2010 and 2018; gorilla numbers in the Virunga Massif of East Africa grew from 480 to more than 600 in the same period (taking the global population above 1000); Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay signed a declaration to protect the wildlife-rich Pantanal wetlands; and the momentum from Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet II series focused minds as never before on plastic pollution.
A relatively unknown term, "rewilding", entered mainstream usage as animals from bears and wolves to beavers and pine martens established a foothold in Europe. Another buzzword was "translocation", notably when African Parks flew six black rhinos from South Africa to Zakouma National Park in Chad, their first appearance there in 50 years.
Operators are working with communities to get across the idea that preserving wildlife (and thereby tourism) pays and poaching doesn't. Criminals are being thwarted, too, by smart technology.
Let's not get carried away, however. Climate change is ruining ecosystems, Japan has resumed commercial whaling, and species are still at risk. But if you put your money into a wildlife holiday in 2019 and incentivise local conservation efforts, things may be even more upbeat this time next year.
— Andrew Purvis
How the safari map of Africa is changing Western Tanzania
Tanzania's northern Serengeti circuit gets all the box office, but don't let it steal the show. Parks and reserves in the west can equally wow with wildlife — often with a fraction of the human audience. There are only 26 rooms in one of Tanzania's largest national parks, Katavi, renowned for buffaloes, lions and pods of up to 200 hippos. Africa's biggest single chimp population (about 100) resides in Mahale on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, near Gombe National Park, where legendary primatologist Jane Goodall pioneered much of her work.
Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
This year Uganda is upping its game, so to speak, to compete with neighbouring East African countries. Bordering South Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley National Park is an unspoilt wilderness of wetland oases and mountain-backed plains, with fewer than 3000 visitors a year. In August 2018, a translocation of Rothschild's giraffes were added to the elephants, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and West African crocodiles — considered sacred by ancient Egyptians. Of the park's 475 bird species, 60 are found nowhere else in Uganda. Once embroiled in tribal conflict, the Karamojong people are now peaceful, and the Kidepo Safari Lodge offers an eco-friendly place to stay.
Less than two decades ago, many of Malawi's parks and reserves were devoid of wildlife and large areas of forest had been cut down for charcoal. On a mission to restock and carefully manage resources, it is becoming a safari success story with the help of African Parks. Once heavily poached, Majete Wildlife Reserve now boasts Big Five status and a growing black rhino population; in the north, Nkotakota Wildlife Reserve received 520 elephants in 2016-2017 as part of the biggest translocation of its kind to date. Thanks to recent cheetah and lion reintroductions, the Liwonde National Park also has a healthy big cat community.
Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana
Best known for its pristine inland delta, Africa's conservation king triumphs with a diverse range of landscapes, some still relatively unknown. Rocky crags, kopjes and open marsh areas characterise this less popular reserve in the northeastern corner bordering South Africa and Zimbabwe, where klipspringers, rock dassies and elephant shrews thrive alongside lions, leopards and hyenas. Walks are just as rewarding as game drives and excellent eye-level hides attract professional photographers. With only two lodges in the 29,000ha privately owned area, crowds are never an issue. Tuli Safari Lodge has its own gardens and is reached by a cable-car ride across the Limpopo river.
Kafue National Park, Zambia
It's only a two-hour drive from Livingstone, but Kafue — one of Africa's largest national parks — is surprisingly underexplored. Huge swathes of virgin bush are now receiving protection and wildlife has increased. Roads and airstrips have made it more accessible and, by venturing into lesser-known areas, eco lodges are convincing communities of the benefits of tourism. Ila Safari Lodge boasts Zambia's first electric Land Rover and a solar-powered boat; Musekese Camp heats showers using firewood from dead trees; and Kaingu Safari Lodge serves organic and sustainably sourced food.
West Africa's tourism took a battering after devastating outbreaks of ebola in 2014, but Sierra Leone is bouncing back after being given the all-clear. Chimps are a highlight species in this coastal country, with guaranteed viewings at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which is home to 80 rehabilitated primates orphaned by deforestation and rescued from the illegal pet trade. A wild population accessible to tourists inhabits the forests of Tiwai Island on the Moa river; the endangered Diana monkey and three types of colobus monkeys can also be found here, along with 100 rare pygmy hippos.
— Telegraph Group Ltd