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The Tree of Life


In south-western Morocco, argan trees are an invaluable resource to local tribes. But why are they full of goats?


Goats do not usually climb trees. But Morocco’s argan forest contains something so tasty that neither animals nor humans are capable of holding back. Alongside tasty leaves, the trees feature dry fruits of similar size to olives. For goats they are delicious food. For humans they contain the resource behind the world’s most expensive edible oil.

Argan trees are endemic to south-western Morocco. They can become 200 years old and grow between eight and ten metres tall. For centuries they have resisted north-African heat. Their branches are thorny, rough and twisted. They are crucial to the ecosystem and their deep and strong roots have halted Saharan desertification from the east.

The Berber people here have long depended on argan trees. They provide firewood and charcoal for heating. According to researchers, nearly 90 per cent of the regional rural economy is based on the trees in some capacity. However, the most precious resource is the sought-after argan oil, produced from the trees’ dry fruits. Continue Reading…


‘The land God made in anger’


The merciless coastline of northern Namibia has been the ill-wanted deathbed of many aquatic creatures.

If dropped off by the Skeleton Coast – and if the name hasn’t scared you off already – the sight would resemble that of a coastal graveyard. Across the 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the Ugab River to the Angolan highlands, the bones of animals lie strewn in the soft sand, like a finished plate of barbeque ribs. They are accompanied by hundreds of rusty shipwrecks. Each has its own story. “There are mostly whale bones and a lot of seal bones,” says Volker Jahnke, of Desert Magic Tours Namibia. “Every now and then you also find human skeletons.”

The Skeleton Coast is the Bermuda Triangle of the South Atlantic Ocean, but without the myth. Here the evidence of the past lies bare. Some shipwrecks are measured to be 500 years old, and in some places, only the mast sticks up from the sand. Others are wholly visible and in remarkably good condition. As for the human skeletons, disagreement exists over their age. “Archaeologists are roaming the areas,” Jahnke says. “Some say they are 800 years old; others say 10,000. They never agree with each other.” Continue Reading…


Down by the river


Each year more than one million wildebeest cross the rivers to graze in Kenya’s grasslands. But not everyone completes the journey.   

They call it the Great Migration, but it is in fact nothing of the sort. Throughout the year, nearly 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras travel in a continuous cycle that stretches across the vast plains of Tanzania and southern Kenya. The climax of the journey is some of the river crossings, where hordes of wildebeest sprint across murky waters infested with large crocodiles. But before even reaching that stage, they have a long way to go. Continue Reading…

Africa, Interviews, Nature

A wake-up call


With Africa’s rhino and elephant poaching worsening by the year, Charlie Mayhew, founder and chief executive of conservation charity Tusk, says nations must pass tougher legislation or risk losing their prized wildlife.

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Africa, Interviews

The camel artist


Since quitting his job as a middle school teacher in Washington, D.C. in 2010 to travel West Africa, Phil Paoletta has discovered a continent at odds with that portrayed in the mainstream media. Now established in Africa running a restaurant and catering business, he talks about ‘slow travel’, western misconceptions and why he now teaches people how to draw camels. Continue Reading…


The last survivors


The giant tortoise has for centuries been outcompeted, chased and poached towards extinction. But on a remote atoll outside the Seychelles, a large colony is prospering.


The story of the giant tortoise is often a sad one. Since the 17th century, settlers and explorers have raided islands in the Indian Ocean, putting tortoises on their ships as food. The reptiles can go six months without food or water, providing starved sailors with fresh meat. Where humans weren’t involved, rival species snared its food and attacked its eggs; the giant tortoise, after all, was never designed for combat or getaways. By the late 1800s, the global population was estimated at below 1,000. Continue Reading…


Licence to thrill


Three years ago, Botswana introduced a nationwide ecotourism certificate system to encourage tour operators to become more sustainable. But has it worked?


Africa is home to many wonderful clichés. Mention the continent and wildebeest, lions, giraffes and elephants spring to mind, wandering in groups or chasing something across the dry landscapes with safari jeeps in the distance, packed with excited tourists. Of this Botswana is a classic example; a landlocked country in southern Africa, roughly the size of France, where animals roam freely in what is an Eldorado of national parks. But as elsewhere in Africa, the wear and tear of visitors is taking its toll on the ecology. Which is why Botswana, luckily, is taking steps to preserve it. Continue Reading…