From mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda to tracking leopards on the golden Serengeti plains, Thomson staffer Andrew Doherty has been to some astonishing places and met some remarkable people. As manager of special interest travel at Thomson Safaris, Andrew recently accompanied both the African Wildlife Foundation and McKay Photography Academy in Tanzania for an adventure he’ll never forget. Discover how an ivory-sniffing canine detection unit, an indigenous hunter-gatherer community and a group of passionate, nature-loving photographers came together to make his trip truly unforgettable.
The African Wildlife Foundation & Canines for Conservation
AWF’s Canine for Conservation sniffer dogs training in Arusha
Before heading out into the bush, Andrew was able to visit AWF’s Canines for Conservation. This program is to train dogs to detect wildlife contraband, such as elephant ivory, pangolin scales and rhino horn, that are trafficked out of Africa’s port cities. According to AWF, 90% of poached ivory arrests in Tanzania are made because of their dogs.
AWF Canines for Conservation Program trainer with an anti-poaching sniffer dog
“When you arrive on the property, the first thing you notice are the beautifully built kennels and large training area for the dogs and staff,” Andrew recalled. “There are a handful of old, beat-up Mercedes cars on the lawn where staff hides ivory for the dogs to sniff out. It’s an impressive place and so much fun to see the dogs in action. Program director, Will Powell, cares deeply about the dogs and the well-being of his training staff. You can see it in his eyes that he loves his work.”
AWF’s Craig Sholley and Carter Smith with Thomson Safaris guides
From here, Andrew joined AWF travelers and staff in the Northern Serengeti, just as they were wrapping up their own two-week adventure with Thomson. As Andrew explained:
“It was quite a privilege to join AWF’s Senior Vice President, Craig Sholley and Safari Program Manager, Carter Smith at camp for the last few nights of their journey,” Andrew said. “Their guests were treated to amazing AWF project visits and unbelievable wildlife viewing. The day prior, they spotted a Black Rhino and African Wild Dog in the central Serengeti…two sightings that would put any safari experience over the top. Little did guests know, the next day, they would witness a truly immense river crossing at the Mara River. There must have been over 100,000 wildebeest involved.”
McKay Photography Academy & the Hadza People
From Northern Tanzania, Andrew met staffers from McKay Photography Academy for their customized safari expedition. The Sacramento-based photography school has traveled with Thomson for several years and utilizes safari as not only a chance to capture captivating content, but also to instruct students in this one-of-a-kind setting. The group had a wish list of wildlife they wanted to spot, and in the end, checked off every animal. As they drove through the savanna, guests were guided on photo techniques snap by snap.
Ally McKay of McKay Photography Academy with safari guests
One of the most unforgettable photographic moments of the trip?
“We had a morning where we watched a mother leopard and her cubs for about an hour and a half; we were the only ones out there in the golden, early morning light,” Andrew described. “[The mother] went out to walk in the tall grass and the sun was coming straight through the grass onto this beautiful cat. And we had time with the cubs too, which was really special. Leopards are not a guaranteed sighting, so to have a really high-quality leopard sighting is pretty awesome.”
Another unforgettable moment occurred near the shores of Lake Eyasi when the group was introduced to the Hadza. As one of the only hunter-gatherer groups left in Africa, the Hadza are living nearly the same as they did 10,000 years ago. What was described as a “completely unique experience,” the group of McKay photographers, accompanied by Andrew, connected with a cultural liaison who led the group to the Hadza’s camp. A portion of the group, including Andrew, joined the hunters on a six-mile, three-hour trek through the bush, while the others gathered berries and plants with the Hadza women.
Hadza man after a successful hunt
Andrew with Datoga women
“The bottom line is this. They’re living essentially the same way we all did as a species towards the end of the last ice age,” Andrew explained. “So, going out and hunting with them provides a snapshot of what life was like for our ancestors.”
Early morning leopard sightings, wildlife conservation efforts and an in-depth exploration into the Great Rift Valley are just three of the countless opportunities that travelers like Andrew have experienced while on safari with Thomson. Tanzania is truly a destination like no other.