Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh – April 2013

TANZANIA, UNSURPASSED AFRICA

THE LAND OF KILIMANJARO,ZANZIBAR AND THE SERENGETI

 by Loren Leigh

If there is one place that should be on the top of any field herper’s list it is Africa, but more specifically, Tanzania.  An amazing country officially known as the United Republic of Tanzania is located on the East Coast of Africa, south of Kenya, and the country’s shore lines are the Indian Ocean.   Tanzania has some of the most diverse wildlife on earth and on my visit here in 2005, along with friends Donald Schultz and Jeff Lemm, we saw it all.

Loren and Donald in an African village 

Tanzania is the world’s 31st-largest country.  It is mountainous in the northeast, where Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, is situated. To the north and west are the Great Lakes of Africa: Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest lake), Lake Tanganyika (the continent’s deepest lake), and to the southwest lies Lake Nyasa. Central Tanzania comprises a large plateau with plains and arable land. The eastern shore is hot and humid, with the island of Zanzibar lying just offshore.

Tanzania contains many large and ecologically significant wildlife parks, including the famous Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park in the north, the Selous Game Reserve, Mikumi National Park in the south, and the Gombe National Park in the west.  The Gombe National Park was made famous as the site of Dr. Jane Goodall’s studies of chimpanzee behavior.

Black Spitting Cobra seen on the trip.

My adventure began in South Africa in December of 2005.  I meet friends Donald and Jeff, whom had already been herping in Northeastern South Africa, at the airport and we headed off to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  We arrived in the early evening and began organize our trip.  Time moves very slow in this region of Africa and in a country with power issues, bad phones, no computers getting a car organized and moving throughout the country can prove itself to be very difficult.

Mornings in this part of Africa start early with Mosques playing morning prayers at dawn all over this capitol, no need to bring alarms to this capitol.  But this was a delightful wake up call for us as we were off to make are way across the country.  I trip consisted of a Northwest course across the country from Dar es Salaam to Ngorongoro Crater, and along the way visiting Amani Forest Reserve (Usambara Mountains), Mount Meru, Mt Kilminjaro foothills, Arousha and finally the Ngorongoro crater conservation area.

Deremensis Chameleon

Our first stop was the Amani Forest Reserve.  There are many rare types of chameleon, lizards, snakes and amphibians within this reserve.  Our focus was Reptiles and on this leg of our trip we discovered African Giant Black Millipedes (Archispirostreptus gigas), Giant Land Snails (Achatina species), Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica), and Lots of Amani Forest (Big Eye) Tree Frogs (leptopelis vermiculatus).  This area is very lush sitting almost on the Equator and the frog diversity within just this park was truly amazing.

Loren and Donald with a Black Mamba

Our next stop was Mount Meru and Kilminjaro region.  We did not climb Kilminjaro this a trek in itself taking days and also time to acclimatize but spent our time around the region.  We started in Mt Meru.  On our way up to Mt Meru or guide got a call that a local village had a Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricollis)in their village.  Knowing we were on a herp expedition we were quick to go check it out.  In this Village we did have a opportunity to see this snake, and to the amazement of the local village people.  We spent a few days walking the river beds around this area looking for Black Mambas (Dendroaspis polylepis), no luck but did come across some Tanzanian Centipedes (Sometimes referred to as a Electric Blue Centipede) Scolopendra sp,  and some amazing Red Headed Rock Agama lizards (Agama agama).

Gaboon Viper

As we headed out Mt Meru our next stop was to visit a well known reptile keeper and wildlife park owned by Joseph Beraducci.  He, in his many years in Arusha,  has captive produced and assembled the largest collection of Tanzanian Chameleons, Lizards,  Tortoises and many other species.  Of my own particular interest was the amazing amount of Chameleons he was working with.  Rudis, Fishers, Jacksons, Taveta, Giant Monkey Tails, Dwarf just to name a few. 

Fischer’s Chameleon! 

The final leg of ourtrip was to Ngorongoro Crater to see the big game that is on display within the park.  No trip to Africa is complete without seeing Elephants, Lions, Cheetahs, and the many other exotic animals that can be found in the big game parks.  This particular park is unique in that these animals all reside within the caldera at 2000-4000 feet.  Once a volcano, it blew its top 2-3 million years ago and today has a population of approximately 25,000 large animals and has the highest density of mammalian predators in Africa.

Lion at Ngorongoro Crater

Africa is an amazing place, with the diversity of ethnic people, amazing food and most of all incredible sights and animals.  Our 1000 mile adventure was full of amazing times and will always be on the top of my list of places that are a must-see in the world.  Remember the hardest part of a herping adventure is to put it on the calendar and go for it, so get out there and see the amazing herpetofauna the world has to offer.

Loren and some Giant Land Snails

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh – March 2013

Inca Trail and Machu Picchu 

For Thanksgiving last year I decided what better way to spend the holiday than hiking one of the most challenging treks in South America, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. After a 12 hour flight to Lima Peru, another flight to Cusco, followed by a 3 hour mini bus ride to the start, our group finally made it.  And it was so worth it, this was one of the most amazing and scenic places I have ever seen.

History and Location

Machu Picchu is 15th century Inca site located in the Cusco Region of Peru, South America (7,970 feet above sea level). Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built around 1450 for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).  It was abandoned as an official site for the Inca rulers about a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest.  From this time till up until 1911 very little was known outside Peru of this site until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic, and One Day.  Our group took the Classic route which is 28 Miles long, 4 days and crossed over the brutal Warmiwañusca (“Dead Woman’s Pass”) at a height of 13,773 feet.

Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of environments including cloud forest, alpine tundra, Inca settlements, and many Incan ruins.  The trail ultimately ends at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain with amazing views into the Urubamba Valley in Peru and Machu Picchu.

Preparing for Trek, Ollantaytambo

Bridge crossing, Wayllabamba

Our Trek Itinerary

Day 1 – Ollantaytambo – Piskacucho – Wayllambamba

Our trek started 55 miles from the city of Cuzco on the Urubamba River at 9,200 ft.  By Mini Bus we travel from the city of Cuzco to Kilometre 82 road marker and the start of the Inca Trail. After a short stop in the city Ollantaytambo we meet our guides, porters, inspect camping gear, pack up and head out.  For our first day we start with a 7 1/2 mile walk to Wayllabamba (9,850 feet).

Warmiwañusca, Dead Womans Pass (background)

Day 2 Warmiwañusca – Pacamayo

Rising early (around 5am), today begins with a ascent of 6 miles all uphill on stone steps to reach the highest pass at Warmiwañusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’.  The views of the mountains and valleys are spectacular as you make your way slowly towards the pass.

This section is the most demanding and the pass offers fantastic views of the surrounding snow capped peaks. After the high pass it is 2 miles downhill, winding along old Inca stairs to the campsite (11,800 feet).

Top of Dead Womans Pass (13,773 feet)

Day 3 Runkurakay – Winay Wayna

This day begins with another early start (6am) and a gradual 1 1/2 mile hike uphill to the second high pass, Runkurakay (12,950 feet). This pass has amazing views of the Andes.

Most of the next 4 miles is downhill on our way to the ruins of Sayacmarca.

The scenery becomes more lush as we continue towards the third high pass at Phuyupatamarca (11,750 feet).

From here we have a further 5 miles downhill to reach the final campsite at Winay Wayna (8,700 feet).

Phuyupatamarca

Day 4 Intipunku – Machu Picchu

On the last morning we rise before dawn (4am) to begin the final section of the trail to the famous ‘Sun Gate’ (Intipunku) and on to Machu Picchu.

It is 2 1/2 miles from Winay Wayna to the Sun Gate and the final segment includes a set of steep Inca stairs.

Arriving at the Sun Gate which is 1130 feet higher than Machu Picchu it has  majestic views down over Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys. From the Sun Gate, there is our final 1 1/2 miles downhill walk to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu (early morning)

Reptiles Seen in Machu Picchu

And what trip would be complete without doing some herping along the way?  The Andes Mountains are an amazing place and home to many types of reptiles, amphibians, insects and much more.  Peru has around 300 species of reptiles, of which around 100 are endemic. Peru’s reptile fauna includes spectacular species like giant anacondas and caimans, as well as many other snakes, lizards and turtles.

Machu Picchu

The dry season on the Inca Trail and in Machu Picchu, is the best time of year to go, lasts from May to November and the rainy season is from December to April.  The Inca trail is closed in February due to heavy rains.  Day time temperatures can range anywhere from 50-82ºF, with night time temperatures around 32ºF.  With such low temperatures there were not many herps to find but we did find a few along the trail.

Scorpion, Machu Picchu, Peru –  Tityus sp.

Millipede, Machu Picchu, Peru

Fer-de-Lance, Winay Wayna, Peru

The Inca Trail as one of the most hyped treks in the world, I would recommend it to anyone as a trail worth doing. It’s tough but extremely rewarding.

It is breathtaking.