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Mar 2019


Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

I must admit I’ve never heard of a quagga, and couldn’t guess what one is!

Picture a zebra that’s been put through a washing machine and lost the stripes from its quarters and belly: that’s a quagga. They went extinct in the first half of the 20th C.

Enter the Heck brothers who were Nazi geneticists at Berlin zoo during WW II. They specialised in resurrecting extinct animals. Another German, Hr Rau picked up the baton in the 1980’s, after the death of the brothers Heck, which subsequently passed to the South African National Parks a decade ago. And hey-presto, derived from the Plains Zebra of Etosha, Namibia, please welcome back the Quagga. The first quagga foal, Henry, was born 5th Jan 2005. Numbers are now up to about a dozen, mainly in the Cape Town area.


The quagga

This is not a Quagga – but it’s equally strange to look at!

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Feb 2019

Duma the Mozambique Dog

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Meet Charlotte who looks after the horses for the Mozambique ride.

Mozambique horse riding holiday

Duma the Dog in Mozambique


Last month she came across Duma, one of several semi-independent beach dogs. Duma had broken his front leg which was dangling awkwardly in-front of him. As Charlotte approached to get a better look he took flight and raced into the bushes on three legs. She spent hours persuading him to come out but Duma was terrified and very sore. Eventually Charlotte managed to coax him into her room with a bowl brimming with rice and chicken.

The vet was 800 km away and not due to visit for some time, so she sedated him with pain killers and kept a close eye on him. Like most of the beach dogs Duma has a gentle temperament and it didn’t take long for everyone at the stable to fall in love with him. Finally the vet arrived and poor Duma was coaxed into a cage. A short drive into town, which was a painstaking journey as the road was bumpy and Duma was in a lot of pain. Monica, the vet, took one look at Duma and in no time at all had the leg set and bandaged up in a bright coloured bandage.

He has now settled into his new home at the stables and joins Boots and Peppy, two of the other rescued beach dogs. Today he had his bandage removed and his leg is perfect, he just needs a bit of time getting used to being a four legged dog instead of a three legged dog.

Mozambique horse riding holiday


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Jan 2019

Where is The African Horse

Posted by / in Africa, Blog, Featured Posts, frontpage, Horse Riding Holidays, Tavistock Travel Agents, Traveller's Tales /

Why are there no indigenous horses in Africa, south of the Sahara? It’s because of two killer diseases: Trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness – ASS) and African Horse Sickness (AHS).

No horses in Africa, yet zebra’s do so well? The explanation here seems to be “stripes”. Tsetse flies are the vectors of sleeping sickness, and tsetse flies don’t like stripes. Added to which zebras (and donkeys) have acquired a high degree of tolerance to AHS and it’s rarely fatal, whereas AHS is usually fatal for horses.

But hang on; take a look back into pre-colonial Africa and you’ll discover a formidable cavalry heritage in the area known as the Sahel: the semi-arid zone that bands the continent, south of the equator and north of the Congo. The feared Songhay cavalry (Mali/Niger), the Kanembu in Tchad; the entire Dongola heritage of Sudan, Ethiopia and Cameroun; and the cavalry of the Oyo Empire (Nigeria and Benin) are all proud cavalry regiments. So what did they ride?

Trans-Sahara trade routes have existed for eons: huge camel caravans crossed the Sahara bringing metal goods south and gold, ivory, salt and slaves north. It’s not documented, but this would appear to be the answer to the question of Sahel cavalry horses. The trans-Sahara Arab traders introduced Barb horses (from Morocco) which formed the backbone of all these cavalries. Barbs were highly prized but had a short lifespan south of the Sahara due to AHS and the tsetse flies (ASS), so they needed to be replaced regularly, which was good for trade!

This led to attempts to breed a resistant horse, with partial success. Look at a map of Africa and where the River Niger forms its great bend, heading towards Timbuktu, this is where the semi-resistant horse was bred. However, ‘body’ and prowess were sacrificed to gain semi-resistance and the resultant horse was small and a shadow of its form Barb incarnation. There were also attempts to cross breed with zebras which are resistant to ASS. But zebras don’t really date outside their own stripy kind; minor success was achieved by painting stripes onto a Barb mare to encourage the zebra stallion, but not on a sustainable level. Besides, Zebras have short, powerful necks and don’t really lend themselves to head collar and bit.

Indigenous African horses
There is talk of an indigenous sub-Sahara horse, The Dongola, named after a town in Sudan. The breed came to prominence in the Sudan and was traded across the border into Ethiopia. Latterly it was most abundant in northern Cameroon on the other side of the continent. The Dongola is directly derived from the Moroccan Barb (so isn’t really indigenous to Sudan) and the breed still exists today. Nowadays it’s become a poor specimen of a horse and the breed is in decline and rare, however, in its day (12th and 13th Century) was highly valued as a war horse. It developed just north of the Tsetse fly zone.

Tsetse fly map of Africa. horses in Africa

The range of tsetse flies in Africa (green) and the presence of cattle and horses (brown).

I find the ebb and flow of equine priorities fascinating. The Barb has played such a crucial role in human history (even Julius Caesar rode one) yet stumbled into decline in the last century. Its value is once again being realised and the export of Barbs from Morocco is banned in the hope that the stud book will recover to its former glory – which it undoubtedly will.

The here and now
Today there are riding holidays in every country south of the equator in Africa, how do they cope? And are humans susceptible to AHS or ASS?

What are Tsetse Flies?
There’s one African resident you’re best to avoid: the tsetse fly. They look like a house fly on steroids, but behave like a horse fly: they bite. Not all tsetse flies are carriers, but they do all bite. African sleeping sickness is curable but is usually fatal if left untreated. Unlike the malaria parasite, there is no prophylactic. Similar to the malaria parasite, the sleeping sickness parasite is a protozoa, not a viral or bacterial infection. There are a number of things you can do to avoid being bitten in the first place, and this detailed advice is included in our Field Manuals.

African Sleeping Sickness (ASS)
The chances of being infected from a bite are minimal: most cases of ASS are found in local hunters and farmers who frequent woodland and have faced repeated exposure to bites. Symptoms of sleeping sickness include fatigue, muscle aches, fever, and headaches. Eventually, these can progress to psychiatric disorders, seizures, difficulty sleeping, coma, and death. There is no vaccine for the disease, which might seem quite alarming, but cases of ASS are in sharp decline – with new cases at just 5% of the number they were in 1995.

Horse husbandry
The trick to keeping horses healthy in sub-Sahara Africa is quite straight forward. Both AHS and ASS are spread by flying insects, midges and the tsetse fly respectively. Eliminate the insects and you control the disease, which is easier said than done. Insecticides are helpful, as is spraying horses with repellent. In Namibia for example, there is a route dating from the 1850’s whereby horses were moved from highland (midgey country but good grazing) to Namib desert (scant grazing but zero midges) in times of AHS outbreak.

Am I At Risk when riding in Africa?
ASS is not as prevalent in East or southern Africa as it is in Western or Central African countries, but there is a risk for both locals and visitors to East and Southern Africa. Travellers visiting rural areas and safari parks are at greater risk than those visiting city or coastal areas but it’s always good to exercise precautions to avoid being bitten.

Where Will I Find Tsetse Flies?
The flies tend to seek shelter in bushy and forested areas during the hottest parts of the day, so avoid doing walking safaris during these hours when your presence might agitate and awaken the lazy flies. Strangely, tsetse flies are attracted to moving vehicles. When venturing through densely forested areas, it’s a good idea to close your windows and keep your eyes peeled to avoid a painful surprise.

Avoiding Tsetse Flies
There’s no need to let tsetse flies deter you from having your dream safari. While the bites can be painful (akin to a horsefly bite or ant bite) the chances of a visitor contracting ASS are incredibly low. Still, if you’d rather not experience their bite first hand, there are a number of precautions you can take:

 Wear long sleeved shirts and trousers to cover exposed skin
 Wear neutral colours. Tsetse flies are especially attracted to black and blue
 Avoid walking through dense forest during the hot hours of the day
 Insect repellent is only slightly effective at deterring tsetse flies
 Sleep with a mosquito net

At many lodges you’ll spot panels of black and blue fabric around the property’s boundaries. These act to lure tsetse flies away from the lodge.

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