SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
Update from Wilderness Safaris on the Rhinos released
Rocktail Bay Dive Report for December - incrdible spot for guests who
love to dive!
Wilderness Safaris' Rhino Trust update
The last few months have seen incredible
progress towards our goal of re-establishing both African rhino species in the
wild in Botswana's
Okavango Delta. At the beginning of 2003, there were 15 wild rhinos in Botswana,
all white rhinos - now there are 31, including the first four black rhinos. The
black rhino has been classified as "locally extinct" in Botswana for
over a decade, a classification which has been made redundant with the arrival
of two males and two females at Mombo
Camp in late October 2003.
Two of these black rhinos were a gift from Namibia and
the other two were part of a wildlife exchange program me between the two
actually exchanged the original animals with South Africa to get the exact
(Diceros bicornis minor) for Botswana. At the same time another ten white
rhinos were brought in from South Africa, the final consignment under the "roan
antelope for rhino" exchange programme. These white rhinos were all
females, and with their release the target sex ratio of approximately 2/3
1/3 males - the optimum ratio for breeding – has been achieved.
As yet we are still awaiting the first birth of a rhino
calf - this will be a huge event as it will be the first wild rhino birth
in Botswana for perhaps
15 years or more. We are confident that we will see births during 2004,
and very possibly during the first half of the year. Watch this space…
Now that we have had rhinos in the Okavango Delta for two complete years (the
first white rhinos were re-introduced here in November 2001) we have a much
better idea of their movements through the seasons. The Delta is a wonderfully
dynamic ecosystem and it has been fascinating (through our intensive security
and research monitoring programme) to observe and try and understand the rhinos'
All the social and territorial behaviour we would expect
has been taking place, and we can be fairly confident that several of our
female white rhinos
are now expecting…
for the black rhinos in the bomas prior to their release was a fascinating
experience. They are very different from the white rhino, of course, being
a browsing animal rather than a grazer, and despite their reputation for
aggression, they very quickly adapted to their temporary homes in the bomas.
with a wide range of Delta plants to find out which the rhinos would
prefer. They showed a definite preference for blue bush (Diospyros lycioides)
- surprisingly, as it has very tannic leaves - the magic gwarri bush (Euclea
divinorum). They also happily ate large fever-berry (Croton megalobotrys),
jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis), and some acacia species. Each
afternoon we would set out to collect fresh browse for the four rhinos and
interesting to see their quite different feeding technique, using their
prehensile upper lip to pull leaves and twigs into their mouths.
The black rhinos were quite selective as to which plants they would eat, but
once they had found one they enjoyed, they would eat branches up to the thickness
of your thumb! During the rhinos' short stay in the bomas, we had a great opportunity
to study these very different rhinos and couldn't wait to release them and
see them out in the bush.
The Vice President of Botswana, Lt Gen Ian
Khama, who released the first white rhinos for us back in 2001, again opened
the gates to release the first black
rhino. A huge moment for rhino conservation in Botswana. However the rhino
had other ideas (or perhaps he was just suffering from stage fright!) He emerged
briefly from the boma three times, each time to return, before finally moving
off into freedom after dark.
Over the next two days, two females and the
second male were released - the return of the black rhino to the wild in
Botswana! Since their release, we
have had some great moments tracking these rhinos in the bush. As we had
predicted, none of them moved too far from Mombo -
an indication of just how good the habitat is here for rhinos. And it's getting
better - the rains,
late this year, have finally started - and Mombo is getting greener by the
day, with new grass growth and new leaves on the trees and bushes, also many
of the smaller pans are filling up with rain now.
So at the end of 2003 there were over
twice as many rhinos in the Okavango Delta as at the beginning of the year.
However, along with
all the achievements
and good news, there have been a few setbacks… At the same time as the
black rhinos and more white rhinos were being released, several white rhinos
mortalities were experienced.
One subadult male was tragically killed by a bush fire (probably started by
lightning) on Chief's Island - rhinos have been recorded as having been killed
by fires several time in South Africa, and seem to be quite vulnerable to this
natural phenomenon. We also lost two rhinos during necessary capture and transport
operations. These are always risky, especially in the summer heat. Despite
every precaution, one rhino died of stress as we were trying to return her
from an area close to the Caprivi Strip which is a poaching blackspot, and
we had to euthanase a second rhino which incurred a leg injury during transport.
Given the road conditions in remote parts of Botswana, the stress on the rhinos
can be considerable.
The worst news came in October, when two of our rhinos were shot and killed
by poachers. This is always the biggest danger for any rhino population and
our worst fear became a reality when local men from a transient settlement
tracked two of the rhinos and shot them, hoping to sell the horns in Maun.
It seems that this was an opportunistic crime, rather than an organised poaching
gang. However, it meant two dead rhinos and prompted a massive upgrade to our
(already stringent) security measures. The crime backfired as the poachers
were easily tracked by following the signals in the transmitters in the horns,
and are now facing trial. If convicted they face up to 15 years in prison.
Hopefully the publicity surrounding this crime and its consequences will act
as a powerful deterrent to any other potential poachers. The vigorous response
of the police, anti-poaching unit, and Botswana Defence Force illustrated how
seriously Botswana takes this sort of crime, and underlines the government's
commitment both to this project and to conservation in the Okavango Delta and
Only a week after this crime, three white rhinos were released, reversing
the loss that had been suffered and sending out a powerful message that the
project team would not be dispirited or discouraged by this incident.
Building on our successes of the last
two years, we have very ambitious plans for 2004, focussing on increasing
our black rhino population.
In a US$1 million
project, we are looking to reintroduce a further 14 black rhinos during this
year. We are hoping to bring in seven wild female black rhinos from Zimbabwe,
and to rehabilitate seven black rhino males from zoos in the USA and Australia.
This has been done before, and it should take about six months to "teach" these
bulls to be wild rhinos again.
To "buy" the rhinos from Zimbabwe,
the national parks department there is being given training and assistance
as compensation for the value
of the rhinos, rather
than cash. At Wilderness Safaris we have pledged to raise US$60,000 - the auction
value of one black rhino. We are well on our way to achieving this target but
we still need your assistance! If you are able to contribute to the most exciting
conservation project in southern Africa this year, please contact us... (Contact:
Rhino Project Manager. Email: email@example.com, Tel: +267 6860086).
If this goal is achieved, breeding populations
of both African rhino species will have been re-established in the Okavango
Delta, and all being well, there
will be celebrations for the birth of one or more rhino calves in the wild
in Botswana - the ultimate seal of approval on this project, from the rhinos
Several of the rhinos released in November
have not moved very far at all from Mombo, probably due to the excellence
of the habitat in this area now
that the rains have at last begun. This means that Mombo guests
are now quite regularly seeing rhinos - both black and white - on game drives.
Some guests have even been lucky enough to see both species in the same afternoon.
One of the female black rhinos, Mmabontsho, has indeed become a game drive
Joint monitoring patrols with the Anti-Poaching
Unit from the Department of Wildlife & National Parks are continuing to achieve good results, and we
are having good successes in tracking some of the newly-released rhinos, also
some of our more established rhinos who have been moving to new areas to find
the very best grazing. Also we have been enjoying the ongoing "rhino soap
opera" as the territorial bulls try to detach females from their groups,
and are busy marking their territories against incursions by other males.
The Delta is now certainly marked again
as rhino territory, with more rhinos due to arrive this year to underline
this major achievement.
Wilderness Safaris would like to thank Ned and Diana Twining
for a donation of US$10,000. This donation is extremely generous and has already
been put to
good use in the development of the rhino project.
The SAVE Foundation in Australia has
donated an additional AUS$10,000 to the rhino project as a result of a
second fundraiser. We have
also received substantial
personal donations from Mombo guests, notably Colin and Tilly Patteson who
donated US$10,000 and Pamela and Neville Isdell who donated US$2,500. These
donations will go directly towards the cost of bringing in additional black
rhinos to boost the Okavango’s population of these amazing animals during
These donations are doubled thanks to
the generosity of Ned and Diana Twining who have very generously offered
to match any donation
we receive, on behalf
of THE AFRICA CONSERVATION SCIENCE CENTRES. So we have recently raised well
over US$30,000 – or approximately half the cost of one black rhino!
To all the private individuals and organizations that have assisted this project
financially, you are now part of an unbelievable project. We would like to
encourage others to help us successfully implement the future phases of the
project. All funds will be administered through the Wilderness Trust Fund ensuring
that all monies are allocated to the Rhino Project.
South Africa Camps
Rocktail Bay dive report
This is what has been happening at Rocktail
Bay Lodge and its dive operation
during the month of December 2003. Rocktail Bay in northern Kwa-Zulu
Natal is certainly the best dive spot in all of South Africa... wonderful
warm water, lots of underwater activity and a great dive team. But most
of all, they have an area of about 40km of pristine coastline and theirs
is the only boat along this entire stretch of coastline. The dive reefs are
pristine and immaculate. It's not only for scuba divers... a lot of
Rocktail's guests hop on boats and enjoy the boat trip or dive overboard and
snorkel. Herewith the report from Rocktail's management...
This month has been a wonderful end to a fantastic year. Sunny skies, warm
water, flat seas - who could ask for more?
Gogo's has been the site to dive this month. Over and above the normal breathtaking
corals and fish life we had three special sightings this month. The first
sighting was a leatherback turtle seen by divers whilst on the dive, rather
than at the surface where we occasionally see them. The next exciting moment
was when we encountered a 2.5meter brindle bass in Tyson's (the resident
potato bass) territory. This fish was golden brown in colour and very inquisitive,
coming right in to the divers with Tyson in close attendance. Funny enough
he did not seem to be too worried about the intrusion into his territory.
The very next dive Darryl and Leza stayed down and low and behold a beautiful
sailfish swam by. It was approximately 25kg and it displayed its sail and
brilliant colours before moving off into the distance. Just proves, the dive
is never finished until you get back on the boat!
The bottlenose dolphins have certainly been
in a festive mood this month, we have seen them on 10 different occasions,
often chasing garfish on the
surface. Whilst on a dive at Elusive we could hear a consistent buzzing which
Darryl told us was a pod of approximately 200 spinner dolphins that were
a bit further out to sea.
Hang Ten has a lovely little cave area where
2 cave bass hang out, each weighing about 6kg. Every time we dive there
we notice them, that is until
Darryl noticed the resident potato bass with an enormous stomach and a tail
protruding from his mouth! There were 2 cave bass and now there is only 1!
Other sightings of great interest on Hang Ten have been big schools of squid.
It is normally hard to get close to squid as they are very quick and normally
jet off the moment you get too close, these however do not move away and
we have discovered why. Clive saw a couple of squid close to a rock on the
sand and spotted one moving in and out of the ledge. On investigation he
found white egg sacs attached to the bottom of the ledge. In summer this
little reef also attracts a large number of rays, marbled electric, brown
stingrays, black marbled ribbon-tail ray and the beautiful honeycomb rays.
There is also a sand shark, which is often seen out across the sand.
Towards the end of the month we had a wonderfully
exciting dive at Elusive. We were just over half way through our dive time
as we made our way through
the gully that leads out to the seaward section of the reef. As we rounded
the corner we saw a couple of cobia, then more and more. They were all playing
around the sand, circling and coming in close to look at us - there were
about 20 in total. Down on the sand we saw their travelling companion,
a huge ray.
We spent the remainder of our dive watching this spectacle until the ray
darted off, followed by his entourage. The reason they are always together
is that as the ray forages in the sand he disturbs crabs and other morsels
for the cobia to feed on.
A new find this month - Aerial reef! This little reef is situated slightly
north of Pantry and we decided to check it out. Darryl told us the shape
of the reef and where to head and off we went. As we descended we were amazed,
the reef started on a built up area with goldies milling around above the
reef and sprats in the mid water with some lovely black tip kingfish waiting
to pounce on them. More potato bass - another three! Just as curious as all
the others we have encountered. Life all around - big rays, eels, turtles.
It's going to be exciting to explore this reef thoroughly.
This time of year we expect to start seeing
the female ragged tooth sharks as last season they arrived on 18 December.
We have been checking the cave
area behind Island Rock where they gather during their pregnancy to rest.
They have not yet arrived but have been sighted south of us at Quarter Mile
Reef in Sodwana. They could arrive any day now - something else to look forward
to in January. Hoping that the later they arrive the longer they will stay.
A final farewell to the year was on the 31st December when we saw a humpback
whale sailing, with it's tail out of the water - a fitting end to a wonderful
Wishing you and your families all the best for 2004.
Darryl, Clive and Michelle
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team