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AFRICAN SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
June 2003

This Month:
• An update on Chitabe & Chitabe Trails Camps from Hélène Hamman, who recently spent two weeks visiting the camps.
• More fantastic Lions at Duba Plains Camp (Note: Nicky and I were at Duba for 4 days in June - fantastic!).
• June update from Jao Camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.
• June update from Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• A recent guest's visit to the NEW North Island Resort in the Seychelles - if you want pampering this is IT!


Botswana Camps
Chitabe & Chitabe Trails Camps                Jump to Chitabe Camps
The following update was written by Hélène Hamman, co-owner with her husband of the Chitabe camps in Botswana.

I've just spent two wonderful weeks at Chitabe and thought I would fill you in on all the latest happenings in and around camp.

On the 1st August it will be a year since we re-opened after last year's fire and the new camp has settled comfortably into it's new niche and has developed a very cozy and relaxed atmosphere. Occupancies and guest feedback are the best they've been for a long, long time. A big thanks to Wilderness Safaris and all the operators around the world who have supported Chitabe!

The new (annual) flood waters have arrived in front of the camp and when one looks out from the tents and the bar area you gaze upon a beautiful tranquil channel and floodplain - a meandering slice of blue waters within a sea of wheat colored grasses.

The waterhole in front of Chitabe Trails camp is full and the elephants are seen on a daily basis coming in for their afternoon drinks. Sitting on Chitabe Trails pool deck with a smooth glass of red wine raising a toast to the elephants seemed to be the right thing to do. I was very pleased to see the variety of game in the area and when we drove out of camp one afternoon we saw zebra, wildebeest, tsessebe, ostriches, impala and kudu all within 100 meters from camp. There are lots of elephants around and even came across a baby which had just been born and was still wet from the after birth.

Predator sightings in the Chitabe area have been amazing and lions are everywhere. It's always a treat to see predators in the bush, but to see them interacting is what I enjoy and find really exciting. Africa's life cycle was very evident over the course of five days when the following was seen by the game drive vehicles: Cheetah stalking and taking an impala, the following day a leopard took down an impala only to be chased off by some hyenas. Without so much as a pause the female leopard abandoned her impala and turned and ambushed a warthog - 20 meters from the vehicles. She promptly took the warthog up a tree, just to make sure the hyenas wouldn't confiscate this meal. The following morning both the leopard and hyenas where finishing off the impala carcass only to have the last remains stolen by three wild dogs. The next day we watched four male lions eagerly feeding on a giraffe. However, not to be outdone by the larger predators, we also witnessed an African wild cat stalk some francolins. To top it all, we have had a number of sightings of pangolin - a real treat! We've had such superb sightings of the female leopard with her two three month old cubs that I think I will issue them with Chitabe uniforms. Both the female and cubs are very relaxed with the vehicle and we spent half an hour gazing at their little faces which were perfectly camouflaged. They decided to give us an added bonus by playing in the sun and jumping up, over, around, and under a fallen Leadwood tree.

Both Chitabe and Chitabe Trails rooms have been refurbished and now have new double doors put on the front of the tents. This has brightened up the rooms and given them a nice little face lift. New curtains and some extra special touches have added to the ambiance of the tents. Last year we installed 220-volt hot water geysers in all the units and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to take a long, luxurious piping hot shower. During the winter months the indoor showers are usually used morning and at night - and midday's, the outdoor showers are often used.

The Chitabe sleep-outs and walking trails are a hit with all guests from all ages and nationalities. Being able to sleep under the stars, snuggled warmly under blankets and duvets on raised platform "hides" is proving to be the perfect recipe for many guests to round off their African safari. The staff go out of their way to ensure safety for all guests and yet bring adventure and excitement to the "sleep-out". I'm so proud of the guides at Chitabe who are all "accredited walking guides" and really enjoy being able to put their feet on the ground and share their knowledge of the smaller details such as insects, shrubs and flowers to the guests.

All the staff, both management and junior, are infectious with their enthusiasm and love of both the Okavango and the camps. I feel very fortunate to have such a dedicated, loyal and proud team. We are in the process of taking on some new management, and I am very excited by some of the prospects in the pipeline. People that will bring added experience and extra touches and ideas are going to help elevate Chitabe to new heights.

Back in the office again and trying to catch up on a few weeks work. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be back in camp in a few months for some more bush rejuvenation and Chitabe energy!

Take care,
Helene Hamman

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Duba Plains Camp                Jump to Duba Plains Camp
The camp managers for the month of June were James Rawdon, Paul De Thierry and Ike Mogalakwe. The guides were Vasco Mosarwe, James Pisetu and James Rawdon. The average minimum temperature was 11°C and the maximum 28°C. June saw several overcast days result in an unseasonal 2mm of rain. The flood stabilized way below levels of the previous few years allowing us access to many more areas we do not normal reach during the flood season.

The best news is we are able to reach the Paradise area again. Our first two crossing to Paradise proved extremely productive with a cheetah on a bushbuck kill, a big male leopard, the four Skimmer Male lions, a Cape clawless otter and pangolin being sighted. Other highlights of the Paradise area include a big herd of waterbuck (only area to see them at Duba), many huge crocodiles and large pods of hippo. The cheetah seen at Paradise has surprisingly remained in the Duba area, successfully managing to out manoeuvre the lions and hyaenas. A total of six sightings were enjoyed with the cheetah relaxing down more and more during each encounter. Lets hope she sticks around. The hyaena pups are growing up fast with the older individuals joining the adults on their nightly foraging. Their inexperience and lack of confidence shows as soon as a lion is spotted far off in the distance, they choose to take off at high speed in the opposite direction. Elephant numbers are on the increase resulting in many wonderful hours being spent watching the amusing antics of the calves attempting to imitate the adults. The usual host of nocturnal creatures was encountered, with one highlight being the Pantry pride cubs at play with a pangolin rolled up into its defensive ball. This frustrated the cubs far too much to continue with the game, eventually getting bored and leaving it alone.

As usual the lions have provided us with many hours of fantastic game viewing. The lions were encountered on everyday of the month including 79 different pride sightings. We averaged 17 lions per day, tracking down 44 of the 53 lions during June. One may notice our total has risen from 49 to 53 individuals, this due to a Skimmer female finally bringing out some cubs. They were seen on the last day of the month, across the Paradise lagoon. Unfortunately they were some ways off, so we could not be sure if there were any more cubs or not. We presume these four cubs belong to one lioness, so here's hoping more will appear during July. Only four of the six Skimmer lionesses have been accounted for, perhaps the remaining two will appear with little ones in tow. Surprisingly one of the three-year-old lionesses was seen mating with the Paradise Males, whether she will actually conceive at such an early age, remains to be seen. The Skimmer Males have provided us with some fine viewing. For the first time in many months they were actually located with three of the lionesses from their natal pride. This was short lived as the Paradise Males saw them the very same day. The Skimmer Males appear to be gaining in confidence, resulting in many more sightings of them, always looking well fed and in perfect shape. One fantastic sighting saw the Skimmer Males attack the younger Tsaro Males, managing to isolate one of them and giving him a hiding he would not forget in a hurry. The Skimmer Males have certainly made inroads with the Tsaro lionesses and were once again seen mating with one of the older lionesses. We're expecting many more of the Tsaro lionesses to come into season, hopefully this time most of them will conceive within a few months of each other. The Tsaro Males were not encountered for the last two weeks of June, ever since the Skimmer Males attacked them. This comes as no surprise. At four years of age they should be well on their way to a nomadic life style, until they are big and strong enough to challenge for their own territory. The five males have a very strong bond so should remain together to form an awesome coalition in a couple of years time. With the males away, the demand for food has significantly been reduced, allowing the Tsaro lionesses to focus their attention on hunting warthog. Having said that, the viewing highlight of the Tsaro lionesses had to be them chasing the buffalo herd through a shallow flood plain. With all the confusion, eight lionesses jumped on six buffalo of varying sizes. The buffalo herd returned to help the captured individuals, successfully rescuing three adult buffalo. This left the lions with two calves and a sub adult buffalo to feast upon.

The Duba Boys were seen regularly, mostly trailing the Pantry pride or buffalo herd. They no longer get involved in any form of hunting, but prefer to scavenge from their lionesses. They continue to patrol their territory frequently, but only challenged their young sons, the Tsaro Males. One occasion saw the Tsaro Males successfully kill a female buffalo and her calf. The Pantry pride soon arrived, but nervously paced up and down in the distance. The Duba Boys came rushing in from nowhere, scattering the young males. One Tsaro Male attempted to stand up to Dad and received a severe beating for his efforts. Much to the satisfaction of the Pantry pride, they gained a free meal.

NOTE: We were present for the following sighting and have amazing photos and video sequences which we will be adding to the website soon...
Most hunting sequences witnessed during June involved more than one pride of lionesses or coalition of male lions. Early June saw the Pantry pride following the buffalo near our staff village. They successfully brought down a buffalo calf and then a young bull buffalo, only for the Tsaro Males to arrive and distract the Pantry pride from finishing off the bull. The buffalo herd saw their opportunity and returned to bravely rescue the bull. The Pantry lionesses showed lots of confidence as soon as the Duba Boys turned up, successfully chasing the Tsaro Males off into the distance. The Pantry pride do know their limits however and were seen jumping on a buffalo close to the edge of their territory. The buffalo managed to fend them off and rejoin the herd, now in the Tsaro prides territory. The adult lionesses immediately retreated, leaving the inexperienced cubs to continue the hunt. The cubs soon realised they had no adult support and ran back yelping their frustrations at their mothers. A very wise decision as within minutes the nine Tsaro lionesses arrived, successfully killing a buffalo calf in the shallow water.

Still no sign of the Old Vumbura pride who must be experience successful hunting further to the north. With the lower flood levels, hopefully we will be able to reach their territory towards the latter part of the year. Hollywood (male lion) is wisely laying low and was not encountered this month. The coming months are going to be extremely exciting with the potential arrival of many little cubs, even more territorial clashes between all the males and then between the various prides hunting the same herd of buffalo. Not to mention the cheetah, hyaena den, increasing elephant numbers and the return of the migratory birds later in the season. Sadly we say goodbye to one of the Duba family, Ike Mogalakwe has chosen a return to city life to be with his family. We all wish him well for the future.

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Jao Camp                Jump to Jao Camp
A very cheery hello from all of us here at Jao. The team this month was Clinton,Rebecca,Sandra,Peter,Milly and Dale.Frank has been heading up the guides department. The Maximum temperature this month was 28 with a minimum of 11.

We have had a great month with a total occupancy of 74% and many a happy guest enjoying their stay with us. Bush dinners and brunches have been a favourite once again and the colder weather did not dampen any spirits.Boma evenings around the fire are always enjoyed with the staff's cultural participation a highlight.

Winter is truly upon us, so every bed now has an extra warm mohair blanket, and in the evenings a hot water bottle welcomes everybody. This after a sumptious meal,and festive time around the table or fire.

The floods have not been as high as last year but we have opened the boat channel to Handa. The all day picnic trips to the island have been a huge success. We have been pushing the Mekoro and walking experiences - with strong emphasis on the truly wild and untouched nature of the Jao area.

Quite a few sleepouts have been done this month with David and Cathy. The incredibly luxurious set up of the camp sites is always very impressive for guests when combined with the adrenaline filled nights out in the african bush.

There have been some special occasions, such as birthdays,where the "little surprises" have gone down really well and large numbers of honeymooners have enjoyed this wonderfully romantic location as well as private dinners, either in their rooms or around the pool.The wine cellar has also been a wonderful setting for dinners.

For those who did not want to take advantage of their siesta time,there were mekoro poling lessons,candle making,back of house tours,Elephant dung paper making sessions and ,most notably, Milly's massages to enjoy in the afternoons.

There is a lot of general game around the Jao floodplain with zebra,giraffe and a herd of about 100 wildebeest included in this.Guests have been fortunate enough to witness some lion kills this month and more recently,we have been watching with fascination 2 new male lions in a takeover bid for the floodplain pride. Fortunately at this stage the cubs have survived this time of intense stress and aggression and we hope to see them prosper in the future.The female leopard has returned to camp again and is even more relaxed than ever providing guests with unparalleled photographic oppurtunities and some breathtaking encounters as she saunters past the vehicles.

Maintenance is ongoing with the floors in rooms 3 and 4 having been stripped and varnished as well as all the walkways.The lodge is looking superb and many positive comments have been appreciated. The 'mozzie busters'were extremely effective, - we have noticed a significant decrease in insect activity around the camp.

This brings the letter to a close. We are looking forward to another awesome month here in paradise and to sharing our incredible home with many fortunate guests.

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Vumbura Camp                Jump to Vumbura Camp
Dr John Scollard, a Vumbura guest, agreed that we could quote him on a statement he made sitting around the early winters' morning fire when he broke the silence made from the mesmerising fire saying, quote, "being in this place is like having a dialysis of the soul ". Dr Scollard and his wife Diane, also a PhD., are preparing to write a book and it seems that Vumbura has been the catalyst that has enabled them to start the work which makes us here at Vumbura very proud indeed.

June has been, for us the staff, a memorable month. We have been exceptionally fortunate that we have been mostly full, for the guests to have experienced the magnificent sitings that have occured each day in this corner of the wilderness. How to choose certain highlights when each day has been spectacular. Perhaps to mention a few...

In all the safety briefing we have given we not only talk about safety in walking to and from the tents in the evening with the guide, but also what to do in the event of meeting dangerous animals during the day. In all my time in he camps, my guests have only ever encountered ele's during the day. June was different, as the Vumbura pride often visited the camp on six occasions coming into the lodge surrounds during breakfast and moving through the camp.

On two occasions we abandoned breakfast and followed them on vehicles to witness the stalk and the kill of a buffalo. On another occasion, guests on a three day stay here saw the pride kill two buffalos at one hunt, followed by a leopard killing a tsetsebe and sorry for this, the two Vumbura brothers (the big males), killing a zebra. Along side this action was the siting of a relaxed Caracal, two honey badgers, and a siting of two other leopards not to mention the large grazing herds that are occupying the plains at the moment. I nearly forgot the Aardvarkl!! Our fortunate guests from England, whilst preparing tea on "Same Day " Island, during a break on morning's the mokoro safari, were surrounded by the ten lions who were busy hunting in the channels for Lechwe. The guides, gathered the guests at an anthill and the two parties observed each other in silence, the lions with apparent curiosity and the guests with anticipation of the others' private thoughts. The lions ran off to carry on with their hunt for an appetising meal. The guides explained that at no time did they feel threatened.

Our pack of wild dogs are in the area, the female happily and thankfully for us, very pregnant. This bodes well for good wild dog sightings in the months to come. Seven wattled cranes were sited together in the vicinity of the mopani bridge. Our Cheetah made themselves visible with regularity as did another small pride of lions with three month old cubs, occupying the area near our hippo pools.

Our South African guests sited a pangolin on one of their trips and two purple Galinules on the river, apparently, these birds are really common in India, but here it was a choice siting. Guests coming in from the airstrip are treated to huge herds of Zebra, Wildebeest and Tsessebe on the open flood plains.

The flood has started to arrive with the flood plains starting to deepen under water. It does not appear that it will be a huge flood but at least the flora and fauna relying on the water will now be content. Temperatures are at 10 degrees minimum and 25 degrees maximum.

Vumbura is a happy place; as I write this mail, our waitressess and barladys in the lodge are busy singing away and laughing amongst each other. Yes it's great to be here. Kind regards Roger et al

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The Seychelles - North Island
The NEW North Island Resort                Jump to North Island Resort
The following is from a recent visitor to Wilderness Safaris' new North Island Resort in the Seychelles - sounds spectacular!

Two Days and a Night at North
Arrival by helicopter in a clearing - spectacular – despite the rain. Immediate sense of the idyllic.

Bio-diversity wide, much indigenous, challenging; attitude to it highly responsible.

The entire area where the villas are sited set back the length of the long gently curving beach, masterfully retains the "Robinson Crusoe" feel, which extends to the whole of the private island. Robinson would have refused rescue if he had been found here - he'd still be there now, two hundred years later as old as the Giant Tortoises we met, and as contented.

Yet, (and here another surprise), discreetly there is everything you could ever wish for in this modern day and age for the holiday of a life-time by the sea:
A spacious Villa, all to yourself.
Boats, sea kayaks, snorkelling, diving and fishing equipment all in immaculate order, your own buggy, mountain bikes, gym, spa, ice-cold drinks, (and TV, DVD/CD, computers, internet).

The architecture and the materials, mostly stone, wood and thatch have been sensitively selected and are in such keeping with the environment that you hardly notice the villas. North Island immediately brought to mind Costa Rica, the most eco-friendly and eco-responsible country I have come across.
Naturally, one villa is not visible from another.

The approach to each villa across a slatted wooden bridge with rope hand rail leads to a heavy wooden door, and a private world opens in front of you, entirely yours for your stay. A wood deck leads your eye to a sunken circular whirlpool in which to swim, and out over the beach and the open ocean to a focal point, Silhouette Island, living up to its name - a silhouette 10 miles away on the near horizon.
(There are small enclosed areas between the decking void to the ground a few feet below but these will look better when plants have grown up). Beware not to disappear down one of these late at night!

Inside there is unstinting space, some 4,890 sq ft, used to its best advantage, in part for the main bedroom, (huge comfortable bed, full length glass windows), bathroom, (sunken bath, inside and outside shower, large shower heads, two long and impressive wood-framed looking glasses overhang the basins). Full length wardrobes of course. That is but one part of the villa. There is then a separate suite for guests the other side of the hall. If you don’t relax here, I defy you to relax anywhere. All is in impeccable taste, as befits a desert island.

The team are tip-top, highly professional. They do’nt miss a trick when it comes to service, yet are friendly, never pushy, and know their jobs through and through. Indeed the tone and the way they treated Eloise, my daughter, and myself throughout made us feel at home, and how we wished it was!

There is no menu. Geoff the chief chef, (and manager while we were there), is a star.  He discusses lunch or dinner with you, and importantly, the time you would like it. I have not eaten so well in a year, yet left North Island without having added one ounce in weight. We looked forward to every meal; (he went to the trouble of concocting something different for Eloise aged 11), and each lunch and each dinner delighted the senses.

An open rectangular ornamental pool is the back of the imaginatively designed dining and oval bar piazza, open and fresh but covered.  Across from this to the left is the cool air-conditioned library built from an original old stone farm building. On the other side up to the right is the path to a shaped 45-ft swimming pool overhung by a coconut tree. The path continues up past the spa to the top of the mountain.

Debbie was using the pool as a nursery dive centre. She is head diver, with 17 years experience. She was giving a first lesson to enthusiastic learners, who listened intently, taking to diving like, well.…ducks to water. Clear and patient, she inspired self confidence in these first timers.

Dillon was a most conscientious host. He arranged for us to be as active as we wished – driving over the hill in a buggy through the forest to visit West beach; seeing Rachel on her way to catch a kestrel or two; inspecting Villa North Island and Villa Royale; arranging the lesson in the pool with Debbie; snorkelling, and answering endless questions without a trace of unrest. He even transferred my digital camera images onto disk. I only wish we had had more time to explore the island in all its bio-diversity.

We also had the attention of Geoff, Debbie, Justin, Cecil, Nick (we discussed cricket) and Romano, Eva, Adel, and Nelson and Patrick, and we met Voosi the Zulu. We had a good chat to the colourful Silvio . You have a top class team.

General Gordon of Khartoum thought the Seychelles was the site of the Garden of Eden, and tried to prove it. Eloise and I are more precise; we know the site of the Garden of Eden was North Island, and that this is where it remains to this day, thriving again in your hands.

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