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September 2003

This Month:
• September at DumaTau Camp in the Linyanti.
• Wild Dogs, Leopards and Lions at Kwando Safaris in Botswana.
Wilderness Safaris Botswana Camps changes.
• News from Deception Valley Lodge in Botswana's Kalahari Desert.
Zimbabwean Odyssey - a recent safari to the camps in Northern Zimbabwe.

Botswana Camps
DumaTau Camp in the Linyanti                Jump to DumaTau Camp
Another great month at Duma Tau, with exceptional game viewing, fantastic weather and a lot of fun had by guests and staff alike. The sun is definitely closer and we have been experiencing some high daytime temperatures but absolutely unbeatable evenings and mornings. The last week has seen a big increase in clouds and we are entering the sunset phase of the year with wonderfull pinks and reds painting the evening skies.

We are extremely happy to have the DumaTau pack of wild dog on our reserve after another successful denning. We hope that they continue in the same mold as the last 2 years and provide us with extreme action, both in and around the camp as well as for our guests on game drives. This year they have successfully raised 8 pups so far, and with a splitting of the adult dogs, there are now 21 dogs all told.

We were blessed again to witness the military like precision with which the 3 male cheetah coalition hunt. These guys seriously should have a documentary made about them. They are starting to get fairly old now, as Theba (DumaTau's head guide) tells me he has seen them since Duma Tau was built (1997) but still they look extremely healthy and are wizards of bringing down game.

Unfortunately the "surfing lions of the Linyanti " pride, the famous hippo killers swam into Namibia last month and have still not returned. As a result, our leopard sightings are way up and also cheetah and wild dogs are able to keep their kills. The Hyaenas after chasing off 2 male lions from a giraffe kill seem to have taken over the area. A large percentage of vultures followed has revealed numerous hyaenas on kills like zebras and wildebeest. The latter also exposing fresh spoor of a male lion, possibly again denied his food by the queens of the night. The hyena den was raided by 2 male lions who killed off a lot of the younger hyenas in full view of our guests.

This year, strangely, we have seen a slight decrease in the number of elephant in the area compared to last year. However, we are still able to view elephants in bigger numbers than most places and no guest has ever complained about seeing too few elephant. Most guests see hundreds of elephant each and every day right now. The drive along the Linyanti River during the heat of the day or early afternoon is still a spectacle to be observed with numerous numbers of general game in the vicinity of the river - and with never a moment without some sort of mammal in view. Even though water levels are low, we are still able to go boating and this continues to be an awesome activity and a very different experience from the game drives.

George the elephant is back in camp along with numerous other bulls on a daily basis. We are still wowed by the respect with which our large grey friends hold our new walkways and incidences of damage are minimal. We were treated to a first the other day when we had 2 Georges in camp and george the elephant as well and all parties happily posed for a picture or two. The flowering of the mangosteens has come and gone and the beautiful scent still is lingering in some parts of the camp . Happy smiling staff and a wonderfull relaxed atmosphere have been the order of the day once again at Duma Tau and this has resulted in happy smiling guests, coupled with great game viewing, and this has been another super duper month at Duma Tau.


Kwando Safaris September Update
Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
• Excellent Leopard sightings again at Kwara with 3 different Leopard during one game drive. There was one sighting with fantastic interaction with other species – whilst tracking a large male Leopard the vehicle bumped into female Lions hunting. The Leopard suddenly appeared and quickly avoided the Lions, only to bump into a Caracal that had caught and killed an African Wild Cat. The Caracal dropped the Cat to avoid the Leopard, and the Leopard then picked up the dead African Wild Cat, only to drop it again as it raced up a tree to avoid the Lions!
• Good Lion sightings in general. A pride of 25 Lions were seen consisting of 10 cubs – on this particular night drive, a total of 31 Lions were seen! Lions strolled through camp last night with their calls echoing under the trees.
• One Cheetah sighting this week.
• Excellent Buffalo sightings from a herd of 200 – 300. The birth of a new calf was witnessed and the scene attracted Vultures and 6 Jackal, all fighting over the after-birth.
• Boat sightings include good Elephants in the channels, Cape Clawless Otto and nesting activity is building up at the rookery.

Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
Two Lion kills on large prey were witnessed this last week – the most dramatic one being a pride of 10 Lions (including the 3 large territorial males) killing a 5-6 month old Elephant calf. The lions have been feeding on it for 6 days now! The Lion cub with a shoulder injury has recovered well and has been feeding on the Elephant carcass. Four other Lion cubs have died.
Excellent Cheetah sightings and a group of 3 males were seen feeding on a baby Sable that they brought down. A female and her cub were seen hunting.
Good Leopard sighting of a large male feeding on a Baboon kill on the ground.
Wild Dogs at the den are doing well. They are relaxed despite a pride of Lions killing a Buffalo near the den.
Good general game sightings of Elephants, Zebra, Tsessebe, Sable, Giraffe, Kudu and Warthogs.
Nocturnal sightings include Selous Mongoose, Striped Polecat, African Wild Cat, Civet and Bat-eared Fox.

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
Pride of 19 Lions have killed another Hippo and have been feeding on it for several days now.
Superb Leopard sighting perched on top of a termite mound that offered wonderful photographic opportunities. Another sighting was of 2 different Leopard on a morning game drive.
Regular Cheetah sightings although no kills were seen.
Fantastic stalk, chase and kill was witnessed with the pack of 4 Wild Dogs where they killed 2 Impala about 40m apart.
Superb general game with Elephants, Buffalo, Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, herd of 17 Roan Antelope, herd of 25 Sable and Giraffe.
Nocturnal sightings include Porcupine, Serval and a fantastic sighting of a Pangolin that was observed foraging and digging for Termites for ± 10 minutes.


Wilderness Safaris Botswana Camp Changes
Wilderness Safaris have decided to decrease the number of camps and beds in their vintage Botswana camp circuit. To balance this out, they have increased the number of beds in some of their Classic Camps. Details of these changes are as follows:

The Linyanti Tented Camp and Kaparota Camp will close, only accommodating any existing scheduled Jacana overland safaris. They will however, on request, open these camps, including Pom Pom, to groups wanting to book out the whole lodge at one time on a Private Camp Basis.

Accordingly changes to the following Classic Camps will occur: - Vumbura will increase to 16 guest beds, Little Vumbura to 12 guest beds, DumaTau 20 guest beds and Savuti will have 14 guest beds.

Guests traveling to the remaining Vintage camps, namely Jacana and Tubu Tree, will enjoy the water experience at Jacana, and land experience at Tubu. Guests who combine Gudigwa with any of Wilderness' Botswana camps will then be able to experience the rich cultural heritage of the San bushmen peoples of the Okavango Delta. 


News from Deception Valley Lodge in Botswana                Jump to Deception Valley Lodge
Greetings from the Kalahari...

In case you didn't know, September is high season in both Botswana and the Kalahari - and the lodge is experiencing excellent occupancies. If you didn't make it to visit Deception Valley Lodge this season, take advantage of their Green Season Specials, to be released soon!

Guests visiting the lodge recently were fortunate enough to see leopard chasing jackals off their guinea fowl prey (the leopard won the battle). Leopards are extremely gifted hunters; unlike lions, which work in groups to ambush prey, leopards generally hunt alone. Besides small prey like game birds, rabbits, etc, these very strong carnivores are able to take on prey animals almost their own size and weight. They frequently drag kills into trees, to prevent them being scavenged by animals such as hyena and jackal or stolen by lions.

Unusual sightings recorded at Deception Valley Lodge include aardvark, a rare and interesting animal that feeds on termites. It is nocturnal and seldom-seen. It breaks into termite mounds by digging at the base. The aardvark has a long, sticky tongue, which it pokes into the hole it has made. The termites stick to the aardvark's tongue and this curious creature then swallows them.

Did you know? Termites, while also part of the genus Hymenoptera, are not related to ants at all, although they superficially resemble them. They are the sworn enemies of ants and the two insects fight enormous battles on the rare occasions when they come into contact with one another. Certain species of termites build enormous termite mounds (misnamed 'ant hills'), which they keep at a constant temperature of around 37 degrees C. They do this by means of honeycombing the mound with tunnels or passages. Should the ambient temperature become too warm, they open the passages to the outside air; should the temperature decrease, they plug the entrances to the outside.

Here's an extract from an e-mail received from Bruce, head ranger at Deception Valley Lodge...

What makes life in the Kalahari so worthwhile is the amazing things one gets to see. It doesn't matter if it's a wasp trying to carry off a small, dead lizard or watching a kudu feed, it's all so amazing and rewarding. I've seen some amazing things since I've been here. I've watched three goshawks feeding with a honey badger and a jackal; and a honeybadger and a jackal feeding togtether. I've seen two striped polecats mating and was lucky enough to see a pangolin in the middle of the day in plain view for all to see! Last night I watched an African wild cat stalk, catch and feed on a scrub hare, which was absolutely wonderful... It is a real priviledge to work here and it's true that 'Once the sands of the Kalahari get in your shoes, it's hard to get them out!'


Zimbabwe Camps
Zimbabwean Odyssey - an article on Zimbabwe's Safari Industry

The following is an article written by a full paying guest who has just visited some of Wilderness Safaris' camps in Zimbabwe. We think it paints a true refelction of what Zimbabwe is all about in these secluded areas and in the camps.

Zimbabwean Odyssey
By Roy Watts

Question: It’s no secret that Zimbabwe is in a state of severe crisis, and hardly a day goes by without news of widespread strife and deprivation. Why on earth would anyone think of taking a holiday there?

Answer: There is a collection of game lodges that are not only surviving, but thriving and offering widely divergent safari experiences in luxurious camps that are equal to anything in sub-Saharan Africa – and better than most. With great ingenuity they have harnessed the remoteness of the bush and insulated themselves from the reigning chaos.

So it happened that in late August, I swapped a cold, wet, wintry Cape Town morning for a steaming arrival at the Victoria Falls – springboard for the light plane hop-around that would transport me to three of the nine Wilderness Safari camps dotted around the country. With surprisingly little fuss I cleared Immigration and Customs, and found myself bound for Makololo in the Hwange reserve. This is one of ‘The Greatest Elephant Shows on Earth’ with over 20,000 jumbos all crowded into 14,651 square kilometres.

Foster, the first of a succession of charismatic, bush savvy guides, met us at the airstrip and transferred us to the very attractive lodge. The lounge, bar, and dining room are built with a commanding view of a huge plain, and are connected to the tented chalets by raised walkways. The whole area is teeming with game, and a constant procession of elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and all the usual suspects provide an ongoing backdrop as they closed in on nearby watering holes. But it is jumbo activity for which Makololo is famous, and here there are two unique features that promote a degree of interaction you won’t find outside a circus. First up is the raised swimming pool in front of the cocktail deck. The elephants of Hwange have developed a serious chlorine habit, and they consider this to be their ‘local’, completely disregarding would-be swimmers. The height of the retaining walls prevents them from taking over completely, and by keeping a trunk length away, you can stand in the pool and watch them slake their thirst in 9 litre gulps. This activity continues well into the night and they usually manage to flatten the contents before dawn. Down a pool – feel satisfied. (Apologies to SA Breweries)

The other innovation that gets you up close and really personal with these wondrous creatures is an ingenious elephant hide. This is a collection of heavy logs piled over and around a steel frame. Snug within the safety of our woodpile, we spent hours watching huge herds cavort around. These amiable leviathans are the most sociable animals, and watching them splashing, jousting, trunk wrestling and generally having more fun than kids in a waterpark, we came to realise that being an elephant is definitely one of the better wilderness careers.

Meals at all the camps are convivial events, set at long baronial tables. Ambience and a friendly atmosphere replace the inhibitions of civilisation with camaraderie and lively banter. The excellent repast caused me to wonder about the extraordinary logistics behind getting the quality provisions that went into the sumptuous menus. With bounteous Botswana not too far down the road however, a 5-ton truck only has to cross the border and Bob’s your uncle- well- er- maybe not!

The Makololo Plains are broad sweeping affairs flanked by ridges of Mopani, Leadwood, Kameeldoring, Acacia and Jackalberry trees. In early Spring, before the rains set in they are stark and dramatic, although the first downpour will introduce a blanket of green. On the game drives and walks that are the staples of these safari holidays, we witnessed the extraordinary skills and passion of Zimbabwean guides. Obtaining a licence is no easy matter and requires a long apprenticeship under strict supervision. There are testing examinations that demand an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, trees, animals, insects, bush lore and the micro-environment. Then there’s the development of the skills necessary for the huge responsibility of safely guiding tourists on drives, walks and canoe trails. To graduate requires fervor, dedication and in many cases, the instinct that is the birthright of many Africans born to life in bushveld villages. Foster, our guide for the duration of our stay at Makololo, had all these qualities in abundance. On our final morning he doggedly followed an obscure trail picked up near the camp, and tracked down a pair of lionesses – two of the few animals missing from our dance cards.

One of the corollaries of Sod’s Holiday Law decrees that at the peak of your enjoyment at any locality, when you are having the most fun, it becomes necessary to move on. And so reluctantly, I found myself flying over the barren moonscape that is Zimbabwe at the end of winter, en route for Kariba – the third largest man made lake in the world. The plane approached the broken jigsaw puzzle of shoreline, banked, completed a fly past to clear the broad dirt landing strip of baboons, and touched down.

Zimbabwe is a place of great contrasts, and nowhere is this brought into broader relief than Kariba. In its hyperactive waters, crocodiles lurk with malice aforethought, whilst hippo loiter without intent. Herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe and antelope roam the shoreline, followed by an eager cast of predators. And in the skies an air show featuring a wide assortment of birds will delight the most demanding twitchers. Tucked away in a creek a short speedboat ride away from the airport, is one those uniquely romantic travel bookmarks – The Water Wilderness in the Matusadona National Park. Ghostly trees that drowned when the lake filled point skywards, sun bleached and petrified, above the shimmering water. The atmosphere is surreal and hauntingly beautiful, a Salvador Dalian landscape minus the melting watches. And anchored in this unusual setting is a flotilla of charming, beautifully appointed houseboats with a central ‘Mother Ship’ where entertainment and administration takes place. Guests are ferried to and from their lodgings in a barge-like water taxi, or establish their independence by using the sturdy Indian canoes on offer.

On one of those balmy African evenings, the lodge manager Dardley, big in stature and personality, held court. We were all seated at an immaculately laid dinner table on the mother ship, after having climbed the upper cocktail deck to watch a flaming fireball disappear into a pyrotechnic sunset. The convivial atmosphere loosened inhibitions and repartee flowed along with the wine as an all-pervading sense of bonhomie took over. Laughter and good food were the currency of the night, and even hoary old jokes from the dim distant past were as debutantes in contributing to the merriment.

In addition to game drives and walks, Water Wilderness offers tiger fishing and cruises along the shoreline. We saw lionesses on a sunset cruise, rare black rhino on a game drive, and got heart stoppingly close to a herd of elephant on a walk. One needs a lot of confidence in your guide running into any of the big five on a stroll, and we certainly had that in Dardley. But we were having much too much fun, and once again Sod’s Corollary kicked in and it was time to move.

Cut to Mana Pools and Chikwenya, one of only four Heritage sites in the country, the others being the Victoria Falls Rain Forest, the Khame Ruins, and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins – very select company indeed. Situated on the Zambezi above a broad floodplain far below the dam wall, it is as lush, beautiful and serene, as Makololo is stark and dramatic. But the serenity is an illusion because in this neck of the woods, the animals hold sway. At night a bolshy band of right wing hippos and herds of extrovert elephants stomp around the camp, fully believing that the grass is greener closer to the raised tented chalets. Chikwenya owes its status to a unique eco-system that includes an abundance of Acacia Albida trees and Jesse bush. In winter the Acacias drop a bounty of protein rich pods, which attracts the vast and varied mammal population concentrated on the flood plains during the dry season.

There are two exceptional activities at Chikwenya. The first is an exciting canoe trail. Hugging the banks of the Zambezi, Kevin, a highly skilled river guide took us past hippos who looked as if they might abandon loitering in favour of serious intent at the slightest provocation. En route we enjoyed a spectacular tableau that took in the wide crystalline sheet of water edged with lush green forests, framed by purple mountains and set in a fiery sunset. The other special event was a nature walk with Sean, the camp manager who had a passion for, and an amazing knowledge of the insect world. Unlike the big-game walks at Makololo and Matusadona, this was a micro-tour that took in ant lions, air-conditioned termite mounds, spider webs and 101 uses for Baobab bark along with fascinating on-going dialogue about the local flora and mini-fauna. The small 5 you might say!

Holidays according to Sod, are the shortest units of time, and all too soon I found myself on an airliner bound for home, reflecting on a really extraordinary week. Each lodge had a singular charm and an atmosphere all of its own – I’m sure that there are as many moods as there are camps. But as a South African, who, like most of his compatriots believed Zimbabwe to be a complete no-go zone, I was bowled over by the degree of normalcy and the sense of security that Wilderness Safaris have managed to achieve in the face of the overall mayhem. Even choosing the Victoria Falls as the major entry point steers tourists away from the Harare alternative where the prevailing unrest would be more visible.

The Falls are still one of the great tourist icons of the world, and any safari should end with a couple of days there. Ironically, I believe that the places I visited are amongst the safest destinations of the world. And you would be hard pressed to find greater concentrations of game or a wider range of different safari experiences. But don’t take my word for it – go and see for yourself.


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