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April 2004

This Month:
• Continuing our updates on the 2004 Okavango Delta flood - it continues to be a big one!
• An Ecological update on Northern Botswana
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana
• A passionate write-up on Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe
• Media article on the exclusive North Island Resort in the Seychelles

Botswana Camps
Okavango Flood Update - April 2004
The flood of 2004, as of 30th March, 2004 is at the in between stage. By that I mean the first wave, so to speak, has now enetered the system and the flood levels are dropping at Mohembo. Traditionally the Okavango system has two peaks if plotted on a line graph. The reason for this is that the Cubango river has it's input, up to 6 weeks before the Cuito. Thus, the water entering the Okavango panhandle had a peak inflow of 778 cubic meters per second in late February. This has dropped to 555 cusecs as of yesterday. However, this will definitely rise sometime in the next two weeks and probably top out in the region of 800/810 cusecs.

I should like to point out something that is going to have much to do with the end "flood" in the Okavango fan.

The Okavango is an extremely dynamic system, driven by tectonic, gradient, sediments, vegetation growth, and mammal movement. No less important is the dynamic and hugely varying climate and weather conditions, and the effect of this on the Okavango.

It is well known that the Okavango has an external catchment, in the central highlands of Angola. From these highlands rise the two rivers that feed the Okavango. From a catchment more west in Angola rises the Cubango and further east the Cuito. The average rainfall in the catchment is in the region of 1000 mm per annum, falling during the months of October, November, December, January and February. There have in the past been considerable rains as late as Mrch and April. These are the very same months that rain falls over the Okavango alluvial fan(or delta) itself.

The timing of the rains, both in Angola and over the fan has a huge effect on the total amount of water that enters the Okavango in any given season.

What I meant earlier about the dynamics of the weather enters this domain. For example, in the last two decades we have had extremely dry rainfall months over the Okavango itself. Combined with evapotranspiration this has meant that the Kgalgadi sands which underpin the Okavango have been extremely dehydrated WHEN THE FLOOD ARRIVES in January at the top of the panhandle. The amount of floodwaters have to, therefor, firstly fill the sand and then spread out over the delta proper.

If there were good rains as in 2000/2001, they arrived out of sinc with what turned out to be a smallish flood. Thus the area that was flooded in the following season, was relatively small.

This season 2003/04 we have has a wonderful set of dynamic timing.

The rains started to fall very early in October in the Cubango section of the catchment. In other words they started to fall in October in the highlands. When these waters started to arrive in the delta they coincided with the arrival of the local rains. These local rains have themselves been better than those of more than 9 years. Of some importance, is the fact that they have been spread out in such a way that, as the flood spread out over the fan, the rains had saturated the ground ahead. This has resulted in the water being able to move relatively quickly and more widely that for more than two decades.

Okavango Delta Flood Chart for 30-March 2004

The total input of rain has been estimated to be between 2% and 30% of the total flood that enters the Okavango. Early estimates, based on rainfall figures from Shakawe and Maun, as well as from our camps in the delta, would indicate that this year, the rain will contribute about 14% of the total. This is not measured at any discharge meter, but can be seen on the ground, with gleaming waters spreading throughout the delta.

On the Jao, Xigera, Pom Pom system, there has also been a net gain of water at the expense of the Boro system. The Jao camps, Xigera and Pom Pom are surrounded by good deep water and are a must see for wetland lovers. The Kwedi concession camps of Duba, Vumbura, Little Vumbura and Vundumtiki have returned to the wonderland that that area can be. Boating to and from the camps and to the dryland for game drives. Mombo is in effect and island, with wildlife being extremely concentrated. Fantastic viewing of many, many species in a relatively small area is the order of the day in the delta. I can hardly believe the bird life this year so far.

Anyone, who is awe inspired by natural places, and understands the importance of wetland bio-diversity, absolutely must visit the Okavango this year.

By Map Ives
Environmental Manager
Okavango Wilderness Safaris

The Northern Botswana Ecological Update - April 04
Following my reports of February and March of this year, I have had the good fortune to be able to monitor the environmental conditions of the northern Botswana and Kgalagadi (Kalahari) region. This has been possible through personal travels, collection of data from recording stations and through observations made by several safari professionals who have travelled these parts over the last twenty years.

As mentioned in recent letters, the Okavango river, and delta, are flowing strongly. Having reached a peak flow of 778 cubic meters per second, the Okavango river then slowed to 531 cusecs in late March. However, on April the 6th, with the arrival of water from the Cuito river and increased flows from the Cubango, this has risen, once more to 612 as of April 15th. This can be expected to increase for at least the next three weeks. The next peak is anyones guess, but looking at past data, it looks like another flow of 780 to 800 will be reached.

The implications are wide reaching, in more ways than one. Already the upper half of the Okavango is inundated with life giving waters, and the movement of mammals and birds is phenomenal. A recent report from Mombo describes that area very well indeed. " It is hard to believe that an area as flawless and beautiful as Mombo could be improved upon, but the arrival of these floodwaters have lifted the area to a new level. "

The excellently spaced rains, which carried on until late in the season have had wider benefits than the Okavango though.

In recent weeks I have been assessing rainfall figures for the Kalahari and northern Botswana. The excellent spacing and timing of the rains in the latter half of the season have been felt throughout that area.

The Chobe National Park has received in excess of 800 mm of rain this season, as has the Linyanti area. Increased vegetative growth makes these areas unrecognisable from the late 2003. The elephant populations will definitely benefit from this food resource and properly utilise large areas inland from the rivers.

The Makgadikgadi Pans are filled with water , and can expect to carry water until late in the year. Flamingo and pelican, amongst a host of other species are just everywhere. The Zebra populations will take much longer to return to the Boteti this year.

The Nxai Pan/Baines Baobab region has been visited by several of our professional guides, and they have come away in awe. This, little visited park, has a wide range of species on show at this time. With the increased water supply, there are large numbers of elephant down that way. Some of these giants are moving as far as the Boteti river to the south, well away from the Chobe, Linyanti and Okavango rivers.

It is entirely possible that the Boteti river may flow all the way to Meno a Kwena thereby keeping the elephant, zebra and wildebeest in the Makgadikgadi park throughout this year and into next.

Of the many reports coming my way, the Central Kalahari is getting some absolute raves. Above average rains have turned this pristine wilderness into an eden. Huge numbers of Oryx, Springbuck and hartebeest are being encountered. Just about everyone is commenting on the fields of wild flowers, butterflies and birds. Obviously, the lion are in good shape and their roars echo through the fossil valleys and dunes at night. Anyone who has travelled through the central Kalahari will tell you of the huge space and massive skies at night. They are absolutely right !

These are normally difficult destinations to get to, but it is worth contacting the Wilderness marketing people and asking about trips to several, or all of the above destinations. Take a professionally outfitted safari to something unusual and unique, I have no doubt that you will be amazed and enchanted by what you will experience.

Note on the Boteti River:

The Boteti River has it's origins as an outflow from the Okavango Delta, and will only flow for any distance, when the Okavango receives substantial flood waters, such as this year.

Used as a population and exploration route for many centuries, the Boteti (or Botletle) was once the bed of a huge river draining the central part of Africa many centuries ago. Although there have been many geomorphologic changes over time, the Boteti retains it's mystery and importance as a watering line for the western Makgadikgadi.

The Boteti has not flowed effectively for 18 years, but is expected to flow for considerable distance this great year.

By Map Ives
Environmental Manager
Okavango Wilderness Safaris


Little Vumbura Newsletter - Mar - 04                Jump to Little Vumbura Camp
An afternoon like none other and certainly a day to remember in the Delta, began with a drive from Little Vumbura to Vumbura. The news had spread that the water had arrived. Driving around the bend and there it was, the moment we had all been waiting for, after months and months of speculation, the flood had finally arrived and was filling the floodplain. What a spectacular sight, the water was flowing in quite steadily and with it came hundreds of birds as the water was teeming with fish. The afternoon sun shone brilliantly and the reflection off the water was incredible, a sight that none of us will ever forget. Ross, Kath and Debs drove to the front of water and watched as it trickled over the grassy plains onto new ground. With all the rain that has been received, 165 ml to be exact, most of the flood came as surface water. Ross made the camp a measuring stick, with level 0 being the level of the water before the water started rising. Within 2 days it had risen 10.5 cm and two days after that the level was measured at 34cm. The heavens continued to open during these afternoons and guests had to brave heavy thunderstorms. One afternoon later in the month, there was even a few hailstones that fell... quite strange. Guests that visited Little Vum. during that time were shown the graphs of previous flood water levels and most were really interested and felt privileged to be in the delta at such a special time. The level of the water measured 56cm at it's highest level but by the end of the month it had dropped to 50cm...

We received our 3 month bulk delivery just in time. The whole day was spent off-loading the truck and packing the freight into the container at Mbishi. Needless to say the following day was spent recovering and soothing aching muscles. The heat of the day also took its toll but nothing too serious. It is nice being able to control what is brought into the camp and what can be left in the container.

Game sightings for the month of March were good, Plenty of lion sightings and the single cheetah male was often seen. Big Red and his family were the lions seen most often but the Vumbura pride were located close to the Buffalo fence and were in the area for a while. Towards the end of the month a herd of approximately 200 buffalo were located close to Kaparotta lagoon. There low grunts could once again be heard as they have not been in the area for quite some time. There were also some lovely sightings of elephants, and with the marula fruit starting to ripen, it won't be long before we have some ellies on the Little Vumbura island. The 'usual' sightings of sable never fail to impress.

The site for the additional tent at Little Vum. has been sort out and the site prepared for the new arrival.... awaiting the truck so that all the timber and necessary maintenance goods can arrive. Soon we will be operating as a 6 bedded camp...looking forward to it.


Kings Pool Newsletter - Mar - 04                Jump to Kings Pool Camp
" THE ELEPHANTS ARE COMING BACK, THE ELEPHANTS ARE COMING BACK!!" These words from one of our guides returning from a morning game drive recently..the guests were soaked to the bone...but we could hear the vehicle coming from the turnoff - everybody was ecstatic with big smiling faces...

Between the showers of rain and thunderstorms, Kingspool had a fantastic month in March! With a total rainfall of 196.5 mm, it was a month to remember (for some in different ways than for others). We spent hours sitting in the lounge looking at the thunder and lightning show over the Caprivi, warm and cuddled up with Lu's famous Hot chocolate drink (with extra chocolate on the side). While on the culinary side, we have been doing plated dinners most evenings and have had some great feedback.

On the wildlife front things have been erratic especially with the weather. Some days have been outstanding but in general, life out there has been unusually quiet. The game is there, but because of the rain the grass is so high that finding the game is not easy. In a few weeks when the grass is coming down, things should get back to normal.

Lions have been our saving grace as they have been sighted fairly regularly. The "Kingspool pride" - a pride of 9 young lions - kept everybody in their seats with their roaring throughout the night and sprints on the airstrip at sundown...

Wild dogs have been off gallivanting somewhere else for most of the month and their return is eagerly awaited.

Leopards have been kind enough to grace us with their regal presence from time to time but leopards being leopards, we have been aware of their presence far more often than seeing them.

Any Kingspool report can't go without the mention of our resident hippo's, because without them we would not have the reputation of being "the noisiest camp at night in the Linyanti". Fighting around the rooms at night is only one of the special shows the hippos specialize in, helping to make our guest's stay even more unforgettable. Total count at the moment - 3 babies and 19 adults.

Honeymoon couples...romantic room turndowns, private dinners, bottles of bubbly, breakfasts in bed, gifts etc. They have had it all.


Jao Newsletter - Mar - 04                Jump to Jao Camp
Water, water everywhere......! The floods have arrived up here in spectacular fashion coming in late February with a rush and by the first week in March exceeding the maximum recorded level for 2001! The water level appears to have stabilised at a point 20 cm above the 2001 level which has put most of the camp island underwater but has made a rich,green paradise of this area.

The lucky managers here to view this phenomenom were Peter, Crystal, Barbara, Chris, Angie, Gugu in the Salon, and Victor and Frank heading up the guides. The weather has been temperate this month with most days being overcast and a lot of drizzle in the afternoons. We were gifted with 82.7 mm of rain for the month and a minimum temperature of 19 and 32 maximum.The slightly inclement weather has meant we haven't been able to dine under the stars on as many occasions as we would have liked, however, the occasions we have enjoyed under the African skies have been truly memorable events with the staff dancing and singing adding so much atmosphere and a touch of culture to the proceedings.

Guests activities this month have included the really popular Hunda island picnics which have provided spectacular sightings of leopard ,wild dogs and vistas of lechwe, zebra and wildebeest. Elephant sightings on Hunda have been good and the most unusual sighting for this time of year was a lone cheetah sighted on the floodplain in front of Kwetsani. The floodplain pride has sadly lost their youngest cubs which we suspect were cut off from the prides' hunting grounds by the incredibly fast arrival of the floodwaters, however, the rest of the pride has been a regular sighting on Pupu island, the largest area of dry land on the southern side of the concession. The birdlife is again extraordinary with the arrival of the floodwaters our guests were treated to the unusual sight of 21 flamingoes on the floodplain. the highlight of the month is the Pel's fishing owl that appears to have taken up residence just off the walkway between tent 7 and 8 which has provided guests with amazing close up views of this normally shy, retiring and much sort after rarity.


Zimbabwe Camps
Paradise Saved or Saving Paradise               Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp
by Sylvia Gill

Enjoy the pleasure and privilege of the wildness of Hwange National Park together with the pampered luxury of Wilderness Safaris' private concession, Makalolo Plains.

A pink and gold sunset colours the landscape. We are sitting in an open Land Rover in a huge treeless plain (all the better to avoid creeping carnivores interrupting our sundowners).

This 10 sq. km. Linkwasa Vlei, with its watering hole of molten gold, is like a magnet. Busy black-backed jackals forage for termites. Fifty snow white egrets line up at the water's edge. Groups of sable antelope and wildebeest graze. We are privileged to have as our mentor charming Foster Siyawareva, recently voted Zimbabwe's top Professional Guide. He shares his knowledge with enthusiasm and humour. Then the most extraordinary sequence of events unfolds.

A lion's roar echoes across the vlei. Silence. Nothing moves. Then it's showtime. A jackal throws back his head and starts howling. The others follow suit, one after the other joining the chorus, their cute little snouts back-lit by the rosy light. They howl and howl and howl. The sable move off like a bolt of black satin and a white cloud of egrets takes to the air. They start to fly back and forth across the water, in perfect unison, with the precision of a corps de ballet. We watch, spellbound,
Their wings disappear for a second as they turn, like pulling a Venetian blind, then we get the full-on view again. We stop counting after about thirty passes, and they continue this enchanting display for half an hour.

We hear the crack of breaking branches, a shrill trumpet, and out of the twilight comes a breeding herd of elephants. Mums, dads, teenagers and babies drink, splash and play. We hear another massive roar, so we set off into the dusk with an infra-red light. A majestic black-maned lion stretches, yawns, then saunters off to join the hunt, bellowing into the night. On our way back to camp, caught in the red light, bats whizz past and night-jars flutter. Startled impala bunch together to face another nerve-wracked night. We are welcomed into to our lamp-lit lodge, comfortable canvas sided rooms on stilts with all mod cons. Then we face another delicious meal prepared by chefs Sendi and Washington.

We are in the legendary Hwange National Park on Zimbabwe's western border, a 30 minute flight from Vic Falls. These 14,000 sq. kms. are home to one of the greatest concentrations of game in the world. This mosaic of habitats has vast open plains and grasslands, some like a mini-Serengeti, with huge herds of antelope, buffalo and elephant. Groups of tall palms recall Botswana's Okavango. We drive through acacia woodlands and delicate teak forests and pans set in dazzling white sand, reminiscent of Etosha.

This varied "pantry" feeds great numbers of animals. Elephant, buffalo, sable, rhino, roan, giraffe, even gemsbok walk free in this wildlife haven, with attendant predators - lion, leopard, wild dog and cheetah. And all the birds of the air greet us. Huge numbers of 400 different species make this a treat for bird-lovers.

Makalolo Plains, in its private concession within Hwange, is a special place. Special, because owners Wilderness Safaris have adopted the roles of both employer and protector. Says Director Russel Friedman, "Our main thrust is to keep our camps open and look after the wildlife and loyal staff. We've managed to keep most of our staff, or employ them in neighbouring countries.

"We want to help conservation and our national parks through this difficult period in Zimbabwe's history. We're convinced this period has a life span, and we can really make an impact on eco-tourism and Zimbabwe's future."

Meanwhile tourists benefit. A safe fly-in safari to Makalolo must be one of the travel bargains of the decade. Makalolo Plains camp, with its boardwalks and raised viewing decks, overlooks the Samavundhla Pan set in sweeping grasslands.

Shady hides in tall trees give us a bird's-eye-view of the busy waterhole and floodplains. But you don't even have to move out of camp. You can watch the passing show from the open-sided, beautifully furnished lounge, or pool deck. Our pilot, wallowing in the pool, eyes closed against the glare of the midday sun, found himself nose to trunk with thirsty elephants. He cowered in a corner as the tuskers had drinks, snorts and showers two metres away from him. And the local lions have a regular route through camp.

Makalolo is impeccably run with creative catering and charming, friendly staff. We share meals with three lion researchers, dynamic young people,who keep us spellbound with their tales of microliting over the bush, darting and collaring lions, then keeping tabs on them - an exciting, frenetic, dangerous lifestyle. Our hostess Lee has a birthday, and we spend the evening dining, laughing and sipping bubbly while outside a giant eagle owl hoots, hippos honk and trumpet, and a baboon commotion announces the arrival of the lions.

All the while Wilderness Safaris are quietly, doggedly keeping their camps going and helping Hwange. They fuel and service twenty-two of the boreholes, replace the old pumps, help fund staff and supplies for the anti-poaching units, supply drugs and veterinary help to snared animals, support rural schools and long-term lion and other projects in the area. They help the gentle people of Hwange in countless other ways.

As I doze off, images of Hwange days flash through my mind. The Egret Lake Ballet; tracking lions on foot; a crowd of vultures squabbling on a buffalo kill; two baby elephants joyfully trotting down to the pan, playing and splashing; hundreds of blacksmith plovers standing to attention, all bills pointing north; 500 buffaloes kicking up dust against a red sky.

This is our last night before flying off to the sumptuous River Club on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls, but that's another story. We can only recommend people to take this great opportunity to have the holiday of a lifetime - and help prevent another corner of Paradise from being lost.


The Seychelles - North Island
North Island Media Article - April 04                Jump to North Island

North Island: One hour by launch out of Victoria, the Seychelles islands' sleepy capital (I opted out of the chopper ride), I waded ashore at North Island, a just-opened private island hideaway cum eco-Noah's Ark in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. I found my way to the main lodge, designed by South African architect Silvio Rech to dramatize the Seychelles' ancient role as a crossroads of Asian, Indian and African cultures. Rech underlined the theme with a hand-crafted ensemble of rich woods, intricate details and contrasting textures: The lodge's floors gleam with teak and sand-blasted pine, and thick, gnarled trunks of takamaka and casuarina trees support thatch roofs woven by Balinese artisans from imported ylang-ylang fronds. And not a wall in sight: The "rooms" are open to every tropical breeze and sea sound. The result is beyond stylish. It is, as a visiting Londoner observed, "achingly hip and sexy--the perfect place for a fashion shoot." Robinson Crusoe, meet Giorgio Armani.

Not bad for an island that Jon Duncan, North Island's environmental manager, tells me "had been abandoned and ecologically degraded for decades." Enter Wilderness Safaris, which operates upscale, ecologically responsible safari lodges and bush camps in seven African countries. In 1998 Wilderness introduced what Duncan calls "the Noah's Ark concept"--a total ecological restoration to protect and restore North Island's native flora and fauna. Some of the species to be reintroduced, such as the giant Aldabra tortoises for which the islands are famous and the Seychelles magpie robin, are rare, and this may be one of the only places you'll see one in the wild.

Arriving at my villa, an imposing spread of nearly 5,000 square feet, I'm happy to see that nonendangered humans are also well-sheltered on North Island. Each of the island's 11 secluded thatch-roof villas has its own distinctive setting. In my villa, number 2, the master bedroom comes with a 180-degree view of the sea, floors of burnished teak and, under a cathedral ceiling, an immense bed carved from dark Indonesian wood. My compound also includes a plunge pool and a study with satellite TV and high-speed Internet connections. And of course Nisbert, my personal butler, has his own spiffy little kitchen to see to my drinks and snacks.

It's hard to break away from these posh digs. According to one staff member, "Some guests, especially honeymooners and big names, immediately vanish into their villas for their entire stay." Too bad. Outside, they could prowl the island's coral reefs or swim with the docile whale sharks that hang out just offshore.

Back at the ranch, Chef Geoffrey Murray, formerly of SoHo's Boom and Miami's Bang, prepares a flavorful and refined fusion of traditional Seychellois cuisines: Asian, Indian, African and French. Says Geoff, "When you blend local produce with Creole flavors, something wonderful happens." Geoff's happenings usually involve tuna, sea bass, snapper and other fish caught minutes before in North Island's waters, often by guests, and grilled over a banana-leaf fire. The lodge's outdoor dining area, like the rest of North Island, combines the rustic with the refined: simple tables crafted from weathered timber set with Milanese linens, French porcelain and glasses of Reidel crystal.

The dining area also attracts an unusual clientele: large hawksbill turtles that crawl ashore to nest on the beaches, sometimes at tableside. No charge for the floor show.


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