SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
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
Monthly update from Kings
Pool Camp in
Monthly update from Jao
A passionate write-up on Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe
Media article on the exclusive North Island Resort in the Seychelles
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
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.
The total input of rain has been estimated
to be between 2% and 30% of the total flood that enters the Okavango.
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
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
By Map Ives
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
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
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
Okavango Wilderness Safaris
Little Vumbura Newsletter
- Mar - 04 Jump
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
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
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
Any Kingspool report
can't go without the mention of our resident hippo's,
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.
- 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.
Paradise Saved or Saving
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
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.
in its private concession within Hwange, is a special
place. Special, because
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
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
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.
- North Island
Media Article - April 04 Jump
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.
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
Back at the ranch, Chef Geoffrey Murray, formerly of
SoHo's Boom and Miami's Bang, prepares a flavorful and refined fusion of
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
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
for the floor show.
--BILL WHITMAN (FORBES)