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AFRICAN SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
February 2004

This Month:
• Continuing our updates on the 2004 Okavango Delta flood - it's on a near record pace!
• February update and NBC's live broadcast of the 'Today Show' from Mombo Camp in Botswana


Botswana Camps
The 2004 Okavango Flood looks to be the biggest in over 20 years!
Herewith a report from Colin Bell of Wilderness Safaris...

Thank goodness that much of the Southern African drought has been truly broken these past two weeks. There has been so much rain throughout Southern Africa. The Kruger Park is completely wet wet wet and the aquifers countrywide are being replenished after years of drought. We have had some great rain in the Makuleke area of Kruger which has all but wiped away any signs of the drought. Grass is growing everywhere and the area is looking superb.

The Okavango Story...

Here are the latest flood graphs and some thoughts on the what the great floods will do within the Okavango this year.

To see a chart of this year's flood compared to years in the past, go to Febraury 2004 Flood Chart.

The whole Delta will be flooded to the brim this year as a result of all the high rains in Angola bringing high levels of water to an already full Delta. Its going to be the MOST amazing spectacle, much like it was in 1977, the year I started guiding in Botswana. That year, 1978 and 1984 were my best years ever in Botswana. You should all make the effort to get to Botswana this year and see the Delta at its very very best. We have been waiting nearly 30 years for such a great flood. We are hoping that the flood waters head all the way through Maun and fill up Lake Ngami and the Makgadikgadi too - and even flow down the Selinda Spillway and top up the Linyanti!

The high water will create complications for us behind the scenes in the camps and operations are going to be more difficult - and costly. All the camps will have water lapping at their doorsteps...... and in some cases we may have to move a tent or two. However, we are confident that we are going to be able to keep operating successfully and keep your guests very very happy. In the past few weeks we have moved something like 125 tons of goods and 250,000 liters of fuel into our camps, so the camps are all stocked up for the next 4 months or so. We will then be flying the rest of the goods into the camps to top up these supplies to see us through the high season. [We are investigating hiring in a larger freight plane to help fly all our goods into the camps. This will make all our supply movements that much more efficient and cost effective.]

On the game and camp front per concession, this is the scoop:

JAO CONCESSION AND ITS CAMPS                Jump to Jao Camp
The flood is already well past Jao. (Its about to get to Pom Pom. Normally at this time of year its normally north of Jao and trickling through.) All the Jao camps have water in and around them. Jacana is surrounded as it normally is - but the depth of water is greater than ever before. Jao has water under some of the rooms and the water level is about a foot from coming over the top of the bridge. Kwetsani will have water lapping onto the edge of the island - and Tubu will be likewise. All Jao concession camps have easy boat access to Hunda Island which is a large dry island with the areas best game. With the very high water levels we can easily access Hunda by boat and then start our game drives. Very high floods are easier to operate in as one can just hop onto a mokoro or boat and quickly get to where the dry land is. When water levels are not so high, it is often too low for a boat and too high for a vehicle.....that's when we really struggle on our activities!

What is going to happen with the wildlife viewing this year anywhere in the Delta is that there are going to be incredible concentrations of animals on every dry island,...... so we believe that the concentrations and game viewing will be truly superb this year in all areas.....

XIGERA AND POM POM                Jump to Xigera Camp                Jump to Pom Pom Camp
We are expecting that conditions around these two camps will be much the same as the Jao areas.

MOMBO                Jump to Mombo Camp
The camp is just starting to recover from NBC's Matt Lauer Show. The floods are about 300m away from the front of the camp - and there should be enough dry land in the interior to keep us out of mischief during the height of the flood. However, we are building a bridge to link Mombo to the dry land as there is a patch of a few hundred meters that could get tricky later on whern the floods arrive at Mombo and surround the camp.

JACK'S CAMP                Jump to Jack's & San Camps
The zebra migration is still at Jacks Camp and continues to fill the grasslands of this normally harsh desert landscape. The flamingos have all but headed on to their breading grounds, but the large variety of water birds remain feeding on all the new life in the pans. The meerkats have survived the wet season again and are flourishing on the abundance of food brought on by the good rains! With rain in mind, spectacular does not adequately describe the evening skies that are accompanying these storms. San Camp opens later this year.

THE DUBA / VUMBURA AREA - The Kwedi Area
Kaparota is now being used full time as a training facility. All going very well, and some very good local staff being filtered into management positions in the lodges.

DUBA                Jump to Duba Plains Camps
Duba has water lapping at its doors as it does every year...... but in March we normally expect things to be dry out front of the camp. Thank goodness we moved the airfield into the interior of the island some years back otherwise we would have been in deep trouble. We have some of our vehicles to the dry land to the north east and depending on how the floods proceed, we expect to hop into a boat and then meet up with our vehicles in the North East of the concession.

VUMBURA AND LITTLE VUMBURA                Jump to Vumbura & Little Vumbura Camps
To the north east of both these camps, we have a massive area of dry woodland that never floods, We are currently organising a network of tracks in these dry woodlands so that we can do our game drives there if we run out of dry land at Vumbura. If you have a look at our maps, you will see this area in lighter green. It's the NE of the concession and covers about 60% of the area.

CHITABE / CHITABE TRAILS                Jump to Chitabe Camp & Chitabe Trails
This camp has lots of dry land and will be a camp that will offer predominantly game drives. However, we have mokoros available if we need them to get to different areas

LINYANTI CONCESSION
The big question is whether the Savuti channel will start to flow again this year. The Zibadiabja Lagoon will certainly fill up again after slowly receding all these past years....... will the Savuti flow this year?? We certainly hope so and maybe we can get back to what the Savuti used to be in the 70s

KINGS POOL                Jump to Kings Pool
The elephants made a premature return to this area and were all around the camp for about two weeks. Folks sitting at the underground hide one morning watched about 300 eles move through the pan on their way to the river. The majority have returned to the endless mopane again, but they are not far away. There are still some herds around the Livingstone hide area. The new management couple, Rob and Landi (ex Mombo relief) have arrived in camp and are straight into the thick of things. Welcome to the Linyanti.

SAVUTI                Jump to Savuti Camp
Savuti Camp now has a brilliant new face with the recent renovations to the main area, dining room and two new tents. The two additional stunning rooms (4 & 5) are now fully completed. Baboons have already christened the room on numerous occasions!! The camp will operate as a 7 roomed camp from the beginning of April. A new electrical system will be in place by the opening of camp on the 17th March - no more broken fans and poor lighting!!

DUMATAU                Jump to DumaTau Camp
The new room is completed, increasing the camp to 10 roomed camp. The new 'honeymoon' suite sports an outside sala area where couples can relax and view the beautiful Osprey lagoon. I actually watched an osprey from the sala last month!! We have made small renovations to the lounge/bar area, as well as added a shaded ' pergola' to the pool deck. The rooms are looking great after replacing the green shade netting with black.


More detailed camp news from Botswana

KWETSANI                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
After flying over the flood before it reached Jedibe we decided that we had 3 - 4 weeks before the water reached the camp but 10 days later the water was at Kwetsani. The flood arrival was extremely beautiful to watch with vast herds of lechwe following the flow of the water, huge flocks of water birds feeding on drowning insects and competing with barbels in a feeding frenzy. We counted 3 flocks of wattled crane all with more than 70 birds on one small stretch of floodplain. The water was moving at a pace of about 1m every 45 seconds and the front trickle was very quickly followed by a stream of deep water. A crossing just north of Kwetsani that is usually passable for a few weeks after the flood arrives was too deep to cross only a few hours after the water arrived in the channel effectively cutting off the northern Kwetsani plains. The flood arrived at Kwetsani on the 22 February. The floodplain lion pride had moved north of Kwetsani, their home base, closer to the lechwe herds and we were extremely concerned that they would be caught unaware by the swiftly moving water. Frank was telling us about how the water can stress the lionesses into abandoning their cubs, and for days after the water arrived we had no idea what had become of our lions. We were extremely relieved when Maipaa arrived back from a walk on Pupup Island near the Jao airstrip to tell us how he had almost walked into the pride and had caught a glimpse of some lions disappearing into the thick bush. Most importantly he had seen the tracks of the 3 month old cubs! In February we assisted Birdlife Botswana with their wattled crane survey, and can proudly say that we have more wattled crane than the entire population of South Africa in one flock north of Kwetsani! They were hoping to sample 200 birds to count juveniles and ascertain the breeding success rate, so you can imagine their delight when they came across one flock of 200 birds! The largest population of wattled crane in Botswana is to be found in the Jao Concession, with most of the birds being just north of Kwetsani. I will pass on the survey results as soon as they are available. Antoinette and Jason have taken over the management at Kwetsani with Jost assisting them.

JACANA                Jump to Jacana Camp
Jacana had the benefit of lions in and around camp most of the time this past month. These were new lions that took advantage of moving up from NG26 while the floodplain pride had moved north. Every once in a while one of the floodplain males would move south to chase off the intruding male, but as soon as he retreated to join his pride the intruder would move back in. On the 22 February we could see the flood water approaching Jacana and a small trickle started to flow across the Jacana bridge in the channel. In the early hours of the morning of the 23 February the managers woke up to the sound of bubbling water as the trapped air bubbles in the soil were released thus heralding the arrival of the flood water at Jacana. They arose to a water wonderland and had the good sense to immediately drive their vehicles off the island and onto Pupup Island. The crossings were already deep and they got Spike to service their outboard and prepare their boat for use. 12 hours later they boated into camp, the water was flowing so quickly through the channels that they got to experience some white water for the first time ever! One can appreciate how remarkable this is when you consider that we normally carry on driving through the crossings for 2 - 3 weeks after the flood arrives while we wait for the channels to get deep enough to boat! Jacana is once again an island with the prettiest "lake" of shallow water surrounding the island and lush green forested small islands dotting the lake. The water has about 50mm to go before it floods the concrete verandah, but luckily there is a high step on to the lounge. The rest of the island is quite high. While they were conducting the wattled crane survey from microlights we asked for a rough guide to our sitatunga population and the results were quite plentiful so that is great news. David and Karen have now moved to Jacana.

JAO                Jump to Jao Camp
Life at Jao has been very exciting these last few weeks. Once the flood arrived at Jacana Frank moved the mekoro from the mekoro station back to Jao. That night at dinner his jovial bunch of Italian guests said that they wanted to mekoro the next morning, and Frank promised them a mekoro experience right from the front of camp. His guests thought he was crazy as the river was completely dry apart from one muddy patch in front of the lodge. Frank did not have an easy night as he worried about his rash promise, but the next morning (25 February) the guests thought Frank was truly amazing as they arose to this huge river spanning over 400m across and spilling over across the road on the opposite side of the bank. During those few hours the water had filled the channel and risen over 700mm to be level with the lowest section of the Jao bridge and 30mm lower than the highest peak ever recorded in our 6 years of intense Jao knowledge (previous peak was July 2001). The guests had an awesome mekoro experience and were totally absorbed with the miracle of the flood arrival. Within 2 days of the water arriving the flood moved past the previous peak and the resistance of the water flow against the bridge caused the river to push past the sides of the bridge threatening the access road from Jao. This area had to be sandbagged and the road topped up with sand to repair the damage. The water is now 190mm higher than we have ever experienced and still rising. There is 50mm to go before the water flows over the low part of the bridge. From the air it is immediately apparent how little dry land is left on Jao, there is a dry patch from the main area to the kitchen, the tree line along the front of camp is dry, a little in the staff village and a little in the workshop - most of the island is flooded. Our resident band of banded mongoose have relocated from the bridge area to just behind room 4 with all their little ones and are now a great source of interest from the walkway. The Kwetsani lions are now the Jao lions and are relaxing into their new home on Pupup Island which is the largest dry land we have on the floodplain side of the concession and a very sensible choice. Although we have not yet seen the cubs, we have seen their tracks a couple of times, and we have mating lions this week. We have completed the floodplain sleep out platform / hide although the lions stopped work for one day when they became a little too curious. We can now offer hide sleep outs from Jao, Jacana and Kwetsani (weather permitting). We managed to extend the Jao airstrip by 100m on the higher eastern side before the flood arrived, and we have built a bund on the western side which is holding the water off the strip nicely. Should part of the strip flood we should still have at least 900m of usable runway. We have to agree with Clinton and Rebecca that Jao truly is at it's best when it is surrounded by water, and this year it looks simply stunning with the camp perched right alongside this flood which is filling the Okavango to levels that we have not seen for 20 years although they were once the norm! Clinton and Rebecca are joined by a lovely new couple Angie and her husband Chris who is the new chef. Crystal has come across from Tubu to join the Jao management team. Victor has excelled in a position as a guide / manager, assisting the managers with the HR and community liaisons (fishermen). Frank is still our head guide, also heading all of NG25 guide co-ordination and guide training.

TUBU TREE                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
After all the action on the eastern side the west has been much quieter as far as the flood goes. Tubu has been enjoying good rain transforming the dry area into lush grasslands which have attracted lots of plains game. The water hole in front of camp in the dry river bed was a tremendous boost to the camp as it attracted animals all day long. A lioness with three young cubs has been sighted frequently and we have two new male lions that have moved into the area, so this coupled with frequent leopard sightings has made a wonderful improvement to the predator sightings. The boat channels were all mowed before the flood arrived and the water moved across to the eastern side of Hunda on the 27 February filling up the floodplains and boat channels so now Hunda boat trips are back on offer from the eastern camps. We are lucky to have access to this dry area and we are sure that Hunda is going to have a good population of game happy for some dry land with plenty of good food to live on over the next few months. Today the water flowed past the front of camp and the barren floodplain has been transformed into a lush wetland. Sandra has moved from Jao to take up the reins of her 'own' camp, Tubu, and will be assisted by Manie. Moa is moving from a full management position to a guiding / HR position alongside Grant. Grant is also still doing his lion research for NG25 and contributing to what ever other research he can.

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Mombo Camp and NBC's Today Show                Jump to Mombo Camp
February has been a very busy month at Mombo what with the arrival of the first flood waters, high rainfall and the whirlwind that was the NBC Today Show. NBC arrived at the beginning of the month and took over the entire camp, turning Mombo into something resembling the NASA control centre. The generators ran 24 hours a day, wires and cables were laid all over the camp, and telephone linkups were established via satellite. Thank goodness we had no guests in camp. It was an eerie sensation hearing the ringing of telephones. A bonus, however, was been allowed to call family and friends from the camp.

The whole aim of the nine day preparation was a 3-hour live broadcast to the USA as part of NBC's "Where in the world is Matt Lauer" segment of the Today Show. The rain kept away for the full nine days of the preparation, but as Mombo, or Murphy, would have it, the heavens opened during the live broadcast. This did not cause any major problems however and the show went off smoothly. Numerous guests were present, including Mr Louis Nchingo of Debswana and an entourage of policeman who were there to make sure the almost US$1million worth of diamonds were safe. The show ended at 5pm where upon the crew had to pack everything up in time for the arrival of the first guests at 12pm the following day. We were all amazed at the speed at which the packing happened. The new guests would not have known anything had taken place was it not for the fact that they were informed that Matt Lauer had been and gone. It was very obvious from most USA visitors' reactions that the Today Show is huge in America.

The camp then settled into itself again. News of the biggest flood in two decades was at first greeted with complacency, but soon turned to excited concern when it became obvious that a big flood was on its way. The first fingers of water caressed the floodplain in front of Main Camp on the last day of the month. This flood is two months ahead of schedule when compared to the previous two years. Operations are now under way to prevent any mishaps. Bridges are been put in and roads raised in preparation.

The second half of the month has seen very good rains [129.5 mm] at Mombo resulting in the landscape turning to all shades of deep greens. There is a lush, fat scent permeating the air. Zebras and wildebeeste are cavorting in the plenty and the elephants have returned in small numbers. The rain has been great for Mombo as we have missed out of a lot of the rains these past few years.

Game sightings have been great as usual with the highlight been the return of the wilddogs. They have been seen regularly this past month with one of the guides reporting a mating. It is hoped they will find the area to their liking . There are eight in the pack. Leopard have provided a great deal of entertainment with two occasions reporting mating over a three day period. The mother and cub are doing very well and provide guests with exciting viewing. Lion were sighted daily. Rhino, cheetah and elephant sightings were less regular. The general game overall is mind-boggling.

Feedback from the guests: Mombo is a paradise, the game, the environment, food and staff all add up to heaven on earth.
'There are very places on earth that get everything right. Mombo is one of them.'
'The food is comparable to any top restaurant anywhere in the world.'
'Speechless'

We all look forward to March and the phenomenon that is the flood.

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