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AFRICAN SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
October 2004

This Month:
• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Vumbura Camp in Botswana
Kwando Safaris game reports for October 2004.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Pom Pom Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana
• Monthly report from Rocktail Bay on South Africa's Eastern coast.
• Monthly update from Royal Makuleke Camp in South Africa (northern Kruger) - due to open middle of 2005
• Some interesting facts about Namibia's Black-faced Impala
• Monthly report from Ongava in beautiful Namibia.


Botswana Camps
Savuti Camp Newsletter - Oct 04                Jump to Savuti Camp
One of the two Duma Tau/Selinda male Lions, nicknamed Pirate because he has one eye, has died. He died last night after sustaining nasty injuries from a fight with the Savuti Squad (the team of 4 males who have taken over the Savuti channel).

We first saw him on the 18th of October, resting with a full belly at Zibalianja Lagoon. He was not far from his pride female who had 3 cubs estimated at 9 months old. When we saw him yesterday, 19th, he was in agony, dragging his back right leg which indicated that it was broken. All this damage was on the side which had the damaged eye. There were also signs of a spinal injury sustained from the fight. All the guests who saw him on the morning drive could see from the shrouded look in his single eye that death was looming. The evening drive witnessed him getting weaker and this morning he was pronounced dead.

All the guides are very upset about this new turn of events but not much can be done as Nature takes its toll. The night of the fracas the Savuti Squad walked from Savuti Camp to Zibalianja (20km) along the channel, caused havoc and moved out of the scene to Duma Tau Camp another 4,5 km. It looks like they are going to take over any lionesses amongst the three camps, Kings Pool, Duma Tau and Savuti, roughly an area of over 80 000 hectares. The whole concession is still a boiling pot for lions right now and we hope stability will come soon.

Bizarre events then happened at Pirate's death site. We went to check if the dead lion had been tampered with at Zibalianja, and to our surprise about 8 hyaena were lurking in the tree line while at the site were four lionesses, a 10-month-old cub and the late male's compatriot. Pirate was obviously devoured last night and all that was left was a bit of his head and skin. Our assumption is that the hyaena came overnight and fed, but in the process the noise must have attracted the resident pride. They were seen to feed off the dead lion. This cannibalism was difficult to view, with the cub feeding on his father and the females on their mate.

Another odd factor was that Pirate's companion was lying next by the skull, head-to-head as if the former was still alive. Pirate's comrade himself does not have long to live as he is just a pile of bones, it is only a matter of time now.  As if this was not gruesome enough, Nile crocodiles caught the whiff of the lion and arrived for the feast, unfortunately one of them did not make it back to the water. The lions killed it and were having a double feast. While gruesome, it was an amazing morning drive.

Wild Dog update:  The main Rock Pan pack of wild dogs which was 29 in total - 13 adults and 16 pups - has now scaled down to only 7 pups, last seen a week ago. The other 7 were seen away from the main pack obviously lost. The dogs were scattered by lions along the Linyanti River three weeks ago and the pups separated. A week later they were reported in the neighbouring Selinda Concession and are now confirmed dead. The Manchwe pack has been scaled down from 8 adults to 5 and 3 pups to only 1.

They gave us a good show yesterday (20th October) when they arrived in camp just after early morning tea as we left for the morning drive. We got a message from our waiter calling us for an impala kill in camp. Talk about location, it was at the laundry! Only two dogs were feeding for a brief moment and then they took off to relocate the others. We waited in vain for the return, one vehicle pulled out to scout around and found the whole pack of dogs feeding on yet another impala ewe near Room 1. They completely ignored the first kill and left it as a present to the hyaena. From nowhere two hyaena arrived but were harassed by the dogs and they left for the waterhole. Suddenly one dog gave an alarm and the whole pack took off at speed, some members of the pack kept stopping to regurgitate as they sped off. We could not establish the cause of alarm. We tried to relocate the pack on the afternoon drive and this morning but to no avail. The hyaena meanwhile had a ball.

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Vumbura Camp Newsletter - Oct 04                Jump to Vumbura Camp
It has been a great month at Vumbura.... The game has been spectacular and the usual October heat abated...What a relief.... Had the first of the season's thunderstorms... what a sight as the lightening streaked across the sky and the wind picked up and brought with it the first few drops of rain.

We have had some great sightings this month... the elephants are around in huge numbers and a very relaxed herd has come onto the Vumbura island on numerous occasions.

There continues to be a lot of upheaval in the lion population of this area. The pride residing to the east welcomed 6 cubs of which only 1 has survived. The two magnificent newcomers have managed to dethrone the dominant male, and as a coalition, they are now the undisputed "kings". The main "Vumbura" pride has split up and 3 females have joined these two males. 3 more females have joined up with the solitary (previously dominant) male, with the last of the seven females going her own solitary way. The lioness and two sub-adults that made up the pride of four with the previously dominant red-maned male, has been left to fend for themselves, as he is now staying with the other 3 females. It has proved difficult for them and after numerous confrontations with other lions and hyaenas, the lioness was last seen severely injured. The pride residing to the west, made up of four females and 8 cubs have been spotted - all in great condition.

Leopards have been spotted on a few occasions. A female was spotted with two furry cubs - age estimated at two months. Another interesting sighting was of two leopards mating, one of which was the very relaxed male that seems to dominate the area.

Cheetahs - the female with the three sub-adults has left them to fend for themselves. The solitary male is still spotted every now and again, marking his territory west of the airstrip. The prevalent lion population makes cheetahs nervous and therefore harder to spot.

A new hyaena den has been discovered with 4 x 3 month old pups. The have continued to use sheer force and numbers to chase lions from carcasses and make their presence felt.

By far the highlight of this months game viewing has been TWO sightings of a pack of 5 wild dogs. Due to the wide range that they roam in and the vast distances that they cover daily it is a rare occasion when they honour us with their company. We can only hope that they linger a while...

Other sightings include serval, porcupine and honey badger. The long awaited Woodland Kingfisher has returned with the familiar Tjjik  Chirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr filling the air constantly announcing the definite arrival of summer!

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Kwando Safari Camps Update - Oct 04
Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* The pride of 13 pulled down and killed a buffalo on Monday morning.
* 3 adult male lions were viewed fore several days but were lest seen 2 days ago .
* Wild dogs were seem after many days of tracking – unfortunately only one puppy has survived from the original 8 – with the remaining 3 adults.
* General game has been good with zebra, giraffe, in good numbers – also impala, tsessebe, wildebeest.
* A herd of 30 buffalo close to camp.
* No leopard sightings during the week.
* An adult male cheetah was followed this mornings game-drive.
* Lots of herds of elephant throughout the concession and around camp.
* Serval and caracal have been seen on night drives.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Large numbers of elephants in breeding herds are seen around camp daily – most midday/afternoons a herd of around 20 in the river in front of camp.
* Large herds of buffalo moving around the northern areas – often being harassed by lions.
* A leopard was seen killing a spring hare.
* A very thin lioness with a young male were seen at an elephant carcass.
* The lioness was seen a day later with a honey badger she had killed – she carried it around but was not seen eating it.
* 3 African wild dogs were seen – 2 males and a female – they were followed on Monday morning.
* 3 adult male lions arrived at the elephant carcass after a noisy night roaring at the camp.
* General game has been good, zebra, giraffe, tsessebe with young, – 2 Sable bulls were seen on several occasions.
* The first impala lambs we seen last week.
* A Woodland kingfisher – 1st for the season was spotted on Sunday the 7th November.
* Excellent viewing and photographic opportunities at the Carmine Bee-Eater breeding colony
* Water levels have dropped about a foot.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* 2 male lions with 3 females have been spending time close to camp following a large herd of buffalo that has been close to camp for the last week – 1000 strong.
* A male leopard was viewed with it’s Lechwe kill in a tree.
* Another male leopard was followed while it was marking its territory and responding to another leopard calling.
* Hyena have been seen in and around the camp on a nightly basis.
* Nocturnal sightings include porcupine and genets.
* Heronry still providing excellent viewing – chicks of black-crowned and rufous-bellied herons seen on every visit.
* A bachelor herd of 6-7 elephant have been viewed around the camp for the last week.
* Water-levels dropping quickly and as the floodplains dry out good numbers of zebra and tsessebe (no wildebeest yet) as well as giraffe.
* No sign of cheetah or wild dogs during the last week.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Good numbers of buffalo have been seen every day – a couple of herds numbering around 200 buffalo in each herd.
* Lions have been sighted almost every game-drive – 3 different pairs of 2 adult males have been moving around the area.
* Game-drives stayed out past midnight last week watching a pair of male lions hunting buffalo – they made numerous attempts but were not successful.
* A breeding herd of 20 elephant was seen coming down to drink while the small groups of elephant bulls have been frequenting the camp day and night.
* Leopards were sighted 3 days in a row – as well as a young female leopard seen being chased off a buffalo carcass by an adult hyena.
* 3 cheetah were seen on Sunday feeding on an impala lamb – they were seen again later being chased by lions.
* Night drives have yielded hyena, serval, genets, and a variety of different owls.
* Water levels continue to drop – a large number of hippo are still seen in the lagoon day and night in front of the camp.

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* The water level continues to rise until yesterday just surrounding Lebala camp making it the highest level since the camp was built.
* General game throughout the southern concession has been excellent during the last week.
* Many buffalo have been in and around camp for the last week or so – first time this has happened in years.
* A young female leopard was seen in camp and viewed south of the camp as well.
* The territorial male north of camp was seen as well.
* Large numbers of hyenas seen throughout the southern areas, as a result (we think) the southern pride of 14 has been displaced to the west – last seen early last week.
* Elephants seen in large numbers on every drive.
* Goon nocturnal sightings including 3 Serval in one evening as well as jackal and genets.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Very good general game concentrating along the floodplains as the water recedes, and all the pans inland have dried up again (34 mm rain about 3 weeks ago).
* Impala lambing season on full swing.
* An elephant bull died west of Tsessebe Island – the carcass was visited by lions – a male and a female that kept the hyena at bay for a while.
* A second clan arrived and the lions were overwhelmed by the hyena numbers (– approx 40) After the lions mover off the 2 clans of hyena tussled at the carcass for some time.
* More than 100 vultures were at the site as well.
* Yesterday 2 lionesses were seen feeding on the elephant carcass.
* Large numbers of buffalo moving through the concession to access the Kwando River.
* Summer migrants such as Red-back and Lesser-Grey shrikes have arrived front their northern over-wintering, as well as a white pelican, and white-winged tern.
* Herds of Elephants are being seen daily moving across the Lebala floodplains to the river.
* Hyena have been seen every night drive as well as genets, porcupine, African wild cat and serval.

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Kings Pool Newsletter - Oct 04                 Jump to Kings Pool Camp
I am writing this as the first few drops of rain are falling from an approaching storm, and we all hold our thumbs that it will give us our first real down pour for the season. The dry October heat, however, has attracted the usual variety of game to the Linyanti river, all of them here to slake their thirst from its waters.

The elephants were not here in the numbers that we had last year due to the very good rains we had in the beginning of 2004. This has, however, given the bush a welcome break from the heavy utilisation that the area experienced in previous years. We have still had amazing sightings of big breeding herds moving through the Linyanti and there is still nothing quite like a group of 100 or so elephants crossing the River between Botswana and Namibia. We have also had our resident bull ellies in and around camp, providing us with entertainment during meals and sometimes holding guests up while trying to make their way between the main area and their rooms.

Our female leopard with the two cubs are all still well and healthy and have been seen on numerous occasions throughout the month. The cubs are often found playing around with each other, while the mother is out hunting. Other leopards have also been sighted during October including our local male prowling his territory and hunting his stash of baboons in camp.

Sad news for us is the death or disappearance of 2 more of our wild dog pups from the Kings Pool Pack. This leaves us with 2 pups and seven adults. We have also seen the big pack from the Duma Tau area across our side. They were then 15 pups and 13 adults although rumors from that side, are that some of the pups are now also missing.

A large buffalo herd of over 100 animals have been using the area between the airstrip and camp for much of the month. They have used the lagoon in front of camp a couple of times as their watering hole. One afternoon during tea we had about 100 buffalo on one side and about 100 elephants on the other.

The ongoing strife in the hippo pool in front of camp has also been providing some excitement. The pod of about 20 or so hippos, have been for the last year, trying to get rid of a young bull who tries to share their water. The big bull of the pod chases him from the water, and the youngster, not willing to face the challenge, high tails it out of there, and then spends much of the day dejectedly hanging around camp, resting in the shade of the Crotons. It has now reached the stage where even the females chase him out of the pool, poor guy.

Other than that we have been seeing a few Roan antelope as well as Sable, two of the most magnificent antelope species, both only visitors to the Linyanti in times of real dryness.  

On the birding front, the summer visitors are all mostly back although we are still waiting for the call of the woodland Kingfisher, one of the true sounds of summer. We have had amazed guests visiting two breeding colonies of Carmine Bee Eaters, an area awash with the deep red colour of this beautiful bird. A fish trap at Lechwe flats has also provided some spectacular sightings of numerous bird species including multitudes of pelicans, black egrets, knob billed Ducks, Saddle Billed Storks and others.

A few comments from our guests here at Kings Pool are:

" What a way to start our travels! The people were so gracious and animals stunning. Thank you everyone for making our introduction to Africa one we will never forget."

" Fantastic - Everyone here is great - The place is amazing - and the peacefulness is a blessing! Could not have asked for anything more !! "

" What a magical place. Thank You to you all for such fantastic hospitality - We'll spread the word. Best of luck to each and every one of you. You are all special people."

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Mombo Newsletter - Oct 04                 Jump to Mombo Camp
The sun has got his hat on and he's coming out to play! Yes, summer has definitely arrived after a few false starts and unseasonal cool spells… Temperatures are climbing almost daily as we wait for the onset of the annual rains… Fortunately, owing to this year's larger than average flood, there is still a lot of surface water around to tide the animals over until the pans start to still with rain again - probably in November.

Minimum daily temperatures on average have been 16.88°C, with the lowest temperature recorded being 12°C. The average maximum daily temperature was 32.67°C, which means that each day we typically have temperatures ranging from 65°F to 95°F. Cool breezes and the shade of ancient mangosteen and jackalberry trees in the Camp mean however that it is always easy to chill out here, and it is always the perfect temperature for a dip in the plunge pool or an ice-cold gin and tonic or home-made lemonade…

We have had one spectacular storm so far, which we greeted joyfully as we hoped it heralded the start of the rainy season, the other part of the intricate mechanism of water supply here, which in harmony with the floods, ensures that Mombo always has water, and is always a place of plenty…

An incredible sound and light show - mighty peals of thunder overhead, and flashes of fork lightning which lit up the floodplains and palm islands as if it was daylight… In just an hour, we had 10mm (half an inch) of rain… Just one more example of the drama of nature unfolding around us…

October can be a stressful month for many animals, especially if the rains come late, and it is at this time that many weaker animals succumb. However October is also a month of great promise, as many of the impalas, tsessebe, and other animals are now very obviously pregnant, and we can expect the first arrivals in the annual miracle of synchronised birthing in just a few weeks. Impalas in particular all give birth within a few weeks of each other, and the plains are suddenly swarming with wobbly lambs born to coincide with the appearance of the first green shoots, themselves appearing in response to the first rains…

Of course many of these young will fall to predators, but many more will survive to swell the ranks of Mombo's outstanding plethora of game. All in all, a heavy sense of expectation hangs over the Delta as rains and births are awaited to continue the timeless cycles of Africa.

Other annual events have also been unfolding - the arrival of migrating birds from the northern hemisphere is providing new treats for birders - the first yellow-billed kites arrived a few weeks ago, along with the dashing ruby darts that are the gorgeous carmine bee-eaters. European swallows are now also arriving, having fled the onset of dreary winter and survived the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean and over the Sahara desert.

Shrinking pools of water are forming fish traps which are soon crowded with birds feeding on the hapless fish - egrets, storks, herons, bitterns, stilts, hamerkops - it is a tough time of year to be a fish. Or a frog for that matter!

As the flood retreats, we are able again to access areas that were cut off for some months by rising water levels earlier in the year, and guests can enjoy the beauty of the Simbira Channel and Boro River areas. Being able to drive further afield opens up the possibility of still more new discoveries - earlier this month a new leopard cub was discovered, its mother feeding on an impala carcass. However the cub has subsequently disappeared, possibly killed by a large male leopard that was also seen in the area. This same female sadly lost another cub in March of this year…

A female zebra was observed midway through giving birth, but it appeared that the foal somehow became stuck when it had only partially emerged into the world, and as the mother was not able to push it out, we can only assume the worst for both, as she became weaker and weaker. Amidst all the wonder here there are moments of poignancy too, which remind us how fragile the balance of nature is, and that birth and death are equal parts of this precious ecosystem.

A female Black Rhino and calf at Mombo Camp

Being able to drive further has meant that we have been able to locate some of the rhinos we have only been able to see from the air during the flood season. We have had particular success in tracking down the black rhinos, and more sightings of the first calf, now almost six months old and growing fatter every day! November 09 was the third anniversary of the first release of rhinos into the Delta by OWS and the Botswana government - in that time we have had three white rhino calves born - this is the eldest. We saw her on Sunday just after a rainstorm, only a few kilometres from Mombo. Earlier that day the guests had also enjoyed a great sighting of her.

As the flood recedes, the white rhinos - along with herds of zebra, lechwe, and buffalo - have been following the water out onto the lush green floodplains which form the fringes of Chief's Island. This allows some wonderful opportunities to view animals in very typical Okavango settings - feeding on emerald lawns of grass, and crossing the crystal clear channels which snake their way through the landscape. A backdrop of palm trees completes this classic Delta scene.

 

The lion prides of Mombo are providing much of the drama at present. Four new nomadic males who arrived earlier this year are succeeding in driving a wedge between the two existing territories of our long-standing male coalitions, the Wheatfield Boys to the north, and the Woody Boys to the south. As Mombo lies on the fault line between these two domains, we have been treated to an almost nightly crescendo of thunderous roaring as the ownership of these prime lion territories is very vocally contested. Slowly but surely the newcomers have been pushing the older males to the fringes of their territories, and have now started mating with the pride females.

With so many lions in the area, there are a lot of hungry mouths to feed. On one night this month, five buffalo were killed in three separate incidents. But of course the lions don't always emerge the winners in these contests.

The legendary Steroid Boys, our long-reigning male cheetah coalition, have also provided much excitement on game drives, not least on the day when they unsuccessfully tried to separate a sow warthog from her piglets, aiming to eat one of the youngsters. The mother put up such a spirited defence in this high-speed mêlée of spots and tusks and claws that finally all her offspring were able to make it to safety.

One of the joys of living at or visiting Mombo, has always been the extent to which the bush "invades" the Camp, from the antics of the vervet monkeys at breakfast time to the silver flash of a harmless spotted bush snake on the walkway, to the genets and porcupines which emerge after dark and occasionally provide a fun last sighting of the day as we escort guests home after another fantastic meal and bush stories around the fire… On one evening we witnessed a stand-off between a young genet and a small rock python - the genet eventually deciding that she could just as easily climb a different tree instead!

Our traditional boma dinners, where we serve food inspired by Botswana's remarkable traditional cuisine - foods hard-won from the thirstlands of this arid country and cooked as they have been for generations - and the festival of singing and dancing which accompanies the meal are a highlight of many guests' stays here. On one occasion at Little Mombo, a huge elephant bull, perhaps attracted by the flickering light of the fire or the stamping feet of the dancers as they whirled around it, approached and eventually stopped just a few feet away from the performance, perhaps sensing the ancient rhythms which guide all life here in the Okavango…

Just this morning, eating an early breakfast, we watched a slender mongoose fleeing the attentions of assorted birds as they mobbed him all the way to the shelter of a tsaro palm. Once there however he was still not guaranteed any peace and quiet as a gaggle of Egyptian geese approached and spent the next few minutes honking noisily at him. Who'd be a mongoose?!

As each month passes we get to welcome back old friends to Mombo - very few people only come here once and we have guests who over the course of several visits have become very good friends of the Camp and staff. They take delight in following the stories of the animals they have seen on previous visits, and seeing how all the different threads are woven together to make the rich tapestry of life here.

With our guides spending so much time in the bush here, they know it so intimately that they are aware of almost every episode in the lives of the predators here, and the herds they prey on. The marks in the sand each dawn read like the births, marriages and deaths column of a newspaper, revealing the activities which have taken place during the hours of darkness…

You can also read about Mombo in two new books which will shortly hit the shelves - perfect if you can't wait for your next visit here - Mombo can come to you! Perfect too for armchair travelers, although bear in mind that we have some extremely comfortable chairs here too - each with a superb view!

'Mombo - Okavango's Place of Plenty' tells the story of the Mombo area from long before the first Camp was built here, to the present day, and contains anecdotes from many of southern Africa's best wildlife guides and most noted conservationists, recounting some of the most amazing things they have witnessed here. The photo's in the book are all instantly recognisable as Mombo and will bring back many happy memories…

Craig, our executive chef, is busy putting the final touches to his cookery book, provisionally entitled 'An Elephant in the Kitchen' and which will we hope finally pry the lid off the bubbling pot of secrets that make Mombo one of the finest eating experiences in Africa…

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Pom Pom Newsletter - Oct 04                 Jump to Pom Pom Camp
Thunderbolts and lightning, black mambas, camp pythons, murderous baboons, greedy lions and unfortunate giraffes typify some of the drama experienced at Pom Pom during October.

The month was noted for the absolutely spectacular light and sound show directed and produced  by Mother Nature as pre dinner entertainment.  What a show! All our guests had front row seats at our bar overlooking the picturesque front of house lagoon with the most incredible display of lightning, casting brilliant bolts and lighting up the entire area with magnificent reflections cast in the lagoon.  This lasted for nearly an hour with our guests holding their breath in amazement.  Truly an unforgettable experience to behold!!

We certainly had interesting sightings during the month with our baboon drama probably topping the list.

A troop of Chacma baboons were in our camp at around midday, doing their usual thing.  In typical fashion a mother was foraging peacefully with her tiny baby in playful close attendance.  Suddenly a large male baboon came charging in, grabbed the youngster and ran off some distance.  The mother started barking the alarm call which immediately caused the rest of the troop to scatter into the nearby trees.  Heads were bobbing up all over the place as they all nervously started  searching for the predator, probably suspecting a leopard, whilst the mother kept on sounding the alarm in frantic fashion.  What the troop did not realize was that in this instance the predator was one of their own, who sat under a tree nearby and proceeded to eat the baby baboon! One of our experienced guides who witnessed this drama, had never yet seen this behavior in nearly 20 years of active guiding in the bush.

Another interesting sighting was that of our Pom Pom pride of 9 lions (6 females and 3 males) who are well known for giraffe kills (or should that be skills?).  On this particular occasion however, they brought down two sub adult giraffes virtually simultaneously and a short distance apart from each.  What greedy fellows!

October was also our snake month with 2 good sightings of a large African Rock Python in the pathway among our tents.  We also had numerous sightings of a variegated bush snake frequenting our bar.  This caused quite a stir because this snake, which is totally harmless, is often mistaken for the highly venomous boomslang.  And then of cause we had a great sighting of a 3,5 meter Black Mamba standing up defiantly in front of one of our game drive vehicles before disappearing into the bush - what a handsome but nasty guy!

Other sightings for the month included many  breeding herds of elephant, hippo, leopard, lions walking through camp, hyaena pups, honey badgers, side-striped jackal, crocodiles, zebra, wildebeest, tsesebe, kudu, red lechwe, impala, reedbuck, bushbuck, warthog, large-spotted genet, lesser bushbabies, Pel's Fishing Owls, Pearl-spotted Owls, Wattled Cranes and the numerous other bird species which are synonymous with Pom Pom.

Temperatures were not as hot as last October with min/max averages of 19 and 35 recorded.  As October slips into November, the thunder clouds gather each afternoon  with the clear promise of the long awaited rain expected soon.  The black cuckoo has been heralding the expected rain for many days now ..... Surely he must know what he is talking about?!

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Duba Plains Newsletter - Oct 04                 Jump to Duba Plains Camp
How easily one forgets the energy sapping heat of an October day! This is normally the beginning of our quiet season, but this year it has been a great pleasure to host full camp for the whole month. And for those guests who have braved the heat, many have been treated to a rich diversity of wildlife and the excitement of the lion hunt for which our camp has become so famous.

I mentioned last month that Katembo is moving to Little Vumbura in November and we welcome Marks as his replacement. Marks comes from Seronga, has worked for the last five years at Jao Camp and brings with him a vast amount of knowledge and experience. In particular his focus on ecology, birding and general game has bought facets of Duba previously ignored, wonderfully alive. Co-incidentally, his sister Thebe has also joined us from Vundumtiki as a housekeeper. We welcome them both!

After shrinking over the last year, the main buffalo herd has now grown from 500 to 800. It is difficult to say where the others have come from. It is possible that the herd in the northern part of the Duba concession has grown too big and splinter groups are moving south across the rapidly drying channels. Perhaps the small herd that moved to the Vumbura area last year has returned, as water levels are now low. For lion enthusiasts, this is a great time of year to see these predators hunting their prey because: 1. the buffalo herd has grown, and 2. the herd feeds mainly along the channel margins where the grass is most lush and lions hunt more successfully when they stampede the herd into the water. 3. As the Duba floodplains are not under water, the herd remains in the lion’s territories for longer periods, especially the Tsaro Pride territory. 4. Our game drive vehicles have greater access to the concession, in particular the Paradise area where the Skimmer Pride hunts regularly. We witnessed twelve buffalo kills and numerous hunts in October.

On the 23rd, we found the buffalo herd grazing the lush grass around the fringes of Munye Molokwane Island. In the cool of the early morning the first Cattle Egrets began to arrive for a day’s foraging as the Open-Bill Storks trawled the channel bed in formation. We got a call from another guide who had found the Tsaro females and a Duba Boy a mile to the south. They had just woken up and were heading towards the herd. With quick thinking, our guide positioned the vehicle so that guests were treated to the sight of the pride approaching and then crossing the Molapo channel. The Duba Boy bought up the rear and droplets of water glistened in the sun as they dripped off his lustrous mane. As the pride approached the buffalo they adopted that crouched walk so typical of a hunt in progress. Sensing their presence, the buffalo responded by bunching together and standing alert. With the element of surprise lost, a one-hour stand-off ensued with the lions attempting to split the herd and panic them into the water. Finally, two females managed to sneak round the back of an island and charged the herd into a wet floodplain. An adult female tripped in the mud and failed to get up before the lions surrounded and began to suffocate her. It always amazes me how a pride of lions can so successfully coordinate a hunt, but when it comes pulling a carcass clear of the water to facilitate easier eating there is absolutely no team-work at all!

Suddenly, all the lions stood alert looking to the east. We followed their gaze and saw that the Pantry Pride had been watching proceedings from a distance and were moving in to steal the kill. Seven of the Tsaro females and the Duba Boy, who had until then been lying in the grass, gave chase to six of the Pantry pride. They must have run for three kilometres before we heard the roaring of the Duba Boy and other Tsaro females. One wonders why the Duba Boy was so keen to chase away its own offspring. Perhaps his behaviour is because he has been mating with various females in the Tsaro pride. The other two pantry Pride lionesses who had hidden in the long grass unnoticed, then tried to muscle in on the kill which was being held by the remaining two Tsaro females. At first, the Tsaro females didn’t recognise the Pantry females as they moved in. Suddenly fighting broke out and the invading lions, realising that they were no match for the bigger Tsaro females, moved off west to follow the buffalo. By that time, the buffalo had moved into Skimmer Pride territory and by the end of the day had lost an adult female and calf to the Skimmer Pride.

The Skimmer pride is shaping up to become the dominant pride in the next two or three years. The cubs are nearly a year old and out of eleven, six are male. Once these brothers begin to hunt, the kill rate should climb dramatically and they are likely to push their territorial boundary further east into Tsaro Pride territory. If the Duba Boys are still around, a challenge to their dominance is distinctly possible.

The Pantry Pride continues to struggle as the Tsaro Pride regularly pushes into their territory. It wasn’t until the 21st that we saw them for the first time resting near Skimmer Pan, well to the west of their territorial boundary. They were looking skinny and nervous. As the waters drop in the north of the concession, the Pride is likely to head there, where the game is more plentiful.

The birding in October has been exceptional. Fish traps are now attracting vast numbers of Great-white and Pink-backed Pelicans. We counted 28 species of birds in the vicinity of one of these fish traps in one morning! These included Slaty, Little, Great White and Black Egrets, Saddle-bill, Marabou, Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Storks, Hamerkop, Spoonbills, Squacco Herons, Sacred, Glossy and Hadeda Ibises, Red-billed Teal, Spurwing Geese, Knob-billed Ducks, Greenshanks and Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts and Pied Kingfishers to name but a few. Highlights include a Common Wimbrel which is more frequently seen on the coast and very rarely moves to inland waters, Pink-throated Longclaw, a pair of Rock Kestrels hovering over the grasslands, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Marsh Owl, Martial Eagle, Lesser Jacana and Black Coucals shyly frequenting the long grass of the floodplains.

We had three leopard sightings in the month and on one occasion saw four hyaena chase a male leopard up at tree near Shade Pan. The leopard wasted no time gracefully jumping up the tree trunk, well out of their way as the hyaena sniffed around, waiting in vain for the leopard to return to terra firma. Other highlights include an aardwolf we’ve spotted on a few occasions, serval, a family of bat-eared foxes, white-tailed and yellow mongoose and African wildcat.

November promises more excitement and dramatic storms. We look forward to seeing you at our home on the plains of Duba.

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Turtle Report - Oct 04                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Here at Rocktail Bay Lodge, there is a buzz in the air, as for the next five months, we hope to tag, microchip, measure and note the location of over 500 turtles. We also hope to see a good number of hatchlings and we will be driving in excess of 9000 kilometres down our beaches over 150 days.

Rocktail is part of an on-going research project that entails the data capturing and study of Loggerhead and Leatherback Turtles. From 15 October to 15 March, these prehistoric creatures make their way up our beaches to lay over a thousand, billiard ball-sized eggs each in a season and they will leave their mark on our beaches in the form of tractor-like tracks.

This research project is one of the most successful to date and has been running for over 40 years, and we have seen the nesting population increase from a mere handful to over 500 per season.

Our research area runs from Black Rock (5km north of Rocktail) to Mabibi (30km south of Rocktail). Along the way we cover four bays - namely Rocktail, Lala Nek, Manzengwenya and Mabibi.

Both the walks and drives are a unique experience. Scouting for turtles is not all that keeps us occupied, the phosphorescence on the beach delights all, as do the darting ghost crabs and the star constellations of the southern sky.

The season got off to a terrific start, with a dainty Loggerhead being sighted on a cloudy and misty evening on the 18th of October. This is the earliest sighting of a nesting turtle in the past few years, hopefully a sign of a good season to come. She delighted the Kufferath Family in digging a very successful nest, and then disappearing into the darkness. We have seen a number of Loggerhead and Leatherback tracks on other drives along our beaches.

At the halfway point of our drive we stop to enjoy a welcome drink among the rock pools at Mabibi. On the drive of 20th October, a fresh Yellow-Fin Tuna weighing in excess of 20kgs was found on the beach at Manzengwenya after it had beached itself.

Each month we will keep you updated about the progress of the project and inform you of the exhilarating months ahead.

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Makuleke Update - Oct 04
Now that summer is upon us in Pafuri, the temperatures have risen to a maximum of 39 degrees Celsius and they cool off at night to roughly 19 degrees. Early rains have fallen, so the bush is fresh and green once again, and the animals have not had to suffer the change in vegetation. So far 40 mm of rain has fallen.

Lion sightings are definitely improving, with 6 sightings of the Airstrip Pride females, and two sightings of the males. The males however are still a bit skittish, but they are getting a little more used to us, while the lionesses are not concerned about the vehicles at all.

With the river still flowing quite strongly, the crocodiles and hippo have been moving up into areas they normally wouldn't at this time of year. As a result we now have a crocodile nest directly opposite Pafuri Camp. It will be amazing to watch the little critters leaving the nest, as the view is unimpeded.

Hakymbo the leopard is no stranger to us now, he is often heard "sawing logs" around the house and campsite. Although he has only been spotted on 2 occasions, he is now no longer nervous of the movement of vehicles in his territory, but still he remains a late night traveller.

There have been many sightings of the large buffalo herds, we appear to have quite a few on the concession at the moment, and they seem to be sticking around, as food and wallowing sites are plentiful.

The Albida trees have started seeding, which means that tasty snacks abound all over the forest for all and sundry. Of course this usually attracts the elephants, and we have come across many lone bulls snacking away happily on these gifts from the gods. No signs of the breeding herds though, they appear to have moved off with the onset of the rains, but only time will tell.

On a walk near Lanner Gorge more dinosaur bones have been found, which makes for great excitement all round. Gary has been on a mission ever since to see what else he can uncover; we'll keep you posted.

I have also compiled our personal birdlist for the area, which is being added to on a regular basis, as migrants are starting to move in. We are currently on 239 positively identified species, and adding.

Note: Royal Makuleke is due to open in the middle of 2005.

Royal Makuleke Camp is situated between the Limpopo and the Luvuvhu Rivers in the northern sector of Kruger National Park. This Makuleke "Concession" covers 24,000 hectares of an area that is often referred to as the Pafuri Triangle.   This area is the ancestral home of the Makuleke people (who were evicted from this part of Kruger in 1969) and this lodge is named after the Royal House of the Makuleke who, along with their people, are partners in the lodge.

The Pafuri Triangle lies in the northernmost corner of the Kruger National Park, bordering upon Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Bounded by the Limpopo River in the north and the Luvuvhu River in the south, it contains the lion's share of the KNP's biodiversity. It is a highly important wildlife area in South Africa, mainly because it contains up to 75% of the biodiversity of the country's biggest wildlife park and also because it is located at the heart of the new transfrontier conservation area between game parks in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Accommodation will comprise of 12 luxury air-conditioned rooms. The camp can be divided into two smaller camps of six rooms each. The rooms are under thatch and canvas and each has a private pool, sala, en-suite bathroom with a luxury bath, indoor and outdoor shower. Accommodation at Royal Makuleke will be on a par with Singita and other lodges in the south - but will blend into the environment and still have a wonderful bush atmosphere.  Activities include day and night game drives in open 4x4 vehicles, foot safaris, hides, mountain biking and some of the best paleo-anthropological experiences in Africa.

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Namibia camps
Black-faced Impala - The Facts                  Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp
- The black-faced impala is a unique subspecies of impala because it evolved in geographic isolation from other subspecies of impala over thousands of years in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland) and southern Angola.  It is now thought to be extinct in Angola.

- A recent genetic study by Eline Lorezen (University of Copenhagen) has confirmed that the subspecies status is genetically justified (they are not so different to common impala to be considered a separate species).

- Black-faced impala are different to common impala.  They have:
• a dark nose blaze;
• a longer, bushier tail;
• darker colouration; and
• a larger body weight (10kg heavier than South African common impala).  

- Black-faced impala form smaller herds than common impala because they live in an arid environment where food and water resources are scarce and spread out.

- There are only 3000 black-faced impala (Aepyeros melampus petersi) remaining in the world.  This subspecies is considered ENDANGERED and is ENDEMIC to Namibia (that is, >90% of the world’s population lives here).

- In their natural range, the Kunene region, black-faced impalas have declined drastically from maybe thousands to just 500 animals in the last 30 years.  Poaching, droughts and competition with livestock are thought to have caused this severe population crash.

- Etosha’s population of black-faced impala, translocated to the park in the early 1970’s, is now thriving.  Etosha now contains half the entire global population of black-faced impala, at least 1,500 animals.

- On commercial farmlands in Namibia a new threat to the black-faced impala has emerged in recent decades.  Interbreeding between introduced South African common impalas and native black-faced impalas on farms results in the loss of Namibia’s pure black-faced subspecies.  This is a serious problem because 1000 black-faced impala are found on private farms, which represents one-third of the total population.  

- Ongava Game Reserve contains almost 10% of the global population of black-faced impala, approximately 200-250 animals.  Ongava has an important role to play in this subspecies’ conservation and has been the subject of a crucial study to determine home ranges and microhabitat use (University of Queensland, 2000-2003).  This study is now complete, but a few impala with radio collars remain (although these are progressively being removed).

- Black-faced impala have very large home ranges.  Females at Ongava in the wet season had home ranges six times as large as common impala elsewhere in Africa (average=33km2).  In Namibia, large home ranges are typical of other species like lions, elephants and hyaenas.  Animals have to walk further to find food and water here compared to less arid environments.

- The national management strategy for black-faced impala focuses building up the population by establishing a protection zone for black-faced impala that excludes common impala entirely.  This zone includes the Kunene region, Etosha and bordering farms, Erongo Mountain Wilderness Conservancy and Waterberg Plateau Park.

- Farmers who want to translocate black-faced impala to their farms should introduce more than 15 animals initially.  Translocations that release less than this number often fail, because small populations are very vulnerable to predators (especially cheetah) in a new and unfamiliar environment.

- In Etosha, there are 5 subpopulations of black-faced impala and little movement of impala between these areas: Ombika, Olifantsbad, Halali, Namutoni and Kaross.  This distribution reflects the 5 initial release sites of black-faced impala in the park 30 years ago.  

- At Ongava, about two-thirds of the population drink at the Lodge waterhole and this is the core of their range.  However, they range as far as the southern kopjes (south of tented camp) and in the vicinity of Allen Dam, especially when there is water in the environment in the wet season.

- As many as 75% of lambs may die before reaching adulthood.  The Ongava study showed that 50% of lambs died in the first two months of life!

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Ongava Newletter - Oct 04                  Jump to Ongava Lodge
At the beginning of October we experienced very hot days, humid afternoons, which some say it’s a sign of good rains. Let’s hope. The veld looks dry and the under cover of the grasses are yellow while the fallen leaves of the Mopane trees are adding the red and brownish colour to the ground. To add the flavour of spring, here and there the white flowers of Bottle trees (Pachypodium lealii) can be seen on the grey Ondundozonananandana Hills.

In the heat of midday oryx, kudu, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, black-faced impala and waterbuck can be seen coming towards the Ongava Lodge to satisfy their thirst with the cool sweet waters from the waterhole. In the afternoon zebra and sometimes giraffe can be seen approaching the waterhole for their daily drink.

There is a lot of action at the Lodge waterhole, with one of the leading lionesses, Collared Female and her pride again in the area. Occasionally our guests get a chance to see them at the waterhole.

Etosha and calf, and Lloyd and Thor - all black rhino, were all to be seen every night at the waterhole. They came to the water one by one and it is amazing to see how they greet each other by horn rubbing.

Our hope for rain was actually fulfilled, in mid-October we received about 22.5mm of rain over two days. Although it is not enough to change the grasses yet, the quick reacting Mopane are in total green. Some of the birds like Masked Weavers, Canaries and Melba Finches can be seen.

In Etosha the famous white elephants were observed at Nebrownii waterhole. These male elephants like to bathe in the white, muddy waterhole from which they get their white colour. Overall breeding herds of between 30 and 50 elephant were seen during the course of the month.

Raptors like Pale Chanting Goshawk and Greater Kestrel are to be seen along the roads of Etosha National Park. Lapppet-faced as well as White-backed Vultures and Bateleurs are scanning the Park from the skies.

The Kori Bustard and Secretarybird are patrolling the open grass fields of Etosha while they are patiently waiting for more rains to come to satisfy their needs.

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