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September 2004

This Month:
• Wilderness Safaris and Elephant Back Safaris join forces.
Anthrax outbreak in Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports for September 2004.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Vumbura Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana
• Amazing tales of lions mating and fighting at Duba Plains Camp in Botswana
Wild Dog Update from the Savuti / Linyanti area 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

Botswana Camps
Wilderness Safaris and Elephant Back Safaris Join Forces                Jump to Abu Camp / Elephant Back Safaris

Wilderness Safaris is extremely pleased to announce that, from 2005, they will be handling the marketing and reservations for Elephant Back Safaris, which will remain under the ownership of ardent conservationists, Alistair Rankin, Colin Dhillon, Murray and Kenneth Collins.

Elephant Back Safaris’ animal-focused programme offers guests the rare opportunity to communicate with a special herd of elephants, consisting of mature bulls, cows and babies. The programme works towards bridging the gap between man and animal. They will be adopting a new approach to how the elephants are handled and will be creating a once in a life time experience for guests, who will be able to get up close and touch these awe-inspiring animals, not only on a physical level, but an emotional and spiritual level as well.

Visitors will have a chance to share intellectual space with the planet's largest and most intelligent land mammal. The team will concentrate on developing and promoting a comprehensive educational awareness programme, which will inform guests about the important position that elephants hold within the ecosystem and the issues surrounding their existence. It is hoped that this programme will assist guests in making an informed decision regarding the elephant’s situation in Africa. Guests are also invited to join the resident Bristol University researcher in her study of adolescent male elephant behaviour.

Elephant Back Safaris’ Abu Camp is located on the western side of Botswana's Okavango Delta. Guests will be touched by a life-changing journey as they spend time with the herd that have the run of half a million acres of Delta, one of Africa's last true, pristine wildernesses. No effort has been spared to ensure that guests enjoy this unique experience in total comfort and safety.

During the elephant back safaris guests are seated in large padded saddles, which are mounted behind the most experienced and knowledgeable elephant-handlers in Africa. The camp, concealed in an ancient riverine forest, consists of five extremely luxurious, custom-built and stylishly-furnished tents. The lavish bedrooms, with mahogany four-poster or antique sleigh beds, are complemented with plush en-suite bathrooms complete with copper or porcelain baths, shower and flush toilet. Every tent has a different style but all reflect the very high standard that defines Abu Camp. A private, tree-shaded deck with a hammock overlooks a lagoon frequented by a myriad of bird and animal life.

On the other side of the lagoon, a five-minute drive from the main camp, is the completely private and secluded Elephant House, which is a new addition to Elephant Back Safaris. Built in the same style and standard of luxury as Abu Camp, Elephant House sleeps four people, in two double bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms. After an elephant experience or early morning game drive, with their personal guide and exclusive Landrover, guests can spend time relaxing on the expansive pool deck whilst soaking up the beauty of their environment.

“Our elephant back safaris offer many magical, memorable moments, not least the opportunity to come very close to and even mingle with the wild animals. The herds of giraffe, zebra, buffalo and antelope are unconcerned by the approach of the elephant herd of which you are a privileged part. We also offer game drives in open vehicles or a day spent drifting through the tranquil waters of the Delta in a mokoro, the traditional dugout craft of the Okavango,” continues Alistair.

Whether one wishes to commune quietly with the silence of the bush from the veranda of one's own tent, or exchange stories around the fire, Abu Camp is the perfect hideaway for a safari to remember and savour forever.

For 2005, rates have been confirmed for three night safaris, with set departure dates. This year, Elephant Back Safaris will continue to operate the five night safaris, with set departures, but the three night option is available on request.

Together, Wilderness Safaris and Elephant Back Safaris aim to lift the elephant experience to new heights while enhancing peoples’ understanding and appreciation of the elephant. This is part of Wilderness' footprint in Africa as well as their commitment to conservation in Africa.


Anthrax outbreak in Chobe NP - September 21, 2004
There has been an anthrax outbreak along the Chobe River and certain parts of the park have been closed.  The main area affected is the area from Serondela westwards to the Ngoma gate.  That part of the park is closed for now - and probably will be for the next two weeks or so.

Foreigners often think of anthrax in terms of weapons of mass destruction.... but anthrax in Africa is nothing to get too concerned about.

Anthrax is found just about all the way through Africa. Parks like Etosha, Kruger etc have regular outbreaks - and some animals die each year from this disease. But no humans are affected in any way. A person can sit next to an anthrax infected carcass and not get sick at all. The only time one is at risk is if one gets covered in blood / gore of an infected animal and this blood / gore finds its way into ones body. Only then is it remotely possible that you can get infected.

Anthrax in Africa is endemic - and life goes on with it being all around. When there is an outbreak of anthrax, the key is to burn or bury the carcases of the dead animals so that the spore can't be translocated to other areas by vultures, predators and other scavengers.

Many people today are quite worried about Anthrax - but this is because of the role that the media has played in this disease post 9/11.  It is possible for chemists to take the natural anthrax spore and refine it in a laboratory and manipulate this spore so it becomes super potent so it can be used as a terrorist weapon that can affect humans.  But that is not a risk out in African parks.


Kwando Safari Camps Update - September 2004

Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* Still no sign of the Wild dogs that disappeared in to the Mopane about 3 weeks ago.
* Big herds of elephant and buffalo sighted daily throughout the concession – converging at the Kwando River.
* The Lagoon pride had been seen regularly, were stalking some impala but were not seen making a kill
* 2 different groups (4+5) of Roan antelope were seen
* 3 sightings of honey-badgers on morning game drives
* A caracal was seen on one of the night drives.
* Male lions were seen of a buffalo kill south of the camp towards Lebala

(Weeks 3-4)
* Lagoon pride have been on the floodplains for 4 days – killed a young buffalo over the weekend.
* One of the cubs from the Lagoon pride has been missing for almost 1 month now – presumed dead.
* Lots of buffalo seem in smaller herds of around 300
* Night drives yielding genets, caracal, bush-baby, scrub-hares, springhares and chameleons.
* A Leopard kill was found – impala hoisted in a tree but leopard was shy and not spotted.
* Good general game – Roan, Zebra, Tsessebe, Giraffe, wildebeest.
* No cheetah seen for almost 2 weeks
* Lots of breeding hers of elephant around the camp and in the lagoon in front of the camp.
* Water level rising again (last pulse before drying up) and some of the drying floodplains are wet again

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* A few different prides of lions seen during the last week including: a pride of 2 males, 3 lionesses and 2 cubs on a buffalo carcass and 2 pairs of male lions involved in a territorial fight.
* A herd of Buffalo estimated 1000 strong seen on a daily basis with lions hunting them.
* A pack of 5 wild dogs sighted – 3 adults and 2 5 month old puppies – one puppy died with a broken hip and the other puppy was lost by the adults – last seen was the adults trying to relocate the missing puppy by calling it.
* Serval and Civet seen every evening drive close to the camp.
* Very good birdlife – esp. at the Heronry where herons and storks have been seen on their eggs as well as a breeding pair of black-crowned night herons
* A breeding herd of 10 elephant was seen around the camp as well as the usual bulls frequenting the area.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Several different herds of buffalo seen – max @ 1000.
* 3 different sets of lions – 4 younger males, and 2 coalitions of 2 males.
* 3 lion kills seen in 4 days all of buffalo
* Game drives also spotted 2 females that are injured badly and may not survive unless they are able to hunt, on Monday only 1 female was found – the other is suspected to have died.
* Good leopard sightings – 2 sub-adult males and a young female – all spotted around the camp – one of the males was hunting baboons in camp.
* General game not prolific but good sightings of zebra, tsessebe, impala, giraffe and wildebeest
* Herd of 50 elephant seen close to camp – southern pans in Mopane are drying up.
* Floodwater is receding in Eastern Delta

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* A good week for interaction at Lebala with lions and hyena fighting 2 nights in a row:
* A pride of 12 killed a buffalo but were chased off their kill by a pack of 40 hyena.
* The next evening 3 male lions killed a buffalo and the pride of 12 killed another buffalo as well – they spend the evening interacting again with hyena. The 3 males responded to the commotion and moved from their kill to the other kill, fought with the hyena and the pride of 12 before killing a hyena and appropriating the 2nd kill.
* The next evening the 3 males were in camp causing some consternation and eventually killed another buffalo at the lookout point in the reeds.
* General game has been good with zebra in large numbers.
* African wild cat, Serval and caracal
* Plenty of buffalo around – one herd estimated 1,5 – 2000 head.
* Summer migrants are back – sightings of Wahlberg's eagle and Yellow-billed kite.
* 3 Leopard sightings – one killed a springhare and one was shy and ran after it was spotted.

(Weeks 3-4)
* The general game has been getting excellent as the pans in the Mopane yield little water.
* Large groups of elephants and buffalo
* Monday morning – 3 male lions killed a buffalo and were joined by the pride of 14.
* young males from pride of 14 were chased off by 3 adult males.
* 3 male cheetah killed a young kudu at Twin Pools
* There have been 4 sightings of the pack of dogs (Lagoon Pack) last week – 5 puppies have survived so far.
* Hyenas are seen every evening in the southern concession indicating very high densities – will have a strong influence in the dogs success.


Jao Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Jao Camp
It has been a mild month with average temperatures ranging from 14 to 28 degrees Celsius. Our maximum temperature was 31 and minimum 8 degrees. Early mornings at the beginning of the month have been rather chilly. The wind picked up dramatically towards the end of the month and the early morning breezes have been crisp and strong, prevailing to the East. No rain has been experienced, although there has been a cloud build-up over the last 2 weeks.

The big game viewing has been prolific on Hunda Island. The general game has been impressive with journeys of giraffe and herds of zebra and wildebeest. Lion have been roaring around the Jao floodplain and the hide and have been viewed feeding on kills. One particular party of guests were lucky enough to witness a female cheetah stalking, chasing and then killing a red lechwe (from beginning to end). On the other game drives the male lion, Tyson, has been seen mating with a young female. There have been numerous elephant sightings in the camp and a few folks have been hearing them snoring and making noises during the night, as they sleep nearby. They have been eating palm nuts and shaking trees during dinnertime too. Hyaena have been frequent visitors in the camp and hippo in the surrounding areas. Their activity seems to becoming less due to dropping water levels. There have been a mother and a calf that were sleeping and feeding between tents 8 and 9.

The birding situation in the concession is as usual excellent. The Pel's Fishing Owl has been sighted on very regular occasions, and even made an appearance in the morning, amazing guests as he sits on the branches just outside the dining area and preens himself! Lesser Flamingos have been spotted as too have the Yellow-billed kites Indicating the beginning of spring.

The water level in the concession has been going down radically and has dropped by 1.6 feet. Even though this has happened, we are still doing all the activities which include mokoro (the dug-out canoe), which takes place from the main lodge, game drives, boating, fishing, and the Hunda Island trip. This latter activity is where one boats to an island, where the environment is very different, more of a savannah environment. There are vehicles that are parked there and drives and picnics are the order of the day. Unfortunately, we are not sure how long we are going to be able to do this due to the water levels - we will just have to wait and see.

Jao Concession Lion Update:
It appears that the dominant male pair of Beaver and Barehead are spending more and more time away from their original pride of females which is the Floodplain Pride near Kwetsani.  Sightings of these four lionesses have been sporadic. A single male, nicknamed Tyson, has moved into the Kwetsani area in the absence of Beaver and Barehead.

Most sightings of Beaver and Barehead are coming out of Tubu Tree, they have been frequenting the west and south of the concession for the last four months.  It is possible they are abandoning their original pride females and looking for additional females in neighbouring territories.  At this stage we do not have any resident females in the Tubu game drive area, however, we do have had several small groups of nomadic females using the area for a few weeks at a time.  Beaver and Barehead have managed to locate and mate with several of these females.  When there are no females to be found here, the males travel deep into our neighbouring concession, NG26.  Personal communication with the NG26 staff has led us to believe there is a pride of about 17 lions in their area. This is undoubtedly a strong attraction to the males.  It is possible that there has already been fighting between the lions as Beaver has been limping heavily for the last 6 weeks, and Barehead is carrying a deep wound on his left cheek.  The injury to Beaver's front leg is slowing him up drastically and impairing his hunting ability.  It is also causing him to frequently lag far behind Barehead.  This may have serious consequences for the males if they get into conflict situations with other lions.

Sightings are as always of good quality when we locate the territorial pair of males, and they often roar in the early mornings and evenings, allow close approach by vehicles for photography.  The number of sightings is not as frequent as it was earlier in the year due to the males movements beyond our game drive areas.  To quantify this Barehead was seen on 7 days in August, Beaver only on 5 days.

For the whole concession, our estimated count of lions (individuals sighted and identified in the last four months - May to August 2004) is 20 animals.


Chitabe Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Chitabe Camp
From the start of the month many breeding herds of elephants have made their way into our concession. The opportunity to view 50-60 elephants enjoying a mud bath was a sight to see. The interaction between the cows and their newborn calves was especially nice to witness. Along with all the elephants, a herds of more than 800 buffalo meandered through the area a few times giving our resident lions the hope of successful hunts and good meals. Needless to say, when the buffalo were around all our game drives were waiting for the anticipated hunt - which on many occasions turned out to be very successful.

Pangolin sightings are still and will always be a highlight. We have had several sightings this month and always appreciate the good luck they bring. Most of our sightings have been in the evening when the pangolin forages for its termite diet. The pangolins have habituated to our vehicles so our guests have had the opportunities to follow the pangolins for an extensive amount of time.

We've had a couple of excellent sightings of our Moonstone Pack of wild dogs. On all occasions they were hunting impala and they even tried their strategies towards an ostrich. One afternoon, while on game drive, our guests spotted the dogs, and after a short while a chase began - this time the dogs were the prey and were being pursued by two lionesses. The dogs ran in all directions, which fortunately confused the lionesses and their efforts came to an end.

In and around camp, we had an interesting experience with one of our resident young bull elephants. He is a very relaxed and accommodating creature and is always posing for the guests' cameras, no doubt many a guests has left Chitabe was some awesome close-ups of an elephant. One afternoon before tea he was browsing in-between the office and the lounge, so he grabbed all our attention. Slowly but surely he moved closer to one of the raised walkways. There was a delicious shrub on the other side so he stretched his trunk over the walkway, whilst his tusks were positioned under the walkway. This was wonderful to watch until he lifted his head and 6 metres of the walkway lifted with him. He put his head down and luckily the walkway came back down in the same position. However, our relief was brief, as the second time around he decided to lift his head with more force and the whole section of the walkway collapsed to the ground. Needless to say, it was repaired in a matter of hours no worse for wear to elephant or walkway.

The temperature highs this month rocketed up to 39 degrees Celsius and dropped to a low 7 degrees Celsius. The mornings are still very cold due to the wind factor, so our morning campfire is a blessing when sipping freshly brewed coffee and admiring the first sweet light of dawn. The minimum this month caught us below freezing allowing our guests to wake up to a breathtaking contrast of a snowy white flood plain with snow-white mist sitting isolated between Illala palm islands and a clear baby-blue sky. Needless to say, the hot water bottles and the morning campfire were treasured by all. Fortunately the increase in temperatures allowed a bit of "thawing out" and prepared the guests for the afternoon drive. Having layers of clothing is always the best option during the winter months in Botswana, as the variance in temperatures allows guests to be warm in the mornings and slowly peel off layers as the temperatures increase in the afternoons, only to cool again in the evenings.

We have had it all this month in terms of wildlife. The month started with a herd of over 300 buffalo roaming through the concession with opportunistic lions never leaving their side. Like the lions, our guests spent as much time as they could, waiting for the anticipated hunt to take place. Without waiting too long the lions singled out their prey and the hunt took place in the dramatic scene of a setting sun casting its rays through the dust kicked up by the herd. Just when the guests thought the day couldn't be any better they continued their drive and came across an aardvark feeding, another highlight for the wildlife enthusiast.

During the month we have had nine separate sightings of pangolin, which is incredible as this is considered highly rare. There was a group of guests on their 25th trip to Africa and had never seen this magical creature before. They mentioned that this was the highlight of all the trips they have had in the past!

With regards to the Felidae family, we have seen it all this month: lion mating, cheetah with cubs and one of our resident leopard with her cub. On top of that we have seen African wild cat prancing on mice, serval and a lesser spotted genet.

Our winter months of June, July and August have been fabulous in terms of wildlife, weather and hospitality. No doubt September will also be a superb month to be at the Chitabe Camps.


Vumbura Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Vumbura Camp
There have been some really great sightings in the Kwedi over the last month. The lion have been extremely active in the concession and there have been great sightings of cheetah as well. The buffalo have been back in their hundreds and provided some really great photo opportunities especially at sunset with the animals swirling in clouds of dust. Many relaxed breeding herds of elephants have wandered close to and into the camp ensuring some exhilarating stories from guests. The old bulls still keep many awake in the middle of the night while pulling down branches and tearing off their leaves. This is an awesome sight with the silhouette of the elephant blocking out the full moon and the two tusks gleaming in the moonlight.   

Vumbura itself has been full for most of the month with boating into the camp still a necessity. The water level is dropping rapidly however, and driving into the camp should resume within the next month. It is beautiful boating in along the narrow channels lined with papyrus and water lilies. The route around the back of the camp has been explored but is still too deep to drive in. The Mopani Bridge is probably the only way that we will be getting into the camp so things are underway to get this rebuilt.

The temperatures have increased and the days got hotter and hotter as the month went on. The sunsets and sunrises have been getting later and earlier respectively but none the less more beautiful. The air is so crisp and so clear and the cool dawns soon merge into hot days. We are all preparing ourselves for the dry October heat. Looking forward to it!


Kings Pool Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Kings Pool Camp
You know those times when there is so much to say and you don't know where to begin? Well that's where I am at the moment.

Last month the wild dogs got all the attention so this month we will give the leopards the spotlight. The cast consists of five characters, a female known as the B.D.F. Female and her two offspring, as well as the big male called the Thoningii Male and the female from the same area known as the Thoningii Female.

The B.D.F. Female has featured quite prominently with three separate occasions when she and her cubs were seen with impala kills hoisted in trees. Viewing quality out of the top branches. The cubs are estimated to be about 4 months of age, they have become very playful and curious. There has even been an occasion witnessed where they stalked a herd of buffalo. A poor small spotted genet fell foul to their playful antics and eventually ended up as a very smelly dead genet that even a hyaena refused to eat. The Thoningii Male has been up to his usual baboon killing and ever-present roaming through camp during the wee hours of the morning, causing a sleep shortage for the guests once the resident troop of baboons become aware of his presence. Earlier in the month he killed a baboon and hoisted the carcass into a tree near the car park, delighting guests over the next 3 nights with his presence. The beautiful Thoningii Female, who has not wanted to be outdone by the others, gave us a show in broad daylight on "how to kill an impala and impress guests" who had landed at the Kings Pool airstrip only 5 minutes  earlier.

Other members of the cat family have been putting on their own shows for the Kings Pool guests. The lions impressed with a hippo kill near our boat station and a start to finish zebra hunt culminating in the zebra being brought down and devoured. We had guest appearances from a caracal, a few serval and some African wildcats.

On a sadder note, the wild dogs and their 6 puppies left the den for a period of five days only to return with 2 of the pups, 4 presumably killed by lions.

On the avian front we are seeing some of the migratory birds returning like the Carmine Bee-eaters and Wahlberg’s Eagles. Wattled Cranes, Ground Hornbills, Secretary Birds, Ostriches, Slaty Egrets and Pink Backed Pelicans are being seen regularly. So who said the Delta is the only place for fantastic birding?

The air is scented from all the flowering trees in the region, the most impressive at the moment being the Acacias and Mangosteens in all their glory.

The Guests visiting Kings Pool over the last month have been very cosmopolitan with regard to countries – with Italy, New Zealand, Australia and France being well represented which is really nice to see. We still seem to be the honeymoon hotspot with, even as I write this, three newly-wed couples in camp. All experiencing those Kings Pool surprises like candles and bubbly in their rooms and private romantic dinners in their salas.

Our guest quote of the month comes from Bob Seago: " I will treasure this honour to the end of my days".


Mombo Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Mombo Camp
You know those times when there is so much to say and you don't know where to begin? Well that's where I am at the moment.

August is very definitely a transitional month here in the heart of the Okavango Delta... we are on the cusp of summer and the annual flood has now turned and is in reluctant but accelerating retreat. The increasing temperatures and decreasing water levels are all part of the never-ending cycle of changes in this most dynamic of ecosystems.

Things are definitely heating up, the mornings and evenings have lost the edge they had in July. We are not fully into summer though, and we still need to occasionally press into service some of the blankets we keep near the fire, just in case. The next few months are the driest times of year, as the summer rains will probably not start until the end of October, and many of the areas which were flooded earlier in the year are now starting to dry out again under the gaze of the hot African sun...

Very unusually, we did have one very brief shower of rain this month, but it lasted a mere five minutes, and did little more than pockmark the sand. Very useful for our guides however as a way of aging the spoor they saw on the roads, and working out whether the leopard or lion or rhino they were tracking had passed that way before or after the shower.

The highest maximum temperature recorded at Mombo this month was 33°C, and the lowest maximum temperature was 17°C, with the average daily maximum temperature 28.07°C. The lowest minimum temperature we recorded was 6°C, and the highest minimum temperature was 22°C and the average daily minimum temperature was 13.07°C. Fortunately on many of the hotter days we have benefited from a cool breeze which makes the temperatures very pleasant indeed.

Mombo has always been a place of golden opportunities, and it is literally golden at present, with the grass drying to various shades of yellow, and huge areas of it shimmering in the sun. The general reduction in the amount of water here throughout the month means that in many areas the game is more concentrated - narrow channels snake their way across the thirsty plains, each clearly marked by an accompanying green ribbon of vegetation. These life-giving arteries are met by long lines of dusty zebras, treading patiently across the plains to drink.

A curiosity of life in the Delta is that the onset of the flood often takes us by surprise, so stealthy that we often don't realise quite how much progress it is making. But once the water levels begin to drop, they can do so very quickly indeed and it is often astonishing how once-flooded areas revert to dry ground in a matter of days. Some of the floodplains adjacent to Mombo Island, which we were able to cross by mokoro less than two months ago, are now completely dry.

At the lowest point of these floodplains, small pools of water often remain, home to increasingly desperate fish, who ultimately find themselves wriggling in mud, and who present an easy meal to the birds which flock to these fish-traps: snowy white egrets, stately grey herons, and busy ibises. Occasionally the sound of huge wings beating the air will scatter the other birds as one of the big, bad, marabou storks drops in to feed on the hapless fish.

But it is the sound of smaller wings that more often makes us look upwards - clouds of red-billed queleas, looking like smoke from a distance, swarm over the area, moving fluidly and in perfect synchronization from acacia tree to acacia tree, or down to the ground to feed on seeds. These tiny but voracious birds are considered an agricultural pest in many parts of Africa, but here they represent a very visible (and audible) example of just how teeming with life this area is.

First time visitors to Mombo are often taken aback at the sheer numbers and variety of animals here, and the herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala are just the most visible of the thousands of the animals that might be seen in a day's game viewing. And of course wherever there are concentrations of game, the predators are never far behind, and Mombo is no exception. The ongoing saga of the lions of Mombo is currently taking a new twist, with the long-term dominant male Wheatfield Boys being increasingly pushed out of the area by a coalition of four younger males, who after wandering in the wilderness as nomads, now seem to have set their sights on Mombo, and have been mating with some of the pride females. If there is indeed a takeover of this territory, as seems very likely now, this may cause a period of instability among our local lion prides, with not uncommon instances of new males killing cubs sired by their predecessors. So it may be that we see some schisms, and even possibly a reduction in the lion population in this area.

Another example of the ever-turning wheels of nature here: the reduction in lion numbers may well open a window for cheetah and wild dogs to return here in greater numbers.

Hyaena numbers in contrast are very definitely increasing, with one of our clans successfully raising several litters of cubs in the same den, a hole in a termite mound possibly taken over from an aardvark. The den is a favourite game drive destination, but we have learned to park slightly further away these days as the cubs began to develop an interest in consuming anything they could detach from the Land Rovers. This is further testament to the hyaenas' remarkable powers of digestion, but not such good news for our busy maintenance team!

As the water levels drop again, we are able to use those parts of our road network that have been inaccessible for several months. The animals too are taking advantage of the newly available areas of excellent grazing remaining in the wake of the flood - our horizons and theirs are quite literally expanding.

In Camp too we are constantly looking for new ways to further enhance our guests' safari experience in Botswana - we call it the Mombo extra mile, and it can be anything from having a guest's favourite drink ready for them at the bar as they return from their afternoon game drive, to romantic private dinners for anniversaries and other special occasions, to our legendary Mombo bush picnics, under the shade of spreading umbrella thorn trees, with Craig our chef in his brilliant white jacket, tossing pancakes to serve with his chocolate Amarula sauce - all cooked over an open fire under the cloudless blue skies of the Okavango.

One innovation in Camp this month has been the construction of a long breakfast bar, facing out over the floodplains in front of Camp, so that guests can enjoy their tropical fruit kebabs and Mombo muesli while watching the first rays of morning sun reflect from the water in front of them, and the first lechwe and buffalo picking their way through the shallow pools. As the sun rises behind Camp and lights up this phenomenal view, the impatience to get out in the bush and begin the game drives is almost palpable... if only the filter coffee wasn't so good!

Yet again the leopards have provided many of our most exciting moments... The young cubs who were born to several of our females in just a few months last year, are now almost at the age of when they will have to leave to make their own way in the world. The young female cub we see quite frequently near the Camp has graduated from catching squirrels to genets, and in just a few months of course there will be a glut of young impalas... One evening we were sitting by the fire with the die-hards among our guests that evening, when we heard the alarm calls of impala, and the distinctive sounds of one being caught. We raced along the raised walkway, and by the light of the moon and torches, we saw a young male leopard crouched over the prone form of a male impala.

As we watched from the safety of the walkway, a large hyaena marched in, and attempted to steal the kill. A bitter tug-of-war ensued, but then an uneasy peace broke out, and we saw the very unusual sight of these two predators feeding on the same kill. The hyaena evidently decided that this was too good to share, and lunged at the leopard, chasing him away into thick undergrowth. A second hyaena then appeared and the two of them began eating in earnest. The cheated leopard tried several times to reclaim his kill, but each time he was repelled by the hyaenas.

The guests (who we had fetched in their dressing gowns to witness these remarkable scenes) returned to bed, and we were all disappointed for the leopard, but thrilled at what we have just seen. However by the next morning the leopard had recovered about half of the impala, and this time he had stashed it in the lofty branches of a sausage tree.

The leopards don't always get their own way, however. The young female cub had a close call with a troop of baboons, and had to dash for the safety of a thick palm island when she was pursued by some of the big dog baboons. And just a couple of days ago, guests from Little Mombo witnessed a leopard and her cub losing a kill to lions.

All of this month's drama has been taking place beneath the towering Acacia galpinnia trees, with their brilliant yellow flowers, which gives them the appearance of being on fire... Quite a stunning sight.

And perhaps best of all, at the close of the month, we received news of a possible second white rhino calf, this time in the Gumare area, in the west of the Delta, which some of the rhinos released here have colonised. If confirmed, this would be our second calf after Dimpho, who was born in early July. Exciting times - indeed there is not a day that passes here that lacks excitement... but don't take our word for it...

As ever, we will leave the last words on Mombo to our guests... We are lucky enough to welcome repeat guests back to Mombo almost every month, and some have been so often now that they really are like old friends, and know the Camp and the area intimately. Talking to them, it is the thrill of following animals over a number of years that keeps them coming back, and seeing how each story continues as each new chapter unfolds. Mombo is definitely a compelling place - very few guests come here only once....


Duba Plains Newsletter - Aug 04                 Jump to Duba Plains Camp
Duba lions chasing the buffalo We have had a brilliant month at Duba! The good weather of August brought with it great game viewing. The guides this month were Dux and Moalosi, both Level II wilderness qualified guides, adding wealth to the guests’ experience with their great knowledge and bush experience.

The month started off with a blue moon seen rising over the open plains of Duba to the call of a side-striped jackal. The first signs of Spring are here with the Knobthorns and Shepherd trees in flower, leaving a rich sweet scent in the air. The floodwaters have receded enough to allow access to most areas, including trips out to Paradise. This allowed us to view the Skimmer Pride which had not been seen for a while and found them with 12 healthy cubs between the ages of one and six months. They have been diversifying their diet and were seen feeding on an immature hippo and on another occasion a kudu bull.

The Tsaro Pride was seen regularly throughout the month. The delta dual continues, with guests being witness to many lion/buffalo interactions and were there to see 6 successful hunts in the month.

Duba Boy and a Tsaro lioness
Duba Boy mating with a Tsaro pride lioness - actually his daughter
Since the Tsaro pride lost all their cubs over the last couple of months, the lionesses have been coming into oestrus again. The ever present Duba Boys have risen to the occasion, despite their old age, and have mated with several lionesses during August. The photos at left show a Duba Boy mating with one of his daughters (5 years old). This is not an ideal situation. The Duba Boys have been dominant for over 6 years now and must be at least 13 years of age. It is expected they will be displaced by a younger, stronger coalition in the near future. Having said this, there are no immediate challengers in the area. Only time will tell.
Skimmer pride lionesses fighting each other!
Confusion in the Skimmer pride

The Tsaro lionesses were seen on a couple of occasions herding the buffalo back into their territory. At one of the buffalo kills a dead hyaena was found, proving lion and hyaena are still eternal enemies. On the 28th a huge fight between 2 prides broke out. Both the Tsaro and Skimmer Prides were moving around the same herd of buffalo near Baobab Island. Earlier the Skimmer Pride, with 12 cubs, had spotted the Tsaro Pride in the distance. They immediately left the area and removed their cubs to an area they believed to be safe. Little did they know, the Tsaro Pride would chase the buffalo herd right to their hide-out. As a last resort, the Skimmer lionesses charged out towards a couple of isolated Tsaro lionesses. This proved to be a fatal error.

There was a lot of chasing each other backwards and forwards, until the Tsaro Pride realised their dominance in number and pressed home their attack. A huge fight broke out between the 2 prides ending up with the Skimmer lionesses and cubs scattering and at least one Skimmer cub being fatally mauled. At one point the Skimmer lionesses mistook each other as Tsaro lions and fought amongst each other (see photos at left). Eventually they realised their mistake, but too late, the Tsaro lionesses had caught up. The Duba Boys were also present during the clash, but spent most of the time running around aimlessly, roaring. Due to the nature of the terrain (impassable channels and dense palm islands) we were unable to assess how many cubs had been killed. The next week or so will show us how many of the Skimmer Pride survived the clash. Hopefully they have learnt a lesson and perhaps next time they will remove their cubs well out of the area of a potential clash.

One of the Duba Boys
A brave Tsaro lioness!
The buffalo took their chance and fled many kilometres overnight. Their ploy did not work in their favour as the Tsaro Pride and Duba Boys had already caught up with them by morning. Within a few minutes of chasing the buffalo herd, a single lioness managed to isolate a large bull (see below). As soon as the other lionesses saw what was happening, they immediately returned to assist the lone lioness. The bull was brought down relatively quickly, but survived for quite some time. All this took place within 20 metres of the 3 game drive vehicles, right out in the open, in perfect photographic light. A fantastic way to reach the end of August.

The night drives have been rewarding this month with almost nightly sightings of serval, one sighting was of a serval swimming across a 50m channel, and were also seen hunting rodents. Other nocturnal animals seen include the rare aardwolf, civet, bat-eared fox, white-tailed mongoose and porcupine. The hyaena clan around Baobab Island have a den with 3 very relaxed and inquisitive cubs. There were great sightings of elephant, tsessebe, lechwe, warthog, buffalo, side-striped jackal and hippo.

Prolific sightings of birds are converting many guests to avid birders, with fantastic sightings of the rare slaty egret, rosy-throated longclaw, ground hornbills and endangered wattled cranes. The receding waters provided fish traps for the water birds; many saddle-billed storks,  black-crowned night herons, sacred, glossy and hadeda ibises, little, white, great and cattle egrets where seen feeding at these pools, also pelicans, rufous-bellied and squacco herons. There were also sightings of a melanistic gabar goshawk, secretarybirds, marsh harriers, snake eagles, martial eagles and the ubiquitous fish eagle. Large flocks of wattled starlings were seen following the buffalo and flocks of queleas darkened the sky at sunset. The resident camp African wildcat delighted us by keeping her 2 kittens under the wooden pool deck and then moving them under a log near the bar where we could see the mother and kittens in the day. The mild weather allowed us to do brunches in the bush and dinners at the million-star restaurant.

Repeat wilderness guests this month included Louise Orr, the Goldberg family, Lloyd Roberts, the Mohans, Janice Stango and Sara Goldberg, Ben and Becks Field (travelling with Jamie Thorn a BBC wildlife photographer),the Groths ,the Fergusons, Chris and Frances Leigh, Trisha Wilson and Will Taylor from the "African Experience" travel agency and the Shapiro family. It was great having you all visit us again! The famous artist Authur Court was a delight to us and other guests.


Savuti Wild Dog Update - August 04                Jump to Savuti Camp
Yesterday was thrilling as we had the best view of the pups from the Manchwe pack for the first time. This pack has yielded 3 pups which are approximately 2 to 3 months old, plus 4 adult males and the Alpha female. If you remember from last month's update they are the specialist, non-retiring kudu hunters. Yesterday the pups were on a trial hunt with the team, obviously very cautious and always taking the rear with one of the males being both mentor, trainer, babysitter and security from the hyaenas that kept following them.

In no time both Thuto, our guide, and the dogs spotted a huge male warthog foraging. The action started right then, with the dogs chasing the large target to the amazement of the our guests. The pig was cornered, got a few bites on the rear and then it shot into its burrow in reverse as usual. The dogs kept harassing the boar, which then in panic, shot out into danger and charged at the dogs. First it targeted the one dog, a big  blunder as the other dogs nipped its unprotected rear end. The one dog managed a good bite on the belly and broke the tough skin, disembowelling instantly. The wounded warthog tried all means and used every tactic and effort to survive, but each bite off the boar's rump added up and probably prompted shock after the loss of blood and peritonis and it eventually died.

Mixed feelings amongst the guests, while they all enjoyed the chase the ladies did not like the gruesome squealing and the sight of blood. The men had their eyes glued to the camera eye-pieces and the index fingers working overtime. An adrenalin rush it was. Within seconds the commotion, the inquisitive hyaena became three and by the time the animal died, eight individuals were advancing to the meal. The dogs fought their best but sheer numbers made the hyaenas conquer. The victory did not go without some injuries, the hyaena had some blood oozing off their rumps while they enjoyed the fruits of opportunism. Fearing injuries and the safety of the pups who were at a safe distance, the dogs backed out without feeding much.

This morning the Rock Pan pack was nowhere to be seen about the den. Definite evidence from tracks told us that lion had reached the den site last night but there wss no sign of the pups or mother. The rest of the pack was seen in the Savuti channel resting on the morning drive. We should know by this afternoon if all is okay at the den or whether they have moved the pups. No signs of killings, so we have to be patient and check the results, keep your fingers crossed......

Well, we apologise for the scare yesterday, the lions luckily failed in their attempt to kill the wild dogs and so the Rock Pan pack is fine - the 15 pups and their mom were seen later in the day playing about.

On yesterday's morning drive we had a surprise when we noticed Matilda, the Savuti lion pride's young female who came into oestrous on 14th August 2004, was mating with second-ranking male in the coalition of four males. This is definitely an extension (7 days) of a honeymoon with various males. When we saw her on the 14th she was pairing with Black Jack, the leader of the coalition, which continued for about 3 days. Yesterday Black Jack was watching helplessly while the couple were mating. He showed no interest at defending his position, perhaps he was too exhausted to bother. This is the third time the Savuti females who are meant to be in hiding have shown up with the new bosses. Slowly, one by one, they are being submissive to them when they go into oestrous.

While these three were together, the two other males were patrolling about camp. This did not go down very well with the housekeepers who were cleaning Room 7. As they were walking to Room 6, two ladies caught sight of a single male who was heading towards the camp waterhole to try his luck on the wildebeest and zebra who were drinking. The housekeepers were so nervous they sounded the foghorn! This has a wave action effect on the staff here: the managers shot off towards the alarm while everyone assembled at the main deck. As the managers raced to Room 7, coincidentally a male lion was running after a herd of wildebeest who were heading straight for Room 7! Everyone remained where they were and waited for the hunting lions to move off. Once calm had returned, everyone could continue with their days work. Nothing like a little adventure around the work place!


South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Report - Aug 04                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
This last of the winter months has been good to all our guests and staff alike. We have been very spoilt with outstanding sightings of bird, fish and mammal species that have tantalised everyone’s tastes. The moonrises from the beach, sunsets over the hills and glorious sunrises in the mornings have showered many with a charm endemic to Maputaland. We feel honoured to have shared so many momentous occasions with so many wonderful people.

The winter sky has strewn the Milky Way in its entire glory overhead lighting our beaches at night. During the day the beach at Rocktail has sent its invitation, which very few can resist and most have taken pleasure in long, soul-capturing walks down our 30km stretch rarely seeing another human being.

If, by some remote chance your thoughts were disturbed, it might be our Dolphins in the Bay, rounding up fish or surfing the waves to shore or perhaps the Yellow-Billed Kite (a summer Migrant) that cruises the beaches in search of food, often taking a seat next to the fisherman in return for discarded bait.

On a drive to Black Rock with the Poulon family, little Oscar spotted two four-legged mammals running alongside the Land Rover; to everyone’s surprise they were two Side-Striped Jackals. A sighting of this Jackal is certainly a rarity amongst these parts but this is the second sighting this year and we hope for many more.

Lala Nek to the south of us has also delivered its promises, with excellent visibility, and marine life in abundance. The water has been a bit chilly, at 23 degrees Celsius, but hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm and curiosity of what lies beneath in the underwater world. What we would have missed out on, are sightings of, Octopi, Oscillated Snake Eels, Blue Spotted Ribbon Tail Rays, Moorish Idols and juvenile semi-circle Angel-Fish to name a few. And from the beach, we have also been treated to viewing Humpback Whales breaching just beyond the breakers, whilst having our tea after the snorkel. You couldn’t ask for more.

Congratulations to our Birds and Botany Group who spotted “The Bird sighting of the Year”.  Two Indian Yellow Nosed Albatross Off Black Rock one morning!! It was an incredible morning for all – especially Richard and Duncan, the specialist guides for Birds and Botany, A LIFER for many in the group.

Excitement has started here with our Turtle research project set to start in the middle of October, we have already been fortunate to witness a very early Loggerhead mother making her way up the banks of Manzengwenya beach, the dune she managed to climb was of incredible height, and managed to dig a very successful nest.  Good luck to the little hatchlings!!!


Makuleke Update - August 04
Having taken a short reprieve from our post on the Luvuvhu River, it is clear to see that where we live must be the closest to heaven one could get. We returned to find that the weather has warmed beautifully, and there are no more chilly nights. Average maximum temperatures are 31C,  with average minimum temperatures being 16C. Little rain has fallen (approximately 9mm), and the pans and grass are only just beginning to dry up; however, the bush has exploded in a vibrant mixture of spring colour.

The pink and white flowers of the Impala Lilies are pushing their way out of the drab mother plants all over the concession. The Sjambok Pods are noticeable in all their yellow brilliance, with the red Flame Creepers advertising to all beasts and birds that their tasty nectar is ready. The thorny Aloes in all varieties are only just starting to finish their celebration of spring. Although the bush is drying out a bit, there is still plenty of food on the concession for everyone. The kudu herds seem to have done very well in the last breeding season , with herds of up to 12. The impala have done exceptionally well too, and are looking all fit and fat from the good feeding. The buffalo herds have moved over the river onto our concession, as the grazing has all burnt on the opposite side. One river drive afforded us brilliant sightings of three reasonably sized herds, they seem to be sticking to the riverine bush between the Hutwini Hill and the river. This as ever has drawn the lions into our vicinity once again, and at full moon they can be heard proclaiming to all that this land is theirs. These are certainly no mangy lions as one is inclined to see further South, these are very big, very healthy lions that are not quite used to the presence of vehicles, they are very much at that inquisitive stage.

The elephants have moved back with a vengeance, they were a little late this year due to good rains elsewhere, but have now returned. Their paths are well worn from making their daily pilgrimage to the river to bathe and drink. The breeding herds are a little nervous of the vehicle, but in no way aggressive.

In the camp on the banks of the river, at sunset and all through the night the plaintive cries of the Pel's Fishing Owl can be heard, a joy few can brag about, what a treat!

While having sundowners on our site on the Luvuvhu River we watched a pair of Cape clawless Otters feeding and just having a bit of fun. At the same time a Narina Trogon landed in the Sausage Tree above us and gave us a spectacular show.

Very close to Lanner Gorge we went for a walk and came across some San Rock Art that date back thousands of years - drawings of elephant, wild dog and some people. The area is very rich in history and we are sure to find more drawings, we will keep you updated.

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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