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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS
April 2005

This Month:
Wilderness Safaris general Safari News.
• Monthly update from beautiful North Island in the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains Camp in Zimbabwe.
Kwando Safaris game reports for April 2005.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jack's Camp in Botswana's Makgadikgadi.
Linyanti Explorations announces further changes.
• Another great Dive Report from Rocktail Bay.
• A rare Leopard sighting at Ongava Tented Camp in Namibia.


Wilderness Safaris general Safari News
Assorted Updates - Apr 05

Giraffe released in the Makuleke Concession, South Africa

For many years, giraffe have been locally extinct in the Pafuri region.  In late April 2005 five giraffe were darted in the Satara area of Kruger by Kruger's Capture Unit and were transported to the Makuleke Concession close to Pafuri Camp where they were released.

Six white rhino will join the giraffe in June - the first to be released in the north of Kruger since local extinction around the turn of the nineteenth century.  Overall, this has been a great coup for the partnership between the Makuleke people, the Kruger National Park and Wilderness Safaris.  One of the most pleasing aspects of the Makuleke programme is seeing how the wildlife has settled down and begun to build up into significant numbers.


Wilderness to market Selinda Concession in Botswana
Wilderness Safaris is excited to announce that they will now be marketing the Selinda Concession (NG16), which has been bought by Dereck and Beverly Joubert.  Ownership and management stays pretty much as it was with Grant Nel being promoted to take the role that Brian Graham played all these years.

Selinda is something of a return pilgrimage for the Jouberts who did much of their early filming in the area, which is known for its wild dog packs and hippo-hunting lion prides.  Selinda is adjacent to Wilderness' Linyanti concession (NG 15) and is an important ecological link between the Linyanti and Okavango systems via the unique Selinda Spillway.

Selinda and Zibalianja camps, as well as Selinda Walking Trails will be available as usual.  Selinda will have 9 tents as from July 2005 while Zibalianja will stay as is.  The big news is that there will be no more hunting in the Selinda - the last hunt took place in September 2004!  New waterholes with hides will be put in place this year that will significantly improve the close-up viewing of wildlife.



Wilderness Safaris Camp Updates
San Camp / Makgadikgadi
Great news is that fresh potable water was found right at San Camp, so this camp now has running water and flush toilets - gone are the days of bringing water in from 10km away each day!

Jack's Camp / Makgadikgadi
Two changes at Jack's: There will be a plunge pool, probably built at their tea tent site, and each room is to have a fan - both additions making summers easier to bear.

Gudigwa / Okavango
Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, we have had to move our bookings from Gudigwa Camp.  For guests who want a cultural experience, however, we can offer Jack's and San camps, where guests can go out into the field with San trackers.  Hailing from the Xai Xai area in western Botswana, the San people offer a fascinating morning walk into the plains around the camps.

Chitabe Trails / Okavango
The camp was renovated in the summer with all the tents raised onto wooden decks, but without walkways. There are now two family rooms, each with an extended deck complete with dining room table and umbrella, allowing private meals.

Abu / Okavango
In 2004 Alistair Rankin and others acquired Elephant Back Safaris.  Due to various circumstances they have sold their interest back to the original owner, Randall Moore.  Randall will not be managing the camp but has committed to looking after any issues regarding the elephants if necessary.  Guests will be hosted by Gara, who many of you know and who is steeped in the magic of Abu.  Wilderness Safaris will continue to do the marketing and reservations.

Xigera / Okavango
Xigera now has another two tents, both of which have been decorated as honeymoon suites with four-poster king-sized double beds! The floods have already arrived at Xigera.

Vumbura Plains / Okavango
The new Vumbura Plains opened for business on Monday the 9th of May.  Five rooms in South Camp are currently operational with staggered opening of the remaining rooms over the coming weeks.

North Island / Seychelles
Good news from North Island is that Villa 10 will now cost the same as Villas 1 - 9.  On the environmental front, areas around the villas and spa have been successfully rehabilitated and replanted with indigenous vegetation.  To date about 40% of exotic vegetation has been cleared.  The Spa is looking beautiful.

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North Island in the Seychelles
North Island update - Apr 05                Jump to North Island
This month has been one of our most hectic months, activities wise. We have been on and off boats, changing from one boat to another and we have all felt like wound-up “bunnies” with our little clocks on full steam ahead.

From a weather angle, we have been truly blessed with fantastic weather. The ocean temperature has remained a constant 29ºC and the average visibility for the month has been around 20m+, pushing at times to 25m+. This is certainly nothing to complain about.

On the down side, weather-wise, our monsoon season has already started to kick in, at least three weeks early, proving that our weather patterns are not as predictable as in the past, when we could brag about end May being the start of the trade wind season. Well this is a turn up for the books. Before the end of the month could see itself out, the winds had shifted to south-east. What this early arrival means though is that we will have a couple of choppy and uncomfortable days, followed by a couple of good calm days. We have already had some rain, which has been sorely needed as it has been incredibly hot and dry.

From a diving angle though, we have had loads of fun as well. For most of the month, the ocean has given us the chance to explore and travel far and wide to dive spots that we have not dived that much. For us, this has been truly exciting and it has given the likes of dive sites like Sprat City and Twin Anchors a much-needed rest from divers and visitors. We have been to South Marianne Island, Annardale wreck, Ava Maria (La Digue), The Spot, Cathedral, Gulleys and so on. We have also been able to do day excursions with double tank diving, lazy lunches on La Digue Island with guests and exploratory diving on Ava Maria as the 2nd dive of the day from Marianne Island.

Our “resident” sharks have been a little quiet, I guess they too have been exploring new areas and travelling around a bit themselves. On our second visit to Marianne Island, we came across a nice sized Giant Guitar Shark, an impressive sized Grey Reef Shark and an even nicer sized Spotted Eagle Ray. Visibility was truly great and we topped it all off with a nice lunch at a quaint little restaurant at the jetty on La Digue island. Our guests were happy and we arrived back late in the afternoon, tired from diving and a full tummy of smoked fish salad to our credit.

The Annerdale Wreck, when we found it again, was amazing and the visibility endless. This wreck is 35 years old and was an old tanker that ran aground after hitting shallow reef in the early 70s. The fish life here is abundant, with giant kingfish, shoals of blue banded snapper, great barracuda and larger than normal orbicular batfish. Not to mention the Sea Goldies floating in all the little nooks and crannies of the wreck itself. We had an amazing dive here, one not easily forgotten.

We all wish that we could do these far-range dive sites all year round, but sadly that is life and we are once again reminded by the ocean that “she” is in charge and that we will be kept to the closer range dive sites when the mood demands it.

We have captured some good underwater shots on camera and many guests have left with a souvenir CD in their pockets of their dives on North Island.

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Zimbabwe Camps
Makalolo Plains update - Apr 05                Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp
STAFF IN CAMP
Guides: Sacha Toroyni, Themba Sibanda, Belinda Whittall, Courteney Johnson
Hosts: Tamlyn Kluckow, Blake Strelensky, Shelley Mitchley

WEATHER
The last of the late rains was recorded on 3 April measuring 11.5 mm, characterised by a thunder and lightning storm in the middle of the night. By mid-April temperatures began to plummet, most notably in the mornings and evenings. The mid-morning sun's rays are pleasant enough to sit outside and absorb a good dose of Vitamin D, but siestas and mid-afternoons have been uncomfortably warm and outdoor showers are still a bonus! Most of the finer evenings at Makalolo have been enhanced by the light of the silver moon and romanticised with dinners near the pool deck or on the front deck of camp.

VEGETATION
Most of the trees still have their leaves and are bedecked in an array of sunset colours - yellows, oranges, reds and browns! This makes a beautiful contrast against the warm blue or dusty grey skies. Leadwoods in front of camp stand proud and regal - their heads still a mass of green leaves and yellow winged fruits. Large False Mopanes' butterfly-winged capsules are exploding releasing bright crimson and chocolate brown seeds. Camel Thorn Acacias have also come into fruit - and it won't be long before the elephants are shaking, rattling and rolling those trees to get at the sweet delights!

WILDLIFE
April's probability sightings: 3% for African civet, wild dog, dwarf mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, red hartebeest, reedbuck and roan. 9% for lesser bushbaby, leopard and white rhino, 10% common duiker, small spotted genet, 13% vervet monkey, 17% bat-eared fox, spotted hyaena, African wildcat, 20% side-striped jackal, 23% eland and lion, 43% banded mongoose, 47% scrub hare, sable, 57% kudu, 93% hippo, 97% impala and 100% baboon, cape buffalo, elephant, giraffe, black-backed jackal, spring hare, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck, wildebeest and zebra.

Thousands of buffalo have graced the Plains this month and left their marks at Makalolo - once again covering the area with thick velvet blankets of dust, floating above the golden grass in the sunset light. An unusual sighting of buffalo calf with a pink birthmark on its nose and a white spot on its forehead was quite extraordinary - hope that these marks won't make him prone to predators and that we will see and identify him around these parts again! An unfortunate little buffalo calf got stuck in the pan at the front of camp and drowned. Sacha and his guests flexed their muscles and took charge of the mission - to pull the young buffalo out of the pan with lengths of rope - and thus saving the animals' drinking water from contamination.

A very rare and exceptional sighting of 2 springhares seen in the morning hours trying to find their burrows caused the birds to go hysterical - our feathered friends were screeching and the braver White-helmeted Shrikes dive-bombed at the helpless boing boings! The birds had obviously never seen springhares in daylight hours before and suspected they were predators! The springhares eventually found their burrows - getting home a little later than usual!

Our lioness and her three sub-adult male cubs were seen again near the airstrip - all looking very dishevelled and thin. Approximately two weeks later, they were seen again in the Little Makalolo area - we hardly recognised them, as they were all looking fit and fat and discovered that the lioness's injuries from her inflictions have all healed well. On an evening drive at Somavundla, 2 lionesses with their 8 cubs were seen attempting to hunt buffalo!

Rhino sightings are moving up! On a drive at Little Mbiza, Sacha and his guests were very fortunate to discover 3 white rhino, which they thought at first were zebra! On closer inspection they were able to appreciate the full sighting of father, mother and baby rhino grazing amongst the scrub. Themba also had a brilliant sighting of a male rhino at Sausage Tree loop - seen drinking with a bachelor herd of buffalo!

BIRDS & BIRDING
An incredible 157 different bird species were sighted this month - all thanks to the enthusiasm and fervour of our "Uncle Peter" and Courteney's birding expeditions! Some rare sightings that were marked off on our checklist this month were that of the Little Egret, Rock Pigeon, Marsh Owl, Woodland Kingfisher, Acacia Pied Barbet, Arnott's Chat and Black-chested Prinia. An excursion to Giraffe Springs in search of the yellow variety Crimson-breasted Shrike wasn't too successful, but they were rather pleased with their sightings of a Sabota Lark and a Courser sitting on eggs instead! The camp itself had lovely owl sightings this month - a White-faced Owl seen during the day in a tree above the boardwalk near the living area and on another occasion at dusk, a pair of Pearl-spotted Owls was seen and heard calling to each other in the garden behind the dining room! A Senegal Coucal was also seen in camp, with rioting Arrow-marked Babblers trying to fight it!

GUEST COMMENTS
"What a fantastic place to begin our safari! All of you staff made our stay so much more special! The accommodations and food were superb, not to mention the many different species of flora, birds and animals!" Betty & Kirsten Weaver, California, USA

"Our stay at Makalolo was a very special, memorable experience. Thank you all for your hospitality and kindness. We will miss this beautiful place." The Clarke Family, Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA

"We had a wonderful time with everybody who was very nice and hope to come back again soon. Vive les boing boings et pose to everybody!" Michel, Julien & Nadine Sabo, Paris, FRANCE

"A truly brilliant stay - ellies and buffalo on the first evening and it just got better!" Julie & Sue, Birmingham, ENGLAND

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Apr 05
Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• Good numbers of elephant seen throughout the week – seen drinking daily to the north of the camp.
• General game has well spread over the concession including giraffe, impala, tsessebe, zebra, wildebeest, reedbuck and kudu.
• Game drives have been following the Lagoon pride most days of the week – 4 adult females and 8 youngsters of various ages.
• The Lagoon pride killed a zebra mare and foal.
• Leopard tracks seen around and in the camp – and heard calling in camp.
• Several sightings of Osprey along the river – seen fishing on several occasions.
• A pack of 2 male wild dogs was seen several days in a row.
• Night sightings include serval, genet and African wild cats.

(Weeks 3-4)
• The Lagoon Pride (12) had a good week – they killed twice during the week – once an adult zebra and then a warthog. They were seen on a daily basis throughout the week.
• Also a pride of sub-adults - 2 males and a female were found.
• A pack of 2 male wild dogs were tracked and found feeding on an impala. Also a pack of 2 males and a female were found hunting but no kill.
• Another pack of 12 wild dogs were found resting/sleeping late one morning.
• The Water-cut male leopard was found with an adult impala hoisted in to a tree – suspected he robbed 2 wild dogs of their kill. He was accosted on site by the whole Lagoon pride but remained treed until they left.
• Buffalo seem to be heading back towards the riverine areas as the pans dry up - moving out of the mopane.
• Good sightings throughout the week of elephant bulls and breeding herds.
• General game include good herds of giraffe and impala, as well as zebra, tsessebe and kudu in smaller herds.
• Night sightings include flap-necked chameleons, hippos around camp and springhares.
• Big bands of Dwarf and banded mongooses sunning themselves in the early morning sunlight.
• Also sighted – African rock python, martial eagle, gymnogene, and fish eagles.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• Quite a few groups of elephant bulls have been seen around the concession and the camp itself.
• An adult female leopard caught and killed a young tsessebe, she was relaxed and was watched feeding on it for some time.
• The 3 territorial male lions were seen throughout the week and heard calling at night.
• The general game has been good over the last week – big herds of zebra as well as giraffe, tsessebe, wildebeest reedbuck and impala.
• Civets were seen every evening, as well as genets and serval.
• Night sightings have also yielded various owls including white-faced, giant eagle and barred owlets.
• Fishing has been fairly good over the past week – mostly Tilapia species (catch and release).

(Weeks 3-4)
• A pride of 10 lions – 1 sub-adult male and 9 lionesses found hunting – they killed and fed on an impala – and interacted with a clan of hyena that showed up.
• 2 Dominant adult male lions found sleeping as well as a pride of 5 – 1 sub-adult male and 5 lionesses.
• A couple of lone adult bulls seen moving around the camp area.
• General game includes impala, zebra, sable, wildebeest, giraffe, tsessebe and reedbuck.
• Good numbers of lechwe and diverse water-birds as well as a large pod of hippopotami in the lagoon in front of the camp.
• Night sightings include hyena, both side-striped and black-backed jackal and flap-necked chameleons.
• 2 sighting of serval hunting in the early evenings as well.

Lebala camp
                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• Hyenas continue to dominate the southern Lebala area and are seen frequently> at night.
• An old male lion was followed several times throughout the week – last seen resting yesterday morning.
• A relaxed female leopard was followed top the south of camp hunting and marking her territory.
• A pack of 13 wild dogs was followed again in the south – several mating attempts by the Alpha male and female were witnessed – we hope they will be denning again in June for the 8th year in a row with us.
• Both side-striped and black-backed jackals have been seen regularly throughout the concession.
• Elephant have been seen in large numbers throughout the concession – a herd of 200 was seen drinking at twin pools.
• General game including waterbuck, kudu, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and tsessebe seen throughout the week.
• Good eagle sightings with both Bateleur and Tawny eagles nesting in the Leadwood forests.
• African Skimmers seen throughout the week at Skimmer pan.

(Weeks 3-4)
• A pride of 7 – 6 females and one male found hunting zebra – they later caught and killed a warthog.
• An adult male lion was found marking his territory.
• A shy young male leopard found at Twin pools, as well as a relaxed adult female marking along the road.
• Another young male leopard was followed hunting spring-hares – not successful.
• An adult female hunted and killed an adult impala ram – but was robbed of her kill by hyenas.
• A pack of 2 wild dogs was found hunting lechwe but missed – they were followed on several occasions during the week with no success – they also twice missed catching warthogs.
• Lots of breeding herds of elephant have been seen heading to and from the Kwando river – as the pans are drying they are becoming very muddy with bachelor herds hanging around the airstrip area.
• A small herd of buffalo (70) was followed heading down to the river (no lions following them).
• General game has been excellent – lechwe, kudu, impala, waterbuck, zebra, tsessebe, steenbuck and reedbuck.
• Summer migrants are departing for northern feeding areas.
• Quite a number of sightings of snakes basking in the sun.
• A number of sightings of chameleons at night as well as jackals, lots of hyenas hunting and a couple of sightings of African wild cats.

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DumaTau Camp update - Apr 05                Jump to DumaTau Camp
The month of April clearly noted the change of season with the last thundershowers occurring at the end of March. Towards the end of April, temperatures rose to 37 degrees C for nearly a week, with averages recorded as min 19 degrees C and max 32 degrees C for the month. On the 29th of April winter arrived with early morning temperature of 13 degrees C! The landscape has also started to don its winter colours as lush green gives way to beautiful autumn shades. As the Kwando River (originating in the Angolan highlands) has increased its flow into the Linyanti we have noticed our front-of-house lagoon system also spreading its banks. It is fascinating being able to watch the Black Egret spread its wings to form a canopy as it fishes at the water’s edge.

The onset of the dry season has also brought about the predictable change in wildlife activity. In particular, the breeding herds of elephant have already started to congregate in and around the camp vicinity in large numbers. This is particularly exciting for guests arriving with DumaTau being their first stop in the bush and as they drive from our airstrip to the camp, they encounter all these elephants - what a great welcome to the African bush! Our campsite has really come alive these past few weeks. Apart from increased elephant activity, DumaTau (meaning ‘roar of the lion’) has lived up to its name in fine style with roaring of lions in and around the camp heard and seen on a regular basis. Lions have even recently been mating in the camp. Our two regular camp elephant bulls also seemed to have moved into camp for the season. They kept me awake most of the night recently as they decided to flop onto their sides right next to my room the other night in order to catch up on what appeared to be some much-needed sleep with severe heavy breathing, snoring and flatulence coming from every orifice possible! One even decided to sleep in and continued to lie there until 7:30 in the morning! Leopards are also a regular occurrence in the campsite with no less than three different leopards recently spotted (no pun intended) in the camp. Hippos come out every evening to graze in front of the swimming pool deck.

The campsite has a great species diversity of owls with the following heard from the comfort of our beds virtually very evening - Wood, Pearl-spotted, Scops, Barred and Giant Eagle owls. With all this activity in the camp alone, you can just imagine what is all seen out there on game drive!

With an absence of some six weeks, we were very pleased to once again sight (close to camp) our pack of 14 wild dogs, all looking in superb condition. We also enjoyed our first buffalo sighting for some time. The absolutely magnificent brotherhood of three cheetah is also frequently seen in the nearby Savuti Channel. It is particularly rewarding to see the overwhelming joy on the faces of guests who photographed these wonderful cats a number of years ago and now get to see them again and in such awesome condition amidst all the severe odds in this harsh, wild area. They (and we too) find this hard to believe but then again, that is the imponderable nature of the African bush - what a glorious place to be!

Other wildlife sightings for the month include giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, impala, red lechwe, bushbuck, steenbok, spotted hyaena, warthog, serval, African wildcat, African rock python, martial eagle (as well as numerous other raptors) black-backed jackal. General birding in this area is as always very good.

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Jao Camp update - Apr 05                Jump to Jao Camp
The month of April was a great month and the following report will tell you all about it!

On the climate and weather front we had a whopping 25mm of rain on the 2nd of April. Other than that, no other rain was recorded through the month. The temperatures had a minimum of 16 and a maximum of 32 degrees. The average was minimum 19 and maximum 31 degrees. On the whole, the month of April was even and fair with only a few days bringing morning cloud cover or wind.

Winter seems to be peering over the horizon with the onset of cooler evenings and crisp early mornings. As a result of later sunrises and earlier sunsets, we will soon change the daily activity, afternoon tea and wake-up times.

The floods have come in! The 13th of April was the first day that the floodplain in front of Jao began flowing. Within three days the level rose to about a foot from the tip of the lodge boat jetty and has subsequently stabilised, keeping its level. We all await the next push, which will hopefully bring the water into the downstairs area.

With the floods in we were able to start our Hunda half-day and full-day activities again. Trips to Hunda have mostly been very profitable on the sightings front. Up to 22 lions have been seen on a single day, including two dominant males and six cubs. These all consist of two prides, one of which is a pride that have recently moved from a neighbouring concession, totalling 14 lions.

With all boats up and running, we are also taking excursions up the deeper water channels. Excellent bird and hippo sightings are frequently encountered. On the birding side of things, amazing sights have been recorded through the month. Massive flocks of waterbirds are continuing to delight even the more temperate of bird enthusiasts. A few special sightings include: 1000-2000 flock of Spur-wing Goose flying overhead during another typically brilliant delta sunset; a flock of about 100 Wattled Crane were seen shortly after the Spur-wings flew over. Two Ospreys are spending most of their time fishing around the Jao camp and flood plains area. The Pel’s Fishing Owl is back again, spending most of day near the lodge bridge end of the Island. There has also been a small group of the endangered Ground Hornbills seen in the surrounding areas.

Pete Hancock from Birdlife Botswana visited at the end of April to investigate the endangered Slaty Egret breeding and roosting sites. Unfortunately they were not yet breeding, but more than 50 birds were seen during a single game drive. A monitoring programme is going to be set up with the help of the guides under Victor doing transect counts, checking up on the breeding site and looking for new roosting sites.

In general, Jao is a birdwatcher’s paradise at the moment, the Jao floodplains are literally teaming with a multitude of various birds feeding in the shallow waters: Spoonbill, Marabou Stork, Fish Eagle, Osprey, Saddle-bill Stork, Openbill Stork, Slaty and Black Egret, flocks of Ruff, huge flocks of Red-winged Pratincole, Long-toed Plover, Wattled Crane, Goliath, Purple and Grey Heron, Pink-backed Pelican, Black-winged Stilt etc. Truly an amazing sight.

On the animal side, large herds of over a hundred red lechwe are amassing on the Jao floodplains. Buffalo, elephant and lion sightings have remained constant whilst most other species have slowly infiltrated more towards the drier lands of Hunda Island. It is here that guests are currently seeing big game on a more regular basis. Highlights include the lion cubs, large tusked male elephants and good leopard sightings. Closer to home, hyaenas have started to den in between the airstrip and Jao. A few marvellous sightings were had of the alpha female and her one cub.

The female leopard is still spending a lot of time in the lodge island area, and there was an incredible sighting of predator interaction in the area when a male lion chased a male leopard up a tree with loads of growling and adrenalin. All in all, wonderful sights to see at Jao!

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Mombo and Little Mombo monthly update - Apr 05                Jump to Mombo Camp
Dumela! Here's all the latest news from Mombo and Little Mombo for April 2005. Well the weather is turning, but summer hasn't quite given up the ghost just yet. Daytime temperatures can still be hot - perhaps unusually so for autumn. Autumn in Botswana though never lasts long and we are sure that winter is just around the corner - you can all but smell it in the fresh early morning air and the cool dawn breezes. Evenings are very pleasantly warm, and the lower morning temperatures are invigorating rather than intimidating! The major change this month has been that we've had no rainfall whatsoever, although a couple of hot, cloudy afternoons made us wonder.

After all the rain in March, it seems we have now had our lot for this year, which, along with the slight drop in daytime temperatures (which have been between 27°C (84°F) and 33°C (96°F), with an average of 30.61°C) is another sure sign of the changing of the seasons. Overnight temperatures were noticeably cooler this month, from a low of 15°C (60°F) to 20°C (70°F), with an average of 17°C. Not one drop of rain fell in our trusty rain gauge all month.

The weather has not however been the most important factor in life here this month; we have been mesmerised by the early onset of the annual Okavango flood. In a matter of days, waters which began their journey many months ago in Angola, stole up on Mombo, and soon the view from Camp was a vista of azure blue water and vivid green grasses, with the sun sparkling off the water like a million diamonds, and a never-ending pageant of animals feeding on the new shoots: zebra, wildebeest, and especially buffalo and red lechwe. It is a real carnival of animals, a constantly changing scene as the water creeps ever closer to Camp, and the animals move in closer too, feeding on the very sweetest grasses at the edge of the water.

Often at night we can hear the lullaby sounds of animals splashing through the water, a gentle rustle competing with the frantic mating calls of the reed frogs, clamouring for the attention of females. Even in a few hours, it is possible to see that the water has advanced, and there are myriad waterbirds - cranes, egrets, herons, dikkops - taking advantage of the rising flood. After all the rain we had last month, the water table here is high, so even the modest amount of floodwater we have received so far has seen this area yet again transformed.

Already Jiga-Jiga Channel to the north of Mombo has burst its banks and the water there is spilling out across the floodplain, following the dusty, time-honoured paths of previous floods. One evening we heard a huge herd of buffalo move past Camp, walking through the shallow water just after darkness. It took over half an hour for the herd to pass us, so we estimate that there must have been upwards of 2 000 animals! The noise of their hoofs in the water kept us spellbound; it sounded exactly like a waterfall.

In more tranquil moments, baboons have been coming down to the water's edge to lap up the precious liquid, and, one evening, a thirsty leopard, utterly serene and calm and seemingly oblivious to the agitation her appearance caused to the monkeys looking down from the jackalberry trees.

As yet it is too early to say whether this will be a big flood. Predictions indicate that it may be an average flood, on a par with those of 2002 or 2003.

However there has been a lot of late rain within the Delta, and more importantly, in the Angolan highlands, so we may yet see what we call the second spike - an upsurge on the graph of floodwater entering Botswana from the Caprivi Strip. And besides, there is no such thing as "average" in such a magical place as the Okavango.

In perfect synchronisation with the rains, the floodwaters this year have reached us just two weeks after the last of the rain fell. The Okavango is surely one of the most perfectly balanced and co-ordinated ecosystems on Earth. Everything ticks along in time with everything else, with a precision and a finesse that watchmakers can only dream of.

The countless thousands of litres of life-giving water which flow into the Okavango, filtered through hundreds of kilometres of papyrus beds in the Panhandle and the upper reaches of the Delta, seem to spark off all sorts of new activities among the animals and birds here, whether it be birds building nests, or the impalas beginning their annual rut.

The breeding cycle of impalas in particular is closely tied to the changing of the seasons. They typically give birth en masse in late November / early December, as the first rains of summer fall, and as the area comes alive with new shoots and leaves for the young impalas to feed on. With a six-month gestation period, this means that they mate in May. Before this can happen, however, the impala males rut - that is, compete for mating rights. The bush echoes to the curious growling roar produced by male impalas as they chase each other around in ever-decreasing circles, each male trying to achieve dominance over his rivals. They are often watched impassively by the females, who wait to see who will be the lord of the harem.

Due to their surging testosterone levels, male impalas often don't pay any attention to their surroundings, concentrating only on defeating other males. This means that at this time of the year, males make up a disproportionately high number of the impalas killed by predators. Recently we saw a female leopard who had killed an adult male impala perhaps twice her weight, decide against hoisting it into a leadwood tree - the kill was simply too heavy - and so instead she hid the impala and herself in an impenetrable candle pod acacia bush, to keep the kill safe from the prying eyes of vultures, and the ever-curious noses of the hyenas.

Throughout this month, it is Mombo's leopards who have provided us with some of the most incredible game drive moments, particularly when they get entangled with other species. Over the last few years we have noticed a definite increase in baboon populations in this area - and baboons of course can provide many hours of fascination and amusement, not least because of the mirror they can hold up to our own "sophisticated" human behaviour! There is however no love lost between baboons and leopards, and any encounter between these two species can be fraught with danger for both.

On two occasions during April we have seen baboons carry the fight to a leopard - one young male was mobbed by so many baboons that he was invisible beneath an angry fur ball, and it was some seconds before he could wriggle his way out of that one. Meanwhile, the porcupine he had been stalking used this very welcome diversion to make good its escape! The older male leopards here are generally more wily, but even one of our big toms was almost caught by baboons, after he seized one, and was pursued by the rest of the troop. He made it into a tsaro palm island and no baboon was going to follow him in there and risk those slashing claws in a confined space.

It's possible that with so many baboons around, Mombo's leopards may become more nocturnal, but we think that this is unlikely as the night at Mombo belongs to the hyaenas. So we are confident that we will continue to enjoy the superb daylight close encounters with the spotted cats which are such a memorable feature of a stay at Mombo for so many of our guests.

Leopards are often coy when mating, so it was a real bonus to find two mating right out in the open in one of the newly green floodplains. A chance to witness rarely seen behaviour, and to appreciate the extreme size difference between male and female leopards. The continuing saga of the leopards of Mombo is never less than enthralling, and we now look forward to the next generation continuing the tale.

Perhaps the most unforgettable sighting of the month also involved a leopard, but purely by accident. We have regularly been seeing three wild dogs around Mombo, and the fact that they have stuck it out here - despite competition from lions and hyaenas - is a good sign for the future of the species in the immediate area. We have seen the alpha pair of this little group mate, so we are very hopeful that they may den and raise puppies.

Late one afternoon in the middle of the month, we found the three of them stretching in the soft light, and their lean bellies showed that they would soon be setting off on a hunt. The previous day they had made a kill, but had lost it to hyaenas so they were very hungry by now. We watched their first attempt, as they streaked through the long grass, cotton-bud tails streaming out behind them - but the impalas lost the dogs by running through a herd of zebra.

After a brief rest, the indefatigable dogs were in action again, but they suddenly stopped and began leaping up at a small acacia tree. It took us a moment to realise what was going on: in the tree was a male leopard, with a freshly killed impala in its jaws. It seems that the wild dogs had inadvertently chased the impala into him.

The leopard was none too pleased to see the dogs, but in snarling his displeasure, he dropped the impala - which was instantly seized by the dogs, yipping in excitement - they couldn't believe their luck! They immediately began feeding and were making short work of the impala, but this was just too much for the leopard, who bounded down from the tree to reclaim his meal. After a brief, furious fight, he retreated back up the tree, and the second time he descended, it was to flee.

The wild dogs very quickly devoured the impala, pausing only to drive off a hyaena which came along to investigate. As we watched this incredible sequence of events, darkness began to fall, and we headed back to Camp, speechless at the drama we had seen unfolding right before us.

Meanwhile, back in Camp, we have been delighting guests with special candlelit "honeymoon" dinners, transforming secluded corners of the Camp into magical (and romantic!) private dining rooms. The perfect prelude (along with the cooler temperatures) to snuggling up together and falling asleep to the sounds of hippos chortling their happiness at the new grass and water suddenly available to them.

Very soon we will be starting our winter menus, which means hot porridge for early-morning breakfast. Perfect! And another great antidote to the slight chill of winter mornings will be the Mombo cookbook, which should be hot off the press in the next couple of months.

As ever, we will leave the last word on Mombo to our guests who shared this magical place with us in April:
• Every minute was exciting, enjoyable, wonderful! We rate this Camp as Number 1!
• We had a wonderful time - everyone was friendly and professional and our guide
• Brooks was amazing.
• Mombo would exceed even the most well travelled and fastidious guest's expectations.
• Each day held a new adventure!
• This place - the setting, animals, people was beyond fantastic!! We loved this place so much that it forever touched our hearts beyond description - count on us being back!
• We will tell everybody about your glorious Camp and we are sure you will have many visitors from our description of this outstanding, exquisite safari experience. Our love to all of you for showing us the "heart of Africa" - its people!
• Brandon was our guide - he was amazing! He had such passion for the animals and what he is doing. It really helped enhance our experience.
• We were made to feel like this is our second home, thanks to all the great staff.
• Dear Little Mombo team: all of you are special, sweet, warm, welcoming people - Thank you to all of you for everything - the entire stay here although short was the highlight - all of you are fabulous and a pleasure to be around.
• The highlights were the game drives with Alex. He has such a sharp and experienced eye and led us to many things that we had not seen on previous safaris.

We look forward to welcoming you here to this unspoilt African paradise. For now, that's all from your April Mombo team - until next month: Brandon & Debs, Justin & Angela, Craig, Peter & Sharon, Thompson, Max, and Nick. Until next time.

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Chitabe Camp & Chitabe Trails update - Apr 05                Jump to Chitabe / Chitabe Trails
Being a predator is a tough life.  Not only are you constantly endangering yourself when hunting, but you also have the attentions of other competitive predators to confront or avoid.

Sadly, the cub of our female leopard, Mosadi Mogolo - our firm little favourite who we watched from infancy, observed making her first kill and grow into young adulthood - was killed by hyaenas. She suffered an initial injury, probably from a male courting her mother, which proved too much for her to cope with. Unable to eat the kills offered to her by her mother and unable to climb a tree to escape the hyaenas, she was taken early one morning by the marauding clan. Such is life in this harsh environment and serves as a reminder of the savage realities of a predator out there. It also reminds us why it serves no purpose other than eventual pain to become attached to a wild animal.

The Magnificent Seven, the pack of boisterous wild dog youngsters who moved into our area were also reminded of reality recently. They ran into and were attacked by the resident lion pride. They managed to escape, but two of them were severely injured - one on his back and side, the other lost his ear and had a large gash on his skull. Due to the closeness of the ties and bonds in a pack of Wild Dogs, these two have been cared for, fed, and their wounds licked clean by their pack mates; and seem to be well on the way to a complete recovery, despite the scars and the missing ear! They should be denning to produce puppies sometime soon, which is something we all look forward to.

On a happier note, the lion cubs we had given up for dead have been found! Ben spotted six cubs being shown the rudiments of the hunt by four lionesses on our southern boundary.

April was the month of the leopard - every couple of days we were rewarded with sightings of our residents. Lelobu seems to have found a girlfriend in the New Hide area, and a sub-adult cub has been seen with them. Three leopard in one sighting has been the highlight of a few of our guests' stay! Ben and his guests were also privileged to observe two other leopards mating near the airstrip.

The lions have been quite busy in this month - so busy in fact that we have only had limited sightings of them. The coalition of three males has been patrolling its territory against invaders and nomads almost constantly, and covering a lot of distance to achieve this. We also spotted an old, very thin lioness who had stolen a kill from a leopard, feeding directly under the tree where the angry cat was at bay in the topmost branches.

Of the seven known cheetah in the area, we have had very sporadic sightings of them - the female with two semi-adult cubs in the Old Chitabe area has obliged us, but we haven't seen the female with three young cubs this month.

The flood that has arrived early in the western side of the Delta has yet to reach our corner of the Kalahari, and the Gomoti Channel, apart from a few isolated pools, has dried up completely in anticipation of the new waters arriving. Herds of elephant have been arriving from out of the woodlands where the pans have eventually dried up in search of water - they march out, dusty and parched, like grey ghosts. After a drink and a bath in the channel in front of camp, they melt off into the tree islands in search of food, and then head west, where they seem to know that the water has arrived.

As everything here has begun to dry up in anticipation of the arrival of the life-giving waters, the resident hippo that feeds in front of camp at night has had a few battles with invading males, twice right in front of the camp. The noise and ferocity of these animals when they fight has to be seen to be appreciated.

The walking season is upon us again, and we have walkers out there almost every day, soaking in the wonders of being on foot out there in our glorious wilderness. This is an experience enriched by encountering things one would not normally notice from a noisy moving vehicle - the engagement of all of the senses (including some that have no name), at one with the majesties of creation that surround you. Sleeping out in the hide, serenaded by the ‘plink’ sounds of the reed frogs, listening to the whoops of hyaena giggling at their own private jokes, and hippos chortling to themselves in the channels is an experience few will ever forget.

Temperatures have started to drop in anticipation of winter, with average lows around 12 degrees Celsius, and average highs around 29 degrees.

The sunsets have transformed once again into their winter splendour - the sky is like the inside of a cobalt Faberge egg as the golden orb of the sun sinks us into another star-studded African night. Listening to the chirrups of the Scops owls and the warbling lament of the nightjars as we sit around the fire of an evening reminds us all what a special and wondrous place Chitabe is, and we invite you to share the joys both great and small of simply being here.

From our Visitors' Book:
Matthew & Jennifer Lynch (USA) - " What an amazing honeymoon! We had a fabulous time with such a great group of people. The staff and managers here are terrific and Phinley was extraordinary. It was the trip of a lifetime!"

David & Ann Barrow (UK) - "Our first stay in Botswana - a wonderful country made more memorable by your staff and guides."

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Jack's Camp update - Apr 05                Jump to Jack's Camp
The month of April has flown by – the very first suggestions of autumn to be seen in the ripe Mopani pods and all the Hornbill chicks emerging from their nests at once. Late April has heard their distinctive “kok-kok-kok” all over as they remind their parents that they are hungry. While the mellow afternoons still invite guests to lounge on the swing beds and reach for the iced tea, the mornings are, for the first time, meriting poncho-wrap ups and mugs of steaming cocoa. As always in the colder months, the night sky is magnificent, with the total absence of clouds and crisp air revealing and magnifying the tiniest of twinkles.

A fantastic sighting of brown hyaena and lion interaction was witnessed by some lucky guests, and there does appear to be a new lactating female brown hyaena in the area. A new den site has been discovered with numerous remains – jackal, domestic dog, honey badger and aardwolf. There has been increasing evidence of resident leopards in the area which up to now we only suspected. A brown hyaena cub of about 12 months was found hanging in a tree in the woodland – all evidence pointing to having been predated by a leopard. As in March, a very good aardvark sighting was enjoyed by guests, on the way back to their tents one night. Our hyaena researcher Glyn spotted a cheetah hunting with her two cubs near the airstrip and we enjoyed watching them for a considerable length of time.

The numerous birdwatchers who have visited camp this month have been lucky with unusual sightings such as Hamerkop and Saddle-billed Stork, while the raptor sightings have remained particularly good too. Kaelo and Will start guiding guests from this month. Will has found the birds of the Makgadikgadi a new and exciting challenge, while Kaelo is delighted to be tracking with spoor rather than using VHF on fish!

Regards from the Kalahari.

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More changes at Linyanti Explorations - Apr 05
Excerpted from the Press Release:
It is with great pleasure that we announce the following new developments at Linyanti Explorations.

• With the cessation of all hunting activities on The Selinda, the reserve now forms part of the largest “no hunting” conservation & wildlife area outside of the National Parks and Game Reserves in Botswana.

• As a consequence of this, Motswiri Camp will be available for photographic safaris as from July 1st.  Motswiri Camp is a small 6-bedded camp built in an ancient Leadwood grove on the banks of the western Selinda Spillway where the perennial floods of the Okavango bring with them the myriad of life that is characteristic of this river.

The camp will operate as an “adventure safari” camp, offering full day walking safaris (with tracker); canoeing safaris in safe waters (depending on flood level and duration); game drives and night drives.  Game viewing is excellent in the area and due to the remoteness of the camp, very exclusive.

• As from July 15th Selinda Camp will have 2 more rooms available for booking. This will take the camp capacity to 8 twin/double rooms plus 1 pilot/guide twin room.

• All our operations will now be open year round, with the exception of the Trails camps, Mokoba and Tshwene, which will close Dec-Mar.  However, walking safaris can still be booked, and will operate out of Selinda, Zibalianja or Motswiri Camps.

Linyanti Explorations (Pty) Ltd.
30 April 2005


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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - Apr 05                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Sea conditions for the month have been really unsettled due to a cyclone situated off Madagascar. Although we have had no winds, we have had the ripple effects of big swells, kicking up the sand on the reef. Frustratingly the visibility was at around 20m and water temperature 25 degrees Celsius but because of the swells one had to wait for the sand to settle after each set came through. On one particular dive at ‘Elusive,’ Darryl was the first to reach the bottom and as he looked up he saw a black ball of baitfish swirling, then suddenly they parted and scattered as a huge 30-kilogram kingfish darted though. It nearly bumped right into Darryl, quickly made a sharp turn and disappeared.

After that the sea conditions settled and the visibility improved to an average of 15-20m and some wonderful dives were had at ‘Elusive’. A very special sighting of a male leopard shark, which seemed to have moved into the seaward section of the reef, where he remained for about ten days! Sometimes there is confusion amongst divers as these sharks are also called zebra sharks in some countries because they have stripes on their bodies when young, which change into spots when adults. They are very docile, tending to rest during the day and hunt at night. They feed mostly on molluscs, invertebrates and small fish.

Big honeycomb rays are still being sighted either resting next to the reef or gliding out across the sand. This is a good sign, as they are summer visitors to our reefs, and even though the water temperature has dropped to around 24 degrees Celsius, it isn’t time for the winter wetsuits just yet. The blacktail sharks that we also see mostly in summer are still regulars at ‘Pineapple’, with three of them being seen on one particular dive.

The dolphin sightings this month have been spectacular, particular as we have seen them in action! Towards the end of the month we went on a snorkelling trip. The divers had just finished the first dive and they jumped off the boat and raced over to tell us what they had seen. A pod of Bottlenose dolphins! They had apparently swum right up to them during their dive! Would we be able to see them too? The sea answered with a resounding yes! We actually watched them hunting small fish that seemed to be flying fish. No, these were not flying fish but thin, silver, garfish (also called needlefish) that seemed to be flying because they were literally jumping out of the water trying to get away! Amid all the excitement, Darryl also noticed a blacktip reef shark that was coming to investigate the commotion.

Willie also saw the shark but noticed something bigger underneath it! Bigger than the shark? Yes, turns out it was a potato shark! A potato shark, I hear you ask? Well, when all the excitement died down, it turned out that he was in fact a big potato bass!

For those of you who know Casper, Bart, Homer and Tyson, you are aware that these potato bass are large fish that can grow up to 2m long and can weigh in at a hefty 100 kilograms. Tyson is certainly around heavyweight status and his territory is a reef named ‘Gogo’s’. Some of you know him well; for those that don’t, he has lived at ‘Gogo’s’ since we have been here over the past four years. When we first got to know him we noticed a chunk of his top lip was missing, looked like he had been in a punch-up – hence the name. He is a very curious fish and tends to get himself into trouble at times. Well, this time he had certainly done it! Clive saw the line trailing out of his mouth and on closer inspection he realised that Tyson had got himself a fisherman’s catch! The problem is that the fish was right down his gullet, with two big hooks. Clive approached and wrapped the end of the line around his hand getting a good grip. Everyone watched as the two began to battle. Tyson would shake his head wildly from side to side as Clive pulled at the line, then as Clive slackened the line slightly, Tyson would stop. Eventually Clive pulled the fish and most importantly, the hooks out of his mouth.

Tyson seemed to be sulking and reversed under a ledge while Clive removed the hooks from the fish, his big eyes watching every move – but when Clive offered the juicy tomato rockcod back to Tyson he gently sucked it down! In a much better mood now that he realised Clive was trying to help and not to steal his fish, he let everyone come and shower him with the attention that he loves so much: A very special moment that both human and fish will not soon forget!

Summer is still holding its warm grip on the ocean and we have had no signs of our cold-water friends yet – the Cape Gannets, Albatross or unmistakable spouts of water – the wonderful humpback whales. We wait in anticipation!

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Namibia camps
Rare leopard sighting at Ongava Tented Camp - Apr 05                  Jump to Ongava Tented Camp
Leopard sighting - 25th April 2005

After a productive afternoon in the Etosha National Park, we headed back to the Ongava Reserve - for a surprise bush dinner!  As it was already starting to get dark, I used the spotlight in the hopes of finding some interesting nocturnal critters.  We were driving slowly on a section of the road to the lodge where I hoped to catch a glimpse of a female leopard that is resident in that area. 

And there she was!  I spotted her eyes gleaming red in the beam of light and immediately stopped, switched the engine off and asked the four guests to be absolutely quiet. The leopard was shy at first and we sat patiently in the hope that she would relax and become used to our non-threatening presence.  Eventually she moved out of the bushes inch by inch and stared at the vehicle very curiously, beginning to relax. Another vehicle showed up, and she dashed off into the bushes. I signalled to the vehicle with my spotlight that they should stop, so it moved back quite some distance and switched the engine off. 

The leopard came closer once again after I turned my Land Rover around and sat quietly in the small Mopane shrub next to the road. I switched off all lights and we waited for her to move into the road.  In the light of the full moon, I saw how she came out of the bushes and I switched on the light and shone it with just some of the spotlight wash on her so as not to disturb her.  As she crawled to the edge of the road, I gradually lifted the light until the beam was right on her and we could see her lying beautifully in the middle of the road.  After a few minutes, she moved along the road and then off to the other side of it to a patch of tall Commiphora trees.  She lay there for quite some time before finally moving off into the night. 

My guests were absolutely thunderstruck and managed to get her on photo as well as video. After the encounter they couldn’t stop chatting all the way to the Tented Camp and related the incident with great enthusiasm to the other guests in camp. What an wonderful end to another magnificent day in the bush!

By Douw Steyn
Wilderness Safaris Guide

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