Stories from The Great Wilderness Journies safaris.
Kwando Lagoon camp being expanded.
Monthly update from Mombo Camp in
Monthly update from Xigera Camp in
Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in
Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in
Monthly update from Jack's Camp in
Monthly update from Jao Camp in
Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in
Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in
from Rocktail Bay in
Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in
Explorations - Stories from
the Great Wilderness Journey - Nov 05 Jump
Lions at First Light
Our safari got off to a bit of a rainy start
and it was with much relief that we arrived
at Kwetsani on Day 3 to be greeted by cloudy
but dry skies. There are not many places
in northern Botswana that can compare with
the floodplains in the Jao concession for
scenic beauty. This is even more so in early
summer, when the first rains are falling
and the short grass plains are seen against
the backdrop of storm-clouded skies.
When you are guiding in scenery like this,
you hope for that special sighting to share
with your guests. On our last morning at Kwetsani
we were busy with breakfast, the sun about
to creep over the horizon when we heard lions
roaring. They sounded close by, and a minute
later two male lions came into view, striding
purposefully along. We enjoyed the view momentarily
from the raised deck of the camp, and then
rushed for the Land Rover, eager to get close
to the big cats.
It was easy to find them in the short grass,
and we drove some distance ahead of the two
lions then switched off and sat very quiet
and still as they approached. First one and
then the next dark-maned cat passed by the
Land Rover, giving us just a couple of metres
width, and ignoring us completely as they padded
softly through the dew-soaked grass. Droplets
of water dotted their manes, and sparkled in
the clear light. Little clouds of vapour misted
from their open mouths as they walked past.
We had all been snapping away with our cameras,
the lions dark manes contrasting deeply with
their tan fur. Looking up, I saw a third male
some distance off, and they were headed directly
for him. He was the third member of their coalition,
and had been separated from these two for some
days, feeding on red lechwe antelope he had
caught. We drove around and ahead again, and
watched the male lion reunion. First a kind
of crouching run, then a playful jump and the
big cats were tumbling over each other, growling
and grunting in the wet grass. Nearby a concerned
bachelor herd of red lechwe kept wary eyes
on the lions, but they were not in the mood
to hunt. All their bellies were fairly full,
and after nuzzling and bonding for some minutes,
they scent-marked some bushes and then lay
down quietly on the edge of a stand of waterberry
trees, almost instantly disappearing from sight.
Male lions often live in such coalitions,
and in most of Botswana the average coalition
consists of two males. Since 1999 when Jao,
Jacana and Kwetsani opened we have not seen
any adult male coalitions with three members,
and it was a spectacular start to our morning.
These particular males have only been active
on the Jao floodplains in the past two months,
and we are all hoping they are going to be
around for some time to come.
The Pig That
It was early December and we were driving east
along the Linyanti River floodplain after
a full day outing. Heavy rains that had fallen
meant that the big herds of elephants that
frequent the river in the dry season were
no longer to be seen. Buffalo, kudu and large
predators were scarce too, but the bird-rich
summer skies and the brilliant green of the
chlorophyll-rich woodland made up for it.
On this day, a late afternoon storm of dramatic
proportions was building ahead of us.
With a clear
sky and a warm sun behind us, we were enjoying
the spectacle when we drove up on a female
warthog and her month-old piglets. There
were three of the little pigs, and unlike
their mother, they were not too comfortable
with the presence of our vehicle and they
ran across the tracks and out onto the river's
floodplain. The mother warthog trotted unconcernedly
out after them. Meanwhile the piglets were
engaged in a game of chase as they raced
around in confusing circles, first one leading,
then the other. I mentioned to my guests
the risks of being a young animal, and we
were discussing how obviously naïve
the young hogs were of their vulnerability.
On the open floodplain the wind was driving
up swirling clouds of dust.
seconds before there was nothing, a fast-moving
shadow materialised. Gliding ominously toward
the piglets was a martial eagle. Naïve
as they were, the piglets knew just enough
to realise they were in trouble. They raced
toward their mother as the eagle floated
just over them. The female warthog stood
with her head high as the eagle passed by.
It turned, flapped a few times to gain some
height and swept toward the family again.
With the piglets almost under her belly, the
mother warthog once more stood tall and faced
the approaching eagle head-on. The martial
flared its wings as it neared her, and almost
came to a stop just a metre above the ground
in front of the feisty warthog, before angling
its flight away from them. It settled on a
termite mound nearby, and there it sat, intently
watching the warthogs with the piercing glare
of the predator. The unsettled warthogs moved
off toward the river clustered tightly together,
all safe and perhaps a little wiser, at least
until the next time?
Wattled Cranes and Waterbirds of the Jao Concession
A season of guiding Great Wilderness Journey
safaris has allowed me to view some wonderful
happenings all over northern Botswana. From
dry-season elephants living and dying along
the Linyanti River to the bird-rich floodplains
of the Okavango and onward to the Makgadikgadi
meerkats scratching a living out of the Kalahari
sands near San Camp, the Journey provides
insight into a wide variety of habitats.
Early in the
year the floodplains of the Delta are under
sheets of clear water, and guiding out of
Jacana camp provided some of the best birding
one could imagine. Unusual or rare wetland
species occur here not as individuals, but
in droves. Herons, egrets, storks, ibis,
kingfishers, cormorants and darters all spend
their days fishing. Rosy-throated Longclaw,
Pel's Fishing Owl, Rufous-bellied Heron,
Slaty Egret and Coppery-tailed Coucal are
all birding "specials" that
are to be found in numbers here. Mid-morning
thermals carry flocks of hundreds of Open-billed
Storks into the sky, and they drift and dance
in mile-high flocks above the floodplains.
Perhaps the most spectacular of birds to be
found in the Jao Concession is the Wattled
Crane. This Concession is home to one of the
highest breeding concentrations of these uncommon
birds. Occurring in pairs, in family groups
and in non-breeding feeding flocks, Wattled
Cranes are symbolic of unspoiled wetlands and
healthy ecosystems. By the last half of the
year the delta is slowly drying, and emergent
plants take advantage of the receding floodwaters
gift of rich sediments. When this happens near
Jacana, flocks of cranes gather for the feast,
and on a day in September we managed to count
almost 140 cranes in a single morning. The
feeding flock was restless, and groups of birds
would serenely take to the air, wings flapping
in measured, graceful arcs as they flew, usually
coming to land a few hundred metres away. Still
others would clash over a feeding site, and
a short, spectacular wing-spreading dance would
follow as they asserted themselves. For almost
two months the cranes were in similar numbers,
and it is a sobering thought to realise one
is gazing upon ten percent of the Delta's population
of these elegant birds.
Camp Update - Dec 05
Camp, the original Kwando Safaris camp, situated
under massive trees on a lagoon of the big Kwando
River area, will be closed from 11-January 2006
to 05-February 2006, both dates inclusive, in
order to add more tents to take the camp up to
dispersion of open water, penetrating into the
historic flood plains and caused by last year's
high floods around Lagoon Camp, has led to a
dramatic increase in the diversity and number of
birds and small game. These animals complement
the legendary big game populations that the Kwando
River Concession is renowned for. As a result,
Lagoon Camp has become a non-stop window on wildlife
will retain that bush camp atmosphere that has
led to frequent repeat visitors. The recent
addition of the deck in camp enhances Lagoon's
reputation for offering some of the best game
viewing in Africa.
Camp update - Dec 05 Jump
to Mombo Camp
December has been an elephantine month at Mombo and Little Mombo in every
sense, a wonderful finale to 2005, with mammoth amounts of all that makes
this part of the Okavango Delta so very special: incredible wildlife
moments, warm hospitality, stunning scenery, and a real air of celebration.
Oh, and the elephants themselves! We have seen more of them here this
month than ever before, which is unusual because once the rains begin
they usually disperse into the mopane woodlands further south along Chief's
Island. During the last few weeks however we have had several large breeding
herds in the area - watching them come down to a waterhole, their excitement
evident, and then drinking and splashing in the water, is a wonderful
experience. The youngest elephants are still figuring out how to use
their trunks and sometimes have to kneel down to get their mouths to
the water. Older elephants delight in spraying mud over their backs or
trying to roll over in the water, cavorting in a way that belies their
immense size and pensive nature.
Splashes of colour are everywhere - from the brilliant molten gold and
ruby flowers of the flame lilies in the palm bushes, to the stunning
rainbows caused by the late afternoon sun being refracted through a million
droplets of water left suspended in the air after a tropical shower.
The predominant colour remains green - a vivid emerald lime-mint-frog-green,
beaded with mercury-like drops of dew in the early mornings before the
rising sun burns off the dawn mists. The pale buff shapes stepping uncertainly
into this verdant wonderland are newborn wildebeest calves.. Tiny warthog
piglets rocket through the grass, exuberantly exhibiting the sheer joy
of being alive at such a wonderful time of year. A green paradise; they
could not have asked for a better place to be born.
December's temperatures have been cooler than we
might normally expect at this time of year, due to cloud cover on some
days. However, we have had some very hot days following rain, once
the clouds had dispersed. Temperatures ranged from maximum 35°C (100°F) to as low as 16°C
(62°F). We have not had nearly as much rain as in November, but we
did experience considerable rainfall on several occasions. With perfect
timing, the majority of the 83.7mm (3.30 inches) of rain we received
in December fell at night, and so barely interrupted game drives or meals
The sudden profusion of baby impalas has been a huge boon to many of
our predators, and the leopards in particular have been exacting a heavy
toll on these tiny antelopes. Logadima, the young female leopard we know
best, and who first graduated to killing her own impala only a few months
ago, has been practicing her hunting techniques on the unsuspecting impala
In November we discovered to everyone's delight
that the Tortillis Female, Logadima's mother, had two new cubs. Sadly
these twins disappeared within a few weeks, and were feared dead. A
veteran Mombo guide, returning to visit his old haunts, suspected otherwise,
and some diligent detective work located one surviving twin. We were
naturally overjoyed at this cub's "resurrection", but this was short-lived: the very next
day, the Tortillis Female was seen in the same place, calling over and
over again, increasingly plaintively, for her cub. There was no response.
It now seems that she has lost seven of the eight cubs she has given
birth to, with Logadima the only one so far to make it to adulthood.
These long odds against survival only go to show that even a supreme
survivor like the leopard can have a tough time of it against all the
forces of Nature in what Darwin called the "dreadful but quiet war?
going on in the peaceful woods, and smiling fields."
Another major predator of impalas is the wild dog
- in fact at Mombo they seem to eat nothing else. There is perhaps
no safari experience that is the equal of "running with the pack," the
adrenaline-soaked thrill of following wild dogs on a hunt as they lope
effortlessly along, looking to startle impalas in the long grass. Now
that the local pack?s two puppies are able to play a more active role
in the hunt, the number of kills they are notching up is truly impressive.
One routine airstrip transfer turned out to be anything but (to be
honest, the only thing routine at Mombo is the extraordinary). The
dogs were hunting very close to Camp, and the adults soon killed one
impala, which they left for the puppies to eat (typical of the dogs'
co-operative attitude to life) while they ran down a second one for
themselves. All of this in a blur of yellow, brown, black and white
splotches, Mickey Mouse ears, and the abrupt sneezing alarm calls of
impalas facing destiny.
Dinner at Little Mombo was badly delayed one evening early in the month,
when the chef came into the dining room to make an announcement. No,
not to ask the guests to come to the table, but to inform them that a
lion had just walked past! We watched from the deck as not one but seven
lionesses walked past, followed by 17 cubs, and then the four big males
known as Bob Marley and the Wailers. The females were clearly intent
on hunting, their lean bodies emanating concentration. In the dry channel
bed stood a small group of zebras, unaware of the havoc that was about
to be unleashed. As the lionesses slunk into position in the palm islands,
hunger got the better of the males, and they charged headlong into the
zebras. For anyone who has ever marvelled at the passivity of a resting
lion, to see them run is an education. The males ruined the ambush of
course, and missed all the adult zebras. One, however, collided with
a zebra foal, and it was all over. The males demolished this insubstantial
meal in minutes, refusing to share with even the cubs.
Another moment of high drama resulted from a zebra's birthing difficulties.
She was clearly struggling to deliver, and had been for some time. Suddenly,
to everyone's surprise, she dropped dead. While the guests on the game
drive were still absorbing what they had just witnessed, a lioness flashed
past, a tawny missile in the long grass, in hot pursuit of warthog piglets.
A male strolled after her, hoping to pirate her kill, and couldn't believe
his luck when he stumbled over the newly-dead zebra. When the lioness
returned a few minutes later, having caught one piglet, she found all
her companions around the zebra, haunches shifting as they jockeyed for
The reintroduced rhinos continue to provide wonderful safari moments,
too. At the very end of November, our monitoring team set out to look
for one female who had not been seen since parting company with her regular
companion a few days earlier. Often this is a sign of an impending birth,
and this in combination with her vast girth and general lethargy when
last seen, suggested that another calf was on the way.
The clincher though was seeing a white stork in the road on the way
to the area where the female rhino was believed to be. This beautiful
bird had found its way to Mombo from southern Europe, storm-tossed across
seas, and blown in sand-storms across deserts. European folklore has
it that these birds deliver human babies, so why not a rhino baby? Sure
enough, that day the female rhino was located, with a tiny male calf,
born just four or five days earlier, and as cute as a button! This was
our eighth birth as a result of the joint Wilderness Safaris / Botswana
Government reintroduction programme and means that almost a quarter of
our white rhinos were born here, rather than being released from the
bomas - a great achievement.
The highlight was undoubtedly our celebrations
for Christmas. The lack of snow did not detract in any way from the
unique atmosphere of Christmas in the bush, thorny dry acacia branches
hung with traditional beaded ornaments and strung with tiny silver
lights formed our tree, and the table was decorated with feathery wild
asparagus and very cute wire animals. Craig and his team in the kitchen,
fresh from the triumphant launch of the Mombo cookbook, 'Elephant in
the Kitchen' in Johannesburg, pulled out all the stops: From salmon
mousse à la Monty Python to a lavish
Christmas main course weaving together the very best of European heritage
with more than a soupcon of African magic, it was the meal of the year.
Christmas Day itself seemed appropriately wintry, even in the middle
of summer. A cool, cloudy day, but none of that could detract from the
excitement and happiness of the day. The morning's game drives terminated
not at the Camp, but at a secret location in the bush, where tables had
been set under the soaring branches of tall trees, arching over the feast
like the vaults of a cathedral nave. The tinge of wood smoke blowing
across the clearing as pancakes cooked in a pan over an open fire, and
the unmistakeable aroma of bubbling chocolate Amarula sauce.
As the guests sat down to their picnic lunch, a
lioness strolled out of cover across the floodplains beyond the trees.
She was closely followed by one of the Wailers, the dominant male lions
at Mombo: A magnificent animal, his dark mane rippling in the breeze.
And so we were eyewitnesses as another "honeymoon couple" mated
in the shade of the tsaro palms - there cannot be many people on Earth
who had such a dramatic show during their Christmas lunch!
Meanwhile, at Little Mombo, Steve's fascinating PhD research into the
Meyer's Parrot continues and he has begun to unravel some of the mysteries
of how they select a nest site, and why they hybridise so readily with
other southern African parrot species.
- Our Christmas Day bush picnic was fabulous! You all do a stunning job
of welcoming, and attending to our every need. Malinga was a thoughtful,
thorough, and knowledgeable guide - patient and gracious. Many, many
- No recommendations - everything was beyond expectation!
- First-class management and staff. Little Mombo was my best life experience
in 42 years!
- Everything was a highlight - the animals, accommodations, food, entertainment
- but mostly the people!
- We loved the spirit of the Mombo team, and the attention they give
- Thank you for a very lovely stay, made possible only by the combined
efforts of the entire Mombo team?
- The service is probably the most impressive aspect of the whole experience
? friendly, enthusiastic, authentic, informal, efficient - perfect!
- We all absolutely loved the safari drives! Brooks our guide was hilarious,
kind and filled with adventure!
- There is nothing like this place?
We couldn't agree more, and we look forward to
welcoming new friends and old to this portion of paradise in 2006.
With our very best wishes for the New Year - and we're sure it will
be another great one here in the Okavango Delta - from your December
Mombo and Little Mombo teams: Brandon & Debs, Steve, Craig, Pete & Sharon,
Jene, One, Thompson, and Nick.
Xigera Camp update
- Dec 05 Jump
to Xigera Camp
December was a month of plenty at Xigera. We had record-breaking rains
with well over 300mm of rain in the month and as a result Xigera Island
is a myriad of green and bursting blossoms.
We had an excellent month of wildlife viewing. Our mother leopard and
cub are still around occasionally and with all the standing water around
they are inclined to walk in the road more readily (so they don't get
their paws wet) thus making our chances of seeing her higher.
The Xigera Boys are back! These three huge male lions had not been seen
for months, but this month two were spotted sleeping in the middle of
the airstrip and hung around the area for a few weeks. In the second
week they joined up with their third brother who had disappeared too.
The brothers were heard at night, roaring proclamation to the world that
they were back in the concession.
Another delightful discovery was two lionesses that are both heavily
pregnant. Maybe the arrival of the brothers and two ladies is not a coincidence?
We are all hoping for them to settle in the area and to raise their cubs
here. Guests to the camp were treated on two occasions to sightings of
these two ladies hunting, and what makes it more interesting was that
the guests were on a mokoro with the action happening close to the channel
where the guests were!
Xigera Island is renowned for its vibrant and healthy population of
White-Browed Robin-Chats (Heuglin's Robin) and their bubbling, chirping
song is the main component of the dawn chorus. A major event for the
concession was the confirmation, by photographic proof, of a population
of a Collared Palm Thrush - many tens of kilometres from known populations
in the Selinda and at Kasane. This has had huge reverberations within
the birding community, with Birdlife Botswana showing a lot of interest.
Birds such as the African Fish Eagle, Red-billed Francolin, and Hartlaub's
Babblers all have young ones and are ever-present in the camp.
Our Juvenile Pel's Fishing Owl was spotted one night on our foot-bridge,
in front of the lodge. All of a sudden he raised his wings and started
hopping around in the lamp-light snapping at, and eating flying ants!
A fishing owl eating insects?!
Hope you all have a wonderful new year and may all your dreams come
All of us at Xigera
Tubu Tree Camp update
- Dec 05 Jump
to Tubu Tree Camp
Fish traps occur when fish get caught in shrinking pools of floodwater
and the birds take full advantage of the free meal. The fishing parties
have continued into December, with congregations of hundreds of birds
including 22 different species in one spot! Amongst which there were
five species of stork, four egret, two pelican, kingfishers, herons and
Whilst having a bush-brunch one morning three big bull elephants decided
to join us. They came to within thirty metres of our brunch and fell
asleep under the large trees that provided shade for their midday siesta
as well as for our brunch. Guests were amazed at their relaxed nature
and nonchalance; certainly an experience one will never forget.
We have enjoyed the privilege of seeing a pack of six wild dogs near
Tubu Tree Camp on several occasions during December. Now that the floodwaters
have receded they are able to utilise the extent of their huge home ranges
and are not limited by water channels. The surplus of young impala meant
that they were able to remain in our area and we saw the dogs on a regular
basis; they even came past our campfire one evening, had an inquisitive
sniff around and then disappeared again. These highly intelligent animals
are the second most endangered predator in Africa after the Ethiopian
wolf. The alpha male in the pack had a wound on his neck, an injury he
probably incurred whilst hunting as they move through the bush at high
speed after their prey. Unlike other social predators it is the females
that leave their natal pack and seek out a new one while the males remain
unless they are deposed by new, incoming males. We hope to see more of
them in January.
We had many sightings of lion in front of camp this month. A male and
a female chased another female off a wildebeest kill on the western side
of the Tubu floodplain. Unbeknown to us the first lioness had three young
cubs hidden in the undergrowth not far from the kill. Despite battling
with the male, one of the cubs was killed before the female managed to
escape with her two remaining cubs. It is highly unlikely that this male
was the father of the cubs and was therefore eliminating his competitor?s
offspring. It may seem harsh from a human perspective but infanticide
is common among lions. Fifty percent of lion cubs will not make their
first year due to a combination of starvation and predation, either from
hyaenas or other male lions.
A wildebeest calf which seemed to have lost its mother was tagging along
with a small herd in front of camp for several days. We think perhaps
it was the mother of this calf that the lions had been feeding on. The
lioness that lost the cub returned a few days later and the staff watched
as she stalked the herd of wildebeest towards the camp. When she charged,
the motherless calf got separated from the herd and was brought down
by the lioness. The lioness dragged the carcass a long distance and eventually
into a palm island so thick we could not see into it at all. We have
a suspicion that this is where she had her cubs hidden. Two days later
she made a failed attempt at hunting tsessebe, but that same afternoon
guests witnessed her chase and catch two warthog piglets.
We had 138mm of rain in December, mostly in the form of afternoon thunderstorms
but it has not dampened the game sightings. The bush is very green and
many of the pans are the full to the brim, giving great sightings of
water birds. Other spectacular sightings include the dark form of Ayres?
Hawk Eagle, a scarce inter-African migrant, Lesser Gallinule, Striped
and Great Spotted Cuckoos.
Happy New Year ? we are looking forward to see what excitement 2006
brings. Come and join us!
Anton, Carrie and the Tubu Team
Little Vumbura Camp
update - Dec 05 Jump
to Little Vumbura Camp
After a fairly wet November, the Kwedi area of the Okavango Delta was
left looking lush and green. It wasn't long before the area was teeming
with new life: baby impala, wildebeest, zebra and warthog. On several
occasions over 50 giraffe were found in the acacia area, north of the
airstrip. Many large herds of zebra and tsessebe (their babies were born
in November) have been common sightings on the open plains while the
large herd of buffalo has been seen regularly in the woodland areas.
The predators have taken full advantage of this
food abundance. The Kubu Pride has been located almost every single
day of the month while leopard sightings too have been incredibly high.
On one occasion, our resident male leopard, "Big Boy" killed
a female warthog that was too heavy to take up a tree. However, even
after such a meal, he killed one of the warthog?s orphaned babies the
following day. Cheetah sightings have also been above average for this
time of year with the tall grass. The entire Little Vumbura staff was
lucky enough to watch a large male feeding on an impala as we convoyed
to Vumbura Plains for the Kwedi Christmas party.
The Christmas party held on 4th December was an amazing event. The staff
from Duba Plains, Little Vumbura and Vumbura Plains gathered at Vumbura
for an afternoon of fun and an evening of singing. An afternoon rain
shower could not dampen our spirits and a grand time was had by all.
Christmas Eve was celebrated in true Little Vumbura spirit. A magnificent
spread was laid out on the candlelit table, decorated with gold palm
fronds. We had four young boys in camp that went to bed early to wait
for Father Christmas. The rest of us popped the Champagne and sang to
the music at the bar. The New Year was celebrated in similar fashion!
Weather-wise December was fairly cool with more
rain than usual. The temperature ranged between 17-34°C, averaging between 20-29°C.
163mm of rain fell, which when added to the 215mm in November means we
are already close to average annual rainfall for the summer.
To sum up the game situation over the course the
year, it was particularly unusual to have had the Vumbura Pride move
out of the area and not be seen in the last ten months. The famous
dominant male, "Big Red",
has also not been seen in two months and it is feared he died after injuries
sustained in a fight with the young "Kubu" males. The Kubu
Pride has moved into the area and has clearly set up their territory
here. Four cubs have been raised successfully and are now all a year
old. One of the females is also pregnant. Big Red's family has been seen
less frequently and is occupying the area between the airstrip and Duba.
This month we were pleasantly surprised to see the two "Vumbura
Boys", not seen for 8 months. These adult lions are in their prime
and might try to force the Kubu Boys out.
Our resident male leopard, Big Boy, became a father and the cub is now
just under a year old. The female and cub, and Big Boy have been seen
together on four separate occasions which is quite exceptional in leopards.
Cheetah sightings have been regular over the year while we still have
the occasional wild dog sighting.
Our mokoro excursions have been successful in finding Pel's Fishing
Owl on a regular basis while we also had the rare experience of seeing
the elusive Sitatunga. Pipi Island, our sunset stop on the boat cruises,
was burnt by a lightning fire which also burnt a fair amount of papyrus
to the south of us. The island has quickly recovered, but the fallen
Knobthorn that served as a drinks table is gone forever.
Little Vumbura has had an exceptionally high occupancy
over the course of the year and it has been wonderful to see many of
our guests visiting us again. We look forward to more new faces in
2006 but hope to see more "old" ones
We would like to thank all our guests for their support and wish you
all well in the New Year! PULA!
update - Dec 05 Jump
to Jack's Camp
Having said goodbye to our two senior guides for 2005, Graham and Pete,
Danny headed off on much needed long leave and Super and Kaelo were left
to hold the fort, with Dabe Sebitola stepping in again over Christmas,
his Naro Father Christmas suit at hand! Meshak continued to assist front
of house, putting to good use what he had seen on his visit to other
Wilderness camps - Vumbura and Chitabe. He is grateful to both Wilderness
and Uncharted for the opportunity to visit these camps, and we look forward
to welcoming training Wilderness staff in a similar fashion.
December started wet and ended that way! Fortunately the temperatures
remained low, and the nearly 200mm of rain brought flocks of beautiful
migrant waterbirds, frog croaks filled nights and the incredible variety
of insect life that never fails to descend on the dinner table just as
the soup is served!
Guests enjoyed day trips into the park - as always accompanied by our
chef's box of temptations, and had good lion sightings as well as the
spectacular sight of thousands of zebra, huge flocks of Abdim's Storks
gracefully floating on the thermals and this year, for the first time
in memory, large herds of gemsbok. Smaller herds of springbok and red
hartebeest have been sighted too. By the end of December we had had 400mm
rain - edging towards our entire rainfall for the 2004/2005 season, and
January and February are supposed to be our rainy months!
Danny and a group of guests had a particularly clear, prolonged sighting
of an aardwolf eating: these diminutive members of the hyaena family
with truly pretty faces framed by large ears locate their prey mainly
by hearing; amazing when you consider their diet consists of mainly subterranean
termites! They diverged from the other three members of the hyaena family
(striped, spotted and brown - only the latter two represented in Botswana)
between 15 and 30 million years ago and have evolved poorly developed
jaws and small peg-like teeth, often spaced far apart, testimony to their
diet. Extremely specialised, they only very occasionally take small mammals,
nestling birds or carrion - but can devour up to 200 000 harvester termites
in an evening. The termites are not dug up, but waited for as they emerge
from the heap, then licked up with an extraordinary, long bristly tongue
covered in sticky saliva. It really is remarkable to see what a vital
link in the feeding chain the termites fill - no wonder they have to
emerge in their thousands. Even a few of our guests have been tempted
- ok, with a little persuasion, to try them, though by all accounts they
are better roasted. There are camps which have converted the mounds to
Pizza Ovens...just goes to show!
Jao Camp update
- Dec 05 Jump
to Jao Camp
A great year has almost reached its end and December has been a great
time of the year to be in the wilderness. Not only did Santa and the
Christmas celebrations come to Jao Camp but the wonderful rains brought
the promise for a great year ahead. Ian and Alida, Chris and Tara have
been steering the ship whilst Freddy and Marianne have been on leave.
?The Tank?, Chef Simon always giving us the best fun during the food
safaris. The guest were really pampered, thanks to Margaret (relief beauty
therapist), and left feeling very relaxed and rejuvenated.
The water levels are still quite high for this
time of the year, but it is very noticeable how quickly they are dropping.
With the lower water levels the guides have been able to roam further
and further, combining picnics and walks with half-day or full-day
activities. It has been hot, cold and wet in Jao. Most of the days
have reached the lower to mid 30°C
mark before dropping to the mid to late teens during the evenings. On
many of the days it would build up for afternoon showers but instead
of raining it would clear up again. The rain that we did receive was
the very soft and continuous over a few days and eventually reached 69mm
The area around Jao Camp is looking very green and lush. This been the
ideal time for the young to be born and guests have witnessed both the
birth and death of the young of impala, zebra and wildebeest. One of
the young impala was born right next to the main area of the lodge and
we were able to watch it from start to finish. It was a fantastic experience,
and the first time for most people watching.
Beauty, the female leopard, has been doing much better and her wound
is healing very nicely. She was seen many times over the month but inexplicably
remaining mostly shy and elusive. Despite this we had some superb sightings
of this female and on one occasion the guests actually saw her stalking
and killing an almost newly born blue wildebeest calf and dragging it
as quickly as possible under a clump of bushes. We were then thrilled
to discover the reason for her shyness ? a tiny newborn cub!
The coalition of three male lions has now settled down in the Jao floodplain
area and provided some great viewing. The two females move around with
the males from time to time as well. One morning we found the two males
and two females together; they had managed to kill a juvenile hippopotamus,
which they fed on for a few days. The location of the kill made it really
exciting to go on the mokoro trips for awhile, but oh, the smell!
To witness a kill is a real treat, but when the lion shows his opportunism
it creates a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. While watching
two red lechwe rams fighting, one of the brothers from the coalition
seized his chance at just the right moment. The lion attacked the two
lechwe who were so frightened that they could not get their horns unlocked.
The lion was then able to kill both of them at the same time and really
showed his strength by pulling both carcasses under the nearest clump
of bushes - which was quite far as this happened in the plains. He then
proceeded to feast for three days and none of his pride found him to
make him share the fruitful spoils, not even the skinniest brother.
There have not been too many elephants in or around the camp, but a
few have been seen in the far west of the Jao area. In the floodplains
there is an abundance of game species such as large herds of lechwe,
lone buffalo bulls, a few giraffe and many hippo in and out of the pools
On two different occasions black mambas of 2-3 metres have been sighted
on game drive and closer to camp a family of banded mongoose alerted
the guides to a very large African rock python who had slithered down
a hole to avoid harassment. The young mongoose decided to use the opportunity
to get a few bites and claws into this formidable 3 to 3.5m python.
We managed to conceal a wonderful romantic bush
dinner for two, where the recently crowned champion choir of the Jao
concession put on a stunning performance. The gentleman used this joyfully
traditional opportunity to propose to his now fiancée. We had
a wonderful Christmas party in the boma and the food was excellent.
In conclusion this has been a great month and we look forward to fantastic
year ahead for 2006.
Kwetsani Camp update
- Dec 05 Jump
to Kwetsani Camp
is a journey, not a destination."
The end of the year has come to Kwetsani, with our staff party being
a success and Kwetsani bringing home 2 of the main prizes, but we won?t
talk about our soccer game? Christmas Eve was a festival of singing,
dancing and gifts were distributed and fun was had by all.
It has been quite hot in this area, most days reaching mid to high 30s
(degrees Celsius) and many guests making their way to the swimming pool.
We have also had quite a bit of rain, so Kwetsani Island is looking very
green and the young resident bushbucks are doing really well. We have
not seen our lady python for a while, but we have had many spotted bush
snakes visiting us on the decks: Harmless to humans but lots of fun to
look at as they are very inquisitive and often pose for pictures. There
is also a squirrel family that has made its home behind the bar fridge.
The lion sightings have been magnificent. At the beginning of the month
two beautiful adult male lions moved onto the floodplains in front of
Kwetsani Camp, and then about three weeks later another rather skinny,
quite ratty lion appeared and joined up with them. We think it may be
a brother that got separated or into a fight and was lagging behind.
He is looking a little better but could still do with a good meal or
Close to our mokoro jetty, lions killed a young hippo and spent many
days enjoying the rotting remains. They did eventually give it up and
the vultures had their chance for a feast. This made the mokoro experience
rather exciting as well as a bit smelly!
Buffalo sightings have also been good, with bachelor herds of males
wondering the plains in search of a welcoming female, and on game drive
countless young antelope have been seen: zebras, tsessebe, red lechwe,
blue wildebeest and even young bushbuck that hang around the camp main
deck and swimming pool. Also from camp almost every afternoon the local
baboon troop can be seen making their way across the floodplains. Perhaps
they know it is tea time or quite possibly they simply enjoy their new-found
fun by switching on the hot tap in the outdoor shower and drinking to
their hearts? content - they unfortunately have not quite got the hang
of switching it off after use.
On Kwetsani Island we have located a nest of a pair of Broad-billed
Rollers, so many hours are spent watching them feed, fly and take food
back to their chicks. A total of 68 endangered Wattled Cranes have been
counted feeding in the water left over from the floods, which is always
a beautiful sight to see. Many leopards have been also seen hunting as
well as doing what leopards do best ? lying on a branch with all legs
dangling just watching the world go by.
This month we have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and return trips
to the Delta, and we look forward to the New Year to see who and what
it brings us.
DumaTau update -
Dec 05 Jump
to DumaTau Camp
is a well known song about "November Rain" but at DumaTau we will certainly
remember the December rain - all 230 mm of it! This volume of rain has
further transformed our entire area into a beautiful lush sea of green
with the grasses growing taller by the day. Interspersed among the intense
shades of green we now have the exquisite Flame Lily in full bloom. The
scarlet, curvy petals, touched with bright yellow on the margins, reach
skywards like miniature flames. Even the Latin name (Gloriosa superba)
implies that it is a "glorious" plant of superb "beauty". Temperatures
for the month were rather mild with an average minimum of 20°C and
an average maximum of 27°C.
This just added to the joys of Christmas at DumaTau.
Notwithstanding the high rainfall,
we were astounded by the amazing wildlife sightings in our area - mainly
concentrated at the start of the Savuti Channel where it meets the
Zibadianja Lagoon. Probably the highlight of these sightings was watching
a pack of 14 wild dogs and a pride of 4 lionesses with 4 cubs take
turns in chasing each other around the area where the lions were feeding
on a giraffe carcass. On the fringes of all this action was a mating
pair of lions working hard at adding to the lion population in our
area. This is a new pack of dogs not seen in our area before, with
three of the dogs being very light in colour. We also had numerous
sightings of our usual pack of 23 dogs.
Our guests were treated to witnessing a spectacular cheetah kill complete
with the hunt: stalk, chase and ultimate killing of and feeding on an
impala. There were numerous other cheetah sightings and attempted kills.
Sadly on the last day of December, the cheetah with two 14-month-old
cubs lost one to the lions who were seemingly irritated by the proximity
of these cheetahs to their own cubs. Our seven lion cubs have now been
reduced to four, possibly due to leopard and hyaena predation. Such is
the never-ending cycle of life and death in the African bush.
Another interesting phenomenon is the elephants which normally leave
our area with the onset of the rains, but this year plenty of breeding
herds seem to have remained.
Our sightings for the month included
the following: leopard, elephant. giraffe, wildebeest, black-backed
jackal, side-striped jackal, zebra, impala, red lechwe, lion, cheetah,
kudu, wild dogs, hyaena, buffalo, bat-eared fox, hippo, baboon, crocodile,
warthog, African wildcat, lesser bushbaby, white-tailed mongoose, Selous'
mongoose, banded mongoose, slender mongoose, and serval. Birds included:
Kori Bustard, Long-crested Eagle, Giant Eagle Owl, African Skimmer,
Ground Hornbill, Woolly-necked Stork, Tawny Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle,
Wahlberg's Eagle, Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Slaty Egret, Black Egret, White
Stork, and White-backed Vulture. The bird sightings for the month were
phenomenal with one of guests (who had been keen on birds since the
age of 4) recording some 140 species in two days.
This ends an awesome year at DumaTau and we all look forward to yet
another exciting and amazing year in this stunning part of Botswana.
We wish you all everything of the very best for 2006.
IAN & THE DUMATAU TEAM
Rocktail Bay Newsletter - Dec 05 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
December has been the perfect way to end a most spectacular year! Typical
of December it has been hot and humid. We have also had our fair share
of rain this month, which alleviated the drought and was very welcome.
The Indian Ocean has lured many of our guests into
its wonderfully cooling waters this month, with most of them
opting to just enjoy relaxing on the deserted beaches, soaking
up the African summer sun. Almost all of our guests have also indulged
in the scenic underwater world off the Maputaland coast, whether it has
been snorkelling, sea-kayaking or scuba diving; there has been something
for everyone to do. With an inviting sea temperature of 25° Celsius
who can blame them? Special creatures seen at Lala Nek this month include
Blue-Spotted Ribbontail Rays, Common Octopus, Oscillated
Snake Eels, Marbled Electric Rays, as well as our famous eels from the
large rock pool on the southern side of the bay.
A group of snorkellers had the
privilege of being "cleaned" by a pair of Cleaner Wrasse.
These little metallic blue and black fish play a very important
role on the reef systems of our coastline. They form symbiotic
relationships with larger reef fish (and humans), whereby they clean
the dead skin and dust particles from the skin of the larger
fish, and in return, they get a full stomach, so everyone wins in this
situation. The underwater world never ceases to amaze us!
from our Dive Centre's boat included seeing and snorkelling with many
different pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles,
Loggerhead Turtles, as well as a few short glimpses of a couple of
huge, yet elusive, Leatherback Turtles.
also satisfying rewards for the few guests who decided
to brave a sea-kayaking expedition. Not only did a pod
of thirty Bottlenose Dolphins duck and dive around them
while they were paddling, but when jumping into the water, they saw
an enormous Honeycomb Stingray. She was a beautifully patterned brown
and cream colour, with a disk diameter of two metres, a sizable ray
indeed! She hung around them for a good five minutes before gliding
off. Overall, the sea has been alive and kicking through December,
and all the team at Rocktail can say is: "Come, see it and experience
it for yourself!"
camp has been eventful, and we have discovered some "brand"
new forest creatures that are being introduced to the ways of Rocktail
It was 10:30
in the morning to be exact, when Gugu came to call the
guests in camp, who had all opted to laze around that morning
after a productive turtle drive the evening before. There
was excitement in his voice, echoing through camp: "Bushbaby
babies!" We would never have thought that we would see
a bushbaby during the day, and there, at the top of a thicket
was a mother, with not one but two little bundles of grey fur
clinging to her back. Word spread around camp like wildfire,
and soon almost every guest had had a little peek at the miniature
"fluff balls". After this little event, it was not long before "Mum"
brought her brood down to the evening buffet. Bounding and bouncing
up and down the trees, they have given our guests hours upon hours
our usual residents have also been doing their daily rounds around
camp. Harriet, our Bell's Hinged Tortoise, has made herself quite comfortable
behind a piece of wood near the main office, which she clearly now
calls home. We have been able to get to know her daily routine really
well, which consists of eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping,
and eating and sleeping some more. She has without doubt become the
new favourite forest friend, with guests even asking if they can adopt
her instead of a Leatherback or Loggerhead Turtle. Along with Harriet,
the Robins, Bulbuls and Vervet Monkeys have kept us amused throughout
this festive season.
25th rolled around before we knew it, and it was celebrated with a
feast fit for kings and queens. Our guests spent most of the day relaxing
and enjoying good Christmas fare, good wine and even better company,
all in all a true Rocktail Christmas day. The last day of the year
2005 arrived and we celebrated the New Year with a themed ?Shipwreck?
party, complete with ?Monkey Orange? cocktails and fruits of the forest.
Our guests were told to dress up as if they had just been shipwrecked
and washed in with the tide. The Kirsop family definitely won best-dressed
for the evening ? coming complete with palm frond skirts, and leaf
earrings and bracelets. The clock struck twelve and the New Year had
arrived, welcomed by glasses of champagne, hugs and good wishes all
While seeing the New Year in some of our guests witnessed a Loggerhead
Turtle lay her eggs on the beach ? as Derek and Pamela Machin said (on
their arrival back at camp at one in the morning on New Years Day), ?We
have never experienced something so unique, and will remember this for
the rest of our lives.?
When all's said and done, it has been an incredible way to end off the
year. We have had many visitors from far and wide, who chose to spend
the festive season with us at Rocktail; here are some of their comments:
?A truly mind blowing experience, thanks for everything?
- M, M & LB, Durban, South Africa
?Thanks for the professional, thoughtful service and hospitality,
we had a wonderful time? - B, M & SS ? Johannesburg, South Africa
?Thanks for the best holiday yet? - B, I & ET ? Johannesburg, South
?Great place, fantastic staff and out of this world beaches?
? A & EA, London, United Kingdom
The Rocktail team wishes everyone all the best for the coming year of
2006, and we hope to see you here soon.
Dean, Leza, Andrew, Shannon, Simon and the Rocking Rocktail
Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - Dec 05 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
Below is a brief report of the highlights at Pafuri for the
month of December 2005. With a very good rainfall for the area,
December has seen most of the inland pans starting to fill
up and a variety of wild flowers beginning to cover the veld.
We have the Limpopo River flowing once again to the east of
us. Although it is not flowing quite as strongly as the Luvuvhu
it is still an awesome sight to see after having been so dry
for so long.
Some of the highlights enjoyed by guests at Pafuri Camp during
the month have included the following:
* Two porcupines around the dining area while having dinner
in our river boma.
* African rock python eating an African Hawk Eagle seen on
* An impressive herd of 72 eland were seen on a game drive
near Banyini Pan.
* Simon, one of our senior guides, came across a honey badger
while on a walk. He also found a 1902 penny on the same walk.
They were also fortunate to see White-backed, Hooded and Lappet-faced
Vultures on an impala carcass before returning to camp.
* We had a mass of impala babies on the first of the month.
And four wildebeest calves sighted with the herd on the 29th.
* We have had regular sightings of the Pel's Fishing Owl along
the Luvuvhu River.
* We also had our first Narina Trogon spotted this month.
We recorded 251 species
of birds this month. Some of those recorded were: European,
Blue-cheeked and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Narina Trogon,
Great Spotted and Levaillant's (Striped) Cuckoos, Barn Owl,
European and Pennant-winged Nightjar, Black-winged Stilt,
Steppe Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, and Cut-throat
Our average minimum temperature for the
month was 22º C
while the average maximum was 33º C. Rainfall totalled