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December 2005

This Month:
• Stories from The Great Wilderness Journies safaris.
Kwando Lagoon camp being expanded.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jack's Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.

Monthly update from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa

Overland Safaris
Explorations - Stories from the Great Wilderness Journey - Nov 05               Jump to Great Wilderness Journey

Stories by Grant Atkinson

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 Almost Flew
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.

Suddenly, where 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.

Botswana Camps
Kwando Lagoon Camp Update - Dec 05                Jump to Lagoon Camp

Lagoon 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 16 beds.

The remarkable 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 activity.

Lagoon Camp 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.


Mombo 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.

Leopard cub

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 at all.

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 lambs.

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 position.

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.

Guest Feedback
- 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 thanks!
- 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 to guests!
- 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 true.

All of us at Xigera


Tubu Tree Camp update - Dec 05               Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
Lioness with Wildebeest calf Wild Dog - 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 many more.

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 too!

We would like to thank all our guests for their support and wish you all well in the New Year! PULA!


Jack's Camp 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 (27 inches).

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 of water.

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.

Ian Weerepas
Jao camp


Kwetsani Camp update - Dec 05               Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"Success 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 two.

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
There 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.


South Africa camps
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!

Sightings 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.

There were 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!"

As always, camp has been eventful, and we have discovered some "brand" new forest creatures that are being introduced to the ways of Rocktail Bay.

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 of entertainment.

Some of 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.

Well, the 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 around.

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 Africa
?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.
Warm wishes,
Dean, Leza, Andrew, Shannon, Simon and the Rocking Rocktail Team


Pafuri 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 middle road.
* 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 Finch.

Our average minimum temperature for the month was 22º C while the average maximum was 33º C. Rainfall totalled 67mm.

Geoff Mullen


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