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AFRICAN SAFARI CAMP UPDATES
January 2005

This Month:
• Report on the effects of the tsunami on the Seychelles Islands.
• Monthly update from Linkwasha Camp in Zimbabwe.
• Monthly update from Abu Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports for January 2005.
• Report on the New Vumbura Premier Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Dive Report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• New Baby Elephant at Damaraland Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Skeleton Coast Camp in Namibia.


North Island in the Seychelles
The Dec 26 Tsunami - North Island update - Jan 05                Jump to North Island
Here's the update on the Seychelles following the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Included below is the press releases from the Seychelles Government Marketing Arm (Seychelles Tourism and Marketing Authority - STMA), detailing the impact of the Tsunami on the Seychelles.

Essentially, apart from minor damage to low lying areas on Mahe and Praslin (mainly on reclaimed land), the Seychelles has emerged practically unscathed - "stirred but not shaken!"  On North Island there was ZERO impact at all and the only evidence of the Tsunami was the tidal changes in the form of large tidal swells (of 2 to 2.5 metres -smaller than some waves in Hawaii) over a very short period of time (10 minutes), as the wave having lost force, passed through the Seychelles.

When North Island was developed, the island dynamics were researched extensively and it was explained by the environmentalists and island specialists that the slightly raised mound where the beach meets the island land (created naturally by the island over many millions of years) is the most import area of the island and
should be both protected from erosion and in no way should be removed, tampered with or developed.  This is the island's natural protection from losing land to the sea.

Over the years since the island was formed (over 500 millions of years) this type of event has probably happened before and this is why the island looks the way it does.  After this recent natural disaster we certainly understand why respecting this development constraint was so important.

North Island is fully booked and our guests are enjoying superb weather and all island activities in true North Island style. The property's GM, Bruce Simpson, writes"there was absolutely no impact on North Island whatsoever. Today we have guests out swimming, on a dive as we speak and no person would even know that the tail end of a tsunami came through the islands."

Our thoughts are with all the people effected by this terrible natural disaster.

RELEASE 1 - SUNDAY 26TH 2004 @ 07:35HRS LOCAL TIME - - REPORT ISSUED BY STMA
The tropical paradise islands of Seychelles in south-western Indian Ocean have emerged practically unscathed in the wake of the Asian earthquake that has caused havoc to some parts of the northern Indian Ocean. Reports from the Seychelles indicate that besides a strong tidal wave that
washed out temporarily parts of the tiny capital of Victoria, damage over the islands has been minimal and there has been no human casualty.

RELEASE 2 - MONDAY 27TH 2004 @ 18:30HRS LOCAL TIME - REPORT ISSUED BY STMA
Some 24 hours after receiving the milder effects of the tsunamis from the historic Asian earthquake, the holiday paradise of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean can best be described as slightly shaken but not stirred.

Much more spared than its northern ocean neighbors like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Seychelles have counted only one Seychelles national still missing at sea.

Small pockets of the main islands of Mahe and Praslin have been affected by the strong tidal waves but general tourism has not been disrupted and all inter-island and international flights were operating as normal today.

Only two medium-sized tourism establishments have had operational problems to speak of as a result of being hit by waves. The Paradise Sun and the La Reserve Hotel, both in Praslin island, will close temporarily to carry out repairs.

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Zimbabwe Camps
Linkwasha Newsletter - Jan 05                Jump to Linkwasha Camp
Elephants at Linkwasha Camp, Zimbabwe
The grass that was green and healthy in December had, by the end of the first week, started to wilt and was turning a grey blue color. The earth was dry and there were no pools of water on the roads or out on the plains. It looked really bleak. January started off drier than any other month I have experienced here in the last eight years! On the evening of the 13th huge clouds blew in from the north east, and from then on we received showers until the end of the month. The bush recovers beautifully - shallow pools dot the plains, and are alive with frogs, storks, spoonbills, ducks and other summer visitors. The plains are once again looking green and in the forest the grass stands tall.

The bat-eared fox pups are venturing further and further from the den. The family which bred in the den near the old camp is very relaxed and the young pups are easy to approach in the vehicle. On the 28th there was a huge number of termites emerging from their underground nests, providing a fantastic feast for all in the vicinity. Hundreds of Yellow-billed kites, a few Black kites, Steppe eagles, Steppe buzzards and Lesser Spotted eagles presided over the scene, with jackals and the family of Bat-eared foxes running in between them all. Pups were jumping into the air catching termites - an amazing site!

The big buffalo herds were regularly sighted in the first ten days of the month but after the rains and the days cooled off, sightings have been of lone bulls or groups of bulls. Before the rains three or four herds would come down to drink at the camp water hole throughout the day and until sunset. There are lots of hairy brown calves in the herds. Elephants started to make a comeback at the beginning of the month indicating that water sources deep in the park were starting to dry up. Big herds were seen at Scotts Pan and at Wexau Pan. Much like the buffalo, once the rains fell, they moved west and sightings now are predominantly of bulls or small breeding herds. Huge herds of eland are out on the plains, especially at Ngamo, and the herds vary in size from five or six animals to well over 50. Wildebeest calving seems to have dropped off now. Some of the first born calves from Nov/Dec are already sporting little horns.
Leopard sightings this month have been very good. On one evening drive back to camp, three different leopards were seen! The young male who hangs around Scotts Pan was seen feeding on a tortoise near the Rhino midden. Guests spent a good 30 minutes here. On another occasion he was seen stalking impala near the pan and a few nights later chasing spring hares. The young male who lives around camp killed a White-tailed mongoose 50 yards from the dinner table during one memorable diner!

The White Rhino bull which was first seen at Ngamo last month has been seen a bit more regularly. Most of the time sightings have been from camp or on the plains around camp. He is not covering nearly as much ground as the other bull in the area and we hope that this means that he will settle down and be spotted more regularly. There is still no sign of any cows and calves.

The wild dogs have passed through camp a few times this month terrorizing the impala. As a result our big herds have been split up. One morning they killed a lamb near tent # 9. Hyena sightings have been scarce but most nights they are heard from camp. The male cheetah has been seen out on the plains in front of camp a few times. He is still making the most of the impala lambs and we think possibly ostrich chicks which have survived until now.
There has been quite a shake up with the lions in the area in the last few weeks. The four sub-adult males from Ngamo have moved deeper into the concession, right into camp on some nights, and they seem to be setting up a new territory. The cub belonging to the lone female from Ngamo was found dead on the 25th and it looks as though it may have been killed by other lions. The other cubs in the area are doing well and the one young male who looked so sick is much better and has gained weight fast. No kills were witnessed this month but we have seen them chasing waterbuck, buffalo and wildebeest. Kills found were of wildebeest and buffalo.

The birding highlight this month was the sighting of a single European (Western) Marsh Harrier hovering over the Pan at Mfagazaana. The small pan in front of the main lodge has also been active with a variety of water birds: Southern pochards, Red Billed Teal, Hottentot teals, Knob Billed ducks, Egyptian geese, Spur Winged geese, Red Knobbed coots, spoonbills, greenshanks, Three Banded plovers, Painted snipes, Wooly-necked storks, White storks and Abdim's storks. Breeding in the area around camp are Yellow-billed hornbills, Ground hornbills (2 nests) and Grey-backed Bleating warblers. An ostrich hen was seen from camp with five chicks that must have been between four and five months old - great news that these chicks have survived the initial hardships of life in the African bush!

GUEST COMMENTS
"Great to see the BIG 5 in one place and in such short time! We loved this place." (L.N & JN - FL - USA)
"Africa is overwhelming! Will always remember the ride to see the Lions. A wonderful conclusion to our safari!" (G.R - CA - USA)
"To wonderful to express ! We can never thank you enough for the memories we will take from Linkwasha." (B.R & S.R - CA - USA)

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Botswana Camps
Abu Camp Newsletter - Jan 05                Jump to Abu Camp
Elephant safari at Abu CampAbu Camp has closed for maintenance after an amazing season. We will open again for the 2005 season on the 1st of March. We have had great feedback on the new three night safari and believe it will become the ultimate African experience. The elephant villa has opened and our first guests were totally blown away. Comments ranged from “see you in May with the rest of the family” to “this is the first holiday I have seen my husband truly relax. The villa has amazing karma”.

The flood was huge last year and gave us a taste of what a wet cycle can be like. Fortunately this year the floods appear to be normal again. What the flood taught us was that we could not only rely on wildlife sightings for our guests’ entertainment, as the animals disperse when water sources are abundant. Instead we focused on the camp’s elephants - nothing quite compares to listening to a talk on the anatomy of an elephant, which is standing one foot away. Every now and then, the massive pachyderm shows guests just how well it understands, and showers them with a little spittle and dust - very interactive, not to mention entertaining!

The herd remains, as always, dependable. They are a real show stopper: Naya is now almost two and turning into a mischievous elephant. Just the other day whilst walking with them, she snuck up behind a guest and grabbed the guest’s shorts with the curled tip of her trunk, yanking upwards. Underpants and all. A good laugh was had by everyone. She certainly knows she is on the stage at times.

Pula is now four years old and threatening to grow as big as his wild father, Martin Luther King. Martin is one of the highest ranking wild bulls that inhabits the Abu area. Our aim is to release Pula into the wild once he comes of age, as would happen naturally in the wild with any young bull.

Jika and Sirheni, Naya and Pula’s moms, are coping well with the safaris despite having their little ones to look after. It appears that Sirheni might be coming into estrous shortly. Jika is now a full ride elephant, having passed her apprenticeship in December. We now have five elephants that participate in the safaris.
Kitty is nine years old this year - her attitude to life is wonderful and she is always up for a bit of filming. She was the star in the National Geographic underwater series in December. It has been six years now since we found her and the Abu herd is definitely her very own.

The boys, Benny and Mthondo, just keep on doing the boy thing and pretend they are not part of the herd. The females love to walk in a straight line touching where possible, whilst the males wander off and flank the herd or trail behind it. Benny is getting on now and is almost fifty. Probably have to throw him a party. Just the other day we were viewing wild dogs from the elephants, and Benny walked right up to one. Benny, not known for his braveness, really impressed us.
Cathy, our matriarch, holds the Abu herd together and without her we would be lost. She keeps control of her herd gently, and is known to often reach out a reassuring trunk.

We look forward to welcoming new guests at Abu in March!

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Kwando Safari Camps Update - Jan 05
Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* A pack of 3 Wild dogs – 2 males and a female have been seen for a few days – > they were followed and made an impala kill. (one of the males has a broken leg
but is running on 3 legs – he has lost his Alpha male status to the other > male).
* A male leopard was seen close to the camp – he is shy but with the Lagoon team spending more time tracking will become more relaxed with time.
* A female cheetah and her 3 cubs was seen during the week – she killed an adult impala ram – quite unusual for a female.
* Good sightings of elephant bulls and breeding herds in the area.
* Large herds of buffalo seen both north and west of the camp.
* General game prolific – impala, zebra, giraffe as well as a herd of at least 80 eland and a breeding herd of 10 Sable – also a few scattered herds of 2-3 Roan antelope.
* Night sightings have yielded porcupine, , genets, African wild cat, serval and civet as well as hippo grazing close to and in the camp every evening.
* A mating pair of banded rubber frogs (poisonous) was found after the rains.

(Weeks 3-4)
* the Lagoon pride has been seen again during the last week – last followed hunting last night close to the camp but were not successful.
* The pack of 3 Wild dogs has been seen frequently during the last week hunting throughout the concession.
* A leopard was seen briefly a couple of days ago before disappearing in to long grass.
* Big herds of elephant are still being seen daily around the concession and in front of the camp during the day.
* The large herds of buffalo are spending more time away from the Kwando River in the thick mopane woodlands where there are plenty of pans full of rainwater.
* General game in the area is excellent including wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, tsessebe, roan and sable.
* Night sightings include hippos feeding out of the water, genets, African wild cats, serval and porcupine.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* General game has been excellent – large groups of Zebra, giraffe, tsessebe, wildebeest and impala as well as steenbuck and reedbuck.
* An adult elephant bull was found dead, and subsequently several different groups of lions were seen feeding on the carcass at different times (a pride of 4, a group of 3 adult males, another group of 2 males, and 2 lionesses) as well as a large group of hyena and several jackal both side-striped and black-backed.
* Several hundred vultures were also in attendance for the feast.
* A pack of 5 Wild dogs killed and ate an impala just behind the staff village.
* A group of hyena was found at their den – 4 adults and 2 cubs.
* A pack of 4 wild dogs was also seen – 2 of them with collars.
* A group of 3 cheetah – an adult female with 2 year-old male cubs was found – the next day they killed and ate an Impala.
* A shy leopard was found in a tree with its kill.
* Buffalo were seen a few times during the last week.
* Night sightings include leopard, serval, genets, civet and various owls.

(Weeks 3-4)
* 3 male lions have killed an adult hippo close to camp and have been feeding for the last 4 days. They have been coming down to drink in front of the camp during the day and have been viewed from the guests verandas.
* A number of hyena are also attempting to feed on the hippo producing some good interaction.
* The large pride of 16 has been seen over the last 3 days and were found this morning feeding on an adult giraffe.
* An adult male cheetah killed and ate an impala.
* Rare African Skimmers have been feeding in front of the camp over the last week.
* The large pod of hippo is still seem daily in front of the camp.
* Elephant bulls and small breeding herds have been seen throughout the concession.
* Tracks of wild dogs were followed but the dogs were not found.
* General game has been prolific including giraffe, zebra, tsessebe, impala, kudu and reedbuck.
* Night drives yielded serval, genets, African wild cat and porcupine.

Lebala camp                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
* Good numbers of elephant both breeding herds and solitary bulls are being seen around the area.
* Birding has been exceptional over the last week including several Kori bustards, all the different bee-eaters, Abdim’s storks, and Open-billed storks in large numbers.
* Predators are being dominated by the several large clans of hyena in the area.
* Several small groups of buffalo were seen – mostly well away from the river as the numerous pans are full of water.
* Couple of leopard sightings including a relaxed large adult male seen several times – last at the old hippo pool close to camp.
* Hippos continue to frequent the camp every evening – several guests comment about their loud feeding close to the tents.
* A couple of nights ago a couple of serval were seen – one, as it was watched, managed to stalk, kill and eat a mouse.
* The general game on the open plains is excellent – good numbers of Zebra, wildebeest, tsessebe, giraffe (large herds) and reedbuck as well as the occasional warthog.
* One night drive revealed a couple of African wild cats – one of which had a couple of kittens.

(Weeks 3-4)
* Several leopard sightings have been the highlight over the last week with both relaxed male and female leopards being seen.
* A male lion was seen moving through the camp and was followed for some time.
* A pack of wild dogs was followed hunting but not successful.
* Hyena are seen throughout the concession and around the camp nightly.
* A pride of 6 lionesses was seen throughout the last week and finally killed 2 wildebeest calves.
* Excellent sightings of breeding herds of elephants are still being seen throughout the concession, as well as scattered small herds of adult bulls.
* Large numbers of general game species seen daily on the open plains including steenbok, giraffe, zebra, tsessebe, wildebeest and reedbuck.
* Night drives have been productive with a number of servals as well as jackals, porcupine, genets, African wild cat and various owls.

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The New Vumbura Premier Camp - Jan 05                Jump to Vumbura Camp
The new Vumbura premier camp is currently under construction and scheduled to open on 09 May.  The new camp will be called Vumbura Plains.  The new camp's site is a good 45 minutes drive away towards the south east from the current camp.  Vumbura Plains will use the existing airstrip which is the same distance from the new camp as it is to the current camp (about 40 minutes drive).

James' update:  Nicky and I visited the camp's construction site in February 2005 and met with the husband and wife architect/design team of Silvio Reich and Lesley Carstens (celebrated South African architects who are also renowned for their work on CCAfrica’s Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania and Wilderness Safaris’ Mombo and Jao Camps in Botswana and North Island in the Seychelles).  The camp is located in a superb spot with several suites overlooking the lovely Kaparota lagoon.  The units are huge, with private plunge pools and the camp itself is something like 1.7kms in length - all on raised walkways.  It promises to be Wilderness Safaris' most lovely camp to date.

The camp will initially be set up as two distinct camps (similar to Mombo / Little Mombo) and the layout is as follows:
VUMBURA 1 with: 5 twins, 1 honeymoon = 6 tents and 12 guests
VUMBURA 2 with: 3 twins, 1 honeymoon and 2 family's = 6 tents with 12 guests
VUM STAFF with: 2 staff beds which are shared between Vumbura 1 and Vumbura 2

James' note: The camps will be managed separately (one by Roger of Kings Pool and currently Little Vumbura fame) and are to be called Vumbura East and Vumbura West.

Each camp will have it's own private vehicle.

Then as from 01 August the camps will increase to 28 beds in total (and the concession goes back to a total of 40 beds again) as follows:
VUMBURA 1 with: 7 twins, 1 honeymoon = 7 tents and 14 guests
VUMBURA 2 with: 4 twins, 1 honeymoon and 2 family's = 7 tents with 14 guests
VUM STAFF with: 2 staff beds

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Mombo Camp update - Jan 05                Jump to Mombo Camp
The month of January 2005 at Mombo has been a time of renaissance as we take advantage of this traditionally quiet month to reflect on all the incredible experiences of the previous year, and draw breath before the rigors - and far more importantly - the pleasures of the coming season.

Mombo is cloaked in a wonderful coat of green following the rains, with each plant trying to outdo its neighbors in its profusion of new shoots and leaves. The year-round availability of food for herbivores in this area - plus the many small pans which fill with rainwater and sustain life until the return of the floods - ensure that animals here have no need to leave this area in any season, and assure us of phenomenal game viewing.

From the booming call of the giant eagle owl as the first purple smudges of dawn appear in the eastern sky, to the last call of the reed frogs late into the night, Mombo is a place which hums, whistles and roars with an orchestra of life like nowhere else on earth.

Towards the end of the month, a group of guests, newly arrived at Mombo, were being driven from the airstrip to the Camp - a distance of only 2km - when they came across a lioness hunting warthogs. She very narrowly missed one, and the guide was able to follow the lioness as she stalked a small group of zebra, and succeeded in killing a young foal. As the foal's feeble struggle ended, the lioness called to her cubs in a soft "umph", a sound almost impossible to describe, but which tells the youngsters that it is safe to emerge, and emerge they did, tumbling over each other in their eagerness to learn another lesson on their long path to becoming Africa's top predator.

At the latest count, we had 18 lion cubs in the Mombo area, all born in the last three or four months. With so many hungry young mouths, the prides have been extremely busy, preying on buffalo specifically. Often we have fallen asleep to the sound of the giggle of hyenas and the shattering roars and growls of lions, as each night's kill is hotly contested.

Eight young lion cubs provided one of our most memorable game drive sightings this month, as it was the first time that they had ever seen a vehicle. At first they were very wary of this strange green animal lumbering towards them, and they disappeared into a nearby palm island. Curiosity soon got the better of them however and they emerged one by one to get a closer look. They were evidently disappointed to learn that a Land Rover makes such a poor playmate, and losing interest, they set off instead on an expedition to explore the next island, watched over by their mothers.

The image of the young cubs peering over the backs of their mothers, blue eyes wide with fascination, is one of those quintessential safari memories that remains with you forever. During this month we also discovered a new hyena den, in an old aardvark hole in the base of a termite mound.

Our find of the month however was undoubtedly a ten-day old leopard cub, born to a young female in the Simbira Channel area. This is her first cub, and so far she is proving to be an excellent, if very wary, mother. When first seen the cub was peering from a hollow in the trunk of an ancient sausage tree, where it remained for a few days before the mother took her cub with her to a new place of refuge. Incredibly, it was a gaggle of guinea fowl who prompted the relocation. Once they spotted the mother leopard, they relentlessly followed her around, calling raucously until she had had enough.

Another welcome new appearance - or rather re-appearance - at Mombo has been a pair of wild dog males, which have moved into the area and who, for now at least, are managing to hold their own against the lion and hyena.
James' note:  On our February visit, we had great dog sightings and the "pack" now numbers three as a female has joined the two males.

The masses of greenery have seen record numbers of zebras here. We have also noticed a lot more elephants at Mombo than we normally see at this time of year.
Despite the rain, many of the smaller channels are drying up. As small shallow pools are formed, hundreds of birds -  egrets, herons, pelicans and storks - converge to feed on the hapless fish squirming around in the mud. Best of all, we have had several sightings of African skimmers this month. These gorgeous tern-like birds thrive only in the very purest and most unspoiled environments, so to see them very close to Camp is a wonderful confirmation that we are successfully minimizing the human impact on this pristine ecosystem.

The re-introduced black and white rhinos continue to thrive, although they have been a little more elusive now that they can feed on juicy green grass in the acacia areas. The three calves born last year all continue to do well, and seem to get bigger almost daily. We recently spotted one female white rhino with her calf relaxing in the shade, oblivious to the fact that a mere 60m away, under the next tree, a pride of lions was resting after having satiated themselves on a buffalo they had just brought down. But then it would be a brave lion indeed that tried to get the better of a rhino mother!

Perhaps the most enjoyable events this month have been those which we associate most with this time of year - the flaming red sunsets with the last rays of the sinking sun making the low clouds glow like precious metals, and the huge energy of the electric storms, thunder rumbling overhead to compete with the roaring lions, and electric blue fingers of lightning searing through the night sky and lighting up the floodplains. Each day beings new things to wonder at - changes to stimulate even the most jaded imagination. We are utterly convinced that no-one can leave this Camp unmoved, and as evidence, we will as always leave the last word on Mombo this month to the guests who have shared this magical place with us:

• This has been our favourite place - the perfect mixture of being left alone and entertained.
• Tsile (our guide) was very knowledgeable and respectful of the animals and the environment.
• We were touched by the lovely surprise of the private dinner under the African sky on our balcony.
• Everything exceeded our expectations.
• Thank you for an amazing stay!
• We really enjoyed having Thompson as our guide - he is very knowledgeable and also has a great sense of humor…
• All of our expectations were met and exceeded - one of the best experiences of our lives! Thank you!
• Ella is a wonderful manager, extremely kind, sweet and accommodating.
• What a beautiful Camp - everything was impeccable - the food, the service, the rooms and of course our guide, Francis.
• What was the most enjoyable part of your stay? Tracking leopards, and the staff - especially Brandon, Debs, Thompson and Brooks.

 

That's all from your Mombo January team: Brandon & Debs, Pete & Sharon, Justin & Angela, Ella, Keya, Kele, and Nick. Oh, and Legadima the leopard, who has practically taken up residence in Camp this month… yesterday for example we had a wonderful sighting of her as we were enjoying afternoon tea, strolling nonchalantly along in the shade of the tents.

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Duba Plains Camp update - Jan 05                Jump to Duba Plains Camp
January 2005 was hotter and drier than last year with only 79mm of rain as opposed to 180mm in January 2004. However, we did not escape the storm that deposited 20mm of rain and a large Jackalberry tree onto Tent 5 in less than an hour! Thankfully no one was in the tent at the time and we hope to have a new one in place by the end of February. Although the water flow at the top of the panhandle as well behind last year’s levels, the water table is high and any rainfall we are getting is running off into the channels. Our environmental guru, Map Ives, thinks that flood levels at Duba could be similar to last year because of the high water table.

The high water table has also prolonged the life of the fish traps in the area and although the pelicans have gone, Slaty and Black egrets and Openbill Storks are still seen in good numbers. Early in the month a beautiful pair of Ospreys was seen in the Eden area along with a number of African Skimmers, sure signs of a pristine environment. Walberg’s and Tawny eagles have returned and Diederik and Jacobean cuckoos have been spotted in the acacia woodlands to the north.   

The dry weather has also affected the annual elephant migration. In December most of the elephant population around Duba migrated 50-60km north to the Mopane woodlands that constitute their favourite feeding areas during the rainy season when the pans fill with water. However, the hot weather in January has dried the pans and forced many of them to return to the northern delta adding to the already rich diversity of wildlife at Duba.

It’s been mentioned many times in the newsletters just how intolerant lions are of other cats, which make leopard and cheetah sightings a special treat. Since November however, we have seen cheetah almost every week. One adult female, a sub-adult male and a sub-adult female were first seen near Phala Island area to the north of camp. At first they were very shy but quickly became accustomed to the vehicles. It is very possible that the cheetah have a large territory covering the neighbouring Vumbura concession, which explains the erratic sightings. As the younger two are now over a year old, they have been abandoned by their mother and since the beginning of the month, only the sub-adults have been seen in the Eden area to the south of camp.

The buffalo herd now number over one thousand and calving is reaching a peak with the rains. This has changed the hunting habits of the lions, who are picking off the newly- born calves and any overly protective mothers. We had expected to see the new litter of Tsaro cubs, since up to five females mated during August/September. But of the four females currently lactating only one young female has bought out two cubs, one of which has since died. The whole pride is now often seen together and a couple of the females are mating again, which suggests that other litters have been lost. The one remaining cub is getting a rough ride from the older females who appear openly hostile towards it. It’s amazing to think that just four years ago the combined lion prides at Duba had a cub survival rate of over 80%, a figure that has dropped now to around 20%.

The Skimmer Pride is still doing very well and with the eleven cubs now approaching 18 months old, their chances of survival are high. This pride does not rely solely on the main buffalo herd to sustain it, as the Paradise area is favoured by bachelor groups (Dagger Boys) and there is a host of general game in the area. However, if the buffalo herd crosses the Molapo Channel which forms the boundary between the Tsaro and Skimmer territories, fights between the two prides are common. On the 15th, the Tsaro females pushed the buffalo into the channel and managed to pull down an adult female that had become stuck in the mud. Although the herd almost stampeded into the Skimmer Pride on the other side, the lions ignored them and focused their attention on chasing the Tsaro off the kill in the water. A real scrap ensued with the nine Tsaro females eventually retaining their prize catch.  

If the Skimmer Pride has prospered, then by comparison the Pantry Pride is in serious danger of collapsing altogether. During late November, one of the older females was killed in a fight possibly with the Tsaro Pride and another was badly injured. Then the Old Vumbura Pride was later seen near Shade Pan, in the heart of Pantry Pride territory following the buffalo. We followed the badly injured lioness for the next week, but she never rejoined the pride and we last saw her near Phala Island.

During December, the remaining part of the pride (3 adult females and the sub-adult male) was seen in a skittish state near Baobab Island. They have since stayed in that area, though when the sub-adult male eventually moves away it will be difficult for the females to defend any sort of area, however small. Amazingly, they have been able to bring down some buffalo and also a couple of red lechwe, a great example of how these amazing predators adapt their hunting techniques in an hour of need.

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Report - Jan 05                 Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Moray eel at Rocktail Bay Lodge, South AfricaThis month marks the halfway point through summer, and of course the start to the New Year. Temperatures have been creeping up, and the sea temperature is reaching 28 degrees Celsius. The ocean has cleared up with beautiful blue water streaming in from the south. This has been a blessing for the divers and boat-based snorkelers, once again enjoying the “Great Viz”. Most of our guests cannot believe how warm the water is.

We have experienced quite a bit of rain, and this has been wonderful for the vegetation.

The southerly wind has done wonders for the visibility at Lala Nek. Our visitors have had many a fantastic snorkeling experience at this marine haven. The fish life has been plentiful and new species have been seen by all, the highlight being “Gugu’s Eel”. Gugu, one of our guides, has managed to coax this little honeycomb moray eel out of its hiding place on numerous occasions, while around him a number of small Black-Cheek Eels bob in and out - perhaps also looking for attention.

We have had a number of first-time snorkelers, who discovered the marvels of the Indian Ocean. Anne Kennedy was one of these first-timers, who said she couldn’t, but did, and then we couldn’t get her out of the water!

The fruits of the dune forest are in season, and we have had fewer visits from our little forest friends. The mahogany tree that shelters our dining area has been a favourite with the vervet monkeys, who have been stuffing their mouths so full with the seeds that they started drooling. Besides the mahogany seeds, they also feed on sand apples, dwarf apricots and water berries, all absolutely delicious, even to the human palate.

Not surprisingly with the warm weather, there has been an abundance of bird species, some common, some uncommon. A good number of bird watchers relished these uncommon sightings - Broadbill rollers, Purple rollers and Wattle-eyed flycatchers.

Our trips through the grasslands to Vasi Pan have been worthwhile. Some special waders that have been spotted are the Lesser Jacana and the Lesser Gallinule. Vasi, which filled with water recently, has played host to many bird species and has been very gratifying indeed.

On the sand track to Manzengwenya we often run into the resident banded mongoose family, which scatter all over the dune road. Lately, on the same road we have seen a handful of suni antelope. These are among the smallest antelope in the world, and certainly the rarest in these parts.   

We have had fun-loving guests in camp this month, and would like to tell you a “little” story about a “big” fish. A couple of days into our guests’ stay, we decided to enjoy a fishing expedition in the late afternoon. Melissa Middleton had never fished before and decided to give it a go. A couple of days later, she and her husband Harry went down to the beach, to enjoy  some fishing with Simon. Melissa, sitting on the beach quietly and very relaxed suddenly yelled for help - there was something pulling at the end of her line. Simon stepped in to lend a hand. Half an hour later, after a long struggle, Melissa landed an 8kg Yellowtail Kingfish. Needless to say, the guys were green, with envy that is. Well done Melissa, you really showed the guys how it should be done!!

On the 25 January we had a highly unusual sighting. Amil and Paloma Dos Santos decided to go for a morning walk to Black Rock. They saw something in the distance and assumed it was a log. As they approached, “the log” got up and scrambled into the ocean. This was none other than a 1.5-metre crocodile – yes, CROCODILE! Stunned, they stood and watched the surf but could see nothing and continued their walk. Lo and behold, on their return the same thing happened. This is the first time in Rocktail’s history that a crocodile, of all things, has been seen on the beach. A very rare event indeed!

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Namibia camps
Damaraland update - Baby Elephant - Jan 05                 Jump to Damaraland Camp
The new baby elephant at Damaraland Camp, NamibiaIt is with a great deal of pride that we in D-Camp introduce the newest addition to the elephant family that lives in our riverbed. Young Rosie (if it is a girl) or Pepe (if it is a boy) was born on Friday, the 14th January 2005. Both mum and new baby are doing fine. It is fascinating to watch the young elephant as it learns about the new world into which it has arrived.  While still looking a bit crumpled, it follows mum wherever she goes, never being more than a few paces away. Mother is very attentive and although the baby is forever underneath her, she never seems to bump it with her legs and manages to help it through any obstacles it encounters.

Reproductive success for these elephants in this harsh environment is a challenge, and as such, the birth of this little calf is encouraging news for the elephant population. Due to restricted food availability, these elephants have low reproductive rates, and elephant kinship groups are small.These gentle giants have adapted their behaviour in order to survive. They may wonder up to 60km a day in search for ground water, digging holes known as “gorras” into the sand to access this. The elephants are crucial in keeping  these watering points open for other desert-dwelling creatures and as such constitute an integral part of the desert ecosystem.Visitors to Damaraland have thoroughly enjoyed encounters with these unusual, highly adapted pachyderms. We at D-camp will keep an eye on the little one, and let you know of any developments.

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Skeleton Coast Newsletter - Jan 05                  Jump to Skeleton Coast Camp
Fur seal pup - Skeleton CoastRain, rain and more rain. January has ushered in the wet season at the Skeleton Coast and while the surface water quickly evaporated or drained away, the region’s normally arid gravel plains are now carpeted in green grass.

January began with one of the most spectacular game drives on record: guests visited the Himba village, viewed three herds of desert-adapted elephants then found the Skeleton Coast lion pride on a kill. The lions were at the Klein Poort - a spectacular narrow canyon in the Hoaraseb River - and had just killed an oryx. They were totally at ease with the vehicle, affording excellent viewing.

The Hoaraseb River began flowing strongly in early January after fresh rainfall fell inland. While this stopped our exploration of this area for a couple of weeks, the river dried up and game drives resumed down the spectacular riverbed.

One game drive actually witnessed the flood moving down the Hoaraseb. As the flood crept up towards a breeding herd of elephants, the cows responded by trumpeting and kicking dust up at the approaching waters. After this, the herd sprinted down the riverbed and scrambled up a side canyon. Elephants were regularly seen in the Purros area of the Hoaraseb.

The Cape fur seal colony at Cape Frio is as frenetic as ever. Thousands of cows continue to abandon their youngsters each day to fish in the plankton-rich currents. Pups are growing rapidly but are still dependant on their mothers. Nonetheless, they often venture into the ocean and are already fighting and bickering with neighbouring pups. Jackals, ghost crabs and kelp gulls continued to scour the fur seal colony, with brown hyena tracks showing that there are nocturnal visitors to the colony, too.

Well away from the Atlantic, desert-adapted giraffe were regularly viewed in the Hoaraseb and Khumib riverbeds. In addition to these, game drives yielded regular sightings of brown hyena, springbok, steenbok and oryx.  Summer rains have brought fresh grass shoots, carpeting areas that were previously barren. This has attracted Hartmann’s mountain zebra, springbok and oryx.

Closer to camp, three giraffes made regular appearances along the banks of the Khumib River, skirting around the edge of camp. At the nearby Sarusas Springs there have been numerous sightings of brown hyena: one of the rarest large carnivores in Africa!

Skeleton Coast Camp was full all January with delighted visitors. At this time of year, the area boasts a pleasant Mediterranean climate. It is, indeed, an ideal time to sample this remarkable wilderness area. Despite the area’s spectacular wildlife, many guests rate our finest activities as swimming, fishing, viewing shipwrecks and strolling down the beach. A truly unique experience!

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