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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS
June 2005

This Month:
Wilderness Safaris general Safari News.

• Dive Report from beautiful North Island in the Seychelles.

• Monthly update from Linkwasha Camps in Zimbabwe.

• Monthly update from Makalolo Plains in Zimbabwe.

Kwando Safaris game reports for June 2005.

• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Savuti Camp in Botswana.
Rhino update update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Selinda Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Duba Plains in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Mombo and Little Mombo Camps in Botswana.

• Report on the new Pafuri Camp in South Africa.

• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.

• Monthly update from Palmwag Rhino Camp in Namibia.


Wilderness Safaris general Safari News
Assorted Updates - June 05
Pafuri Camp opened on July 2nd and is looking beautiful. Set under enormous Jackalberry and Nyalaberry trees on the banks of the Luvuvhu River, its architecture reflects a wonderful combination of Makuleke stonework and woodwork.

The name 'Kulala Wilderness Camp' has become a misnomer since its upgrade to thatched roof, wooden doors and floors, and rock bathrooms! Therefore, it has been decided to rename it: it is now called Kulala Wilderness Camp.

Renovations at the River Club are continuing with Litunga (the furthest room downstream) being converted into a family room and the paving of the camp paths progressing.

San Camp has upgraded its adjacent ‘short drops’ to en-suite flush loos. In addition, the tents this year are green and not white.

At the recent Seychelles Underwater Film Festival on Mahé, the North Island dive team entered three images taken on our dive sites, one of which made it through to the final round of public voting.

At Rocktail Bay, turtle adoptions are going well: One of the guests adopted a Leatherback Turtle from last season and a schoolgirl in Cape Town has raised money to adopt the first of next season.

Thick coastal mist is now penetrating upstream along the Kunene all the way to Serra Cafema lining the valley in the mornings and providing much-needed moisture in the dry winter months.

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North Island in the Seychelles
North Island Dive Report - June 05                Jump to North Island
June has come and gone and amongst the highlights on the scuba diving front, we have another new dive site, our first whale shark sightings, milk fish shoals, and the seasonal arrival of the sprats on “Sprat City”. All very exciting stuff.

During the early part of June we experienced 6 days of on-and-off rain, overcast weather, and a seriously grumpy ocean with 5m visibility. What a combination! The entire plateau area of Seychelles, incorporating Silhouette, Mahe and the inner islands, all experienced the green water. We battled to find a spot that did not offer poor visibility. On the rain front, we had 97mm in one shower on 7th June. Over these 6 days we had a total of 400mm of rain, which was totally un-seasonal. I must add that it was very welcome as we are traditionally in the dry season now.

Despite the poor conditions during the first week or two of June, we managed to put some dives out on the better days. We had been forced to dive closer to home and Steve, on doing a shore entry off the main beach, swam beyond the normal site that we dive, crossed a vast amount of sand and found another ledge, teeming with life. Rays, eels, huge shoals of kingfish surrounded the divers and “Outside Edge” was born. It comprises a 50m-length ledge lying at 23m of water and offers a vast number of geometric eels, round ribbontail rays, reef rays, devil firefish and more. Divers that came back after having dived it raved and said it was their best dive to date. So, you never know, just when nature forces you to stop diving the sites usually dived and limits you to about 300m from the closest beach, you find another spot.

On one of the typical choppy days, on return from a dive off main beach, I was summoned out to sea to identify a massive shoal of 40+ “unknown sharks” cruising around just below the surface. On closer inspection, these small unknowns were swimming around in a very loose shoal, appearing to be eating something. They cruised in at the inflatable boat, moved off, swam past, swam back. At first I identified them as baby grey reef sharks as they seemed to resemble these, but on further investigation, they turned out to be Milk Fish (Chanos chanos). They feed on algae and invertebrates and it is not uncommon to find them in large shoals near the surface.

We also witnessed sea urchins moving off the reef, due to the unsettled ocean conditions and extreme surge - not a common sighting.

As if to apologize for the poor weather during the first part of the month, the ocean calmed down, visibility improved and we went back to “Sprat City.” We had a bet on whether the sprats would arrive before the end of June and yes, I won the bet: they had arrived in their thousands. This is how the dive site got its name in the first place: during June to mid August, small fish called sprats arrive on Sprat City and basically take over the reef. They seem to enjoy certain outcrops on this dive site and you can hardly see the reef for these tiny fish. They are in large shoals everywhere. They in turn bring in the larger predator fish, which feed on them, also enticing the rays, sharks and pick-handle barracuda shoals. This is the most active season for this dive site and there is action here, day and night and especially late afternoon, when the king fish start to feed. It is hugely exciting to dive this site over this period. Those that survive all the feasting that goes on get bigger and eventually move off.

During the last week of June we saw our first whale shark and at 14 metres, it wasn’t a small one either. It was measured against the size of the boat and its length was far greater than the length of the boat. It approached divers at 10m on Sprat City and circled them for 15 minutes or so. It was curious and just kept swimming around everyone. It eventually went up towards the surface, swam towards the boat, circled the boat and then, satisfied as to what we all were, moved off. It had no tag and its sex was not identified by the divers. After the dive, one hour later, the boat crew were mooring the boats on the West Beach side of the island and as they approached the mooring buoys to attach the ropes, the large whale shark appeared again, together with a smaller one of 10m in length. They circled the boat, had a look and then disappeared again.

The whale shark season normally starts in August and these sightings are early. In fact, the helicopter pilots have been sighting a lot over this last week. Perhaps it has something to do with the tsunami or perhaps the seasons are just early, which may explain the poor visibility. The water has been filled with plankton and other small juicy edibles that the whale sharks feed on.

Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins have also graced us with their presence, although slightly shy.

With all of this action, it would appear that the ocean life has come alive, poor visibility or not. At the time of writing this report, the ocean has settled down to a nice lull, visibility has improved to around 12m and we are experiencing 26ºC water temperature.

Over the month of June we managed 59 dives with 36 different divers. We visited 7 dive sites with Sprat City (9 visits), Twin Anchors (4 visits) and the ‘Boulders - Main Beach – Outside Edge’ being popular with 6 different visits.

On the fishing front two Sail Fish proved to be a highlight. Both fish were successfully released.

Regards from North Island,
-Debbie Smith-

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Zimbabwe Camps
Linkwasha update - June 05                Jump to Linkwasha Camp
June has been quite cold and crisp as usual in the early mornings but has been warming up quite nicely at midmorning. Ponchos on the game drive vehicles have been rather welcoming for guests as they are very eager to have them when offered! On the 23rd we had some cloud blow in from the south-east, which made for some slightly warmer nights. The coldest that we have experienced this month was 2°C at about 6:30 in the morning. The days have been very pleasant and later we have a breeze starting up that dies down by midday. The highest temperatures were around 27 to 28°C.

The concession here at Linkwasha is already looking very dry and is almost what we would expect in late August. There is very little surface water left around and most of the pans that still had some water last month are now mud wallows for the elephants and warthogs. With the breeze that we have been getting, predominantly from an easterly direction, a lot of the trees are now starting to lose their leaves. Some of the Ordeal trees are still showing off their golden colours but mostly all are now taking a bare look. The surrounding open plains are also looking very dry, at Ngamo plains and areas here in front of camp it is well grazed and is getting dusty as there are no signs of green on the ground. Further towards the outer areas of the plains there are still good amounts of grass, but dry.

Wildlife this month has been relatively good considering the cold mornings. Generally we have found that during the mornings things are quiet until the sun starts to warm things up a bit and animals get a bit more active. As a result the late mornings have been better for game viewing. Afternoon game drives have been excellent as everything seems to happen at the water and on several occasions we have not had to do much driving around at all but go to a waterhole and sit there instead. I recall on one occasion that we were at Scott's Pan we were having sundowner drinks and had elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, roan antelope, black-backed jackal, hippo, warthog and impala all around us. It was magical and then as the sun had just disappeared behind the horizon a leopard emerged from the tree line to come for a drink!

Huge herds of elephant have been seen at the water, not only in the afternoons but also at midday as well. The little waterhole in front of the camp has been quite good as well, especially at full moon while sitting quietly at the campfire with the silhouettes of the animals moving around the water. Spotlighting in the evenings on our way back to the camp from afternoon drives has also been very productive as there has been a wide variety of nocturnal animals that have been kind enough to show their faces, some of them being Selous‘ and white-tailed mongooses.

The buffalo herds seemed to have moved out of the area for the first half of the month, but started coming back towards the end; we have not seen many herds at all this month apart from some old bulls that hang around the back pans area. Rhino have seen on a couple of occasions especially at Scott's Pan. The "old guy" as we call him has been very elusive and we’ve seen more of signs of him at the middens and tracks! But as usual on the occasions that he had been spotted we had some good photographic opportunities.

Leopard and lion have been a little slow but many tracks have been seen. With the lions the female and her two daughters are still hanging around the camp area. On the last sighting the female seemed to be carrying quite heavy and we hope to have some cubs soon, it will be exciting to wait and see what happens. Some new lion, two females and a young male, have also been seen in our concession. Apparently they had been seen in our sister camp's area for a short while, we are still not quite sure where they came from, and it will be interesting to find out. We’ll keep you updated! The four males have been heard calling from Ngamo plains on numerous occasions.

We have been very lucky where other animal species are concerned, such as giraffe – large numbers of which have been seen at Ngamo plains, at times in the region of about 30 animals. Bat-eared foxes now venturing around later in the morning for the sun are regular sightings. Sable, eland, and spotted hyaena have all been seen too.

This month there have been some exciting bird sightings and also some rather unusual ones! One lone Abdim's Stork and Yellow-billed Stork have been seen at Ngamo and Scott's areas have been seen on a few occasions in the same area. A flock of seventeen White Storks have also been seen right at the front of the camp also on the 4th and 5th of the month. The arrivals of the Capped Wheatears are very evident on the plains and in the grassland as they flutter around dung piles and sit atop termite mounds. We have also been witnesses to some Ostrich courtships on the plains around the camp and guests have enjoyed the dancing and showing off of one of the resident male Ostriches in our area who put on quite a display. Cape Teal were also seen at Madison Pan close to the airstrip. One Red-breasted Swallow has also been seen at Back pans which is early as they would only start arriving here late August. Our total count for this month is 110 species.

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Makalolo update - June 05                Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp
We are still awaiting a true winter to unleash itself upon us in fine, old fashioned, ‘better late than never’ style! The coldest temperature recorded in June was 5 degrees Celsius, but otherwise we have been blessed with superb maximums averaging 25 degrees Celsius throughout the month.

Temperatures seem to take a bit of a nosedive in the mornings, approximately an hour after wake-up call, resulting in our wildlife being slightly elusive during the earlier part of the game drive day. Cloud cover build-ups in the evenings have acted as a shield, trapping a fair amount of warmth from the afternoon sun's rays and thus preventing a bit of comfort from escaping us at night. After retiring from the evening campfire, we still appreciate being greeted by the hot-water bottles tucked under our bed covers!

Carpets of rustling, dried Zimbabwe Teak leaves unfurl and crunch on the unraveled roads before us. The bush has dried up, leaving sparse and prickly grasses clinging to the deep Kalahari sands. Many of the Zimbabwe Teak trees are cloaked in drab brown and khaki colors, whilst the Ordeals seem wilted under the heavy weight of yellow leaves they are wearing. Kuduberry trees are most attractive at this time of the year, being festooned in an array of yellow, bronze, pink, rust, maroon, purple and various greens! Ochna pulchras are still set in hardy green leaves, whilst Leadwoods are a flush of dusty yellow winged fruits. Red Syringas stand tall, looking rather skeletal with their almost bare crowns, and Large False Mopanes are dressed up to the nines in their butterfly-wing-like leaves as they spit out their ripened brown seeds and disperse them amongst the layers of forbearers lying at their feet!

Makalolo's activities have varied a bit this month! As well as our usual game drives, nature walks and platform tree house visits, for those experiencing a subdued morning game drive, Belinda has adopted different types of dung to act as accomplices in entertaining our guests - these new activities include elephant dung baseball, kudu dung spitting contests and kudu dung hopscotch!

June has been an incredible month for cat sightings! The three lionesses from our original resident pride have reunited with their 13 little cubs in tow, making an awesome new pride of 16! These cats have been seen at several places in our concession ranging from the airstrip to beyond the picnic site at Ngweshla - most of the time they are huddled together, trying to beat the cold! Five of the sub-adult cubs from our original pride (1 female and 4 males) are making it on their own in the wilderness and took us by surprise one morning when they appeared on the road leading to the front of camp. They were all quite relaxed, and it appeared that the little female has just come into oestrus, as her brothers seemed quite "interested" in her!

The three young male lions from the Ngamo area have been visiting the Makalolo concession, and were seen lying on a termite mound at Little Somavundla, when a family of warthogs came down to drink. The lions took this opportunity to have bacon on the menu, but as they made their approach, the wind changed direction and the pigs picked up the lions' scent! The warthogs then took off at high speed, leaving only clouds of dust for the lions to choke on! The collared female, with her three sub-adult male cubs who seemed to be progressing well, has been seen again, but sadly she is missing a cub and one of the remaining two has a very injured back left leg and has become lame and is incredibly thin. We can only assume that the intrusion of the three males from the Ngamo area has resulted in territorial warfare and one cub has been killed, whilst his brother is suffering serious injuries from their mighty blows.

During an afternoon at the platform tree house, Tendai and his guests were amazed when they discovered a male cheetah approaching from the eastern side of camp. They tracked him again at sunset, and were delighted to have a full, very relaxed view of him at Little Somavundla. The bonus of doing a road transfer to Main Camp is not knowing what you'll see along the way and we've had thrilling cheetah sightings in the Kennedy area! On one particular road transfer, Sacha saw three sub-adult cheetah resting just off the main road. Shortly afterwards, he came across another group of three resting on top of a termite mound - a total of six cheetah on one drive!

According to Themba, "Hyaena Den" is another of the happening places at Makalolo! Apart from the putrid smell, two cute little hyaena pups and their very shy parents occasionally make an appearance for a few minutes, before disappearing into the safety of their castle. We have had quite of a few sightings of aardwolf lately and on one night drive, a pair was seen.

An orange ball of fire and pink skies at sunset make a breath-taking backdrop for the thousands of buffalo that walk in single file, like ants, across the plains, accompanied by hundreds of wildebeest. We have a majestic herd of 25 sable that visit the front pan almost on a daily basis. Hundreds of elephant are still making the log pile at Little Makalolo a cherished and much-appreciated close encounter! They are still regular visitors to the pool in the evenings and their constant rumblings in the night are a perfect serenade for our guests.

Only 82 species of birds were recorded in the sightings this month. The most fascinating encounter was that of a Barn Owl, who decided to seek refuge in the rafters of our dining room roof for a day. We didn't notice he was there until he dropped a rather furry looking parcel on the dining room table - luckily, nobody was dining at the time! He sat above us for most of the day, trying to sleep and quietly observed the camp's daily activities by peeking through half-shut eyes! Kori Bustards made an extravagant appearance at the airstrip to compete with Sefofane on the runway - the birds numbered 8 in total! A melanistic Gabar Goshawk was sighted at Little Somavundla and a Gymnogene has been frequenting the platform in front of camp! A pair of Black-chested Snake Eagles were seen mating at Mbiza. Strangely, some of the migrant birds are still hanging around in our area - Abdim's and White Storks and one afternoon 6 Spur-wing Geese were seen frolicking in the pan in front of camp!

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - June 05
Lagoon camp                Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• The Lagoon Pride of 12 have moved back north to the Lagoon Camp area and have been seen on a daily basis – they hunted and killed 2 buffalo one morning in front of guests.
Guests saw a female cheetah and 2 cubs on an Impala kill
A large adult (relaxed) leopard was seen on one evening drive at the airstrip, the following morning guides followed drag marks from where it had killed an impala to the spot where a clan of hyena robbed him of his kill.
Another leopard was found in the morning and followed for a while before moving off into the sage.
Plenty of tracks of wild dogs throughout the area but only one sighting of a pack of 2 males hunting.
Large herds of buffalo seen throughout the area, most often viewed in the late afternoons drinking along the Kwando river.
Many breeding herds of elephant seen throughout the concession, as well as bachelor herds. They are seen all throughout the day from the front of Lagoon Camp coming down to the river to drink and bathe.
Night drives yielded hyena, civet and plenty of hippo out of the water.
One of the game-drive had a special interaction of fish eagle, 3 giant eagle owls, 2 tawny eagles and an osprey all intent on a kill that one of the owls had.

(Weeks 3-4)
• The pride of 12 lions killed a buffalo but were displaced by a clan of hyena.
2 nomadic males and 2 lionesses were found on another buffalo kill.
An adult female leopard (very relaxed) was followed hunting in the early morning.
A female cheetah and her two cubs were found in the southern part of the concession, they were viewed for several days in a row.
A coalition of 3 male cheetah were found relaxing after a morning’s hunting.
There have been plenty of tracks of the pack of wild dogs but they have been keeping their den well hidden thus far.
There were many sightings of breeding herds of elephant throughout the concession as well as bachelor herds – a couple of bulls have been frequenting the camp at night.
Good numbers of breeding herds of buffalo were seen throughout the concession, most often seen in the late afternoon coming down to the river.
The floodplains and adjoining areas yielded good numbers of zebra, wildebeest, tsessebe, impala and giraffe.
Smaller game sighted included dwarf, slender and yellow mongoose, as well as saddle-billed stork, open-billed stork, African spoonbill, black and slaty egrets and goliath heron.
At night a couple of African wild cats, civets, several flap-necked chameleons as well as a pair of black-backed jackal were found feeding on a buffalo carcass together with a clan of hyena.

Kwara camp                Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• 2 Adult male lions were followed hunting buffalo, lions were seen on game drive throughout the week.
The 2 males killed a young buffalo calf last Saturday morning.
An African Wild dog was found hot on the heels of a kudu calf but did not manage to catch his prey.
A herd of 4 elephant bulls have been spending a lot of time around the camp feeding on the large trees around the tents.
A herd of 200 buffalo were found grazing, and then stampeded away when attacked by 2 male lions which caught and killed another calf.
A clan of 3 hyena we found drinking and wallowing at Honeymoon Pan.
The lagoon in front the the camp has been especially productive, impala, elephant, lechwe, warthogs and a wide variety of water-birds all seen by guests from the tents and the main lounge
The floodplains a yielded large dazzles of zebra, as well as smaller groups of giraffe, impala, tsessebe and wildebeest.
The nights driver were very productive and included a serval hunting mice, civet, caracal, porcupine as well as youngsters outside the Bat-eared fox den, as well as a variety of different owls

(Weeks 3-4)
• A pride of 13 lions was found sleeping – they were well fed.
2 adult males were found moving around roaring and marking their territory, they later joined up with the big pride of 13.
3 young males split from the large pride and managed to catch and kill
A pride of 3 nomadic males was found moving into the concession – they were followed for a while before they bedded down for the day. They were later followed hunting a herd of about 700 buffalo
A pride of 9 lions was found (1 adult female, 3 sub-adult males), and 5 sub-adult females, they were followed hunting and later killed an adult zebra.
An adult male leopard was seen in the eastern concession area, as well as a mating pair of leopards seen from the boat at the Godikwe heronry.
A female cheetah was followed while hunting as well as a sub-adult male that narrowly missed catching a warthog and a reedbuck – he himself was later chased at night by the 3 nomadic male lions. Next morning he caught and killed a reedbuck but was robbed in the afternoon by a clan of hyena.
3 male cheetah were found in the north resting, they were followed hunting tsessebe but were unsuccessful.
A pack of 3 wild dogs was seen in front of the camp at morning tea, they lay up for the day close to the camp.
A herd of 700 buffalo were seen feeding on the new short grass on the burnt areas. They chased off the 3 young male lions that were stalking them.
Another herd of about 250 was seen, as well as a herd of 500 at the new site for Kwara Island Camp.
A few elephant bulls were seen – some spending some time shaking the camelthorn trees for their seed-pods
Herds of up to 150 zebra responding to the fresh new green shoots in the burnt grass areas, as well as a herd of 25 giraffe, smaller herds of tsessebe, sable, impala, roan antelope, kudu, baboons, wildebeest and warthogs.
At night both black-backed and side-striped jackals (mating pair) seen, chameleons, hyenas, bushbaby, serval seen four times hunting and killing rodents, civet, aardvark, African wild cat and 4 bat-eared foxes watched foraging for insects.
Birds include 4 sightings of Verreaux's eagle owl, Temmincks courser, young pratincoles, young white-backed pelicans, spoonbills and yellow-billed storks.

Lebala camp
                Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• A pride of 12 lions, 4 lionesses, 6 cubs and 2 sub-adults were followed hunting throughout the week, they were seen hunting and the feeding on a large warthog.
A female leopard hunting – she killed an adult female impala but was robbed shortly thereafter by hyenas. There were a few sightings of shy leopards in the camp area. Also a relaxed adult male was seen from the camp in broad daylight hunting reedbuck.
An adult female cheetah was followed everyday – she was seen making 5 different kills throughout the week, and was robbed of her kill on 3 occasions.
Bachelor herds and breeding herds of elephant seen in good numbers both north and south of the camp, coming to drink from the river along the flood plains,
Large herds of buffalo seen throughout the concession, - some close to the camp as well.
Hyenas we seen almost every night on their nocturnal patrols, as well as a couple sighted moving through the camp as well
Other night sightings include honey-badgers, civet and genets,
General game has been good – especially between Twin Pools and the southern floodplains - zebra, giraffe with young, kudu, impala, red lechwe, Steenbuck, wildebeest, reedbuck and tsessebe.
Birds specials for the week include a flock of 9 wattled cranes, rosy-chested longclaw, and Kori bustards.

(Weeks 3-4)
• A single adult male lion was seen a few times marking and calling south of camp.
Another large adult male lion robbed a clan of 10 hyena of their buffalo kill near the old hippo pools. They were both later found taking turns feeding on a buffalo carcass
An adult male leopard was robbed of his kill by a clan of hyena.
A shy young female was seen, as well a 3 other sightings of relaxed individuals – one was chasing a caracal.
3 adult male cheetah were followed scent-marking and hunting.
An adult female cheetah and her cubs killed and ate a young male impala south of camp.
More and more large breeding herds of elephants are being seen daily moving to and from the river.
Excellent sighting of a buffalo cow giving birth on an evening drive, as well as several large herds (up to a couple of hundred in each) being seen daily north and south of the camp
Another clan of 15 hyena was found feeding on a buffalo carcass north of Tsessebe Island, several other sightings of hyena including one with a pair if jackal tailing them.
General game excellent – giraffe, kudu, roan, impala, tsessebe, wildebeest, zebra, lechwe, reedbuck, steenbok, and several troops of baboons
Night drives include African wild cats and serval seen nightly, 3 caracal, a honey-badger, 2 porcupines foraging together.
Winter resident birds seen – ground hornbills, Kori bustards, Marshall eagles, secretary birds, and a number of vultures.
A pair of black mambas was seen hissing and coiling around each other – either a territorial fight or mating!

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DumaTau update - June 05                Jump to DumaTau Camp
The month of June unleashed the awesome wildness of DumaTau camp. It is indeed difficult to pick a highlight for the month as there were so many, with most of them occurring in or very near the camp. Here follows a brief selection.

Just as our guests were departing on their game drive early one morning, a pack of 13 wild dogs came bursting onto the scene as they ran past our guest rooms. A few minutes later they killed an impala right in front of the honeymoon room, and we enjoyed the best seats in the house, watching the dogs feast on their kill from the honeymoon gazebo only a few metres away! We were delighted to observe that the alpha female was heavily pregnant.

Then we had leopard in camp virtually every evening creating much havoc among the resident troop of baboons who roost in the many Mangosteen trees shading our thatched guest rooms. Leopard sightings have been plentiful and at one stage during the month we were averaging three per drive, prompting a guest to ask, "Do you guys breed leopards here?”

Next we were all enjoying early morning breakfast before departing on the morning drive when one guest said, "I so wish we could see wild dogs today." No sooner were these words uttered when an impala come bolting over the balustrade at our dining area, knocking over a number of lanterns with a wild dog in hot pursuit. Soon we had ten wild dog all over the camp, running in various directions as they attempted to flush out the panic-stricken impala. They continued their hunt in camp for some time, totally ignoring guests and staff and at times running just a few metres past us. Eventually they located and killed the impala, yet again right in front of our honeymoon gazebo, henceforth known as the wild dog gazebo!

The dogs have since denned in the nearby Selinda area and often come across the water to our side of the concession boundary in order to hunt.

Early one evening we also sighted a serval with a cub in front of our scenic bar (called the Dung and Beetle). We also had daily encounters with elephant in camp who enjoy snacking on Acacia pods, often vigorously shaking the tree in order to release the pods. We have such Acacia trees at our office/kitchen area, often restricting movement to and from the office and/or kitchen as an old elephant bull likes to hog this tree for up to an hour at a time. The other day he was outside the door and as I started opening the shade cloth door to go out, he just slammed it closed in my face with his trunk. OK, got the message I thought. Quite a charming fellow! However, because of his regular trashing of our High Frequency antenna, he has been named HF!

June also saw the first herds of buffalo in our area with sightings of up to 100 seen at times.

An interesting sighting was experienced whilst following a large male lion early one evening. We were following him along the riverine fringe from the camp when suddenly he stopped, lifted his head to sniff the air, then turned left and proceeded directly into the woodland for approximately 250 metres before freezing on the slope of a termite mound. We sat watching from our vehicle as he started to crouch and stalk but still we could not see beyond the termite mound. Suddenly he flew into action with an enormous burst of speed and hair-raising growl as he took a powerful swipe at a leopard who must have been terrified as she scampered up a nearby Mangosteen tree before coming to rest on an overhanging branch. The lion proceeded to look upward and then made a feeble attempt to climb a nearby tree, before abandoning the silly idea and moving off. This was some really exciting lion/leopard interaction and a real privilege to witness.

We have had lions moving through camp during the evening on a number of occasions, with plenty of “duma tau” (roar of lion) being heard from the comfort of our beds. Some evenings have been particularly noisy with a cacophony of animal sounds filling the evening air. I have to mention the great comment made by a teenage girl at breakfast one morning, when asked what she had heard during the night. She replied " Oh wow, last night I heard things being made, born and killed".

There has been much more, including but not only the following:

Zebra, elephant, cheetah, hyaena, serval, black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, kudu, hippo, crocodile, warthog, African rock python, black mamba, tawny eagle, giant eagle owl, bateleur, honey badger, steenbok, impala, red lechwe.

Our guests were awestruck while watching about 150 elephants cross the water whilst on a midday cruise on our beautiful lagoons which are a back-spill from the Linyanti River flowing north from us into Lake Liambezi.

We are also very privileged to have cubs in our area, with one lioness nursing three beauties and another taking care of two. Recently the two lionesses teamed up with all 5 cubs together so that one of the mothers could go hunting. How thoughtful!

Temperatures for the month averaged at a min of 13 degrees C with an average max of 31. The coldest morning was recorded as 8 with our warmest day being 33 degrees C. Yep, the time has arrived for handing out those snug hot water bottles before retiring in the evening and enjoying that customary plate of hot porridge around the morning campfire. DumaTau, certainly the place to be!

DumaTau greetings

IAN & PETRO

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Savuti update - June 05                Jump to Savuti Camp
Winter has finally arrived here in the channel and it is with a lot of hesitation that we climb out of our warm beds in the morning to go and find the game! Once out there though, the temperature is soon forgotten as we have been treated to some amazing sightings this month.

The seasonal pans have all but dried up and elephant numbers have climbed everyday at the water points in the channel - at the moment we are seeing no less than 100 – 200 elephants drinking at the camp waterhole daily. The interaction between these huge animals as they come to quench their thirst is amazing to watch. The breeding herds are also present but do not stay around for long, rather coming in to the water drinking and then moving off into the safety of the woodlands.This month has been dominated by the three cheetah males that utilize this area as part of their territory. They were found early one morning and the guides waited for them to stretch and wake up as it warmed up. Their patience was rewarded when a small herd of wildebeest moved out of the woodland and into the clearing where the cheetah were resting. Immediately the cheetah were on the hunt. These three cheetah have learnt to use a decoy and one of them will move into open sight of the intended prey distracting them. Then the other two brothers will move around and get into a chasing position to bring down prey. This usually works and it did so again this morning as they brought down a young wildebeest, after a breathtaking chase right across the open channel. The Savuti pride has also had some new arrivals, 5 new lion cubs have been seen in the area around Zibadianja Lagoon. The females have been moving them to a new den site every couple of days. These small cubs are still not able to go with the females and remain in the den while the lionesses hunt.

Leopard, are always a special sighting on game drive and the guides have been treated to some good sightings while on drive. Early one morning a large tom leopard was found on a kudu kill. This is a large kill for a leopard and he fed on it for the following three days, being joined at the kill by a female leopard on the second day. Leopards are primarily solitary, so this sighting was a real exception. The male leopard chased the female from the kill twice, before moving off a fair distance, allowing her a chance to feed.

The temperatures this month have been quite low with an average minimum of 9 degrees Celsius and warming up to about 25 degrees in the afternoons.

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Baby Rhino News at Mombo - June 05                Jump to Mombo Camp
On June 10 rhino calf number six was spotted at Mombo Camp!
All six have been born in the last thirteen months, and last month we were able to celebrate the first birthday of our first calf. This latest calf (who is still so small that we cannot tell if it is a male or a female) was born to one of the mature females we released at Mombo back in November 2003.


Kakana and Jack
Kakana and Jack
The gestation period of the white rhino is sixteen months, which means that this calf was conceived in early February 2004 – just three months after the mother (Warona, named after Botswana's contestant on the 'Big Brother Africa' TV show!) was released. The fact that our female rhino are conceiving so soon after being introduced to this area is further proof (if we needed any) of how ideal this area is for the species – they are obviously settling in and becoming established very quickly.

Before we started this project, no rhino calf had been born in the wild in Botswana in at least a decade, and perhaps as long as 15 years. This means that every calf born here is incredibly valuable and that each birth is an historic occasion. And every new calf born here makes the future of the species in Botswana even more secure.

Chief's Island, and in particular the Mombo area, is well known for its high concentrations of all manner of game, resulting of course in the presence of many predators – especially lion and hyaena. Both of these species are known to prey on rhino calves, so we were a little apprehensive at first, but the mothers have all done a superb job of protecting them from harm, and have been successful in raising them.

We know that the father of our youngest rhino is Serondela, a wild male captured in the Chobe area in late 2000 and released into the Mombo area to keep him safe from cross-border poachers. He has already fathered one of our other calves, Valentine, who was born in early February this year (hence his name!).

We were particularly pleased that, with this sixth birth, we were able to predict it very precisely. It seems that immediately before a female rhino is about to give birth, she detaches herself from her group, and moves into an area of thick bush where she is unlikely to be disturbed. Often she will go some way from her usual home range.

Bogale and Valentine
Bogale and Valentine

Once we started to see this same pattern of behaviour emerging with Warona in early June, we were very confident that she was about to give birth. Also, and very tellingly, she had been looking heavy for the last couple of months, to the extent that we actually expected this calf a month ago – but she made us wait just a little longer! Nothing can quite compare to the thrill of seeing a new rhino calf for the first time – it is particularly emotional for all those of us who have worked on this project, as we really do get to see the fruits of our lab ours…

Warona and her new calf are a little shy at the moment, so we don't as yet have any photos of them. However, we have some great shots of Valentine with his mother, Bogale – he's now about 4½ months old, and is full of all the energy and curiosity that makes young rhino such a joy to watch. We've had some phenomenal sightings recently, especially as mother and calf are currently quite close to Camp.

We have watched him suckling several times (which rhino calves will do into their second year, if their mothers let them get away with it!).  Also we have seen him playing with other rhino – his favourite game seems to be play-sparring with other male rhino, all of whom are much bigger than him of course.  With his mother close by, he can get away with murder, and can become quite cheeky on occasions!

While sightings of calves are naturally a highlight of our ongoing monitoring programme, with combined research and security patrols, we are also recording regular sightings of the other adults. We are now well into our fourth year of monitoring, and as we collect more data, we are able to build up a more accurate picture of rhino behaviour and ecology in the Okavango Delta. It's an immense privilege to be able to study rhino in the wild in the Delta, as no one has ever had this opportunity before.

As in previous years, we are seeing very interesting movements in relationship to the annual flood. We are in the grip of the southern hemisphere winter now of course, and this must be one of the most beautiful times of year here. The rains of last summer are only a memory now, as most of the pans and waterholes have dried up. In their place however comes the annual flood, bringing new life to the parched landscape. Of course the flooding reduces the amount of land available to many species, and this means that game concentrations are very high at this time of year. This does not seem to adversely affect the rhino however – there is so much food and water available in this season that there is plenty to share with all the other herbivores. As the water pushes down each side of Chief's Island, we are starting to see some of the rhino, which had moved to further-flung areas, return to the main island. This is not as pronounced a trend as it was last year, but then this year's flood has been lower than expected, more on a par with the first two floods experienced by the reintroduced rhino in 2002 and 2003.

Some rhino have moved a long way from where they were released, particularly our four black rhino. These, released in November 2003, have proved to be very elusive, and often we rely more on spoor and tracks to identify them than on actual sightings. This of course is partly due to the habitat they prefer (as browsers, they seem to like some of the thicker bush areas) and also their solitary nature (meaning that each black rhino needs more space than a typical white rhino).

The female black rhino in particular have demonstrated an amazing propensity to walk over long distances, to the extent that they are very difficult to monitor from our base at Mombo. Instead, officers from the Wildlife Department's Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) are monitoring them from their bases on the fringes of the Okavango Delta.

We never really expected that all the rhino would remain in the Mombo area, or even on Chief's Island. Rather, the aim of this project from the beginning was that ultimately the rhino would begin to repopulate the entirety of their former range across northern Botswana. Perhaps in 20 years or so, Botswana will be able to export rhino to other countries in southern Africa, with a view to repeating the success of this project in, say, Zambia or Mozambique.

Botswana has everything going for it to become an important rhino range state, with a very committed government and private sector (eco-tourism especially), and, thanks to decades of careful management and protection, vast areas of untouched wilderness which are perfect for rhino! We have already had interest from other African nations who see this project as a blueprint for future rhino reintroduction's.

In the near future, we plan to bring in many more black rhino (most likely from South Africa). We need to boost our current foundation population of four to around 20 which is the threshold for a viable breeding herd. At the moment there is inevitably a fairly low chance of our black rhino mating – although we have seen tracks showing that on at least two occasions, a male and female have passed very close to each other, and so they must be aware of each other at the very least.

That will be the next phase of the project: to reintroduce more black rhino into the Mombo / Chief's Island area, while at the same time continuing to monitor and study our white rhino population.

During July we will be carrying out an important operation, working with veterinarians from Zimbabwe, to dart several rhino in the bush and fit them with new radio transmitters. While we have been extremely successful at locating them even without radio telemetry equipment (due to the tracking skills of many of the people involved in this project), radio transmitters certainly make things easier – and will facilitate less disruptive aerial tracking work.

Of course we are always busy raising funds, particularly to finance the black rhino reintroduction's, and we welcome any and all donations. If you would like to contribute to this exciting conservation project, please email donations@wildernesstrust.com – the new Trust website will be up soon.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has assisted us in any way, and in particular the SAVE Foundation in Australia, and Tusk Trust in the UK, for their generosity and ongoing support for our work – thank you!

Thanks are also due to the International Rhino Foundation in the USA for their fundraising work on our behalf, and to SANParks, the South African National Parks Board, for their logistical help and expert advice.

* *
NJG
Rhino Reintroduction Project
Mombo Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana

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Kings Pool update - June 05                Jump to Kings Pool Camp
June is dedicated to the wild dogs of the Linyanti. The pack that chose to den near Kings Pool last year have again honored us with their presence and have denned at the same site. The fact that the wild dogs have returned indicates that they were not pressured or harassed by either man or beast. We do not yet know how many puppies there are but will let you know as soon as we do.

Near Kings Pool we have a hide known as "the sunken hide" which during the dry season is well frequented by elephants. The special aspect of this hide is that once inside you are at eye level with the ground so one’s viewpoint is quite unique. This experience has been a regular highlight for our guests. At times one can sit there for quite some time without much happening but at other times you are watching 50 elephant drinking a mere yard or two away.

As I write this, there is a female leopard and her cub feeding on a baboon kill near the airstrip. Our guides saw leopard tracks just after leaving camp for the morning safari and decided to follow them. After a marathon tracking exercise of about 2 miles, the guides were rewarded with the leopard mother and her offspring having a sumptuous breakfast of baboon.

As it continues to dry out and the elephants do what they were put on Earth to do; the game viewing at Kings Pool can only go from strength to strength.

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Selinda Camp update - June 05                Jump to Selinda Camp
It is with great excitement that we can once again announce that the Selinda pack of wild dog has denned on the Selinda. Using one of their sites from 2003, we calculate that the alpha female whelped on the 12th of June. We can expect to see the little tykes in the first week of July.   

Being so close to Zibalianja and CMU camps, the dogs have made these two places their personal dining rooms. Impala are frequently herded into the camps, where they are quickly dispatched and devoured before any hyaena pluck up the courage to enter the camp environs.

Guests marveled as the “3-Boys” cheetah coalition chased a male warthog into the refuge in his burrow. He then fatefully came trotting out to see if the danger had passed, only to be KO in round No. 2. Sadly a lone hyaena rushed in and stole the meal before the cheetah could eat.

The unstable lion social order continues with the Selinda pride fragmented between the camps, and strange males popping their heads up all over the place. One female has two small cubs, but we fear for their lives with the current dynamics.

The floodwaters of the Okavango have pushed past Motswiri Camp along the Selinda Spillway. The fish and birdlife that follows this annual marvel have to be seen to be believed. Two big male lions have also been frequenting the camp.

The eastern spillway floodwaters have been temporarily halted as they fill a small lagoon that was once a major hippo hangout in the ‘80s! Literally thousands of elephant have been using the clear waters of the spillway as back country pans are near non-existent.

The autumn aerial survey revealed an estimated population of 2009 buffalo. This is the highest estimate since we started our surveys in 1995!

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Tubu Tree Camp update - June 05                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
We've had an excellent week of game viewing around Tubu marking the third birthday of the camp. It started with a pair of mating lion on the floodplain across camp. We then had a pride of eleven (four lionesses and seven sub-adults) killing an adult zebra close to camp one evening but losing it to a big male lion. He chased them off and fed off it for three days much to the dismay of the lingering hyaena. But there was another surprise awaiting guests on their return to the kill one evening: two leopard were spotted in a tree above the carcass. They would scavenge a bite whenever the lion went for a drink of water. They were a mating pair and seen again the next day.  

Guests were also lucky enough to see leopard from mokoro. They went out one afternoon and noticed two red lechwe cached up in a Leadwood tree on an island but no leopard. The guide decided to take the guests for sundowners and return at dusk.

On their return they stopped the mokoros far away and checked the tree with binoculars, still no leopard. They waited in silence for about ten minutes when two hyaena came running across the floodplain and headed straight for the island on which the kill was cached. The leopard who had been hiding in the long grass at the base of the tree was forced up it with the arrival of the two scavengers. This allowed the guests a view of him from the mokoros.

There is a large breeding herd of buffalo in the area that is seen on a daily basis. They make quite an impressive sound when they're heard moving through a water channel. Reedbuck, tsessebe, giraffe and the various baboon troops are seen regularly.

Black Crake, Squacco Heron, Pygmy Goose, Marico Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Green Woodhoopoe, Violet-eared Waxbill and Rufous-bellied Heron are some bird species that were seen.

We celebrated Tubu's birthday in style with a champagne bush brunch under a large Fig tree, enjoying the open air and great views.

Tubu greetings
Anton & Carrie

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Vumbura Plains update - June 05                Jump to Vumbura Plains Camp
This is the place where the Crimson-breasted Shrike rubs shoulders with the Swamp Boubou. The lions walk under the walkway where the old road ran, still following their traditional territorial boundaries. As I write this note , a 4.5-metre python has curled up under a Feverberry tree next to the lounge deck seemingly considering us a safe haven, having had a camp of guests eyeing him or her out for the entire duration of teatime without being threatened.   

Each afternoon usually at teatime, breeding herds of elephant rush from the sandy dry Kalahari Apple-Leaf tree areas to the water, after which the youngsters play with each other, pushing and shoving on the sand by the water’s edge. A resident leopard calls all the way from South Camp to North on regular occasions. Whilst showing guests around North Camp our esteemed guide Kay pointed out a tree overhanging the walkway between North rooms 2 and 3 where a leopard housed its kill last year. The star deck built only four weeks ago has several Lesser Striped Swallows nesting underneath, most probably enjoying the warmth that the fire above provides during the cold winter's evenings.

North Camp Room #1 is known as " Lion's Den” simply because whilst under construction lions were found watching the water frontage from the deck. Room 2 is “Elephants’ Rest” whilst Room 3 competes with the communal WC as "The Hide." This loo happens to be the best site for game viewing in Africa.

Firstly thank you to our first guests, Mary, John, Erika and Stephen Snedden from Idaho in the US, for putting up with the little snags that happen in a new camp. The Sneddens, however, had an awesome time with us and we all had fun together. They were closely followed by the Doherty family from England and then our good friends of old, Pat and Marion Kraft of Florida. From there on we have had folk from all parts of the world, experiencing what has been a really great month in the bush.

The flood this year seems to have been a relatively small one, seemingly over as the water levels are dropping. Boating has resumed from the Little Vumbura boat station, having been at Imbishi Island for the high water period. Weather-wise, the winter is in full swing with minimum temperatures down to 5%C . It has been unusually windy adding to the freshness especially on the camp decks!

Game has been spectacular. We have our own female leopard chasing baboons in the trees. Franz Eich (also an old friend) took a picture of her in mid-air, blue sky background as she jumped from one branch to another. Another female leopard with cub are seen almost on a daily basis. The cub - a male - was seen eating a honey badger the other day - brave mother for tangling with that one! ‘Big boy’, our dominant male leopard, was watched stalking a baboon in a floodplain. Sitting on his haunches, he watched the baboon until in a perfect ambush position, he dashed forward and killed it without a sound, the rest of the troop unaware of its fate.

Exciting morning drive happened as the guests drove past a female sable with her youngster. Whilst viewing these animals a female leopard was sighted in the vicinity watching them both. It then became apparent that the young sable had a neck injury which was bleeding, most probably from an attack by the leopard then being saved by the mother. The leopard moved off and was followed back to a tree where her cub waited impatiently. Later the leopard went back and killed the sable pulling it back to the tree with its cub. The adult sables then went beneath the tree taunting the leopard, presumably to try and get it to release the carcass. This continued until a few hyenas arrived feeding on bone scraps that were dropping from the tree.

Our Okavango community staff have done a great job becoming integrated and getting to grips with providing a first class service to our guests. We are very proud of them all.

Cheers
Roger & the Vumbura Plains Camp team

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Duba Plains update - June 05                Jump to Duba Plains Camp
I must start with an apology for the delay in publishing this report. We have been subjected to the ravages of modern technology and unable to rectify the problem until now. Therefore in this report, I’m going to summarize what has happened at Duba over the last three months.

Flood levels
The annual flood has now begun to subside, having peaked in the concession around the 15th of June. The flood arrived later than last year due to low rainfall in Angola from November through to January. What amazes me though is that the water level in front of camp has nearly reached last year’s level whilst other parts of the concession, inundated with water last year, have remained fairly dry. The vast tonnage of sand that the Okavango brings down every year from Angola creates mini-dams in existing channels causing “channel switching,” making it difficult to predict which areas will be flooded from year to year. Duba also sits on a fault line, and tiny movements in the fault also cause flood variation, movements which we are unable to feel due to the many hundreds of feet of sand that lie beneath our area. Thankfully, game drives haven’t been the muddy adventures of last year, though as the flood subsides conditions will worsen. Watch this space or should I say, watch out for the hole!

Camp news

The camp itself has been busy. You may notice a green hangar at one end of the airstrip. This houses a small single-engine, four-seater plane which has already proved her worth in finding the buffalo herd when it has crossed out of range of our vehicles, giving the guides and guests the opportunity to focus on the wealth of other things to see in the concession. Dereck and Beverly Joubert have become a regular sighting on game-drive as they finish making “Relentless Enemies,” the last of the trilogy, focusing this time on the extraordinary interaction between the lions and buffalo of Duba. The film will be released on the National Geographic channel early next year and a book will be published with it. The September edition of the National Geographic magazine will also feature some of their photographs of Duba.

Lion and buffalo sightings

The buffalo herd is very healthy and from aerial surveys carried out by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, currently numbers 1 200. This is an increase from the 1 040 counted in February and is probably due to good calving rates, but also a good visibility of calves from the air in the latter count. We still wonder how the herd puts up with the relentless pressure from the Tsaro and Skimmer lion prides. Recently I flew across the Nqoga Channel and was astonished to find a small island in the middle of a vast papyrus reed bed on which a small herd of male buffalo were resting, proving that buffalo do push through the swamps. Our main herd, though, moves consistently around the concession feeding on the lush couch grass. The herd still crosses to Paradise, an area currently inaccessible by vehicle, though it’s unusual for the herd to stay there for more than three days. Grazing is limited and the sub-adults in the Skimmer Pride are becoming efficient hunters, so for the buffalo, it’s not the Paradise that we imagine it to be! Perhaps it’s also a factor that the herd is so familiar with the area that stops them moving further afield. In 2001, the herd numbered nearly 3 000 and split due either to pressure from lions or lack of good grazing. The part of the herd that split is still on the Duba concession, but in the northern part which is only accessible to us for a few months per year, due to high water levels.

For the most part, lions continue to prosper at Duba. The Tsaro Pride has provided the majority of sightings since April due to higher water levels and the demise of the Pantry Pride. The pride currently numbers nine adult females and four cubs. However, nine cubs have already died this year underlining the dramatic decline in the breeding success rate that we began to witness last year with the death of all twenty-two cubs. There is one adult female in the pride that is very intolerant and aggressive to the cubs. At one buffalo kill this female was eating at the carcass when a cub joined her to feed. She did not take this intervention well and with one hefty swipe of the paw killed the cub instantly. The cub’s mother then, bizarrely, ate her dead cub. This irritable female continues to harass the cubs and will often stalk them as if intending to kill more. This year’s litters have been born at various intervals throughout the year, contrary to perceived wisdom that pride cubs born together stand the highest chance of survival due to older cubs picking on their weaker/younger siblings. The first litter consisted of four cubs born in November 2004. All have since died, one due to the irritable female and the other three to either hyaena predation or starvation. None of the second litter of five born in January has survived either. We’re not sure how they died. Of the four surviving cubs, two are three-and-a-half months old and two are one-and-a-half months old. The milky-eyed female is lactating and regularly leaves the pride to feed her hidden cubs. Two lionesses have mated recently with the Duba Boys and if successful we can expect to see those litters around October/November.

Another interesting trend has been the declining success rate of the Tsaro Pride in hunting buffalo. An obvious reason for this was the departure of the five Tsaro males nearly two years ago. These males were extremely efficient hunters. A second possible reason is that for the last nine months, one or more of the Tsaro females has been away from the main pride tending to young cubs and consequently, a depleted pride will have a lower hunting success rate. The third reason is the ability of the buffalo herd to defend itself. This they do by staying away from water as the muddy channels make them vulnerable if they are stampeded into the mud. The herd also lies down to rest if under pressure from lion. Lions generally find it difficult to stampede a sleeping herd! From looking at Dereck and Beverly’s records from March to June, we estimate that an average of fifteen buffalo (adults and calves) have been killed per month.

The Skimmer Pride has only been seen a handful of times on game drive due to floodwaters that prevent access to most of their territory at this time of year. Whilst looking for the buffalo herd from the air, we have seen the pride feeding on a buffalo carcass. In total, we believe that there are now four adult females and nine sub-adults of which five or six are male.

The Pantry Pride has not been sighted since February. However, we continue to hear three lions, two females and a male, calling on a regular basis to the north of Duba. This would indicate the Pantry Pride as per our last sighting consists of one adult female, one sub-adult female and one sub-adult male. High water levels prevent us from making regular searches, although as the flood subsides we should hopefully find them. The only source of food in that area is red lechwe, warthog and the occasional kudu.

Other sightings

The night air now reverberates to the sounds of trumpeting elephants that have returned from the Mopane veld to the north. Late season rains had delayed their reappearance as the pans there held water for longer than usual; it’s always a wonder to see the same bulls return year after year. By August/September we should see massive breeding herds feeding on the drying floodplains, providing splendid photographic opportunities.

Birding remains fantastic in spite of the departure of the summer migrants. Highlights include sightings of Gabar Goshawks (melanistic form) hunting amongst large flocks of Wattled Starlings as they fly over the buffalo. Red-necked Falcons have also been seen in the canopies of Palms and even feeding on a Cape Turtle Dove. Of the endangered birds, the ever-beautiful Rosy-Throated Longclaw has been sighted almost every week.

Since our last report, leopard sightings have been sporadic. Whilst following the herd into the marshy area to the south of Buffalo Point, the Tsaro Pride flushed out a leopard, killed it and ate it. Often vervet monkeys can be heard alarm calling in camp in the hours of darkness though searches have yet to yield positive sightings. Sightings of the beautiful serval cat are on the increase and we have seen one on a couple of occasions taking refuge in the Tsaro palms next to Tent 5.

Some comments from our guests:

“We arrived after three fantastic stays (Chitabe, Savuti, Jacana) and it was a hard act to follow – but you all get top marks and our stay was brilliant. We are very sorry to have to go home.” C&RB-M - UK

“We have unfinished business here.” BM & MR – Australia

“I am hooked on Africa. This was a first trip. We’ve seen so much and had an incredible time at Duba.” CM – USA

“We have been to your camps four times – Mary and I love your organisation and hospitality. We hope you keep the small camps alive. The atmosphere is very special.” J&MK – USA

Please come and visit us soon!
Paul & all the Duba staff.

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Mombo and Little Mombo monthly update - June 05                Jump to Mombo Camp
We're in the depths of winter now in the Okavango: warm, dry breezy days, and cool (sometimes almost cold!) nights. This year has not been as cold as 2004, but we have still noticed a definite drop in temperatures during June. Daytime temperatures ranged between 23°C (76°F) and 30°C (90°F). Overnight temperatures were cooler than in June, ranging from 7°C (44°F) and 15°C (60°F). Gentle breezes blowing in from the water helped make the higher midday temperatures much more bearable. So a perfect time of year to visit Mombo. But then it is always the perfect time to come to Mombo!

This month has been all about the annual flood. It's a very special time of year, and one which perfectly illustrates the paradox of the Okavango Delta - there is much more water in the area now in the dry season than there is in the wet season! All of the pans which were filled by rainwater last summer have now evaporated under the hot African sun, and so animals are dependent on the steady influx of water which has made its way from the Benguela Plateau of Angola, through Namibia's Caprivi Strip, and then along the Okavango Panhandle in extreme northern Botswana.

Once the waters cross the Gumare fault line they fan out in the shape of a welcoming hand, life-giving fingers reaching out across the Kalahari sand deposits, bringing essential nutrients with them. Tectonic movements, sedimentary deposition and the actions of hippo dislodging papyrus islands in the upper reaches of the Delta can have a remarkable effect on the direction the floodwaters take.

This year, as last, we suspect that much of the flow has been diverted to the West, and this means that water may reach Lake Ngami beyond Maun for only the second time in two decades.
This still leaves very significant volumes of water to flow down each side of Chief's Island, and from our vantage point at Mombo, at the north-western tip of the Island, we can see the waters steadily trickling in and spilling out of time-worn channels and streams and out across the floodplains, and then into the Simbira Channel and beyond us as they flow on towards their date with destiny in the Kalahari.

It really is an incredible process to watch… if you look away from the flood for a few moments, and then look back, you could swear that the waters have moved on in that brief time. Everywhere that is touched by the influx turns green almost instantly, as if painted in broad swathes of verdant colour by the brush of a particularly gifted artist. From the sunlight sparkling in the water like so many diamonds to the flaming glow of the rising full moon as it rises over Little Mombo, the water provides a perfect mirror image of everything that happens in and above it - crocodiles basking on sandy islets and flights of white-faced ducks rejoicing in the water, whistling in unison as they land as if to announce the arrival of the flood.


Even though this year's inundation appears to be much less in extent than last year's, the magic of this season is undeniable with vast stretches of leonine yellow grass transforming into lush green floodplains. At almost any time of day, it is possible to sit in Camp and watch lechwe running through the water, or massive buffalo standing stock still in the deeper water, bovine masses slowly grazing on all the water plants around them.

The Okavango constantly defies and exceeds human expectations, and many of the "rules" which people claim govern animal behaviour in other parts of Africa simply don't apply here. Try telling the wading lions of the Okavango that cats don't like water... after all, if dinner is on the other side of the channel, someone is going to have to get their paws wet!

Camp
In the soft evening light, the shallow Vs of geese and storks flying overhead signal the end of another day, as the spoonbills shake their heads in disbelief at the sudden bounty all around them. As I write this, a Hamerkop has just flown over the Camp... according to some African traditions, if one of these "lightning birds" flies over your house, you must burn it down and rebuild it. That's one African tradition we may have to break with!

Many other time-honoured traditions of the classic safari are observed in our timeless setting, from the tartan blankets around the fire to the three-legged pot of hot chocolate bubbling away in the coals - the perfect antidote to cool winter evenings. Perhaps the most pleasurable of all safari traditions is to sit around a camp fire at the end of the day, looking up at the ghostly sweep of the Milky Way above, and the stars of the classic winter constellation, Scorpio, crawling boldly across the night sky. Sipping a steaming mug of cocoa, musing over the day's sightings in the bush and thrilling to the anticipation of yet another day of phenomenal Mombo game viewing the next day.

Game Drives
What a month it has been for game drives. Logadima, the young female leopard whose progress from a cub to a fully independent adult has kept us spellbound for the last two years, is finding her feet as a hunter. She has started bringing down prey larger than herself, up to and including impala rams. For three days this month, she stayed with one kill that she had hoisted into a spreading umbrella thorn tree very close to the Camp. You know you are being spoilt when the first creature you see in a day is a leopard!


Some of the most dramatic sightings - and most fervent speculation - have been generated by the wild dogs which are tenaciously holding on at Mombo, despite the almost overwhelming lion numbers in this part of the Delta. We had been seeing a group of three dogs in this area earlier this year (two males and a female) and in April one of the males was seen mating with the female. Now we have been seeing the two males hunting without the female, and we think (if we have calculated correctly!) that they may be denning - in other words, that the female has had pups.
Suddenly it seems that a ragtag bunch of three dogs may have transformed into a nascent pack, the beginnings of a resurgence of the predators that helped cement Mombo's phenomenal reputation back in the mid-1990s. Certainly the two males are hunting as if they had extra mouths to feed - sweeping through the acacias to cause pandemonium among the impalas, and rapidly devouring each one that they catch, gulping down great chunks of meat and then making a beeline out of the area - behaviour that suggests that they are running back to the den to regurgitate food for the latest generation of the Mombo wild dog dynasty.

As yet, we still don't know if these puppies have indeed been born, but we can be sure that we have at least one very special new baby in this area. Early on in the month we discovered yet another new white rhino calf, the third to be born this year and the sixth altogether since we started the reintroduction project back in late 2001. The mother is Warona, one of our older females, introduced in November 2003. With her calf being born early this month (we found this newest calf when it was just four or five days old), this means that she conceived within three months of being released at Mombo - a testament to the suitability of this area as rhino habitat, and to how quickly rhino settle in once they arrive here.
Just as exciting, we are looking forward to receiving more black rhino (from South Africa) later this year, as part of our major initiative to boost the population of this very rare species in the Delta to the point where they too can begin breeding.

Perhaps the stars of our game drives this month have been the Mathatha lion pride. Despite their name (‘problem’), the only problem they are having at the moment is trying to fill so many hungry mouths. They currently have nineteen cubs to feed, which means that they need to hunt almost every day - and some days more than once - to satisfy so many growing appetites.
The sheer number of cubs in this area at present (there are also eight cubs in the Old Trails Pride to the north of Mombo) illustrates the odds that are stacked against the wild dogs - but these resourceful, adaptable canines always find a way to pull through.

If the dogs do indeed have pups, then these youngsters are likely to cause serious competition to the lion cubs in the cuteness stakes - one of the best experiences you can have on a game drive is to watch a group of social carnivores with young. The playfulness of cubs and puppies however cannot disguise the serious intent behind all their games - preparing them for a life of hunting. Even in an area as rich in game as Mombo is, a predator's life is never easy!

Guest feedback
As ever, we will leave the last word on Mombo and Little Mombo in June to the guests who shared these magical times with us:
• You have my unqualified endorsement: the place! The staff! The animals! All fantastic!
• This is the most magnificent place we have ever seen: warmest people, so friendly, so many animals, and luxurious accommodation.
• The entire staff were incredibly welcoming and made us feel at home - thank you!
• It has indeed been a privilege to once again have stayed at Mombo... Jacqui's personality radiates throughout. The staff was charming, willing, and most able at all times. Credit must also be given to Craig and his team who provided such a delicious choice of food for every meal... We shall return again!
• The amazing game drives are worth the trip alone!
• The highlight was watching the lions running through our Camp at breakfast...
• Everyone should come to Mombo at least once in their lives...
• Everything is top calibre - the staff is informative, funny, and gracious - wonderful!


At the end of this month we said a fond farewell to two of our managers, who are moving on to new roles within the company:
Angela will be moving to Maun to work in the Environmental Division, overseeing the many research projects being conducted under the auspices of Wilderness Safaris across northern Botswana, and to help co-ordinate the Children in the Wilderness (CITW) project.
Jacqui will be heading north to work at DumaTau Camp.

We wish them both all the very best!

That's all from your June Mombo team...
Until next time, all the very best from Jacqui, Angela, Craig, Peter & Sharon, Noreen, Mavis, One, Koki, Lee and Nick.

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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp - June 05                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
Wanted: White rhino, Ceratotherium simum, preferably young and open to seeing new places. Male or female, this is a chance for you to see the Great North, meet new species, and make new friends. Transport, antibiotics and radio transmitter provided, free of charge.

Four rhino responded, or more accurately, were volunteered for their services. They may have had other plans for the day – a little light grazing near Satara Camp for example – but South Africa National Parks (SANP), Kruger National Park, the Makuleke people and Wilderness Safaris together had a larger picture in mind, which changed their lives.

The plan was simple: relocate between four and six white rhino from the central district of the Kruger National Park to the Makuleke concession in the Pafuri area in the far north. Sounds fairly straightforward, but many threads had to join together to make it work.

It was a cool winter’s morning when a select group of excited individuals gathered on the Satara-Orpen Road: The Kruger Capture Unit, its field rangers and Veterinary Services, SANP Chief Executive, Dr David Mabunda, other SANP staff, Wilderness Safaris staff and assorted media and general hangers-on, all waited for the circling helicopter to find some “volunteer” rhino. Once found, Markus Hofmeyer, the Kruger vet, would dart them with a sedative, and the hard work could begin.

A few minutes later, the radio crackled: “We have two, up the gravel road to Timbavati picnic spot!” Markus fired the darts, and the animals, at first startled, slowly slumped down. Now the Capture Unit and the removal truck left the gravel and bounced through the bush to the drugged rhino. To avoid needless destruction of the vegetation, only these vehicles left the road; all non-essential personnel (i.e., the rest of the crowd, as well as several Kruger tourists who spontaneously joined in) had to follow on foot. Impala and zebra watched, somewhat bemused, at a line of humans running through the long yellow grass, around Marula and Knobthorn trees and sicklebushes, narrowly avoiding falling into warthog holes, toward a sleeping rhino.

Meanwhile, the Unit was hard at work. Around an immobilised rhino, all seems controlled chaos: some taking blood samples and measurements, another organising the radio transmitter, a driver bringing the truck into position with its crate, the vet constantly checking temperature and vital signs, and still others splashing water on it to prevent dehydration – all the while keeping onlookers quiet. Suddenly everyone has finished and a rope is tied around the horn and threaded through the bars of the crate, then, with a little antidote and judicious prod, the rhino awakes and is firmly guided into it. In this way, the amount of time an animal is ‘under’ is minimised, kept to around 20 minutes. In fact, the third and fourth animals turned out to be four kilometres off-road, so that we arrived puffing and panting, just in time to see the third rhino being woken up!

All went smoothly, and by midday, sedated just enough to make them comfortable, an enormous truck took four tons of rhino on the long journey north.

What’s incredible about this operation is the amazing fact that there are rhino to move in the first place. By 1896, this evocative species had become extinct in the Lowveld, literally shot out of local existence by hunters. Only in 1961 were they introduced back into the Kruger, and since then have successfully established a large population of 5 000. However, as one travels further north, the number lessens considerably, so that none were to be found in the Pafuri area in the furthest north. Until now.

The “until now” is the next marvellous feature of the story, and involves another return to the area, this time of human beings. In 1969, the Makuleke people were forcibly removed from the Pafuri area by the South Africa’s Nationalist government. In 1997, in a successful land claim, the Makuleke won their land back, and in a farsighted decision, resolved to keep and manage the land within the Kruger National Park. They also decided to partner with Wilderness Safaris in building and managing a camp – the brand-new Pafuri Camp – within the concession that would provide visitors, both self-drive and fly-in, with the experience of viewing one of the most pristine and species-diverse regions in the Kruger. The economic benefits include profits from the concession fee, a percentage of the lodge revenue, job creation and training and community development projects.

The camp itself is a blend of Makuleke style, Kruger characteristics and the essential ingredients of Wilderness Safaris: a remote, unspoilt location, enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and an eco-friendly campsite. Each of the twenty tents (some are family rooms) peek out between enormous Jackalberry and Nyalaberry trees to look over the Luvuvhu River, and only wood, canvas and Makuleke-inspired stonework has been used, creating a camp that is in tune with its environment, evocative of both the people and natural elements of the area.

The benefits here are not just monetary: The excitement and pride of the Makuleke people at not just returning to their land but being able to share it with others is almost palpable. This is clear at Pafuri Camp, where the staff, all dressed to the nines in their new Wilderness uniforms, are clearly thrilled. The day the rhino returned, a large group of journalists and the camp’s first guests sat in the beautiful dining area, listening to the Pafuri staff choir (a spontaneous creation initiated by Godfrey, one of Pafuri Camp’s trackers), as they sang praise songs to the Xibejane (rhino in Shangane), Wilderness, and gave thanks to God for their return to Makuleke. As they sang, the rhythmic stamping of feet and melodious voices formed a perfect counterpoint to the silent Luvuvhu River flowing by, where two male nyala drank, clearly unconcerned at all the noise.

When the truck carrying its precious cargo arrived at Pafuri, they were treated to a reception of note: members of the Makuleke people, including its chief, Wilderness Safaris, media and television crews and even students from the EcoTraining Field Guide programme were all awaiting them. As the sun disappeared behind the baobab-adorned hills, the crates were hoisted into the “boma” – in reality a 1-square-km fenced area – and with the judicious application of antidote, four somewhat bemused rhino walked out, looked around at the crowd of humans filled with their flurry of emotions, and wandered off into the darkening bush.

Welcome home, Xibejane.

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Namibia camps
Serra Cafema update - June 05                  Jump to Serra Cafema Camp
June has certainly been an interesting month, we have been kept very busy with guests, improving the camp and watching out for brown hyaena…

It was a quiet month for guests, giving us a chance to continue the maintenance work around camp without disturbing anyone. Work has begun on a new laundry closer to the camp; the old laundry will soon be transformed into a staff kitchen and entertainment area in the staff village. And this is just the beginning of our building projects, with a lot more to come in the following month or two.

The fog has been coming up the river valley thick and low in the mornings, covering the surrounding hills and dunes. The temperature has dropped, evidence that winter is well and truly on the way. But the chilly nights and mornings are still followed by glorious hot sunny days.

There has been an elusive pair of brown hyaena visiting the camp regularly. We have yet to catch sight of them, but find their tracks all over camp most mornings. They have even been scavenging any food that is not carefully locked away at night.

We hosted a team of geologists in camp for the last two weeks of the month, providing us all with insight into our fascinating surroundings. They are busy studying the movements of sand dunes as well as different forms of erosion and other geological phenomena. One of the geologists works for NASA and is specifically looking at similarities between our dunes and those on the planet Mars. We are keenly awaiting the results of their studies.

Towards the end of the month all of our staff participated in a HIV survey to raise awareness of the impact of HIV. The survey is anonymous and is designed to remove some of the stigma from the virus; the knowledge gained also aims to encourage Wilderness staff and their families to make the right lifestyle choices.

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Palmwag Rhino Camp update - Jun 05                Jump to Palmwag Rhino Camp
Palmwag Rhino Camp is looking good, despite the east wind that started picking up in June and the mosquitoes that have become a reason for discomfort during the hot nights. But the camp is still surrounded by an abundance of Hartmann’s mountain zebra, oryx (gemsbok) and springbok which adds immensely to the atmosphere. One particular oryx has been staying close to the overflow of the water tank and the herds are regularly seen at the camp’s waterhole. A late afternoon drive from camp through the golden grass plains presents us with magnificent views of herds of mountain zebra.

Elephant bulls have started moving back into the area. Two elephants, one known as the Koabes bull, along with a young “askari,” were seen regularly along the Achab River. Another unknown bull also appeared between Werelds-end spring and upper Achab. No elephant breeding herds have yet returned. After the good rains on the Grootberg to the East, the elephants were absent from the Rooiplaat Area for about five months.Good lion sightings were made during June, along with good photographic opportunities which also presented themselves.

One beautiful afternoon presented us with two males and a lioness in season, only twenty metres away. They were relaxed and almost ignored our presence. Johan and Ivan took unbelievable pictures – the best taken yet of lions at Rhino Camp. It must be mentioned that we spent most of the morning tracking this pride of lions. We left them after they fell sleep and found them again in the afternoon.These animals were again seen at intervals. Later in the month only one male was seen with the female. There was also a lot of lion and hyaena activity around camp. Tracks of a lioness with a cub were also found.

When it comes to black rhino, we’ve had a variety of sightings. ‘Eva’ the black rhino cow was seen, and the carcass of a 4-year-old calf found in the field was probably hers. This calf died of natural causes and is an unfortunate loss to the local population. We think it was Eva’s because she had been seen to be pregnant, but when she was sighted, there was no young calf . The bull ‘Don’t Worry’ was with her.The black rhino bulls ‘Don’t Worry’, ‘Speedy’ and ‘Ben’ were seen, although less regularly than other months. The cow and calf ‘Dyana’ and ‘Takamisa’ were the rhino most often seen.

On a sad note, 25th of June was also the day when we laid Blythe Loutit of the Save The Rhino Trust to rest. She was buried on the ridge overlooking the Uniab River next to Mike Hearn. Her commitment to the rhino of the area never flagged, and it is thanks to her that the rhino are around today. Her legacy will continue.

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