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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

April 2006

This Month:
Wilderness Safaris News - Info and updates from Wilderness Safaris

• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
Kwando Safaris game reports.

Update on the 2006 Okavango Delta flood

• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.

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


Wilderness Safaris - April 2006 News
Majete Elephant Translocation Project

Majete Elephant Translocation ProjectThe Majete Elephant Translocation Project plans to translocate 70 African elephants into the Majete Wildlife Reserve in the Lower Shire Valley of Malawi during July/August 2006 – where the entire elephant population was wiped out by poaching by 1992.

Exclusive Air Safaris has put together a unique adventure expedition in which guests can take part in this amazing manoeuver. In addition to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, the funds generated will pay for monitoring the translocated elephants and the final fencing of the Majete Wildlife Reserve.

Comfortable en-suite tented accommodation is provided by Central African Wilderness Safaris (CAWS) at the Mvuu Wilderness Camp in the Liwonde National Park. Accommodation at Majete will be in en-suite tents at Thawale Camp. After the capture operations, guests can relax for three nights at Club Makokola, a full-service hotel on the shores of Lake Malawi. If you are interested in joining this ambitious and exciting translocation project, contact us for more details and an itinerary.

North Island wins Hideaway of the Year 2005
Wilderness Safaris’ North Island has won the Hideaway of the Year 2005. For the ninth time, readers of Hideaways Magazine, which showcases the “world’s most beautiful Hotels and Destinations,” voted for the award, with 3500 entries received. Features that were voted for include location, architecture, interior design, standard of comfort, cuisine and of course, outstanding service. A maximum of 100 points could be scored, with North Island garnering the highest score of 89.4 percent.

New Rates Seasons for 2007
For the 2007 period, the rate seasons for Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia have all changed as follows:
Botswana and Zimbabwe:
Festive Season: Dec 20 2006 - Jan 09 2007
Green Season: Dec 01 - Dec 19 2006 & Jan 10 - Mar 31 2007
High Season: Jun 15 - Oct 31 2007
Shoulder Season: Apr 30 – 14 Jun & Nov 01 - 30 2007
Namibia:
Festive Season: Jan 01 - Jan 09 2007 & Dec 20 2007 - Jan 01 2008
Green Season: Jan 10 - Jun 30 2007
High Season: Jul 01 - Nov 15 2007
Low Season: Nov 16 - Dec 19 2007

Please note that for 2006, the seasons remain unchanged.

Bird Flu update
The latest information on the H5N1 Bird Flu virus in Africa is that it has been officially reported in four countries - Nigeria, Niger, Egypt and Cameroon. To date all infected birds have been domestic poultry (mostly chicken and ducks) and there have been only five cases of human infection (all in Egypt and all as a result of close contact with infected birds). Risks for travelers to southern Africa remain very low given that the H5N1 virus is not transmissible between humans and that close and prolonged contact with infected birds or their feces is needed in order to become infected.

Vumbura Plains wins Design Award
Vumbura Plains wins awardSilvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, architects and designers for Wilderness Safaris camps such as North Island, Mombo and Jao, were delighted when they won one of the Elle Décor Interior Design Awards for 2006 at the Design Indaba in Cape Town. The award was for the best bathroom design of the year. The Vumbura Plains collection will be featured in an annual publication entitled “World’s Best Interior Designers.” (North Island and Jao appeared in the 2005 edition.)

Camp Updates
Jacana Camp underwent some maintenance at the beginning of the month and has re-opened sporting a brand-new floor and wide deck in the front of the lodge. A jetty has been added to make the docking of boats much easier. A walkway has also been added to access the pool from the front of the lodge. It all looks really spiffy.

Kayaking in MalawiThe 4 new tents at Mvuu Lodge are on schedule for completion by mid-April and we really believe that these will set new standards of bush luxury in Malawi. New additions are double baths and cool thatched roofs. The positions of each tent have been changed slightly to ensure total privacy for each unit. All the old 2-stroke boat engines are being replaced with much quieter and environmentally-friendly 4-stroke engines.

The new luxury chalets on Mumbo Island (Kayak Africa - used on The Great Malawian Journey) are on track for a late 2006 opening and a new speedboat purchased for quicker transfers between camps and mainland.

Kaya Mawa: Suzie Saunders has used her extensive knowledge and creativity to transform the chalet décor with wonderful new fabrics and linen, while James Lightfoot has jazzed up the menus which now offer wonderful variety and originality.

The pool at Chintheche Inn has been resurfaced and landscaped and the rooms completely refurbished with new linen and fittings. There are brand new mountain bikes and a new semi-rigid speedboat for water sports.

Heuglin's Lodge (Malawi): Extensive work has been done to enlarge the outside sitting area and we have installed fast wireless Internet connections in every room and all rooms have been completely refurbished - a great spot for the first or last day of a safari.

North Island will no longer be offering hobie sailing as an activity (for safety reasons), as flatter and more protected waters are required for amateur sailors. In addition, the “barefoot ritual” of the Spa is being phased out as a stand-alone option, and will be added on to the first treatment consultation that guests receive with they first visit the spa.

More Malawi News
Nanthomba School - We are building a school for 300 pupils near Liwonde National Park and are actively looking for sponsors and partners - please contact Chris Badger at chris@wilderness.mw.

The 3rd Lake of Stars Festival at Chintheche Inn (1-3 Sept 2006)
Building on the success of the first two festivals, this year’s is looking to be bigger and better. Great local bands already in the line-up include Peter Mabingu and the internationally renowned Wambali Mkandawire. The Festival is growing into an important cross-cultural event between western and African artists.

Turtle Season ends at Rocktail Bay
A fantastic turtle season has ended with an incredible 275 Loggerhead Turtle nests seen, compared to last year’s 171 – a total of 104 more nests than last year. We have also seen 78 Leatherback nests, which is phenomenal for the most endangered sea turtle in the world. Out of the 353 nests that were documented since October, 42 of those were made by previously tagged turtles, meaning that 311 nests were made by mothers tagged and micro-chipped for the first time this season.

Namibia Rain
Namibia has shared in the rainfall that has so impacted on northern Botswana and the desert really is green. There is grass sprouting around Damaraland Camp and in the valley below the camp, while south of Mariental, rainfall caused an instant pan and the flowering of hundreds of lilies. Below is the unusual sight of bright green grass covering the plains and dunes around Kulala.

All this rainfall has resulted in the Aba-Huab River breaking its banks near Doro Nawas Camp. On 26 March, Rosie was changing a flat tire in the riverbed between the staff village and the diesel tanks when she and others heard a rushing sound. The wheel was removed by this point and it was too late to remove the vehicle from a flood of water which dragged the car 400m.

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Seychelles / North Island
North Island Dive Report - Apr 06               Jump to North Island

The seasons have started to change somewhat earlier this year than in the past. During the course of April the water temperature fluctuated between 27°C and 29°C. This drop was mainly attributed to thermoclines underwater, which is an abrupt transition between warm and colder water. The bizarre thing about the thermoclines is that on a recent dive, we found ourselves almost stationary at one point, and looking to the left we found crystal clear water, with visibility easily reaching 25m. When looking to the right however and still remaining in the same place, the visibility was a discoloured 10 - 12m. One had to actually blink at times to get the thought correct in the mind that we were in fact not moving and yes, in fact, the visibility was different from one shoulder to the other.

The other sign that the seasons are shifting has been the wind. We have had beautiful windless days and then days where the wind has been moderate in strength, a variable wind direction prevailing, which according to the locals will continue to shift from one direction to another until the direction becomes south-east, which will signal the onset of the monsoon season. This is due to kick in mid- to late-May.

It is accurate to say that the first half of the month of April produced excellent diving and excellent water clarity. We did experience the odd rain cloud descend on us with little or no warning, only to bask in glorious sunshine yet again after about half an hour. Before the rain would descend, the wind would pick up steadily and create a healthy chop on the ocean surface. We did find ourselves out on the boat at these moments and all we could do was hang in there until the rain had subsided, along with the wind and ocean chop. The latter part of the month has produced unpredictable ocean conditions, with a drop in visibility and a slight surge on the bottom of the shallower dive sites.

We have been moving between the dive sites of "The Spot", "Sprat City" and "Coral Gardens". We did one deep dive on Outside Ledge.

'The Spot' has produced excellent activity this month, although the current has been very strong here and it has been used for relatively experienced or comfortable divers with strong legs. This site, for those that are not in the know, is about 20 minutes out from Villa 11 and straight out to sea, basically in the middle of "no man's land". We always dive this site differently to the others in that we never know what the current is doing here and we need to take care that it can be dived before getting the entire dive group to jump in, only to find that some of the group cannot get down and drift out into the big blue. The dive leader always gets in first and goes down to check the current strength, based on the least experienced diver in the group's capabilities. If it is acceptable, we have a signal that we use for the skipper and he drops the rest of the group directly on the buoyline.

We have seen the resident massive shoals of blue banded snappers, always a hit with photographers due to their amazing colours. This site is in fact our landmark for diving this area as the life tends to hang around this massive shoal of brightly coloured fish. Resident white tip reef sharks have graced us as always with their quick in and out visits. The little cow fish have been absent but we constantly squint to try to find them. A rare sighting for us was the two massive stonefish, sitting mouth to mouth inside a cave. They are extremely camouflaged and not easy to photograph unless you know what it is that you are looking for.

'Sprat City' has been fairly active by way of resident white tip reef sharks but it has been relatively quiet on the whole compared to what it becomes over the next few months, with the onset of the sprats.

We have dived 'Coral Gardens' a lot this month and have been in awe at the beauty and abundance of the good coral life. This dive site boasts a healthy supply of gorgonian fan corals, fine table coral, bubble corals, leafy crater coral and whip corals. It has been heart-warming to see such an abundance of good coral life here, both soft and hard specimens. In addition, and to the delight of everyone underwater, we have found 3 resident regal angelfish, adult in size. These fish are extremely colourful and are quite shy by nature. We have been able to float quietly and watch them coming in and out of hiding, gaining trust along the way and staying out longer for us to marvel at their colours. We have at least 3 healthy magnificent anemones with cute clownfish (Nemos for some) hiding away within the tentacles.

Here's a funny story. I found myself on this dive site with a student diver recently, who was here as I had to check that he did not have gills instead of ears (a term used to describe someone who is relaxed and good underwater). On descent we were immediately greeted by a juvenile remora (sucker fish). Clearly it was confused in thinking that we could ever be a better host as opposed to sucking up to a large ray or shark or something else other than a human leg. It decided that I would be the host and I spent the entire dive trying to look after my group, constantly shaking my legs to try to shake it off me, or trying to smack it off me with my depth gauge, which did not produce any results either. I had a few grazes on my lower shin which it kept biting at, causing me to do an underwater dance that looked nothing short of ridiculous. Each time I tried in vain to move it off, it would move faster and faster in towards me. When it briefly swam up to the next diver and realized that the host was not me, it returned even more determined to attach itself. And to make matters worse, I took a diver to the surface and on my return, it was waiting once again. I was not hugely amused I must add. No wonder some of the bigger fish that it attaches itself to act irritated, because they nip rather painfully. In hindsight, it is comical to say the least, but when you are trying to be serious about guiding and looking after inexperienced divers, the last thing needed is to be totally harassed by something that wants to nibble you and has fiercely decided that it is you and no one else.

Our dive to 'Outside Ledge' was great. This is a small ledge running parallel to shore, not far from the main beach. The maximum depth here is 28m, which was what was needed for the deep dive on our advanced course. We saw a massive giant sleepy shark hiding under a ledge, quite clearly fast asleep until something made it realise that it was being stared at. This prompted an abrupt take off with a burst of speed. We counted no less than 20 geometric moray eels, at times 3 in one hole.

On an emotional note, we have had slightly closer encounters with Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins this month. On returning from a dive off West Beach, there was a pod of 4 just playing about on the surface. We cut the motors and watched as they moved in closer to the boat. They came in really close and once they realised that the boat was there they sounded and we never saw them again. On a snorkelling trip just off main beach, a pod of dolphins swam in, keeping their distance, but nevertheless the snorkellers were able to get a sneak view of them.

I had the privilege of meeting up with John Nevill, who belongs to M.C.S.S. (Marine Conservation Society Seychelles). He came to North in 2005 to discuss sharks, sightings, research and conservation and I contacted him again and he did a presentation for me on the various sharks in Seychelles, the plight of these animals and what the future has in store. We have decided to get involved with his research and conservation programme with immediate effect. What this entails is that we are going to document all shark sightings, dive site location, gender, type of shark, direction of movement, weather and ocean conditions etc. Once a month I will get this report back to him. In addition we are going to attempt shark photography if we can get close enough to the small sharks that we see here to take a decent picture. As plans and proposals unfold in Seychelles, we will keep you informed as to progress on shark conservation. This takes our involvement in ocean research and conservation to three projects, i.e., Coral Reef monitoring programme, Whale shark research programme and now Shark research and conservation programme.

It is highly important to us all to put back what we can into a realm that cannot speak for itself and that is in desperate need of assistance and care - the ocean realm. We feel that we, as the dive team and dive instructors, are ambassadors for the ocean and it is up to us to educate, nurture and highlight what needs to be done.

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Apr 06

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
• A Pride of 6 lionesses and a adult male was tracked and found sleeping in the late morning with full bellies.
• The same pride was then followed hunting on several occasions without success.
• A pride of 2 adult males was seen around the camp for a couple of days.
• A leopard was calling in and around the camp several nights in a row – lots of tracks but she was not found.
• A pair of adult male cheetah were found after quite some tracking – they were seen over a period of a week, last seen resting in the shade with full bellies
• The Lagoon pack of wild dogs still being seen regularly – most often close to the airstrip – there are still 4 pups left from the original 5 in the litter
• With the pans drying up more breeding herds of elephants are starting to come down to the river during the day – especially to the favourite bathing area in front of the camp, good elephant sightings throughout the concession
• A couple of buffalo bulls were seen but made their way off rapidly in the long grass
• General game – some zebra, lots of impala, tsessebe, baboons, giraffe, and wildebeest as well as reedbuck, steenbuck, warthogs, red lechwe roan antelope and kudu
• Banded, Dwarf and slender mongooses all seen
• Night sightings include hyena, genets, jackals hunting, serval, caracal, African wild cats, white faced, pearl-spotted and giant eagle owls and springhares
• Water levels are the highest on the Kwando River in 7 years – water lapping at the bottom of the jetty.

Kwara camp               Jump to Kwara Camp
• A pride of 5 young males and 6 lionesses seen a couple of times resting and hunting – this pride later split up and only 5 of them were found
• A shy young female leopard was seen briefly before moving into the long grass.
• A relaxed adult male leopard was seen having taken his kill – a young warthog up into a tree where he was feeding.
• An adult female cheetah would found resting in the shade – she was well fed and was seen around the same area for a few days
• Elephant sightings – mostly bulls that are feeding around the marula trees on the fallen fruit, the groups of elephant bulls still frequenting the water-hole on front of the camp.
• Night sightings have yielded hyena and jackal sightings (both species) as well as African wild cat with kittens, serval a couple of times, genets, as well as various owl species and several chameleons.
• General game – sable, tsessebe, zebra, impala, warthogs, giraffe, baboons and plenty of hippo in the pool in front of the camp
• Also seen – ground hornbills, wattled cranes, black-crowned night-heron, black and slaty egrets, guttural toads, and several different different snake species.
• Water-bird sightings still excellent – the water levels around the camp high, and all the mopane bridges throughout the concession in daily use to access flooded areas


Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
• A mating pair of lions at Nyari pan
• A pride of 4 lionesses found sleeping at Skimmer pan – they hunted in the evening, chased giraffe a few times without success.
• A male lion was found feeding on a tsessebe.
• A pride of 7 lionesses found sleeping under a baobab – the were seen several times and followed hunting without success
• A male lion was found feeding on the carcass of an elephant bull - an adult male leopard was also seen feeding there (when the lion was not around)
• An adult male leopard found at Twin pools, a relaxed adult female with a cub also seen in the vicinity
• A relaxed young male leopard was followed marking his territory at Skimmer pan, a shy female was seen there as well – she was seen hunting lechwe early one morning as well
• A pack of 20 wild dogs (with a few hyena in attendance) was found, and then followed hunting – they killed and ate a steenbuck – the next morning they killed an adult female kudu but were robbed by hyenas.
• Lots of bachelor herds of elephants seen along the floodplains – breeding herds also seen in increasing numbers
• Night sightings – a clan of hyena feeding on an elephant carcass, also seen – jackal – both species, civet, genets, porcupine, African wild cat, striped polecat, honey badger, spring-hares, bush babies and chameleons
• Several different mongoose species seen – yellow, banded, dwarf, and slender
• Excellent water-bird and raptor sightings as well as several different snake species
• Water levels are the highest on the Kwando River in 7 years – Lebala Camp is an island

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Okavango Flood update - May 10, 2006
The heavy rainfalls in January and February created an enormous amount of ground water in the Delta and it is still prevalent throughout much of the safari camps.  The chart below shows data as of May 10, 2006.

Okavango flood chart - May 10, 2006

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Mombo Camp update - Apr 06               Jump to Mombo Camp
The winter chill is slowly creeping into Mombo, bringing with it clear nights and spectacular sunsets. Rain still falls, and we experienced a few sporadic storms at the end of this month. The onset of winter and the shortening of daylight have initiated increased testosterone levels within the impala population, as males jostle for position and territory. Impala males now spend about a quarter of their time rounding up females paying little attention to their surroundings. On one occasion whilst observing starlings mobbing a black mamba we watched a dominant male run straight into the fleeing snake, and the mamba struck at the impala as he continued to chase after his female.

Southern African Python at Mombo CampGenerally snakes are rarely seen; they are ultra sensitive to vibrations and usually move away immediately. The African rock python is an exception to this rapid movement due to his size and slower pace, although they can move quickly if threatened. This python was seen moving toward the Moporota Pride's temporary lair. Pythons can be a threat to the young cubs of species such as lions, especially when the adults are away, but nothing seems to have transpired in this case.

The mean temperatures recorded for the month were min 16°C and max 29°C with a rainfall figure of 24mm. Interestingly, a few intra-African migrants such as Woodland Kingfishers and Jacobin Cuckoos are still present at Mombo. The late departure appears to be due to the unusual climatic conditions we have had, the lush vegetation still houses many insects thus limiting competition between insectivorous birds. We have had some regular sightings of a Long-crested Eagle north of the camp as well as a new White-backed Vulture nest close b

End of an era

The Steroid Boys - Mombo CampIt is with regret that we announce the discovery at Mombo this week of the lifeless body of the remaining male cheetah of the well known 'Steroid Boys' coalition. It has been five months since the death of the other member of this coalition and in the interim we have watched with interest and emotion as the remaining brother has managed to survive in an area of very high large predator densities. Well beyond his prime, this male continued to be viewed and in the latter half of March moved back into the core of the area dominated for so long by him and his brother. He was in poor condition - a function of both age and the fact that a single male cheetah is much less of a match for competitors than a strong coalition - and although he successfully hunted young red lechwe, he was also noted to have been in some sort of confrontation with another predator, bearing the wounds of this skirmish.

All of this seems to have overwhelmed this long reigning male and his death heralds the end of an exceptional era during which he and his brother featured on the cover of National Geographic and were immortalised in the book "Mombo - A Place of Plenty."

The last of the Steroid Boy coalition was found the first week of April, having apparently died of starvation. He was seen a few weeks before his death passing through Mombo heading north. These two male cheetahs ruled Chiefs Island for many years avoiding lions, hyaenas, leopards and large packs of wild dogs, but as the years crept up on these two cheetahs they had difficulty in avoiding danger. The first male was mauled by lions at the end of 2005 and the second male, having relied on his brother for so long for protection and hunting, soon diminished. While we have pictures of this male a few days before he died, we are sure that many people out there would like to remember the Steroid Boys as the mighty coalition they were.


Black Rhino and Lion at Mombo CampMany of the sub-surface pans within the central part of Chiefs Island are still full due to the heavy rains we have received, thus making it difficult in locating rhino. Knowing that there are only a handful of rhino in the wild within Botswana makes just a glimpse of this well-protected beast a privilege.

Last week we sighted one of the black rhino, a mature female, a few kilometres from camp, and she was not alone. The six sub-adult lions from the Mathata Pride had circled her trying their best to strategise a take-down. An adult black rhino can obtain a weight of up to 1 ton making them a very difficult target for any predator; it was more of a cat-and-mouse game for both.


Lion cub (Moporota pride) at Mombo CampThe Moporota Pride has introduced five of its seven cubs to meat after killing a buffalo north of their lair. Generally lions are introduced to meat at three months of age and will be weaned at about nine months. The first introduction to a kill can be a dangerous affair for the cubs, especially when the pride males are present, as aggression during feeding becomes intense. We watched as all five cubs approached the pride male while he was feeding on the buffalo, a few growls from him and they were soon running back to their mothers for safety.

The Mathata Pride have been frequenting 'Suzie's Duck Pond', successfully ambushing the zebra as they move out of the surrounding acacia into the floodplains for the night. A small harem of zebra with a ten-day-old foal were moving through 'Suzie's' apparently aiming to join with the rest of the zebra to the south. Unaware of the lions, the dominant female led the herd straight towards them. One young lioness had noticed the herd and was watching intently as they moved closer to the pride. The wind changed and immediately the zebra were aware of the lions, slowly the herd started to backtrack and head away from the danger. The same lioness immediately launched herself from cover and began to chase the herd through the plains, focusing on the foal. She chased the herd gaining on the foal and finally capturing the zebra after about a 1-kilometre chase: Remarkable, it was an amazing experience to witness the intuition of a predator in its ability to detect a weakness.

Mombo lion in a treeThe Mombo lions are imitating Tanzania’s (and now DumaTau’s) famous tree-climbing lions, with February and March seeing this curious new trick being tried out with various levels of success. We are not entirely sure why they are doing this – possibly sand fleas – a kind of biting insect – have driven the cats up the wall, so to speak.

Guest Experience
Comments:
"Everyday was sensational, your staff made our stay very special"
"This is the most beautiful, luxurious camp that we have ever stayed in, hence the return visit."
"Everything was perfect."

 

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Tubu Tree Camp update - Apr 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
The highlight at Tubu this month has been the steady rise of the annual floodwater. Channels and floodplains are filling up, bringing with them herds of red lechwe and many bird species, including African Jacana, Rufous-bellied Herons, Great White Egrets, Purple Gallinules, Slaty Egrets, Pied Kingfishers, Malachite Kingfishers, Open-billed Storks and many more.

With the rise of the water we are doing daily mokoro (dug out canoe) trips which are a popular way of exploring the floodplains. Being almost silent, one gets to appreciate this traditional form of moving around the Delta. There were good sightings of elephant, red lechwe and giraffe from mokoro. Walking safaris have also been popular with guests learning tracking skills from the guides and sometimes seeing the odd elephant bull and once even a leopard while out on the walk. This is all done with an experienced, armed guide.

The encroaching water is providing new pools for hippo and they are moving out of the main channels and are now often seen not far from Tubu camp. There are large pools now by the hide on Hunda Island and by the large Fig Tree en route to the camp from the airstrip; they can often be heard in the late afternoon and throughout the night.

The Marula trees in camp are busy dropping fruit, particularly above the bar. The Fig trees and Jackalberry trees are also fruiting, providing a banquet with the baboons, monkeys, elephants, impala and warthogs all competing to get to the ripe fruit first. Guests staying in Tents 2 and 4 have spent many hours watching elephants from their decks and have had to be collected by the guides to come through to the main lodge, due to their rather large, obstinate roadblocks!

The lions were quite active at the beginning of the month and walked through camp early one morning. They then found and terrorised the local baboon troop before the female ('Brown Sugar') managed to catch one unfortunate individual. She promptly sat down to her breakfast underneath a Sausage Tree in which remained two young baboons that spent the next few hours in isolated disbelief until she moved off and they were finally able to leave the tree. The male lion, 'Monate' is now becoming more vocal and has been found marking his territory several times; this is encouraging as he was seen in our area for several months before he began roaring to proclaim his presence.

This month has also brought some great spotted hyaena sightings, one of whom took a leisurely mud bath to guests' delight before seemingly trying to retrieve something from under the water. Spotted hyaena are known to 'store' meat under water for retrieval at a later date, using the pools almost as a larder. We have also been seeing small groups of buffalo bulls that are no longer travelling with the large breeding herds. They are fond of the marshy areas where water and good grazing are readily available, and the floodplains provide both of these and good cover where they can rest up when not feeding.

There is a pair of Tawny Eagles (pale form) nesting by Kalahari Pans and the family group of 5 Ground Hornbills are often seen foraging on the floodplains in front of camp. This group of 5 consists of 4 mature adults and 1 chick, there is another group of 3 adults in the area, indicating that conditions at Tubu suit these endangered birds.

We look forward to a further increase in water levels which will hopefully mean we can begin boating next month, in May.

Tubu Greetings!
Anton, Carrie and the Tubu Team

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Jao Camp update - Apr 06                Jump to Jao Camp
This has been the month for leopards and the first of winter in the Jao concession. The evenings have been filled with magnificent starlit skies. The mornings are crisp but clear, typical of the autumn time here in the Delta: a few mornings with low fog over the warm waters of the channel which are still full for this time of the year. The daytime temperatures have been great, reaching 18-24° Celsius and it has been wonderful to enjoy the sun around the pool. The nights are around about 10-15° Celsius which are ideal conditions for watching the skies unfolding over wonderful starlit dinners. We have however not been without some rain, 30mm or so. One of the storms was so spectacular that it provided a lightning show never to be forgotten, watched from the comforts of your own bed. The floodwaters have not arrived here yet but the water levels have been rising and falling again.

April has been a month where activities have been greatly varied, with wonderful nature walks led by our knowledgeable guides. Great rafts of hippopotamus and not so many crocodiles have been seen on the boats and it has just been a great 'Delta experience' to glide along the waterways. Mokoros have been a real treat as the waters have provided us new and exciting areas to be explored. The bird life was fantastic again even though some of the summer visitors have left for warmer climates. One of the highlights was a breeding colony of Slaty Egrets which has been discovered and April/May time period is apparently the best time for them to breed. A Western Banded Snake Eagle has made himself a resident of the lodge and has killed a Black Mamba as well as a few other snakes.

After an absence of about one and half months we finally found the leopard female and her cub, which is now about 5-6 months old. This was fantastic news as we thought the cub had been killed by the lions who were around when the leopard and her cub disappeared. The alarm bells were also ringing, as we had spotted a male leopard just before we found her and the cub in the area, he was furiously marking his territory at nearly every bush. We had presumed that the female was now in 'oestrus' again but luckily this was not the case and she and her cub have provided exhilarating photographic opportunities by playing in almost every kind of tree you can think about, yes even a baobab and of course the classical legs drooped over the branch with youngster right next to her. She has made many kills which some people have witnessed, ranging from steenbok to impala and red lechwe. Unfortunately many of these were stolen from her by patient spotted hyaenas, who were also feeding their two young pups at the den in the nearby area (they also gave us a scare when they disappeared but we have found the new den site in much the same area).

The coalitions of two males with their two lionesses seem to be well established in the area now. They are still moving between the Jao and Kwetsani floodplains and are fantastic hunters and are very well fed. It seems they are killing red lechwe almost daily and this is interspersed with regular mating. The one female is now looking heavily pregnant and we are hoping for some winter cubs.
The floodplains are covered with red lechwe and it seems as thought the floodwater are not to far away. A few herds of wildebeest, impala and tsessebe are also the order of the day and occasionally a few buffalo bulls lingering in the thickets. Breeding herds of elephants are moving through the area but with all the ripe fruit of the Date Palms and the Marula trees, the bulls have been hogging these prime locations and will chase off any challengers, even a Land Rover or two!

Jao guides have been assisting BirdLife Botswana in a monitoring project designed to assess the status of several species of threatened birds in Botswana. Several of these species occur on the Jao Concession in good numbers and NG25 has a long history of supporting Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret studies. The guides’ support in this effort earned them an invitation to the 4th World Congress on Hornbills held in South Africa.

In conclusion this has been a really good month here at Jao and we have had wonderful game and bird sightings. The meals have been out of this world and have really complemented the whole 'Jao experience'. Looking forward to your visit!

Thanks,
The Jao Team

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Kwetsani update - Apr 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"A candle loses nothing if it is used to light another one."

Winter is pushing in its icy fingers, but with this comes the most magnificent clear evening skies. Dinners under the stars are the flavour of month, and a lion calling in the night is always a welcome sound.

The floods are on their way but do not appear to be too high this year, although with all the summer rain water lying around who knows what it will be like. Hundreds of Open-billed Storks are starting to move towards the floodplains of the Jao concession and there is lots of ruffling of feathers while looking for the snails that comprise the bulk of their diet.

The two young leopards that have been hanging around Kwetsani camp have finally been identified as two males. They still visit the area around camp every few days and many guests are woken at night with the sawing sound of their calls. The mother is often seen lying in a huge Marula tree or out hunting but she is distancing herself from them and will hopefully be mating again soon. 'Beauty' - our resident female leopard with a territory close to the Jao airstrip - is also doing very well; her young cub is growing by the day and becoming more adventurous: Even stalking elephants occasionally.

There have been many sightings of male lions around camp over the last few weeks and it would seem that one of the resident lionesses is quite heavily pregnant - winter babies are on their way.

Herds of female and baby elephants have been seen wandering the concession, enjoying the long grass that the constant summer rains brought us. We received nearly double our annual rainfall this year with a late shower just a week ago. The palm trees have sprouted their palm nuts and the elephant bulls are on their way to shake them down. But before this happens the baboons are enjoying endless fun tossing them down. Small herds of buffalo bulls have also been seen from the Kwetsani room decks, moving across the floodplains.

As the seasons change from summer to winter, Kwetsani will experience another change - Conrad and Kerrie are moving back to the city to get married and hopefully a baby in the near future and Ian and Alida will be coming in to take care of the lodge. It will be sad to say good bye to old friends made but exciting to welcome new ones in. We wish them all the best.

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Jacana update - Apr 06                Jump to Jacana Camp
April was great, fantastic weather with warm days and beautiful sunsets.

The presence of Cape Clawless Otters around camp just makes one realise once again how healthy and unspoilt this wonderful wilderness location is.

Game drives, walks, power boating and magical mokoro trips were all rewarded with memorable wildlife sightings. Leopard and lion are all in excellent condition and on numerous outings guests found them feeding on red lechwe, impala and common reedbuck. Elephant visits to the island were a daily occurrence and the bull known as 'Jack' provided the entertainment at dinner times and Boma evenings.

Birdlife continues to be an attraction at Jacana and the Pel's Fishing Owl did not let us down this month. Seeing the elusive sitatunga and the Pel's while on mokoro - well, what more could you ask for?

Great staff, good food and a wonderful location contributed to a fantastic time had by all our guests during their April visit.

Bush greetings,

The Jacana Team

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Little Vumbura update - Apr 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
April in the Okavango saw the end of the rainy season and the onset of winter. Having said that though, daily high temperatures of 30°C and above forced us to keep the roofs on the vehicles for the month. We did have one shower of 8mm but that was it for the rain. It was quite amazing to watch how quickly the rainwater evaporated! Our boat station, where the vehicles park, was looking like a mudbath at the end of March, but by mid-April all the water was gone and we were able to sort out the parking area. We await the coming floodwaters with great expectation, hoping for enough time to open the channel to Mbishi - the boat station during the winter flood period. Little Vumbura island itself is already showing signs of the coming cold. The Wild Feverberries have started to shed their leaves, and the grass has been trampled by visiting elephants coming to enjoy the falling Marula fruit.

Included in the month's wildlife highlights (although rather a "lowlight") was watching the young Kubu Pride lioness lose her cubs. She had been lactating for a few weeks, and then catching up with the rest of the pride to feed. Unfortunately, she was found one afternoon desperately searching for her cubs in the Jacky's Pan area, where a leopard had been seen earlier that day. On a brighter note, the young lioness from Big Red's family may have given birth and seems to be lactating. The Kubu Males have been spending more time with Big Red's family. On the day I flew back into camp from leave, one of the Kubu Males took down a huge buffalo cow as the herd crossed the airstrip, much to the amazement of a large group of guests from Vumbura Plains waiting to fly out. The 2 Kubu Males enjoyed the feast for a few days and shared the catch with the Big Red females.

The rest of the Kubu Pride is looking healthy with all the male cubs now showing manly traits. The last day of the month saw the Big Red family hunting at the airstrip at night, but more importantly, the Vumbura Boys were found by our legendary guide, Madala Kay. The Vumbura Boys have not been seen for over a year - but Kay has been guiding here for over 9 years and knows the lions exceptionally well and he is certain they were the Vumbura Boys.

There were far fewer leopard sightings this month compared to normal, but the number of cheetah sightings made up for this. It was quite amazing to have so many cheetah sightings with the grass still being fairly long. We have two new males in the area, while the female with two juvenile males all seem to be hunting successfully! The Old Man "Patrick" is still dominating the area and looks fit and healthy.

Wild Dog - Little VumburaWe also had a wild dog sighting early in the month. The male and female, who we see infrequently, killed an impala and ate furiously. The female looked to be pregnant so we are hoping they might den in the area. Thank you very much to Conrad Henry, a guest at the time, for the photographs.

The elephants are back in numbers! Apart from the odd bull visiting the island, we have been seeing large breeding herds closer to the floodplain areas, having moved back from the Mopane shrubland and pans to the north.

We only managed three sightings of the rare Pel's Fishing Owl this month, two spotted from the boat with one spotted while on mokoro.


Little Vumbura staffLittle Vumbura staffOn a sad note, our guide Letty was offered a job at Vumbura Plains and decided to move on! Letty began his training here at Little Vumbura and it has been awesome to watch him develop into a top guide. Aside from his guiding skills, we will miss his friendly smile, great sense of humour and his choir leadership. Letty's place on the island has been filled by Matt Porter. Matt has several years guiding experience in South Africa and managed Savuti for the whole of last year.

Aside from Letty's departure it was a festive month with an Easter egg hunt and not even the absence of Erica on leave stopping us toasting her 30th birthday here in camp.

Managers for the month: Rohan, Dudley and Erica.
Guides: Kay, Letty and Matt.

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Chitabe update - Apr 06               Jump to Chitabe Camp
The phenomenal rainy season of the past year has yet to leave us - on the 22nd of April we had 12mm of rainfall, and as I write, we have had 19mm of rain in the first couple of days of May. This kind of precipitation is almost unprecedented - the dry season should be well underway by now, but Mother Nature obviously has other ideas. The entire area is still wonderfully green, bursting with flowers and creating a real sense of joi de vivre.

A Woodland Kingfisher is still with us in camp, taking advantage of late summer pickings, almost two months overdue in making his journey northwards. The Marula trees are fruiting, providing a feast for animals large and small, from tree squirrels to baboons, people to elephants. The island is still completely surrounded by water (which hasn't happened since 1997), hosting a rich variety of waterbirds - herons, cormorants, egrets, storks, kingfishers, ducks and geese. A pod of hippo have taken up residence south of the camp in Elephant Pan - where there has been no water in the previous ten years, and two Wattled Cranes have graced the floodplain over the channel from Chitabe Trails.

Chitabe Trails has had a complete rebuild, and looks fantastic. A new thatched bar/dining area below the big Marula tree faces the water channel, and raised walkways branch out from it to the tents. The new "loo with a view" has drawn many admiring comments - some have said it is large enough to throw a party in there!

Three kills have been recorded this month by the Old Chitabe cheetahs - the mother and her two sub-adult cubs. She has been suffering an injury to her hips for almost six months now, and it seems to be getting worse, although she is healthy and has had a steady supply of food from her cubs who she has trained to hunt successfully.

The highlight of April was locating our resident pack of wild dogs. With the assistance of Dr. McNutt, who used radio telemetry to obtain a rough fix of their relative position from the air (two of the dogs have radio collars), we drove out to try and find them. Newman picked up their tracks, and shortly afterward we came across the pack in the Robin's Floodplain area. Of the seven dogs that denned on the concession last year to produce seven puppies, four adults remain with five puppies, now almost a year old. One adult male has a wound on his left foreleg, but it doesn't seem to be bothering him much. We spent a magical half hour with the pack, watching them as one adventurous adult splashed around in the water of a small pan, before they took off deep into the Mopane woodland on their late-afternoon hunt. With a bit of luck, they will hopefully den upon the concession again this year, some time in June.

The lions have now come down from the trees where we had to keep looking for them, and are once again moving over semi-dry land once again. There have been a lot of nomadic lion coming into the concession since the resident males moved further south. One night we had an old male lion in the camp, wandering around as if inspecting the place; he walked from the entrance of Main Camp, through the island, past the workshop, and into Trails camp, roaring all the while! We found his massive tracks in the early morning dew - a real thrill and evidence of a wild and close encounter for our guests (some of whom hadn't slept too well!) Lazarus found him near the airstrip mating with one of the Sandibe females, proving that although old, he hasn't lost his touch with the ladies! On the Gomoti Channel, the three females of that pride have had six cubs, and we have seen two of the massive attendant males a couple of times.

Leopard sightings have been sporadic, but rewarding. Lelobu the big Acacia woodland male was seen a couple of times, and Mosadi Mogolo was found with her one remaining cub with kills on three occasions. A shy male has also been spotted in the Acacia Road area a few times, but he is nervous and usually only offers a fleeting glimpse of himself as he melts into the thick bush like a spotted ghost.

OT saw something that warrants a mention - a slender mongoose killing a Knob-Billed Duck - considering the difference in size, it was quite an epic struggle, and the duck almost managed to take off with the mongoose clinging onto it! Quite a testament to the bravery and ferocity of this little mammal.

In the space of one day, three lion, three cheetah, two jackal and a leopard were seen in the vicinity of the airstrip - definitely the place to be! Shortly afterwards, Lazarus spotted a pangolin (also called scaly anteater), one of our rarest species! It wandered right in front of the approaching vehicle, rolled into its characteristic defensive ball shape, and then, sensing no danger, unfurled itself and continued along its way right in front of the delighted guests.

Large congregations of elephant have been moving through the area, and one afternoon Newman saw a gathering of about a hundred (it was dusk and hard to count) milling around Aardwolf Plain. The great bodies parted to reveal two massive bulls engaged in a duel over mating rights - the larger of them knocked over a tree in a demonstration of strength before briefly locking tusks with his opponent. The smaller bull realised he was outgunned and fled - directly towards Newman's vehicle, veering off course at the last moment when he saw the way was blocked. The Geslot family from France came away with some excellent images once their nerves had settled!

Although early for the year, a small herd of Cape buffalo (about 30) was also sighted, in the Gomoti area. As the dry season progresses, we would expect to see them in their thousands coming down from the Moremi, crossing the channel and grazing vast swathes through the sweet grasses left in the wake of the receding flood.

The weather systems, although erratic, have started to slowly cool down the temperatures, with average lows around 12°C, and highs around 29°C. Considering the amount of water around, some of us are predicting a very cold winter. If you are planning a trip this winter, remember to bring your woollies!

Regards from Chitabe

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DumaTau update - Apr 06               Jump to DumaTau Camp
The comic sighting of the month at DumaTau was the entire Savuti Pride (four lionesses and four cubs) desperately attempting to escape the biting flies that are proliferating in the wet weather. In a pseudo-yoga-turned-game-of-twister act of intricate balance and questionable cooperation, we found all eight cats perched delicately in a single, small, flimsy-looking fever-berry! Out of range of most of the flies, admittedly, but looking decidedly uncomfortable - each time one of them moved, another fell out!

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - Apr 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
We have had yet another month of absolutely magnificent visibility, with almost every day being 20 metres or more of crystal clean, warm 26°C waters. The days have however generally been overcast and perhaps that is a sign of winter on the way. Although there are always our faithful reef residents to keep us entertained there are also always a surprising number of new finds or rare encounters to enchant us. Below are some of the highlights from the month of April.

Though we frequently see large schools of spadefish, which is a member of the batfish family, it is quite rare for us to see the orbicular, or longfin batfish, on the Rocktail reefs. Darryl was delighted to come across a longfin batfish under one of the ledges at 'Pineapple'. What made it all the more special and striking was that it was a juvenile with greatly elongated fins. It has been spotted once since and we are on the lookout, so fingers crossed.

Anyone who has dived at 'Regal' will know how special its namesake, our single regal angelfish, is to us, so you can imagine Clive's happiness when he discovered two juveniles a little further south of the adult. This is one of the most stunning of the East Coast angelfishes and we are glad to say that we now have at least three that we know of in our area.

Banded pipefish and ghost pipefish have again both been spotted. The ghost pipefish is related to true pipefish but differs in that the females incubate their fertilised eggs in a pouch. With true pipefish, such as the banded, the male is the fish to become "pregnant" and incubates the eggs in his pouch. True pipefish are therefore more closely related to seahorses in which the male is also "pregnant."

On a larger note - about 7 metres larger - was the chance encounter with a female whaleshark, which turned up to delight the divers behind 'Island Rock'. We are slowly coming to the end of whaleshark season, but that can only mean the start of another season, that of the humpback whales. Eyes will soon be fixed on the horizon looking for that distinctive bushy blow, elongated flipper, small dorsal fin or any other sign of our singing friends as they make their way up towards tropical Mozambique waters to calve and breed. One of our divers was at Umkomaas over the Easter weekend and saw a whale breaching far out to sea, so it shouldn't be long before we start to see them here.

A porcupine ray was also spotted this month. This is certainly a rare find and is quite distinctive, with thorn-like spines covering its back. There have been plenty of blue spotted rays, especially on the sand patch on 'Gogo's' where they seem to be congregating in large numbers. Another regular feature this month have been brown or sharpnosed stingrays, often seen travelling along with a companionable kingfish.

A juvenile clown triggerfish was found at 'Hang 10'. The books say that the juveniles are rarely seen as they are usually found deeper than 25 metres, hiding in caves and crevices. We are therefore fortunate here as we do encounter a fair number of these small juveniles at much shallower depths than they would normally be seen.

Our dive at 'Solitude' on the 20th was stunning with crystal waters, very little current and a prolific amount of life. It was great to see that the two longnose hawkfish are still in the black coral and we are hoping that love is in the air (or water?). The adults are just exquisite, and it would be incredible to see the juvenile form. Also seen on the dive was a majestic giant ignoblis patrolling slowly around the cave. This is certainly the king of all kingfish and an extremely fierce predator. Unfortunately it is a prized catch for anglers and spearfishermen, so it is good to know that this reef still remains secret with only Darryl and Clive knowing the marks.

The long weekend at the end of the month produced some wonderful dives, with great sightings of spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins which swam past the divers at their safety stop, octopus, tiny pipefish, eight paperfish found by Clive on one dive, and a huge red frogfish!

And one last rather big surprise this month was a hippopotamus that came down for a lovely swim and walk along the beach at 'Island Rock'. Who knows maybe one day we might see one on SCUBA, you never can tell at Rocktail!

We were not the only ones excited by the month's events:
"A privileged diving experience, easily the best diving operation I have had the pleasure of using! Well done guys" - GD, DURBAN
"An amazing coastline and outstanding operation. Thanks for very special diving. (And the longnose hawkfish!)" - RP, ENGLAND
"Great place, great diving, great naps and certainly great company! Thanks for a memorable trip!" - H&JZ, JOHANNESBERG

Congratulations to Charlotte Stewart, who qualified as a PADI Junior Open Water diver. Well done! Look forward to diving with you again soon.

Till next month
Take care

Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Jen
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team


Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - Apr 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
We watched quietly as one lone, young bull elephant approached the Luvuvhu River on the opposite side of where my wife Colleen and I sat alongside some visitors. We were sitting at Mangala on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when the lone bull approached carefully, stopping every now and again to sniff the air with his trunk twisting and turning like a snake high above his head, making sure that the path he was using to get down to the river was clear of any danger. Once he was satisfied that there was no threat at all he climbed down the bank and drank thirstily from the cool river. When his thirst was quenched and after a quick shower he turned slowly and started walking back the way he had come. As he reached the cluster of mopane trees about a hundred meters back from the river he stopped and again lifted his trunk and sniffed the air. This seemed to be the signal that all was clear because as he turned and once again headed back towards the river he was followed by the rest of the herd who had been waiting patiently and feeding on the luscious mopane leaves further back out of our view.

The breeding herd consisted of adults, sub-adults and very young babies, about 28 individuals in all. It was a beautiful sight as adults and babies alike played together in the water. Some of the babies were so young that they were still trying to figure out as to what purpose their little trunks serve. To these little guys it must seem as though the trunk was specifically designed to get in the way when they are drinking. Suddenly there was a loud trumpet probably from the matriarch in charge of the herd. The babies were quickly herded together and the adults formed a protective circle around them. Four old bulls appeared, out of the same cluster of mopane trees, walking in a single file towards the river, the front one sniffing the air with his trunk as he walked. We watched as the matriarch let her annoyance be known to the four bulls that had rudely interrupted her and the rest of the herd. She rushed at them shaking her head and trumpeting loudly. The four old guys knew they were no match for this very aggressive lady and gave her a wide berth as they made their way to the river. Deciding that the safest option altogether would be to cross over and get as far away as possible from this 'mad cow', they waded into the river and started heading in our direction. That was when we decided to leave them so that they could get a bit of peace and quiet. An awesome sight! And welcome back onto the concession, guys.

Some highlights from the month of April:
1) Temminck's Courser sighted on 6th April. We now have three coursers that have been recorded on the concession: Temmick's, Three-banded and Bronze-winged.
2) A beautiful sighting of a Long-crested Eagle - a first for the concession.
3) A Snouted Cobra was seen succeeding in killing a young python
4) About 150 Marabou Storks sighted roosting at Banyini Pan.
5) A Gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk) seen catching Bee-eater chicks.
6) Several sightings of the uncommon Racket-tailed Roller.
7) Juvenile Thick-billed Cuckoo with a flock of Retz's Helmet-shrikes.
8) A five-minute sighting of a Bat Hawk hunting over the Luvuvhu River at dusk.
9) Pel's Fishing Owl flying off from a stump at the bridge with a fish.
10) A beautiful sighting of a sable antelope bull at Manqeba Pan.

Birding
The birding on the concession during the month of April has once again been a gem. We have had 222 recorded species this month. They also include: Allen's (Lesser) Gallinule, Little Stint, Ruff, White-fronted Plover, African Crowned Eagle, Lesser Grey Shrike, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Icterine Warbler, Garden Warbler, Red-capped (Natal) Robin-Chat, Bronze Mannikin.

Mammals
Some breeding herds of up to thirty elephants are once again being sighted. Buffalo continue to be seen in large herds on a daily basis, one herd numbers ±400 individuals. One lone sable bull was sighted at Manqeba Pan. Other sightings were: Eland, nyala, giraffe, blue wildebeest, bush pig, bushbuck, porcupine, African wildcat, aardvark, waterbuck, black-backed jackal, and spotted hyaena to name just a few. The larger predators were also seen on a regular basis - leopards seen were mainly the well known 'Bridge Male' and the Mangala Female and her year-old cub. Lion sightings were comprised of members of the Pafuri Pride who were seen in groups of 3 to 8 strong. Two of the lionesses and their six cubs frequented the area around camp and kept us entertained with their roaring after dark.

Weather
Average min temperature 18.5?C
Average max temperature 32.3?C.
Rainfall consisted of one slight drizzle.

Thanks
Geoff Mullen

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