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February 2006

This Month:
Wilderness Safaris general Safari News.

• Monthly update from Makalolo Camp in Zimbabwe.
Kwando Safaris game reports.

• Update on the construction of Kwando's new Kwara Island Camp in Botswana.

Update on the 2006 Okavango Delta flood

• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Xigera Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from 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 Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Selinda Camp in Botswana.

Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
Rocktail Bay Turtle news from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Kulala in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Doro Nawas Camp in Namibia.

Wilderness Safaris general Safari News
Wilderness Safaris News - Feb 06
The new year has begun with a splash here at Wilderness Safaris, with several exciting projects in the works. We’re thrilled to announce that we will be opening camps in Zambia this year, while Seba Camp in Botswana and Ruckomechi in Zimbabwe are back on board. There are some changes to Sefofane’s Lowveld flying route, as well as to some of our camps, while the Mombo Rhino Programme is proud to announce the birth of an eighth baby!

Wilderness Safaris in Zambia
Wilderness Safaris camps in ZambiaIn a thrilling development, Wilderness Safaris is set to open several luxury lodges and bush camps in Zambia’s Kafue National Park. This is the start of Wilderness’ long-term plan to establish world-class, environmentally-friendly lodges in Zambia’s prime wildlife areas, such as South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks.

Wilderness Safaris’ developments will be in the northern sector of the Kafue National Park. Lunga River Lodge, a 12-bedded lodge on the banks of the Lunga River, and Busanga Bush Camp are both existing camps that will be refurbished and opened in June 2006. Nkondo Fly Camp will also open with 3 small meru-style tents. These will be followed in July by the opening of Shumba Bush Camp and Kapinga Bush Camp. Finally, 2007 will see the opening of Ntemwa, a 24-bed luxury lodge in a private concession that overlooks the permanent pools of the Ntemwa River, inhabited by hundreds of hippo.

Activities will include walking safaris, game drives, canoeing, river cruising, and fishing.

Kafue has incredible species diversity, with 158 mammal and 491 bird species. Leopard, wild dog, cheetah and lion sightings are excellent, including the famous tree-climbing lions!

An important part of the expansion into Zambia is a new Explorations trip: The Great Zambian Journey. This new itinerary will be up and running by June this year and will take in the Victoria Falls as well as two camps in the Busanga Plains area of Kafue National Park, with extended stays at each camp allowing guests to maximise an incredible wildlife experience.

Seba Camp                Jump to Seba Camp
Seba Camp in BotswanaSeba Camp (pronounced Say-ba), set to open in June 2006, is situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta and offers secluded, luxurious accommodation overlooking a lagoon teeming with animal and bird life.

The camp is named after Seba, one of the elephants released from nearby Abu Camp. A number of elephants that were released back into the wild have formed their own herd, and the interaction between these and the wild herds in the area forms the basis for elephant research being done in the area. Guests can observe the researchers at work, often in close proximity to the elephant herds. Other activities include mokoros (depending on water levels), walks and motor boats.

Seba has five spacious, elevated tents, designed to blend in with the Okavango landscape. Each has an en-suite bathroom and private deck on which to relax and observe the passing wildlife. The dining and bar areas are also set on a raised teak deck with spectacular views. Seba Camp is priced at Botswana Classic Camp rates.

Seba Camp Tents (schematics) and Site Photos
Seba guest tent Seba guest tent Seba guest tent
Seba Camp site Seba Camp site  

Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
Our lease at Chikwenya Camp is not being renewed and we're sad to say goodbye. While we understood that the renewal of our tenure over the site had been agreed to, the site was put out to tender and awarded to someone else.

All existing bookings in Chikwenya Camp will be moved to Ruckomechi Camp. The closure of Chikwenya will not impact on the Mana Canoe and Walking Trail which will end at the same location as always. On an exciting note we plan to completely upgrade Ruckomechi during the early part of this year – we’ll update you with our progress.

Camp Updates:
There are several changes to Chitabe Walking Trails specifications:
- All walking trails bookings must have a private vehicle booked for the duration of the trail (at no extra cost)
- No walking trails may overlap
- The trails will operate 01 May to 30 September only (as the wet summer months may be too hot and/or rainy and the grass too high to walk safely)
- Maximum of 4 guests can be accommodated on these trails
- As before, no children under 12 years may be accommodated

Kulala Wilderness Camp will become a Premier Camp as from 01 July 2006. The camp will be adding an extra twin unit, which means there will now be 10 tents:
Kulala Wilderness Camp• 8 twin-bedded units
• 1 double unit
• 1 family unit
• 1 twin (guide) tent

Selinda Camp will open for the first time for the "Green Season" of December, January and February. Scenically, this is one of the most dramatic times of the year and a photographer's dream. Game viewing is rewarding and the birdlife is at its best.

South Africa: Lowveld Flying Route
Sefofane Air Charters have terminated its scheduled seat-rate service between Johannesburg International Airport (JNB) and the Lowveld destinations of the Sabi Sand and Timbavati Private Game Reserves, as it has simply not been viable. Alternative arrangements have been made for guests who are booked and confirmed on this discontinued service.

With aircraft based at both Phalaborwa Airport [PHW] and Kruger Mpumalanga International [MQP] Sefofane continues to expand in the Lowveld however and offers:
- Private charters from Johannesburg directly to Lowveld properties
- connecting Sefofane air transfers off scheduled airline flights from JNB to either MQP or PHW to Lowveld properties, including Pafuri Camp.
- Flights with Federal Air to the specific properties that they service.

Pafuri Camp: As from February 2006, Sefofane commenced servicing Pafuri with a feeder seat rate service from PHW to the camp. Access to Pafuri has thereby been vastly improved. Guests are now able to fly from JNB or CPT to PHW on (SA) Airlink.


Zimbabwe Camps
Makalolo update - Feb 06               Jump to Makalolo Plains Camp

Belinda attended a dangerous drugs course earlier on in the month to become proficient in the use of dangerous drugs for darting and immobilising animals carrying wire snares. Whilst the animals are immobilised, these unsightly wire snares (picked up from poachers' traps) are removed and any inflictions are treated before injecting the animals with a reversal antidote and sending them on their merry way! This is all part of Wilderness Safaris' contribution to Hwange National Park in an effort to rescue our wildlife and curb some of the poaching going on in the areas around our concessions. We are delighted to congratulate and announce that our Belinda passed with astounding results and we look forward to seeing her in action out in the field!

Early mornings are concealed by heavy drapes of rolling mist, which gradually unfurl to reveal magical apparitions of silver cobwebs, crystal drenched grasses and angelic giraffes floating against the foreground of a captivated white horizon. The mornings are warm and build up during the course of the day to allow for exquisitely timed afternoon thundershowers during siestas.

Heart-stopping thunder pounds overhead, booming and reverberating as claws of lightning rip through curtains of heavy grey surroundings. The atmosphere is electric and frantic, but is eventually subdued by the familiar monotony of steady rainfall. Another storm has subsided and disappeared to reveal a clear washed blue sky; contorted cloudy shadows are wiped away by smiles of an iridescent double rainbow painted in the eastern corners of the expanse. Sunset pours through cotton wool clouds and a fine golden glow of light spills out across the wilderness.

Temperatures during February were a maximum of 32°C and minimum of 18°C. Our total rainfall for February was 169.75mm, bringing our season total to date to 742.7mm!

Rains have eroded some of the Kalahari sands, revealing a darker basalt soil beneath their crusty layers. This has brought life to an abundance of grasses in the more open areas and newly exposed soils have attracted an astounding array of butterflies and bees are seen sipping at the moisture trapped in these soils. There is a colourful display of flowers ensconced beneath fortresses of grassland, including minuscule red witch weed flowers, delicate lilac blooms of wild sweet peas, pink trumpets displayed on slender wild sesame stems and fluffy purple pom-pom heads of Venonia. Wild hibiscus is prevalent amongst the bush and adds a touch of sunshine to the gloomier days. Ilala Palms are riddled with heavy clusters of green ivory fruit hanging amidst fan-tailed branches. Once ripened, these fruits will be perfect for many a hungry elephant.

Somavundla Pan resembles a small river, surrounded by a multitude of sheath-like sedges and itchy upright star burr grasses. The call of the African Fish Eagle manoeuvring over the waterhole pulls at heart strings and adds a touch of African nostalgia, making one proud to be at Makalolo!

Wildlife sightings for February included: Zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, warthog, impala, hippo, baboon; spring hare, elephant, kudu, giraffe, black-backed jackal, buffalo, tree squirrel, sable, steenbok, spotted hyaena, roan, red hartebeest, side-striped jackal, scrub hare, banded mongoose, eland, bat-eared fox, vervet monkey, lion, African wildcat, square-lipped (white) rhino, common duiker, leopard and large spotted genet.

Zebra cleaned by the rains are distinct with chestnut manes which are short and frizzed along the outline of their backs. Standing amongst knee-high grasses, they swish their tails from side to side and make huffing noises to ward off swarms of flies. They tug at succulent shoots and grasses and are heard munching, as they chew from side to side. Two zebra foals stand next to their mothers; one of the little zebras is distinguished by his complete ruddy brown forehead, whilst his counterpart is slightly smaller and has fluffy brown stripes on his back and legs.

Hyaenas heard whooping and howling during the night had killed a wildebeest at the fire pit in front of camp and dragged the carcass through the grass to just in front of the dining room. They snuck away before break of dawn, but returned the next evening to feast upon the relics of the previous evening's meal and completely cleaned it all up.

Our resident pride of 19 lions has been seen a few times during the course of the month, but only for brief moments as they spent much time in the public part of the Park. At the beginning of the month they visited Somavundla Pan, where they relaxed on an anthill, surreptitiously monitoring the movements of 8 giraffes who had come to the waterhole to drink. We saw them later in the month, as they strolled out on the plains in front of camp, but were discovered the following day resting haphazardly in the middle of the road just outside the boundary of Ngweshla.

Several small herds of elephant have been sighted and it seems that they are making a come-back with their recent evening visits to the swimming pool. This is a rather strange phenomenon, considering the number of puddles and fresh waterholes around the concession. Perhaps swimming pool water is a refreshing cordial for them! A fine specimen of an elephant bull with enormous tusks was seen at Intundla Junction having a mud bath with the rest of his bachelor herd and a lone female with her young calf.

Herds of waterbuck and wildebeest sun themselves, as they rest in the green grass surrounding waterholes. A young and dainty kudu cow, alone yet confident, wanders around the water nibbling at the ground. She wags her tufty tail and stamps her graceful hooves, dispersing a barrage of flies and allows the oxpeckers to rest on her back.

A conglomerate of baboons rests carelessly on a termite mound - they search for insects and de-flea each other, whilst young baboons playfully push each other up and down the mound, tumbling and laughing as they fall, repeating the game over again. Bigger baboons arrogantly swagger between mazes of tall silvery grass, swaying their tails to and fro as older baboons, silhouetted against the sky, sit solemnly and stare at the sinking sun - perhaps they are contemplating life, momentarily looking on at the juveniles who are without a care in the world.

During the month of February, we recorded 134 different bird species at Makalolo.

The area around camp comes alive with mocking squawks of Arrow-marked Babblers and raucous calls of Lilac-breasted Rollers engaged in a heated debate as they tumble through the air. A Secretarybird parades her black legs as she struts across the plains in front of camp and shrill alarm calls of Blacksmith Plovers shriek out from the water hole, as the bewitching "hleka bafazis" Green Wood-hoopoes laugh out from their perch on a Leadwood branch.

A squadron of vultures, including White-backed, Hooded, White-headed and Lappet-faced all invaded the wildebeest carcass in front of camp. They performed a spectacular air show, as each bird glided in and positioned their appropriate landing gear on the proposed relishing site!

A young Lesser Masked Weaver, learning to fly, left its nest a little too early and couldn't return home. It was stranded on the ground and eventually made its way into the camp's office. The young fledgling called to its mother, who keenly watched her chick's every move from the safety of a Zimbabwean Teak tree. We later found the mother Weaver inside our office feeding her chick on caterpillars and worms. The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill who has been feeding his mate and chicks in the Leadwood tree at the front of camp was seen sitting on the rafters of the roof in the dining room. On closer inspection we noticed that he held a centipede in his beak. Eventually after much contemplation, he flicked the centipede into his bill and swallowed it in one gulp and then flew off and landed in a nearby Ordeal tree perusing the ground for another morsel - perhaps intended for his family this time around!

We had an incredible sighting of an African Crake with four tiny black chicks seen in a puddle around the Ngweshla area. A Swainson's Francolin braved the confines of camp - which is quite uncommon and out of this type of Francolin's territory. We have seen four sub-adult Ostriches roaming the plains with their parents and are delighted that these big birds have reached near-maturity without falling victim to predators!

"Great place! No words will describe this experience. The guides are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. The staff and management, food and waiters are great!" - MS, Chicago, USA

"This was the first time in Africa, we liked it very much! And we will certainly return! Thanks for the good times, lovely birthday cake and the songs at the fire place!" - E&MB and D&JK, HOLLAND

"As one innkeeper to another - you do everything sooo well! Your passion for your animals and your country is inspiring!" - F&CP, North Carolina, USA

If you want to experience a journey that will change your heart forever, then Zimbabwe is the place to be - and all we can say is "go for it!"

Until next month!
Shelley and all at Makalolo Plains


Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Feb 06

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
• The camp re-opened with 2 new rooms doubling as a family unit (inter-leading walkway yet still separate enough to be private), and with a refurbished lounge and dining room.
• 2 male lions were found on the eastern side of the airstrip, and were seen in the vicinity for a couple of days – they met up with a lioness and some mating activity was observed.
• A pair of cheetah were seen south of the camp several times – followed hunting but were not seen making a kill
• A pack of 8 wild dogs were found – the same pack that denned so late at Lagoon camp last year – 3 adults and 5 sub-adults – good news is that all 5 pups seem to have survived.
• Elephant sightings are still good – moving deeper in to the mopane for the good browse and wide-spread water availability – Botswana breeding herds, bachelor herds and solitary bulls.
• The sightings of general game good – including giraffe, impala, reedbuck, zebra, wildebeest, lechwe, and regular sightings of hippos out of the water in numbers of up to eight in a group
• Night sightings include honey badger, porcupine, hyena, jackal (both species) genet, and African wild cat
• Outstanding birding has been experienced along the river areas especially when viewed from the top of the double-decker boat including lesser jacana, purple gallinule, banded martin, many different bee-eater species, weavers and raptors

Kwara camp               Jump to Kwara Camp
• The water levels in front of the camp have risen and spread rapidly - it looks that we will be able to run the Mekoro trips from the front of the camp in the next short while.
• 11 members of the pride of 14 found resting, and then followed hunting into the night.
• Another pride of 5 – 3 lionesses and a sub-adult male and female seem a couple of times – were followed hunting.
• A lion and lioness were found – the lioness was showing signs of oestrus.
• An adult male leopard was found resting in a tree – he was followed hunting and patrolling his territory for some time
• A well-fed adult female leopard was found in a tree where she’s escaped from a hyena that that had stolen her kill – the hyena was seen finishing off the kill below her hissing.
• An adult female cheetah was found and followed hunting for a while but did not make a kill.
• A pack of 3 wild dogs was found hunting around the camp but were not seen making any kills. Guides walking around the camp did notice 2 sites where judging from the bones the dogs appeared to have killed impala.
• A herd of up to 8 elephant bulls a frequenting the water in front of the camp daily.
• Night sightings include hyenas, both species of jackals, genets, African wild cats, serval as well as several sightings of chameleons, African rock pythons, other snakes and many different frog and toad species.
• Lots of excellent bird sightings including raptors - all the summer visitors still in attendance including broad-billed rollers and black coucals – the heronry at Gudikwe still providing excellent photographic opportunities.

Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
• Numerous of sightings of male lions, in pairs and on their own.
• A single male lion was found feeding on the carcass of an adult giraffe, and was joined by another male – they took turns feeding until heading off south into the mopane forest
• An adult male leopard was found feeding on his kill that was hoisted into a tree.
• Another adult make leopard was found feeding on an impala ram in a leadwood tree.
• A number of other sightings of leopards seen resting and marking their territories.
• A female cheetah and a sub-adult male were tracked and eventually found –they were followed a number of times over the last couple of weeks and were seen killing impala three times.
• A pair of male cheetah were found – initially a bit shy but relaxed and were followed hunting over a 4 day period
• A pack of 20 wild dogs was found late last week – they were followed hunting and chasing through the mopane.
• Good numbers of elephants, both bachelor herds and breeding herds seen throughout the concession, often feeding in the mixed woodlands or moving across the floodplains.
• Very frequent sightings of hyena mostly at night in small and large groups. The matriarch of the Lebala clan appears to have been blinded, and has been seen wondering aimlessly – her condition appears to be deteriorating rapidly.
• General game very good – wildebeest, impala, giraffe, zebra, reedbuck, lechwe, waterbuck, steenbuck, kudu, and whole groups of hippo feeding and sleeping out of the water.
• Night sightings have yielded 3 serval kittens, numerous sighting of both jackal species, as well as African wild cat, striped polecat, aardvark, white-tailed mongoose (lots of other mongoose species seen during the day as well), genets, porcupines, as well as numerous frogs, chameleons, and a couple of sightings of African rock pythons hunting.
• Sightings of summer migrants are excellent – also ostriches, skimmers, wattled cranes, kori and stanleys bustards.


Update on Kwara Island Camp construction - Feb 06
Kwando Safaris' new Kwara Island Camp is scheduled to open 05 October, 2006.  Here's a sneak peek at some of the construction progress, as well as artist's renderings of the new tents.  Check back for further updates.

Aerial View of Kwara Island
Aerial View of Kwara Island

Bridge to Kwara Island
Bridge to Kwara Island Bridge to Kwara Island
Bridge to Kwara Island Bridge to Kwara Island

Kwara Island Guest Tents (artist's renderings)
Kwara Island guest tent Kwara Island guest tent Kwara Island guest tent
Kwara Island guest tent Kwara Island guest tent  

Okavango Flood update - Feb 06
The heavy rainfall in January continued throughout many parts of northern Botswana, with even higher levels in February.  The heavy rains pushed ground water into the Savuti Channel more than 200 metres past Mopane Bridge (the furthest inflow in over 13 years).  The chart below shows data as of March 01, 2006.

Okavango flood chart - March 01, 2006


Mombo Camp update - Feb 06               Jump to Mombo Camp
February in the heart of the Okavango Delta has been a month of sudden showers and spectacular sunsets, of stalking lions and stealthy leopards. The Mombo area is now so lush and green that it is hard to recall the dry golden stalks of grass rattling in the dusty October breezes, or the dust devils dancing across the bone-dry plains.

As the song says, the grass is "as high as an elephant's eye" and this spectacular growth has lent a whole new aspect to Mombo. It really does look as though the flood is already in ? and yet it hasn't even begun to reach us yet. Mombo and Little Mombo are all but surrounded by water now, and every night we are lulled to sleep by the delighted peeping of thousands of frogs, and the gentle splashing of buffalo as they amble contentedly through the shallows. Further off, the air shakes as hippo chuckle in the darkness.

The ubiquitous tall grass makes life interesting for some of our smaller neighbours, not least the warthogs who can now only keep track of each other by following the tips of their "radio antenna" tails, held proudly upright as they trot along.

The sun-baked dove-grey expanse of Suzi's Duckpond has become the most incredible natural amphitheatre, with a cast of thousands of zebra and impala, all sleek and healthy with so much sweet grass to graze on. The russet and honey flanks of the impalas glow like burnished bronze in the sunlight, but it is the multitudes of zebra that are the most striking sight with the myriad swirls of their stripes delighting and deceiving the eye all at once. There have probably never been this many zebra in the area before ? and the lions certainly aren't complaining.

February has also been a month of real contrasts: days of intense action, with the predators enjoying a glut of kills and the cover that the long grasses provide when stalking unsuspecting prey, and days of divine tranquillity with the rhythms of life coursing gently through the verdant scenery and the whispers in the grass sometimes the only sounds.

Many days have been cool and overcast, with the lower temperatures prompting even more animal activity. These are the days when we enjoy the most intense sunsets, with the last rays of the sinking sun picking out the billowing clouds in shades of orange and pink, and truly giving each cloud a silver lining. Other days have been much hotter, with the sun blazing down from clear blue skies ? skies so blue in fact that you can lose yourself in their intense hue. The clear skies at night provide a black velvet backdrop for the most breathtaking display of stars with familiar constellations such as the Southern Cross and Orion almost lost amongst countless millions of other points of light.

The amounts of rain we are receiving in northern Botswana this year continue to surprise us, and they are certain to make a significant contribution to this year's flood. In February we recorded 215mm (8½ inches) of rainfall at Mombo. Much of this has been at night or, if during the day, in the form of short, sharp showers. After the rain, the clarity of the light is stunning ? perfect for capturing the drops of water sent flying when a male lion indignantly shakes the rain out of his mane. At least some rain fell on 12 days out of 28 this month.

Temperatures have been rather variable with daytime temperatures reaching up to 33°C (96°F) and an average of 29.5°C (89°F). Night time temperatures ranged from 20°C (70°F) down to 5°C (40°F) and with an average of 17¼°C (64.5°F).

February has seen a curious new trick being tried out by Mombo's lions: climbing trees. We are not entirely sure why they are doing this ? possibly to avoid flies, or perhaps simply to keep their feet dry amidst all this water? At least one female of the Moporota pride seems to be seeking to avoid her maternal responsibilities. She has a litter of month-old cubs, and their persistent, mewing demands for milk seem to have rather exasperated her. However, and like all the other arboreal lions we have been seeing, she seems to be somewhat lacking in grace and poise once up in the branches. The fact that the lions are often choosing acacia trees means that the thorns add to their evident discomfort, and it is a strange experience to see lions, usually the monarchs of all they survey, forced into making tentative, uncertain movements.

Down on the ground, however, the lions are more than capable of reminding us of their hunting prowess. Guests on one drive witnessed the electrifying stalk and killing of a young wildebeest, a hunt which was carried out with such finesse that the hapless antelope probably never knew what hit him until it was too late.

February has been a great month for leopard sightings, too. Mombo must be one of the very best places to see these fascinating felines, and to encounter leopards which are completely unconcerned by the presence of the game drive vehicles and go about their business undistracted, is an intense pleasure.

An evening sighting of one of our resident leopards, the Tortilis female, has prompted speculation that she may be pregnant, so we hope to catch up with her again over the next few days to see if we can confirm this in better light. In the meantime this is an intriguing and potentially joyful mystery for us to think on.

Mombo's reintroduced rhino have been making their presence felt during February, to the delight of the many guests who have encountered them on game drives. A group of five is currently spending a lot of time in the superb habitat afforded them by the open acacia woodlands to the east of Mombo Camp. This group includes a one-year-old calf, Valentine, so named because he was seen for the first time in mid-February last year. He is now a very impressive chap, in superb condition and just starting to resemble Serondela, his father.

The "rhino soap opera" has a new twist now as we have also been seeing a lone sub-adult male rhino to the north of Mombo, and he is just reaching the age at which he will start to try and establish his territory. Indeed we have seen him starting to make territorial markings. So far he has kept out of Serondela's way, but the rainfall has prematurely flooded many areas and when the flood itself arrives, these two rhinos may well find themselves pushed much closer together and this could result in a true clash of the titans ? watch this space!

Rhino, it seems, enjoy gentle rain, but not heavier downpours ? on one occasion we were watching a group of them graze in the open, seemingly oblivious to the drizzle (as we were ? the sighting was far too absorbing to notice a little rain). Suddenly however the rain increased in intensity and as one, the four rhinos curled up their tails and trotted towards the nearest trees. Appropriately enough, they were umbrella thorns.

A lot of our guests ask us if we have snakes here, and of course we do ? only we very rarely see them. They are generally so shy that they flee as soon as they feel the vibrations of approaching feet or vehicle wheels. The only snake we see often is the beautiful spotted bush snake, an entirely harmless species which seems to enjoy sunbathing on the wooden walkways in the Camp. It's a beautiful snake, with a metallic green head with black spots, fading to silver.

This month we have had some other interesting sightings: African rock pythons swimming; and a rhombic egg-eater near the laundry in Camp. This is a fascinating species which can crush an egg in its jaws, swallow the contents and spit out the flattened shell in one piece. This snake though would do well to avoid the ever-growing clan of banded mongooses which live under our store rooms. They don't like snakes at the best of times, and now that they are raising yet another litter of tiny (and impossibly cute!) youngsters are likely to be even less welcoming. Their last litter was eaten by a honey badger which tracked their scent back to their burrows, so we are all hoping that they are more successful this time round.

Camp and Guest Experience
February is of course the month of love, and we weren't going to let any minor rain shower dampen our ardour for Valentine's Day. Mombo and Little Mombo must be among the most romantic places on earth, and this year we really pushed the (love) boat out, by completely redesigning the dining room to feature a succession of tables for two ? candle-lit of course - to create the perfect ambience for an intimate tête-à-tête. Each table was decorated with a long-stemmed red rose in a green glass bottle (evoking the romance of being a castaway on a desert island beach) and the flickering candlelight was reflected in the gleaming metal of the ice buckets and refracted in the ice cubes and streams of bubbles as the popping of corks heralded the start of a wonderful evening.

Meanwhile we had composed a suitably corny poem to (hopefully) raise a smile when the guests returned to their tents. Strangely enough, everyone went to bed early that night!

Guest Feedback
As ever, we will leave the final word on Mombo and Little Mombo in February to the guests who shared this wonderful area with us this month:
- We spent a splendid time in Little Mombo, and we enjoyed a great team!
- Thanks so much for making our 4th visit a treat. We enjoyed the staff very much, especially Lee and Tlamelo. We are grateful for the peace that Little Mombo offers? we go home nourished and with happy hearts.
- Many of our friends will hear about Mombo - the staff and the animals!
- We will be back to this very special place run by very special people!
- The staff were outstanding: polite, thoughtful, helpful. Malinga our guide was amazing and we loved seeing the lion in the tree!
- Just perfect!
- Thanks for an unbelievable, indelible experience!
- The highlight was game drives with a "superguide" - Alex.
- Francis' lion spotting was amazing!
- Brooks was the perfect, sharp-eyed guide; Craig is an A1 chef!
That's all from your Mombo and Little Mombo teams for February: Taps, Noreen, Tlamelo, Pete and Sharon, Craig, Kele, and Nick. See you next month!


Xigera Camp update - Feb 06                Jump to Xigera Camp
As the first rays of pink light stole across the eastern sky, a francolin called and was answered by another, and together they greeted the day that had brought in the month of February at Xigera Camp. This dawn chorus was shattered by a hive of activity that would carry on for the first two weeks of February. February was maintenance month for Xigera and we busied ourselves with building a new cool room, a back-of-house office and renovating our airstrip.

For the remaining half of the month, with guests back in camp, expectations of good game sightings were high. Xigera did not disappoint! We had excellent sightings of the mother leopard and cub very close the vehicle, hunting and a lot of the time just sleeping in a Sausage tree. The afternoon guests were treated to an awesome sighting of the mother leopard being chased across the floodplain by three hyaena; she later returned to a tree where her cub was safely high up in its limbs and there she continued to feed on a young impala that had been killed in the night.

A nomadic pride of lions were often heard calling from around the airstrip but unfortunately managed to elude our efforts to find them and have since moved out of the area. Guests on an afternoon activity were treated to a huge male leopard sunning himself right above a channel where the mokoro travel and got virtually right under the leopard with out him even batting an eyelid!

Birding at Xigera is always excellent and flocks of Wattled Cranes doing mating dances, flocks of seven or eight Slaty Egrets in the shallows of pools in a feeding frenzy catching tadpoles and frogs, as well as curious Pel's Fishing Owls eyeballing passing mokoros were all seen. An elusive migrant, the Eurasian Honey Buzzard was seen for the first time in camp. At the time he was raiding a potter wasps' nest and failed to see a member of staff walking past. The result of the confrontation was a close-up view of the Buzzard as he took off, frightening the daylights out of the member of staff in question. A pair of Long-crested Eagles has been calling from high above the lodge and to watch them dive-bombing each other and bobbing and weaving inches past each other was spectacular to watch.


Tubu Tree Camp update - Feb 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
We had our annual Wilderness AGM at the beginning of the month held at Victoria Falls. It included the staff from camps in Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana and staff from the main office in Johannesburg. It was a great get-together and when each country did a presentation, one realised just how many good Wilderness Safaris camps there are in some of the most beautiful areas of Southern Africa.

Back at our camp in the Delta we still received good rains in February although much less than January. There are hundreds of colourful butterflies at this time of year pollinating all the beautiful wildflowers.

The highlights for us this month were some very good leopard sightings. There are two females with cubs which provided the majority of those sightings. One female (Mopane Ridge female) has two medium-sized cubs of about seven months old, of which one is much bolder and is already used to the presence of the vehicle. The second one is more skittish and will take some careful approaching from the guides before it relaxes, although this will come with time. The mother is a beautiful young female in top condition.

The second female (Boat Station female) was seen with only one cub but it is still very young, estimated to be about eight weeks old. Obviously the cub is still very nervous of the vehicle and the guides will view from a much greater distance so as not to unnerve the cub. This female's territory ranges from around our boat jetty in the east up along the water channel into the north.

A lioness was found near camp with a very small cub, less than three weeks old. The odd thing is that she was seen mating with a male three days later. At first it was thought that it was a different female but whisker patterns accurately identified her as the same female. This is strange behaviour which we have not seen before. The mating went on for several days which seems to indicate that the cub is indeed dead as she would not leave the cub for several days without going back to suckle it. So if the cub is dead it seems a very short time for the female to be mating again. We shall be interested to note further sightings of this female.

Eurasian Golden Oriole, Black Cuckoo, Black Coucal, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, White-headed Vulture, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Grey-hooded Kingfisher, African Harrier Hawk and Fawn Coloured Lark were some of the bird species seen recently. A Martial Eagle was seen perched in a tree next to the road, clutching a freshly killed Rock Monitor. The Rock and Nile/Water Monitors are a favourite prey of the martial eagle. There is a new addition to the Ground Hornbill family that frequent the floodplains and islands around camp. The new chick has been seen feeding with the parents, which is great news as it means they have a successful fledgling.

There have been many snake sightings this month. From the resident 2-ft spotted bush snake in camp (harmless) to the 7-ft snouted cobra out in the bush (not so harmless) to an 8-ft python sunning itself on the airstrip. One very large python was seen swimming effortlessly in the shallow water of the floodplains (estimated at 12-ft). They will often target water birds like Egyptian Goose which they ambush and then constrict before swallowing head first. These large snakes are of great ecological significance as they control populations of rats, squirrels, hares, monkeys, juveniles crocodiles, water monitors and catfish.

Tubu Tree greetings
Anton, Carrie, Moa, Moyo, Salani and the team


Jao Camp update - Feb 06                Jump to Jao Camp
Do we find that our life is changed spiritually after we have gone on a big spending shopping spree or bought that expensive car? If not, do yourself a favour and spend a day or three on the Jao concession and you will understand what genuine spiritual satisfaction has meant for so many visiting us. This is a place where our guests unwind past the point where they are worried about anything. A place so beautiful some said it to be the eighth wonder of the world! Just joking, but it's a beautiful and special place where architecture and nature meet so harmoniously and mixed with the tranquillity of the natural surroundings it is simply paradise.

In this paradise our guests were met by several interesting people (like Fred and Marianne assisted by Chris and Tara as the hosting managers) and were lulled into a deeper wellbeing when massaged by our resident therapist Kgabiso. They were also thoroughly entertained by our very charming executive chef Simon, known to his friends as Tank.

Guests were taken around the area by our very well informed guides: Maipaa is the gentle giant (even being referred to as that actor that played in the Green Mile), David Mopadise as attentive and polite as ever, has eyes like a hawk, Marks has recently returned to us after a stint in mobile safaris, and Victor our head guide for the month did a sterling job with training and field team management. Baby Jost our comedian has been a great help as well taking care of our staff kitchen making sure the staff diets were followed between maintenance and game drives.

Game sightings were reduced this month as we were closed for maintenance: varnishing, spitting and polishing the main lodge area for our busy season coming up. During this period we found that it helped a huge amount for the team spirit amongst all staff at Jao as we had to work as a unit - otherwise we would not have gotten it all done.

The game viewing has been great and we had great predator sightings. The lions were very active close to camp and were seen every three or four days on the floodplains with a fresh red lechwe kill. Our resident leopard "Beauty" and her cub were seen a lot in the beginning of the month when we were actively out searching for them and the plains game has been plentiful except for the zebra and the giraffe that decided that we had too much rain and left the area.

The birding at Jao has seen another level this month, not just great but extraordinary, seeing pelicans which were on a migration route. Slaty Egrets that we believe are around 70 in total - when driving a certain route we found that we might have a breeding site on the concession. The Wattled Cranes have been seen a fair amount on the concession. The endangered Lappet-faced Vultures have been seen on lion kills very often as well. Just mentioning the abundance of these specific species is already a sign that the ecosystem that we are operating in is very healthy and a good pat on the back for the conservation efforts that David and Cathy Kays have made in NG25 - it's hard to believe that this was a hunting concession 7 years ago! An important fact that we tell our guests is that David and Cathy forgo over $500 000 worth of hunting revenue every year so we can operate as a photographic concession and not allow any hunting. It is these efforts that make Wilderness Safaris such a great company as well, in looking after the ecosystems in which they operate.

Looking forward to another great month. We have prepared the camp and the staff have had their quiet time to mentally prepare themselves for the busy season to come. Welcoming everyone to Jao we hope to see you soon!

Freddy Combrinck
Jao Camp

Jao guides help threatened birds
Birdlife Botswana, a conservation organisation affiliated to Birdlife International, has instituted a monitoring project for several bird species which occur in Botswana. Some of these species are habitat specialists, and are restricted to a particular type of environment. Their survival is thus linked to that of their environment. Examples of wetland dependent birds in our area are: Slaty Egret, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Wattled Crane and Rufous-bellied Heron. Some threatened species linked to woodland in our area are: Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard and Martial Eagle.

Currently little accurate information exists concerning population numbers of these species in Botswana. To contribute to increasing the store of knowledge, we log all sightings in concession NG25, and these are then submitted to the project co-ordinator in Maun. Regular data collection enables population trends to be monitored, thus giving early warning of any changes in numbers.

Work on the ground
The nature of our work and the position of our camps within the concession, means that we are able to actually participate in some worthwhile conservation projects. Due to our commitment and close association with Birdlife Botswana (the Jao concession has helped Birdlife Botswana in the past in Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret surveys) we were invited by Birdlife Botswana to attend the 4th international Hornbill conference in South Africa in November 2005, which was an eye opener for us. We learned a lot about Hornbills: population decline in their home ranges in the world, threats both man-made and natural and their conservation. We have family groups of Ground Hornbills that occur in our area and we have recorded at least two active nests. We also learned about their social and nesting behaviour and how to identify the different sexes and age.


Kwetsani update - Feb 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins. . .Not through strength, but through persistence."

February has come and gone, we have started with our maintenance period, just a few short days to get the lodge sparkling again. No thanks to the baboons who visit us daily to see if they can undo what we have spend hours doing!

There is a male and female lion mating just in front of the swimming pool that has caused great amusement to the staff as no one can believe that he could have so much stamina to keep going for 4 straight days. So if all goes well we will have winter babies.

One of the best sightings this month was a 3-4 metre python swimming up the road in front of the vehicle, very relaxed and willing to pose for a picture or two.

The youngster born to one of our resident female leopards is doing well. Climbing trees and jumping all over mom are the ways she spends her days. We have all been very fortunate to get fantastic views of both mom and cub.

With all the rain we had during January and February the Fish Eagles are everywhere. The highest count is 19 individuals in a stretch of water of 100m. Some very confused catfish got caught in a shallow pond and the Fish Eagles were having a banquet - a wonderful photo opportunity.

The lechwe are making their way back onto the Kwetsani floodplains, and bringing with them many young as well.

On the permanent water close to camp Great White Pelicans and Woolly-necked Storks as well as Wattled Cranes have been seen in good numbers, and as soon as the floods reach us we will be able to mokoro from that side.

Valentine's Day crept up on us, but we had a lovely dinner with red chocolates and gold hearts, the weather was very accommodating and only rained after everyone had made it to bed.

For those who were with us over that period, you will be happy to know that all the squirrel babies are growing and starting to run with the adults, causing havoc as usual.

March is looking busy and we can?t wait to reopen the lodge and invite all the new faces to see what we have to offer.

Come and enjoy the Kwetsani magic with us,

Conrad & Kerrie


Jacana update - Feb 06                Jump to Jacana Camp
A water wilderness and adventure wetland is the only way to describe Jacana this February.

We have seen so much rain in the last while that it looks like we are in flood. All the crossings to camp have filled with water, making the drive here both slippery and mind-boggling. Who would have thought that Land Rovers could drive bonnet-depth through water? Wet feet for drivers have become a common affair along with the occasional wet rear end from the water flooding over the front seat!

The water around the camp has risen steadily and is threatening to encroach on the parking area. If it continues at this rate, we will have to start getting boats into the water.

A big plus with the rains is the amount of new growth everywhere. The bush is extremely lush and very green with lots and lots of wild flowers everywhere. The camp has recovered remarkably well after the elephants did their pruning and landscaping a few months ago.

The 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.

Visitors to Jacana were few, but great game viewing was experienced by all. Lots of lion, leopard and cubs, as well as an unusual greater cane rat.

Wattled Cranes are plentiful and can be heard regularly from camp. Big flocks of Open-billed Storks have been spotted resting at the Jao hippo pool during the lazy afternoons, not to mention the Pel's Fishing Owl out on the islands. A couple of guests were very lucky to spot sitatunga antelope while out on mokoro. This is a good sign as we normally start spotting them later when the floods come in.

With the water levels still rising at the end of the month, we have started clearing boat channels and preparing to do transfers to camp on water, rather than on land. We will be monitoring the levels as they might drop again and then we will start driving into camp again.

The Jacana Management Team


Little Vumbura update - Feb 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
Little Vumbura had a wonderful month with a lot of great guest experiences. Below is one of the comments from a guest that stayed here during February:

"We have enjoyed a splendid three days with you. The variety you have to offer makes Little Vumbura a special place, with the contrast between the peace of mokoro with lilies and the drama of driving with big cats. The excitement of game watching has been admirable, complimented by the warm friendliness of the staff and the excellence of the food. No one could have done more to make this experience more pleasurable. Emang's guiding has been first rate and we have enjoyed his company. We thank Rohan, Dardley, Molly and all the team for giving us such a marvellous time." - P&JG, United Kingdom

Although we have had a lot of rain in the Delta this did not affect our game viewing at all. February has been one of the months with spectacular wildlife highlights. Temperatures ranged from highs of 30 to 33°C to minimum temperatures of around 20 to 22°C. Good rains were received and bode well for a healthy ecosystem over the coming dry months.

During February our resident herd of buffalo was seen on several occasions. The herd's numbers approximately 200. Interestingly the presence of the herd attracted a different pride of lions to the area. Aside from the prides that we normally see around the Little Vumbura area of game drive, we encountered two new prides, thought by the guides to have followed the buffalo into the area from some distance away. Their efforts have partly been in vain as although one of the new prides succeeded in killing a buffalo they did not have time to feed on it before the resident pride chased them away. The Little Vumbura Pride won this fight because they had the biggest male of the area with them and the lionesses from the intruder pride gave way.

The predators have taken full advantage of the abundance of prey this month. The Kubu Pride has been located almost every single day of the month while leopard sightings too have been incredibly high. On one occasion, our resident male leopard, "Big Boy" killed a female warthog, too heavy to take up a tree. However, even after such a meal, he killed one of the warthog?s orphaned babies the following day. Cheetah sightings have also been above average for this time of year with the tall grass. Most of the cheetah sightings were around the airstrip; this could be that the cheetah were taking advantage of the open ground.

Elephants, impala, kudu and giraffe - just to mention a few - were also seen on just about every day. Since there is a lot of food for both grazers and browsers they were not moving very far to find food. Jack's Pan is one of the areas in which we conduct our drives and this area has been attracting a lot of game. On one of the drives, we saw about six species of animals all together in one place, including zebra, impala, warthog, tsessebe, elephant and baboons - all within a very confined area.

On the birding side the mokoros had great views of the Pel's Fishing Owl. Most of the guests who went on the mokoros had chances of seeing this rare bird.

Bush regards from all at Little Vumbura.


Vumbura plains update - Feb 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
The floodwaters are on their way! These waters have fallen +-1300km north of here on the Benguela plateau of Angola and are slowly creeping towards the delta. Rumour has it that the majority of the water has fallen on the northern sector of the plateau ultimately reducing the volume and flow of the flood. Presently, due to our high rainfall, the floodplains of the Kwedi Concession are as full as last year?s flood. Consequently when the flood does arrive the waters should just flow right on through the concession, filling fossil beds and pushing further out into the Kalahari sandveld. We wait with bated breath to see if this will be the case.

It is suspected that the pregnant lioness from the Kubu Pride has possibly given birth to her cubs in a well-hidden part of the concession. Generally there is a high mortality rate in a lion's first few weeks up to a year of age, especially areas of high predator densities. We suspect that she has hidden her cubs about five kilometres north-west of Vumbura Plains, an area that holds a large hyaena population. Hyaenas will kill and eat lions of all ages, even adults when their numbers are right, especially when the enemy is injured.

Good news, "Big Red," our formerly dominant male lion, was seen this month, far north close to the veterinary cordon fence. It's good to see that he is still alive after many months of absence.

A large herd of buffalo graced us with their presence this month, frequenting the eco-tone between Jacky's pans and the Mopane woodland. Worth mentioning is the number of cheetah sightings we have had this month. Last month I mentioned that we had seven known individuals that frequent the area. While exploring the northern sector of our concession, however, we sighted a further two males that have not been seen before. Both males were large and were seen moving west along our northern boundary.

Another point for the month to remember for all those birders out there was a sighting of 14 Slaty Egrets, this being the largest flock I have ever seen. I have seen some large congregations of Black Egrets (herons) at some fish traps in the delta but this was a first for me. Pel's Fishing Owl sightings have been more complicated with changing water levels but we have managed to get reasonably good sightings.

Tiger fish have also been caught on a catch-and-release policy this month and we have had fun exploring the deeper channels in search of this sought-after species.

Until next time,
Matthew Copham


DumaTau update - Feb 06               Jump to DumaTau Camp
The Savuti Channel isn't quite full yet, but it's trying hard - the month's incredible 300mm of rain has pushed the water a couple of hundred metres past Mopane Bridge (a record level in over 13 years) and hippos are taking up residence in places that just a few weeks ago were dry roads. The water is flowing into the Channel at a visible rate, and this is purely the result of direct rainfall - what further impact the floodwaters will have when they arrive down the Kwando from Angola remains to be seen. The rising water levels have added greatly to the aesthetic beauty of the area, and the water birds in particular are flourishing. Every morning we watch as more than a thousand egrets make their silent daily commute in the early light from their roosting sites along the river down to the increasingly expansive Zibadianja Lagoon.

Sightings have interesting and varied, with one of the comic highlights of the month being witness to the entire Savuti Pride of 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 with their chosen resting positions. Each time one of them moved - another fell out!

On a smaller - but equally entertaining - note the camp's resident troop of banded mongooses have been denning under the laundry, and eight tiny pups emerged midway through the month to explore their surroundings. Turning up everywhere from the kitchen to the workshop, they have made themselves comfortable with every aspect of camp life and have habituated themselves totally to human presence.

In terms of personnel, we have been sad this month to say goodbye to Ian and Petro, who have left after a very successful year managing at DumaTau. However, we are delighted to welcome Fungi and Sue to the team from Zimbabwe. Their initiation to camp life in Botswana included the unenviable task of attempting to coordinate the re-thatching of the kitchen roof in between storms, but they rose to the challenge and are settled in for the season. Our guides this month have been Oaitse, Cilas and Dennis - together they have provided our guests with phenomenal sightings of the Linyanti's wildlife.


Selinda update - Feb 06               Jump to Selinda Camp
Rain, rain and more rain. We have now had more than 700mm (29in) when our annual average is 600mm (24in) and there are still about six weeks of the wet season to go! Flood warnings have been put out for the Kwando and Zambezi Rivers, so we expect the Selinda Spillway to reach levels not seen since the late '70s and early '80s.

The building team is on site at Selinda and we will be operating at minimum capacity for the month of March. If the weather doesn't create any more delays and problems we hope to be at 80% capacity in April and going full guns by May.

At Zibalianja we are anticipating a very busy March as bookings held at Selinda have been transferred there. Not that we mind - we welcome the prospect of being able to get out into the bush as much as possible.

The finishing touches are being done to Mokoba and Tshwene, and we can't wait to see the look on our first guests' faces when they see where they will be accommodated.

At Motswiri we have been astounded by the floodwater. Four months ahead of schedule there is water in front of the camp again and it continues to push up the channel. Is it possible that we'll witness the Selinda Spillway as a continuous waterway in 2006?

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing away of Chris Mabure. Chris guided at Selinda Camp for the 2005 season and was an instant hit with his guests and colleagues alike. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family - he will be sorely missed.

What we're seeing
The new male lions (now called the Four Beers - Castle, Hansa, Windhoek and. . .Black Label) continue to pop up out of the long grass; the Selinda Pride has been a bit scarce as they are wont to be at this time of year, but a new pride of lionesses and cubs has been seen sporting the scars of battle.

Cheetah: The "Two Boys" are still frequently encountered, and thankfully mostly stick to the short grass or sit on top of termite mounds.

After the brief visit by the Selinda wild dog pack in January, they have once again gone walkabout; a small pack was seen in the vicinity of Motswiri, but due to the length of the grass we couldn't follow them.

Leopard have been very scarce as expected with the height of the vegetation; elephant are once again prevalent with herds still making use of the spillway's headwaters; zebra seem to be everywhere, many with foals in tow; birding is phenomenal with every pan and puddle yielding up another "tick" for the enthusiasts.


South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - Feb 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Conditions have been wonderful this month with warm waters, great viz. and sunny skies. The highlight of this month was definitely an awesome encounter on 'Gogos' with six threadfin mirrorfish a.k.a. pennant trevally. This strikingly beautiful fish is quite curious and the group swam in formation towards us a number of times, turning on each occasion at the last moment to reveal exceptionally long dorsal and anal fins, trailing behind them resembling silver streamers. This fish is uncommon and rarely seen by divers, but have now been spotted twice in the same area, so fingers crossed for future sightings!

Overall we have had a slow season for ragged tooth sharks; seven arrived early in the season and promptly disappeared about a week later. Sodwana didn't fare much better and we have had reports that those at Sodwana have left on their long migration back to the Eastern Cape where they will pup. Hopefully next year will be a better one. We have had one very large and very expectant female raggy this month. She made a surprise appearance on 'Elusive', proving yet again that this is definitely the reef for seeing "big stuff." Blacktail reef shark continue to be a regular feature, with the one at 'Pineapple' particularly interested in divers, and each time we see it, it tends to come in and pass us a few times for closer inspection. Sightings of the raggy and blacktail proved to Glenda that she doesn't actually have a built-in natural shark repellent device as she previously believed!

Our summer friends, the rays, can be seen resting on the sand or "flying" gracefully overhead. Those seen this month include some very large honeycombs, electric rays, sandshark, sharpnose stingrays, eagle rays, blue spotted rays and round ribbontail rays.

There have been a huge number of moray eels on the dives, and on our last dive at 'Coachmans Ledge' we spotted 4 starry morays as well as honeycomb, geometric and blackcheek morays.

The turtle hatchlings continue to make their way down to the ocean each evening and it is incredible to imagine the potential in each tiny hatchling. The season for mothers laying their eggs on the beach is almost over but there are always a few that will continue to lay eggs later than the others and we occasionally still have Leatherback tracks in the morning on our drive out to the launch site. We are still seeing the Green and Loggerhead turtles on our dives, but Hawksbills have not been a regular feature this month.

The small fish are a constant delight. There have been an unusual amount of ghost pipefish seen gently swaying in amongst the seaweed to which they cleverly adapt their body colouration. Ghost pipefish are of the same order as seahorses - one species of fish that we have not found on our reefs, but are constantly on the lookout for. The pineapplefish at 'Aerial' and 'Hang 10' are still with us; amazingly these tiny critters may one day grow to 17cm and eventually move off to deeper darker waters of up to 100m deep.

A number of cobia or prodigal son have been spotted; each time we see these fish the reflex reaction is a quick backward jerk of the head to look upwards for whaleshark that they usually enjoy hitching a lift with. Unfortunately none of the gentle giants have visited this month, but we continue to look upwards in hope that the season is not yet over. March and April should still produce the odd sighting - and last year in March an 8m wonder arrived to delight the divers.

We are looking forward to March and April. Water temperatures should remain a wonderful 26-27°, and viz. average between 15 and 25 metres. Juveniles will be out in force as a result of the summer season of love.
Till then, take care
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Jen
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team


Turtle News from Rocktail Bay - Feb 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
As we have always said, February is the most rewarding time during our turtle season because of all the Leatherback and Loggerhead hatchlings that we are able to watch take the first steps of their lives. There have been many nights through the month where there have been smiles shared, tears shed and 'motherly' bonds made.

On of those special nights was on the 26th, where eight of our lucky guests experienced a nest of over 100 Loggerhead Turtles hatching. This group had already done the entire drive down to Mabibi with not one turtle sighting and were almost back at camp when, rounding the corner of Rocktail's Bay, Mbongeni spotted the tiny tracks of one baby Loggerhead going down to the water. Excitement stirred in the vehicle, and before long, our eight guests were witnessing one of the most amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, right there on Rocktail's beach. They watched and waited until each and every mini-turtle had made it safely down into the ocean. Completely satisfied, they arrived back in camp after 23h00, to drift off into happy turtle-filled dreams.

In February, the season is drawing to a close, with less and less sightings of mother turtles coming up to nest. In comparison to last February where we tagged two new mothers, this year we only managed to tag one new mother during the month, but we saw three previously tagged mothers once again.

We have already seen her twice this season, once in December and once in January, and it is now getting to the stage, because we have seen this Leatherback mother so frequently, that all the staff here at Rocktail know her by name. She is none other than "Bibi" with the tag number BB242. She came up to nest, close to Lala Nek beach at 22H15 on the evening of the 17th of February. The Leech family and Mr and Mrs Tolond, who were on the drive that night, did not even drive fifteen minutes before coming across this gentle giant - what a special experience.

The 3rd of February saw "Mama Ulwandla" return to our beach once again. We saw and tagged this Loggerhead for the first time on the 11th of January, and that is when she was adopted by Craig, Linda, Jess and Ryan O' Flaherty from Cape Town. On her recent return she nested close to Mabibi Point at 23h00, and four lucky guests got to see her successfully lay her eggs.

The last returnee we saw this month has unfortunately not been given a name yet, and is waiting to be adopted. We tagged and micro chipped this Loggerhead for the first time on the 31st of December 2005, making her one of the last turtles that we saw in the year 2005. She came up to nest again on the 9th of February at three o'clock in the morning. The Colucci family braved the 02h00 departure and were justly rewarded with an exclusive sighting of this Loggerhead mother, whose tag number is PP454.

The new mother that graced us with her presence this month was christened "Ngqiba" by the Williams family. She is officially the last mother turtle that we have seen for the season, and she nested on the 20th of February. Mbongeni tagged this beautiful Leatherback on Mabibi beach at midnight, whilst her adopted family looked on. She measured an astounding 1.6m long by 1.25m wide. Congratulations to the Williams family, who definitely chose the right night to go on drive, and witness the last turtle of the season come up and nest.

On the whole, it has been a fantastic turtle season, and we have made many great memories. To date we have seen an incredible 275 Loggerhead Turtle nests, compared to last year's 171 - a total of 104 more nests than last year - well done Loggerheads! 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 we have documented since October, 42 of those were made by previously tagged turtles, which means that 311 nests were made by new mothers, or mothers that we have tagged and micro chipped for the first time this season.

Our turtle adoption programme is still going strong, and we have had fourteen more adoptions for the month of February.

Heather the Loggerhead was adopted by Jean Swart - tag no. PP475.
Simon and Iona Malone adopted Iona the Loggerhead with tag no. NN398.
Lisa Margareta, the Loggerhead NN371 was adopted by Norman and Nell Hardy.
Duncan Macdonald and Pieter Wessels adopted two turtles: one Leatherback turtle who they named Atuin (tag no. NN393) and a Loggerhead turtle who they named Dame Doreen - tag no. is NN394.
Hugh Macdonald adopted Anna the Loggerhead, whose tag no. is PP457.
Gerhard and Evey Koenig adopted Mathilda a Leatherback with tag no. PP184.
Flounder the Loggerhead was adopted by Matt Leech, and her tag no. is PP463.
Ansty the Loggerhead was adopted by Kitty Leech, tag no. PP474.
Alan, Lesley, Lucy, Jack, Evie and Samuel Williams adopted Ngqiba the Leatherback, tag no. NN368.
Mr and Mrs Crosby adopted Jamie the Loggerhead, who bears the tag PP613.
Darryl Bristow and Sue De Groot also adopted two turtles, both Loggerheads, one with the tag no. PP469, who they christened Sea Biscuit and the second they named Leon, tag no. NN602.
And last but not least, Alexandra McCullam adopted Gugu the Loggerhead turtle who bears the tag LL301. When Alexandra adopted Dory the Loggerhead in February 2005 she was the youngest adoptive parent since the start of the project. Well, her title still stands, and she is now the proud mother of not just Dory, but Gugu too - congratulations Alex.
Lastly Nancy Heitel and Brian Malk have retrospectively adopted a total of 30 turtles from the 2003-2004 season as well as the current season! A sincere thank you to both Nancy and Brian.

This makes a total of 61 turtles that have been adopted from the 2005?2006 turtle season. WOW! We would once again like to thank all our adoptive parents who have supported our project over the last four and a half months; it has really been an incredible season.

We are starting to feel a little sad that the season is slowly drawing to a close. Looking on the bright side, the season is not over just yet, and we still have fifteen days of research left, not to mention an entirely new season starting in October this year. We look forward to reporting back to you all on the last days of this season, and summing up all the highlights, facts and figures.

Wishing you all a fantastic first month of a southern hemisphere autumn,
Rocktail Bay staff and turtles


Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - Feb 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
Despite all the rain and the tall grass along with the thick lush vegetation at this time of the year, the month of February has been quite remarkable for game viewing and birding. Here are some of our special sightings:

4 February: Immature Martial Eagle raiding an Egyptian Goose nest and taking a chick.
10 February: Lizard Buzzard repeatedly attacked a squirrel, but no success for the buzzard.
12 February. Swarms of armoured crickets feasting on each other.
13 February: At 5pm a female leopard seen near Mangala along the Luvuvhu. Guests viewed her grooming herself as she posed in a Jackalberry tree for nearly two hours.
13 February: 17 lions seen at the junction of Pafuri Main Road and Sandpad. The pride consisted of adult male and females, sub-adults and young cubs.
15 February: 2 honey badgers seen at Makwadzi pan.

All in all this month we have had 8 separate sightings of leopard and 13 of lion.

Other highlights included a huge herd of about 76 eland. We are still encountering large herds of buffalo throughout the concession (we estimate 7 separate herds) and, while the majority of elephants have moved into neighbouring Zimbabwe, we still managed a handful of sightings of a group of four that roamed over much of the concession. To add to our honey badger sighting we had three separate black-backed jackal sightings in February. Kudu, nyala, bushbuck, waterbuck, warthog, impala, wildebeest, and zebra were sighted regularly throughout the concession.

There have been no fewer than 220 birds recorded this month. We had a new tick with a sighting of a Long-crested Eagle. Other birds seen, to name just a few, were: Lesser Honey Guide, Common (European) Cuckoo, African Finfoot, Three-banded Courser, Eurasian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, African Darter, African Spoonbill, Great Reed Warbler, Groundscraper Thrush, (Eastern) Bearded Scrub Robin.

The weather was warm, averaging a minimum of 22.9ºC and a maximum of 36.1ºC. Rain fell to the tune of 68mm.

Thanks from Pafuri,
Geoff Mullen


Namibia camps
Kulala Newsletter - Feb 06                  Jump to Kulala Wilderness Camp
February started off with rain in all corners of the country meaning that we in the south are not forgotten by the Almighty at all. All possible rivers are flowing this season even, so it is said, those that have not flowed for the past ten years. The desert also has its secrets: apart from the rivers it is mentioned in some circles that even the flowers that have not been seen for almost 30 years have been observed.

Let us see what one of our guides, Lourens Gaseb, had to say about the wonders that the desert is providing this season. . .

"The desert is green; there is water in the pan overlooking the Kulala Wilderness Camp. This made one of my guests ask where our Tourism Office was, because, he said, "This is too green to be a desert!" It was really funny explaining to him and other guys and trying to convince them that this truly is the Namib Desert, while been surrounded by green grasses and pretty flowers. I know it is everybody's perception that the desert is a very hot and dry place with little vegetation and often covered in sand dunes. I have found out this is not always the case. I got stuck in the desert mud on the 10 February this year, and I told my guests not to lose the pictures if they are going to tell the story.

All this and more made me think what the desert really is and this is what I found out. The two principal things used to describe a place to be a desert are firstly, the average rainfall or lack of it and secondly, the average evaporation rate of an area. This place therefore must be a paradise! I have been guiding here for nine months and it's also my first time to see the desert so green with so many animals. This is also the time for most animals to plan the arrivals of the newborn to coincide with the rains, then there's plenty to eat and drink.

The desert is quiet, peaceful and green. I can truly say I found peace of mind here."


Doro Nawas Newsletter - Feb 06                  Jump to Doro Nawas Camp
February started off with hot and very humid days. The cloud build-up gave us hope for rain but then the usual afternoon winds came up and blew the clouds away. Towards the middle of the month we had one rainy night and day. Since then the temperatures have dropped and it has been a whole lot cooler with constant cloud cover and every now and again we see a few rays of sunshine. The afternoon wind has also not blown for a few days.

Our guides have been driving long distances with the guests to find the local elephants but have struggled with only a few sightings of bulls. This is because most of the elephants have trekked into the mountains. It seems the grass is greener there. A herd of springbok continues to graze at the camp in the late afternoon and on the drives guests have seen hyaena, gemsbok, ostrich and the usual antelope that frequent the plains and the wooded fringe.

With the rainy weather a lot of moths have surfaced and at night they cover the walls around any source of light they can find. Mysteriously when the sun rises they seem to disappear only to return at night in search of light again.

All in all it has been a busy February and we look forward to March to welcome more guests to our beautiful camp.


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