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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

January 2006

This Month:
• Monthly update from Linkwasha Camp in Zimbabwe.
Kwando Safaris game reports for January 2006.

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 Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jack's Camp in Botswana.

Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.
• Update from The Desert Rhino and Elephant Expedition safari in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Kulala in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Doro Nawas Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Damaraland Camp in Namibia.


Zimbabwe Camps
Linkwasha update - Jan 06               Jump to Linkwasha Camp

January started off very well with some clouds rolling in and bringing us some cool and rainy weather that had lasted for most of the month. It has most probably been the wettest season Hwange has had in a long, long time and is very welcome after the dry season that we had experienced over 2005. Towards the end of the month things dried out a bit and we had some sun. For this month we received 212.5mm of rain and to date for the season we have had 638.5mm which is more than 50% of our average annual rainfall. Temperatures have been very moderate and only on the odd occasion have gone up to 35°C. Most days have been cooled down by the rain and have made for very comfortable evenings.

VEGETATION AND SURROUNDINGS
The grass out on the plains and in the Teak forest has grown so fast in the space of a month. In some areas it has become more difficult to spot wildlife due to tall grass but in most areas the plains game is keeping the grass mowed pretty well. There has been a burst of flowers on the plains and in the grasslands; one of the more beautiful is Zimbabwe's national flower - the Flame Lily (Gloriosa superba). The Wild Sweetpeas and roadside Pimpernells have also brought pretty colours out there and dot the green pastures with bright orange and purple. The waterholes have gained so much water, in fact most of them are almost 100% full and as a result there are some very happy hippos among the resident pod. We have all agreed that this place is finally living up to its name ('Linkwasha' means 'a swampy place'). Most depressions are filled with water and are alive at night with crickets and Bubbling Casina frogs.

WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS
Green grass out on the open plains is in abundance and so is the game as they concentrate on the good grazing! Eland, sable, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, bat-eared foxes... the list of what can be seen right here in front of camp goes on and on. We have had so much fun and have had some awesome sightings.

As usual Ngamo Plains has been the hot spot in terms of variety and the savannah cats. We have also been surprised at the amount of elephant we have seen during the month, since they are a rare sighting at this time of the year but to our surprise we have had some very good sightings and sometimes have even seen big herds of up to 50 animals in one place.

This month has also had some surprises for us as we were lucky to have the African wild dogs coming through the camp on the 15th. There were nine dogs in the pack and were chasing some impala and waterbuck out on the plain in front of camp.

The lions have kept us entertained as the three different prides here have been in and around the camp on several occasions, and in some cases we did not even have to go further than one kilometre from camp to see these beautiful cats! It has been an all-round experience watching them sleep and hunt and just doing what they do best. A young elephant had died close to camp and at first we found it with one of our local prides of lion. A female and her three sub-adult male cubs fed from it for several days. We had debated whether they had killed the elephant at first but then later when they had their fill and moved on we were able to determine that the elephant had died of natural causes and the lions were just scavenging from the carcass.

It was interesting to see what happened when our 'Ngamo Boys', the four dominant males in the area, came across them. When they finally did catch up with them they drove them away, but luckily no blood was shed. We think that the younger males simply knew that some things are better left alone and thought it be better to move on. We were also very excited to find a lone lioness and her cub at Ngamo Plains, as it is the first cub for the year and hopefully the cub will have a good chance of surviving.

As far as the other cats are concerned leopard sightings have been very rare but have been made up for some fantastic cheetah sightings!

With fewer guests this month we have not been out in the field as much as we normally would when we are hosting guests here, but sightings still have been excellent, with a total of 42 different mammal species.

The camp has undergone the usual 'facelift' that we give it in the quieter times of the year and we have been able to do a lot of maintenance to keep things looking great.

BIRDS AND BIRDING
Birding here at Linkwasha is still excellent with all the different waterbirds and migrants. Some of the new sightings that we have added to our list are the beautiful Pygmy Geese seen close to camp and on a few occasions at Scott's Pan. We have also seen Fulvous Ducks at Ngamo. Grey Crowned Cranes are nesting in the marshy areas. Carmine and European Bee-eaters are filling the skies and at dusk roost in some of the dead Leadwood trees, making it look more like a Christmas tree with their bright colours. Our total bird count for this month is 135 species.

GUEST COMMENTS
What an incredible and memorable experience, all the glory of African nature and the cheerful competent care of the guides, staff and the nourishment of delicious, abundant food. - PS, California, USA

A once-in-a-lifetime experience, the abundance of wildlife, the knowledge of the guides and the hospitality of the staff/management leave an unforgettable memory. - S&JM, California, USA

Thanks - Thanks - Thanks! What a fabulous birthday I spent here - and thanks for the delicious cake! - LK, New York, USA

Great time - wonderful staff! - KC, Kansas, USA

We look forward to telling you all more about our experiences here at Linkwasha in our newsletter next month.
Until then, best regards,
The Linkwasha team

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Jan 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.

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Okavango Flood update - Jan 06
There has been heavy rainfall in some parts of northern Botswana over January so it will be an interesting season.  The chart below shows data as of January 30, 2006.  Check back next month for the February update.

Okavango flood chart - January 30, 2006

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Mombo Camp update - Jan 06               Jump to Mombo Camp
The timeless beauty and wonderfully relaxed pace of life at Mombo makes it very easy to forget what day or date it is, and currently you could be forgiven for being mistaken as to the month, too. The view from Mombo is stunning - incredibly lush floodplains with buffalo wading in deep water and gorging themselves on the vegetation. It looks very much like an Okavango winter scene - there is so much water and the greenery is so prolific, that it seems as though the flood has already arrived. All this water however is due to the recent rains - we are still probably two months from the first floodwaters arriving.

The large surface area of water is generating its own microclimate and reducing evapo-transpiration, so it is very likely that much of this water will remain here into winter - and the floodwaters will come in on top of already full water tables - so perhaps we will have a flood of historic proportions, but hopefully epic beauty.

Green remains the dominant colour in the landscape, with flaming sunsets contributing orange and copper tones. Nature's palette is further enriched with the pink of the cat's tail flowers, and the russet and white fur of the rapidly growing impala lambs. The greatest impact of the rains has been explosive plant growth, and some smaller animals are most easily spotted by the waves of grass moving around them as they go about their business. Luckily for the warthogs they can keep sight of each other following the erect tail tips above the grass.

Suzi's Duckpond is now not a pond but a sea of grass, green waves running before the breeze to break against the iconic, towering umbrella thorn trees... Adrift in this sea are hundreds of zebras, their white stripes blushing pink in the dawn light, and again at the going down of the sun. Smaller groups of wildebeest weave between the zebra, adding to the inimitable tapestry of life that is stitched together daily at Mombo.

In total throughout January we have had 208mm of rainfall at Mombo, or about 8½ inches. At least some rain was experienced on 15 days in the month. Much of this rainfall has taken place at night, often just after sunset as temperatures dip slightly. We've all become experts at predicting these brief downpours by studying the pink and red bars of cloud as the sun sets - particularly on nights when we have planned an outdoor boma dinner under the stars!

The rainfall is often preceded by strong breezes, which make for delightfully cool evenings. With Mombo's unique location at the north-western tip of Chief's Island, on the variable boundary between the dry and wet habitats that make up the Okavango Delta, we often find ourselves in a rain shadow with storms taking place to the east and west of Mombo, and being pushed down each side of Chief's Island by the wind.

All of which means that we get to watch some spectacular electric storms taking place across the floodplains as we eat dinner, with the very brightest bolts lighting up the scene in a brilliant white light, revealing startled zebra and buffalo in a monochrome moment.

The second half of the month has been noticeably drier, although with some cloudy, breezy days. Average temperatures have been rising steadily, and the more familiar Botswana blue skies have been much more in evidence. Less cloud cover means starry nights with the celestial fairy-lights replacing the Christmas decorations we reluctantly took down in early January.

Many more days of bright sunshine than last month have seen temperatures begin their precipitous climb towards the heights of summer. Average nighttime temperatures in January were 22°C (74°F) while daytime temperatures averaged 28°C (86°F).

Leopards
The leopard we know best, Logadima, has again effortlessly stolen our hearts. It seems that she was not happy getting her feet wet, so she spent several days in the trees around Mombo. On one occasion she killed a young warthog and lodged it in the fork of an acacia tree above the walkway. Possibly she had moved closer to Camp again as she is being pressurised by her own mother, the Tortillis female, whose territory includes Mombo. This pressure may be due to Logadima coming into heat, ready to mate for the first time. We have eagerly followed Logadima's progress since she was only a few days old, and to see her having her own cub would complete a wonderful circle of life.

Wild Dogs
January also presented us with a sad mystery: our wild dog pack, which had managed to get a paw in the door as it were, has again been diminished. Tragically this time it is the adult female who has disappeared. She was the alpha female and the best hope for this pack. We can't know for certain that she is dead but with still more nomadic lions moving into Mombo - an area which exerts a compelling, magnetic pull on these big cats - the odds against the dogs are long indeed.

Magical Mombo Moments
Many of the best moments this month involved some of the species that are sometimes overlooked, whether the chance to siesta while watching weaver birds build their remarkable nests at the end of swaying acacia branches, or looking down on grazing hippos from the walkway after dinner.

The magic is magnified of course when different animal species interact. In this last week guests on game drives from Mombo had the immense privilege of being present at the birth of two zebra foals. An incredible experience to watch as a young foal gradually emerged into the bright summer sunlight, and stumbled around for a few minutes as it gradually figured out just what its legs were for, and took its first breaths of pure Botswana air.

At the same time, its eyes would have been overwhelmed by an immense array of colours and shapes. The first task for those eyes, more important even than trying to spot the flat tawny heads of lions in the long grass, was to imprint its mother's unique pattern of stripes and shadow-stripes, so that it would not lose her in the herd.

Young zebras are able to run alongside their mothers within minutes, but one young foal was still finding his feet when he faced a bizarre problem - a huge herd of buffalo marching straight towards him! Undaunted by this sea of horns and hooves, the mother zebra stood her ground, standing over her wide-eyed foal. The bovine tidal wave did not waver, did not change course, but simply parted like the Red Sea to move around the newly born zebra, sheltered beneath his mother, and surge on past them.

Sundowner drinks in the bush are of course a sacred safari ritual, but sometimes even rituals can be disturbed. One group of guests were enjoying the never-ending parade of impala and zebra when suddenly the impalas began sprinting, harsh abrupt alarm calls cutting through the still evening air - and just behind the slowest impalas, the flickering, snapping forms of wild dogs - an impala's worst nightmare!

The dogs were unsuccessful and peace slowly returned to the evening vista. A termite mound at the far side of the pan proved to be a male rhino, slowly making his way across the clearing. All eyes were on this prehistoric-looking beast when the commotion began again on the far side of the pan - the dogs were making a second attempt to secure a meal before nightfall Only this time they were foiled by an unexpected opponent, as the zebras rounded on them and the pursuers became the pursued as the angry "tiger horses" chased them away.

Camp and Guest Experience
Beautifully clean after all the recent rains, Mombo is sparkling in the summer sunshine - bedecked in silver jewellery in the mornings as the dew drops in the grass; dripping with rubies in the evening light. Every evening there are a few priceless moments of truly golden light and it is then that Mombo seems to come alive, to fully merge into its environment not as a manmade structure but an organic entity, a living breathing creature perfectly at one with its surroundings. The Leadwood and Palm tree trunks which are an integral part of the structure of the Camp seem to hum with energy, buzzing with stories of more amazing bush experiences, told nightly around the campfire.

New Year's Eve was a worthy successor to the spectacular Mombo celebrations of previous years. The centrepiece of the event (and New Year's Eve is always an event here!) was a carved African wooden bowl filled with ice - and perhaps a bottle of champagne or two. But the popping of corks to welcome in what will surely be another wonderful year in this African paradise could not compete with the jubilant frog chorus in their nightly celebration of the watery wonderland created by the rains.

And as if being at Mombo wasn't already enough of a buzz, we have just installed an espresso machine to produce perfect lattes and cappuccinos, and fire you up for that early morning game drive - a dawn caffeine fix to complement your game fix as you set off to explore one of Africa's prime wilderness areas, the "vente double fun" of game drives - definitely not a decaffeinated animal viewing experience!

That's all from your Mombo and Little Mombo teams for January: Brandon & Debs, Tlamelo, Steve, Thompson, Lee, Jene, Buang, Noreen and Nick. See you next month!

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Tubu Tree Camp update - Jan 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
January has been a quiet month, so as a result the guides have not been out every day. This gave us a chance to catch up on camp maintenance which is not possible when we have guests in camp, especially the main area and the guests' tents.

The heavy rain has continued in January and the water table is so high that when the floodwaters arrive it is expected that we are going to have a very high flood in 2006. Already there is a lot of water in the floodplains and some of the road crossings are as deep as the bonnet of the Land Rover. In the month of January we received over 320mm of rain, accompanied by fantastic thunderstorms with spectacular lightshows. An average rainfall for the rainy season (November to March) in this area would be 500mm, so far we have had about 550mm and it is only the end of January!

The warm, humid conditions have provided ideal situations for many species of fungi. Specimens have appeared in a range of colours ranging from luminous orange to browns, yellows and even lime greens; and varying shapes, moulds in fan shapes, capped stalks, finger and coral structures.

On the wildlife front three white rhino were seen on our western boundary at the beginning of the month, two adults and one calf. They were well hidden in a remote, thickly vegetated area and so were not often seen. However the anti-poaching units and rhino monitoring team wanted to confirm their identity and sex the calf. This calf was seen last when it was a newborn on Chief's Island about 15 months ago. They located the rhinos after some great tracking and received a nice surprise when they found that the trio had joined up with two other females (seen in our concession back in September). All five were seen grazing together but eventually wandered into a neighbouring concession and out of our area for the time being. We hope they will eventually increase their home range to include Tubu.

Several breeding herds of elephant have moved into the area recently, some very small calves are with them - barely visible above the tall grass. These relaxed herds have provided some great viewing for guests.

There is a new young male leopard staking his claim in the area which we saw several times in January. Initially he was a little wary of the vehicle, but is slowly relaxing as we get to see him more often. Young males face a big challenge when they leave their natal area as they have to tiptoe between established males' territories until they are confident enough to challenge a male or find a suitable territory which they can make their own.

Another interesting sighting was that of an aardwolf seen at the airstrip. This shy nocturnal member of the hyaena family is not often seen and has a very specialised diet, consisting mainly of termites. A Denham's (previously Stanley's) Bustard was seen on the Tubu floodplains, a much smaller relative of the more commonly seen Kori Bustard.

Good hippo sightings are guaranteed with the many pools holding water due to good rains, these large herbivores are always popular with guests and their throaty calls are one of the classic sounds of Africa. We even had a hippo wander through camp one evening past rooms 4-6 as far as the curio shop, where he turned and headed back to the plains.

There is a female wildebeest grazing in the area of Tubu Camp with two calves! One calf is slightly bigger than the other and we think they are not twins but that the mother of one calf died. It is unusual for a mother to adopt the young of another female, especially when she still has a calf of her own, but she suckles both of them and they seem to be quite a contented trio. These three are often seen with our resident male with the half-tail, but interestingly not in the company of other females.

Tubu Greetings!
Anton, Carrie, Moa and the Tubu team.

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Jao Camp update - Jan 06                Jump to Jao Camp
The New Year in northern Botswana is a time of change! As far as weather is concerned Botswana has been getting huge amounts of rain especially in the Ngamiland area and this leaves us hoping that we are going to have a bumper flood that will coincide with a bumper year of guests.

The game has been in huge abundance. We have so many red lechwe spread around the flood plains with wildebeest and zebra drizzled in between. No signs of any elephant this month largely because of the rain leading them to more isolated places where the rainwater has collected in natural pans. The same goes for the giraffe as the water is pushing them off to the west of the concession where it is much drier.

The lions have been very active with two females hanging around with our two resident males. They have been mating on and off, with access to the females completely hogged by one of the males. This group has been resident on the Jao floodplain not far from the camp for the last three weeks.

We have also been lucky enough to have regular sightings of our resident female leopard ("Beauty") and her cub who have occupied the area around our nearby airstrip. On three occasions we enjoyed watching the leopards feeding on kills, while the lions kept us entertained with sightings of them feeding on lechwe and zebra.

Other predators have remained hidden in the long grass and we had only occasional sightings of civet, African wildcat and genets. Predatory reptiles on the other hand have been seen regularly, with sightings of huge crocodiles, water monitors and assorted snakes excited all lucky enough to see them. A brown snake eagle took advantage as well and we had several sightings of this brown raptor with its snake prey.

Our birdlife has begun to really blossom this month and I cannot wait to see what the next month is going to have in store for us. On the raptor front we have seen plenty of eagles and also enjoyed sightings of Black Kites catching frogs. The rainwater has resulted in perfect habitat for numerous other species and Saddle-billed, Open-billed and Yellow-billed Storks, and Black and Slaty Egrets and Herons of all descriptions dot the floodplains at present. The Red-winged Pratincoles gathered in huge flocks, landing and taking off with a lot of noise, while large flocks of Open-billed Storks bunched up in trees until the branches almost snapped under their weight.

From a weather perspective we received 180mm of rain over January. This rainfall kept temperatures moderate and our average daytime temperature for the month was only 24°C. Daytime temperatures were between 20 and 31°C. The high rainfall for the month (with more to come in February and March) leaves us hopeful of a substantial flood this year once the waters from the Angolan highlands penetrate the Delta.

May all that read this newsletter be inspired to do something new this year and maybe we will see you at the jewel of the Okavango Delta soon!

Regards,

Freddy Combrinck
Jao Camp

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Kwetsani update - Jan 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
Terrific start to a great year ahead! We have received rainfall in January totalling almost our annual amount, approximately 300mm (12.5 inches). Only 4 or 5 days in the month have been rainless. Green is definitely the colour all around and the bush has really grown vigorously, the grass is so tall that we joke that even the giraffe can hide away. The temperatures have been much cooler than usual for this time of the year (daytime temperatures only reaching the low 30s, while evenings sat around the low 20s), but conditions were quite humid. Most days have presented us with the most spectacular sunsets and sunrises - a great way to start and end the day. We had great light shows from the huge thunderstorms which are also sometimes really frighteningly loud.

The coalition of three male lions have really settled down well in the Kwetsani and Jao floodplains and have been accepted by the two resident lionesses, with all five moving around the territory together. They were seen killing two baby warthogs close to the staff village and seem to be well-fed and in good condition. One exception to this is the skinny male who has really tried to keep up with the rest of them but is a skeleton of his former self. It has been really difficult to see what is happening to him and to not be able to do anything to help but we have to realise that nature takes its course. For the time being he is surviving. The pride killed a young zebra in the middle of the plains, but for the big male it was too big a task to move it into the shade and he just carried on feasting with the others.

Inevitably the males did not show their loyalty to the lionesses when two ragged, tailless females moved into the area for a short while, and they immediately transferred their attention to the new arrivals and started mating on the second day. The resident lionesses did not like this and forced them out of the area and then lured the male away with yet another mating period.

As suspected one of our leopard females does have a young one. It was sighted for the first time for about a 15-second fleeting glimpse. Since then we have been able to see both of them more and more. The mother and cub were seen in a huge Sycamore Fig on their first climbing expedition to go and feast on the large bushbuck that had already been hoisted by the female. They are far more relaxed and can be viewed and even photographed simply just doing what mothers and cubs do and this has been absolutely fantastic.

There has been good zebra, blue wildebeest, tsessebe and very large herds of red lechwe on the floodplains. Our favourite local warthog, now with only 4 piglets instead of the 6 we first saw her with, is really enjoying the water puddles and doesn't have to search too far for a bath.

Many of the water birds have started to move into the area and there have been a few sightings of Pelicans, Woolly-necked Storks, Open-billed Storks, Wattled Cranes and the Slaty Egrets are back. The African Rock Python has not selected the termite mound as her home but we have seen her around a few times.

The birthday present was not so easy to find, so after a long mokoro ride and a full day out with a picnic, there they stood with their long necks just blending into the environment. Yes, a whole herd of giraffe, unfortunately not 50 but we all breathed a satisfied sigh as we celebrated this magnificent sight.

Regards from Kwetsani rain gauge,
The Kwetsani Team

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Duba Plains update - Jan 06               Jump to Duba Plains Camp
Well, they say that 85% of Botswana is desert but one could be forgiven for disagreeing, since the middle of December we've had a huge amount of rain. Actually as I write we've had our annual average rainfall and we're only half-way through the rainy season! The floodplain in front of camp, normally bone-dry at this time of year is covered with a layer of rainwater knee deep. If the rain continues at this pace, the surface water won't evaporate which means that when the flood arrives, it will push in much more quickly. It's likely that this year's flood will be similar to that of 2004 where Duba experienced a large influx of water and just driving around the concession became an adventure in itself! Time will tell.

The concession is currently looking wonderfully lush with beds of yellow Devils Thorn matted between the Couch Grass. The beautiful Flame lily is in abundance after the rains and a few grasses have risen to a great height, though we?re fortunate in that our dominant grass, the Couch Grass, does not have a tall inflorescence and therefore game here is still easy to spot. In the camp, foundations have been laid for our new star-deck which will enable us to have a permanent year-round fireplace where the day's adventures can be told and relived.

General game sightings have been excellent. We are usually deprived of our elephant herds during the rainy season as they head north and east to feed in the Mopane woodlands. This month however, we've had great sightings of two breeding herds and elephant bulls, all more surprising given the amount of rain. While we have no Mopane here, there is plenty of other food available for them including an abundance of Wild Cucumber, Sickle Bush that is now in leaf, and lush grass.

Pangolin sightings are becoming a Duba speciality and we saw two this month. Chief found a large adult north of Baobab Island walking towards a bush. It was amazingly relaxed with us, lying flat on the ground instead of twisting into a tight ball as they normally do. Lebo found the next a few days later near to Shade Pan. It was his first-ever sighting and enjoyed by everyone.

Three aardwolf dens have now been located at Sausage Point (2 adults), Buffalo Point (2 adults and 4 pups) and Lion Pan (2 adults and 3 pups). The dens are located in areas that contain large nests of harvester termites. We found one den whilst having our morning coffee break when a curious pup popped his head out of a hole followed by two others. They sniffed in our direction and sat down unperturbed by our close proximity.

On the 11th, we saw a female leopard and her cub hiding in a Woolly Caperbush at Python Island. Both mother and cub were very nervous and quickly disappeared further into the island. We've noticed that these rare leopard sightings occur in long grass or bushes rather than trees as is common in other areas. Perhaps this is due to the paucity of prey species in the woodland areas and the leopards are having to adapt hunting strategies to include plains game such as tsessebe, warthog or even lechwe.

During December and early January we've been able to access the eastern and northern part of our concession. One afternoon we found a herd of 20+ sable antelope grazing and browsing near the Vumbura road. The dominant male had a magnificent black coat and horns that curved majestically back. We also found seven spotted hyaena feeding on a young tsessebe. Either the tsessebe was killed by cheetah which was chased off by the hyaena or that the hyaena themselves actually made the kill, as no other predator could be found. Giraffe, zebra and impala sightings also add to the enjoyment of this area.

The buffalo herd is prospering with the heavy rain as nutritious Couch Grass builds condition making it easier to fend off lion attacks. The calving season has started however, providing the lions with easier prey. Given the need of the herd to keep moving as they feed, any pregnant female therefore runs the risk of being left behind by the herd when giving birth. If lions are close by, the mother can either abandon her newborn calf or stay with it and run the risk of becoming prey herself. This year however, we have seen two instances where the buffalo have grouped around a female giving birth, another tactic in this relentless battle.

Tsaro Pride sightings continue to dominate our lion viewing and we're excited to report cubs with the pride, one of four months and one of two months. Cub mortality in the Tsaro Pride remains high and two siblings to the eldest cub were killed in December when the buffalo herd stampeded through a Kalahari Star-Apple bush in which the cubs were hiding. 'Milky-Eye' was seen mating with one of the 'Duba Boys' near Mokolwane Island and in total four lionesses are currently lactating, which suggests that more cubs are still to be introduced into the pride. This is a similar situation to 2004 when the pride produced a total of 23 cubs early in the year. Sadly all died; one major factor being the height of the flood - in other words, those cubs that were not prepared to cross the channels towards the buffalo herd were abandoned.

We witnessed five kills by the pride in January after three in December. One was a buffalo calf that was taken before it could walk. Another two adult females were heavily pregnant and therefore compromised in their ability to outmanoeuvre the lions. One adult bull was bought down near Baobab Island in a classic hunt that had all the ingredients, with lions fanning out in formation and stalking the herd. One female then ran into the herd to disperse them whilst another two jumped on the back of the bull. The herd then turned and charged the attacking lions allowing the bull to struggle to its feet but not before the remaining five lionesses chased the herd away and bought the bull back down. There was a brief stand-off before the herd then moved away allowing the lionesses to feed. Unusually, the 'Duba Boys' were not in the vicinity and the lionesses were able to feed well. One of the females then went to fetch the eldest cub that was hiding in a nearby Tsaro Palm island.

The Skimmer Pride has been seen less frequently the last two months as the Tsaro Pride have kept the buffalo largely within their own territory. This they do by advancing on the herd when it looks like crossing the Molapo channel to the Paradise area and Skimmer Pride territory. The Skimmer Pride have responded by pushing further into Tsaro Pride territory as they search for food and on one occasion were spotted at Mokolwane Island. This infringement increases the likelihood of intra-pride fights though with the Tsaro Pride preoccupied with cubs, the Skimmer Pride has remained largely unchallenged. At the last count the pride consists of one adult male, four adult females, three sub-adult females and five sub-adult males.

A real New Year bonus occurred when we found the two remaining 'Pantry females' feeding on a buffalo carcass with the 'Duba Boys' near to the airstrip. Incidentally, the Tsaro Pride was less than 1km away feeding on another kill. The 'Pantry females' looked in good shape and still keep together with the four-year-old male. This is only the second confirmed sighting of the females in the last year.

Finally, we are delighted to announce that Dereck and Beverly Joubert's new film "Relentless Enemies" was broadcast for the first time on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S.A. on January 29th 2006. Beverly said: "Our latest film... covers some of the most extreme and intense lion behaviour we have ever seen. Duba Plains is a Wilderness Safaris area and one of the most remote and wild places we have worked in. It is also one of the most spectacularly beautiful I know." (If you wish to order a copy of the DVD and book due for release soon, please contact Lorna. e-mail: lornagib@absamail.co.za)

What more can we say! Come and visit us soon...

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Little Vumbura - Jan 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
January 2006 will remain in the hearts and minds of all those who work in the eastern half of the Kwedi concession. Little Vumbura, Vumbura Plains North and South, and our training camp, Kaparota, were all booked out for over 2 weeks by a German film company making a series, "Traumschiff Botswana", which translates as "Dreamboat Botswana".

Every manager, guide, and junior staff member was involved in many ways, working from early morning until late at night. The whole project was nearly delayed after the main equipment truck got stuck in a deep crossing coming into the concession. But the Kwedi boys got stuck into the mud with tractor, spades, high lift jacks and all - rescuing the vehicle after about 36 hours. From then on, things ran really smoothly. The rain stayed away during the day to allow the filming to get done. They filmed on location at Little Vumbura, Old Vumbura, Vumbura Plains, out in the bush, as well as at a specially built "bushman" village. Filming ended on the 28th of January and after a huge celebration party, the whole crew spent two days enjoying the bush as "ordinary" guests.

On the 31st January, every manager, guide and vehicle in the concession met at the airstrip to say farewell. Hugs and tears flowed like the Okavango River! After over two weeks (the average guest stay is 3-4 nights) of intensive work and late evenings, the most amazing bonds had been formed between us all. To our very special friends who stayed at Little Vumbura: Christian, Manwell, Steffi, Rudiger, Oela, Inga, Gabriella, Margit and Eda - we will never forget you, and we know that this journey has changed your lives.

Christian, in his departing speech, summed up the spirit of the Kwedi Team, "For every question or demand they had, the answer was always - No problem, we'll make a plan!"

To the whole Kwedi Team (Little Vumbura, Vumbura Plains and Kaparota), "Thank you, well done, and don?t ever forget!"

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Kings Pool update - Jan 06               Jump to Kings Pool Camp
January has produced some wonderful sightings even with the above average rainfall and the bush being so lush. Probably the top sighting of the month was a hippo that died (cause of death disputed) and was fed on over a four- to five-day period by lions. A small lion pride, consisting of two females and a sub-adult male, were found at the carcass and starting to feed around the head area. They managed to stay there undisturbed for a day before the two dominant males in the area, known as the "Chobe Boys", turned up. Judging by the fresh scratch wounds on the faces of the two males, the females didn't relinquish the carcass without some major resistance. The sub-adult male was nowhere to be seen, which is normal; when the big males show up, they tend to assert their authority on the younger members of their species. The hippo died close to the Linyanti River which is also the boundary between Botswana and Namibia and this is where things got a bit interesting. On the Botswana side of the river we had the "Chobe boys" and on the Namibian side there were the "Border boys" which consists of six male lions who are entering into their prime years. There was a lot of speculation as to what might happen if the Border boys crossed the river to attempt a take-over of the carcass but that is all that happened - speculation. The Border boys don't seem to have the confidence yet to take on the dominant males but their time will come and when it does I am sure they will reign over their territory for quite some time.

The elephants of the Linyanti are obviously not at the numbers that they are in the dry season; however they have done us proud and given our guests some really enjoyable moments. Guests have watched them while having sundowner drinks and at other times observed them bathing and playing in river.

Leopard sightings have been on the quiet side this month not because they are not around but because of the height of the grass. Signs of them have been seen regularly but only now and then have they been found. The best of which was when fresh tracks were spotted on an early morning game drive and followed until they went off the road and disappeared. The guide moved a little further up the road to see if the tracks returned onto the road but they did not. It was then decided to backtrack a bit and when the guide saw fresh leopard tracks over her tyre tracks, she knew they were only minutes old. The chase was on! About 30 metres off the road the female leopard was spotted, and followed, she appeared to be looking for something. After a short distance everyone discovered what the leopard was looking for and that was her very young cub hiding in an old fallen-down tree.

Kings Pool has been fortunate to have a male cheetah spending some time on the floodplain where our airstrip is situated giving us some great sightings. We had new guests arrive at the airstrip and go immediately to have a look at the cheetah and even watched as it attempted to catch a young warthog without success. This male cheetah had an injury to his back right leg, which is probably the reason for being unsuccessful in his attempt on the warthog, and we noticed that his physical condition was not great. Cheetah as a species have evolved for speed and in so doing have lost other cat traits like great strength, so if its mobility is affected then it chances of survival are limited. I am pleased to say that this male cheetah was again seen a couple of weeks later proving those of us who predicted that he wouldn't last even a few more days wrong.

That is it from the Kings Pool team.

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DumaTau update - Jan 06               Jump to DumaTau Camp
As predicted, January has seen the continuation of a very wet summer in the Linyanti. At the end of the month, our seasonal rainfall total stands at an impressive 465mm, with February yet to come and storm clouds rolling in every afternoon. Whilst all this precipitation has resulted in one or two soggy game drives, it certainly hasn?t prevented us from experiencing another fantastic month of game viewing, and the area has never looked more stunning. Besides, as one guest so elegantly put it, "you can predict the climate; the weather you accept!"

The water level of the Zibadiandja Lagoon system has been creeping steadily higher, prompting one or two optimistic observers to speculate as to the possibility of the Savuti Channel flowing again! Whilst this remains a distinctly remote possibility, the channel has in fact been filled - but by a super-abundance of grasses, which shot up midway through the month. The translucent inflorescences of Crowfoot and Finger Grass are a delight for photographers in the early light. With the grasses exceeding bonnet-height, our guides frequently return from their drives with their vehicle radiators converted into veritable herbariums - the thousands of seeds indicative of the phenomenal productivity of the Linyanti at this time of year. Anyone who visited in October wouldn't recognise the area now!

The high grasses have not, however, prevented some great sightings of the predators of the Linyanti. The guides have recorded more than 30 lion sightings this month, in addition to observing at least six different leopard, three packs of wild dog and - excitingly - two unknown young male cheetah, in addition to the better-known resident individuals.

One group of guests was lucky enough, on a single game drive, to see a pair of mating lions, wild dog, a leopard, and cheetah killing and devouring an impala! Such can be the frenzied state of activity in this area that we are fortunate enough to call home.

However, a safari is not simply about the top of the food chain, and we continue to be as delighted to watch all of the intricate players in the ecosystem. From the Crested Barbets nesting outside the kitchen, to the terrapins swimming laps in the puddles and the dung-beetles diligently working away to clean up after the elephants - each guest leaves DumaTau with his or her own highlight.

In addition to the vehicle-based game drives, at DumaTau we are lucky in having access to the lagoon on our trusty boat, and many guests have had rewarding and intimate experiences with pods of hippo - ever-indignant of the perceived invasion of their space - as well as the crocodiles and abundant birdlife found in the riverine habitat. On several occasions, we have watched from the boat as herds of elephant cross the river - swimming, playing, washing and aiding the calves to safety on the far bank. We are lucky in that, unusually, many of the elephants have remained in the area throughout the rainy season, and we have seen herds of phenomenal size doing their best to control the grass growth in the Channel - grazing alongside large herds of buffalo, zebra and wildebeest.

Our visitors this month have travelled from far - Japan, the USA, Europe - and near - South Africa. We have been honoured to welcome back many returning guests, in addition to meeting many new faces. Increasingly, we are finding guests choose to return for four or five nights - a true reflection of the diversity of experiences to be enjoyed in this corner of Botswana's great wilderness. To pick a comment at random from our visitors' book: "It was just a dream. Everything was perfect."

We hope your 2006 has started as wonderfully as ours has,

Pete and the DumaTau team

DumaTau Sighting

The common belief that has developed over recent years is that with the onset of the first rains all the elephants in the Linyanti area move away into the Mopane forests to the south and with the exception of the odd elephant bull, no elephants are usually seen again until May month. Well this year is certainly different in a huge way as notwithstanding the 350mm of rain we have had in the area since December 2005, the elephants have not moved off.

A few days back we had an awesome sighting close to camp with at least 800 elephants in the area of Zibadianja Lagoon, where it feeds into the Savuti channel. They were peacefully going about their routine and just kept filing past our vehicle which was parked in this spectacular open area and soon we were totally surrounded by this vast number of elephants. Whilst the visual was estimated at 800 there was also a constant flow of elephants moving in and out of the woodlands on either side and there could possibly have been over 1000 elephants in that area at the time.

In our 14 years of extensive travels in the African bush we have never before experienced such a stunning elephant sighting! DumaTau is truly a most remarkable place.

Linyanti greetings
IAN & PETRO

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Jack's Camp update - Jan 06               Jump to Jack's Camp
Having said goodbye to our two senior guides for 2005, Graham and Pete, Danny headed off on much needed long leave and Super and Kaelo were left to hold the fort, with Dabe Sebitola stepping in again over Christmas, his Naro Father Christmas suit at hand! Meshak continued to assist front of house, putting to good use what he had seen on his visit to other Wilderness camps - Vumbura and Chitabe. He is grateful to both Wilderness and Uncharted for the opportunity to visit these camps, and we look forward to welcoming training Wilderness staff in a similar fashion.

December started wet and ended that way! Fortunately the temperatures remained low, and the nearly 200mm of rain brought flocks of beautiful migrant waterbirds, frog croaks filled nights and the incredible variety of insect life that never fails to descend on the dinner table just as the soup is served!

Guests enjoyed day trips into the park - as always accompanied by our chef's box of temptations, and had good lion sightings as well as the spectacular sight of thousands of zebra, huge flocks of Abdim's Storks gracefully floating on the thermals and this year, for the first time in memory, large herds of gemsbok. Smaller herds of springbok and red hartebeest have been sighted too. By the end of December we had had 400mm rain - edging towards our entire rainfall for the 2004/2005 season, and January and February are supposed to be our rainy months!

Danny and a group of guests had a particularly clear, prolonged sighting of an aardwolf eating: these diminutive members of the hyaena family with truly pretty faces framed by large ears locate their prey mainly by hearing; amazing when you consider their diet consists of mainly subterranean termites! They diverged from the other three members of the hyaena family (striped, spotted and brown - only the latter two represented in Botswana) between 15 and 30 million years ago and have evolved poorly developed jaws and small peg-like teeth, often spaced far apart, testimony to their diet. Extremely specialised, they only very occasionally take small mammals, nestling birds or carrion - but can devour up to 200 000 harvester termites in an evening. The termites are not dug up, but waited for as they emerge from the heap, then licked up with an extraordinary, long bristly tongue covered in sticky saliva. It really is remarkable to see what a vital link in the feeding chain the termites fill - no wonder they have to emerge in their thousands. Even a few of our guests have been tempted - ok, with a little persuasion, to try them, though by all accounts they are better roasted. There are camps which have converted the mounds to Pizza Ovens...just goes to show!

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - Jan 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
The world beneath the ocean is full of unexpected surprises and it seems that here at Rocktail, even after 6 years of diving, this still holds very true with new encounters and discoveries still being a regular feature. Commonly encountered eel species at Rocktail include the honeycomb moray, the geometric moray and the black cheek moray. If you are quiet and patient enough, garden eels are a definite encounter at Solitude. The starry moray is found only (albeit regularly) at one reef: Coachman?s. This month after 6 years of diving Clive found our first ribbon eel at Brewers. It was definitely a juvenile as it was black, the male is blue and yellow and the female yellow. One can only hope that this youngster?s family is not lurking too far away and that we will get another chance to view this stunning fish that is both uncommon and rarely seen by divers. Other unusual eel encounters included a snowflake eel (also a first) and a salt-and-pepper moray, both spotted at Yellowfin Drop.

Elusive reef has traditionally pulled out all the stops when it comes to gamefish. The reef is one of the few that were not one of our discoveries. It was known amongst a few spearfishermen for its excellent gamefish, and was named Elusive as it is a difficult reef to find without an experienced skipper. This month we have seen numerous couta, a.k.a. king mackerel, hunting above Elusive. This is an impressive fish and is the largest and fastest of the mackerel family, some specimens achieving up to 30kg. A very special encounter occurred while Darryl, Caleb and Ilze were at their 5m safety stop. Ilze spotted a dark shape approaching from the distance, which turned out to be a sailfish that circled them from 2m away, raised its sail and flashed brilliant colours like a neon sign. This beautiful fish is one of the fastest creatures in the sea and they were extremely lucky to have come across this shy pelagic predator while diving.

A French film crew visited us this month with the sole purpose of filming Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles. They were lucky enough to get footage of both species coming up to the high-water mark to lay eggs, as well as hatchlings of both species making their way to the beach. They encountered a female Loggerhead with her front right flipper missing and dived with her over three days. They did hope to encounter a Leatherback underwater, but as these turtles feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, they do not rely on reefs for food or protection and are not usually encountered on reefs, making them difficult to find. Greens, Loggerheads, and Hawksbills which feed on food such as seaweed, sponges, crabs and other reef-based organisms are encountered on a regular basis, and just this month we counted close to 30 sightings of these turtles.

We are at the beginning of a baby boom. The male wolf cardinal fish have mouths crammed full of eggs, which they are patiently incubating; the normally shy trigger fish are starting to become a bit aggressive (a sure sign that they are protecting eggs); the round ribbontail rays have positively huge humps and there are plenty of juvenile fish around.

Blacktail sharks continue to be our most commonly encountered shark, this month we were fortunate to see one at a cleaning station at Aerial reef. It seemed to hang almost motionless as if in a trance while cleaning fish trustingly busied themselves around it. We managed to see one whale shark. It is the largest fish in the ocean, measuring up to 12m in length and can weigh over 11 tons, but so far this season they are few and far between. We still have plenty of summer months left and are sure that we will be seeing more of these gentle giants.

Hang Ten is always a good dive in calm conditions and so named because it is a small, shallow reef good to just ?hang ten? on. It seems that it is not only we Homo sapiens that think this true as the squid are back, seemingly content to just ?hang? in formation above the reef.

Our harlequin shrimps at Elusive seem to have disappeared. Hope is fading after a month of not seeing them. Suspiciously there seems to be some large red shrimp that have taken up residence in the same spot. Jen found a seaweed ghost pipefish (also on Elusive), so although some creatures may move off (or be eaten?), others are always around to take their place in continuously delighting those who are on the lookout.

30th January started off an ordinary day, but ended in a conflict of emotions: sadness, fear, joy, and relief. On our way down to the launch site we found a very fresh, dead, unidentified, juvenile dolphin of approximately 1.3m in length (possibly a Risso?s dolphin). It was a very sad sight and rather than let the crabs feast on it we decided to give it a sea burial. Michelle, Darryl, Duncan and Peter were the 4 divers and Pineapple was the dive location. Darryl swam the dolphin down and placed it on the edge of the reef, immediately attracting a crowd of curious fish and Mrs. Casper the potato bass. After 5 minutes Darryl, Duncan and Peter swam off onto the reef leaving Michelle alone with the dolphin and her thoughts. Darryl heard a muffled scream under the water and turned to see Michelle in a very agitated state, wildly giving the signal for tiger shark. Darryl quickly got the group together and swam them toward Michelle, hoping for a quick glimpse of the shark. A huge shoal of fish and a green cloud of blood marked the spot where the dolphin had been laid to rest. As they approached, they noticed that the potato bass had the dolphin?s head in its mouth, which it proceeded to swallow in one gulp as it swam straight for the divers. Close on the bass?s heels, intent on reclaiming the rest of his stolen meal, came a 4m male tiger shark. Crafty old potato bass slipped into a crevice in the reef, leaving the divers to the shark?s attention.

The tiger proceeded to investigate the divers, approaching to within 1.5m before circling tightly. This continued for a tense 15 minutes with the group safe in a cavity in the reef. Eventually Peter and Duncan were down to 50 bars of air; luckily the shark seemed to lose interest and moved off to look for Mrs. Casper, giving everyone time to ascend. By popular vote they decided not to do a safety stop! We dived the same reef a day later and there, looking quite contented with a fat belly, was Mrs. Casper who hung around sheepishly seeking our attention and perhaps forgiveness for leading the shark to us.

?Seen 4 metre tiger shark, do you have any rhino?? ? P&D, Norfolk, UK
?So very professional, such wonderful dives, the hand signals will remain with me, Michelle? ? R&JP, South Luangwa, Zambia

What a start to the year!
Until next month,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Jen
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

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Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - Jan 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
Although we have had a 150mm of rain this month, it has mainly fallen in showers with two or three days and sometimes a whole week of very hot, humid weather between the downpours. These spells dry out the areas and vegetation very quickly. Already the grass, although it is still very tall and quite thick in certain areas, has started to take on a yellow tinge, as have some of the smaller shrubs and plants throughout the region. Even the inland pans, still home to a variety of water birds and game, are slowly but surely drying out. Let's hope the rains are not over yet otherwise we are in for a long dry spell! Our last bit of rain was over a week ago, and it hardly wet the ground.

Mammal Sightings
The herds of antelope on the concession have certainly grown in numbers. Those seen on a regular basis are: impala with a lot of young, nyala, bushbuck, kudu, waterbuck, and wildebeest with about seven new calves. Large breeding herds of eland have also been seen regularly this month. The smaller antelope recorded for January were: common duiker, klipspringer, Sharpe's grysbok and steenbok. Other recordings were huge herds of buffalo throughout the concession, Burchell's zebra, warthog, hippo, and about 4 old elephant bulls sighted along the Limpopo floodplain.

Well, it looks like our five remaining white rhino are finally showing signs of settling down. We are proud to announce that during the month of January one of our white rhino cows gave birth, and both mother and calf are doing well. The last birth of a white rhino in the Pafuri region of Kruger National Park probably took place between 110 and 115 years ago. Our female rhino is probably oblivious to the fact that she has just been part of a small bit of history. Nice going, mom!

On the predator front we had a few good leopard sightings during the month with three separate females seen. The highlight of the sightings was one on the 22nd of a female with her three cubs near the Big Baobab at one of our stone tool sites.

Lion sightings this month gave us some insight into what this predator selects as prey in the Pafuri area. A single lioness was seen in an unsuccessful hunt of an eland at Makwadzi Pan one afternoon, while four lions were seen feeding on an eland at Ndaekezane fountain, and two adult and three juvenile lions killed a zebra on the Limpopo floodplain.

Birding
A total of 227 species of birds was recorded this month. The family of Ground Hornbills, which use the Luvuvhu River in front of camp, was sighted a total of 14 times! The family consists of seven adults and two juveniles. They are heard almost daily calling in the morning.

Yellow-billed Oxpeckers: Wow! We have had a total of 28 separate sightings, with about 4 to 6 adults seen on an average sighting. Also a remarkable amount of juveniles have been seen on breeding herds of buffalo, zebra and a few on eland.

Also spotted this month: Red-crested Korhaan, Black-winged Stilt, White-fronted Plover, African Cuckoo Hawk, Verreaux's (Black) Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Amur (Eastern Red-footed) Falcon, Red-faced Cisticola, Monotonous, Sabota and Dusky Larks, to name a few.

Average min / temp 24ºC
Average max / temp 35ºC

Thanks,
Geoff Mullen

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Namibia camps
Desert Rhino and Elephant Expedition update - Jan 06
An excerpt from the guide's journal on the very first Save the Rhino Trust/ Wilderness Safaris Camel Expedition through the arid desert landscapes of the Northern Namib:

...And on we walked, in a shimmering, hazy heat, climbing high over rugged tabletop mountains, and crossing sun-scorched fields of basalt lava, as we wound our way slowly on towards the distant canyons of the Hoanib River. Giraffe, (Hartmann's) mountain zebra and a small group of oryx watched the camel train curiously as we passed them by. A herd of springbok trotted off as we marched along in single file across the beautiful quartz-covered Kharokhoab Plains. Two Lappet-faced Vultures drew great circles in an empty sky, and looked down upon the strange procession of visitors to their land.

This remote wilderness area of northern Damaraland is home to some of Africa's rarest wildlife, and desert-adapted rhino and elephant still wander along the same ancient trails that their ancestors first made countless aeons ago, but now there are new footprints to be swept from the sands by hot desert winds: of species that have rarely trodden here ever before - those of men and camels.

Several days had already passed since we had left the foothills of Mbakondja, and set out with a small team of Damara rhino trackers, some camels, a few donkeys and two scraggy-looking dogs (that were there to warn us if lions were around) and we were by now well into the rhythm of the walk. We had tracked and found the rare desert rhino, and had close encounters with desert elephant too, but the rarest of all animals was not found by the Save the Rhino Trackers, or even by me as the guide.

It was Sebastiao Salgado, the world-famous photographer, who spotted some of the rarest creatures in the Namib. It was he who brought my attention to a broken and twisted mopane branch that was lying in the dry river bed, and he showed me how it resembled a sea-horse, and it was true, it actually did look like a sea-horse, but I found it hard to believe what he saw next. Stopping suddenly as we were passing a gnarled, old tree trunk that was half buried in the sand, he turned, pointed at the log and shouted, "Look, look, there's an octopus! It's an octopus!" Now I've always believed that I have a fairly good imagination, but when I looked at the log, and try as I might, shuffling my position to get a better angle, closing one eye and squinting with the other, there was still no way I could see anything like a octopus!

"The guy needs some water. He's obviously dehydrated and starting to hallucinate," I thought, and was just about to get him some water from one of the camels that was standing and waiting patiently nearby (while all this desert scuba-diving was going on), when Sebastiao began to put up his tripod and camera to take a photograph. I watched while he set everything up, fiddled with his lens a little, and framed the shot. Then he turned to me with a big beaming smile on his face, and asked, "Would you like to take a look?" I stepped over and bent down to look through the camera (more to humour him than anything else), and as I peered into the viewfinder I almost leapt back in shock. There staring me in the face was this huge octopus! There was its ugly bulbous head, its contorted tentacles and two beady eyes looking straight back at me. I moved away from the tripod, rubbing my eyes and looked at the trunk again. I was amazed at how he'd managed to spot the image of an octopus in a dried-out piece of old mopane tree - but then again, I suppose that's probably why he's one of the world's best photographers. He took his photograph, packed away his gear and then ambled slowly off ("probably whale spotting now," I thought).

When he wasn't looking I took another look at the log, and then walked around it and took another - and then went over to the camel to get some water for myself - just in case!

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Kulala Newsletter - Jan 06                  Jump to Kulala Wilderness Camp
One would think that after 16 months in the Namib, you've more or less been surprised with every aspect of wildlife - or in this case I should probably say desert life. This is another story about adventure and enjoyment, but more about enthusiasm, love for one's job and specifically my love for Namibia. I've said this many times and I'm going to say it again: "The desert never ceases to amaze me".

I came back after my leave, thinking I'm coming back to the place I left behind. Over the last few weeks there has been some rain in the area, especially in the Naukluft Mountains, and this caused the Tsauchab River to come down - which means that Sesriem Canyon has still got some water in it. It's the fourth time that the Tsauchab has come down over the last two months, every time for less than a day, but the point is, it came down!

With rivers running there is of course a lot of stuff that comes down with it; like rubbish, rocks, frogs, fish... This story is partly about what came down with the river, but more so about the happenings of the few days around this particular incident.

As I said; I came back from my leave, and upon arrival on the Kulala Wilderness Reserve I was told that I was picking up guests at the airstrip in 40 minutes. This is where yet another of my amazing desert-adventures started - and like all the other ones - filled with appreciation and wonderful memories.

I went to do the pick-up, and from there onwards the sightings-fairy poured her whole bag of magic dust over us. On the way to the lodge we started off by seeing a Karoo Chat - for those of you not into birds, I haven't seen this particular species more than five times on the reserve. Then I just knew that it was going to be a very special next few days. Another bird we saw on start-off was Grey's Lark (a semi-endemic to Namibia), not very uncommon but sometimes weeks go by without seeing any, and just the fact of it being a semi-endemic means a lot. To top the day, we had an amazing nature drive with a sunset that only the Namib and a few clouds are able to dish-up.

Next day was ballooning morning for my guests, after which we did a Sesriem Canyon excursion - this is where the greatest finding of these few days happened. We where walking around the canyon, talking about the history, geology and all that kinds of stuff, and then went down into the canyon to have a closer look at the stagnant water. We couldn't really walk around down there since it had quite a lot of water - and I should add that it was dirty, stinking, rotten water that has been standing in the hot desert sun for more than two weeks.
So we walked around, took a few photos, and on the way out I saw something moving in the water. At first I thought it was a Common Platanna - Xenopus laevis - which made sense, since I've seen them in the pools of the Naukluft Mountains. Then at closer inspection I could clearly distinguish the shape of a fish. The first thing that went through my mind was: "You're crazy man, the desert sun is already getting to you!" Luckily I had my camera with me and as I moved closer I saw it. It was a fish!

After some research, here is a bit of the info I gathered: Common name is the Sharptooth Catfish - Clarias gariepinus. There are more than 2000 different species in the family worldwide. Because he breathes through lungs, unlike almost all other fish species, he's able to withstand certain periods of time outside the water. If necessary, they extend their pectoral spines, which enables them to crawl overland under damp conditions, in other words, "walking". They occur in almost any habitat but prefer floodplains, large sluggish rivers, lakes and dams - which explain now why they occur in Sesriem Canyon. They are completely omnivorous and feed on almost anything, from frogs and birds, to shrimps and rotten fruits.

That was a very special experience for myself, as well as the guests, since it was the first time I saw or heard of fish in the canyon. It was also one of those things that prove how enthusiasm runs over to the guests when you really enjoy what you're doing.

That afternoon we did a sundown walk. This was also a big highlight because we saw so many bird species, and like the Chat, some species that are not common at all. We saw a group of Common Scimitarbills - family of the Woodhoopoes - and this was only the second time I saw this species in the area. At the end of the day we saw more species of birds than what I normally see during a whole week.

That afternoon was time for another nature drive, and on this drive I experienced Mother Nature in her wrath with the greatest, biggest sandstorm, combined with sunset I've ever seen in my life. Try to imagine a sandstorm so bad that you cannot see any dunes or mountains further than 1km from you. Now add a sunset to that cloud of dust - almost unimaginable, but marvellous.

The next morning was unfortunately the last that my guests and I could spend together - at least we could fit in another walk before they had to leave. So off we went again, on another very interesting desert exploration, and like all the other ones, with lots of surprises. Again we saw a very unfamiliar face, this time in the shape of a Pririt Batis, and again, only the second time that I've seen this bird in the area.

We also focused a lot on tree and shrub identification, so at the end of the day - actually at the end of four unforgettable days - we've experienced each and every aspect that the desert provides. We've seen more species of birds in four days than what I've ever seen in a whole month, I didn't even mention the insects...

Sometimes the people wonder: "Why do you like to stay in the desert, why do you want to live in Namibia, why do you love this place so much?" Why am I getting emotional thinking about these questions and the happenings of the last four days? Read my tale again, and then you'll now the answers to all the questions!

Wikus Swanepoel
Kulala Wilderness Reserve

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Doro Nawas Newsletter - Jan 06                  Jump to Doro Nawas Camp
We entered the new year with a welcome shower of heavy rain. It felt as if all the dust and sweat of 2005 was being washed away and the new year was begun on a clean slate. For the rest of January the rain was pretty scattered and we could often see it falling in the mountainous areas around us, while we remained dry.

The nightly temperatures on the days where there was no cloud cover were quite cool and comfortable. On the overcast nights the humidity levels were high and there was not even a little refreshing breeze. The mornings were fresh but by midday the temperatures soared to +-38°C. In the distance you could see the clouds building but then the dusty winds started blowing and the clouds were pushed away to the north. But on quite a few occasions the wind blew in our favour and brought some light drizzles that carried on throughout the night.
In the evenings the sunsets were amazing with the golden light brightening up small groups of clouds.

Even with the little rain over the month the surrounding area has changed drastically. The veld is covered in a short layer of grass, with small patches of sand sticking through. Trees that once seemed lifeless have started to blossom.

With all the bushes in leaf there are now numerous insects. During the day we see many butterflies, moths, dragonflies, beetles and bugs and at night the moths and locusts are drawn to the lights.

The elephants are still seen on most drives and on the 5th of January we had a welcome surprise: Guest activities had to be halted as a herd of elephants had invaded the camp and were grazing near the parking area! This was the perfect picture opportunity for those guests who only stayed for one night and did not have the opportunity to go out on a drive to find these majestic animals. After about two hours the elephants strolled comfortably between the rooms, one behind the other, back to the riverbed in search of water. It seems our new camp has been accepted in the landscape.

Other animal sightings around the camp have been springbok and ostrich and on the drives our guests sighted kudu and gemsbok on the plains.

We are looking forward to more good rains and hope these will arrive in February.

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Damaraland Newsletter - Jan 06                  Jump to Damaraland Camp
The month was a good one, although quieter than December. Game viewing has been very good and we recorded some great sightings, especially in the lower lying areas of the Huab and Uba-Huab riverbeds. The mountain zebra has been seen here on a few occasions and elephants seemed at times to be a permanent fixture in the riverbeds. The main two groups are still also seen on a regular basis (Oscar's group and Rosy's group). Plains game continues its increase in numbers demonstrating the phenomenal success of the Namibian communal conservancy system. Even the predators have been around and we have had several cheetah sightings, while lion spoor was seen around Douw's Pool.

Guest activities have been much enjoyed this month. About half of our guests experienced the full day drive and a picnic lunch, allowing exploration further afield and giving them some variety on their safari.

As all know this is the rainy season and we have recorded about 30mm of rain which fell on several days over the month. This is more than is usually recorded at Damaraland Camp at this time of the year.

During the quiet times we have become involved in road maintenance and also renovated our most paramount place - the BOMA. The boma is a place where our guests are able to have their dinner outside, and as they enjoy their food, they can gaze up at the sky which is full of beautiful stars.

Different training sessions have been held in different fields over the month. The HIV-AIDS workshop held by Cornelia Adams was one example. The guides also had an intensive workshop concentrating on the area?s biodiversity and geology and which fine-tuned their guiding skills.

Regards from D-Camp!

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