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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

March 2006

This Month:
Zambia Safari News - Info on the new Wilderness Safaris camps in Zambia

• Environmental update on North Island in Seychelles.
• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
Kwando Safaris game reports.

Update on the 2006 Okavango Delta flood

• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from 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.


Zambia Safari News
Wilderness Safaris in Zambia - Mar 06
Like most of southern Africa, this summer in Zambia has been wet. Northern Kafue is practically underwater and bears little resemblance to November last year when the earth was scorched and crying out for moisture. By complete contrast the Busanga Plains now looks like the Okavango Delta and the Lunga River is only one of many ribbons of water.

Our efforts to get Lunga River Lodge, Nkondo Trails Camp and Busanga Bush Camp upgraded and ready for the season are well underway and we are gearing up to begin building at Kapinga Bush Camp and Shumba Bush Camp – a process that will get going after the imminent completion of the operations centre in Lusaka.

We have some space available over the coming season and this update will hopefully help to keep you up to speed as to our developments there and will provide some idea of the potential of the area and how excited we are about it. We have included some aerial shots from a recent trip and also aim to clarify some logistical issues such as the best combinations and timing on itineraries.

Kafue habitats and game viewing
The northern sector of Kafue is what Wilderness Safaris searches for when locating its camps. It is remote, wild and diverse with vast tracts of pristine ‘pure wilderness’. Our team who initially visited the area came back raving about the wilderness aspect (‘The wildest area I’ve ever seen’ according to Keith Vincent) and also the diversity of the region.

The Lunga River in the east is a permanent tributary of the Kafue River and beyond its narrow strip of riverine forest the landscape is patterned with broad-leafed woodland, open plains, floodplains and island thickets. In the north west of Kafue the Busanga Plains is a vast savannah of seasonally inundated grasslands dotted with riverine islands and areas of broad-leafed woodland.

Elephants in Zambia Lichtenstein’s Hartebeests Puku Roan antelopes

Birdlife is abundant and includes many species that do not occur elsewhere in southern Africa. Zambia’s single endemic species, Chaplin’s Barbet, does occur, but the thrill is to be found in the diversity and abundance with nearly 500 species recorded and good concentrations of species such as Wattled Crane (Zambia contains more than half the world’s population) and various pelicans, storks and herons. Other specials of the plains are Locust Finch, Rosy-throated and Fülleborn’s Longclaws, Kori and Denham’s Bustards, while birds of the woodland and riverine areas include Ross’s Turaco, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Pale-billed Hornbill, Miombo Pied Barbet and Red-capped Crombec.

Mammals are equally diverse and aside from the high profile species, such as Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Cheetah, commonly seen in countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe, a number of other species, not readily encountered further south are often seen. Chief among these are Puku, Defassa Waterbuck and Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest with rarer species such as Oribi and Roan regularly encountered. A further unusual species for those accustomed to game viewing further south is the Tree Hyrax – a small population of which is resident in the camp at Lunga, their calls echoing through the camp at night.

This notwithstanding it is the high profile species that most guests are after and in this regard Kafue certainly delivers the goods! Good Lion and fantastic Cheetah (some of the best in Africa) sightings are common, Leopard viewing is a regular highlight, Wild Dogs are occasionally seen, Elephant and Buffalo sightings are excellent, and there are abundant Hippo and good numbers of plains game such as Zebra and Wildebeest.

The game viewing experience of Kafue is not the wooded savannah of the South African lowveld, the woodland and floodplain of northern Botswana, the broad-leafed woodland of Hwange or the Albida woodlands of Mana Pools, rather it is a combination of all of these and is well suited to itineraries which include any of these destinations or indeed Zambia alone.

Situation of the Kafue Camps
Lunga River LodgeLunga River Lodge:  12 beds situated on the Lunga River in north eastern Kafue. Currently of an Exploration standard. The camp already exists and will open on 1 June 2006 with the rooms sited in the riverine strip along the banks of the Lunga River.
Busanga Busg CampBusanga Bush Camp:  This camp is situated on the 750 sq kilometre Busanga Plains in the north western part of Kafue. It consists of 6 beds for FITs with a further 2 beds available for groups of 7 or 8 guests. This camp is currently of an Exploration standard and is nestled within a small riverine island overlooking the plains.
Kapinga Bush CampKapinga Bush Camp:   Kapinga Bush Camp will be rebuilt and will open on 1 July 2006 as 6 bedded camp for FITs with a further 2 beds available for groups of 7 or 8 guests. This camp is also situated around the Busanga Plains in north eastern Kafue. This will operate as a Classic camp along the lines of Botswana camps like DumaTau and is situated on a thickly wooded peninsula.
Shumba Bush CampShumba Bush Camp:  Opens 1 July 2005 and is situated within a lush tree island on the edge of the Busanga Plains. This Classic camp will consist of 6 tents and will sleep 12 guests (please note that this was formerly visualised as a 6-8 bedded camp).


Nkondo Trails Camp:
  A typical fly camp / trails camp situated on the Lunga River a half day’s canoe trip south of Lunga River Lodge. The camp consists of 3 FIT Meru tents with a 4th tent available for groups of 7 or 8 guests. This is of an Explorations standard.

Explorations:  A Discoverer Exploration will also be launched in Zambia as of June this year. The Great Zambian Journey will take in Victoria Falls, the Lunga River and the Busanga Plains and will be accommodated at the River Club, Lunga River Lodge and Busanga Bush Camp.

Logistics – Flights to and within Zambia
Access to Lusaka South African Airways Flies into Lusaka daily from Johannesburg and at some times of the year twice daily.
Zambia Airways (operated by Kulula) Flies into Lusaka five times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday) from Johannesburg.
British Airways Flies into Lusaka three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) from London.

Kenyan Airways Flies into Lusaka daily from Nairobi.
Air Zimbabwe Flies into Lusaka daily from Harare.

Access to Livingstone
Nationwide Flies into Livingstone from Johannesburg twice daily.
South African Airways Flies into Livingstone three times a week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday) from Johannesburg.
British Airways Flies into Livingstone five times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday) from Johannesburg.
Northern Botswana: we can also access Zambia from the Botswana / Zimbabwe circuit ending in either Maun, Kasane or Victoria Falls

Flying within Zambia
Scheduled flights, seat rates and private charters between Lusaka / Livingstone and the WS Kafue camps, South Luangwa (Chipata / Mfuwe) and Lower Zambezi are operated by several local charter and airline businesses with whom Wilderness Safaris has formed alliances and with whom our offices will make bookings.

Logistics – Itinerary combinations for Zambian circuit
Itinerary combinations - Zambia
Within Zambia itineraries along the following broad suggestions can be arranged using Wilderness Safaris’ Kafue camps combined with camps in other key areas run by well known safari operators such as Star of Africa, Norman Carr, Robin Pope Safaris, Remote Africa, Bush Camp Company and so on.:
1) Lusaka – South Luangwa National Park - Lower Zambezi National Park – WS Kafue camps – Lusaka / Livingstone
2) Lusaka – WS Kafue camps – Lower Zambezi NP – South Luangwa NP - Lusaka
3) Livingstone – WS Kafue camps – Lower Zambezi NP – South Luangwa NP – Lusaka / Livingstone
4) Livingstone – Lower Zambezi NP – South Luangwa NP – WS Kafue camps – Livingstone / Lusaka

Itinerary combinations – Botswana and Zimabwe
Combining a Botswana safari with Zambia is ideal and the extension is an easy one and often complimentary. We would recommend that you combine Busanga with either the Linyanti/Selinda region or Hwange National Park.

Regardless of whether you combine the Okavango, Linynati or Hwange with Busanga, a stay in northern Kafue will enhance the itinerary fantastically as it offers a wider game and habitat diversity.

Itinerary combinations – Malawi
Neighbouring Malawi is easily combined with Zambia and allows access to a spectacular lake and additional biodiversity.
Lusaka - WS Kafue camps – Lilongwe – Mvuu Lodge – Kaya Mawa – Lilongwe - Lusaka is a great option!

Itinerary combinations – Kenya/Tanzania/Zanzibar
With daily flights between Nairobi and Lusaka, combining Zambia with East African sites such as the Mara, Serengeti and Zanzibar is easily achieved and Zambia effectively bridges the gap between East and Southern Africa.

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Seychelles / North Island
Environmental update on North Island - Mar 06               Jump to North Island

With no sighting of a live rat on North Island since the last helicopter bait drop in September 2005 (this despite more than 6000 trapping nights over the entire island at present), things are looking very promising, indeed! However, this first victory does not at all mean that we can now sit back and relax. As all islands know only too well, getting rid of rodents is only the start, remaining rodent-free is another challenge entirely! With the following stringent procedures in place, we are confident that we are doing the utmost in the given circumstances to avoid rat reinvasion or introduction of any other unwanted invaders: 1) all boats and barges unloading goods and people on the island, as well as the Company's office and new storeroom on Mahe, are baited; 2) strict boat/barge unloading procedures on the beach are maintained at all time; 3) a rodent proof trailer transports all goods and staff luggage to a rodent proof room where all the above are checked before further distribution. Hence the care for our island's precious endemic wildlife has become part of our daily lives!

New staff came on board; Unels Bristol and Linda Vanherck joined the Environment Department in October and November 2005 respectively. Together with the Landscape Team, they work on the island's restoration.

With the go-ahead of the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources in February 2006, the island embarked upon its next eradication: Indian mynahs are being poisoned and will subsequently be shot so as to bring their present numbers, estimated between 200 and 300, down to less dramatic levels so lowering their influence and impact on the island's ecosystem.

In November 2005, Unels discovered a small breeding colony of Wedge-tailed Shearwater. His vast experience in conservation and extensive familiarity with Seychelles' fauna have further resulted in the confirmations of the presence of the following bird species: Seychelles Blue pigeons (4 birds were counted on several occasions), Yellow Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron, Marsh Sandpiper, Sanderling, Common Greenshank, Crab & Grey Plover, Turnstones, and Common & Jacobin Cuckoo. Tree Pipit and Common Redstart were recorded as as vagrants on the plateau, as were 11 Amur Falcons which arrived in November and remained for a month. Furthermore, the pair of Seychelles Kestrels is still surviving, White-tailed Tropic Birds were seen landing in search of suitable nesting sites, and Great Frigate Birds have been seen flying over on several occasions. Huge schools of sardines moving from East to West Beach attracted large number of Common Terns feeding on them. As for the Moorhens in the wetlands, they appeared to have bred successfully as chicks and immature birds were noticed. In January 2006, 9 nests of Greenbacked herons, of which 5 were active, were found in guava trees bordering the marshes.

It was not just the birdlife that has kept us thrilled. In the course of November and December 2005, as much as 870 mm of rain was recorded. During this time, excited staff members have discovered baby tortoises that have evidently hatched from nests on the plateau area near the helicopter pad and staff vegetable garden. They are undoubtedly the happy products of our adult male tortoises, Brutus and Patrick, who continue to leave even our visiting honeymoon couples gasping at their astounding frequency of mating! Although North Island chooses to interfere as little as possible in the animals' lives, an exception was made by building a pen for the 11 little tortoises so as to assure that no lawnmower would result in their premature death.

As for the turtle life around the island ... from the end of October until present, the environmental staff has diligently kept up measuring tracks on the beach. In this period, 71 tracks of Hawksbills and 34 tracks of Green Turtles were recorded. Measurements were taken of the females coming on land and they were tagged or their already present tag numbers recorded. Guests and film crews have subsequently also been able to watch the babies hatching and heading for the sea, therewith getting a glimpse of the entire life cycle and being made aware of Seychelles' turtle conservation efforts.

As for the vegetation, the Landscape Team headed by Greg Wepener, has continued its intensive rehabilitation efforts. In the last 6 months, alien invader plants have been removed at the Grand Anse plateau and replaced by endemic plants from the island's nursery.

With all these efforts, we are confident that North Island will be able to harbour once more a rich endemic fauna and flora for the future Seychellois' generation.

North Island Dive Report - Mar 06               Jump to North Island
March has come and gone and we have truly experienced glorious weather. The ocean temperature has remained at a constant 29ºC - very inviting indeed. Visibility has been consistent at 25m+, making for very enjoyable bikini or shorts diving. True to form in the tropics, we have had the odd cloud form and shower us with a 5-minute downpour of rain, only to have the sun peek its head over the clouds and warm us with heat once again.

We have found any excuse to swim, body board or snorkel. There have been times when even the simple pleasure of swimming has not cooled us down as the water temperature has been like a bathtub. But we are not complaining at all; compared to others around the world who are in thermal clothes, we are very happy with our lot - thank you.

We continued to spend time with our orbicular batfish friends on 'Sprat City', our white-tip reef sharks, rays, trumpetfish, devil firefish and cowfish. We sighted two massive stone fish, sleeping nose to nose on 'The Spot' just recently, which was a rare sighting for us. All in all ocean-wise, it has been great and Neptune has been very kind to us. We weren't able to complete the bi-annual coral reef monitoring dives in March, but these are scheduled for the end of April.

The various fish species caught this month (in our catch-and-release fishing) were dorado, bonito, tuna and wahoo. We welcome back Debbie Smith who is back on the island for the remainder of 2006.

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - Mar 06

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
• 2 adult males lions we found resting – they were well fed, while a lioness was seen moving through the camp – she appears to be lactating but no cub tracks found yet
• In several more sightings the 2 males were found hunting actively with 2 lionesses
• The Lagoon pride was also found hunting – 4 adult lionesses and a young male together
• A 3:4 spot pattern adult female leopard was found at Tsessebe pan – she was very relaxed and was followed for some time
• An adult female cheetah was found together with a sub-adult male – they were followed hunting during subsequent game-drives for over a week but were not seen making a kill
• Wild dogs – the Lagoon pack now consisting of one adult female, two adult males and are now down from five to four 6 month-old pups were seen for weeks on end around the Lagoon airstrip, and were followed hunting. They were seen hunting successfully an impala, and the pups fed well.
• Hyenas seen frequently at dusk and dawn, also during the night drives
• Good numbers of both bachelor herds and breeding herds of elephants seen daily in the mopane and riverine forests as well as feeding on the floodplains – seen often coming down to the river to bathe in front of camp
• General game good considering the rains – sightings of roan, giraffe, impala, reedbuck, impala, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest and kudu as well as lots of baboons
• Smaller game seen includes bush-babies, African wild cats, several species of mongooses, genets, springhares, both jackal species, honey badger, as well as many different frog and snakes species and  flap-necked chameleons

Kwara camp               Jump to Kwara Camp
• A pride of 10 lions was seen several times, as well as 3 young males and a lioness at the 2nd bridge, a mating pair at 4-rivers, and 2 adult males close to the camp.
• The large pride of 10 was later found sleeping (mostly in trees), and then moving off and hunting tsessebe, the 3 young males were found feeding on a giraffe that they has killed.
• A very relaxed female leopard was found sleeping in a tree – she later came down and was followed hunting. A shy male was seen as well and followed from a distance. Later another adult female was found resting in a tree, she then started hunting impala but was not successful.
• An adult male cheetah was found resting on a termite mound – he was well fed and spend the rest of the day sleeping.
• A breeding herd of elephants was encountered in the mopane forest at night – they were a little nervous. Several small groups of bachelors seen throughout the concession, as well as small groups of bulls that are seen daily around the (large) growing lake in front of the camp
• Small groups of hyenas have been seen hunting most evenings, also seen both species of jackals (one seen hunting impala lambs)
• Plenty of hippo around, in and out of the water during the day
• General game good – red lechwe, impala, giraffe, tsessebe, kudu, reedbuck, wildebeest, zebra as well as a sable antelope giving birth!
• Night drives yielded several sightings of African wild cat (female with 2 kittens), large spotted genets as well as a large python in a tree, a mamba on the road, and plenty of frogs including giant bull-frogs
• Good bird sightings, various storks and egret species, all the kingfisher species, rollers including the broad-billed roller, and great photographic opportunities at the Gudikwe heronry.


Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
• A pride of 4 lionesses and an adult male (part of the Lebala pride of 14) were followed hunting – they spend some time climbing trees to get a better view of their prey over the tall grasses.
• A pride of 7 lionesses and 2 males were followed for the better part of a week, they were seen hunting and feeding on a wildebeest, a zebra, a giraffe, and were found later also feeding an another wildebeest at Twin pools
• Last week the pride of 7 was found feeding on another wildebeest, 2 very battered male lions were found sleeping.
• After following leopard tracks on several occasions (plenty of late night activity) a shy male leopard was found and followed from a distance, later a shy female leopard was found but she moved off in to the long grass.
• 2 male cheetah were seen at Kubu pan – they were followed hunting for most of the day but were not successful
• The Lagoon pack of wild dogs was also seen – resting in the late morning.
• The Lebala pack of 23 wild dogs was also found north of the camp – also resting
• Good elephant sightings with large breeding herds of elephants were seen in the mixed woodland , with several small bachelor herds seen moving across the floodplains
• Few buffalo seen apart from a couple of bulls wallowing in a pan in the mopane woodland – as the concession dries up the large herds of buffalo will start moving north to the Kwando River again
• Hyenas are seen on almost every night drive as well as both jackal species.
• Other night sightings include African wild cats, porcupine (also a porcupine having a confrontation, with a warthog over ownership of a burrow), honey badgers, various frog species (giant bullfrogs as well), and flap-necked chameleons
• General game includes zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, warthogs, impala, kudu, lechwe, steenbuck, reedbuck, waterbuck,, and plenty of hippo
• The birding has been exceptional – juvenile bateleurs, heron, egret and stork species, red-winged pratincoles, jacanas, carmine bee-eaters, weaver species, pelicans, wattled cranes, duck and goose species, ostriches, kori bustards, vultures as well as many raptor species
• Several sightings of different snake species – python, olive grass snake, puff-adder, and cobras

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Okavango Flood update - Mar 06
The heavy rainfalls in January and February created an enormous amount of ground water in the Delta.  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 April 10, 2006.

Okavango flood chart - April 10, 2006

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Mombo Camp update - Mar 06               Jump to Mombo Camp
Environment
The rain falls on ... clouds gather and build and relentless storms sweep across us at night. March at Mombo has continued in the same vein as February; thick tangles of vegetation and tall grass still abound. Dense stands of wild lucerne embroider the muddy pools that used to be our roads, their bright yellow flowers enchanting accessories to the impala ears one can just make out peeping above them.

As we approach the end of March, we are experiencing clear, hot days and early evenings resplendent with stars that we have not had the luxury of seeing all that often lately! Deep into the night however, during the quiet hours, when very little stirs and even the frogs are silent, distant rumbles begin and the lashings of rain against canvas drum into one's dreams until dawn. Miraculously, gorgeous sunrises bubble out from the night's clouds, turning them flamingo pink and revealing the lush, wet tangle of bush we are now accustomed to.

The water levels at Mombo are similar to those when we are in full flood, normally between the months of April and August. The floodplain in front of Mombo Main Camp shimmers with water, attracting pods of hippo grazing at night, and providing profound relief to buffalo trying to escape the infestations of flies in the area. Due to the high level of standing water from four months of rain, the flood has arrived at Mombo much earlier than is the norm (last year the flood arrived on about 10 April). The crystal-clear floodwater is evident in many areas already, pushing into the channels and across the floodplains. This in turn forces the herds of game to congregate onto the islands - journeys of giraffe intermingled with impala, zebra, wildebeest and warthog are a common sight, bewildering us all with the incredible diversity one can find in a limited area.

Climate
In February we received 215mm of rain, and March being a month when rainfall is supposed to decline dramatically, we received 196mm! Amid the many overcast and warm days, we have seen cloudless, cobalt days with soaring temperatures. The heat and humidity can be felt sucking against one's skin, only to be released in walloping thunderstorms at night. One night's deluge was just off 40mm, and it has rained at some point during the day for a little over half the month. Temperatures have remained fairly constant this month although with a slight downward trend. Maximum daytime temperatures have been an average of 30°C while minimum temperatures ranged from 15-18°C.

Lions
Lions are very clearly still the main act in the predator realm of Mombo, and they continue to try their paws at tree climbing. It is the general consensus that this is an attempt to avoid the many biting flies and it seems to be working, because all of the prides are doing it! The area north of Vultures' Baobab has been the prime territory of the Moporota Pride and their five new cubs. Here there are abundant large Acacia trees, primarily A. tortilis, which the pride have been using as an escape from the flies. The Mathata Pride, still 28 of them and still gobbling every zebra, giraffe and buffalo they can, have been spending more time further south in the Suzie's Duck Pond and Simbira regions of the concession where there is an profusion of prey for them.

As the water begins to rise, and influence the territories which the different prides and nomads patrol, it will be interesting to witness the interaction between them; these can be violent, clamorous clashes that occasionally leave members of the prides badly wounded or dead. The Buffalo Boys, the two young males that are regularly seen on the floodplains in front of the camp harassing herds of buffalo, are now being forced onto Mombo Island itself. As nomads with no real territory of their own, they will have to tread very carefully between the Mathata Pride males (4) and those of the Moporota Pride (2), with a short-lived but raucous standoff between the nomads and the Mathata males one morning in front of camp indicating the tensions simmering under the surface.

The Mathata Sub-adults (6) have been spending much time around the Mombo Airstrip, and have shown a good success rate at hunting. Their frequently fat bellies show their skills at hunting together as a stable pride are improving, and the young males are beginning to resemble the powerful adults they are about to become. It is interesting to see the sudden, blatant contrast in size between the sexes at this stage of their development.

The interplay between the existing prides of lion and the burgeoning clans of hyena is going to be equally fascinating. Lions generally enjoy prime position in the predator hierarchy, while hyena come in a close second. This is, however, a delicate balance of numbers and power; it can be rocked. One morning in mid March, the Mathata subadults brought down a pregnant female giraffe. Satiated from the previous day's feed on a zebra, they only managed to eat one haunch before retiring to the shade for a nap. All day the haunting beckon from the hyena could be heard across the terrain as the members of the clan congregated and their loping forms were seen heading in the direction of the carcass. Beneath an apricot sky, the day came to its close and the hyena moved in. Within a few hours more than 30 hyena had chased away the pride and demolished the giraffe carcass - their fits of giggles, excited whoops and warning growls heard from the camp as they gorged themselves happily on the lion's share.

Leopards
This enigmatic cat is without question the highlight of many guests' stay at Mombo, and there are few species that can create the awe one feels on watching the slow prowl of their dappled pelt melt through emerald grass. Sightings have been surprisingly consistent this month, given that the lofty tendrils of abundant grass are the perfect means of camouflage. The major advantage of plentiful rain, however, is the fact that leopards do not enjoy walking through mud, so tend to stick to the roads or can be found high up in trees escaping the flies.

Once again we were disappointed this month when the Far Eastern Pan Female lost her cub(s?) to the Buffalo Boys. They discovered the cub concealed in a bush, plucked it out and killed it. The Tortilis female is now confirmed pregnant (again), but with her atrocious track record we are not holding our breath for a successful litter from her. We do live in the hope that her mothering instinct improves at some point in time. Legadimo is faring well, and, as she enters her third year in age, we await the day when she first mates. She has not been as active around the actual camp as previous months, tending to spend more time around the Hippo Hide and Old Trails Camp area where she remains beyond the territory of her extremely territorial mother.

The male leopards appear to be on leave. Brooks did see a new male, possibly about four years old, close to Susie's Duckpond.

Cheetah
The remaining Steroid Boy is back. For the latter part of March, he has been seen around the Moporota area where he preys predominantly on lechwe, especially the young. He is, however, well beyond his prime now and in terrible condition. The flies (we think) appear to have affected his fur horribly, and it has peeled away along the back of his neck and spine, leaving raw pink skin that is constantly irritated by the flies. Furthermore we suspect he has been attacked by lions, as he has a bad puncture wound on the top of his head. It is heart wrenching to witness the demise of a being that has dominated with such grace and skill here for so long. But it is the way. All animals exist within this cycle designed for prey and predator, the weak and the strong. We watch his passage with interest.

Rhinos
This month was a great month for rhinos. Serondela, Jack, Mogae, Kakana (all males) and Bogale and her calf, Valentine, have been sighted regurlarly in the Susie's Duckpond area. Nick, (aka Rhino Boy) and Poster think Bogale is coming back into season, seeing as Valentine is 14 months old now, and we have seen the males showing her plenty of amorous attention. She responds with bellows and charges, however, probably to keep them away from Valentine.

Birds
As summer reaches its end, we are about to say farewell to our migrants once more; the plunging call of the Woodland Kingfisher is heard less and the Wahlberg's Eagles are gone. As I write this the Blue Cheeked Bee Eaters are gathering for their journey northwards, their distinct chirruping rising and falling with their acrobatics. There are, however, plenty of resident species - a pair of White-backed Vultures have made their nest in the apex of Vultures' Baobab and we are presently observing the progress of three tiny, cream coloured Red Billed Francolin eggs found beneath a small acacia one game drive. Wattled Cranes, those solemn and refined beauties of the floodplain, can be seen carefully picking their way through the grass, or sliding past a flaming sunset in the evenings. We are seeing them in large flocks of up to 30, which is a spectacular sight indeed.

Camp and Guest Experience
At Mombo we not only have migratory birds, we have migratory guests as well. Those who make their annual pilgrimage towards the Okavango to get their fix for the year, returning home to plan their next trip back! It is always with great joy that we welcome familiar faces back to our home and we say "until next year" to Neil Andrews, David and Mary Baldwin, Mike Lorentz and Billy Winter.

The rain has not managed to dampen the spirit of Mombo. The rhythm of life here is one that hums its own unique tune, and the swell of Batswana voices in the night air around the fire is a sound few guests will forget. Great excitement this month - our Mombo Choir have touched so many people who visit us that we decided to capture their amazing sound on CD and we hope it will be available for purchase in the near future. The choir had a festive time during the recordings, and we cannot wait to hear the finished product!

And so, enough from us in our world of golden green and cerulean blue; space, beauty and room to breathe. Lessons can be learned from this place, and we hope our guests take some back with them.

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Tubu Tree Camp update - Mar 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
March coming to an end at Tubu means that the water table is rising and isolating the island, creating a feeling of excitement as everyone is looking forward to the added water activities and those wonderful sundowner boat cruises.

Red lechwe have joined the herds of wildebeest on the floodplain in front of the lodge and the elephant are once again daily visitors.

Game drives were very rewarding during March, producing sightings of leopard, lion and elephant in abundance and not letting the bird lovers down.

Two mating lions decided to settle in front of the lodge during the day, while during the nights they occupied the camp, the roar of the male sounding at regular intervals. Our resident bushbuck were nowhere to be seen for a few days. The lions however, showed no interest in hunting and instead seemed intent on creating enough offspring to fill the entire Delta.

Leaves have yet to start falling and the vegetation is lush and green as a result of the wonderful rain which sometimes lingered for a day, falling softly and at other times came down furiously, accompanied by thunder and lightning.

Tubu got the thumbs up, once again, from all who visited with compliments for our guides Moa and Moyo topping the list. To quote one guest, who has been visiting the area for the past seventeen years and knows all about travelling in the Delta: "A beautifully designed camp, comfort and good taste, friendly staff. A fantastic stay."

Tubu Tree greetings,
Dave, Leigh, Moa, Moyo, Salani and the team

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Jao Camp update - Mar 06                Jump to Jao Camp
We've had a fun-filled month in March. Occupancies have been good and have allowed us to prepare for the busy season. With some new management we have established a great core team which is working in sync making the guests experience as memorable as possible. We are like one huge family doing everything in unity and all working towards the same goal, changing people's lives!

Simon our Executive Chef has been cooking up a storm. His food has earned him a good reputation across the camps in a very short while with guests. People coming from other camps say "they heard the food at Jao is very good" and without a doubt Simon Clemmens has improved our cuisine by 150% and not just because of his cooking but just being himself. He is a very flamboyant man enjoying a good conversation and with some good food making a great experience. We hope to have him around for a long time to come.

In general the game viewing at Jao has been amazing as the guests saw everything from lion to buffalo, elephant to hippo. The drives have been exciting seeing hordes of game every day especially the locally common red lechwe which is spread across the Jao floodplains like the wildebeest in the Masai Mara. The water levels have made the drives even more interesting as lots of it has been happening in our Green Submarines, as the guests call them. Every now and again some big crocs were spotted right in the road!

The mating lions have been at it again and our resident males have been trying their best at courting the lionesses. Our resident female leopard and her cub disappeared early in the month and we have not seen a trace of her. Luckily we have been seeing another female closer to Kwetsani with two cubs! The giraffe and zebra have moved off the floodplains as they became inundated and the elephants have also dispersed because of all the rain.

The birding has been out of this world. We have such a great abundance of endangered species such as the Slaty Egrets, Wattles Cranes, White-headed Vultures, Rosy-throated Long Claw and Ground Hornbills. We are recording the majority of these species and sending the data recorded on a monthly basis through to BirdLife Botswana to help with their monitoring. Our migrants the Woodland Kingfishers are still around and the Barn (European) Swallows were falling out of the sky at one stage in the middle of the month as we had a cold front coming through the area and killing these small birds by the hundreds over the northern parts of the country. The kingfishers have been very abundant having our guests seeing all 5 local species (Pied, Malachite, Brown-hooded, Woodland and Giant) on one activity. We have also had regular sightings of two further threatened species - the Long-crested Eagle and the Southern Banded Snake-eagle. Fish eagles by the dozen have entertained our guests as they try and fly off with some bigger-than-usual catfish.

The month of March has been fantastic in general. We have a good team and great staff and all of this making our guest feel "at home". A chef that cooks brilliant food and guides that show and teach our guests all they want to see and learn. What more can we say, we are looking forward to the next month and making our guests experience even better.

Freddy Combrinck

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Kwetsani update - Mar 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."

This month Kwetsani was flooded with animals - all the young squirrels were out and running on the decks, the juvenile vervet monkeys visited without parental supervision and the bushbuck wandered around under the tents and decks.

Leopard on deck at Kwetsani CampPerhaps our highlight of the month though has been a magnificent female leopard leaving her two young cubs on Kwetsani Island while she hunts. Twice these inquisitive youngsters have been brave enough to investigate the confines of the camp itself and Victor even managed to get photographic proof before they bounded away.

This is the second litter this particular female has had the confidence to leave in the vicinity of the camp and while we are very happy that she feels our environment to be an appropriate place of refuge for her cubs, we are certainly not encouraging them to explore the decks!

The rain has reached just over 750mm for the year, the floods have started moving in and we are gearing up the boats for the season. The roads are full of water and the Fish Eagles are stuffed full with catfish. What a magnificent time it is. As the water creeps over the floodplains the lechwe are coming closer and closer to the camp island. Hours can be spent sitting on your deck watching the animals on the open plains.

Many of the elephant bulls have started to move back into the NG25 concession and they are enjoying the lush green vegetation of the islands. There have been a few breeding herds seen with new babies which is always exciting.

Lions have also kept us busy this month; there have been numerous mating pairs as well as a huge male serenading us to sleep at night with his evening song.

The monkeys are visiting again and often get to share in our breakfast: Nothing like a muffin between friends!

Regards from Kwetsani

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Jacana update - Mar 06                Jump to Jacana Camp
The water is still rising...

Water levels have now reached the mark we associate with the first flood push. This is said to be mostly as a result of rainwater and not the actual flood, but we have noticed a small increase in other areas where the water is now flowing in to fill floodplains and roads and therefore surmise that the flood must be here!

As a result of all the water, game viewing around the camp has been relatively quiet. Plenty of hippo of course but fewer sightings of species such as elephants. One bull we see regularly and which guests might remember as 'Jack' did give us a visit a week or so ago, but has not so far returned. Out in the open water though we have had some great sightings of sitatunga and also increased hits on the Pel's Fishing Owl and some great views of small concentrations of Darters and Slaty Egrets.

Game drives out on the flooded plains have been rewarded with lots of lion sightings, including an amorous mating pair, some good leopard sightings and the occasional elephant. The plains are teeming with birds however. They range from egrets to a trio of Saddle-billed Storks, not to mention Wattled Cranes and Goliath Herons.

The rainfall has sprouted serious plant growth and this has in turn attracted a host of butterflies. Orange Tips, Little Blues and host of real and imitation African Monarchs and many more unfamiliar species that need some effort to identify them.

Fishing is a little quiet. We suspect that most fish species have used the abundant water to move into shallower areas to breed. Many Bream and Tilapia species can be seen nesting in areas of thick grass. The patterns they create are quite interesting, reminding one of a poaching pan or a giant colander.

The climate seems to be changing a little as the evenings are getting colder and the mornings are covered in dew. The rain is yet to stop and be replaced by endless sun and blue skies. Maybe things will return to normal soon. With April arriving, we look forward to observing the continuing flood and all the changes around the camp as animals arrive and birds flock to our part of the world.

Vonan and Chrizelle will be looking after the island with the guides being Jargon and George.

We wish everyone a Happy Easter.

The Jacana Management Team

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DumaTau update - Mar 06               Jump to DumaTau Camp
And so another month has passed out here in the Linyanti Concession... and what a fabulous month it has been! The managers in camp this month were Fungai and Sue, Chantelle, Tebby and K.G. Guides were Cilas, Mr T (Theba), Ban and Brian.

Environment
March-April is the change-over period for the seasons. From May we will be truly entering Autumn/Fall. April has seen quite a bit of rain (>105 mm) and there is water lying everywhere, in puddles and pools across the concession. The maximum temperature this month was 30°C and the lowest 16°C. Scattered clouds appeared on most days and produced rain on a total of 8 days, mainly in the afternoon and at night. Although the area is wet it is not particularly humid. May should see the ceasing of rain altogether and the slight dropping of temperatures.

As a result of all the rain, the bush is dense and camp looks like a jungle: all the shrubs in full leaf and many bushes bedecked with trailing creepers. Many of the small herbaceous plants have still got flowers: yellow Wing-stem Daisies, Bur-marigolds and Wild Lucerne form in clusters, small white Acrotomes are dotted throughout the bush, the Cat's Tails have formed thick stands of knee-high pink drooping flowers and the grasses are also still in flower and standing quite tall, although they are changing colour and becoming browner. In the Savuti Channel and the surrounding woodlands the grass is still knee height or higher. Visibility is not at its greatest and on a few occasions this month that we have spotted animals in the road, which, as soon as they left the road disappeared immediately and were lost. The trees are all still in leaf and the area is still quite green and lush.

The water levels in the lagoons and the Linyanti River are particularly high and Osprey Lagoon has extended past the road making this area un-drivable with Sharp-tooth Catfish swimming in the road now. The floodplains between camp and Kubu Lagoon are also wet up to the road. Zibadianja Lagoon is amazing! Just a year and a half ago Zibadianja Lagoon dried up at the end of the dry season. Now the water is higher than it has been in at least the past five years. The water from Zibadianja has pushed up the Savuti Channel, past the hide (a pod of hippos has taken up daily residence in front of the hide) and even over a kilometer beyond the Old Mopane Bridge, and is still slowly pushing forward. One must remember that the Savuti Channel last flowed in the early eighties and has since then become an open grassland with its head at Zibadianja Lagoon and its tail at the Savuti Marsh in Chobe National Park. Water has almost reached the first major corner in the channel from the Zib side. The rainy season is almost over now and we await a further potential push of water down the channel from the rising floodwaters of the Kwando River. This rise in water occurs every year, but if this last season's rainfall in Angola was particularly high and the Kwando and then the Linyanti Rivers rise high so will Zibadianja Lagoon and thus the SAvuti Channel (Zib Lagoon is caused by the backflow from the Linyanti River as it makes a right angle and follows the fault in the earth that caused the 90 degree turn). Should this happen I believe that many people would book both Duma Tau and Savuti Bush Camp just to see the river flowing again! ? But who knows? ? The African sun is harsh and the rise in water levels due to the floods is a long way off.

Birds and birding
Many of the summer migrants are still here. We have had sightings of Amur Falcons hovering over the grasslands of the channel, African Golden Orioles flitting through the woodlands, Paradise Flycatchers in the riverine forests, Barn swallows catching insects over the grasslands, Spotted Flycatchers with their characteristic flicking their wings as they land, Carmine bee-eaters taking advantage of the Kori Bustards by catching a lift on their backs as they stride through the grasslands catching insects, Woodland Kingfishers flying between the trees and even a few sightings of Wahlberg's Eagles and Broad-billed Rollers.

With the water pushing up the channel many waterbirds have gathered near the "Old Mopane Bridge". One morning when we arrived there we noted that there were more than 40 Black Egrets fishing in one spot in their characteristic umbrella-style fashion. The water at the bridge has also drawn lots of other birds. For a while there were over 150 Comb Ducks, numerous Little and Yellow-billed Egrets, some Egyptian Geese, a few Spoonbills, a few Spur-winged Geese and 5 Pink-backed Pelicans. At the edges of the water we also found numerous wading birds, including Ruff and Wood Sandpipers. One evening we were having sundowners near Zibadianja Hide, watching an incredible sky loaded with golden clouds upon a carmine background, when 9 African Skimmers flew past us, in the lowering light, all with their beaks in the water skimming the surface - awesome!

Other birding highlights this month include seeing a male Montagu's Harrier flying up the channel one morning, a Double-banded Courser in the open area of Cheetah Flats, regular sightings of at least five groups of Ground Hornbills in the Savuti Channel between Duma Tau and Savuti, endangered Wattled Cranes on at least two occasions, eight separate sightings of Slaty Egret, a Long-crested Eagle (very scarce in these parts), and an aerial contest between two Bateleur Eagles as they tumbled and grappled in the air for at least half a hour in front of us. We have also had quite a few sightings of a Lesser Moorhen and her 4 juveniles at a seasonal pool deep in the mopane woodlands.

Mammals
Because of all the water in the woodlands the elephants have spread out and are not frequenting the river although we are still seeing herds in the mopane woodlands and the occasional bulls striding across the Savuti Channel.

Lion sightings have been pretty good and we have had views of these big cats on at least 20 days in March. The Savuti Pride have been the stars this month. This pride consists of 4 adult lionesses and four cubs (two of about 1 year, and 2 of about 8 months). They have been seen mainly in the area of "Dish Pan Clearing" and "The Bottleneck" in the Savuti Channel. They have, on many occasions been accompanied by two of the Savuti Boys (part of a coalition of 4 adult male lions that arrived in the channel in mid-2004 and have been dominant since). On the 13th we watched as one of the females was walking in the rain along the road. She was drenched. As she was walking she called and searched for the other members of her pride and eventually led guides to the pride feeding on a zebra in the nearby woodlands. On the 17th they were discovered with the remains of a wildebeest. They were once again lying with bellies extended. The two males were sleeping right next to the carcass in the shade of a Feverberry, while the females and youngsters rested in the middle of the channel. On the 21st the females and youngsters were found to the east of Savuti Camp. Once again they had found a dead, fallen tree and were clambering about on it. Great to watch! During the month two lioness of the Linyanti Pride were also seen way beyond their normal territory/range south of Savuti Camp (one lioness was easily recognisable from a deep notch in her right hand ear).

Leopard sightings have been more difficult this month due to the thicker vegetation and the species' natural ability to make use of this kind of cover. We managed quite a few good sightings though. On the night of the 9th for example a sub-adult male (Phoenix) was found lying up in a tree near Letsumo Sign. He was very relaxed and just lay there watching the vehicles below. He then saw some impala nearby and climbed down the tree, but the impala had already wandered off, so the leopard lay down in the grass and preened himself. On another occasions (the night of the 14th) I was driving down the Transit route when I came across a female leopard (Osprey) who was obviously taking her young cub (maybe 10 - 12 weeks old) to a kill she had hidden somewhere. As we approached she and the cub headed off into the bush on the side of the road. We watched as the two disappeared into the thick vegetation. On the 19th we were having a fabulous drive, (2 lionesses and 4 cubs; 2 cheetah) when, lo and behold, we came across a female leopard walking down the road ahead of us. On the 28th Kanye found the Savuti/Rock-Pan Female in the middle of the channel, to the east of "Rock Pan". She had killed a male impala during the night and stashed its carcass in the cover of a Feverberry Croton Tree. In the afternoon, we returned to the site of the kill and watched as she lay up in a large Leadwood Tree nearby where the carcass had been stashed. She was extremely relaxed and hardly even seemed to register that we were there watching her.

We saw two different groups of Cheetahs during March. One an unidentified group of two (seemingly a sub-adult male and adult female) and the other the coalition of two males known as the Savuti Boys. These two males (and a third who died tragically last year) have been famous in the area for quite a few years. They have maintained a territory the has encompassed the whole Savuti Channel, From Munchwe Open Area all the way to Zibadianja Lagoon and into the Selinda and even the Kwando Concessions. The remaining two brothers were seen to the South-east of Savuti Camp, lying in the open grasslands, on the 18th and 19th of the month. We assume that they headed even further to the east past Munchwe, quite a distance from Duma Tau.

There has been a conspicuous lack of sightings of Wild Dogs this month. We had not seen any of these "Painted Predators" until the afternoon of the 28th when three Wild Dogs came running into the channel in front of Savuti Camp. They then disappeared into the woodlands and shortly afterwards at least 19 other dogs came running into the channel from the woodlands. The pack (the Duma Tau Pack) then grouped up and headed up the road towards the airstrip. They obviously slept somewhere en route as Cilas spotted them up again, near the airstrip, the next morning.

As well as seeing quite a few of the larger, more well-known animals we have also been lucky to see quite a few of the smaller, equally interesting creatures. We have been fortunate to have a few sightings of Honey Badger, Large- and Small-Spotted Genets, Black-backed and Side-striped Jackals, Dwarf and Banded Mongoose, Slender Mongoose and the scarce nocturnal Selous' Mongoose, a few Bat-eared Foxes and a porcupine and then a Caracal. Perhaps the highlight of the month though occurred on the 17th when I noticed a francolin and two Burchell's Glossy Starlings squawking at something in the grass beneath them. I got out of the car and went to investigate, expecting to find a python or a mongoose. When I approached the area I saw a creature that was covered in a scaly body armour, and realised that I was looking at a Pangolin hidden in the grass - only my second sighting of a pangolin in over ten years of guiding. This one was approximately 30 cm to the top of its back and almost a meter from head to tail. It was hidden in the grass, feeding on ants, which were underneath a rotting log. We all got out of the vehicle and came up closer to take a look and it rolled itself into a ball. It was not long before it opened up and quickly walked, on its hind legs, into the thick bushes nearby. We then left him there. What a strange creature and what a privilege to see it!

And that's all for this month, we, at Duma Tau are really looking forward to what April brings.
Ciao, Brian

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Selinda update - Mar 06               Jump to Selinda Camp
Camp news
Finally we have finished the building of our new Trails tents. Effectively they are the same size as the previous ones, but with a lot more emphasis on being "open air". This fits in far better with the overall Trails experience of being surrounded by nature at all times.

At Selinda Camp building is still going hammer & tongs! Our end of May deadline looks to be safe... if the rain stays away. The new units are spectacular with a few extra touches for the guest who enjoys life's little luxuries. These will include overhead fans & beautiful stone baths that will be the central feature of the outdoor bathrooms.

Zibalianja proved to be as busy as anticipated. Once again we welcomed back Alison Maestrangelo, our oldest fan. She has been making her annual pilgrimmage to The Selinda since 1988. Not since those early days has she seen floodwaters like we are experiencing this year.

On that topic, the floods continue to amaze us. The Zibalianja Lagoon has spilled over its banks & the surrounding floodplains are becoming inundated. For the first time in 13 years water is once again in front of Zibalianja's bar, indeed it is overflowing into the sunken hide - jacuzzi anyone?

New walking safari tents at Selinda New walking safari tents at Selinda New Selinda tents

Game news
After their brief absence, the Selinda wild dog pack made a welcome return. They are still 22 strong in number & it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate last year's litter from the adults. The poor impala are once again being terrorised & a number of kills have been seen close to Zibalianja & the concession HQ.

There are a number of new lion cubs around, trying to find their way around in the extremely long grass. Pride dynamics are becoming increasingly confusing & it could be that we are witnessing a split in the Selinda pride much like was seen about 10 years ago. This resulted in the group we now call the Bridge pride.

Our guides reported the death of a female cheetah, killed by lions, whose identity is uncertain at this stage. We are all hoping that it isn't Jade (the mother of the boisterous "Sparky" amongst others) who has entertained us for quite a number of years.

With the population explosion of rodents brought on by the rains, Serval have become a fairly common sight on night drives. These striking cats are consummate 'mousers' & hunt almost exclusively by sound - their large ears pin-pointing the prey in long grass before launching a spectacular aerial pounce.

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - Mar 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Summer is still trying its best to remain with us, competing in a tug-of-war with the cold fronts that have been moving up from the Cape. This month the weather has flipped back and forth from glorious sunny days, with mirror-like sea conditions and water temperatures still at 27°C, to rainy days with swollen seas and a couple of thermoclines dropping the temperature to 24°C.

Things started and ended on a big note this month. Around 8-10 metres big, with a huge tail, white spots, tiny eyes and a huge mouth... guessed it yet? Yep, we have been blessed with three different sightings of whaleshark!

On the 1st of March the divers had a wonderful dive at Pineapple Reef and as they were hanging at their 5m safety stop, a curious whaleshark swam slowly past them, entertaining everyone for much longer than the mere 3 minutes required. Andrew (assistant manager at Rocktail) would say that the only reason everyone saw the whaleshark was because he wasn't on the dive - some of us seem to have that luck! Well, it seems that Andrew's luck was about to change, as Darryl spotted another. "Whaleshark" he whispered to Andrew, who laughed and carried on getting masks and fins ready. "No, really, whaleshark!" Darryl replied. At which point, in a blur, Andrew and all of the guests were in the water. They had a wonderful time!

The third sighting was on the 25th of March at 'Regal Reef' and this time there were others who had the luck. Maria, Alistair, Laura and Paul had been diving with us for a couple of days, with six o'clock starts and with 2-year old little Michaela, Laura had decided to sleep in. Maria had asked if we could dive at 'Regal' (her favourite dive site in the whole world). We descended into the blue water, to the beautiful maze below us: Each one of us inside our own gully, admiring the reef around us, trails of bubbles marking our respective positions. Alistair saw her first. As he was coming out of a hole he looked up and saw the whaleshark swim overhead. He motioned to Bruno, who pulled my fin, which caught Maria's attention, and we all began to swim across the reef. Looking back quickly, we made sure that Johan and Amilda (from Divestyle Magazine) were coming to film the whaleshark. They were, and they got some wonderful footage as the whaleshark turned and swam straight for the camera. Everyone was so overcome with excitement that they started hugging and shouting, except for Paul, who looked confused as Maria gave him a big hug. "What?" he signalled, "Did you see the BIG fish?" I signalled back. "No" he shook his head. "You're joking" I laughed in bubbles. "No" he replied. We could not believe that he had missed this 10-metre giant!

"Thank you to Michelle and Clive for taking me to those marvellous dive sites. Definitely deserves another trip! Thanks for your kindness." - BB - Paris, France

Although the official turtle-nesting season came to an end on the 15th March, we were still lucky enough to see the last baby Loggerhead on the 23rd March. Unfortunately a ghost crab had hold of it by the head and as we drove down the beach it dropped the little turtle in the surf. We took it out to sea to help it along, but unfortunately it didn't survive. An experience like this makes you really appreciate what a fight for survival these creatures have been through when you see the adults swimming along the reef, or sleeping under a ledge.

The following day we had a magnificent dive at 'Gogo's', where we were very excited to be joined by the same group of threadfin mirrorfish that were there last month! Great to see that they are still hanging around. This was a first for all of the divers and we hovered as these silver fish flashed past us trailing their shiny streamers behind them in the water.

'Solitude' is always a wonderful dive. This small dive site is covered with life. Green tree corals, swarming with goldies; a large branched black which is home to a tiny long nose hawkfish; honeycomb and black cheek moray eels; sand eels; schools of soldier fish; various starfish and pin cushion starfish; kingfish skirting the perimeter of the reef, looking for an easy target and rays on the sand. With so much to see and not that much time to spend at this 24m site it leaves you wanting more.

Our friends the bottlenose dolphins have been in a very sociable mood this month. A pod of up to 30 dolphins, with mature males and females, teenagers and babies were hanging out just north of 'Island Rock'. We watched them playing in the waves, some surfing, and some making impressive jumps right through the waves. We stayed with them for about twenty minutes, watching them circling the boat and frolicking with each other under the water, before deciding that it was time to head back to shore.

To Maria and Alistair (very proud grandparents), Laura and Paul (very proud parents) and the little gem Michaela (now 2 years old) - thanks for some very good laughs, even if they were at your expense Paul!
To Rijck and Frances, who managed to bring a flood to a desert on their latest African safari, it was wonderful to see you both and Darryl says you can keep the 'schnapps'!
To Mark and Greta, two very special people, always a pleasure! Greta, you better put in for leave now, Mark has already booked his Divemaster course!

"Thanks for a special 9 days and a very professionally conducted Rescue Diver Course! From the best Dive Team in South Africa." M&G, Johannesburg, South Africa

Till then, safe diving!

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

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Turtle News from Rocktail Bay - Mar 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
The past five months have gone by so quickly! We can hardly believe that the time has come when we must sum up the season and write the final turtle report.

Similar to the research time in October, March is also a very quiet month for sightings of turtles. We, unfortunately, have not seen any mother turtles or signs of them this month, and can now safely assume that they are all on their journeys, whether it be searching the oceans for jellyfish or making their way back to their home reef systems.

Sightings of hatchlings have also been quiet, and we saw only a handful of them during the first fifteen days of March. This year's hatchlings have not just had to deal with the normal dangerous situations that all baby turtles find themselves in, but they have also had to deal with the most horrendous natural elements that Neptune and Mother Nature teamed up to throw at them.

It all started on the 2nd of March, when part of a tropical cyclone moved over our coastline, causing a chaotic change in weather conditions. Just before everyone sat down for dinner that evening it started pouring down in sheets of rain. Actually, to say it was pouring would be an understatement; it thrashed down like we have never seen it before. Needless to say, with zero driving visibility, the turtle drive was abandoned that evening - not even the bravest souls were willing to endure a 120mm downpour.

This weather system moved in for the next five days, bringing with it wind, rain and huge seas, all of which added to the baby turtles' fight for survival, as well as making it extremely difficult for us to spot them on the drives.

Finally, on the 7th of March, the cyclone decided to leave Maputaland, much to the delight of Mr. and Mrs. Lacolina who had travelled all the way to Rocktail Bay from Italy on honeymoon. The weather was just right for them to attempt the midnight drive, and a successful drive it was. Gugu spotted Leatherback hatchlings making their way down to the sea across Manzengwenya beach. This sighting was a big relief, and confirmed that there were still some nests out there on the beaches that were unharmed by the brutal seas of the previous week.

The 15th of March saw the very last drive of the 2005-2006 turtle nesting season. Unfortunately, there were no sightings of turtles, but the play of the full moon's rays on the surface of a very calm Indian Ocean, made it an unforgettable way to end the season.

Memorable turtles of the past season
We probably say it every season, but the 2005-2006 turtle nesting season is going down as one of the greatest in the Rocktail history books. For the last report of the season, we though that we would refresh your minds by giving our own awards to the turtles that have given us the most cherished moments over the past five months.

The award for the oldest mother turtle seen this season goes, without a doubt, to Leatherback mother X228, who later in the season became known as Gran, when she was lovingly adopted by Derek and Pamela Machin. Gran was tagged an incredible nineteen years ago - the satisfaction that we received when we saw this old lady's tag number on the data sheet is hard to express. Well done, Gran, we hope you keep going for another nineteen years!

The award for most frequently seen turtle goes to Bibi with the famous tag number BB242. We saw her in December, January and February and each time we saw her she laid a successful batch of eggs. Bibi was originally tagged an equally impressive sixteen years ago, and for the past two years has had David and Bettina Harden as loving 'parents' - lucky lady!

The "first turtle of the season" award goes to Jenny, the Loggerhead Turtle, who got this season into full swing. She arrived on Lala Nek beach on the 24th of October 2005 at half past midnight. Not only was she the first turtle of the season, but she also wins the award for first "new" Loggerhead mother turtle of the season. Gugu, smiling from ear to ear, tagged her with the tag number PP621. Carl and Joy Campbell were fortunate enough to bear witness to this first sighting, and before they departed from Rocktail, Jenny was a happily adopted member of their family.

The first "new" Leatherback mother of the season goes to Caroline, with the tag number PP608. Gugu spotted her on the 10th of November 2005 at three o'clock in the morning on Manzengwenya beach, and wasted no time in tagging and micro-chipping her. Caroline was also seen again on the 1st of December 2005, when Mbongeni measured her enormous 1.5m long carapace. Richard Denman could not resist, and even though he did not actually see "his" Caroline, she was adopted and became part of his life forever.

Another award is for the largest turtle of the season award, and it goes to Travis and Alison Cooke's Tortuga the Leatherback, bearing tag number PP625. She measured in at a massive 1.80m in length. In total, she was seen three times during the season, and gave many of our guests pleasure in seeing such an enormous specimen of the world's largest and most endangered sea turtle.

We could not think of a title for this award, but we wanted to make special mention of it. Who could forget our desperate Loggerhead mother, who came up onto Rocktail Bay beach at half past five in the afternoon on the 5th of January 2006? For Kevin Boyers and Karen Deller, Patrick Trebbe and Birgitt Watts, Mr and Mrs Traube, the Perring Family, the Gunnell Family and the Masojada Family it was an experience that will be hard to beat in the future. Special mention must be made, once again, to Rauri Gunnell, for bolting all the way back to camp and reporting the exciting news to everyone.

Thank you
Looking back over our turtle adoptions for this season it is clear that it is impossible for us to award each adopter individually. Anyone who has ever adopted a turtle will appreciate how special it is, knowing that you have helped save future generations of turtles along the Maputaland coastline. However, the Rocktail Team would like to make a special mention of thanks to Brian Malk and Nancy Heitel, who have done more than their fair share to save the turtles. At the end of the 2004-2005 turtle season, Brian and Nancy adopted the remaining fifteen "orphaned" Loggerhead turtles. Once again this season, they are doubling what they did last year, and are adopting an astonishing thirty "orphaned" turtles. Isn?t that unbelievable?

The Rocktail Team would like to thank all of you who have adopted a turtle this season. As you all already know, you have gone out of your way to help these gentle marine reptiles.

To end this season on a high, we wanted to let you know that over the past five months in our research area we have tagged a grand total of 74 new, untagged mothers. There are actually no words to describe how mind-boggling this is for us. (To give you some idea, last season we tagged 29 new untagged mothers)

We once again want to thank all of you who have participated in this valuable project and we hope that the next turtle season, 2006-2007, will be as incredible as this one has been.

Until October 2006,
Kind Regards,

Dean, Leza, Andrew, Shannon, Simon, Gugu, Mbongeni and the Rocktail Team

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Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - Mar 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
Well, the seasons are certainly changing, with the days becoming cooler and the humidity definitely dropping. The area once again is taking on a whole new look, as the once-tall grass is now slowly starting to dry out and some of the trees are starting to lose their leaves as they begin changing into their autumn colours. It's been an amazing nine months for my wife Colleen and I as we have watched the seasons changing and the Luvuvhu River going from completely dry to almost flooding. We've been very fortunate to have witnessed all these happenings right on our very own doorstep.

Here are a few of the sightings highlights from the month:
- Hundreds of Marabou Storks gathered together to feast on armoured crickets.
- Lions mating on the Pafuri Camp access road: one young male and two females.
- Hippo bulls fighting under Pafuri Bridge.
- Baby giant land snails hatching.
- Blind/deaf civet seen during the day at our airstrip and who now is frequently seen in the camp.
- A large herd of buffalo frequently seen close to camp has one white female amongst them.
- Buffalo calves being born: herds on average of about 120 individuals seen almost everyday.
- Total of four elephant sightings. But the herds are showing signs of returning.

Mammal sightings
Leopard sightings this month were of the Mangala female and her cub and of the Bridge male. We have had no sign of the female with three cubs reported a couple of months back. Lion sightings have consisted mainly of two groups: the Pafuri Pride and a smaller group who have utilised the eastern area of the concession around camp. We were fortunate enough to see some interaction between the two groups and to gain a better understanding of the local lion dynamics. The smaller group consists of one adult lioness and a younger male and female. The young male of this group was seen clashing with the adult territorial male of the Pafuri Pride and this clash has lead to the departure of this smaller group from the concession. It has meant that the Pafuri Pride have moved back into the area around camp and despite his wounds, the territorial male has held his own and has been seen with the pride since then. As if to consolidate his position in the area he has often been heard roaring.

Sightings of the pride have ranged from all four lionesses and their cubs and sub-adults (16 in total) to smaller fragments of the different lionesses and their offspring.

Some of the other mammals seen this month are: Large spotted genet, African civet, spotted hyaena, dwarf and banded mongoose, klipspringer, nyala, impala, bushbuck, waterbuck, warthog, zebra, porcupine, to name a few.

Birding
Birding has been very good this month with a grand total of 243 recorded species. Some of the 'specials' spotted were: Mottled Spinetail, Pel's Fishing Owl, Freckled Night Jar, Lesser Gallinule, and Glossy Ibis. Other sightings include: Racket-tailed Roller, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Black-winged Stilt, Little Sparrow Hawk, Steppe Eagle, White-backed Night-Heron and Dwarf Bittern.

Climate
The average minimum temperature was 20°C, with the average maximum temperature 32°C. We received 50.5mm of rainfall in several short showers.

Thanks
Geoff Mullen

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Namibia camps
Kulala Newsletter - Mar 06                  Jump to Kulala Wilderness Camp
March...a new beginning! We have joined the Wilderness Team down in the South at Kulala Wilderness Camp situated at the foot of a mountain facing west. We overlook a (currently) green grass plain and see majestic sunsets every night making for memorable moments.

One impression of Kulala so far has been eating breakfast and being greeted by a Lark-like Bunting with his short 'tuc-tuc' call, sometimes joined by the Red-headed Finch and the occasional entrance of the Cape Sparrow to feed his youngsters down at the swimming pool where there is a nest. Mountain Chats and Pale-winged Starlings also hop around looking for insects to feast on! Insects and even reptiles have become part of our lives...having a pet spider in my room ('Floppie') or going home and a Horned Adder making us aware of his presence as he disappears into the grasslands or just sitting in the office and seeing a passing Jewel Beatle take a break on the windowpane. Around every corner is an armoured cricket lurking around and making a 'schrrrschrr' noise for making his presence heard.

Every day has a surprise of its own. Today I saw a herd of springbok passing by the lodge with two little ones jumping around as if they had just discovered jumping. I have been privileged today by also seeing two Hartmann's mountain zebra, a mare and foal - absolutely magnificent and proof that the desert is alive and thriving!

On our way to our neighbouring camp (Sossusvlei Wilderness Camp), we saw a group of gemsbok (oryx) grazing about and driving out into the Wilderness for our Nature Drive, saw plenty of springbok, Ludwig's Bustard and Rüppell's Korhaan - all in perfect contrast to the grassland and mountains. Further on into the mountains we passed a site called the Organ Pipes...they look like 1000 pencils clued together. We finally arrived at the Viewpoint for our planned sundowner, surrounded by nature and privileged to share this moment with friends.

In the background the sun was setting, and as we watched the sun disappearing behind the dunes leaving behind her red, orange and yellow colours forming Angel Rays, we felt honoured to witness this.

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