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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

May 2006

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

     • Namibia updates
     • Explorations updates
     • South Africa updates
     • Botswana updates
     • Conservation news
     • Other news & updates
• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
Kwando Safaris game reports.

• Update on the 2006 Okavango Delta flood

• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Little Vumbura Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
Great Namibian Journey newsletter.

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


Wilderness Safaris Updates - May 2006
NAMIBIA NEWS
Gerhard ThirionCongratulations to Gerhard Thirion (Wilderness Safaris Namibia Explorations) who was nominated by UK travel magazine ‘Wanderlust’ for the Paul Morrison Guide Award as “one of the world’s best guides” who “enriches our travels, highlights the qualities of a top guide and encourages others to seek out these special people.”

Another exceptional sighting in Namibia recently was that of an endemic black-faced impala which was seen by Rudi and Kallie from Skeleton Coast about 10km west of Purros and way out of normal range. The ram nonchalantly walked across the road 25m in front of them.

Hoanib River Camp is now open, the main area at Damaraland Camp has been rethatched and a pool installed (see photo below).New Pool at Damaraland Camp, Namibia

Little Kulala Camp, NamibiaLittle Kulala Camp, NamibiaLittle Kulala has been refurbished and transformed into a premier camp with interiors reminiscent of North Island and Vumbura Plains. In addition to the refurbishment, the camp has also added an extra twin unit, which means the will now be 11 tents. The breakdown of units is now 8 twin-bedded units, 1 double unit, 1 family unit and a twin (guide) tent.

The stylish canvas-and-thatch villas merge impeccably into the timeless desert landscape, with exquisite fittings and fixtures, and innovative bleached decks each with a private plunge pool. The extensive use of neutral colors, gorgeous textures and natural light reproduce the soothing pastel tones of the desert. 

Other camps undergoing refurbishment in 2006 include Serra Cafema which will be adding an additional unit to bring the total to 9 (including a family unit sleeping four).

The Nature of the Beast, Graham Boynton
“Before our encounter in the Savuti blind we’d spent a couple of days watching elephants from a distance in a place that is the antithesis of Botswana’s wilderness: the seemingly endless desert of Namibia, home to no more than eight hundred elephants – desert elephants to be precise – in an area that covers 31,000 square miles.  There are but 1.9 million citizens in this beautiful country that has established one of the more progressive and successful wildlife conservation programs on the continent.

Which is why Christiaan Bakkes came to live and work here.  He is a longhaired heavy metal fan who, after a horrific crocodile attack in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 1994, took to the road to find himself and ended up finding the Damaraland Desert.  What is so seductive about the desert, Bakkes says, is that huge animals such as rhinos and elephants are dwarfed by the landscape.  “You can live here for a lifetime,” he explains, “and there will always be a hill unclimbed and a valley unexplored.  You can travel through this ecosystem forever without feeling the presence of man.”

Bakkes works as a guide and conservationist for Wilderness Safaris…see the full article here


EXPLORATIONS NEWS
New Exploration: Botswana and Namibia Epic

Botswana Namibia Epic safariBotswana Namibia Epic safariA unique and contrasting combination of two of the most beautiful countries in the world, this Exploration lives up to its name. It explores the wide open spaces of Namibia, taking in the awe-inspiring dunes of Sossusvlei and the Namib Desert, the stark beauty of Damaraland and the wildlife-rich area of Ongava Game Reserve.

Then enter another world: the waterways and lush green of Xigera in the Okavango Delta, the ephemeral Selinda Spillway linking the Delta and Linyanti, and the Linyanti area itself, famed for its prolific wildlife in a variety of vastly differing habitats. A night at The River Club on the banks of the Zambezi River is a fitting end to a true voyage of exploration.


New Exploration: Great Zambia Journey

The Great Zambia JourneyThe Great Zambia Journey, an excellent means of seeing the best of Kafue National Park, will be up and running by July 2006 and will take in the Victoria Falls as well as two camps in Kafue - on the Busanga Plains and on the Lunga River. 

An extended stay at each camp allows guests to maximize an incredible wildlife experience.  Kafue, combined with the cascading waters of the thundering Victoria Falls (one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World), creates a short diverse itinerary that perfectly fits with tailored add-on extensions Cape Town, Botswana, Luangwa and Malawi.

New Exploration: Desert Rhino and Elephant Walking Expedition                Jump to The Desert Rhino & Elephant Expedition
Desert Rhino and Elephant Walking ExpeditionOn an original and exciting Exploration in the remote and rugged 450,000-hectare Palmwag Concession of Namibia, guests join the "ships of the desert" on a great adventure: An eight-day walk across the oldest desert in the world, where a camel train and a team of Save the Rhino trackers take you deep into the heart of the Namib Desert in search of the rare and endangered black rhino. 
Another amazing sight is that of the uniquely adapted desert elephant. This safari focuses on both these animals in some of the most remote and inaccessible regions of the concession.

A portion of the revenues generated by this venture are channelled into the critically important conservation of the rhino population of the area through the Save the Rhino Trust.

After four nights accompanying the rhino trackers across the concession, guests bid their camels farewell and spend the final two nights at the Haonib River Camp enjoying game drives and walks in search of the desert elephants and taking in the spectacular scenery. This area makes for one of Africa's most spectacular wildlife experiences.


SOUTH AFRICA NEWS
Pafuri Wilderness Trails Launched
               Jump to Pafuri Camp
Pafuri Wilderness TrailsFor those looking for a wilder experience complementing our Pafuri Camp in the Makuleke Concession of the Kruger National Park, the Pafuri Wilderness Trails have been launched. With its rugged and varied topography, and enormous botanical and habitat diversity, the 24,000-hectare concession lends itself perfectly to walking safaris, adding an overwhelming element of remoteness. Led by an experienced and knowledgeable guide and tracker, there is the opportunity of discovering little known freshwater springs, Stone Age sites, enormous baobab trees and even San rock art. Encounters with both large and small game – from the four-toed elephant shrew and the Sharpe's grysbok to large, dry-season elephant concentrations, multiple buffalo herds and a small but growing resident white rhino population – are a feature of these trails. As a Mecca for birders, searches for Pel's Fishing Owl, Grey-headed Parrot, Racket-tailed Rollers and other specials are also an important part of the three-night trails.

Accommodation is in comfortable, en-suite thatched tents and meals are cooked on the open fire, accompanied by the evocative night sounds of the bush. Trails take a maximum of 8 people and are sold on a set departure basis. For the duration of 2006, anyone booking a walking trail will be able to book consecutive nights at Pafuri Camp at the same nightly rate as for the trail.

Sefofane Flights
Pafuri Camp:  As from February 2006, Sefofane commenced servicing Pafuri Camp with a feeder seat rate service from Phalaborwa Airport (PHW) to the camp.  The cost of access to Pafuri has thereby been vastly reduced.  Guests are now able to fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to PHW on (SA) Airlink.
Rocktail Bay:  There is a new air transfer to Rocktail Bay Lodge from Richards Bay on the camps own Cessna 206, which is based at the Lodge.  Guests can now fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Richards Bay, from where they will connect onto the air transfer to Rocktail Bay.


BOTSWANA NEWS
Seba Camp                Jump to Seba Camp

Elephants at Seba CampSeba Camp, set to open in June 2006, offers five spacious, slevated tents with en-suite bathrooms and overlooking a lagoon teeming with bird life.  The camp is named after one of the elephants released from nearby Abu Camp.

A number of elephants that were released back into the wild have formed their own herd and the interaction between these and the wild herds in the area is the basis for research being performed in the area with Bristol University.  Guests can observe the researchers at work, often in close proximity to the elephant herds.  Other activities include mokoring (seasonal), walks and motor boats.  Rates for Seba Camp are the same as other Wilderness Safaris Classic Camps in Botswana.


Abu Private Villa                Jump to Abu Camp
Abu Private VillaAbu Private Villa (formerly the Elephant Suite) is a separate and private unit on the opposite side of the lagoon from Abu Camp.  The Villa has two large bedrooms with en-suite facilities and a spacious sitting room, all on a raised teak deck beneath shady trees.  Most meals are enjoyed outside, overlooking the lagoon, but the lounge and dining room are sheltered by an Afro-Bedouin-styled tent.  The Villa includes a pool and resident butler and is designed for 4 guests or a small family.  The emphasis here is on privacy and luxury in the African bush.

CONSERVATION NEWS
Pafuri Baby Rhino

Pafuri Camp is proud to announce that during January, one of the white rhino cows (relocated from further south in July 2005) gave birth and both mother and calf are doing well.  The last birth os a white rhino in the Pafuri region of Kruger National Park probably took place between 110 and 115 years ago.

Mombo Baby Rhino #8                Jump to Mombo Camp

Baby Rhino #8 at Mombo CampAt the end of November, the Mombo monitoring team set out to look for a female who had not been seen since parting company with her regular companion a few days earlier.  Often this is a sign of an impending birth and this, in combination with her vast girth and general lethargy when last seen, suggested that another calf was on the way.  The clincher was seeing a white stork in the road on the way, a beautiful bird hailing from southern Europe, storm-tossed across the sea and blown across deserts en-route.  Folklore has it that these birds deliver human babies, so why not a rhino baby?

Sure enough, that day the female rhino was spotted with a tiny male calf, born just four or five days earlier and cute as could be!  This was the eighth rhino birth resulting from the Wilderness Safaris / SANParks / Botswana Government reintroduction programme.  To date almost one-quarter of the white rhinos have been wild born in the area - a great achievement.

Elephant Pepper Project                Jump to River Club
The River Club in Zambia is involved in one of the most innovative ideas yet, whereby farmers in Zambia are being encouraged to plant a chili patch around their food crops.  The chilies are used to both prevent elephants from destroying crops (dried chilies mixed with dung to burn at night and with grease to make a "chili fence") and also to earn the farmer extra cash (chilies are sold at $1 per kg).  This program is run by the Elephant Pepper Development Trust, which also advises farmers on natural resources and sustainable utilization of such resources in relation to the management of conflict with wildlife.


OTHER NEWS
Private Guides Development

Guiding has always been at the core of the Wilderness Safaris experience, where the passion, knowledge and enthusiasm of the guide has created an unforgettable safari and seamless experience. Now, with large tracts of wilderness complemented by fantastic facilities, a new breed of regional specialist guide has emerged in each of the countries that we operate. These people are dedicated, competent and experienced individuals within their country. Traveling with and personally guiding the guest, they have the ability to bring out and complement each area and camp. They add consistency and a wealth of knowledge, as well as concentrating on the guests’ preferred interests and needs, to create a unique experience.

The new Private Guiding structure is divided into three sections – Wilderness Regional Specialists, Wilderness Pilot Guides and Independent Specialist Guides – and headed by Gregg Hughes in Cape Town. Gregg has worked in Botswana for the past five years and says, “Working for Wilderness Safaris in these unrivalled wilderness areas has fulfilled everything I am about. And best of all, you are gaining immense satisfaction from sharing and realizing people's dreams, discoveries and most of all perspectives every time they step out into Africa with you. This is where you have to be...”

The Mombo Cookbook

The Mombo Cookbook - Elephant in the KitchenThe long-awaited Elephant in the Kitchen cookbook has finally been published and is now available. A joint venture between Mombo Camp's acclaimed chef, Craig Higgins, and internationally renowned wildlife photographers and filmmakers, Dereck & Beverly Joubert, this is more than just a cookbook -- it is a journey through what it takes to produce world-class fare in a truly remote location. 

The book is also a guide to producing some of these delicious meals.  Elephant in the Kitchen also includes beautiful photos and tales about life at Mombo, one of Africa's finest wildlife refuges located in the heart of Botswana's Okavango delta.

The Rains!
Rainfall in much of southern Africa has been well above average (double in some areas) in January and February 2006.  This has led to exciting conditions and interesting dynamics in many safari regions.  In Namibia the rain has changed the color of the desert from brown to green - in fact, Damaraland Camp is virtually unrecognizable in its new setting.

Meanwhile, the Hoarusib River (in the northern part of the Skeleton Coast concession) has flooded for the second time this season, while Skeleton Coast Camp had the highly unusual event of rain on three consecutive nights.  Currently this area is exceptional for photography. Furthest north in the Hartmann's Valley at Serra Cafema Camp, the area was like a golf course in February and it attracted all the gemsbok, springbok and mountain zebra to the rich grazing. 

Northern Botswana is also enjoying an above-average year of rains, creating a very different environment and thus an unusual safari experience from that of typical years.  The Okavango Delta has benefited immensely from these rains, with most areas looking the way they do during the flood season.  Rivers, channels and floodplains are inundated.  At the time of writing, we await the arrival of the main flood waters and are curious to see the tandem effects of rain and flood waters in 2006.

Mumbo Island & Domwe Island, Malawi
Mumbo IslandDomwe Island

Mumbo Island and Domwe Island camps, the two most exquisite camps in the south of Lake Malawi, joined Mvuu Lodge and Kaya Mawa as part of Wilderness Safaris in late 2005.  Established in 1995 by Kayak Africa, these camps are each situated on two uninhabited islands in Lake Malawi National Park, surrounded by pristine forest and unsurpassed beauty.

Both Mumbo and Domwe Island camps offer an exceptional wilderness experience and a wide range of activities.  Just a short scenic drive from Liwonde National Park, the camps form a great travel combination with Mvuu Lodge and cater for both action junkies and for those simply wanting to relax in one of Africa's most magical settings.

Chikwenya and Ruckomechi, Zimbabwe
As a result of Wilderness Safaris' lease with Zimbabwe National Parks not being renewed, we are sad to bid farewell to Chikwenya Camp.  While is was understood that the renewal of the tenure over the site had been agreed to, this in fact was not the case.  All existing bookings at Chikwenya Camp will be moved to Ruckomechi Camp, which will be completely upgraded during the year.  Developments have been slightly delayed due to the heaviest rains of the last decade this summer, but they are still on track to open five fully refurbished rooms at Ruckomechi in May.

A new camp with 7 rooms, built on a separate site within the concession, is planned for later in the year and this new camp will be built along the same standard as Chikwenya, a Classic camp.  Please also note that the closure of Chikwenya will have no impact on the Mana Canoe and Walking Trail as the trail will end at the same location as always.

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

Overall, May has been a brilliant month in the ocean. In our opinion, south-east monsoon wind season (trade winds) has started earlier than expected, as it is usually due mid to late May. No sooner had the winds started than they dropped right off and produced good ocean conditions once again. And then, just when we thought we had a bit of a reprieve from the expected windy season, it started to blow once again and has since stuck with us.

Prior to the winds, we had exceptional diving and fishing conditions. We have been visiting 'Coral Gardens' dive site a lot this month, with a record of 12 visits to this site, as opposed to 10 visits to 'Sprat City'. The reason for so many visits to 'Coral Gardens' is that the coral life is so good here and with the exceptional visibility, which has been ranging from 15m-25m, it has made this site a relaxing, easy, educational dive site on which to spend time. We have also visited 'Twin Anchors' off Silhouette and 'North East Point', the latter taking up the rear in site visits.

The ocean temperature has dropped slightly to that of last month and is hovering around the 27°C mark, with the odd thermocline drop of 1°C or so from time to time. For those of you that are not familiar with the word thermocline, it is an abrupt transition from warm water to cold water and is usually found when the ocean is unsettled or when there has been a rough sea or perhaps a change in water movement.

On 'Coral Gardens', we have managed to see no fewer than seven regal (royal) angelfish cruising happily across the corals. We also spotted round ribbontail rays, porcupine rays, giant moray eels, a large shoal of golden pompano, and our ever-friendly friends, the orbicular batfish, who are becoming even more tame as the days fly by, a courting pair of octopus, one of the largest lobsters that I have yet encountered, totally camouflaged craggy scorpionfish varying in size and colours, which have made trying to spot them hugely exciting, perfect murex (rock) shells. Also, to our delight, we have come close to numerous white-tip reef sharks - this has allowed us to identify their gender for the new shark research programme in which we are involved.

We are looking forward to the month of June as it heralds the start of whale shark season in Seychelles. Ironically it coincides with the windy season, but this is when the ocean is filled with plankton, which is an important source of food for our whale sharks. Talking about these gentle giants of the ocean, MCSS (Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles) has an adoption programme each year whereby one can adopt a whale shark for a year, at a cost of SR 250.00, the funds being utilized for ongoing research work, the cost of a micro light for the season and of course the various tagging equipment that is used for this programme. To date we have 7 "parents" who have signed adoption papers. There is nothing more exhilarating than to make a difference and to know that whatever donation you have given will aid ongoing research and education for generations to come.

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Botswana Camps
Kwando Safari Camps Update - May 06
Update May 10
The rains have finished (we think) - last rains were last week. Kwando river water levels very high but the flow has peaked. The  Okavango river flow measured in the panhandle also appears to be very normal and stabilizing – the local Geo-hydrologist’s from the Oppenheimer Research Institute prediction for the delta is that the flood will be above average because of saturated groundwater in the delta.

Lagoon camp               Jump to Lagoon Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• Two pairs of mating lions found. One lioness was very shy, running & hiding with the male pushing her. The other lioness (with a radio collar) was more relaxed and was mounted 5 times in an hour.
• One male lion (with a bad left eye) found on a wildebeest kill, where he stayed for 3 days, only leaving it briefly to drink.
• A male lion was found at Zebra pan, heading north, while 2 lionesses and 2 males were found sleeping just north of water-cut.
• A female leopard (in excellent condition) was seen drinking at a waterhole.
• Another female (4 spot) very relaxed was followed marking her territory and hunting.
• A male leopard seen resting in the shade at midday, but was quite shy & disappeared back into the bush.
• 2 male cheetah were found at water cut, and then were followed hunting for the next 4 days.
• The Lagoon pack of wild dogs have been sleeping around the camp and also hunting in the area. No kills were seen, but great play activity & grooming behaviour observed. There are still 3 pups that have survived from last years litter of 5 together with the 3 adults.
• Bull elephants seen regularly along the water, with the breeding herds starting to come out of the Mopane woodlands.
• A herd of about 100 buffalo was seen heading towards one of the waterholes.
• Later larger herds were seen all along the Kwando river.
• General game – some zebra, lots of impala, tsessebe, baboons, giraffe, and wildebeest as well as reedbuck, steenbuck, warthogs, red lechwe roan antelope and kudu
• Banded, Dwarf and slender mongooses all seen.
• Common Night Adder seen in the area & lots of other snake tracks. Also a couple of pythons were seen, one of which was being fed on by vultures.
• Martial Eagle, Gymnogene (lots of other eagles) & Wattled Cranes seen.
• Night sightings include hyena feeding on giraffe carcass (possibly killed by hyena), genets, serval, 3 porcupines and 4 honey badgers, side striped & black-backed jackals as well as regular African Wild Cat sightings.
• Damara Mole Rat seen outside its burrow. This is not very common.
• Also saw Tropical Platanna (frog) walking along the road.

(Weeks 3-4)
• Two Male Lions were found feeding on a bull elephant.
• Another two large male lions with full black manes were seen in the day (very shy), but seemed far bolder at night. These males are new to the area & are presumed to have come from the southern areas.
• Two lionesses (one with collar) were seen regularly. Another pride of four (2 lion & 2 lionesses) seen frequently.
• A very relaxed female leopard was seen on the cut line heading south. She was actively scent marking her territory and appeared to be heavily pregnant.
• Two male cheetah found along road to Lebala sunning & grooming themselves on top of a termite mound. They were followed the whole day & eventually seen killing a Roan antelope calf.
• Tracks of a female cheetah & cubs also seen in the area.
• Pack of 6 wild dogs (2 male, 1 female, 3 pups) seen at the airstrip hunting & killing impala. Report of another 3 wild dogs on the way to Lianshulu.
• Increasing elephant activity around the camp, occasionally keeping guests trapped in their tents as they continuously feed on Marula trees shading them. Many young elephant calves accompanying females in the large breeding herds.
• As the waterholes in the woodlands start drying up large herds of buffalo move up to the river, with bulls fighting & one cow giving birth.
• Two separate herds of buffalo approximately 1000 seen.
• Two Southern African rock Python sighted.
• Spotted hyena seen around camp.
• Chameleons & both species of jackal found at night.
• Excellent general game in the area.
• Porcupine & 2 honey badgers seen along the Old Lebala Road.

Kwara camp               Jump to Kwara Camp
(Weeks 1-2)
• A pride of 4 lioness & 1 young male were seen trying to hunt giraffe, but were unsuccessful. This pride was seen a number of times resting up.
• Another pride of 8 (5 males, 3 females) also seen resting.
• One young male and a lioness were found sleeping and then followed as they tried to relocate the rest of the pride.
• A very well-fed and relaxed adult female leopard was found sleeping in a tree – guides at Kwara suspect she may have lost her cubs that were last soon 2 months ago.
• A single wild dog was seen from one of the boats out on the river.
• Four bachelor herds of elephant have been seen within the camp, including 5 individual bulls. They are sighted in and around the camp on a daily basis.
• A large breeding herd of at least 100 individuals was seen and followed along Tsum Tsum plains.
• A couple of rather skittish buffalo bulls was seen – they will form into larger groups as the season dries out.
• Night sightings have included hyena in the camp and side striped jackal as well as many chameleons.
• A serval & 2 African wild cats seen as well as a genet hunting.
• General game – giraffe, tsessebe, waterbuck, kudu, warthogs, baboons, Vervet monkeys, steenbuck, reedbuck, lechwe, zebra, wildebeest, hippo and crocodiles.
• The impala mating or rutting season is in full swing and providing plenty of excitement.
• Also seen – Wattled cranes, ground hornbills, Martial eagles, Brown snake eagle, Red-necked falcon, Gabar goshawk, black egrets, Giant eagle & Scops owls. Striped cuckoo, woodland kingfishers & black coucals still around as well as plenty of water birds.

(Weeks 3-4)
• Pride of 2 large male joined 4 lionesses found on their zebra kill. Another pride of 8 lionesses seen hunting at night, but were unsuccessful.
• Pride of 10 seen feeding on giraffe between the airstrip & the boat station. On the same day another pride of 6 were seen at the airstrip resting in the shade.
• Three brief leopard sightings this week, possibly due to prevalence of lion activity in the area.
• Three male cheetah seen making contact calls and eventually joining another one in the area.
• Same coalition of male cheetah seen resting at the Bat-eared fox den and later found with full stomachs.
• Brief sighting of some wild dog at night, which then moved into the Mopane woodlands.
• Several bull elephants seen at various pans including right in front of the camp for most of the day.
• Numbers of hippo at the pan in front of camp – they seem to like basking in the sun daily from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.
• Bradfield's Hornbill, Malachite kingfisher, wattled cranes, saddle-billed storks, Bateleur eagles among the bird sightings.
• A rare sighting of an aardwolf along Cheetah Rd.
• Hyenas seen at night as well as genets and African wild cat.
• Abundant herds of tsessebe, as well as wildebeest, zebra, lechwe, warthogs impala & giraffe.


Lebala camp               Jump to Lebala Camp
(Weeks 1-2)

• This has been a fantastic week with the lions with the two big brothers (male lions) mating, which caused a split in the pride. One of the males spent a while feeding on a Lechwe ram. The previous day they were observed hunting warthogs.
• Three lionesses killed an impala ram and guests watched until the carcass was finished. The following morning they were chasing hyenas.
• Also, another pride of 7 lionesses seen sleeping on the road, a single lioness feeding on a warthog north of Motswiri pan – several other lion sightings as well
• Very relaxed adult male leopard found hunting red lechwe in a swampy area.
• Another relaxed male leopard killed an impala and was feeding on it close to where the lioness was feeding on the warthog
• A young male also seen along the Main Road, very relaxed, a male and female leopard were found together and followed for some time
• Leopard with a limp followed along the river road, hunting spring hares & mice.
• Tracks of cheetah found at Half-way pan, there were found feeding on a warthog – seen again later in the week.
• Few sightings of the wild dogs chasing impala around the Twin Pools area.
• Wild dogs have been displaced by all the lion activity this week.
• A lot of breeding herds of elephant have arrived this week, even numbers increasing in the camp area at night.
• 2 herds of 100 buffalo seen near johns pan seen daily
• Night sightings – 6 lionesses & 6 hyena seen feeding on the same young wildebeest carcass, hyena were also seen feeding on an elephant carcass, a lot of chameleons, both species of jackal, also 8 hyena on giraffe carcass, serval hunting, African wild cat
• Several different mongoose species seen – yellow, banded, dwarf, and slender
• Excellent water-bird species around the drying up pans also frequent ostrich sightings
• A 3 meter python was seen basking in the sun at Nare pan, also black mamba seen

(Weeks 3-4)
• Two lionesses were hunting on the boundary road & in the evening were seen eating a baboon.
• Lion & lioness located along the vlei road. The male was trying to mate, but the female wasn’t interested.
• Four lionesses found at Skimmer pan resting one night. Same lionesses found north of the camp hunting & killing a full grown warthog. Two days later they followed the buffalo herd & killed a calf.
• Very relaxed young female leopard found along the river road hunting at night.
• Large breeding herds of elephant (approx.1000) found at the Twin Pools area.
• A few aggressive elephant bulls in musth also seen.
• Three different herds of buffalo, also approximately 1000 each, coming into the area.
• Clan of hyena were feeding on elephant carcass around 10km Pan.
• Chameleon seen basking in the warm morning sun.
• Pair of mating warthogs found on Flea road.
• Saddle-billed storks, wattled cranes, plovers & sandpipers.
• Pearl-spotted, giant eagle & Barn owls seen on night drives.
• Snouted Cobra & Black mamba found on separate occasions sunning themselves.
• Night sightings include hyenas, civet, porcupine, genets and African wild cat.

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Okavango Flood update - June 10, 2006
The heavy rainfalls in January and February created an enormous amount of ground water in the Delta.  Although the flood is now decreasing as is expected by this time, the water present on the ground is still far above average due to the above-average rainwater combining with the floods.  The chart below shows data as of June 10, 2006.

Okavango flood chart - June 10, 2006

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Mombo Camp update - May 06               Jump to Mombo Camp
Red-billed Queleas at momboMay unveils the gathering of thousands of red-billed queleas who arrive on Chiefs Island daily from the reed beds of the Boro, and thus depart again with the afternoon sunset. This is surely a spectacular phenomenon for all; one can easily become mesmerized whilst watching them dance with their absolute "allomemitic mimicry" There is an estimated five billion of these birds in Africa, and their swarms can build up to millions upon millions. Two years ago, at Lake Ngami, there were swarms estimating over fourteen million birds!

On the subject of gatherings a definite mention, witnessed on the 7th May, was the congregation of a huge number of giraffe. They were all seen feeding and socializing two clicks from the airstrip. I counted; wait for it, a total of 67 giraffe at this meeting place.

Daily the floodwaters are creeping closer to the edges of Chiefs Island, almost lapping on its sides, then a few moments later it is dispersed elsewhere filling the flat horizons of the delta. We all hold thumbs now, hoping that the water will once again fill the old floodplains such as Suzie's and Drift Molapo.

Many butterflies still splash Mombo with color; these are the last of the adult morphs before winter sets in for good. The days are never over in May until one has glanced upon the rings of Saturn, moons of Jupiter or just looked at the endless night skies that circulate through the delta.

Mathata's pride at Mombo CampThe famous Mathata's Pride still reigns supreme over the south of the Mombo concession. Seen here feeding on a zebra, their favoured prey, competition is rife as they fight over the last pieces of meat. Many of the "cubs" have now reached sub-adult status and thus need to eat a lot more than usual.


Moporota pride at Mombo CampThe Moporota pride is still doing amazingly well in the sense that no cubs have disappeared yet. Researchers from many areas predict that there is a 50% mortality rate for lion cubs in their first year of life; the Moporota Pride still have all twelve of their original cubs.

Since the death of the last remaining Steroid Boy, we have identified two new male cheetah, both solitary, plus an unidentified female.

The Tortilis female has given birth to three cubs and were found +- 3km from Mombo Camp. At present she is using a fallen tree as her den sight, the perfect place for protection against hyenas and baboons.

The longer a specific predator is present at one den sight, the more prominent their scent becomes, attracting unwanted attention.

 


Elephant at Mombo

Many elephants have blessed us with their presence, providing us with some entertaining sightings. These young elephants were discovering each other for a good while before their hunger got the better of them.

With these breeding herds come the musth bulls who weave between herds looking for females in oestrus. The smell of a cow's urine will change two weeks before she ready to be mated with, an invitation for these mature testosterone-filled bulls.

 
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Tubu Tree Camp update - May 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp
The floodwater is still rising and the floodplain in front of camp is now completely covered in water with lots of White-faced Ducks, Egyptian Geese, Little and Great White Egrets, Slaty Egrets, Jacanas and Fish Eagles seen every day from the deck.

Several sightings of porcupine, civet, large and small spotted genet, and aardwolf have spiced up the night drives. Tsessebe, common reedbuck, large herds of giraffe and also herds of Cape buffalo have been seen regularly in our area. There has also been a lot of spotted hyaena activity this past month, and we suspect that the local clan must be denning close to camp as we hear their calls in the evenings and their tracks are seen in camp. They have even tried their luck at breaking into the kitchen and made off with a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs! We have had to make provisions to stop them getting in again; we seem to have been successful so far.

Whilst having coffee on the deck early one morning before setting out on game drive we watched a big female hyaena run past the front of camp with half a red lechwe carcass in her jaws, she was followed soon thereafter by a second hyaena and finally a big male leopard. We speculated that the hyaena had probably stolen the kill from the leopard with the help of other hyenas and made her escape. Other hyenas were seen in the vicinity of camp that morning. Hyenas often steal kills from leopards (especially smaller females) if their kills are left on the ground, and this piracy is the main reason that leopards often hoist their kills into trees if weight and time permits.

Guests were also lucky enough to see a leopard while out on a mokoro activity. They were heading down the channel then heard the leopard making a territorial call; they quietly and slowly approached the area until they spotted the leopard walking on a small island. It looked at them but they were far enough away so as not to be of concern, so they were able to watch it for about ten minutes as it sat and washed itself. Leopards are usually seen from vehicles (to which they are accustomed) so seeing it from a mokoro was a unique experience.

Another interesting sighting this past month has been some strange behaviour from one of the young bull elephants in the local breeding herds. On encountering people he approaches the vehicle, giving a head shake for the sake of intimidation, but then raises himself up onto his back legs, like a horse rearing, shaking his head as he comes down again. It is a very funny sight and still a puzzle as to where he learnt this 'trick'. Also of interest lately have been the thousands of Red-billed Queleas presently feeding on the plentiful grass seeds. They must consume huge quantities because their numbers are staggering. It is quite a sight to see the sky turn black with the huge flocks flying around, making a noise as if a strong wind had appeared from nowhere.

Terrestrial Bulbuls, Red-billed Helmetshrikes, Black-winged Stilts, Saddle-billed Storks and African Golden Orioles have been seen around camp. One small flock of Hartlaub's Babblers were seen accompanied by what appeared to be a juvenile Striped Cuckoo. Striped Cuckoos are brood parasites and lay one egg in the nest of another bird species, in this case Hartlaub's Babbler. After hatching the cuckoo will kick out the Babbler's eggs to reduce competition for food and will grow much bigger than his hosts in no time. Interestingly he picks up the behaviour of his host, begging for food in the same manner as the Babbler chicks would.

Temperatures have dropped to lows of 6°C at night (about 40° Fahrenheit) and it is even colder in the mornings when the wind chill factor of driving in an open vehicle really begins to tell. The days turn out to be lovely with clear skies, no rain and moderate temperatures of 26° C (about 78° Fahrenheit)

Looking forward to seeing you at Tubu Tree Camp!
From Anton, Carrie, Moa, Moyo, Salani and the Team

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Jao Camp update - May 06                Jump to Jao Camp
Temperatures have dropped over the past month as we head into winter. Luckily it has warmed up quite a lot since a cold spell in mid-May and the mornings are crisp and clear which make for beautiful sunrises. Jao has transformed into a small island paradise again with the floods coming into the area and pushing up water levels. The floodwater this year is said to not be as high as previous years, but with plentiful rain over the summer we expect the flood levels to be reasonably high anyway.

May was a month of guests from all corners of the globe that came to share this piece of paradise with us and be exposed to an intimate undiluted wilderness experience. I would like to mention some of the guests that religiously read this report before they traveled to Jao, telling everyone about Botswana, thank you Ken and Myra.

As a result of the annual flooding, much of the plains game has moved onto the drier western side of the concession where we did half and full day activities with guides Maipaa and Jost first guiding the guests by boat to Hunda Island and once there in Land Rovers. Hunda Island is currently playing host to big groups of giraffe, breeding herds of elephant, kudu, zebra and warthogs to mention a few species.

The arrival of the flood has brought Jao into its own, however, and we highlighted our water activities like the motor boats we took through some pristine Delta wetland looking for those big crocodiles, searching for pods of hippo and then also the shy aquatic bird life like the Pel's Fishing Owl and the Slaty Egrets. Then there was the seldom-seen Sitatunga which has adapted to spending its life in the swamps and is spotted more frequently when the water levels start rising as they do at this time of the year. The mokoros (dug out canoes) with our polers Bee, Isaac and Ptero were an essential part of the Jao experience and catered for those who were looking for the romantic quiet paddle through the waterways just taking in the beauty of the landscape and learning about the 101 uses of a palm tree, seeing the small reed frogs hanging from the grasses and searching for Jacana nests to look at their beautifully patterned eggs.

Land Rover-based game drives remained popular and productive and OK, one the guides, managed to track down lion and leopard on a regular basis. The resident female leopard, Beauty, and her seven-month-old cub, Tumo, were seen on a regular basis. A big bonus for us has been three additions to the lion family being sighted close to one of our sister camps in a thick palm island with mom being one of our resident female lions. The general game in the area of camp during the last month has consisted of huge numbers of red lechwe, as well as impala, steenbok, reedbuck and the occasional kudu.

The guides have been doing a lot more walks in the last month which was also a nice activity we offered to those who wanted to get closer to the game and get some exercise as well. These were very informative having the guides teaching our guests about the different dung, grasses, plant uses and making bracelets and necklaces from the natural materials found in the area.

As you can see, we had an action-packed programme for all guests that visited us and we are looking forward to meeting all our new guests' expectations. The staff at Jao are like one big family and we are looking forward to having you as a guests in our home, safe travels until next month and see you soon!

Regards,
Freddy

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Kwetsani update - May 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"Some like it hot, some like it cold..."

The waters of the floods have finally reached our doorsteps, literally. The floods have not come with different surges of water and peaks, but have just consistently filled the areas and the flood has turned out to be a pretty good one. The floodplains are completely covered as far as the eye can see, and are dotted with the normal seasonal concentrations of red lechwe as well as an abundance of birdlife following the water's new edge and feeding on whatever morsel pops its head up.

With the arrival of the floodwaters have come the icy winter conditions. The evenings and the mornings can be as cold as 8°C but averaged about 14°C over the course of the month. The days are fantastic however and reach the upper 20s, so grab a chair and choose your spot in the sun but don't worry there is plenty to go around.

Our Land Rovers, the "green submarines", offer a very unique experience as you move through the waters, which sometimes cover the bonnet and force you to pick up your feet as the water rushes in onto the bottom of the Land Rover. Usually though we use motor boats through the deeper waters and are able to glide up the channels again. The floodplains are so full that you are able to mokoro all over the place to see the hippos and even right in between the red lechwe which are grazing in the open grass plains.

The camps decks and chairs have not been re-visited by our leopard friends; the leopardess and her 2 cubs have only made two very brief appearances. They are growing up very quickly and have been moving around elusively from island to island and we hope that they will not be pushed out too far away from our island. The leopard male has been heard and every now and again the monkeys and baboons will let off their alarm calls which alert us to his presence but he is rarely seen.

'Beauty' the Jao leopardess and her cub are still doing very well. The little one is so playful and mom has to be very patient but these are skills that are being learnt for the future. The young one is gaining in confidence all the time, now reaching the highest points of the tree tops.

The dinners under the beautiful starlit skies are spectacular, although we have had to run with drinks and dessert in hand as the male lion roared right behind us. The two males and two females are using the Kwetsani floodplains as their core territory and they are vocal almost every night. The females have been really successful in catching red lechwe and we have been lucky to see two kills right in front of the lodge, but there have been many attempts made which have resulted only in tired and wet lionesses.

Great news is that the one lioness has been keeping a very big secret from all of us. She has recently brought forward three cubs that seem to be about two and a half months old. It was only a very quick glimpse but hopefully we will be able to see them more and more over the next couple of months. So all the mating that we have seen has produced a great result and we are hoping that this will bring about more stability within the pride. The other female also looks like she is heavily pregnant.

The breeding herds of elephant have come back into the area and can be seen feeding, bathing or the young ones just trying to stand on their heads with both feet in the air. Back in camp you might not get all the sleep that you would like, as the big bulls and their 'askaris' are back and around camp breaking and feeding on the vegetation. If you are very unlucky they may be sleeping right outside your room - and snoring.

Looking forward to a great season and we hope to see you soon...
Thanks from the Kwetsani Team

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Jacana update - May 06                Jump to Jacana Camp
Rain storms during the early stages of the month gave the impression that winter was not yet ready to make its presence felt but a sudden cold spell in mid-month set the record straight. The chilly mornings and cool evenings made sure everyone appreciated the cozy evening (and early morning) fires in our boma area. However, with very good game sightings during all activities, nobody lingered and all were ready to set off before sun-up.

Water levels are still rising, making more areas accessible by boat and guests are enjoying exciting boat cruises along narrow channels and having sundowners while watching elephant crossing the lagoons, sometimes completely submerged, with only their trunks breaking the surface. Birding has been fantastic and kept everybody occupied during long game drives through submerged roads or while tracking lion and leopard on the high ground.

Extended activities with picnic-type teas and lunches with no fear of rain interrupting were very popular and the added bush time and great sightings made for enthusiastic dinner conversation. Clear skies and a very knowledgeable Naturetrek guide made stargazing a pleasant and informative experience to end off a wonderful cultural meal and entertainment provided by our friendly staff.

Compliments rained on our chef Selinah during May, with numerous requests for recipes.

Our guides Jargon, George and Wago were in top form as usual and guests enjoyed almost daily sightings of lion, leopard, hippo and of course the Pel's Fishing Owl.

Jacana once again produced all the elements of a wonderful Delta experience this month and guests departed with hearty promises of a speedy return

Jacana greetings
David and Leigh

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Little Vumbura update - May 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
Wow, I know May only has 31 days but it feels like so much has happened in that time. We thought the rain had gone but Mother Nature gave us one more taste, 8mm on the 2nd. The amazing cheetah sightings from last month were replaced by lion and leopard this month, with only the occasional sighting of cheetah.

The Vumbura concession was stunned at the news that our dominant male leopard, "Big Boy" was thought to have died. This was proved wrong, when our legendary guide, "Madala" Kay found "Big Boy" a few evenings later. We do not know which leopard was found dead, but it would seem that he had been killed by baboons or a warthog. Just shows you how dangerous hunting is even for these majestic cats.

"Selonyana", the 14th-month-old female leopard cub has been seen frequently this month, but always on her own. It would seem that she has been left to independence by her mother. She is killing successfully (mostly Francolins) but is even trying impalas - not yet successfully though.

It would seem that our Kubu Pride female did indeed lose her cubs (possibly killed by "Selonyana"). The Kubu Pride was hardly seen this month - we assume they were following the buffalo herds to the north and east - but they returned in style, right on the heels of the returning buffalo herds. The three lionesses - aided by the four sub-adults and one of the Kubu males started chasing the herd. Although the buffalo fended off the lions and gave the sub-adults a tough time, a baby calf of less than a few hours was trampled to death during the fleeing. The Kubu male fed selfishly.

Another great find by Matt was one of the "Big Red" females hiding in thick bush, with the distinctive cries of cubs coming from inside. The cubs were seen three days later, eyes still closed, but at least Matt could confirm the number, three little balls of fur being fed by mom. Both 'Big Red' females are together and looking healthy. The Kubu males spent most of the month with these lionesses, mating with the daughter during the first week of the month. The Vumbura Boys, large adult males seen here frequently over a year ago, were sighted once. We also had sightings of two unknown females, one thought to be a lioness from the old Kwedi pride, the other possibly a lioness that was moving through the area from our neighbors, Duba Plains, to the west.

Various buffalo herds were seen over the course of the month. Herds between 20 and 250 passed through the area, signs that the seasonal pans to the north are slowly starting to dry up. Our waters are drawing them nearer. The flood has finally arrived and our water levels have slowly started rising.

There have been numerous sable sightings this month which highlights the great diversity in this area. At least 4 different sable herds have been sighted over the course of the month, one of which is being sighted on an almost daily basis.

Other interesting sightings included: Two porcupines seen on two different occasions; a caracal walking through the water; African wildcat and civet. There were also numerous sightings of the endangered Ground Hornbills, Wattled Cranes and even a White-headed Vulture. No sightings of Pel's Fishing Owl this month unfortunately...

The Little Vumbura traditional Kgotla (Boma) was extremely popular with our guests this month. After very successful "traditional evenings" on Monday nights in the Kgotla, we decided to add a new feature - the Friday night "Braai" or BBQ. Nothing beats the smell of our chefs' preparing steaks and boerewors (sausage) over hot coals, while we enjoy our starter in this fantastic setting.

Little Vumbura BraaiLittle Vumbura staff

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

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Chitabe update - May 06               Jump to Chitabe Camp
May was a month of unusual weather. The rainy season finally left us but not before a series of thunderstorms early in the month, bringing with them rain that caused some consternation - nobody can remember the last time it had rained here this late in the year. This was followed almost immediately by a ferocious cold front that left frost on the grass and had everybody scuttling for extra layers to keep warm.

The Kalahari winter arrived with an unprecedented haste, coloring the grasslands with autumnal hues of red, ochre and lion-stalked duns. The gold-streaked sunsets glittering off vagrant clouds suddenly took on their wintry mantle of crisp colors striping across the horizon, pinks and yellows giving way to a deep star-studded purple, a cathedral echoing to the mournful hymns of the hyena.

As the flood starts to push south in the northern part of the delta, the water levels in our region (a result of heavy rainfall earlier in the year) have started to recede slightly, almost as if in anticipation of another deluge to come. The Gomoti River is still bursting its banks, spilling out over the adjacent floodplains and hosting an incredible variety of life, from Pelicans, Herons, Darters, Ducks, Egrets and Storks to Hippo, Red Lechwe and the ubiquitous Crocodiles which crowd the banks with their sinister basking forms.

The camp is still completely surrounded by water, and we have even built two new bridges in preparation for the flood to come. These have already been colonized by Pied Kingfishers, Hamerkops, Green-backed and Squacco Herons as a useful vantage from which to survey their prey flashing through the glittering water below. Huge flocks of Red-billed Quelea are also taking advantage of the heavy seed load in the grasses brought on by the rains, and are seen tracing swirling aleo-mimetic arabesques against the sky as they move along the channels and across the plains.

The male lions of the Chitabe coalition have been up to their old tricks again, and were seen feeding on a large giraffe bull that they had killed. One of them was also seen carrying a dead cub across the airstrip - probably the result of a clash with the females of the Gomoti Pride, that OT had seen a couple of weeks before out hunting with their cubs. Dawson also saw the females of this pride swim across the Gomoti Channel into the Moremi. Newman found the old nomadic male who has been moving around the area mating with a female from the Sandibe Pride.

OT has had a good run this month, and was lucky enough to see three cheetah bring down an Impala near the Gomoti, and then see three others chasing Tsessebe (unsuccessfully) near Aardwolf Plain. The match of the fastest antelope vs. the fastest predator left the jury undecided! Lazarus also found two male Cheetah feeding on an Ostrich, although the circumstances of how, or if, they caught it were unclear.

On Lion Road, OT came across a pair of leopard mating, a sight few are privileged to see. Phinley found two female leopard hunting together, and Mosadi Mogolo and her cub have been performing for the cameras frequently. Dawson found them one morning watching a large male who had robbed them of their kill in the New Hide area. When his vehicle approached, the strange male was spooked and left, leaving the stolen kill for its rightful claimants.

The wild dogs were only seen twice this month, and the Alpha female has only the slightest swelling to indicate her pregnancy, while the other eight are strong and doing well. With a bit of luck we should be able to discover where they will choose a den site in the next month, and hopefully it will be on our concession!

Although still early in the year, a few herds of Cape buffalo have been seen moving through the concession, some numbering about thirty animals, and others fifty-plus and one herd held at least a hundred individuals. Phinley watched two lionesses stalking a herd of about two hundred on the Gomoti channel, and as the dry season progresses, we would expect to see herds much larger than this, some in excess of a thousand.

As one would expect as we move towards the winter solstice, temperatures are starting to drop, and evenings and early mornings are chilly enough to make the fire pit a popular spot to take a warming breakfast to the trilling birdsong of the dawn chorus, or to wind down the day under a dazzling spray of starlight as the owls send their prayers into the night. Daytime temperatures are pleasantly mild, in the mid-twenties centigrade, but the swimming pool is not getting much use! For anyone planning to visit us in the next couple of months, a woolly hat and gloves are this season's fashion must-have!

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Namibia camps
Great Namibian Journey Newsletter - May 06                  Jump to Great Namibian Journey safari
I've just returned from an amazing 13-day Great Namibian Journey with six guests from Germany, Switzerland and the US. The whole trip went smoothly and the weather throughout the trip was very comfortable. We experienced some cold weather in Swakopmund and Damaraland Camp. The rest of the areas we visited were very pleasant. In Swakopmund we had rain on the last evening which lasted throughout the night.

All the regions we visited were just so beautiful with tall grass thick with new seeds after the summer rain. There were still lots of beautiful desert flowers in most areas. The guests developed a big interest in these and we ended up stopping regularly to photograph and identify the colorful flowers along the road. In parts of Damaraland and Kaokoland, the Elephant's Foot (Adenia pechuelli) was particularly beautiful with swollen bases and bright green stalks. Ongava was beautiful with the Purple Pod Terminalia (Terminalia prunoides) in full seed.

 

On the Kulala Wilderness Reserve we encountered lovely flocks of Ostriches with more that 80 chicks altogether! The guests loved these but couldn't think that one female Ostrich can lay so many eggs... It took some time to explain how the breeding cycle of the Ostrich functions! There were plenty of springbok and gemsbok along the whole journey. In the dunes of Sandwich Harbour we encountered a BIG Puff Adder with beautiful yellow markings. We encountered masses of Hartmann's mountain zebra in the Palmwag and Purros regions. They turned out to be one of the highlights as far as game sightings go! We got to see a black rhino cow and calf from quite some distance in Rhino Camp, as the wind was not favorable... But it was still exciting to be out there on foot!

On the way from Rhino Camp to Palmwag, we encountered 4 lions on a dead zebra. It was a male, female and two sub-adult cubs from different ages. They were quite relaxed and we managed to get some amazing views and pictures. The male was all bloody and mean looking! In Ongava we encountered one white rhino in the evening after sundowners in the bush. We spent our last evening in the Hide at the Lodge waterhole. Two black rhinos showed up. One was a big adult bull, the other a young cow. They engaged in some light "flirting" with plenty of horn rubbing, sniffing, snorting, and following each other around the waterhole. To think we were only a few metres away while all this happened! It was my best experience with rhinos in the hide ever! The guests got lots of video footage as well as some pictures (without using flash).

In Purros area, we encountered several elephant drinking in the heat of the day. We were having some tea, coffee and koeksisters under a big tree, when a young elephant cow showed up from out of the thickets about 40 metres away. She was very calm and I kept my guests close and we quietly watched her picking up Acacia seed pods and chewing on them with relish before moving on. Later in the day we encountered a BIG bull drinking his fill at a spring and he allowed us to come closer with the vehicle to about 30 metres. He had a good mud packing session as well! Throughout the trip, game was plentiful and made for good photography.

We went out onto a lookout point in Skeleton Coast one evening after dinner. The aim: STARS. We did a 2-hour star chat and guests were pleased to see the Southern Cross, Scorpio, planets and several shooting stars. We had our chairs out and even took some coffee and tea along and enjoyed the lonely silence out in the desert. There was no fog during any of the nights and it made for great stargazing. The guests walked from the grave of Mathias Koraseb to Rocky Point - they loved stretching their legs for a change!

The whole trip was a great success with many new Namibia fans!

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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - May 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
 May is a wonderful time of year, with winter starting to make its chilly entrance at night and early in the mornings, before the rising sun brings with it wonderful sunny days and blue cloudless skies. Cold fronts move up from the Cape, bringing with them strong south-westerly winds which die down quickly and we are left with four to five days of beautiful calm weather and sea conditions before the next cold front.

Along with these winds come the Antarctic birds, they glide effortlessly, cutting through the wind with their wings as they roll and dive, putting on an acrobatic show. We have seen our first Black-browed Albatross, which is the forerunner of a number of Antarctic species of sea birds that spend the winter season here. There have also been a lot of Cape Gannets. Juveniles are distinguished by their drab brown color, which changes into brilliant black and white as they mature. These birds are plunge divers, diving from up to 100 feet, straight down into the water to catch small bait fish, such as scads and garfish.

It is not only the birds that eat these fish from the surface but also bigger fish that feast on them from below. The sea shows patches of shimmering water as the bait fish huddle together for protection; splashes and lots of fish jumping out of the water, trying in vain to get away from whichever fish is chasing. We have even seen anchovies, stranded on the beach three days in a row. Whilst on a dive you sometimes feel as if you are in the middle of a high-speed car chase, as schools of scads rush past, followed by big blacktip kingfish.

The presence of these birds is a sure sign for us that it is time for the Humpback Whales to visit. They also leave Antarctica during the winter months and travel northwards, all the way up to Mozambique. We see them for approximately three months as they travel up and another three months as they return home. The first whales of the season have been sighted! On the 25th May, a sunny, wonderful day at the beach, Robert and Fiona Rattray, from Scotland, were snorkeling at Lala Nek when they saw the whales. The whales were just behind the breaking waves, and they watched as the whales slapped their tails and languished in the warm water. That made them decide to come for a snorkeling trip on the boat, just in case - you never know your luck! Well, no humpback whales that day, but wonderful schools of fusiliers, a spotted eagle ray and a blue spotted ray, lots of big unicorn fish, parrot fish, two green turtles and plenty more were seen. They loved it so much that they are considering doing a diving course. Let us know when you are coming back to dive!

Snorkeling trips have provided us with lots of sightings of bottlenose dolphins this month. They have been very playful, swimming in circles around the snorkelers, on one occasion two split from their group and stayed with the snorkelers for a while, enjoying the attention. The most memorable sighting of bottlenose dolphins was during a dive at 'Pineapple Reef'. Five curious dolphins came to have a look at the divers but they had competition. As you would expect, the potato bass were not impressed with someone else moving into their space, and tried to chase the dolphins off the reef. The dolphins were not intimidated and with smiling faces, they continued to swim around the divers for a while.

The ocean has some strange looking inhabitants and we certainly get excited to see them. This month we have seen two crocodile fish. The correct name is actually Bartail Flathead (Platycephalus indicus). These fish are flat, with much flattened heads (as their name implies), muddy coloured to blend into their environment; and have big mouths. They are ambush hunters and wiggle themselves down into the sand, until just their eyes are sticking out. They feed on prawns, crabs, worms and small fish such as gobies. They are commonly seen in estuaries, especially the juveniles, where they can easily sink into the silt and wait for prey before heading back out to the inshore reefs at low tide. Their 'body prints' are clearly seen in the silt in the estuaries. These fish spawn from July to November.

There have been a lot of octopus around this month. They decorate the entrance to their homes with an arrangement of stones and shells, each one carefully selected and positioned. On one occasion a small one was seen swimming across the reef, as soon as he realized that he had been spotted, he made a dash for his hole. Towards the beginning of the month Darryl found a plastic bucket floating out at sea. Inside the bucket was a minute octopus, approximately one centimeter in size. Octopus females lay their eggs on the reef and look after them meticulously until they hatch. These females literally guard their young with their lives. They do not leave the nest, not even to search for food and once the eggs have hatched the female has done her duty and dies. The young are on their own, drifting till they can find somewhere to call home. The tiny octopus in the plastic bucket needed to get to a reef. We took it to the rock pools and placed it in a deep enough hole from which it would not be washed out. Here it will get a chance to grow and then perhaps move on to a bigger reef.

Last month we were very excited when Clive found two juvenile regal angelfish. This month he has seen up to 2 adults and 2 juveniles, so it looks like the family is growing!

Darryl has just returned from the beach after some early morning fishing and I have to tell you what he said: As he was fishing, he looked out over the flat, blue sea, with cloudless skies. The trees behind him supported vervet monkeys in the branches, as they sunned themselves in the early morning sun. Along the beach two red duikers played in the sand dunes as a fish eagle hunted for fish in the small shore break. In front of him was a pod of bottlenose dolphins surfing in the waves. What a special place to live and work in!

Until next month,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

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Rocktail Bay Newsletter - May 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Along this coastline, May has always been known as the "picture perfect" month, and this last month of autumn 2006 has been no exception. Mother Nature and Neptune have delivered the finest weather and tranquil seas, not to mention some of the most memorable and special sightings that we have ever had.

The early morning and evening temperatures have dropped considerably since last month. Rocktailers have been waking up to a blanket of mist hanging low over the coastal forest, only dissipating once the sun is high in the sky. On the other hand, the midday temperatures have remained in the late twenties to early thirties - the perfect balmy conditions for a dip in the Indian Ocean. Even though the evenings have been cool, it has not deterred anyone from gazing at the awesome night sky. Sagittarius, Gemini and Scorpio have been the prominent constellations throughout the month, creating flawless lighting for an after-dinner beach walk. The lodge fireplace has also become extremely popular this month, and many a good conversation accompanied by a great bottle of red wine have happened around its glowing warmth. As one of our guests said, "There is nothing more like Africa, than a wood fire burning at night."

Newsflash!
The first Humpback Whale of the season has been spotted from Lala Nek beach!

It was one of those May days... perfect for the beach and perfect for a snorkel. The recently wed Rob and Fiona Rattray joined Mbongeni for a snorkeling excursion to Lala Nek. As they were walking down the beach access pathway, Mbongeni looked ahead to the calm blue water, only to be surprised by a 40-ton mammal leaping clear of the ocean's surface. Flabbergasted, Mbongeni, Rob and Fiona stood and watched the spectacular leaps for at least fifteen minutes, before the whale, perhaps tired, sailed north towards Rocktail Bay. Mbongeni, Rob and Fiona were astounded to say the least, especially since the Humpbacks do not usually arrive until mid-June or even July.

The migration of the southern hemisphere Humpback Whales has been described as the longest migration of any mammal on earth. According to Thomas Peschak, the author of "Currents of Contrast", some estimated 5 000 whales make their way from the cold waters of the Antarctic up to their breeding grounds off the Mozambique coast and northern Madagascar. This incredible journey is a distance of almost 16 000 km. Fortunately for land dwellers, these whales are easily seen from the land, due to the spectacular breaching and lobtailing displays that they perform. There is something quite enchanting about seeing one of these creatures launch themselves clear out of the water - all we can say is you have it come and see it for yourself.

Maputaland has also been a birder's paradise this month, both in the forest and on the beach. We have to say that the most incredible, as well as unexpected, sighting of the month, was the lone African Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus moquini) on the beach in front of the lodge. The last time we had a confirmed sighting was in January 2004, so as you can imagine, camp was buzzing. According to "Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa", they are very rare visitors to KwaZulu-Natal, and especially this far north, as they prefer the cooler beaches of the Cape. This sighting will definitely not be forgotten for a long time, and we hope that we can report some more in the months ahead.

Another not-so-common sighting that we had this month was a small flock of Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus rubber), flying low over the surface of the ocean. Their light pink plumage made them unmistakable against the indigo ocean in the late afternoon light - spectacular! Staying on the beach, one of our local pairs of White-fronted Plovers (Charadrius marginatus) has decided to breed early this year. We have seen the floating "cotton wool" balls running up into the vegetation on the dune, escorted by their mother. Father keeps an attentive eye on his family from the beach, ready to lure any potential predators his way. Once the coast is clear, the family rejoins and continues their foraging along the high tide line.

Birding around camp has been just as productive, with Green Malkohas, Eastern Nicators, White-Starred Robins, African Dusky Flycatchers and Black-collared Barbets making up some of the list. Another bird that was added to our list, and a special one at that, was an Orange-breasted Bush Shrike. They are not often seen in the coastal forest, but when they have been seen, it has normally coincided with the hatching of different species of caterpillar, which is their favourite food. Once again, they have arrived at the right time, as we have been seeing many hairy caterpillars in the trees around camp this month - Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.

We added yet another special species to our list this month, which is none other than a pair of Black-throated Wattle-eyes, spotted in the lodge bird hide. We think that it is the same pair that we saw in March, with their fledglings near the lodge pool. Hopefully, they have made themselves resident, and we will be able to report many more sightings.

May has also been one of those months where there has just been so much to celebrate. Whether it has been newlyweds on honeymoon, birthdays or anniversaries - we have had them all. We would like to share some of the comments that we received from our visitors through the month:

"The real five! Wild Ocean, beach of beauty, tranquil forest, caring community and staff who really care! True, natural peace! Thank you all!" - G,S&ZdK - Johannesburg, South Africa

"The most beautiful, unspoilt place we have ever been to" - G&AA - Johannesburg, South Africa

"Fantastic place, we don't want to leave" - R&FR - Edinburgh, Scotland

"A wonderful and remote experience" - CG - London, United Kingdom

"We have found paradise here at Rocktail Bay...This is the warmest South African welcome we have had, thanks for the excellent time here" - G&MdM - Paris, France

Well, winter 2006 has dawned on us, and we have many things to look forward to in the coming month of June. One of the highlights is definitely going to be the Humpback Whale migration getting into full swing, and we hope that we will have many stories to report from this natural spectacle next month.

Warm regards,
Dean, Leza, Andrew, Shannon, Simon and the Rocktail Bay Team

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Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - May 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
It was just getting towards dusk as I turned onto Pafuri Main from the northern part of the airstrip. I was heading back towards the camp when I noticed something sitting on the side of the road. At first I did not pay much attention to it as it was a place where I had seen baboons sitting many times before. But as I got closer it caught my eye again, as it stood up and moved to the middle of the road. I couldn't believe my luck! I stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine. It looked at me curiously and then turned so that its back was towards me and lay down on the road not more than about 5 or 6 metres away. It then rolled over onto its back and stretched its legs into the air wriggling like a worm as it scratched its back on the road, lifting its head every now and again to look at the vehicle. I called on the radio to find out if any of the game drives would be interested. And although none of them were in the area and would not be able to make it back in time I decided to sit back and enjoy.

This was probably one of the best sightings of a leopard I have ever had. And this particular one was a young male and he seemed very relaxed as he rolled over onto his stomach and lay there for a short while looking around. He then stood up and headed towards the Pafuri Bridge. I followed him for a short while and watched until he eventually turned and casually walked away into the bush. An excellent sighting - when you're in the bush you never know what's around the next corner.

Here are some more special sightings and highlights that occurred during the month. May had some exciting action, the highlight perhaps being a sable bull seen on foot by Mark McGill while scouting the area of the just-launched walking trails. Other highlights were:

* 18 crocodiles eating a male waterbuck in the Luvuvhu River near the Thulamela look out.
* Lioness chasing an impala along the Luvuvhu floodplain near camp.
* Black-backed jackal hunting a steenbok a mere 10 metres away from an evening drinks stop.
* 11 elephant bulls bathing in the Luvuvhu River which provided entertainment for no less than 2 hours.
* 8-week-old lion cubs seen near Makwadzi Pan on the Limpopo floodplain.
* Crocodiles eating a buffalo calf in the Luvuvhu River near camp while on a walk.
* Three new lion cubs of about 9 weeks old were sighted east of the camp in the thickets of the Luvuvhu River.

Mammals
The elephant herds have moved back into the concession and we are having more frequent sightings of them. The buffalo herds continue to be sighted regularly - the average herd size being 100+, although there are two or three herds of up to 300. Black-backed jackal is now seen more regularly on the concession. Also seen by Simon was an aardwolf; aardvark have been seen twice and a bush pig was seen on a morning walk. Other more regular sightings were of species, such as nyala, impala, kudu, bushbuck, blue wildebeest, eland, warthog, porcupine, large spotted genet, African civet, chacma baboon and vervet monkey.

Birding
The total bird sightings for the month of May were 178 species including: Brown-headed Parrot, Grey-headed Parrot, Whiskered Terns, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Verreaux's Eagle, Martial Eagle, White-backed Night Heron, Black Cuckoo Shrike, Arnott's Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting. Woodland Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrikes, Yellow-billed Kites, and European Rollers, among others, have all started the migration back north.

Climate
Average minimum temperature. 9.5°C; average maximum temperature. 28.5°C

Regards,
Geoff Mullen

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