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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

September 2006
Page 2 of 2

Page 1 Updates
Wilderness Safaris News - Info and updates from Wilderness Safaris

• Monthly update from Zibalianja Camp in Botswana.

• Monthly update from Selinda Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kings Pool Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.

• Monthly update from Mombo Camp in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Chitabe Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jacana Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Duba Plains Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jack's Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Palmwag Rhino Camp in Namibia.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.

Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.


Chitabe Camp update - September 06                Jump to Chitabe Camp
September is a month of co lour, when the Sausage Trees burst into bloom with their ruby red flowers in contrast to their electric green leaves, the Knobthorn Acacias produce inflorescence's of brightest yellow, and just to brighten things up the Lonchocarpus Trees come out with the most delightful lavender flowers. The Imperata grasses take on their winter cloak of red, while everywhere else the landscape is a lion-stalked dun. Along the channel lines, as the water recedes, a bright green flush of couch grass pushes up.

As with last year, we had another big bush fire threaten the camp, and this time it almost succeeded. Driven by a strong headwind, the fire moved at an incredible speed towards us, and it was only due to a supreme effort of our fire fighting team and assistance from our Maun office that we were able to quell the flames right upon our camp firebreak.

 

Fire is an integral part of the Okavango ecosystem, a natural method of removing moribund plant debris and releasing nutrients back into the soils, and with it occurring practically on our doorstep, we had an excellent vantage point from which to observe the recovery rate. During the fire itself, large numbers of predatory birds like Rollers and Bee-eaters were attracted by the flames to snatch up fleeing insects, while within hours of the fire's passage, Ground Hornbills and Secretary birds were scouring the burnt areas for tidbits. Interestingly, the channel in front of the camp became a temporary home after the burn for a large flock of both species of Pelicans, as well as Sacred Ibis, Egrets, Saddle-billed and Marabou Storks.

 

Large mammals were seen fleeing the area, but seemed to know where to go to avoid being burnt. These included buffalo, impala, reedbuck, steenbok, warthog and baboon. Within days, all these species where back in the burnt area to feed on the nutrient-rich green shoots which emerged. We even saw the wild dogs hunting these impala through a burnt island, and while following the high-speed chase, came across a leopard out on a hunt, perfectly camouflaged against the scorched vegetation. After two weeks, the areas blackened by the fire were unrecognizably concealed beneath a cloak of emerald green!

The sighting of the month must go to Lazarus for Mosadi Mogolo, our all-time favourite Leopard female. Laz and his guests were watching her resting in a Sausage Tree when a small herd of impala approached to feed on the fallen flowers. Mosadi Mogolo saw her opportunity and as soon as the impala were close enough, she launched her diminutive body in an angled dive right onto the back of an unsuspecting impala. It was a textbook kill, and Lazarus just happened to be the lucky one to see it happen right before his eyes! We have had other great leopard sightings this month, seeing them interacting with hyaena as well as with cubs, as well as finding the large Gomoti male leopard feeding on a baby wildebeest on another day but this one certainly was the "top"?

The shy female who moved into the area with her two cubs has been seen a few times, and her cubs are slowly becoming accustomed to vehicles. Luke found them one afternoon feeding on an impala together, while their mother had taken off. Phinley has also found another female with two cubs in the Acacia Road area.

Two huge male lions have wandered into the territory, and seem to like it enough to stay - Phinley watched them trailing a herd of buffalo as they moved down to the Southern Boundary area. The Gomoti pride of six have been seen several times as well, while the previous territory males seem to have moved even further south.

Luke also deserves a mention for finding a serval out hunting one night very close to the camp. To see one of these rare and secretive cats is a real treat.

Large herds of buffalo are still in the area, and a herd in their thousands came down the Gomoti Channel, across the woodland, along River Road and into the floodplains surrounding the camp. Although most have now moved on, a sizeable contingent has remained to take advantage of the new grass shoots.

The wild dogs are doing well, and the seven of them have been seen several times this month, and OT saw them right in the middle of a hunt, when an opportunistic hyaena tried to make off with their kill while the hunter had gone off to get the rest of the pack. They returned to find the hyaena in a compromising position, and saw him off in characteristic fashion - using their superior speed and agility, they attack the far larger aggressor's rump where he has no defense but to run!

After a long absence, Ebs has found two cheetah in the Broken Palm area.

Temperatures have been relatively mild for September, the hottest usually being around the 30°C mark, with cool evenings. October will bring much warmer and drier weather in the build-up to the advent of the rains.

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Tubu Tree Camp update - September 06                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp

We have already had the first few drops of rain for the season although it was barely enough to wet the ground, the plant life is responding and green shoots are appearing all over Hunda Island. The average temperatures have been a minimum of 14 and maximum 28 degrees Celsius. We have had to pull the boat out of the water and have stopped all mokoro activities, except necessary transfers to other camps in the concession, due to the dropping floodwaters.

One particular deep pool of water remains between Tubu Camp and Hunda airstrip and has attracted four large crocodiles that have made it their home. There are many catfish congregating in this pool as the waters recede, thus providing plenty of food for them. Guests witnessed a crocodile taking down a red lechwe as it tried to cross the channel next to the pool. The croc grabbed hold of the antelope's front leg as it reached the middle of the shallow channel. A vicious struggle ensued with the croc trying to pull the lechwe towards the deeper part of the pool and the lechwe desperately trying to make it to the other side. Eventually the sheer power of the crocodile was no match for the lechwe and it disappeared under the
water. This was a good meal for the crocodile and the other three smaller crocs would probably have also fed off it. A good meal will sustain a crocodile for several weeks and they often do not feed at all during the colder months.

The guides found a new pride of lion in the south of our concession this month. There were three lionesses with six cubs accompanied by a big male. The male is the local resident male on Hunda, but the females and cubs have not been seen before in this area. The cubs were a little skittish and eventually moved off into a thicket followed by the females. We hope to see more of them in the future.
Tsessebe antelope have returned to the floodplains accompanied by a couple of small calves. As the floodplains dry up the lechwe are moving out of the area to be replaced by zebra, tsessebe and wildebeest.

The beautiful Chobe bushbuck are a common sight within the camp and are quite accustomed to people, they even let guests walk past them on the pathway, seemingly unafraid.

Herds of kudu and giraffe are also a regular sight in the wooded areas of our big island with two very young giraffe being a popular sighting with guests. The giraffe calves are very curious about game drive vehicles and stare fascinated at the guests taking their picture!

More and more pelicans are seen along the water channels and pools. Both species, the Pink-backed and the bigger Eastern White Pelicans are taking advantage of trapped fish in the pools along with many Great White Egrets, Yellow-billed Egrets, Little Egrets, Black Herons, Pied Kingfishers, Hamerkops, Marabou Storks all cashing in on the plentiful food supply.

Other interesting bird sightings include the Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Brown Snake Eagle, a Pearl-spotted Owlet feeding its chick in little hole in a tree trunk, Gabar Goshawk, Orange-breasted Bush shrike, Crimson-breasted Boubou, Black Cuckooshrike and a pair of Ostrich with eighteen small chicks!

Looking forward to seeing you out here!

Tubu Greetings,
Anton, Carrie, Moa, Moyo, Salani and the Tubu Team


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Jacana Camp update - September 06                Jump to Jacana Camp
Summer has finally arrived to Jacana with some very hot and humid days, temperatures reaching 37 degrees and bright sunshine casting glimmering reflections in the clear Delta water which surrounds camp.

The water levels are still receding at a great rate and boating into camp is now proving a challenge. We have since had to boat a different route to reach our little island which is actually a highlight for all the guests as it is decorated with numerous African Fish Eagles, red lechwe, hippos and sometimes crocodile.

Our first sighting of sitatunga this season excited all with this very special antelope standing calm and in the open at the water's edge.

Jack and all of our roaming elephants have visited us many times and have as usual been very welcome neighbors for our guests. They have now depleted our supply of Real Date Palm nuts which they clearly find a tasty treat but are happy to feed on all the lush palm fronds which are in abundance on our island.

Jack is still the boss of Jacana and has proved that to several of the younger bulls which arrive, battling head to head with Mosimane in our boma area before dinner, eventually mock mounting him as a sign of dominance. Needless to say we didn't sit by the fire on that evening but all our guests enjoyed this close encounter with these beautiful creatures.

The low water levels are attracting many more species of birds to the flood plain in front of camp, including Wattled Crane, Saddle-billed Stork and Squacco Herons. We have also been very lucky to have several sightings of African Jacana with chicks, the male carrying them under his wings and these tiny fluffy birds walking across the lily pads in the shadow of their father.

The baboons are now seen very close to the main area attracted by the fruits of the flowering Sausage Tree. Several snakes have emerged on the island, including African Rock Python, Puff Adder and Spotted Green Bush Snake - a sure sign that the environment is healthy and has in turn attracted many birds of prey including a pair of Yellow-billed Kites.

Great cat sightings, including leopard and lion have pleased our guests, on one occasion our guests spotted a buffalo kill while they were enjoying their sundowner by boat. The pride of lion led by Freddy and V had taken this male buffalo on the water's edge and were seen feeding on him for several days. They were accompanied by the two lioness and the two cubs who had gorged themselves on the meat, walking with very round and full tummies.

The coming month will prove exciting with the changing seasons and new species of birds, animals and insects providing surprises for us and our guests.

We would like to welcome Peter and Vashti to the Jacana team as they will be relieving camp while we are away and hope they enjoy this paradise island as much as we do!

Jacana Greetings,
Conrad & Katie

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Kwetsani update - September 06                Jump to Kwetsani Camp
"Where has all the water gone?" The Okavango Delta's flooding season is reaching its end and the waters have dried up in the floodplains and have receded back into the more permanent channels. The promise of rain has been building everyday as there are more and more clouds rolling in over the drier landscape. The clouds have however provided fantastic sunsets with skies that are full of wonderful colors. The skies have been quite hazy as there seems to have been many bush fires around the area but not in our concession. The temperatures have been wonderful, averaging at about 16 degrees Celsius (61 F) during the night and the days have been quite warm at about 29 degrees Celsius (84 F).

Even though the water has disappeared it still has provided many visitors with their first ever experience to be able to catch a fish or two. The area is still very green and the spring time has allowed the trees to show their first blossoms and the fruit is quiet abundant but is still young and green. Watch out for the sticky flowers of the Real Fan Palm and the Sausage trees. The bees have been very busy making honey and the hive in front of room 1 is still very active. The bees even tried to make a new nest in room 6's shower but we had to move them as bees and humans in those numbers in a shower don't really mix.

The mokoros have to be done a little closer to the permanent channel where the water is a little deeper but still gives you a great experience of the Okavango Delta. There is still an abundance of waterfowl around but you really need to look a bit harder to see them. While passing some of the reeds and papyrus banks you can hear the grunting of the hippos.

It has really been a time for the lions and they have shown their potential by killing a huge buffalo bull near the water edge. This has provided some great viewing and interaction with the whole pride as well as some full stomachs. Then as usual the sleeping and resting is inevitable which lasts for at least 3 days. The pride still has been coming around the camp frequently, mainly to hunt the red lechwe but as we found out this month also to protect their territory. As we have been able to move further and further north from the camp with the falling waters, we discovered another 2 females with cubs, about the same age (5 months), as the ones we see around the camp. What a find! There was a little bit of concern about the wellbeing of one of the little cubs of our resident pride, as its foot was hurt and was limping for a long time and was often even left behind by the mother but it seems to have healed nicely. Looks like it will be able to grow up without any problems and will be able to hunt and run freely.

It was a hard month for the cubs as the mother has been weaning them off her milk. So where they usually found love and a good meal, they were met with a huge growl and would even be chased off as they approached. The cubs need to be out and about with the females almost on very hunt. As the mother needs to feed they have been moving a lot so the cubs now have to feed on whatever is caught and need to compete like adults at the kills. This is a very dangerous time for the cubs to survive as the hunger drives them to be bolder but of course the males, when around, eat first and fight off any competition - even their own offspring.

One of the most surprising things was that the other female came into oestrus and the mating occurred within the pride, all around the mother and her cubs. The cubs were very afraid of the male as there was a lot of growling and aggression.

The males are looking very battered and full of new scars as they have been challenging each other for the mating rights of the female, as well as when the lone female came into oestrus. They were both limping and were nursing wounds at some stage or another but it seems as though they are still in a two-male coalition and they were able to chase away the intruder male which came from the north.

There have been many elephants around the area and they have managed to shake down and devour the entire Palm Nut supply and there is none left on the whole island. We have had two road blocks in the camp as one of the bull elephants has pushed over some of the huge acacia trees. These have been totally utilized by the bulls and some of the breeding herds. There is no more shaking going on but they come through the camp and keep everybody awake when they sleep and feed around the rooms. We have had some really great encounters around the camp and on the walkways.

The leopard cub is doing very well but we have not seen him or his mother for a very long time. The cub is venturing away from the mother for longer and longer periods and can often be found on his own. The female was found on an evening drive and she was hunting a common reedbuck but unfortunately she was not successful that time. Both have provided good opportunities for photos and were found in a Marula tree feeding on an impala kill. Both the cub and the female shared the kill.

We hope that the rainy season will be great one like last year and hopefully in the months to come we will see few rain showers to rejuvenate the landscape. May there be many spectacular thunder showers to come!

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Duba Plains Camp update - September 06               Jump to Duba Plains Camp

06-10 September
The Tsaro Pride and the Duba Boys have been seen for almost the whole week in the central part of the territory where the buffalo herd has been hanging around. The pride has been successfully hunting the buffalo, with two kills made in the last week. What was very interesting was that both buffalo were caught while wallowing in the mud! The second kill we witnessed was made by only two of the Tsaro females. After feeding on a kill, we have noticed that the pride will generally scatter around the area for a couple of days, during which time they are seen in groups of two to three, before they regroup again, ready for the next hunt.

Tsaro pride at Duba   Tsaro pride at Duba   Tsaro pride at Duba
Photos by Greg Hughes

It isn't just buffalo that comprise lion diet at Duba Plains of course. Some of our guests standing on the dining area deck were fortunate to witness a Tsaro lioness killing a warthog in front of the camp. To date, she has been in the same area for a period of three days in a row. We have always watched her from a distance, as the area is inaccessible by vehicles because of the water and mud, but she does seem to be lactating and we suspect the cubs are not far from the camp. None of the cubs have been seen so far.

The Skimmer Pride has not been seen in the area for about a week and a half; we suspect they might be back in their area of Paradise Island.

Big herds of elephant are still continuing to be seen in the area, with big breeding herds ranging between 15 to 25 in each herd. Bird sightings are incredibly exciting as more and more water pans are continuing to dry up creating fish traps. Birds seen in these areas include Pink-backed Pelicans and Marabou Storks; some summer migrant birds such as Yellow-billed Kites have been seen in the area recently and our aardwolf viewing continues to be excellent.

Regards Moalosi


10-24 September
September is always a great month to be at Duba Plains and this year has been no exception. The weather is warming up quickly, so watching the sunrise from the game drive vehicle is no longer such an Antarctic ordeal! The first of the summer migrants are back, including Blue-cheeked and Carmine Bee-eaters and Yellow-billed Kites. The floodwaters are now receding rapidly allowing us to re-open some of the roads closed during the winter. Preparations are underway to begin the extension of the bridge at the beginning of next month.

Duba bridge   Tsaro pride

The last fortnight has produced some thrilling sightings for our guests. Most interest has focused on the Tsaro and Skimmer Prides, both of which have been sighted regularly. Each pride has killed buffalo but the Skimmer Pride kills are all the more remarkable as these have been within the heart of Tsaro Pride territory. We found the Skimmer Pride on the morning of the 20th as they headed east from Molokwane Island towards the herd of buffalo. Already they were well inside Tsaro territory, but unchallenged as the Tsaro Pride had spent the previous afternoon feeding on a buffalo kill at Nqoga Island, about a mile further south. The Skimmer Pride has rapidly developed into a formidable coalition of lions and the young males are showing the bulk needed to meet the challenges of pursuing buffalo through these swampy waters. At midday, the pride stampeded the buffalo herd into a wet area north of Tsweni Road and killed an adult female. Twelve hungry lions make a light meal of the buffalo and the carcass was cleaned within two hours.

As the lions lay sleeping in the long grass, unbeknown to them a lactating Tsaro Pride lioness skirted round the pride to retrieve her newly born cubs from a Tsaro Palm island not more than 30 yards from the sleeping intruders. Quietly she goaded the tiny cubs to cross a small channel and into the safety of another palm island some distance away. Any discovery of her or the cubs by the Skimmer Pride would surely have led to a fight and the near-certain demise of the cubs. Later we saw another lone Tsaro female treading carefully through the grass towards the Skimmer Pride. This time one of the Skimmer females noticed her and went to investigate. A sharp growl was heard as both females squared up; however this alerted the Skimmer males and two of them gave chase to the retreating Tsaro female while the rest of the Skimmer Pride roared their presence. It was quite a sight to behold and an ominous sign of what lies in store during the coming months. Since the 20th the Skimmer Pride has been seen again twice, though each time further west towards their own territory. One of the adult females has an injury on her left rear leg, possibly as a result of an encounter with the Tsaro Pride or the Duba Boys.

Buffalos at Duba Plains   Hyenas at Duba Plains

The Tsaro Pride remains largely fragmented, as at least four females are lactating and consequently the pride cannot easily repel the incursions of the Skimmer Pride. One female introduced her three cubs to the pride on the 21st at Sausage Point. Given the recent dynamics within the pride, this lioness is clearly nervous and protective of her cubs and we have yet to see them introduced to "Split-Ear" and "Silver-Eye", the two 'cub-killing' females. One female has three cubs hidden close to Tsweni Road (see above) and another is hiding an unknown number of cubs not far from the airstrip. During the last fortnight, the Tsaro Pride has killed four buffalo and a wildebeest providing the one-year-old male with a good supply of food and hunting experience. He is a confident youngster and muscles in to get first share of the spoils, unchallenged by the dominant Duba Boy. The hyaena den is active once more and we've seen five cubs basking and playing while we have our sundowners. Two different bat-eared fox dens have been located close to Shade Pan and Kudu Road, and aardwolf sightings remain good.

Beverly and Dereck Joubert dropped by last week and gave us a copy of their new book, Relentless Enemies, a stunning portrait that encapsulates superbly their time spent with the lions and buffalo of Duba Plains. For decades, Dereck and Beverly have lived among lions. They consider their three years here to be their most exciting, and their research is presented here in fascinating text and a hundred gripping images.

Paul de Thierry


24 September - 06 October
It's been an exciting period at Duba for guests and staff. At the end of the month we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Botswana independence by flying the national flag on our game-drive vehicles (they looked somewhat like ambassadorial limos!) followed by singing for the guests and a big staff party. It's a special anniversary for the Batswana and the guests felt honored to share the celebrations with them.

Lions at Duba Plains Camp

It's a harsh reality that, as the Skimmer Pride males grow stronger, so the Duba Boys grow older and weaker. Take the 25th of September as an example, when we found one of the Duba Boys near Mokolwane Island. He was looking intently to the west where a Skimmer male, well within Tsaro territory, was assuming a threatening posture. In the past, any detected incursion by the Skimmer Pride into Tsaro territory bought an immediate and aggressive response by one or both of the Duba Boys. The reaction this time was to call a Tsaro female who was stalking the nearby herd of buffalo. It was only when she teamed up with the Duba Boy did the Skimmer male turn and head back towards his own territory, the Tsaro female and the Duba Boy roaring after him. If the Duba Boys are no longer willing or able to repel invading males, they will have to rely increasingly on the Tsaro females' desire to protect their newly born cubs for their own survival.

A further ominous sign for the Duba Boys was the sighting of two new males last week close to Shade Island. They were skittish and moved away from the game drive vehicles quickly. Through binoculars the two males look around five years old, light in color and very healthy. Later than evening, both Duba Boys could be heard making territorial calls in the same area. The Letapa male has not been seen.

One Tsaro female has now introduced her cubs into the pride and they seem to be well tolerated, although the whole pride has not been seen together for many months due to mating/birthing of four to five females. One other female with three cubs was seen near Sausage Point on a termite mound. As we sat watching the cubs play, we saw the other Tsaro females walking across the floodplain towards the mound. As they drew near, the cubs hid behind their mother and she became very aggressive towards them, hissing and spitting. This is a sign of the mistrust that still exists within a pride that has lost 53 cubs since early 2004.

The young male is continuing to learn the art of hunting and remains well tolerated at kills. Over the period, we saw two kills and found evidence of a further three, all by the Tsaro Pride. On one occasion, six Tsaro females bought down a buffalo calf at Baobab Island after wounding it in an earlier hunt. Having killed the calf, the Duba Boy chased the females off the carcass, dragged it into the shade and then fell asleep on top of the kill without eating anything!

Last Monday, we found six females and the cub sleeping on a termite mound next to the buffalo to the west of Buffalo Point. It's a stunning area, the dry plains contrasting with the lush channels that wend their way towards the papyrus beds. As the buffalo moved towards the water to drink, the lions took the opportunity to attack as the herd crossed the channel. Despite managing to jump on the back of one female, the pride was too spread out to make the kill. However, the attack split the herd and a small group retreated to the dry flood plain. Desperate to join the main herd, the splinter group moved towards the channel and into a seemingly perfect ambush set by the pride. All was ruined by the eager cub that showed itself far too early and sent the buffalo stampeding back. The chastened cub then proceeded to demonstrate the correct technique by jumping on its mothers back!

Aardwolf at Duba Plains

A major highlight is the discovery of an active aardwolf den to the south of Kudu Road and two young pups have been seen at night with both the adult male and female. Aardwolf sightings are extremely rare in the Delta and to have an active den is a delight.


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Vumbura Plains update - September 06               Jump to Vumbura Camp
This month we will start with the avian community. Bird life at Vumbura Plains is thriving with migrants such as Yellow-billed Kites and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters returning to the Delta. Other feathered sightings included a Racket-tailed Roller, African Skimmers, Pelicans, Flamingos, Ostriches and of course our beautiful variety of Storks and Cranes. Open-billed Storks have been flocking in great numbers this month. Our resident Crested Barbet entertains us for hours while he disagrees with his own reflection in the Guest Loo. Moving along to the mammalian representatives at Vumbura Plains, game sightings were as spectacular this month as in August. Most of our usual contenders contributed to a well-orchestrated symphony of wildlife magic.

Once again our lions have been very successful, taking every opportunity to satisfy their insatiable "munchies". One evening the Kubu Pride managed to bring down two buffalo at the same time presenting our guests with front row seats in this "African Action Drama". They even tried their luck with a young elephant but were quickly put in their place by the over-protective mother elephant. Leopard sightings were good this month with sightings of three different individuals. These creatures seem to enjoy being watched, posing for photographs allowing us to get National Geographic-quality pictures. The old male cheetah was seen on a few occasions but was not a frequent sighting. The larger more powerful predators like lion, leopard and hyenas are a threat to this elegant sports car of the bush. He takes every precaution to avoid contact with these Masters of Vumbura.

"WILD DOGS! WILD DOGS!" These words were shouted on numerous occasions through the game drive radios. We enjoyed eight separate sightings of these African 'painted wolves'. Bad news for this small family pack, though. One of the three pups was viciously mauled by lions, demonstrating who really rules this savage paradise.

A great discovery this month was a hyena den filled to the brim with pups. Many hours were spent watching the little ones jump around and annoy the adults. Other than the den, nightly raids to the back of the kitchen are stealthily executed by these cunning eating machines.

With the Jackalberry trees still in fruit elephant are still hovering between the rooms and the main area here at Vumbura Plains. We are very fortunate to be able to share our wonderful camp with these animals. Other great sightings this month included aardwolf, porcupines, honey badgers, serval, caracal and of course the sable antelope, which we are privileged to see on a regular basis here at Vumbura.

Summer is rapidly engulfing us here at Vumbura, temperatures are rising and flowers are erupting from the Sausage Tree, Apple Leaf, Knobbly Combretum and Acacia Trees filling the air with a sweet perfume. It's goodbye to winter? That's it for this month, take care and we hope to see you here at Vumbura Plains.

Nick Leuenberger

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Jack's Camp update - September 06                Jump to Jack's Camp

Around the 6th of August, one of the subordinate females in our group of resident meerkats gave birth to a litter of five pups. About three weeks later, the proud mother showed them to the world for the first time. Right from the start, there was high drama. Under the beady gaze of some very hungry looking crows, the mother moved her pups, one at a time from den site to den site. In an attempt to get her to drop her pups, the birds continually harassed the mother, who bravely jumped up and tried to attack the birds, driving them away long enough for her to get her pups to safety in the new burrow.

After a rough first few days, the pups have really come into their own and are growing at an amazing rate, delighting everyone who gets to see them. Like all children desperate to be adults, they are trying to imitate their parents in balancing on their tails and hind legs, though more often than not they seem to end up on their bottoms.

Meerkats at Jack's Camp    Guest and meerkat at Jack's Camp

We have high hopes that this set of pups will make it and it is even more encouraging to see that all the females in the family are now pregnant; this bodes well for the future population strength of the group.

The chief babysitter, who seems to be one of the sub-adult males, very carefully shepherds the pups around making sure that they have lots of juicy grubs and of course their favorites, scorpions, which are delivered sting-free! In fact, their appetites are voracious and we have even seen the adults hiding food from the pups so that they can feed later in the day. This leads the pups to beg for food from almost anyone they can find: meerkats, guides and guests alike!

Climate:
Average minimum temperature: 10°C
Average maximum temperature: 39°C.


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Namibia camps
Palmwag Rhino Newsletter - September 06               Jump to Palmwag Rhino Camp
It has been exactly three weeks since Rosta Janik arrived at Palmwag, and his enthusiasm is contagious, as can be seen from his newsletter!

On a few nature drives (We do not do game drives here - we are in the Namib Desert!) I went out on, I saw and experienced many special and extraordinary things. On the first drive we were very lucky to see lot of game including springbok, Hartmann's mountain zebras, gemsbok, kudu, steenbok, klipspringer and many interesting birds. We stopped at one of the many springs and everywhere we looked we could see a lot of game. At one moment around us were zebra, gemsbok, kudu, giraffe and ostrich - it was amazing to see five different species in one moment in front of us and not so far from the spring - something special - we are in the Namib Desert, what is going on here?

A few days later Festus (one of our Explorations guides) arrived at Rhino Camp and I had the opportunity to go out with him. What a great opportunity it was! You cannot waste the opportunity to go out with him, if there ever is one. On the drive we saw many things; we had great sightings of two different couples of rhinos with their calves, all of them followed by lion at night. On the afternoon drive we saw a beautiful big good-looking male lion at the Salvadora Spring. What a sighting on a beautiful evening! Also we came across many bird species including Orange River Francolin, which I had never seen before. That day I learnt a lot from Festus. Every single story or fact was special and interesting, for his guests and alike for me. It was like a drug! I felt as though I had to ask him all the time that I want some more and more of it please. I never had enough of the info I could get from him!

Later that same week we had two cheetah sightings in one day! We also came across a family of nine elephants with one tiny one not more than a few months old. In the area of one of the springs we had a sighting of two monitor lizards fighting! For the guests an unforgettable experience (they got footage on their camera) and for me an unforgettable lifetime experience. The fight lasted for 18 minutes then both of them just moved into the nearby bushes to escape from the heat of the day in the Namib. It was something really extraordinary to watch these two males fighting - it was like watching wrestling - all together on our local TV. There was a lot of little dust clouds around them which made the fight look more like two monsters or prehistoric creatures from Jurassic Park. Amazing and all five of us on the vehicle were talking the whole evening about this special event which was perfectly served for us by the unpredictable Namib Desert.

On the next morning drive I saw my first Three-banded Plover at the Salvadora Spring and I am happy that I can add this beautiful bird to my bird list. Later on we again had an excellent sighting of elephants and rhino. During the last few days in the Rhino Camp we had really great sightings of rhino, elephant and everything else, but yesterday we saw something very special: Not far from our camp (20 minutes) we had a sighting of two beautiful lioness with one cub (around 6-9 months old) who had killed a zebra. I was speechless that moment when I saw the cub feeding on that zebra. I never would have believed and most probably will never believe how possible it is to see all of these events in the middle of the Namib Desert! All these unforgettable events that it is possible to see in the desert, for me, it will always be a special, amazing, truly beautiful "Desert Paradise on the planet Earth".

Later on we had a great sighting of honey badger and the next day we saw an aardwolf on the open grass plains and came across a rhino cow with her 3-month-old baby rhino - one of the cutest things you could ever see in the Namib!

That is just some of the highlights of sightings from Rhino Camp in Namibia we had last past three weeks. One of the guests after seeing the rhino cow with her three-month-old baby rhino said, "We saw it only for few minutes, but we will remember this moment forever!"

Rosta Janik

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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp (northern Kruger) Newsletter - September 06                  Jump to Pafuri Camp
The month of September has been really hot with some of the daily temperatures already reaching the 40°C mark! The Pafuri region is very dry at the moment with the vegetation inland from the Luvuvhu River thinning out quickly and leaving dry dusty patches in some areas. The Limpopo River is completely dry now. The Luvuvhu is very low at the moment and has stopped flowing into the Limpopo, leaving a huge pool at Crooks Corner. The pool itself is home to a large pod of hippo, crocodiles, and a variety of water birds. Still a great spot for sundowners. Although we are once again witnessing a change of season in the Makuleke Region of Kruger National Park, the game viewing and bird watching has still been great. Take a look at some of the sightings our guests were treated to during the month of September:

06th - Leopard killed a nyala in the turning circle at camp. The trail of the kill and drag marks lead across the boardwalk and into the Capparis thicket behind the kitchen.
07th - Leopard killed a cane rat under room 6, leaving only the stomach content and fur behind.
08th - Lioness killed a kudu on Pafuri main near access road to camp.
08th - Croc killed an impala in front of camp. Dozens of crocs feed on it through the night. All of our guests got to see the event.
09th - The first Diederick Cuckoo was heard in camp for the season.
10th - Elephant bull who feeds regularly beyond the deck in front of the curio shop. This particular guy enjoys sitting on his knees when he feeds.
18th - Male lion seen from Room 2.
21st - Leopard calling intensely, heard between Room 1 and staff village.
22nd - Two leopards were seen on Pafuri main road courting.
24th - Two Pel's Fishing Owls were seen from main deck by all guests.
29th - Lions were mating on Pafuri main road near the flood level marker. This male is a new one in the area.

Mammals
We are still seeing a lot of elephant and buffalo throughout the concession. Some of our other sightings include: honey badger, white tailed mongoose, dwarf mongoose, black backed jackal, African civet, large spotted genet, eland, kudu, impala, nyala, waterbuck, steenbok, porcupine, and Burchell's zebra. Lion were seen on average twice a week and leopards once a week.

Birding
We have recorded 200 species this month. It's been one of those months where the quantity was not as important as the quality. The sightings include: Pel's Fishing Owl, Comb Duck, European Bee-eater, Black Crake, African Wattled Lapwing, Lesser Striped Swallow, White-winged Widow, Striped Pipit, Three-banded Courser, and Bronze-winged Courser.

Climate
Average minimum temperature 12°C; average maximum temperature 35°C. No rainfall.

Thanks
Geoff Mullen

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Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - September 06                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
This month there has been a lot of plankton in the water, which has reduced the visibility to an average of between 10-15 metres, with water temperatures at a constant 21-22° Celsius. Plankton is a wonderful food source not only for the big filter feeders, such as whale sharks and manta rays but also for the little filter feeders such as porcelain crabs, tubeworms and corals. Schools of fusiliers are seen mid-water, mouths open, devouring these strangely shaped, jelly-like treats. Huge shoals of little eastern tuna boil on the surface of the water as they too gorge themselves on plankton. These particular fish were only approximately 2kg in weight but they can grow up to 10kg. Although they are small, they form an important part of the food chain, with marlin, sailfish and wahoo feeding on them. So while the tuna are around, it is wise to keep one eye on the surface, hopefully getting a chance to see one of these magnificent gamefish cruising past.

Some days are what you would call 10 out of 10 days. This one had wonderful weather with light variable wind, smooth sea, humpback whales in all directions and spinner dolphins hunting flying fish. Everyone was filled with excitement as they watched the fish fly out of the water, followed by a mass of dolphins chasing at maximum speed. As the fish touched down on the water, the eager dolphins would snap them up. The divers all managed to get into the water and snorkel with the spinner dolphins. As if that was not enough excitement, a group of five humpback whales then swam towards the group! Being in the water with two such charismatic ocean mammals blew everyone away! That wasn't it though. Once everyone was back on board and travelling back towards shore, they saw some more whales and stopped to watch. They were listening to the blow of the whales as they approached the boat, when they heard a small blow right next to the boat. It was a 1.8m leatherback turtle! Karen got in and swam with it for a little while till it dived down and disappeared. What a way to spend the day.

For those of you who haven't met Karen yet, you will if you are coming to dive with us soon. She recently joined the Rocktail Bay Dive Team and has already been lucky enough to see the 'Big Five' of the ocean, here at Rocktail, in just one short week - whale sharks, humpback whales, southern right whales, spinner and bottlenose dolphins and a leatherback turtle!

The most spectacular filter feeder, and top of the wish list, has to be the whale shark. On the way to an early morning dive at Gogo's, Darryl spotted a big fin breaking the surface of the water - it was a 9m male whale shark feeding on the surface. He was tagged, but in all the excitement the last thing Brett Pollock and friends were thinking about was remembering the number. Of the six divers, four had never seen a whale shark before. As the whale shark fed, mouth wide open; it swam circles around the divers, giving them a really great opportunity to watch it. Then Darryl shouted that he had seen another smaller fin in the water and there was a mad scramble to the boat - everyone thought it might be a shark! They were all relieved when they found out that it was in fact another, smaller whale shark. After approximately half an hour with the two whale sharks they decided it was time to go and do their planned dive!

This same group of divers was on their way back from Elusive, after their second dive, when they were granted another 'lifer'. There were two southern right whales not far behind Island Rock. The curious calf just hung there looking at them, the mother next to it, before swimming slowly past them. A very special moment of interaction between humans and one of the gentle giants of the sea!

The humpback and southern right whales are on their southbound journey back home to the Antarctic and there tend to be a lot of groups far out on the horizon putting on a show, breaching, lobtailing and fin slapping. Divers are serenaded on nearly every dive by the wonderful whale songs and curious babies sometimes circle the buoyline with mothers close by.

There have been three separate sightings of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Seen travelling on the surface, a tiny fin breaks the water, as they look for squid to feed on. These sharks are usually in our waters during summer, so are an early indication that things should start to warm up soon. Two of them were just over 1m long and the third was almost 3m in length.

All the big rays that also tend to be summer visitors have been sighted; some of them even during the last few months of winter. This month there has been an increase in sightings of sharpnose, honeycomb and round ribbontail rays.

Clive does it again! Those of you who have dived with Clive will know just how good he is at finding the little critters! This month he found the first Mauritius scorpionfish (Rhinopias eschmeyeri) that has ever been seen here at Rocktail Bay. He found it sitting in amongst a clump of seaweed at Elusive and we all heard the excited shouts as he called us over. This fish is different to the tasselled scorpionfish that are often found on reefs. The body is a similar shape, with similar dorsal fins but it does not have the same patterns on its body. It was totally red (which looks brown in the water) and was perfectly camouflaged in the seaweed. It has a prominent flap above its eyes and flaps that stick out each corner of its mouth. This fish is considered very rare and is not often seen by divers. Well done, Clive!

"Great dive sites, great dive centre, couldn't have been more helpful. Snorkeling with dolphins and even whales, to follow perfect dives." John Morse, Northumberland, England

Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Karen
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

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