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AFRICAN SAFARI NEWS

February 2007

(Page 2 of 2)

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

• North Island Dive Report from the Seychelles.
• Monthly update from DumaTau Camp in Botswana.
Kwando Safaris game reports.
• Monthly update from Jack's & San Camps in Botswana.

Page 2 Updates
• Monthly update from Tubu Tree Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Kwetsani Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Jao Camp in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Vumbura Plains in Botswana.
• Monthly update from Pafuri Camp in South Africa.

Turtle news from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.
Monthly Dive report from Rocktail Bay in South Africa.

• Monthly update from Serra Cafema Camp in Namibia.
• Taking time to see Ostriches in Namibia.
• Take a look at Super Predators in Namibia.


Tubu Tree Camp update - February 07                Jump to Tubu Tree Camp

We have had several large grass fires burning in our area for over a week. Fires are fairly common in the Delta this time of year just before the annual floodwaters arrive; many are lit by local fishermen to clear channels, making it easier for fishing. It was interesting to note the bird activity during the time the fires were burning. Abdim's Storks flocked in their hundreds to feast on the insects displaced by the fire, and could be seen walking in the still smouldering burnt areas picking off freshly roasted insects. Flying through the smoke and in front of the fire were numerous Carmine Bee-eaters; these aerial acrobats would swoop past the flames catching the insects trying to escape the fire, chirping to one another all the while.

African Fish Eagle at Tubu Tree

The floodwater has arrived earlier than usual and most of the floodplains are now under water. The arrival of the annual flood brings with it great excitement for both human and animal alike. A barrage of catfish run at the forefront of the flood taking advantage of insects and other small creatures that have been disturbed by the arriving water. The catfish can be heard plopping in the shallows as they take insects off the surface of the water; at times the water seems to 'boil' with fish. Birds join the feeding frenzy, Woolly-necked and Marabou Storks, Cattle Egrets, and several Heron and Plover species. The Marabou no doubt keeps a beady eye out for any small catfish that might fit into his big beak.
Another bird found in numbers at this time is the African Fish Eagle - which prey on the catfish that are exposed in the shallow incoming waters. Fish Eagles are normally found in pairs but at this time of plenty they can be seen in large numbers taking advantage of the easy meals. They tolerate each others' close proximity because there is a plentiful supply of food and so there is little competition between the birds, there is more than enough for everyone.

The incoming floodwater means that we will soon be able to offer boating, fishing and mokoro activities.

Wild Dog at Tubu Tree

The small pack of wild dogs made a welcome although brief return to Tubu this month. The guides were out on a walk when they saw the dogs erupt from a nearby bush, running at full pace before disappearing just as quickly. They quickly returned to the vehicles and managed to relocate the dogs, following the pack as they began to hunt. Their first attempt was unsuccessful, but they managed to pull down an impala the second time. Before we knew it they were gone again, as quickly as they had arrived. Of the five original dogs only four were seen this time and we can only speculate as to what happened to the missing one. Wild dogs are in fierce competition with other predators and lions are their biggest concern.

February was our last month at Tubu before we move onto another camp in the Delta, the same for Moa who will be joining the Wilderness guide training department. We have had an absolutely amazing experience in our time here with lots of great memories to cherish. We are sure the new team will experience the same and carry on where we left off. Tubu as a camp has a great charm about it and is a favourite of most who have visited it. We can highly recommend it and once you have been you will understand why!

Tubu Greetings
Anton, Carrie and Moa


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Kwetsani update - February 07                Jump to Kwetsani Camp

The heavens above did not provide us with much water here on the island in the Delta as we only received about 10mm of rain during February. The blessing however is that we have received the annual winter floodwaters a little earlier this year. The flood started off in the panhandle as if it was going to be a huge flood but has levelled out and seems that it will be an average flooding year. One never knows though as the water courses change all the time and you can never be sure which way and where the water is going to flow. There is a lot of promise though as the rainfall in the Angola highlands have been really good this season.

Kwetsani has become an island again and we are totally surrounded by water. The water's edge is creeping closer and closer from the east and soon the whole front of the island will be covered with water again. So the roads have changed to waterways again! The temperatures have been as expected for this time of year with an average low of 17° C and a high of 33° C.

The floodwaters moving in have been alive with activity, as the tasty new morsels become exposed. The new food is almost immediately devoured by a wonderful abundance of new birdlife in the area. The sunset skies are filled with the silhouettes of the birds as they fly around looking for roosting spots but not too far from the water. In the morning we are awoken by the constant babbling, chirping and chattering of the birds as they get really busy as soon as there is enough light. You can follow where the water is filling up first by the lines of birds, many Wattled Cranes, Spur-winged Goose in their hundreds barely lifting their heads for air, clusters of all the different Egrets, Open-billed Storks and so many different types of the smaller wading birds all looking for food as the water filters through dry sand.

The lion pride has had to move the core territory back as they have lost the new ground to the oncoming water. The water has brought about a bit of misfortune for the family as the young male cub has a huge cut on his side and has not been seen with the family for the last few days. He was last seen on the other side of the water way to the north, which the rest of the family have already crossed. We will have to let you know what the outcome will be. We hear the lions calling around the camp almost every night and they have been seen a few times from the decks of the lodge already and even around the staff village.

The female leopard has been around Jao Camp area and is doing really well with the new impala generation, killing a few around the camp island. She is healthy and staying out of trouble with the lions. We hope that she will be seen a lot more as she too tries to avoid the increasing waters.

The highlight of the month was four wild dogs that had just killed an impala and finished the kill in no time at all. The red lechwe are back in large numbers and the water will definitely create a fantastic spectacle.

Until next month,
Kwetsani Camp

 

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Jao Camp update - February 07               Jump to Jao Camp

This last month has been as dry as the last, with less than 5mm of rain and some very hot days, seeming to point to a pretty dry winter this year. Some of the evenings have already been chilly! The last part of February has also been quite windy which also brought some cloudy weather but no rain. The floods are pouring into NG25 from the eastern side this year and it is really amazing to see that the water is filling certain areas already this year which only got water much later last year.

During February the camp was sanded, varnished, polished, washed, swept, dusted and mopped before having opened on the 12th for business again. We replaced the upper front saligna deck at the main lodge and we also renewed the boat jetty in front of the camp.

Male lion at Jao Camp

Our lions "the old and the beautiful" are living up to their soap opera name with daily drama and intrigue. The two dominant males are always fighting over the lionesses and then the two cubs have to take the slack from the males. It has come to our attention that the male cub has not been sighted with the mother and other cub for a couple of days now and according to the guides it must have died as the other lions had been distancing themselves from the male cub for some days before his disappearance. Always a sad case with our lions as few lion cubs have survived in this concession for the last five years now. We would love some new young blood!

'Beauty', the resident female leopard has been very active on the Island on which Jao is based. She was spotted under the walkway by one of the managers one evening when escorting guests home from dinner! She was in the area because she had made a kill towards the back of the Island, an impala from the local herd which she kept under a tree for two day and then when it was light enough she dragged it up a tree to finish it off during the next 4 days.

Our baby baboons are still around with the rest of the troop. The baby impalas are all still accounted for as well as the baby mongooses which are running around with the rest of the band at the moment.

Elephant at Jao

The elephants have been few and far between in the concession in the beginning of Feb but as it got drier towards the end of the month and with some fires around we suddenly saw a huge improvement in numbers especially lone bulls walking around. Part and parcel of our guests experiences were seeing these huge pachyderms taking a bath in the river, always good to see!

The amount of red lechwe in the area is absolutely crazy as they are covering the floodplains in their thousands. With this we also see a rise in lion activity in the water. Seeing a big lion walking through water is an uncommon a sight but in NG25 we see this during most of the year as the lions have adapted to live in this wet watery environment.

Red Lechwes on the run at Jao Camp

One of the most amazing sightings in a while has been that of a Secretarybird being caught by a Martial Eagle. The guide and his guests were sitting watching a leopard when the guide saw the Eagle sitting in the grass plucking away at a kill and at closer inspection saw that it was indeed a Secretarybird - two of the rarer animals in the concession!

Some comments from our guests this month:
"Once again a sensory overload. The sighting of the elusive leopard on the bridge into camp was awesome." - Larry and Sara
"The diversity of your activities and the excellent attention to your guests were all highlights to our stay." - Marcelino and Fatima
"Our highlight was a leopard for starters and then the camp with its very good staff." - Klaus and Elizabeth
"The lodge and the staff and the very good guides on safari were outstanding but especially the chocolates on demand!" - Michael and Nancy

All the best
The Jao Team


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Vumbura Plains update - February 07               Jump to Vumbura Camps
The month of February saw an increase in the variety and frequency of big game sightings over those of the previous month. This is mainly due to the increase in rain and water levels ensuring the grazers and browsers are kept healthy with ample good grazing grasses and heavily leafed trees with the likes of Jackalberries starting to fruit early; healthy prey means healthy predators!

The high water levels have promoted water activities as well. Mokoro trips are a fantastic way to take in the beauty and serenity of the Delta and it seems as soon as one guest takes part in this activity, news of the experience spreads amongst the camp and the mokoro station becomes a busy place! Boat cruises have been popular too and are a good way to venture deeper into the Delta and the best part is the memorable sundowners that can be had whilst on the water. The anglers of Vumbura have been busy as well, working of course on a catch-and-release system. With a lot of bream, pike, and barbel around there is always a fishing trip to discuss over dinner. Several guests have taken part in our guided walks which allow a closer look at the surroundings and a different perspective on the environment. The current rain has led to high levels of grass and vegetation making the possibility of sightings more difficult - but the experience of being in the bush with no boundaries is still unrivalled.

Lion sightings have been a plenty this month, starting with a fantastic late evening sighting of the resident Kubu Pride. They were sighted just a kilometre out of camp and present were the three cubs looking very healthy, four females and a sub-adult male - who is just starting to grow his mane. All were very relaxed and most were sleeping except for the cubs that spent most of their time hassling mom for food and everyone else for play. The sightings of this successful pride have been abundant throughout the month with the cubs giving everybody great photo opportunities and talking points. The Big Red Pride have also been seen in the area and earlier in the month they all looked very hungry and agitated, so it was good to view them a few weeks on looking full and relaxed, a recent kill evident.

Selonyana, a resident female leopard, was spotted in front of South Camp stalking impala, but without any success. As she is generally a good hunter and always in a healthy condition none were surprised to finally sight her up a tree with the kill of a young kudu. She had not yet started to feed and so we left the sighting until the following morning. On our return we were treated to a food power struggle: Shaka, a male leopard, who is infrequently seen, was spotted chasing Selonyana out of the tree and away from the kill. She stood her ground and defended as best she could, but soon gave the carcass up to the pressure of Shaka. With shoulders slung low she started making off on the long walk, to the next possible kill, only giving one quick glance over her shoulder to assure herself there was nothing left to stay for.

Cheetah and wild dog have also been spotted throughout the month. Vuka, a male cheetah, has been seen marking his territory, hunting warthogs and dozing in the heat of day under a Mopane tree. The wild dogs caused great excitement throughout Vumbura with only two sightings of the pack in recent times. The pack consisted of an adult male and female and two sub-adults. Two days later they were seen again with an impala kill which was later taken over by four hyaenas; however it seemed they had fed well before the invasion. The hyaena exhibited highly protective behaviour of the carcass, lying on top of the impala before scavenging the remains.

Throughout the month we have had many elephant encounters on drives and within camp. The local breeding herd has been seen most days feeding close to the walkway and then drinking and bathing in front of North Camp. Sable sightings have been good, with herds numbering up to ten. They look to be in an extremely good condition with beautiful glossy coats and grazing well. Aardvark were also seen - these elusive animals with their unusual appearance and behaviour are always a delight to observe. One seemed very relaxed and was feeding at a nearby termite mound just off the road but eventually disappearing into the night. The hyaena den a few kilometres from camp has proved once again a great spot for close encounters with the six young pups, they are now four months old and looking very healthy. There is no designated nanny and most family members seem to take it in turns looking after these energetic and inquisitive young pups. We had a great buffalo sighting near Nare Pan; the herd were 300 strong and on the move. Jacky's Pan has been the usual hive of activity with frequent sightings of giraffe, zebra, warthog and various antelope.

The call of the African Fish Eagle can be heard most mornings in front of South Camp and one can often be seen perching on the branch of a dead tree in the plain. Insectivorous bird species such as Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, Rollers and Hornbills have been plentiful due to the quantity of insects, which seem to be breeding well due to the current high temperatures and water levels. Unmistakable larger species such as Saddled-billed Storks, Goliath Herons and the endangered Ground Hornbill have been seen feeding on the floodplains in front of camp. South Camp's Scops Owl is still happily roosting in the Jackalberry tree above the Star Deck.

The weather conditions for February have been relatively constant for this time of year. February experienced highs of 38°C and lows of 15°C and an average of 26°C. Most days have been clear with some overcast conditions appearing in the late afternoon with only a few resulting in short afternoon showers.

Complied by: Ryan Stockman

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South Africa camps
Pafuri Camp Newsletter - February 07                  Jump to Pafuri Camp

What can one say about Pafuri? The area never ceases to amaze with its ever-changing moods and wildness. What started out as a dry, hot month, with very little grass cover finished up with numerous areas being carpeted in the yellow flowers of dubbeltjies (devil thorns).

After the low rainfall so far this summer, we were hoping for some good downpours to revitalise the area. These rains did not materialise for the first half of the month and soaring temperatures scorched the bush. The grass that had grown following the rains in January died down completely. Fortunately, we received two big downpours, the later one an offshoot of Cyclone Flavio that hit Mozambique. These showers transformed Pafuri into a deep green interspersed with the bright colours of numerous flowers that bloomed following the rains. This was in stark contrast to the bare Ana Trees along the river courses, which interestingly shed their leaves in summer (one of the primary reasons they are no longer included in the Acacia genus).

Wild Flowers at Pafuri

The most encouraging aspect of the month was how good the general game viewing has been. There has been an abundance of impala. Numerous herds, some totalling in the region of 70 were scattered throughout the concession. The number of kudu sightings has also been impressive with a herd of 20 being recorded at one time. Zebra were seen on a daily basis and a herd of 30 was seen grazing on the new grass close to camp. Game has also been seen colonising areas which have seemingly been avoided by the larger mammals; a herd of eland and impala were seen drinking in the Limpopo River one evening as the sun dipped below the horizon.

The significance of the increase in general game concentrations is that as their numbers continue to rise in the concession, the number of predators is increasing as well. This has been confirmed with a sighting of some new lion cubs on top of Hutwini Mountain. There have also been two records of lions mating within the month; the second mating was by a new male lion in the area which bodes well for the future. Sightings of lions have remained constant throughout the month and it is encouraging to see that all six sub-adults in the Pafuri pride are alive and well.

We have had daily sightings of elephants (unusual for this time of year but largely as a result of low rainfall) as well as the numerous buffalo herds throughout the concession. Some of the less common species that have been sighted this month include honey badger, Jameson's red rock rabbit, bushpig, and a number of sightings of eland and Sharpe's grysbok. One of the highlights of the month from a mammal sighting point of view has to be the sighting of three Cape clawless otters cavorting in the Luvuvhu River. This sighting was from the top of Lanner Gorge, which in itself is one of the finest views in the Kruger National Park.

The birding this month has been great. One of the highlights was the discovery of a new roost for a pair of Pel's Fishing Owls. Other notable sightings include Greater Painted Snipe, a flock of Lesser Flamingos in the Limpopo River, a roost for 4 African Wood Owls in camp and a Kori Bustard. It was also exciting to find another Yellow-billed Oxpecker nest this month. It is great to see that this bird is once again thriving in the area after becoming locally extinct in 1910 and only seen again in the area in 1979. A pair of Saddle-billed Storks was also seen constructing a nest.

The Luvuvhu River maintained a steady flow throughout the month with the animals still utilising it as a source of water up until the arrival of the rains. The Limpopo River, on the other hand, did not flow for most of the month and only a few pools remained until it started flowing strongly again on 26 February following the heavy rains in southern Zimbabwe.

Pafuri continues to surprise us with its many moods and there is a sense of anticipation amongst the guides of what the month of March will provide.

Climate
Number of days with rain: 4
Rainfall: 119mm
Temperature: Average Maximum: 35°C; Average Minimum: 25°C

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Rocktail Bay Turtle News - February 07                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge

What an outstanding month! We never thought we would see the amount of turtle hatchlings and mother turtles that we did. This has been the best February we have experienced in a long time!

It all started on the 2nd of the month, when we came across a little Loggerhead laying her eggs on Lala Nek beach. Mbongeni was the researcher that night, and once he had checked that she did not already have a tag, he proceeded to tag her with number ZARR569. Once the tagging was done Mbongeni measured her with the callipers, and she measured in at 84cm long by 62cm wide. This turtle was not an orphan for too long - only two weeks later David and Annebelle adopted her and named her Lucy.

Once little Lucy was finished her business everyone hopped back onto the vehicle, and carried on down to Mabibi, and then started making their way back to camp. They were on the home stretch, when Mbongeni spotted Leatherback tracks trailing out of the ocean. He flipped the vehicle lights off, and approached the Leatherback silently. Once he had sussed out the situation, he called all the guests on board the vehicle to come and witness the amazing creature. She had also never been tagged before, and Mbongeni tagged her with tag number ZARR563. This Leatherback turtle has now become known as Lili, and although her adoptive parents, Luc and Severine Chaumette did not actually get to see her, they had to adopt her anyway. (And hopefully they will come back to see her again next year, or the year after and the year after that….)

The next turtle was seen on the 6th of February, and she also did not wait too long to be adopted. Her name is Maher, and she was adopted by Raj and Gemma Sangha from London. Mbongeni was the researcher once again that night, and with terrible conditions like lightening and rain to deal with, Maher, did not successfully nest that night. The very next evening on Lala Nek beach, who should we run into, none other than Maher: This time digging and laying a successful nest. Gugu measured her in at 1.62m long by 1.20m wide. A great happy ending!

The next turtle that we saw just happened to be on that special day when Cupid was shooting his arrow. After a romantic candlelight dinner, our guests joined Gugu on the research drive. They were almost at Mabibi when Gugu spotted the tracks of a gigantic Leatherback Turtle that had come up to nest. Gugu checked her and found that she had not been tagged yet, so proceeded to do so with tag number ZARR577. She also measured in at a massive 1.7m long by 1.25m wide. This beautiful Leatherback Mother is now known as Janet, and has proudly become apart of Colin and Janet Minty's family.

Turtle adoptions have been exceptional this month, with 22 turtles finding themselves loving families to join. Here are some of the other turtles that were adopted this month:
• Odd and Gisela Edstrand adopted Gisela the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR599
• Mark and Kerrin Dinicola adopted Valentine the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR516
• Izak and Hermein Steenkamp adopted Helen the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR519
• Patrick and Bronwyn Duggan adopted Gaby the Leatherback - tag number KK443
• Allan and Marjorie Macpherson-Fletcher adopted Amy Primrose the Leatherback - microchip number 4860005F5C
• Johannes and Annemarie Baumgart adopted Keira the Leatherback - microchip number 485F527D11
• Gareth and Annemarie Herselman adopted Chasey Lane the Leatherback - tag number KK367
• Mr and Mrs Knight adopted Pink Peanut the Leatherback - tag number ZARR548
• Colin and Janet Minty also adopted Scatterling the Loggerhead - tag number GG114
• Martin Sturchler adopted Cleopatra the Leatherback - tag number ZAYT057
• Terry Pentony adopted Blossom the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR522
• Gordie adopted The Wanderer the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR542
• Ronald and Emmanuel Siary adopted Paul-Jules the Loggerhead - tag number AA471
• Jon and Belinda Hollingsworth adopted Michael the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR566, and Lindsey the Leatherback - tag number ZARR303
• Mr and Mrs Balmer adopted Margaret the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR538
• Sebastian and Vanessa Camblin adopted Quenceny the Loggerhead - tag number ZARR544
• Conrad and Riaan Hennig adopted Priscilla the Leatherback - tag number ZARR340

Thank you so, so much for all the support you have shown by adopting Maputaland Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtles!

Nesting turtles aside, February is truly the time of the hatchlings. We have lost count of how many little souls we have witnessed venturing from the safety of their nest down to the vast waters of the Indian Ocean. The majority of our research drives have ended successfully, with us seeing one if not 100 little hatchlings flapping frantically to get down to the water's edge.

But, where there are hatchlings there are also predators, and we have had our fair share of encounters with those too. We have seen water monitors, water mongoose and even bushbabies on the beach at night, but the award for top predator of this turtle season is definitely the honey badger. We have come across many nests that have been excavated by these stocky creatures, where the only remnants of turtles we have found have been the broken shells lying on the sand. They are amazing opportunists and will eat just about anything, and they can be aggressive about it too. There is an old saying that says that "dynamite comes in small packages", and this is the perfect way to describe the honey badger. Sadly, this season, they have been responsible for the destruction of a number of healthy nests, but as sad as it may be; we understand that they have to eat too.

March will see the last fifteen days of the turtle nesting season. It is astonishing just how quickly these last five months have gone by. But, although there is a short time, it is not over yet, and we look forward to a few more wonderful sightings.

Here's wishing you a fantastic first month of autumn,
Andrew, Shannon, Simon and the Rocktail Team


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Rocktail Bay Dive Newsletter - February 07                  Jump to Rocktail Bay Lodge
February began as a wonderful summer month with blue skies, hot days and warm seas, divers loving the boat rides across clean, blue water. Mid-month saw lots of plankton and hundreds of bluebottles. There were so many that they looked like bubbles on the water and formed blue wavy patterns on the beach where they washed up. These are a great food source for turtles and we got to see a lot of them feeding at the surface. Spadefish also enjoyed the feast!

The last few days of the month produced unsettled seas with two-metre swells. This was due to a cyclone that hit Mozambique, the spin-offs from that producing our rough sea conditions. An unusual sighting was hundreds of Cape Gannets heading north. These birds should be in the Cape breeding at his time of year. Possibly a food shortage has kept them searching in our area. These birds are clearly hungry as they often dive into the bubble column made by the divers, mistaking the bubbles for fish. It is quite sad to see them washing up dead on the beach, as they are obviously not finding enough food. Another feathered visitor that is supposed to be here at the moment is the European Storm Petrel. This is one of the tiniest sea birds and is often confused with the Wilson's Storm Petrel, which is seen in the winter months along with the albatross and skuas.

A lot of fish have been using this month's unsettled sea conditions to their advantage. As the sand gets stirred up over the reef the game fish charge in and catch unsuspecting prey. We have had wonderful sightings of couta (king mackerel), sea pike (pickhandle barracuda), a few sightings of great barracuda and even a queen fish/natal snoek (queen mackerel). As you normally only get a fleeting glance of these fish, identifying them can be tricky. What we call sea pike have straight bars that run down the body from top to bottom (when viewed from the side); couta have wavy lines that run down the body and the great barracuda has black dots at the tail, which look sort of like Mickey Mouse ears! The great barracuda tend to be bolder than the others and we had quite a few come in close to have a look at us. The queen mackerel is quite different to the rest of these game fish in that the body has small spots down the length of it.

It is not just the game fish that hunt on the reef. Life at sea is a constant fight for survival. We watched just such a fight during a dive at Gogo's. A dory snapper (not such a big fish, approximately 25cm in length, normally seen swimming in schools with bluebanded snappers) was the hunter and a small moray eel was the hunted! The snapper raced past us with the eel's head sticking out of its mouth and tail sticking out of its gills. The fight was on, the eel was trying to bite the side of the snapper's face and the snapper was trying to smash the eel on the reef in an attempt to swallow it. The snapper eventually won his meal for the day.

Colin Minty did his 100th sea dive here at Rocktail and what a dive to remember! First we saw a green turtle; then as we looked out to sea we saw 7 couta come out of nowhere, one after the other they swam into formation as they did a cruise past us. We then saw a total of 7 big honeycomb eels, some under ledges, others lying against the reef. A sharpnose stingray swam past us across the sand and as we crossed over the reef we saw 2 huge honeycomb rays and a small blue spotted ray. Schools of tropical kingfish played on the sand and as we ascended we saw a big school of eastern little tuna (kawakawa) race past us. As if to say goodbye, a potato bass swam along underneath us while we did our safety stop. Looking forward to another 100 wonderful dives!

"Brilliant again. The best diving and dive team anywhere!" - Colin Minty, Hout Bay, South Africa

Other memorable moments this month were for some first timers! Geoff Mullen and Joan and Hein Vosloo qualified as PADI Open Water Divers. They were all welcomed by friendly bottlenose dolphins and got the opportunity to snorkel with them. Congratulations, wishing you all many more beautiful dives!

We all have our wish list, for most it's the big boys - mantas, whalesharks, or whales. For Michelle it's the frogfish. To date she has not seen one and Karin found a beautiful red specimen during a dive at Gogo's. During Joan and Hein's qualifying dives Karin signalled to Michelle to look for the frogfish as they all ascended ahead of her. Looking in vain, Michelle could not find it. Once back on the boat Hein excitedly said that Karin had a photograph of it, which she promptly showed Michelle on the digital camera. Michelle was distraught that she had not seen it on the dive and to everyone's amusement, Karin admitted to taking a photograph of a photograph in one of the fish identification books. A bit early for an April fool's joke but we all had a good laugh!

Too many frogfish,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle and Karin
The Rocktail Bay Dive Team

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Namibia camps
Serra Cafema Camp Newsletter - February 07                  Jump to Serra Cafema Camp

Greetings to all from our energetic, happy and bubbly staff up here at Serra Cafema. This probably rubs off on us from the tranquillity of our surroundings and the constant flow of positive energy from the ever-stunning Kunene River.

Renovations in the camp are moving on swiftly, thanks to Pepe's team of dedicated carpenters, who take great pride in their craft.

We have had the privilege of meeting wonderful guests, and sharing stories and experiences, whilst wolfing down (the fresh breeze of the river and searing temperatures tends to build up a ravenous appetite!) mouth-watering meals prepared by our excellent kitchen staff.

However, two guests had an excellent experience that I would like to share with you: Jill and Timothy (from England) had just returned from a Quad Bike excursion with our jovial George as their guide.

I invited them to the deck for drinks, and we watched how Johan helped the Himbas to transport their goats, one by one, from the Angolan side to ours. It's quite a funny sight, as you can well imagine, the goats bleating away and the men trying to calm them down on the boat. Back and forth he went, as they had about eight to bring across.

As Johan was returning to the Angolan side, Spokie (one of our staff members) "spooked" a goat! Smashing through the reeds it found itself in the strong currents of the river. Obviously a chorus of yells alerted Johan, and he saw the goat (still bleating) coming towards him at ± 18 km/h (now that's what crocodiles call fast food!), head bobbing in and out of the water.

Manoeuvring the boat with great precision, and turning off the engine in case she went towards the propellers, he leant over and grabbing onto the one horn, hurled her over onto the safety of the boat. It was a very close call as the rapids were about 15 seconds away!

Our two guests broke out into howls of laughter and being British, shouted "Bravo, bravo old chap!"

But more was to come. The following afternoon, Johan and I were enjoying a cup of coffee on the deck when all hell broke loose! Spokie and his entourage burst onto the deck yelling "Crocodile took our goat!" (Obviously I have cleaned up the language a touch) and jumped onto the boat hoping that we would rescue it! At that precise moment the croc floated past, about 4 metres or more in length and the goat dangling from its brilliant white ivories! The croc had taken her whilst drinking from the shoreline. Needless to say we never did give chase.

Anyway folks, that's the way the river flows...
Take care, from the river people,
Eric, Tanja, Johan and Wayne

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Taking Time to see the Ostrich in Namibia - February 07                  Jump to Ongava Lodge

At first glance an ostrich sitting on a nest surrounded by vast desert plain is not very exciting. At this time of year and at almost all Wilderness Safaris locations throughout Namibia this lonely-looking spectacle is being witnessed by guests, often only briefly before moving on. However, spend just a short time in the company of this flightless anomaly and your efforts will be handsomely rewarded in one way or another.

We recently spent time at three very distant locations - Damaraland Camp, Serra Cafema and Ongava - and at each a different story of life, care, hope, tragedy and triumph unfolded - and all in the company of a bird whose eye is bigger than its brain. For people not familiar with the deep, almost infrasonic, boom of an ostrich call, the sound wafting across the arid savannah is often mistaken for that of a lion. It is difficult to identify from which direction the sound is coming and so finding these birds is more often accomplished by sight than by sound. In fact, an ostrich sitting on a nest is quite difficult to see and if they put their heads down, their dark mound of feathers resembles a bush or a rock.

Ostriche and chicks in Namibia     Ostriche and chicks in Namibia

In Damaraland, Etosha and the Hartmann Valley, the mounds we saw were all sitting on and surrounded by eggs. At each location, the birds had made a neat circular furrow around them and had arranged the eggs in this furrow - a form of circular organic shrine. In Damaraland we saw the adults regularly rotate the eggs and when male and female changed guard, each helped each other give the eggs a turn, possibly ensuring an equal distribution of incubation heat from sun and earth. In the evening the eggs are all neatly gathered and placed in a central hollow on which the adult then sits.

It was in Etosha that we witnessed the miracle of hatching and within a sort space of time the nesting furrow was merely an obstacle for lively peeping new chicks. Bits and pieces of broken egg were left as a monument to the nesting site as literally within minutes of the last chick hatching the newly formed group started moving off - but not without incident. Pied crows swooped down at almost the instant hatching started and it took every effort of the adults to keep them at bay. The adults were successful to a degree but it was those who hatched last that appeared to be left as a sacrificial offering. Their struggle with the crows allowed the others to slip away and three hatchlings died in the assault, never really making it out of their eggs. It was a pitiful sight but in the distance two adults walked of surrounded by a scattering of new life.

It is at this stage that one seriously begins to wonder about ostrich intelligence and their survival over time. With an enormous clutch of chicks at their heels the adult ostriches appear to every onlooker as to have done their job in offspring care and now it is up to the chicks to survive. The mortality rate of ostrich chicks is phenomenal, as high as 90%, and one can simply sit and watch the chicks fall by the wayside, get gobbled by eagle, jackal or anything else wanting bird for dinner. In the Hartmann Valley, with its fantastic vistas and elevated viewing opportunities we watched a group of twenty chicks and two adults cross the valley. By the time they had reached the opposite side, in a space of less than two kilometres the group had lost three chicks, and the rest simply marched on. At that rate, the chicks would all be gone before they got to the spring less than ten kilometres away. However, some survive and life continues.

The time spent with ostriches really forces one to re-examine the basics of survival. It also highlights the success of mammals and possibly why they have succeeded so well on planet Earth. None of this however detracts from the satisfaction that one can achieve by being with ostriches and seeing survival forces at play. One does however often wonder if these self-propelled feather dusters have any intelligence at all!

Conrad Brain
Ecologist
Wilderness Safaris Namibia

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Super Predators in Namibia - February 07                  Jump to Namibia Safari Camps

There is something about a predator's stare - especially if it is directed straight at you. In many cases it is as if the predator is actually looking straight through you, a form of a la carte browsing where the main course is a given and thoughts have already shifted to the dessert. Embedded within us all is an age-old evolutionary terror of the super-predators, but that terror and the factors associated with it are suppressed, subdued and almost forgotten in most humans: A consequence of non-exposure. Fortunately however, that terror and how to deal with it in a manner that guarantees survival and unforgettable experiences is alive and well, stimulated on a nearly daily basis and available from highly trained guides traversing the Wilderness areas. Here are some recent encounters with super-predators in Namibia, encounters that reawaken a dormant element within us.

Lions on a kill at Ongava, Namibia

Lions in and around Etosha have long been considered as some of the biggest, fiercest and healthiest. These assumptions were verified to a large degree when some of these lions formed the translocation nucleus of a new population to the Pilansberg National Park in South Africa. Etosha lions were originally selected because of their magnificent appearance, their reputation and the fact that they are the only remaining wild lion population that are totally FIV-free (the feline equivalent of HIV). This translocation proved so successful that the nucleus population itself has become a donor population many times over. But the original source for that translocation remains a major attraction for those wanting to encounter true power.

Lions on Ongava Game Reserve all originated in Etosha and colonised Ongava through a process similar to that of osmosis, moving naturally over to the area. Ongava is in fact a fantastic example of a successful conservation area bordering on an established protected area, and for lions, this sort of arrangement might prove critical for their future survival. Lion sightings on Ongava are now as good as those in Etosha and it was here that we encountered the lions (in the photo) and once again experienced that piercing stare. Having just pulled down a springbok, we got the feeling the meal was just not big enough for the lions and when the stare in our direction was suddenly accompanied by a flicking tail, we backed off immediately. Their bone-crunching meal continued for around half an hour and in that time the springbok was completely consumed. Our assumptions regarding meal quantity were verified as evening set in and the lions set off to hunt once more.

Huge crocodile on the Kunene River, Namibia

Another super-predator with a much more sinister and unblinking stare is the mega-sized crocodile found in the Kunene River. These giants go by the names of "Colgate" and the like by Wilderness Safaris staff at Serra Cafema and recently have been witnessed to effortlessly overpower livestock drinking from the river. Careless humans from the local population have also definitely been on the crocodiles' menu in the past and have earned them a fearful reputation. Pepe, a seasoned Wilderness guide, recently captured one of these Kunene super-predators and its unblinking stare on film. Unlike the lions, this predator appeared to be well satisfied after its last meal - a huge distended abdomen accompanied its permanent smile and array of sharp, white teeth.

An encounter with a super-predator, the stare, the power, the white teeth and flicking tail, the aura of survival at any cost, collectively amount to a most humbling and essential experience for humanity. Predators guided our development and survival and our link of mutual acknowledgement must be maintained. It is indeed an honour to have such stunning wild areas still available within which to engage in these age-old encounters and renew respects.

Conrad Brain
Ecologist
Wilderness Safaris Namibia

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